Copy of letter to President & PM – QUARANTINE LAWS AND BURIAL OPTION OF COVID 19 DECEASED PERSONS

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M.M. Zuhair

President’s Counsel

Chambers:                                                                                                    

 26, Austin Place                                                                                           

 Colombo 08, Sri Lanka                                                                                

 

10th December 2020By Fax

His Excellency Gotabaya Rajapakse,

President of the Republic of Sri Lanka,

Presidential Secretariat, Colombo 1

 

Mahinda Rajapakse, MP

Prime Minister of the Republic of Sri Lanka,

Temple Trees, Colombo 1.

Your Excellences

QUARANTINE LAWS AND BURIAL OPTION OF COVID 19 DECEASED PERSONS

This is further to my previous representation dated 06th May 2020.

According to media reports the Hon Attorney General has directed the Director-General of Health Services that the dead bodies of Covid 19 victims unclaimed by the immediate members of the family to be cremated. (Ada Derana. Lk-09/12/2020 at 15.07 hrs.and AFP “Sri Lanka cremates Muslim Covid 19 victims against religious wishes” 09/12/2020 7.40 pm).

Firstly it is well known that the right to accord a dignified burial to a deceased person is an internationally recognized right. This is a right available to every person not merely to Muslims.

Secondly it is equally well known that the kith and kin of the deceased Muslims in particular have refused to accept the dead bodies as a protest against the unlawful refusal by the health authorities of our country to allow Covid 19 deceased persons a dignified burial. In the circumstances the Attorney General ought not to have directed the forcible cremation without hearing the kith and kin of the deceased persons. Such direction is in violation of the principles of natural justice, which principles the Attorney General is bound to uphold.

Thirdly the direction has been made in terms of the Quarantine and Prevention of Deceases ordinance. If that be the case, the Attorney General would have seen that section 3(1)(i) of the Quarantine Ordinance provides for both options of burial and

cremation and that he ought not to become a party to directing solely the cremation of the‘under protest’ bodies without the consent of the kith and kin and in violation of the provisions of the Quarantine Ordinance read with section 17 (1) (c) of the Interpretation Ordinance. He ought not to expose the illustrious office of the Attorney General and the State to possible claims of damages.

Fourthly Professor Tissa Vitharana has been quoted in the media last week that the expert panel appointed by the Minister of Health to advise her on the quarantine measures does not have a single virologist and hence not a competent panel, though the country has many eminent experts, virologists, epidemiologists etc. Whereas 190 countries in the world had permitted burial of Covid 19 deceased persons following the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, Sri Lanka and China are said to be the two countries that do not allow burials. The excellent work otherwise done by the countries health authorities and the armed forces are being brought into disrepute world-wide by the panel’s undue delay in resolving the problemby giving convincing scientific reasons as to why the WHO guidelines cannot be followed here.

Fifthly if in fact and in science Covid 19 will spread through contamination of water, I wish to state that no one, Muslim or otherwise will ask for burial of their victims. According to WHO any virus contaminated water may cause diarrhea but will not spread Covid 19.

Sixthly recent judicial decisions have kept the matter open to be decided by the Cabinet based on expert opinion which is anxiously awaited. Courts have not restrained the government or the experts from taking necessary decisions.   

Permit me also to point out the following matters. Two Ministers Hon. Chamal Rajapaksa and Hon. Mahinda Amaraweera said recently that the government is favorably considering restoring the 27thMarch 2020 gazette allowing both burial and cremation for Covid 19 deceased persons and a third Minister Hon. Keheliya Rambukwella said a final decision will be taken after the experts give their opinion to the Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi. The country’s accredited experts on the subject must not delay giving the opinion and they must do so withconvincing scientific reasons for the public to know, because the government’s pursuit to restore burials in line with the opinion of the experts of the country as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines are being perceived as being delayed unreasonably.

According to the WHO, water contaminated by any virus may cause diarrhoea but not Covid 19. If the local experts on virology and epidemiology have scientific reasons to establish that Covid 19 will spread through contamination of water to the living cell of a host, they also need to explain that apart from human beings animals, birds and fish will not be infected and will not host the virus and transmit them to human beings who may consume or handle them.There is thus an urgent need for the Sri Lankan experts to clear with scientific reasons all possible misconceptions.

The main protective measures that the public have been presently made aware of, to restrict the spread of Covid 19 are related to contamination through inhalation of infected droplets or by touching infected surfaces but not to Covid 19 contaminated water being consumed by living cells and getting transmitted to human beings. Experts in the relative field must clarify these matters on an urgent basis with scientific reasoning and evidence.

The composition of the committee of experts and their expertise in the relevant field to override WHO guidelines and the meetings or discussions they are engaged in need to be publicized in the interest of transparency. These representations are being made in the interest of the country’s best interests, its global reputation particularly in the Middle-Eastern countries which provide the highest foreign exchange earnings of US $ 7,000 million per year and in establishing acceptable scientific reasoning in the process of decision making affecting the fundamental rights of persons both living and dead.

Thank you

Yours sincerely

(sgd)

M MZuhair PC

CC Hon Attorney General for information and review please.

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