Photo courtesy of Nikkei Asia

In a statement, a group of eminent civil society activists and organisations and religious leaders have called on the government to enable the burial of Covid-19 dead.

We the undersigned individuals and civil society organisations welcome the recent statements from eminent and authoritative individuals and organisations in the medical field in Sri Lanka approving the burial of COVID 19 dead. We thereby call on the government to act upon this advice and immediately end the ongoing policy of forcible cremation.

In the past one week, Sri Lanka’s top virologists and leading medical bodies have publicly announced that based on the available science burial of COVID 19 dead can be permitted. On 1st January the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) issued a statement asserting that COVID-19 dead could be buried as “the virus is unlikely to remain infectious within a dead body” and adding that no scientific evidence exists from any part of the world that presented burial of COVID-19 dead as a public health hazard.

On 31st Dec 2020 the College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka (CCPSL) issued a similar statement explaining that out of the 85,000 published scientific papers on COVID-19 not a single case of the virus spreading through a dead body has been recorded. Refuting concerns of the spread of the virus through ground water the CCPSL position paper stated that “The claims on the SARS-CoV-2 spread directly through groundwater have not been scientifically substantiated and there is no indication that the virus could be transmitted through the drinking water.”

World renown and leading Sri Lankan virologists Professor Malik Peiris and Senior Professor Tissa Vitharana who is a siting government MP in the parliament in recorded statements have challenged the government’s position on forced cremation and argued in support of permitting safe burials.

Both the CCPSL and SLMA have argued that contamination of water supply by sewage of COVID-19 patients pose a higher risk to the spread of the disease than burial of victims.

In light of this substantive and authoritative medical advice we the undersigned call on the government to take immediate action to enable both burial and cremation of COVID-19 dead. This was the national policy until 31 March 2020, when the Ministry of Health unexpectedly issued new guidelines insisting that all COVID-19 dead have to be only cremated. Subsequent media articles and statements by civil society organisations have highlighted that this policy has also been applied to those suspected of having the infection. This policy has been obstinately maintained by the government despite countless statements and appeals from international actors including the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, the UN Special Rapporteurs, Permanent Human Rights commission of OIC and several Sri Lankan religious leaders including from the Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sangha Abhava and Ramanna Maha Nikaya, civil society activists and concerned citizens.

With Sri Lanka’s own medical community supporting the burial of COVID-19 dead there is now no more opportunity for the government to continue with its cremation only policy which has clearly discriminated against Sri Lanka’s religious minorities.

Both the above cited medical bodies have also acknowledged the deep religious and cultural implications of the forcible cremation policy that has not only affected inter-community co-existence and reconciliation but can be an unwarranted public health and wellbeing issue, especially for affected groups.

We recognise the scientific evidence on the spread of COVID-19 through handling of dead bodies, participating in funeral rituals and social gatherings and therefore support the imposition of legitimate limitations to these activities. We call on all communities in Sri Lanka to cooperate with such measures.

The government’s ongoing forcible cremation policy pursued amidst a lack of scientific evidence has caused much suffering and grievance to certain religious groups and must urgently be put to an end. Hence, we urge the government to listen to the unequivocal advice by these respected individuals and bodies in the medical field and enable those from religious minority and other groups who wish to bury their dead to do so without hindrance.

Endorsed by:


  1. M. Ranawana
  2. Somalingam
  3. Amalini de Sayrah
  4. Ambika Satkunanathan
  5. Anithra Varia
  6. Anne-Marie Fonseka
  7. Annouchka Wijesinghe
  8. Anthony Jesudasan – Human Rights Defender
  9. Anthony Vinoth
  10. Anuratha Rajaretnam
  11. Anushani Alagarajah
  12. Aritha Wickramasinghe
  13. Bishop Duleep de Chickera
  14. Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe
  15. Channaka Jayasinghe
  16. Deekshya Illangasinghe
  17. Dinusha Panditaratne
  18. Jehan Perera
  19. K. Guruparan – Attorney- at-law
  20. Lionel Bopage
  21. Mario Gomez
  22. P. Saravanamuttu
  23. Radhika Coomaraswamy
  24. Tara de Mel
  25. Manoj Rasanjana
  26. Terence Fernando
  27. Geethika Dharmasinghe
  28. Gehan Gunatilleke
  29. Godfrey Yogarajah
  30. Gowthaman Balachandran
  31. Ian Ferdinands
  32. Joanne Senn
  33. J. Brito Fernando
  34. Kshama Ranawana
  35. Kumudini Samuel
  36. Lasantha Ruhunage
  37. Mahishaa Balraj
  38. Marisa de Silva
  39. Midushaun Rhodes
  40. Nagulan Nesiah
  41. Nahdiya Danish
  42. Nethmini Indrachapa Medawala
  43. Nilshan Fonseka
  44. Niran Wirasinha – Reconciliation and Peace Desk
  45. Niyanthini Kadirgamar
  46. Muthulingam
  47. N. Singham
  48. Philip Dissanayake
  49. Prabodha Rathnayaka
  50. Jayadeva Uyangoda
  51. S. Ratnajeevan Hoole
  52. Sumathy Sivamohan
  53. Professor Chandraguptha Thenuwara
  54. Ralston Weinman
  55. Andrew Devadason – Vicar, St . Paul’s Church, Milagiriya
  56. Asiri P Perera (Former President Bishop Methodist Church Sri Lanka)
  57. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris
  58. Fr. F. C. J. Gnanaraj (Nehru)
  59. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos
  60. Fr. Nandana Manatunga
  61. Fr. Rohan Peries
  62. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda
  63. Marc Billimoria
  64. Sr. Deepa Fernando
  65. Sr. Nichola Emmanuel
  66. Sr. Noel Christine Fernando
  67. Sr. Rasika Pieris
  68. Ruki Fernando
  69. Ruwan Laknath Jayakody
  70. Thilipan
  71. C.C. Elankovan
  72. Sajini Wickramasinghe
  73. Sakuntala Kadirgamar
  74. Sandun Thudugala
  75. Sandya Ekneligoda
  76. Sanjana Hattotuwa
  77. Sarah Arumugam
  78. Sarala Emmanuel
  79. Selvaraja Rajasegar (Editor,
  80. Seneka Perera
  81. Senel  Wanniarachchi
  82. Sheila Richards
  83. Stella J. J. Victor
  84. Sugath Rajapaksha
  85. Swasthika Arulingam – Attorney-at-law
  86. Thanuki Natasha Goonesinghe
  87. Fr. Samuel J Ponniah – Archdeacon of Jaffna, Church of Ceylon (Anglican)
  88. Visaka Dharmadasa
  89. Yasith De Silva


  1. Alliance for Minorities
  2. Association of War Affected Women
  3. Centre for Policy Alternative
  4. Centre for Society and Religion
  5. Dabindu Collective
  6. Eastern Social Development Foundation
  7. Families of the Disappeared
  8. Forum for Affected Families, Mannar
  9. Hashtag Generation
  10. Human Elevation Organisation
  11. Human Rights Office (HRO)
  12. Institute of Social Development
  13. International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES)
  14. iProbono
  15. Law and Society Trust
  16. Lawyers Forum for the People Committee to Protecting Rights of Prisoners.
  17. Liberation Movement
  18. Mannar Women’s Development Federation
  19. National Peace Council
  20. Right to Life Human Rights Centre (R2L)
  21. Rights Now Collective for Democracy
  22. Rural Development Foundation
  23. Sangami Penkal Collective
  24. Shramabhimani Kendraya
  25. Sisterhood Initiative
  26. Suriya Women Development Centre
  27. Women and Media Collective
  28. Women Education Research Centre (WERC)
  29. Women’s Action Network