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Hejaaz Hizbullah, The Shining Young Attorney Held Incommunicado By Mass L. Usuf

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The dreaded Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979 (PTA) has been in public discussion ever since it was enacted. It was initially introduced in Parliament as ‘Temporary Provisions’ vide Section 29 of the Act which read:

“The provisions of this Act shall be in operation for a period of three years from the date of its commencement.”
Thereafter, this Temporary Provision paradoxically found a permanent abode, approximating four decades, by virtue of an amendment; “Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Amendment Act, No. 10 of 1982. It now reads:

“Section 29 of the principal enactment is hereby repealed.”

Widely condemned as an equivalent of Draco’s law, this statute was passed under the watch of the JR Jayewardene Presidency. It was specifically designed to confer on the police wide powers relating to search, arrest and detention of suspects. United Nations and International Human Rights organisations have been campaigning for long calling the State to institute reforms to this abusive Act.

This column should not be construed as an effort or campaign supporting Hejaz or any others who had been arrested at different times since 1979.

Rule Of Law Or Rule By Law

 

Sri Lanka is known to be a democratic country. In keeping with that spirit, she has inter alia, judicial institutions, where it is ideally expected that the rule of law Supremes. At a High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law on 19 September 2012, it reaffirmed that “human rights, the rule of law and democracy are interlinked and mutually reinforcing and that they belong to the universal and indivisible core values and principles of the United Nations.” The diktat is for world governments to ensure that accountability, equality and justice are upheld and promoted in order to protect and secure the rights of citizens. These comprise the utilitarian aspects of strengthening democracy.

Sri Lanka has showcased its idea of the rule of law in Chapter III of the constitution, dedicating it to Fundamental Rights. The universal norm is that no law can supersede the Constitution of the country. It is said, ‘The judiciary, which applies the law to individual cases, acts as the guardian of the rule of law. Thus, the need for an independent and properly functioning judiciary becomes a prerequisite for the rule of law which requires a just legal system, the right to a fair hearing and access to justice.’

Consequence Of Rule By Law

Statutes, Rules and Regulations, executive actions and policies of a government must be regimented to function under the rule of law. Where there is unconstrained substantive or procedural abuse disregarding law such exploits cease to be governed by this precept. In these instances, the doctrine of rule of law dissipates giving way to the repressive and cruel rule by law. The beginning of abuse is from this point.

In the background of the aforesaid, to quote a dictum from the British Legal Philosopher, H.L.A. Hart is appropriate. It illustrates the timeless limbo of persons like Hejaaz Hizbullah and the many others who have been incarcerated under the dreaded PTA, at different times:

“A paralysed man watching a thief’s hand close over his gold watch is properly said to have a right to retain it as against the thief, though he has neither expectation nor power in any ordinary sense of these words.” (Hart, Essays in Jurisprudence and Philosophy, 1983).

Hart using the analogy of a paralytic draws attention to the condition of a person who has a right but cannot expect to assert that right and, the same person having no power to proclaim his right. How many such ‘paralysed’ persons are languishing in custody? The distressed family members are asking where are the democratic minded citizens who are supposed to act to strengthen equity and justice?

Communication, A Basic Right

This column does not intend to traverse the gamut of the right to communicate. It would suffice to suggest a few markers to get an understanding.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” (United Nations, 1948).

Our Constitution, 14. (1) (a), states:

“Every citizen is entitled to the freedom of speech and expression including publication”.

This is a restricted right by virtue of Article 15 (7) (2) of the Constitution:

“The exercise and operation of the fundamental right declared and recognized by Article 14(1)(a) shall be subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of racial and religious harmony or in relation to parliamentary privilege, contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”

It is clear as daylight that this restriction does not contemplate a situation where a detainee wants to consult with his or her Attorney.

Role of the Judiciary

It is well known, at least theoretically, that the pillars of democracy consist of the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary and the strict separation of their functions. The objective is to ensure proper checks and balances and to prevent the concentration of power. Due to novel developments in the political landscape, there has evolved hybrid versions of this foundation. For example, the separation of powers has significantly become diluted between the legislature and the executive. It is only the judiciary that has been able to stand alone and maintain its independence although, several attempts have been made in the past to inhibit its authority.

At the Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union conference held in Helsinki in September 2019, much emphasis was placed on the protection of the rule of law with special responsibility placed on the judiciary. It resolved:

“Rule of law is the cornerstone of all democratic societies. A proper system of checks and balances maintains the separation of powers, ensures accountability and enhances resilience. In order to maintain trust in public institutions, the principles of legality, legal certainty, prohibition of arbitrariness of the executive powers, judicial independence, impartiality, and equality before the law need to be respected. The role of national and European courts is crucial for ensuring effective judicial protection.”

Animal Rights

With regard to the Rights of Animals, Mahatma Gandhi said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.” Interestingly, he juxtaposes the way animals are treated as a measurement of value to judge the greatness and moral progress of a nation. What characteristics of a nation can be judged based on the way humans are treated?

The rights of freedom and liberty of any person are too sacred to be sacrificed at the drop of a hat. American Jurist Ronald Dworkin argues, “If someone has a right to moral independence, this means that it is for some reason wrong for officials to act in violation of that right, even if they (correctly) believe that the community as a whole would be better off if they did.” (Lloyds Jurisprudence, 6th Edition, P. 434).

At a time when man is being silenced by man, it is strange to see and hear some people talking in the following terms, as seen in a poster with a picture of a dog:

“Animals have no voice.

They can’t ask for help.

They can’t ask for freedom.

They can’t ask for protection.

HUMANITY MUST BE THEIR VOICE.”

How confused can we be between the imperatives of treating animals and human beings? It is ironic to note that in Sri Lanka, we are excessively worried about the rights of animals than the rights of human beings.

State Of Limbo Unethical

Hejaz and many others who are under detention, most of them without the due process of law, also deserve this Voice Of Humanity. Apparently, the voice of humanity for the welfare of the humans themselves, seems pathetically lost or hypocritically ignored! Apart from the voice of humanity, it is the duty of the government to treat its subject with equality and concern.

The writer is clearly not campaigning for Hejaz or, for the others in custody under the PTA, that they are innocent. If they are found guilty by a court of law, let them be punished.The emphasis of this column is that suspects should be handled in accordance with the laid down legal procedures. Apply the rule of law and avoid rule by law. Arbitrary actions are prohibited even under international law. Sri Lanka is an unconditional signatory to many international instruments protecting equality in multiple fields. See, Right to equality: The new frontier of judicial activism, by Deepika Udagama.

The Geneva based Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) in its monitoring guidelines on detention centers, states:

“Depriving a person of his or her liberty is a serious coercive act by the State, with inherent risks of human rights abuses. Through the loss of liberty, the detained person comes to depend almost entirely on the authorities and public officials to guarantee his or her protection, rights, and means of existence. The possibilities for persons deprived of their liberty to influence their own fate are limited, if not non-existent.”

Never Deprive

Neither does acceptance of the right of a person make that person noble nor does non-acceptance make that person ignoble. The basic rights of a person are intrinsic to his self as a person and is deep-rooted in the nucleus of his naturally endowed liberty. He should never be deprived of it by arbitrary action or the denial of justice but by the due process of the law.

https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/hejaaz-hizbullah-the-shining-young-attorney-held-incommunicado/

 

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ කොරෝනා වසංගතය, 'මුස්ලිම් ප්‍රජාවට එරෙහි වෙනස්කම්', ත්‍රස්ත විරෝධී නීතිය සහ හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලා

හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලා (අසුන්ගෙන)Image copyrightTWITTER/ JUSTICE FOR HEJAAZ

අදින් මාස කිහිපයකට පෙර ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ශ්‍රේෂ්ඨාධිකරණය ඉදිරියේ පැවති විභාගයකදී තරුණ නීතිඥවරයෙක් පෑ වාග් පෙළහර එහි සිටි බොහෝ දෙනාගේ සිත් ඇදගැනීමට සමත්විය.

රට පුරා මහත් ආන්දෝලනයකට ලක් වූ ඒ නඩු විභාගයේදී ඔහු මතු කළ තර්ක කෙතරම් අවධානයට ලක් වූයේ ද යත් ඔහුගේ මිතුරන් මතු නොව, අධිකරණයේ දී ඔහුගේ ප්‍රතිවාදීන් වූ සගයින් ද ඔහු පැසසීමට පසුබට නොවූහ.

නඩුව, ජනාධිපති මෛත්‍රීපාල සිරිසේන විසින් නීති විරෝධී ලෙසින් අගමැතිවරයා පදවියෙන් පහකොට පාර්ලිමේන්තුව විසුරුවා හරිනු ලැබීමට එරෙහිව පැවති මූලික අයිතිවාසිකම් පෙත්සම් පිළිබඳ විභාගයයි.

එම තරුණ නීතිඥයා පෙනී සිටියේ ජාතික මැතිවරණ කොමිසමේ සාමාජික මහාචාර්ය රත්නජීවන් හූල් ඉදිරිපත් කළ පෙත්සම වෙනුවෙනි.

ශ්‍රේෂ්ඨාධිකරණය ඉදිරියේ ඔහු එදා තර්ක කළ ආකාරය The Hindu පුවත්පතේ මාධ්‍යවේදිනී මීරා ශ්‍රීනිවාසන් මෙසේ වාර්තාකර තිබුණි.

එදා නීතිවේදියාගේ තර්ක පෙළහර කෙතරම් සුවිශේෂී වූයේ ද යත් නඩු විභාගය අවසානයේ පෙත්සම්කරුවන් වෙනුවෙන් පෙනී සිටි ජනාධිපති නීතිඥවරුන් ඇතුළු අනෙක් සියලු ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ නීතිවේදීන් නැගිට සිටියදී සමූහ ඡායාරූපයේ අසුන්ගෙන සිටියේ ඔහු පමණය.

එසේ අසුන් ගන්නා මෙන් ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ නීතිවේදීන් ඔහුගෙන් පෙරැත්ත කොට ඉල්ලා සිටියේ ඔහු පෑ දස්කමට ගරු කිරීමක් වශයෙනි.

'සටන්කාමියෙක්'

එලෙස ජාතික වශයෙන් වැදගත්කමක් පවතින නඩු විභාග ගණනාවකට පෙනී සිටීමෙන් නොනැවතුණු ඔහු අසාධාරණය සහ අයුක්තිය ලෙසින් ඔහු දුටු දේට එරෙහිව වීදි බට 'හාන්සි පුටු සටන් කාමියෙකු' නොවූ සැබෑ සටන්කාමියෙක් ද විය.

එසේ නීති ක්ෂේත්‍රයේත්, ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදය සහ මානව හිමිකම් ගරු කළ බොහෝ දෙනාගේත් නොමඳ ප්‍රසාදයට ලක් වූ ඒ තරුණ නීතිඥයා පසුගිය අප්‍රේල් 14 වෙනි දින සිට පොලිස් අත්අඩංගුවේ පසුවේ.

ඔහු හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලාය.

ඔහුට යුක්තිය පතා ආරම්භ කර තිබෙන Justice For Hejaaz ට්විටර් ගිණුම අනුව ඔහු 'සියලු ආකාරයේ අන්තවාද ප්‍රසිද්ධියේ හෙලා දුටු, ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ජාතීන් අතර සංහිඳියාව උදෙසා පෙනී සිටි, අසරණයන්ට සරණ වූ' නීතිවේදියෙකි.

පොලිසිය පවසන්නේ ඔහු පාස්කු ඉරිදා ප්‍රහාරයට සම්බන්ධ වූයේ යයි ලැබී තිබෙන තොරතුරු මත තවදුරටත් විමර්ශන පැවැත්වෙන බවය. මාස තුනක රඳවා ගැනීමේ නියෝගයක් මත ඔහු රඳවාගෙන තවදුරටත් ප්‍රශ්න කරමින් සිටින බව ද පොලිස් ප්‍රකාශක, පොලිස් අධිකාරී ජාලිය සේනාරත්න බීබීසී සිංහල සේවයට පැවසීය.

තමන්ට එරෙහිව එල්ල වී තිබෙන චෝදනා සම්බන්ධයෙන් සිය නීතිවේදියා සමඟ නිදහසේ අදහස් හුවමාරු කරගැනීමට පවා නීතිවේදී හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලාට මෙතෙක් අවස්ථාවක් ලැබී නැති අතර, පාස්කු ප්‍රහාරයට ඔහු සම්බන්ධ බවට එල්ලවන චෝදනාව ඔහුගේ පවුලේ සාමාජිකයෝ තරයේ ප්‍රතික්ෂේප කරති.

ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැළැක්වීමේ පනත යටතේ අත්අඩංගුවට ගෙන, නීතිවේදීන්ට පවා ඔහු හමුවීමට අවස්ථාවක් නොදෙමින් සහ ඔහු අධිකරණයට ඉදිරිපත් නොකරමින් ආණ්ඩුව ගෙන යන ක්‍රියාදාමය ශ්‍රී ලංකාව තුළ පමණක් නොව ජාත්‍යන්තර වශයෙන් ද හෙලා දැකීමට ලක්වෙමින් පවතී.

ජාත්‍යන්තර ප්‍රතිචාර

මැයි 26 වෙනි දින ට්විටර් පණිවුඩයක් නිකුත් කළ යුරෝපා සංගමය, නීතිවේදී හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලා අත්අඩංගුවට ගෙන රඳවාගෙන සිටීම පිළිබඳව ප්‍රබල අවධානය පළකරමින් තමන් ශ්‍රී ලංකා ආණ්ඩුවට ලිපියක් යොමු කළ බව සඳහන් කර තිබුණි.

ලොව පුරා රටවල විනිසුරුවරුන් නියෝජනය කරන ජාත්‍යන්තර නීති විශාරදයින්ගේ කොමිසම ද (ICJ) එයින් දින කිහිපයකට පෙර නිකුත්කළ නිවේදනයක දැක්වුණේ, පාස්කු ඉරිදා ප්‍රහාරය සම්බන්ධයෙන් පරීක්ෂණ පැවැත්වීමේ දී මානව හිමිකම්වලට ගරු කරමින් හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලා සම්බන්ධ විමර්ශන සාධාරණ සහ නිසි ක්‍රමවේදයට අනුකූලව පවත්වන මෙන් තමන් ආණ්ඩුවෙන් ඉල්ලා සිටින බවය.

නීතිවේදී හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලා සම්බන්ධයෙන් පැවැත්වෙන විමර්ශනයේදී නීතියේ ආධිපත්‍යයට අදාළ මූලධර්ම මත පිහිටා කටයුතු කරන ලෙස ඉල්ලා සිටිමින්, ජාත්‍යන්තර නීතිවේදීන්ගේ සම්මේලනයේ මානව හිමිකම් ආයතනය ද, අධිකරණ ඇමති නිමල් සිරිපාල ද සිල්වා වෙත විවෘත ලිපියක් යොමුකර තිබිණි.

'මුස්ලිම් ප්‍රජාවට එරෙහි වෙනස්කම්'

ඔහු අත්අඩංගුවට ගන්නා ලද්දේ, පවතින කොරෝනා වෛරස් වසංගත සමයෙහි, දේශපාලන ප්‍රතිවාදීන් සහ මුස්ලිම් ප්‍රජාවට එරෙහිව වෙනස්කම් සිදුකෙරෙමින් ඇති කාලයක බවත් ජාත්‍යන්තර නීතිවේදීන්ගේ සම්මේලනයේ මානව හිමිකම් ආයතනය පෙන්වා දී තිබිණි.

විශේෂයෙන්ම සිංහල කාන්තාවන්ට 'වඳ සැත්කම්' කළ බවට ව්‍යාජ චෝදනා එල්ල වූ වෛද්‍ය ෂිහාබ්දීන් මොහොමඩ් ෂාෆි වෙනුවෙන් පෙනී සිටි නීතිවේදියා ද ඔහුය. (එම චෝදනාව සනාථ කිරීම සඳහා සාක්ෂි නොමැති බව අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව අධිකරණයට දැනුම් දී තිබේ)

වෛද්‍ය ෂිහාබ්දීන් මොහොමඩ් ෂාෆිImage copyrightTWITTERImage captionවෛද්‍ය ෂිහාබ්දීන් මොහොමඩ් ෂාෆි

තවත් බොහෝ දෙස්, විදෙස් සංවිධාන සහ නීතිවේදීන්, සිවිල් සංවිධාන සහ ක්‍රියාධරයෝ ආණ්ඩුවේ ක්‍රියාකලාපය දැඩි ලෙස ප්‍රශ්න කළහ.

හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලා අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම හා බැඳුනු සිදුවීම් ගැන දීර්ඝ ලිපියක් ලියමින් මාධ්‍යවේදිනී ජයනි අබේසේකර අවධාරණය කර තිබුණේ, කොරෝනාවෛරස වසංගතය යනු නීතියට පිටින් කටයුතු කිරීමට පොලිසියට හෝ ආණ්ඩුවට දුන් බලපත්‍රයක් නොවන බවය.

මේ අතර, ඩේලි එෆ්ටී පුවත්පතේ ලිපියක් උපුටා දක්වමින් ඔක්ස්ෆර්ඩ් විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයේ ආචාර්ය උපාධියක් හදාරන නීතිවේදී ගෙහාන් ගුණතිලක, සැකකරුවෙකු වැරදිකරුවෙකු කිරීමට ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ජනමාධ්‍ය මෙතරම් කැසකවන්නේ මන්දැයි ප්‍රශ්න කර තිබිණි.

හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලාගේ පවුලේ සාමාජිකයින් පවසන පරිදි, ත්‍රස්ත විරෝධී පනත යටතේ ඔහු අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීමේ සිට මේ දක්වා පොලිසිය හැසිරුණු ආකාරය බරපතල සැක සංකා ගණනාවක් මතු කරන්නකි.

පවුලේ සාමාජිකයින් ගේ ලිපිය

පවුලේ සාමාජිකයින් විසින් අධිකරණයේ ගොනු කරන ලද හිබයාස් කෝපුස් පෙත්සම් සහ ඉන් අනතුරුව නිකුත් කරන ලද ඉහත දැක්වෙන නිවේදනයට අනුව, පොලිසිය මෙන්ම බොහෝ ජනමාධ්‍ය ද හැසිරෙන ආකාරය පිළිබඳ පහත දැක්වෙන කරුණු අවධානයට ලක් කර තිබේ.

  • ඔහු අත්ඩංගුවට ගැනීම පිණිස පොලිසිය පැමිණීමට පෙර ලැබුණු දුරකතන ඇමතුමක සඳහන් වූයේ නිරෝධායන කටයුත්තක් සලකා බැලීම පිණිස සෞඛ්‍ය බලධාරීන් නිවසට පැමිණෙන බවකි.
  • නිලධාරීන් නිවසට පැමිණි වහාම ඔහුට මාංචු දමා ප්‍රකාශයක් සටහන් කරගත්හ.
  • අත්ඩංගුවට ගත් අවස්ථාවේ සිට මෙතෙක් ඔහු අධිකරණයක් වෙත ඉදිරිපත් කොට නැත.
  • ඔහුට සිය නීතිවේදියා හමුවීමට අවසර ලැබුණේ අවස්ථා දෙකකදී පමණි. ඒ, විමර්ශන නිලධාරියෙකු ඉදිරිපස දී විනාඩි 10 ක පමණ කාලයකටය. එහිදී ඔහුට තමන්ට එරෙහි චෝදනා ගැන අදහස් දැක්වීමට අවසර නොලැබුණි.
  • ඔහු මද්රාසා පාසලක විදුහල්පති බවටත්, පාස්කු ප්‍රහාරයේ මහ මොලකරු වූ සහ්රාන් හෂීම් එහි පැමිණ දේශන පැවැත්වූ බවටත් හදිසියේම මාධ්‍ය වාර්තා පළවිය. එම පාසලේ ඉගෙනුම ලබන සිසුවෙක් මහේස්ත්‍රාත්වරයෙකු ඉදිරියේ කරන ලද බව පැවසෙන රහසිගත ප්‍රකාශයක් ද මාධ්‍ය වාර්තාවලට ඇතුළත් විය.
  • අදාළ චෝදනාව සම්පූර්ණයෙන්ම අසත්‍යයක් බව පවසන පවුලේ සාමාජිකයෝ, එසේ රහසිගත ප්‍රකාශයක් කළේ නම් එය මාධ්‍ය වෙත ලැබුණේ කෙසේ දැයි ප්‍රශ්න කරති.
  • මේ අතර පොලිසිය තමන්ගෙන් බලහත්කාරයෙන් ප්‍රකාශයක් ලබාගත් බවට මද්රාසා පාසලේ සිසුන් දෙදෙනකුගේ දෙමාපියන් අධිකරණයට පෙත්සමක් ඉදිරිපත් කර තිබේ.

සිංහල මාධ්‍ය වාර්තා විශ්ලේෂණය කරන ethics eye ආයතනය ද එම වාර්තාවල සදාචාරාත්මක බව ප්‍රශ්න කර තිබිණි.

පොලිසියේ ප්‍රතිචාරය

පොලිසිය පවසන්නේ, නීතිවේදී හිජාස් තවමත් අධිකරණයට ඉදිරිපත් නොකළේ අදාළ විමර්ශන කටයුතු තවමත් අවසන් වී නොමැති නිසා බවය.

ත්‍රස්තවාදය වැලැක්වීමේ පනත යටතේ, වරෙන්තුවකින් තොරව නිවාසවලට පිවිස සෝදිසි කිරීමට සහ පුද්ගලයන් අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීමට පොලිසියට බලය පැවරේ.

එබැවින් ඔහු තවදුරටත් අපරාධ විමර්ශන කාර්යාංශය යටතේ රඳවාගනු ලැබ සිටින බීබීසී සිංහල සේවය සමඟ කියා සිටි පොලිස් ප්‍රකාශක පොලිස් අධිකාරී ජාලිය සේනාරත්න, "විමර්ශන ඉවර වෙනතුරු අපිට ඔහු රඳවාගන්න වෙනවා," යනුවෙන් ද සඳහන් කළේය.

අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීමට පෙර සෞඛ්‍ය නිලධාරීන් ලෙසින් හඳුන්වා ගනිමින් ඔහුට ඇමතුමක් දුන් බවක් විමර්ශන නිලධාරීන් තමන්ට දැනුම් දී නැතැයි පවසන පොලිස් ප්‍රකාශකවරයා, විමර්ශනය තවමත් පැවැත්වෙන බැවින් පොලිස් මාධ්‍ය ඒකකය මාධ්‍ය වෙත ලබා දෙන්නේ තමන්ට හෙළි කළ හැකි තොරතුරු පමණක් බව ද පැවසීය.

පොලිස් අධිකාරී ජාලිය සේනාරත්න පවසන පරිදි, පාස්කු ඉරිදා ප්‍රහාරය සම්බන්ධයෙන් පැවැත්වෙන විමර්ශන දේශපාලන අරමුණකින් යුතුව කෙරෙන්නක් නොවේ. එබැවින් එයට කිසිදු දේශපාලන බලපෑමක් නැත.

පාස්කු ප්‍රහාරයට සම්බන්ධ බවට සැකයක් තිබුණේ නම් නීතිඥ හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලා අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම පිණිස ප්‍රහාරයෙන් වසරකට ආසන්න කාලයක් ගත වූයේ මන්දැයි බීබීසී සිංහල සේවය කළ විමසීමට පිළිතුරු දෙමින් ඔහු කියා සිටියේ, ප්‍රහාරය සම්බන්ධ විමර්ශන තවමත් පැවැත්වෙන බැවින් තවත් සැකකරුවන් ගැන ඉදිරියේදී පවා තොරතුරු අනාවරණය වීමට ඉඩ තිබෙන බවය.

කියවන්න:

 

NEC Chairman continuing as one-man commission: Hoole

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August, September dates  discussed for polls 
Bills from 2019 presidential  election not paid
My US citizenship oath nothing to  be ashamed of


National Elections Commission (NEC) member Ratnajeevan H. Hoole has not been in good terms with NEC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya in recent times and this has been evident in statements Hoole has made to the media. In an interview with Dailymirror, Hoole opens up on his issues with Deshapriya, concerns over the proposed dates for the parliamentary election and several other matters. Excerpts:

Q  There was a lot of debate with regard to the postponed parliamentary poll and now the NEC has picked June 20 to hold the election. Why June 20?


Many have asked why we chose the President’s birthday. I was not aware it is his birth date. Superstition is suggested because the President who did well on November 16 (1+6=7) had set April 25 (2+5=7) for the parliamentary election.
However, on the morning of April 20, as soon as I came to my commission office, Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya (MD) took issue with me over my letter to the commission which he claimed I had given to the press. I responded that a newspaper had it and asked me to confirm I had written the memo, which I did. I added that after that, since it was public anyway, I gave copies to a few who asked for it.
Fortunately, as the argument heated up, Nalin Abeyesekere, PC (NA), crashed in and he was upset that the chairman asked me to agree to May 28 and he knew nothing of it till he read my memo (I feel free to discuss this because a senior journalist who called me that noon recounted every detail of our conversations on the 20th, telling me “I have three good sources in the commission offices.”)
NA held, and I agreed, that we had postponed the April 25 date because of COVID-19 which as of the twentieth morning had got worse and there was no reason to go back on that. Both NA and I said the June 2 deadline for the new Parliament to meet was impossible and a new date should be as late as possible due to COVID-19. MD insisted on a rationale for a date. It was time for our 11 o’clock meeting but I insisted on finishing this matter before leaving my office. All three agreed it should be September 2 (five years after Parliament had met) or August 17 (five years after Parliament had been elected).


"The press too played a subservient role. You folk call the Chairman Head of the Commission. The Commonwealth Secretariat calls him Chief. Editors continue to call him Commissioner when there is no Commissioner. You thrive on sucking up"


After the meeting, MD reopened the date and wanted July 15 with no particular rationale. Then, after another meeting, as if to give a rationale, he had a handwritten paper on which he marked dates April 27 (curfew listed as stated by the government), May 2 to ensure COVID-19 was easing and then 7 weeks (5-7 weeks for campaigning as in the Act) taking us to June 20.
At the commission, he banged the table and said he owes his loyalty only to one country and he never went about swearing allegiance to another. Was he meaning Basil and Gotabaya Rajapaksa or me? I must note that my US citizenship oath “to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States” has nothing for me to be ashamed of, and I can proudly do that for any democratic state. In contrast, MD was a member of the JVP in its most violent days, committed to overthrowing our democratically-elected government.At that point, I was so relieved to get away from the madness of a May election that I was happy to agree to June 20 and be done with it.
Then in the evening, medical experts met us and were emphatic that no one knew where COVID-19 was going. Dr. Paba Palihawardene, Deputy Director General of Health Services, said “it is highly likely” that COVID-19 would last at least for two years with ups and downs. Dr. Jasinghe was non-committal asking us to decide and that curfews are being lifted.
Later, the commission met again to draft the gazette. The chairman drafted it and gave it to NA who assumed it was as agreed. I had to study the Tamil draft which had the date May 30 for the election. It had to be redone with the right date.
As reported in Dailymirror, (22.4.2020), “the EC yesterday agreed to review [the poll date of 20.4.2020], Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya said.” There was no commission meeting from 20.4.2020 6:00 p.m. till now.
SLMC’s Rauff Hakeem and Nizam Kariapper have declared our decision unconstitutional. Not quite. Yes, Article 70(5) is violated. It is violated not by us but because it is impossible for the new Parliament to meet by 02.06.2020 given COVID-19. Even where curfew is relaxed, only 50% of the workforce is to be called. And then we must keep a one-meter distance. How when during elections we commandeer a workforce as large as 300% of the norm? Violation of 70(5) is a fait accompli. The doctrine of necessity justifies that violation. 

Q  With some restrictions likely to still be in place by June as a result of coronavirus, do you really think the environment will be conducive to hold an election or is it too soon?

New ways of bypassing these problems of restrictions are possible. But for innovative solutions, laws need to be amended. Examples are internet voting, multiple voting days to ease staff shortages, real powers to punish polls-law violators (at the commission no one knows of anyone who has been punished since the enactment of the 1981 Act, except for little boys who put up posters), making it necessary for the Attorney General to act within a timeframe when we refer a matter to him. And that requires Parliament to be back. 

Q  Should the old Parliament be convened, in your opinion, on or after June 2 since the election has been postponed from the original date?

It really is the easiest solution. To be a democracy, we need a Parliament of our representatives. Today itself if the President would cancel his gazette of 02.03.2020, everything that flowed from it – particularly the dissolution of Parliament and nomination papers filed – would be nullified. Parliament can then make right all unlawful measures like curfew declaration and the drawing of funds that have been drawn without Parliament.

Q  The election is likely to cost more than earlier estimated with election staff having to need protective gear. Has the commission done an estimate on this?

No. We need to decide on new measures. Our offices have been mostly shut during the pandemic. This is why the election to enable Parliament to convene by June 2 is impossible. Even our bills from the presidential election of November 2019 have not been paid.

Q  You have been very outspoken in recent times on matters related to the work of the commission. And this gives the impression that all is not well among the three members. Is that the case?

Nowhere do we have three people sitting down together and having the same ideas. But it is important to have trust and courtesy to be able to work together. My main issue is the chairman continuing as a one-man commission. As you know, he was commissioner before the 19th Amendment. After his retirement age, he was kept on extension till 19A was ready.
The intention, if you carefully read the law, is to have three members with one as chairman. The only difference was that the chairman had an extra vote if there is a tie, an unlikely event with three members. The commissioner with czar-like powers could not settle into being a co-equal chairman.
The press too played a subservient role. You folk call the Chairman Head of the Commission. The Commonwealth Secretariat calls him Chief. Editors continue to call him Commissioner when there is no Commissioner. You thrive on sucking up.
Then, the Cabinet messed up the commission. They gave a car to the chairman and only a travel allowance to the two members. This was hardly enough for a few meetings. So the other two members could not travel to the commission on a daily basis nor to faraway meetings. Only the chairman could order a commission car for us and we developed a dependent relationship. Nowadays to come during curfew and COVID-19, I need the chairman to arrange my transport. It seemed that the government and press preferred to deal with one man.
Almost all decisions were by the chairman. Staff who were used to a commissioner still treat the chairman as commissioner. He did their performance evaluations without showing us. He gives press conferences where there is no agreement as a commission on what is to be said and we two sit on either side like dummies.



"Nowhere do we have three people sitting down together and having the same ideas. But it is important to have trust and courtesy to be able to work together. My main issue is the chairman continuing as a one-man commission"


The association of all 25 regional assistant/deputy commissioners has been struggling with issues. Here is their email from August 2018 to the two members but we have not got the appointment they wanted:“This is to kindly inform you that we have made a written request to the Secretary - Elections Commission to get an appointment from two commission members. Even though we made the request to meet you, we did not receive any positive response up to now. Instead, we receive several calls from the chairman regarding this appointment and dictating terms for this meeting.  
“Mainly, we do not want to be governed by the chairman’s arbitrary decisions and unethical pressure. This pressure has penetrated our family lives as well. The communication and physical gaps we had with two members is the main reason for these issues according to our knowledge. We never wanted to maintain a gap but someone did.
“Even now, the chairman is trying to limit our representation which is going to meet you. At least we beg you to give us a reasonable time to talk freely. Almost all other District DCs and ACs are willing to express their views on this meeting.
“Our request letter with the Secretary, which we have a doubt whether it communicated to you sirs.”
A meeting was fixed in Colombo on a Sunday. I went there and found the chairman had moved it to Kandy and without transport I could not go.
“This gap” is to have selected subservient staff in Colombo. A minute was generated that the commission devolves its powers to the staff. Since corrected minutes are not given to us, my corrections never came back to me. These selected staff take decisions the chairman dictates. The worst manipulation was the appointment of the Commissioner General through manipulated selection criteria, a closing date advanced and sending the interview invitation late to a good candidate. But Mr. Abeyesekere who was on the interview team withdrew. The chairman now has suggested that the CG be allowed to run the elections.
Although MD denies it, I am informed by senior staff that the gazette dissolving Parliament in October 2018 was prepared by Director Channa de Silva, the two went together to the Presidential Secretariat up to the gate where de Silva alighted from the car and returned, leaving MD to proceed alone.

Q  Is NEC really independent as it is supposed to be or is there bias?


You be the judge.

Q  There had been calls in the past for the commission to be given more powers. Is that still a key requirement?


We do need more powers, but as writer Tisaranee Gunasekera told me, with independent commissions we also need independent members.

http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/NEC-Chairman-continuing-as-one-man-commission-Hoole/172-187114

   

Sri Lanka’s Muslim Coronavirus Victims Deserve Honorable Religious Funeral

While Sri Lankan government remains adamant on cremating bodies of Muslim coronavirus victims, despite an earlier decision to allow burials, doctors worldwide have come out with scientific facts to prove that   burials, now taking place in more than 180 countries worldwide, do not cause any harm to anyone.

Burial for Muslim corona virus dead victims, according to World Health Organization guidelines and local funeral laws, was agreed all over the world  

In a 16 minute video Dr Feroze M Mubarak, COVID-19 Practice Strategy Lead, Clinical Director, SAS North & Central London on scientific facts-Cremation of Covid 19 infected bodies, has explained clearly why in the case of Muslims, Christians and Jews burial should be permitted.

https://youtu.be/NQQxvmgRp08

 

However here in Sri Lanka the government, contravening its own previous guidelines, remains adamant on cremating bodies of Muslim corona victims. Third Muslim corona victim from Kalutara who died on Wednesday 8 April 2020   was cremated in complete secrecy though Muslims view it as desecration of the deceased.

This was not reported in the mainstream local media known for its hostility towards Muslims. Instead ,perhaps to justify the cremation, a section of the media published a fake news saying that the Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates has cremated Muslim corona virus dead.

This misleading report was categorically rejected by the UAE Embassy in Colombo.

There were also increasing reports from Human Rights Watch and numerous local organizations accusing the local media of undertaking a planned campaign to associate Muslims with corona virus, as it is happening in India, to poison the Sinhalese minds against Muslims.

The island’s helpless and voiceless Muslims community is seething with anger. 

In view of the growing pressure from the Muslim community, Muslim parliamentarians met Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to appeal to him to allow burial   as it is done in many parts of the world.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa met them after party leaders meeting at Temple Trees during the first week of this month. When the meeting was about to start Muslim parliamentarians pointed out they would like to meet separate. However the Prime Minister insisted on having the meeting there itself in the presence of others.

Muslim parliamentarians felt uncomfortable with the presence of parliamentarians Wimal Wirawansa and Udaya Gammanpila whose hostilities towards Muslims were common knowledge.

During the meeting SLMC Chairman Rauf Hakeem pleaded not to cremate Muslim corona victims as it violates the religious principles. He supported his plea by citing the World Health Organization circular, government’s own circular and the decision taken by numerous European countries to allow burial of Muslim corona dead bodies.

But, as expected, both Wimal Wirawansa and Gammanpila, opposed and read out statements insisting on cremating Muslim corona victims. This was backed by health ministry officials and the prime minister, insisted on cremating.

Muslims feel that this decision was to punish them for not voting for the government and please the Sinhalese hardliners. They also pointed out that Rajapaksa governments were responsible for Muslims not voting for their governments as memories of their sufferings   under them remain fresh.

There were appeals from Muslims and non-Muslims alike to allow the burials of Muslim corona victim’s dead bodies. 

For example in a statement issued on 7 April 2020  a collective of citizens and organizations comprising leading civil society members, academics and activists, has written to President Gothabaya to follow WHO guidelines and allow burial.

They urged to consider the MOH Circular of April 1, 2020 and amendments dated March 31, 2020 to the MOH Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines, and instead follow WHO Guidance on the disposal of bodies. They also called upon the president to address the country’s greatly distressed Muslims and put to rest their fears that they are somehow being punished, or that the country has little respect for their concerns.

The letter has been copied to Health Minister Pavithra Waniarachchi, Director General Health Services Dr. Anil Jayasinghe, Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera, Director of the Infectious Diseases Hospital Dr. Hasitha Attanayake, Chief Judicial Medical Officer Dr. Ajith Tennakoon, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission Dr. Deepika Udagama and WHO Sri Lanka Representative Dr. Razia Pendse.

They pointed out worldwide, including the Chinese province of Wuhan where the disease was first reported, corona victims were buried,

For example The British government assured Muslim and Jewish communities that they will have their religious burial rights respected and there will not be mandatory cremations.

French President Emmanuel Macron assured that Muslims who die in France during the coronavirus pandemic will be buried in accordance with their religious beliefs and traditions.     

In Italy Muslim Covid-19 victims were accorded an honorable Islamic burial and up to ten family members and friends were allowed to attend the funeral prayer from a distance.

In India the Mumbai civic body’s order – that bodies of coronavirus patients can only be cremated, was withdrawn within hours after the state government intervened in the matter.

Urging governments and political leaders not to politicize corona virus issue World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned against using Covid-19 to “score political points”, stating that that he had received deaths threats and has been subjected to racist abuse.

Meanwhile Mariam Ardati, funeral and cemeteries advisor to the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC), said in a statement that Coronavirus cremations would be ‘horrific’

for Muslims, but it was permissible for bodies to be buried in leak-proof plastic bags. This measure was approved by the Islamic body known as the Fatwa Council. 

She said” For Muslims, cremation is not only prohibited, it’s viewed as a desecration of the deceased.

“There remains a connection between the body and soul even in death, so this is something that is quite metaphysical, and it’s a very strongly held belief,” explains Mariam Ardati.

“To inflict that type of treatment on the body in death, it’s quite horrific to even consider.” And, according to Ms Ardati, it’s causing panic, “because these are rights that are afforded to people in death, just as someone has rights afforded to them while they’re alive”.

When a Muslim person dies, their body is honoured with four rituals.

First, the body is washed — with soapy water, clean water, then camphor-infused water — then it is wrapped in a funeral shroud, perfumed with incense.

“Then there’s a communal prayer that’s offered for the deceased, and that’s when the whole community comes together,” explains Ms Ardati.

The fourth rite is that the deceased is buried, not in a coffin, but laid directly onto the earth  

Meanwhile in an appeal to Director General WHO, Organization of Islamic Countries, OIC, and the United Nations, Furkan Careem from Beruwala has appealed to prevail on Sri Lankan government to allow burial of Muslim corona victims.

https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sri-lankas-muslim-coronavirus-victims-deserve-honorable-religious-funeral/

 

Respect Burial Rights; Stop Hate Speech Against Muslims: UN Tells Gota

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The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief has urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to follow WHO guidelines on the disposal of deceased persons.

Writing to the President, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion said: We would like to encourage your Excellency’s Government to reconsider the provisions in the MoH Guideline by taking into account of the key considerations provided by WHO Guideline for the disposal of the bodies of human beings deceased from the COVID-19, and revise the circular accordingly. In view of the challenges posed by the pandemic it is important that the Government avoids any unnecessary measures that are likely to raise tension and are running contrary to the respect of the fundamental human rights of the persons belonging to different communities that exist in Sri Lanka. Arbitrary decisions concerning the disposal of bodies of victims of the COVID-19 may also have the opposite effect to provoking the reluctance of families and communities to report COVID-19 cases in fear that they may be unable ensure proper funeral or burial rites for their loved ones. Ideally, such provisions should be revised in consultation with all the concerned ethnic and religious communities and other relevant health experts and stakeholders.

“We respectfully reiterate the importance that the Government continues to uphold the right of freedom of religion or belief as well as the right of the minorities even during this challenging time. The protection of the privacy and identity of the patients or deceased without identifying their ethnicity or religious background in public would prevent their stigmatisation as individuals or member of a specific community.

“We are taking the opportunity to stress that it is equally important that your Excellency’s Government firmly condemn any attempt by anyone, irrespective of status, to issue or spread hate messages that are of a nature to instigate ethnic or religious tensions or violence, including through accusations or blame that any particular ethnic or religious community is responsible for the pandemic of COVID-19.”

Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief also ask the President to;

* Clarify the rationale for the decision to limit the method of the disposal of the dead bodies to cremation. Has any consultation been held with relevant health experts, civil society and community members in order to ensure that the decision to prohibit the burial of COVID-19 victims is non-discriminatory, necessary and proportionate to the objective pursued?

* The information if relevant personnel dealing with the disposal of bodies of victims of the COVID-19 have been trained or informed to ensure that the close family member of the deceased get to see the body before it is sealed and that they are informed of the cremation of the body well in advance.

* The measures undertaken to ensure that ethnic and religious minorities, are not discriminated against in the implementation of this MoH Guideline and that their right to freedom of religion or belief with regard to burial rites and practices is upheld and respected.

* The information on the steps taken to tackle potential rise in hate speech against Muslims and other ethnic or religious minorities in Sri Lanka, including by protecting the identity of the COVID-19 patients or deceased?

We publish below the letter in full:

PALAIS DES NATIONS • 1211 GENEVA 10, SWITZERLAND

Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; the Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

REFERENCE: AL LKA 2/20208

April 2020

Excellency,

We have the honour to address you in our capacities as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 40/10, 42/16, 34/6 and 40/16.

In this connection, we would like to bring to the attention of your Excellency’s Government information we have received concerning the circular by the Ministry of Health of Sri Lanka providing standard guidance on the autopsy practice and the disposal of COVID-19 related dead body.

According to the information received:

In March 2020, the Ministry of Health published Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines on COVID-19 suspected and confirmed patients (MoH Guideline). This circular includes a chapter on the autopsy practice and the disposal of dead bodies.

Up till the third version of the MoH Guideline published on 27 March 2020, it was provided that a body related to death either confirmed (Category I) or suspected (Category II & III) of COVID-19, should be disposed within 24 hours (preferably within 12 hours) according to the guidance listed below:

• The body should never be washed under any circumstance.

• Cremation or burial is allowed. However, burial is allowed provided that all steps to prevent contact with body [are] ensured.

• The body has to be placed in an airtight sealed body bag and a sealed coffin.

• The grave should have a depth of 6 feet (deep burial). It should not contaminate with ground water.

• The grave should be identifiable and traceable.

• The disposal of bodies must be monitored by police, Ministry of Health and Public Health Inspector.

• The police and other government agencies must follow the legal aspect and their procedures.

However, on 31 March 2020, the Ministry of Health amended the Guideline and the fourth version with the amendments provided that a body related to death either confirmed (Category I) or suspected (Category II & III) of COVID-19, should be cremated within 24 hours (preferably within 12 hours) according to the guidance listed below:

• The body should never be washed under any circumstance.

• The body has to be placed in a sealed body bag and a coffin.

• Exclusive cremation.

• The disposal of bodies must be monitored by police, Ministry of Health and Public Health Inspector.

We understand that this fourth amendment of the MoH Guideline came following the cremation of a COVID-19 victim of a Muslim community on 31 March 2020 in Negombo, without consultation with and against the wishes of his family. We are concerned that the amendment is inconsistent with the Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 guideline provided by World Health Organisation (WHO Guideline). Furthermore, we are concerned of the lack of consideration provided and the lack of sensitivity in the MoH Guideline to different communities and their religious and cultural practices.

We recognize that the pandemic of COVID-19 has posed serious public health challenges and that there is a need to take various factors into consideration in making sure the spread of COVID-19 is contained. While the reasons for the decision of the Ministry of Health to make such amendment have not been communicated, and do not seem to have been decided with any consultation with the relevant communities, we would like to stress that the legitimacy for such amendments should be based on the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination. Indeed, when cultural or religious sensitivities are involved, an inclusive and participatory dialogue or consultation with relevant stakeholders, including the civil society and different ethnic or religious communities must be conducted before a decision is taken. Such a participatory approach and clear communication to all stakeholders of the steps taken and the reasons for taking such steps, are also more likely to increase public confidence in such measures and minimise public disquiet over such restrictions.

In this regard we would like to bring specific attention to the following:

1. Method of the disposal of dead body- Under the section on Burial, WHO Guideline provides that people who have died from COVID-19 can be buried or cremated. Under the section on Burial by family members or for deaths at home, it further indicated that in contexts where mortuary services are not standard or reliably available, or where it is usual for ill people to die at home, families and traditional burial attendants can be equipped and educated to bury people under supervision. Besides, the WHO Guideline clearly outlined that one of the key considerations is to avoid hasty disposal of a dead from COVID-19.

2. Handling of the dead body- MoH Guideline instructed that the dead body should never be washed under any circumstance and that the body has to be placed in a sealed body bag and in coffin. WHO Guideline does not preclude that a person such as family member or religious leader can prepare the deceased that involved washing, cleaning or dressing body, tidying hair, trimming nails or shaving. It only instructed the necessary safety and health precautions to be taken when any person decided to do so according to their customs or religious rites. It also allows for cloth wrapping.

3. Viewing of body- WHO Guideline also provided that the family wishes only to view the body may do so, as long as the family is given clear instructions not to touch or kiss the body and to use standard precautions at all times. It was furthermore indicated that family and friends may view the body after it has been prepared for burial, in accordance with customs.

By contrast, the MoH Guideline allows the viewing of the body only by close relative/s in a pre-designated area in hospital and it forbids viewing after the body is sealed. Even with this provision in place, some family members of deceased allegedly did not get to see the body before the cremation took place. This has reportedly created a lot of stress to the deceased’s family.

4. Sensitivity to local, customary and religious practices – WHO Guideline has highlighted that the dignity of the dead, their cultural and religious traditions, and their families should be respected and protected throughout. It was advised the need to apply principles of cultural sensitivity or to handle the burial or dead body in accordance with customs while ensuring standard precautions are followed at all time.

We recommend that attention be given in the MoH Guideline to existing cultural and religious sensitivity or traditions in the country. Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protects everyone’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The Human Rights Committee in its General Comment 22 paragraph 4 advises that the freedom to manifest religion or belief may be exercised “either individually or in community with others and in public or private”. It elaborates that the freedom to manifest religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching encompasses a broad range of acts and the concept of worship extends to ritual and ceremonial acts giving direct expression to belief, as well as various practices integral to such acts, including ritual formulae or ceremonial acts.

While the manifestation of religion or belief may be restricted as per Article 18(3) of the ICCPR, to protect public safety, order, health, morals and the fundamental rights and freedoms of others any such limitation must fulfil a number of obligatory criteria including being non-disriminatory in intent or effect and constituting the least restrictive measure. Even in the face of overwhelming public necessity that falls on one or more of the five grounds for permissble limitations noted in Article 18(3), if there is a less restrictive measure, a greater interfernce with the right to manifest one’s beliefs will not be permissible. Given that the WHO Guideline does not discard burial, albeit under specific conditions for the preparation of the body, as one of two means for the disposal of the body, prohibiting burial would not be permissible according to the ICCPR.

Article 27 of ICCPR provides that “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.” The 1992 Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities also emphasised that persons belonging to minorities have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, and to use their own language, in private and in public, freely, without any interference or any form of discrimination (article 2.1), and persons belonging to minorities have the right to participate effectively in cultural, religious, social, economic and public life (article 2.2). Moreover, States are required to ensure that persons belonging to minorities may exercise their human rights without discrimination and in full equality before the law (article 4.1) and create favourable conditions to enable persons belonging to minorities to express their characteristics and to develop their culture, language, religion, traditions and customs (article 4.2).

In conclusion, we would like to encourage your Excellency’s Government to reconsider the provisions in the MoH Guideline by taking into account of the key considerations provided by WHO Guideline for the disposal of the bodies of human beings deceased from the COVID-19, and revise the circular accordingly. In view of the challenges posed by the pandemic it is important that the Government avoids any unnecessary measures that are likely to raise tension and are running contrary to the respect of the fundamental human rights of the persons belonging to different communities that exist in Sri Lanka. Arbitrary decisions concerning the disposal of bodies of victims of the COVID-19 may also have the opposite effect to provoking the reluctance of families and communities to report COVID-19 cases in fear that they may be unable ensure proper funeral or burial rites for their loved ones. Ideally, such provisions should be revised in consultation with all the concerned ethnic and religious communities and other relevant health experts and stakeholders.

We respectfully reiterate the importance that the Government continues to uphold the right of freedom of religion or belief as well as the right of the minorities even during this challenging time. The protection of the privacy and identity of the patients or deceased without identifying their ethnicity or religious background in public would prevent their stigmatisation as individuals or member of a specific community.

We are taking the opportunity to stress that it is equally important that your Excellency’s Government firmly condemn any attempt by anyone, irrespective of status, to issue or spread hate messages that are of a nature to instigate ethnic or religious tensions or violence, including through accusations or blame that any particular ethnic or religious community is responsible for the pandemic of COVID-19.

The full texts of the human rights instruments and standards recalled above are available on www.ohchr.org or can be provided upon request.

As it is our responsibility, under the mandates provided to us by the Human Rights Council, to seek to clarify all cases brought to our attention, we would be grateful for your observations on the following matters:

1. Please provide any additional information and any comment you may have on the above-mentioned allegations and concerns.

2. Please provide the rationale for the decision to limit the method of the disposal of the dead bodies to cremation. Has any consultation been held with relevant health experts, civil society and community members in order to ensure that the decision to prohibit the burial of COVID-19 victims is non-discriminatory, necessary and proportionate to the objective pursued?

3. Please provide information if relevant personnel dealing with the disposal of bodies of victims of the COVID-19 have been trained or informed to ensure that the close family member of the deceased get to see the body before it is sealed and that they are informed of the cremation of the body well in advance.

4. Please indicate the measures undertaken to ensure that ethnic and religious minorities, are not discriminated against in the implementation of this MoH Guideline and that their right to freedom of religion or belief with regard to burial rites and practices is upheld and respected.

5. Please provide information on the steps taken to tackle potential rise in hate speech against Muslims and other ethnic or religious minorities in Sri Lanka, including by protecting the identity of the COVID-19 patients or deceased?

This communication, as a comment on pending or recently adopted legislation, regulations or policies, and any response received from your Excellency’s Government will be made public via the communications reporting website within 48 hours. They will also subsequently be made available in the usual report to be presented to the Human Rights Council.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration.

Ahmed Shaheed

Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/respect-burial-rights-stop-hate-speech-against-muslims-un-tells-gota/

   

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