Sri Lanka COVID-19: Open Letter to Ahmed Shaheed Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

This refers to your letter addressed to the Sri Lankan President H E Gotabaya Rajapakse. It is unfortunate that you have been misinformed leading to you writing to a country’s President and exposing your ignorance. In Sri Lanka 7 COVID-19 deaths of which 3 are Muslim. Other than these 3 Muslims, all other Muslims have been burying their dead and are continuing to do so. You are writing to a country’s President on behalf of 3 COVID-19 Muslims completely ignoring the rest of the victims. This is not what is expected of a Special Rapporteur.


Freedoms and Rights of one stops where freedoms and rights of others are violated. This is the golden rule. If demands for rights or special privileges violates the rights of others, it cannot be allowed.


No Special Rapporteur can only address minority issues ignoring or compromising on national issues. Promotion & protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms cannot come at the sacrifice or compromise of others. Special privileges are not rights or freedoms.


The COVID-19 virus is nothing anyone can firmly make final conclusions about. All are testing or experimenting and making adverse, contradictory or confusing statements across the globe. This confusion and uncertainty cannot impact on the general population and cause greater chaos by ignorance. In such scenarios it is prudent to take the worst case scenario & adopt the most extreme measures. The Government is beholden to ensure the safety of the living and future which cannot and should not be interpreted or promoted as disrespecting the dead.


The whole world is in chaos. The Western world inspite of all its infrastructure & technology is overwhelmed to handle the situation. The health authorities and staff in these countries cannot be questioned on how they are handling the abnormal situation they find themselves in. Anyone who is not facing the pressure are free to comment and criticize but only those in the thick of things know the ordeal they are going through. So, let us not patronize the health services of any country & their decision making at this juncture. They are spending sleepless nights fighting to save lives and they are not able to follow any book at this juncture except to do the right thing and no one can reprimand them for this.


If you listen to the first Sri Lankan COVID-19 patient who recovered and has returned home, he will reveal how well he was looked after with the hospital doctor even bringing him porridge made at his home.


Officials in the UN can throw all the dictums and terms on the table because they are not facing any of the pressures that doctors, nurses and others facing the COVID-19 are undergoing. They can preach “you should have done it this way, should have not done it this way” which is all that UN officials generally like to patronize countries with. But would they handle the situation any better?


So, tell us if the tube wells, water systems, agriculture etc in Sri Lanka get contaminated from burying dead covid-19 bodies – what is your solution, what can you personally do to address this? WHO has given only general guidelines. It is not a rule that all countries have to follow. In Ecuador covid-19 dead bodies are lying on the roads, what is UN/WHO guideline for this and what is your solution?


In a national crisis none of individual or community freedoms come to play. The nation must face the problem as One Nation and One People. Therefore, in a national crisis it is no time to be thinking exclusively as a majority or minority or making demands of a minority or majority or demanding rights as an exclusive community. Privileges are not rights. In a national crisis the country’s decision makers take decisions considering every person as ONE AND THE SAME CITIZEN and not compartmentalizing them. Therefore, it is very strange that people who refer to themselves as Special Rapporteurs are writing to promote the interests of only one community. This is very wrong and unfair by others who are no less victims.


When the Government declares a lockdown or curfew – it doesn’t say the lockdown is applicable to majority, minority or a community. It says the curfew is applicable to ALL and when it is applicable to ALL – ALL must obey and follow the orders given.


When the Government sets up quarantine centres or hospitals – the government is not treating anyone or any community differently. All are patients, all are given the same food, all are given medication equally and free too. This is nothing that the Western world is even doing. Patients who have no insurance or cannot pay or are old are not even admitted to hospital. Sri Lanka, though a third world stands way above in terms of delivery for covid-19 situation than most countries of the first world.


You can quote all the Articles under the Conventions but can you handle a COVID-19 situation simply quoting clauses? Can you protect people from contamination and disease by quoting Articles & Conventions? Please be realistic and practical.


You seem to be confused in your hurry to address a Country’s President


Muslims have been burying their dead in the past and Muslims are continuing to bury their dead. How?


Any Muslim who has died other than from COVID-19 are having their dead buried. EVEN NOW. Did you not know this?


IT IS ONLY the 3 COVID-19 DEAD MUSLIMS who were cremated.


So you are writing to the President of Sri Lanka representing 3 COVID-19 dead when all other dead Muslims are getting buried.


Hope you are not embarrassed by this.

But you should seriously take stock of facts before addressing a letter to the President of a country.


Then the other factor is that you are totally ignoring the fact that all of the 7 COVID-19 dead had the same method adopted in disposing of their dead bodies. Therefore, if you as Special Rapporteur speaking on behalf of the 3 Muslims, you should also be speaking on behalf of the other 4 COVID-19 dead too. Out of this 4 – 2 are Catholics and Catholics also bury their dead. So why are you not speaking a word on behalf of the Catholics?


Last of all, in noticing your name – Ahmed Shaheed, it is prudent to remind you that you cannot be the judge of your own case. As a Muslim there is a major conflict of interest arising clearly evident by the nature of your reply. In such a situation, it is only fair that you recuse yourself from making statements.


However, now that you have gone so far as to even write to a country’s President, please note that Muslims have buried their dead and are continuing to bury their dead and only exception is COVID-19 dead which is applicable to not only Muslims but all citizens of Sri Lanka. The Government is making no exceptions to the rule of cremating all COVID-19 dead.


You have written on behalf of 3 dead COVID-19 Muslim victims ignoring the sensitivities of the families of the other 4 COVID-19 dead who were also denied fulfilling the funeral rites for their dead.


Is it fair for you to be sending a letter to the head of State on behalf of only 3 victims of Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 deaths COMPLETELY ignoring the sensitivities of the other 4 COVID-19 dead victims without realizing that non-Covid-19 dead Muslims are burying their dead?





Shenali D Waduge

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