Sri Lanka’s end to forced cremations of COVID-19 dead on hold: official

Colombo, Feb 27 (PTI) Sri Lanka’s decision to end forced cremations and allow the burial of those who succumbed to COVID-19 will take some time to be implemented as the necessary guidelines have not been issued so far, a top health official said on Saturday.

Amidst mounting international criticism, Sri Lanka has revised a controversial mandatory order to cremate the bodies of COVID-19 victims, which denied minority communities, including Muslims, their religious rights.

The government on Thursday revised a gazette notification issued in April last year. The new notification allowed both burials and cremations.

For 10 months, the Muslim and Christian minorities in the country and international rights groups lobbied the government to end the policy of forced cremations.

“This will take some time as guidelines on many aspects need to be determined and issued,” said the top health official Asela Gunawardena.

The Sri Lankan government was resisting calls to allow burials citing health concerns. It cited the opinion of some experts who claimed that the burial of COVID-19 victims would contaminate the water table, thereby spreading the pandemic further.

The country had earlier come under intense criticism from rights groups, including the UNHRC, over the cremation order.

They said it failed to respect the religious feelings of the victims and their family members, especially of the Muslims, Catholics and some Buddhists.

The cremation of bodies is forbidden in Islam.

The decision to end forced cremations followed the visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The Muslim minority leaders, who met Khan, said the decision to allow burials was linked to Sri Lanka seeking the support of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) at the ongoing UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.