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Covid-19: Sri Lanka lifts forced cremation policy following global outcry

26th Feb 2021
Covid-19: Sri Lanka lifts forced cremation policy following  global outcry

(Photo courtesy of Anis Mama)

Elham Asaad Buaras

Sri Lanka has lifted its policy of forced cremation of Covid-19 victims, following national and international outrage by Muslim groups over the protocol practised exclusively in the predominantly Buddhist country. The reversal of the controversial decision was announced by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in Parliament on February 10.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the move, which they say was made to thwart fresh reproof during the next UN Human Rights Council. Sri Lanka rejected guidelines by the World Health Organization and made compulsory the cremation of all people who die of Covid-19.

Muslims and other minority groups have protested against the rule over the past year, calling it unscientific and insensitive. The UN also raised concerns with the government.

“While we must be alert to the serious public health challenges posed by the pandemic, Covid-19 measures must respect and protect the dignity of the dead, their cultural and religious traditions or beliefs, and their families throughout,” the UN experts said in January.
Muslim lawmaker Rishard Bathiudeen called for the immediate withdrawal of the compulsory cremation rule. “I am happy that they showed some compassion even at this stage, but it has to be implemented soon because people are dying every day,” said Bathiudeen.

UN special rapporteurs have twice called on Sri Lanka’s Government to reconsider its policy in letters sent to authorities in January this year and last April.

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