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 has allowed both burials and cremations.
For 10 months, Muslim and Christian minorities in the country and international rights groups have been lobbying the government to end the policy of forced cremations.
The 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.
Sri Lanka is due to face a fresh resolution, which would pin the island to achieve reconciliation through a credible accountability mechanism over its human rights record. Pakistan is a member of the OIC. The OIC nations had appealed in Geneva when the sessions began to reverse the forced cremations decision.