Sri Lanka’s decision to end forced cremation and allow burial of people who died from COVID-19 will take a long time to implement as necessary guidelines have not been issued so far, a top health official said on Saturday. Amid growing international criticism, Sri Lanka has revised a controversial mandatory order to cremate the bodies of COVID-19 victims, which denies the religious rights of minority communities, including Muslims. The government on Thursday revised the notices issued in April last year. The new notice allows burial and cremation. For 10 months, the country’s Muslim and Christian minorities and international rights groups lobbied the government to end its policy of forced cremation.
“It will take time as guidelines on many aspects need to be defined and issued,” said top health official Asela Gunawardena.
The Sri Lankan government has rejected calls to allow burials citing health problems. It cites the opinion of some experts who claim that the burial of COVID-19 victims will pollute the surface of the water, thereby spreading the pandemic further. The country has previously come under strong criticism from rights groups, including the UNHRC, for the cremation order. They said they did not respect the religious feelings of the victims and their family members, especially Muslims, Catholics and some Buddhists.
Body cremation is prohibited in Islam. The decision to end forced cremation follows a visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. Muslim minority leaders, who met Khan, said the decision to allow burials linked to Sri Lanka sought support from the Organization of Islamic States (OIC) at the UN Human Rights Council session underway in Geneva.
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