International

Sri Lanka to allow burial of virus victims

Sri Lanka on Friday cleared the burial of COVID-19 victims, reversing its nearly year-long policy of mandatory cremations that the country’s Muslim community denounced.

The change in the government’s position follows Pakistani PM Imran Khan’s recent visit, when he reportedly urged the Rajapaksa administration to respect Muslims’ burial rights. “While Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi did not give a reason in her announcement reversing the ban, official sources said Khan had raised the subject with both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and PM Mahinda Rajapaksa during his trip earlier this week,” AFP reported.

“I thank the Sri Lankan leadership & welcome the Sri Lankan govt’s official notification allowing the burial option for those dying of Covid 19,” Mr. Khan tweeted on Friday.

In April, a month after the pandemic struck Sri Lanka, the government banned burials of victims, based on unsubstantiated claims that the practice might contaminate groundwater, further spreading the virus. Despite senior virologists terming the claim baseless, and the World Health Organization permitting both, burials and cremation, the government stuck to its position, waiting for an “experts’ committee” report for months.

Sri Lanka has so far reported 459 COVID-19 deaths, of which an estimated 300 are Muslims, according to former legislator Ali Zahir Moulana, who has been coordinating with the bereaved families.

The passing of a 20-day-old baby in December 2020 drew wider attention to the Muslim community’s calls to end forced cremations.

Friday’s decision comes not only after Mr. Khan’s visit, but also after several members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) raised the issue, both in Sri Lanka and at international fora, including the ongoing 46th session of the UN HRC. As many as 15 OIC countries are among the 47 current members of the Council, and will soon get to vote on a contested resolution on Sri Lanka.

“We are relieved,” said Opposition MP and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem. It is “quite obvious”, he said in a statement, that “if not for the inclusion of this matter in the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the subsequent inclusion of the matter in the resolution on Sri Lanka tabled by the core group, the deliberate intransigence that resulted in outrageously traumatising a section of Sri Lankan people would not have been resolved.”

“333 days & nights of fear, anxiety and trepidation! While this reversal is merely a restoration of fundamental rights, we were stripped of these freedoms irrationally and inhumanely. Accountability needed!” Mr. Moulana said in a tweet.

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 1:21:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/sri-lanka-to-allow-burial-of-virus-victims/article33944793.ece

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