UN human rights experts say the government’s policy violates human rights and could “foment existing prejudices.”
The United Nations have urged the Sri Lankan government to end its policy of forced incineration of victims of the coronavirus, a practice that it says goes against the beliefs of the country’s Muslims and other minority populations.
Ignoring World Health Organization guidelines – which allow burials and cremations – Sri Lanka made cremation mandatory in March last year for people who have died or are suspected of having died from the coronavirus.
UN human rights experts said on Monday that the policy could “foment existing prejudice, intolerance and violence.”
“Imposing cremation as the only option to treat bodies confirmed or suspected of COVID-19 amounts to a violation of human rights,” the experts said in a statement.
“There has been no established medical or scientific evidence in Sri Lanka or other countries that the burial of dead bodies carries an increased risk of the spread of communicable diseases such as COVID-19.”
UN experts noted that while the government has tasked health authorities to explore burial options amid the pandemic, the advice of an expert panel to include both burial and cremations as options would have been ignored.
“We are concerned to learn that the recommendation to include both cremation and burial options for the disposal of the bodies of COVID-19 victims by a panel of experts appointed by the Minister of State for primary health services, pandemics and COVID prevention would have been ignored by the Government, ”the experts noted.
“We hope that the report on local burial options by the main committee mentioned by the Minister of Health will be available soon and that the authorities will stop seeking a solution for burial in a foreign country.”
Amnesty International also called on the authorities to “respect the right of religious minorities to perform final rites” according to their own traditions.
Fear of discrimination
In addition, the UN has said that continuing the policy of forced cremation will only deter people from seeking health care out of “fear of discrimination.”
“We are also concerned that such a policy dissuades the poor and the most vulnerable from accessing public health care for fear of discrimination,” the experts warned.
Several demonstrations were reported in northeast Sri Lanka last month against forced cremations, with many white ribbons tied to the doors of a crematorium in anger.
Many others have protested online, saying Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is using the pandemic to marginalize minorities in Sri Lanka, especially Muslims.
Muslims, who make up 10% of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people, have had a strained relationship with the majority of Sinhala Buddhists, deteriorating in the years following the end of the civil war in 2009, in which Extremist Buddhist groups have been accused of several attacks against Muslims. shops and places of worship.
Following the deadly Easter attacks in April 2019 that killed more than 250 people, Muslims faced increased hostility from the Sinhalese majority.
A little-known Muslim organization has been blamed for the island nation’s worst attack since the civil war between government forces and Tamil separatist fighters.