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World Sri Lanka chooses remote island for Covid burials

15:22  02 march  2021
15:22  02 march  2021 Source:   bbc.com

Sri Lanka Muslims protest Covid cremations as Pakistan PM arrives

  Sri Lanka Muslims protest Covid cremations as Pakistan PM arrives Sri Lanka's minority Muslims demonstrated in Colombo Tuesday demanding an end to forced cremations of Covid-19 victims as Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived on an official visit. The demonstration was aimed at the visit of Khan who two weeks ago had weighed in on the plight of Muslims in Sri Lanka. Khan had welcomed an announcement by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on February 10 that burials would be allowed, but a day later Colombo backtracked and said there would be no change in the cremation-only policy.

A remote island has been chosen by Sri Lanka's government for the burial of Covid-19 victims from the minority Muslim and Christian communities.

Protesters took to the streets to push for a change in policy © Getty Images Protesters took to the streets to push for a change in policy

The government previously forced minorities to cremate their dead in line with the practice of the majority Buddhists. It claimed burials would contaminate ground water.

But the government backed down last week in the face of vehement criticism from rights groups.

Islam prohibits cremation.

Iranathivu island in the Gulf of Mannar is the designated site for burials.

It lies some 300km (186 miles) away from the capital, Colombo, and was chosen, the government says, because it is thinly populated.

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Muslims were angered by the ban, introduced last April, and said there was no scientific basis to it. Muslims make up nearly 10% of the population.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty, and the United Nations had also raised objections.

Government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said a plot of land had been set aside on the island, according to the Colombo Gazette.

The World Health Organization has provided extensive guidance on how the bodies of those who have died from Covid should be handled safely, but points out there is no scientific evidence to suggest cremation should be used to prevent infection.

"There is a common assumption that people who died of a communicable disease should be cremated to prevent spread of that disease; however, there is a lack of evidence to support this. Cremation is a matter of cultural choice and available resources."

Sri Lanka ends forced cremations after Imran Khan's visit

  Sri Lanka ends forced cremations after Imran Khan's visit Sri Lanka on Friday ended forced cremations of people who have died of coronavirus, after visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan urged Colombo to respect the funeral rites of the island's minority Muslims. 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 Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa during his trip earlier this week.Dozens of demonstrators had used Khan's visit as an opportunity to call attention to the Sri Lankan government's disregard for Islamic burial customs and carried a mock coffin.

The UNHCR has said the policy on cremations failed to respect the religious feelings of the victims and their family members, especially Muslims, Catholics and some Buddhists.

The forcible cremation of a 20-day-old Muslim baby intensified criticism of the policy.

  • Why a government forcibly cremated this Muslim baby
text: Pro-government demonstrators supported the ban on burials © Getty Images Pro-government demonstrators supported the ban on burials

The decision to lift the burial ban followed a visit by Pakistan's PM Imran Khan.

Sources told the BBC that Sri Lanka sought Pakistan's support at a United National Human Rights Council session, which is expected to consider a new resolution on mounting rights concerns in Sri Lanka, including over the treatment of Muslims.

Sri Lanka is being called to hold human rights abusers to account and to deliver justice to victims of its 26-year-old civil war.

The 1983-2009 conflict killed at least 100,000 people, mostly civilians from the minority Tamil community.

Sri Lanka has strongly denied the allegations and has asked member countries not to support the resolution.

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