The US state department, US Ambassador and a US Senator have urged Sri Lanka to halt its “mandatory policy of cremating deceased COVID-19 victims”, and to respect “the traditions of its diverse communities”, as cases of forced cremations of deceased Muslims persist in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka’s policy of forced cremations has been condemned domestically and internationally, as well as by multiple human rights organisations including the United Nations (UN) and Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The US State Department expressed their concern via Twitter, urging Sri Lanka to follow international public health guidelines in order for families to be able to send off their deceased loved ones while respecting religious faiths and cultural traditions.
Alaina B. Teplitz, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka re-tweeted the state department’s tweet, further adding that World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines allow for the burial of those who passed away due to COVID-19, and urging Sri Lanka to respect “the traditions of its diverse communities.”
United States Senator and former co-chair of the Sri Lankan Caucus in the US House of Representatives, Chris Van Hollen, raised concerns regarding forced cremations of Muslims in a letter to the Sri Lankan envoy in the United States, Ravinatha P. Aryasinha.
“As the act of cremating a dead body is forbidden in Islam, this policy has exacerbated the stress and grief in the Muslim community in Sri Lanka. It has denied COVID-19 victims, and their families, of Islamic funeral rights.”
Writing to Ambassador Ariyaratne, Senator Van Hollen explains that WHO guidelines “permit both burials and cremations” and that “there is not sufficient evidence to prove that cremation in lieu of traditional burials would prevent the spread of COVID-19”, further adding that imposing cremations is a violation of human rights.
“Human rights experts from the United Nations (UN) warn that the imposition of cremation as the only option for handling the bodies confirmed or suspected of COVID-19 amounts to a human rights violation. The UN is strongly urging the Government of Sri Lanka to stop the forced cremation of COVID-19 bodies.”
See the full text of the letter here