Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health on Thursday revised a controversial mandatory cremation order for persons who have died from COVID-19.
The government had issued the cremation order at the beginning of the global pandemic last year, over concerns that burying bodies of COVID-19 victims could potentially contaminate ground water. World Health Organization guidance from the same time indicates that such burials are safe.
There had been increasing pressure on the government to reverse the order, as governmental and non-governmental organizations alike called for action. Human Rights Watch called the government’s worries over ground water contamination “spurious,” and said the order was “an outrageous and offensive assault on religious rights and basic dignity.”
Last month, four UN special rapporteurs urged the end of mandatory cremations, noting that medical and scientific research shows no evidence of increased risk posed by burials. They said the order was “based on discrimination, aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism amounting to persecution of Muslims and other minorities in the country.”
The decision to reverse the cremation order came following Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first official visit to Sri Lanka on February 23. Khan posted a notice on his Facebook page, thanking the Sri Lankan government for allowing burials of COVID-19 victims.