Sri Lanka ended its forced cremation policy by allowing the burial of two persons who died due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Army Chief General Shavendra Silva said on Friday.
Amidst mounting international criticism, Sri Lanka revised a controversial mandatory order to cremate the bodies of COVID-19 victims, which denied minority communities, including Muslims, their religious rights.
The government last month revised a gazette notification issued in April last year. The new notification allowed both burials and cremations.
“Today we buried two of them and there will be five more to be buried,” Mr Silva told reporters.
He said the burials were allowed as per the guidelines for burials issued by the Director General Health Services on Thursday.
The government did not allow burials for almost a year despite protests from the country’s Muslim and Christian religious minorities.
The policy was also condemned by international rights groups who urged the government to follow the guidelines on COVID-19 dead bodies issued by the WHO, which recommended both cremations and burials.
The government allowed burials late last month. However, the implementation was held back until the health authorities issued guidelines.
The government’s designated burial site at Iranathivu islet in the north eastern region faced opposition from the residents.
On Friday, two Muslim-dominated local councils in the eastern region had come forward to provide a burial site and accordingly the two bodies were buried in the Ottamavadi area in the eastern Batticaloa district.
When the Iranathivu residents protested against burying the COVID-19 dead there, the government said they were also looking for alternative sites.
The Muslim and Tamil minority political parties had decried the government’s forced cremation policy against the Muslim religious funeral rites as racist.
However, the government maintained that burials of victims could endanger the water table.
For 10 months, the Muslim and Christian minorities in the country and international rights groups lobbied the government to end the policy of forced cremations.
The cremation of bodies is forbidden in Islam.