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UK calls out Sri Lanka over cremation of COVID-19 dead

UK raising human rights concerns with Sri Lankan government including forced cremation of COVID-19 bodies, says envoy

Riyaz ul Khaliq   | 26.01.2021
UK calls out Sri Lanka over cremation of COVID-19 dead

ANKARA

Urging respect for religious beliefs and health guidelines, the UK has said it has been raising the issue of forced cremation of COVID-19 victims’ bodies with authorities in Sri Lanka.

Sarah Hulton, the UK ambassador to Sri Lanka, said in a tweet on Tuesday: “Families should be able to bury their loved ones, in line with international health guidelines and their religious practices.”

Hulton said the UK has been "raising" the human rights concerns with the government of Sri Lanka including forced cremation of COVID-19 bodies. She did not provide further details.

Among Sri Lanka’s 274 virus-related deaths, many victims belonging to the Muslim community were cremated in line with the country’s fourth amendment of the Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines on COVID-19 suspected and confirmed patients issued on March 31, 2020.

This policy of the Buddhist-majority country has invited sharp reactions from the Muslim community, UN, and governments across the globe.

Earlier, Lord Tariq Ahmad, UK’s minister of state for commonwealth nations, said he raised the issue of forced cremation with Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

“I […] raised concerns [regarding] the impact of forced cremations of COVID-19 victims on faith groups,” said Ahmad, who is a member of House of Lords from Wimbeldon.

On Monday, a group of UN human rights experts urged Sri Lanka to end its policy of forced cremation, saying it is contrary to Muslim and other minorities’ beliefs.

“We deplore the implementation of such public health decisions based on discrimination, aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism amounting to persecution of Muslims and other minorities in the country,” the UN experts said.

“Such hostility against the minorities exacerbates existing prejudices, intercommunal tensions, and religious intolerance, sowing fear and distrust while inciting further hatred and violence,” they said, adding the policy “could foment existing prejudices, intolerance and violence.”

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