Sri Lanka risks losing aid from the Muslim world due to forced cremation policy

As the Government of Sri Lanka continue its' hard-line stand on the cremation of Muslims who died of Covid-19, it risks losing aid from Muslim countries and organisations from around the world.

It is “a political measure where collective punishment is given to the Muslim community for political reasons” warned Sir Iqbal Sacarine founding secretary of the UK’s largest Muslim umbrella group the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

The situation in Sri Lanka is quite serious he says and condemns the stand of the GoSL stand as “unacceptable”.

Forced cremation of a 20-day old baby shook the collective sentiments of Muslims, both locally and around the globe as pictures and videos of protests went viral. Muslims from many nations including UK, USA, France and Italy took to the street to protest and put pressure on their respective nations to take it up with the GOSL.

Political parties and activists’ groups have suggested to the Muslims in Sri Lanka to take it up with Muslim nations and aid organisations asking them to complain to the UN as millions of dollars are pumped in by them for the development of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

Two expert committees

Two expert committees formed by the GOSL submitted diametrically opposite recommendations on the disposal of the dead due to Covid-19, with one recommending burial could be done as there is no scientific proof that the virus will spread through dead bodies and the other saying they have to be cremated.

"The main committee is still studying the recommendations made by a group of virologists", country's health minister said in the parliament on Thursday (7), in an attempt to conceal the role played by her ministry in appointing a second panel of experts in December, headed by a Senior Professor in Microbiology, to provide opinion on the safe disposal of remains of COVID-19 victims.

Health minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi made the special statement as a response to a question tabled by Tamil National Peoples' Front (TNPF) parliamentarian Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, who demanded a clarification about the basis of the official policy that has ignored the guidelines laid out by the World Health Organisation, which say that the dead can be “buried or cremated” according to “local standards and family preferences”.

"We took the opinion of virologists in writing and submitted that to the main committee. We still haven't heard from them", minister Wanniarachchi said.

'President will decide'

Meanwhile, Dilum Amunugama, a state minister has said the final decision on the issue would be taken by the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and no one else.

“The people didn’t vote for committees, they have voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, they voted for this government. The final decision will be taken by him and the government. The committee can give recommendations. It can say the water is up, the water is down. They can say anything. The final decision is the earlier decision”.

In contrast, days before the release of the report, the Government spokesman told Aljazeera TV, “the Government has nothing to do with it. It is the expert committee that decides finally. Government is the cabinet, President and Prime Minister and has nothing to with it, It is just that we are acting in terms of the advice given by the expert committee”.

The earlier decision of the government was to cremate the bodies of the covid-19 dead rather than bury according to the respective religious edicts and customs. GOSL has even written to Maldives seeking place for the bodies to be exported there to be buried, which has been severely criticised.

'Shame on Sri Lanka'

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's mandatory cremation policy has drawn strong condemnation from international rights groups and prominent individuals.

"Sri Lankan government must not forget that it has a duty to ensure all people in Sri Lankas are treated equitably," said the rights group Amnesty international in a statement.

"COVID-19 does not discriminate on grounds of ethnic, political or religious differences, and nor should the Government of Sri Lanka", it further added.

Renown American political scientist and pro-Palaestinian Jewish scholar, Professor Norman Finkelstein also joined others to denounce Sri Lanka's decision, calling it as 'disgraceful.'

"Shame on Sri Lanka! There is NO basis on burning bodies due to COVID. This is discrimination. Plain and simple", he posted on Facebook.

According the MCB president they are in touch with more than 20 countries, different heads of state, departments and ministers of foreign affairs and they have all started putting pressure on the Sri Lankan government.

'Dead bodies as biological weapons'

The MCB “has set up a special task force and God willing, we have now launched a major campaign” its president Sir Iqbal Sacraine has said in a TV interview.

“What it is doing is unfair and illegal under the international law”.

Adding that the British Foreign Office has also written to its Sri Lankan counterpart expressing concern over Muslims’ cremation, the MCB confirmed that it is in touch with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

MCB says they have already received support on the matter from South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Indonesia so far. “So, it’s a matter of time. The sense will prevail, and it will end. We don’t want this dangerous precedent to be established by Sri Lanka”.

Reacting to a statement by Sri Lankan officials that the bodies could be used as biological weapon against the communities, Sir Iqbal Sacarine described it as “nonsensical”.

If Muslim countries and organisations tighten their purse, Sri Lanka’s beleaguered economy would suffer further, economists have warned.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.