Expert committee to decide on Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 burials, despite earlier assurance
ECONOMYNEXT – Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s assurance yesterday that Sri Lanka will at long last permit COVID-19 burials will be referred to an expert committee, according to State Minister Sudarshini Fernandopulle.
The State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control told parliament today that a decision on the matter will be taken by the committee.
“We don’t take decisions at the Health Ministry in our individual capacities but through an expert committee. That’s why this proposal was presented to the committee. It is with their consensus that we can act,” she said, responding to a question raised by opposition MP Mujibur Rahuman on when the decision will be gazetted.
Fernandopulle’s statement contradicts Prime Minister Rajapaksa, who told parliament yesterday that Sri Lanka will permit burials after months of cremating those who succumbed to COVID-19 irrespective of their religious beliefs and against the wishes of their families. Rajapaksa’s statement came days ahead of an official visit to Sri Lanka by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, leading to speculation that the decision was motivated by the upcoming UNHRC sessions. Khan welcomed the decision in a tweet posted this morning.
We welcome Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s assurance given in Sri Lankan Parliament today allowing Muslims to bury those who died from COVID19.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) February 10, 2021
The government’s insistence on cremating COVID-19 victims has been widely criticized both locally and internationally, and the Prime Minister’s assurance yesterday that the burials will be permitted was welcomed by various parties including US and UK diplomats in Colombo.
British High Commissioner in Colombo, Sarah Hulton called for action to implement the premier’s announcement.
“Welcome Prime Minister Rajapaksa’s announcement in Parliament today on the burial of Covid 19 victims. Hope this is soon policy…,” she tweeted.
Her US counterpart Alaina Teplitz too cautiously greeted Rajapaksa’s comment.
“Welcome media reporting on PM’s announcement to end mandatory cremation of COVID victims,” ambassador Teplitz said. “Implementation of a revised practice that is in line with international public health norms and respects religious rites is a positive action.”
Meanwhile, opposition MP Rauf Hakeem who also spoke in parliament today regarding the matter said the premier had make a categorical statement yesterday that burials will indeed be permitted.
“I have said that this is a better late than never, mature decision by a very mature politician,
He understands the predicament [faced by] not only the government but also the minorities, reconciliation in this country. [The burial] issue now going back to a so-called expert committee which is full of pseudo-scientists is not going to solve this problem,” he said.
“Who are the so-called experts in the health ministry who is blocking this and creating unnecessary racial tension in this country,” he asked.
Hakeem’s colleague in the Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Dr Harsha de Silva, too, expressed his confusion on the government’s apparent back-tracking.
#SriLanka Health State Minister Sudarshani Fernandopulle says decision to allow burial of remains of Covid 19 dead will be made by ‘expert committee’. MP @Rauff_Hakeem hits back saying this committee is sham. What’s going on PM @PresRajapaksa? You said something else yesterday. pic.twitter.com/CPHErrFcoY
— Harsha de Silva (@HarshadeSilvaMP) February 11, 2021
The government has resisted calls to reverse an April 2020 gazette which banned burials, including for Muslims. Islamic funeral rites require burials and expressly prohibit cremations. The government explanation was that burials could lead to groundwater getting contaminated with the virus. (Colombo/Feb11/2021)