ECONOMYNEXT – Human Rights activists and Western countries are expressing concern that Sri Lanka is walking back on an apparent promise to allow Muslim victims of Covid 19 to be buried.
Currently, the remains of all victims of the pandemic are cremated whatever religion they and their families belong to.
The controversial stand taken by the government of Sri Lanka against scientific advice and World Health Organisation approved standards has brought about a storm of protest from many countries of the world as well as Human Rights organisations on the island.
Last week Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was heard telling Parliament that the government will allow burial, but the Leader of the ruling Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Sandhanaya was shot down a few days later by Cabinet Spokesman Minister Udaya Gammanpila who said the PM “was expressing his personal opinion.”
Gammanpila said the Health Department would take the decision on the matter based on a report from the expert committee convened to examine the issue. In fact, the expert committee has reported to the Health Minister that burial can be allowed on December 28, according to its Chair, Senior Professor Jennifer Perera.
Today US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz tweeted expressing disappointment “to see that the Government and PM are backing away from ending discriminatory cremation policy. People, including loved ones recently passed, deserve more respect for their rights from a democratic government.”
Disappointed to see that the Government and PM are backing away from ending discriminatory cremation policy. People, including loved ones recently passed, deserve more respect for their rights from a democratic government.
— Ambassador Teplitz (@USAmbSLM) February 18, 2021
The Rights watch group South Asians for Human Rights also expressed concern over “the timing and purpose of the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s two days visit to Sri Lanka” next week which coincides with the virtual launch of 46th session of UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The Council is due to discuss a new resolution on Sri Lanka will be discussed based on a highly critical report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights mandated. The issue where the government of Sri Lanka has been criticised for forcibly cremating the corpses of COVID infected Muslim persons.
In a statement, SAHR said it “believes that the Prime Minister’s visit is to garner support from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to vote against a resolution on Sri Lanka that is due to come up on 23 February 2021. Further, Prime Minister Khan, during his visit, is expected to address the human rights concerns of Muslims and will hold talks with key government officials and party leaders.”
The organisation says it learns that Khan will address the issues faced by the Sri Lankan Muslim minority during his visit, “we are also apprehensive of the impact these talks would have on the Tamil minority in the country.”
In February 2020, Colombo withdrew its co-sponsorship of resolutions which calls for a process of transitional justice promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights, and instead, to pursue a domestically designed and executed reconciliation and accountability process. “Support from Pakistan and other countries would permit the Sri Lankan government to deliberately bypass the proper process of transitional justice deserved by the victims who are mainly the Tamil and Muslim minorities in the country,” SAHR said.
“We believe that such bilateral occasions should not be used to address issues of one minority community while overlooking the concerns of another. Therefore, SAHR calls upon the Governments of Pakistan and Sri Lanka to respect the rights of all minorities guaranteed in the constitutions and to resolve and address their concerns while providing equal treatment to all,” it added.
PM Khan is highly respected by Muslims around the world for taking up cudgels against Islamophobia, criticizing French President Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders for taking aim at Muslims.
He wrote a letter to Muslim countries around the world to join him in stopping Islamophobia.
As a result, Khan’s support for Sri Lanka was considered vital for Sri Lanka to get the support it needs in international fora to battle the Western countries support for the protection of the Human Rights of ethnic and religious minorities in Sri Lanka.
Today Pakistan’s leading newspaper the “Dawn” carried a column written by Amnesty International campaigner Rimmel Mohydin in which she said Khan should raise the issue of rampant Islamophobia in Sri Lanka and take it up with his counterparts.
Mohydin said on the issue of Muslim cremations Khan had publicly welcomed PM Rajapaksa’s statement that burials would be allowed. “He must now push them to gazette the step.”
“He must consider his responsibility as a Muslim leader. He must recognise that by not raising this issue with his counterpart, he would be seen as complicit in the indifference that often lets realpolitik trump standing up for what’s right. Otherwise, all of his promises will turn to ashes” she wrote.
Khan was scheduled to address the Sri Lankan Parliament, an honour that had been extended to PM Narendra Modi of India when he visited. However even though all arrangements were made, Parliament was abruptly told that what was to be the highlight of the visit had been cancelled due to a “tight schedule.” (Colombo, February 18, 2021)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana