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President Wickremesinghe Apologizes for Enforced Cremations During COVID-19 Pandemic

June 19, Colombo (LNW): oPresident Ranil Wickremesinghe issued an apology for the Sri Lankan Government’s decision to enforce cremations during the COVID-19 pandemic, a policy that disregarded the religious beliefs of Muslim and Christian communities. Addressing Parliament on Tuesday, the President emphasized that every citizen should have the right to choose how their final rites are conducted.

“In this country, any person should have the right to determine whether he or she is buried, cremated, or given to the medical faculty,” President Wickremesinghe stated.

The President referenced the controversial mandate implemented by the previous Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government, which required the cremation of COVID-19 victims, including Muslims and Christians, despite their religious objections. This decision faced widespread criticism from the United Nations and various human rights organizations.

In February 2021, following sustained protests from Muslim and civil rights groups, the Government rescinded the regulation initially introduced in March 2020. President Wickremesinghe acknowledged the suffering caused by the policy, particularly among the Muslim community, but also among Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians who prefer burial rites.

“During this time, there was a lot of pain, witnessed mainly by the Muslims, but there are also Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians who also like to bury. We would like to apologize to them for what has happened,” he said.

President Wickremesinghe recounted that many countries initially halted burials as a precautionary measure, and the World Health Organization (WHO) subsequently reviewed the practice. In Sri Lanka, a committee recommended against allowing burials, and the Supreme Court upheld this decision, leaving the Government no choice at the time.

“But now all this is over,” the President affirmed.

With the issue now resolved, the Government plans to introduce legislation that will guarantee the right to burial, cremation, or body donation to medical institutions. President Wickremesinghe expressed his hope that the House will support the implementation of this Bill, ensuring respect for the diverse religious and cultural practices regarding final rites.

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