April 3 (UPI) -- Families in Sri Lanka are denouncing their government for cremating the bodies of Muslims who died from the coronavirus disease -- a dispute that drew support Friday from Amnesty International.
Amnesty and the families say cremation flouts Islamic traditions and the dispute threatens to inflame religious tensions.
The human rights group warned of possible violence between Muslims and Sri Lanka's Buddhist majority if authorities continue to forcibly cremate Muslims killed by the pandemic.
"Grieving relatives of people who have died because of COVID-19 should be able to bid farewell to their loved ones in the way that they wish, especially where this is permissible under international guidelines," Biraj Patnaik, Amnesty International's South Asia director, said in a statement.
Sri Lanka's health ministry issued new rules Tuesday that make cremation the standard to dispose of those who die from the coronavirus. The decision superseded earlier guidelines that allowed traditional Muslim burials.
Amnesty said the rule is unnecessary because World Health Organization guidelines do not call for cremation of coronavirus victims.
The group cited two instances this week when Muslim victims were cremated against their families' wishes. The issue has sparked concerns that Sri Lanka's Muslim minority is being targeted, and some pro-government observers have blamed them for spreading the virus.
There has been a surge in violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka since militants attacked churches and hotels there on Easter Sunday last year, killing more than 250 people.