Saudi Arabia beheads migrant worker Rizana Nafeek
- *Saudi Arabia*. The court verdicts on two prominent human rights activists,
Mohammad Al-Qahtani and Abdullah Al-Hamid, have been postponed
The court was due to rule on Wednesday.
The two activists have been on trial since June for charges that include
�breaking allegiance to the ruler and his successor� and �trying to impede
the country�s developments".
WHO FAILED RIZANA NAFEEK?
Rizana Nafeek was beheaded on January
less than two days after a final appeal made by Sri Lankan President
The several clemency appeals made by Sri Lanka, other states, and human
rights organizations failed largely due to the disastrous interplay between
Saudi�s flawed legal system and Sri Lanka�s miserly support for migrant
Saudi Arabia holds one of the world�s highest execution
ranking second after China in 2011. Amnesty is granted to convicts only by
�forgiveness� from the victim�s family. In the case of migrant workers,
this forgiveness generally entails blond money paid out by sending-nations.
Consequently, appeals at the diplomatic level scarcely effect the outcome
of these cases. Instead, they serve primarily as symbolic gestures, as well
as public �evidence� of the state�s efforts to save a national�s life.
Furthermore, Saudi�s legal system is particularly hostile to migrant
workers. Translators are rarely provided during judicial proceedings, which
are conducted entirely in Arabic. Nafeek�s original confession was made
under duress, and without the presence of either a lawyer or a translator.
Though Sri Lankan authorities are well-aware of these conditions, �embassy
policy� prohibits the provision of legal aid to migrants. Thus, the Sri
Lankan foreign ministry�s claim that Nafeek�s execution occurred �despite
all efforts at the highest level of the government and the outcry of the
people locally and internationally� is misleading. Instead, an MP�s
indictment that the government did little to �ensure Rizana Nafeek�s legal
rights� more accurately reflects Sri Lanka�s conduct; the absence of any
support mechanism for incarcerated nationals precluded the opportunity for
a fair trial. The Sri Lankan government obviated accountability even whilst
Nafeek�s case became a protracted, years-long affair, abandoning her
defense to resource-limited NGOs. Only when Nafeek was sentenced to certain
death did Sri Lanka intervene, at which point the prospect of her discharge
was substantially diminished, dependent entirely on the procurement of
amnesty � rather than on her innocence, or through a capable lawyer�s
argument (which may have stressed that the death penalty would contravene
Saudi�s obligation to the Convention on the Rights of the Child).
Additionally, the questionable conduct of Sri Lankan
to appeal for Nafeek�s release were heavily criticized by rights groups.
Organizations including the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) accused
the delegations of misleading the public regarding the status of Nafeeks�
case. Delegation officialsrepeatedly indicated that a settlement was on the
However, the family�s tribe, with whom negotiations were conducted,
expressed a dramatically different version of events. The tribe�s leader
these kind of �diabolic lies� would only worsen the case of Sri Lanka�s
house maid Rizana Nafeek as well as the cordial relationship of our two
countries.� Rights groups indicated the delegations� missteps may have been
detrimental to Nafeek�s fate.
In the aftermath of Nafeek�s execution, the crucial question becomes: how
can states avoid similar situations in the future? Sri Lanka may be
inclined to ban domestic workers from Saudi, as Indonesia did following
Ruyati Binti Sapubi�s beheading in June
are intended to provoke a response from receiving nations in the form of
new legislation and improved policies, but they have hadlittle success in
Bans also represent very public condemnations of Saudi policy, but they can
actually be detrimental to workers, who often elect to migrate to banned
nations illegally. While Saudi must address the deficiencies of current
migrant worker policies, bans are rarely an incentive for substantive
policy change. Other bilateral mechanisms must be explored to pressure
Saudi to adopt essential reforms.
In addition, Sri Lanka can begin to improve nationals� conditions on its
own initiative. In the same way Indonesia has provided free lawyers to
workers in Malaysia<http://www.migrant-rights.org/2012/02/27/indonesias-free-attorneys-should-be-available-in-saudi-too/>,
Sri Lanka can create a legal defense fund to support its convicted
nationals. Translation and attorney services can ameliorate judicial
discrimination and prevent cases from reaching such critical phases. The
introduction of legal support mechanisms will have a much greater and more
immediate impact on migrant worker conditions than indefinite moratoriums.
However, Rizana Nafeek�s ultimate legacy does not lie exclusively with
states. Nafeek�s preventable tragedy received extensive media attention,
both within and outside the region. Her injustice may encourage local NGOs
to fill the systemic voids in legal and translation services, as well as to
promote social reflection of institutional migrant discrimination. If civil
societies in both sending and receiving nations escalate repudiation of the
states� mistreatment of migrant workers, a critical step to improving
migrants� reality will be initiated.
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