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Saturday, January 12, 2013 - 04.00 GMT
Execution of Sri Lankan maid draws global attention


In another controversial action, Saudi Arabia executed Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan maid. The case has many human rights groups and countries protesting about the country’s archaic laws and violation of international human rights standards.

Saudi Arabia stirred up a storm, by beheading the Sri Lankan maid accused of killing an infant in 2005. The execution, which took place on the 9th of January has invited ire from countries and human rights groups all across the globe. The young girl, who had gone to Saudi Arabia to work as a domestic worker was convicted on the alleged murder of a four-month-old baby in her care.

Rizana Nafeek’s case has been a controversial one. Nafeek was accused of smothering the baby she has in her care following an argument with the child's mother, her employer, the Saudi interior ministry said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia has a thriving house help industry, where women from South Asia and Africa got to the Middle East to work in households. In 2008 itself, the country had around 1.5 million domestic workers from countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Nepal.

Inadequate labour laws, often puts these women in peril, when it comes to situations like Nafeek’s. Weak bargaining power of the workers and their status as commodities contribute to their deplorable working conditions. Aspects like run away insurance and lending contract with the middle men, withholding of documents by the employers, long hours and non-payment of salaries; are some of the problems these women workers have to contend with.

Human Rights Watch condemned the execution and said, “In executing Rizana Nafeek, Saudi authorities demonstrated callous disregard for basic humanity as well as Saudi Arabia’s international legal obligations.

Amnesty International said how Nafeek did not have access to a lawyer, in which case the execution is a chilling reminder of the conditions in such countries. In many situations, these domestic workers are accused of theft and adultery and when convicted, often do not have access to interpreters and lawyers, making these convictions unfair.

In Nafeek’s case for instance, her being a minor by law, makes the case even more dubious. Human Rights Watch said Nafeek had retracted "a confession" that she said was made under duress. She said the baby died in a choking accident while drinking from a bottle. Being seventeen years at the time of the alleged crime, Nafeek spent seven years on a death row. �It appears that she was herself a child at the time and there are real concerns about the fairness of her trial,� said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program director.

Meanwhile in Sri Lanka, the news has created a storm with the government trying its best before the execution to halt it. Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had made a series of personal appeals to try to stop the execution and grant a pardon to the maid. The Sri Lankan parliament observed a minute of silence on Wednesday in the girl’s memory.

Saudi Arabia, works according to the often harsh and archaic Wahhabi laws, which is a lot in odds with international laws and human right conventions. In this case for instance, under the system of 'qisas' (retaliation) that is taken up while judging murder cases in Saudi Arabia, the baby's parents could grant Nafeek a pardon or seek blood money in compensation. The country executed 69 people last year, while the numbers might be even more.

"I am deeply dismayed by the information that Sri Lankan national Ms Rizana Nafeek was executed," EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton said in a statement. She continues "On numerous occasions, the EU had called for the execution to be commuted and had asked the authorities to exercise all their powers in order to grant her relief from the death penalty," Ashton said.
Courtesy: OneWorld South Asia






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Last modified: January 12, 2013.

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