State Sponsored Murder in Saudi Arabia

images (47)Last Wednesday Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan, was executed in Dawadmi, west of the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh. She had been found guilty of smothering an infant in her care to death in 2007.

This was quite frankly an appalling and truly outrageous barbaric act. Why? Well because ….

  • While it is true that Ms Nafeek had confessed to the crime, she later said this had been extracted under duress and that the baby had died in a choking accident.
  • She did not have a lawyer during her interrogation or trial.
  • She was just 17 at the time of the alleged crime. As a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Saudi Arabia is prohibited from handing down a death sentence to someone under 18 at the time of the alleged offence for which they were convicted.
  • She was not permitted to produce her birth certificate as evidence of her age during her trial. What had happened is that the employment agency which brought her to the Gulf stated her age as 23, thus allowing her to take a job as a domestic servant.
  • During her trial, the translator assigned, struggled to translate between Tamil and Arabic.

This was indeed a truly outrageous barbaric act, essentially state sponsored murder. Saudi Arabia executes dozens of people each year, and a disproportionate number of them are from developing countries.

Being a migrant worker in Saudi is not a good position to be in even at the best of times.

Labour laws in Saudi Arabia, and many Gulf States, leave migrant workers at the mercy of their employers or employment agencies. Not all workers are badly treated but many have to surrender their passports, cannot change jobs, and there are frequent complaints about not being paid.

As many as 8.3 million migrants are registered as working in Saudi Arabia with an unknown number of undocumented workers living there. Those from developing countries tend to be in the lesser paid manual, clerical, and domestic sectors. For example many fishermen are from Bangladesh, while women from Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines often work as servants.

Human rights organisations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also say that physical and sexual abuse of workers is widespread and that working conditions can amount to slavery.

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