SAUDI ARABIA/SRI LANKA: To protect the life of Rizana Nafeek is an obligation of the sovereign state of Sri Lanka 

The Asian Human Rights Commission’s reply to a letter from the Secretary to the Honourable President of Sri Lanka

For the full dossier on Rizana Nafeek’s case please see here.

We reproduce below a letter from Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President regarding a background report on Ms. Rizana Nafeek and the AHRC’s reply to this letter.


August 20, 2012

Programme Officer
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission
Hong Kong

Background Report of Miss Rizana Nafeek 

I write with reference to your letter of June 05, 2012 addressed to His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka on the above subject and wish to present the following details for your information.

According to the background reports received from the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare, and the Ministry of External Affairs, charges have been made against Miss Rizana Nafeek under the Shariya Law by a court in Saudi Arabia for committing the murder of a baby child even though Miss Nafeek was a minor at the lime of the incident.

His Excellency the President has requested clemency for her from His Majesty King Abdulla bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud in the year 2010.

Further, the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign. Employment which is under the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare has agreed to pay the blood money, if the parents of the victim baby child agree to accept the blood money in court. Accordingly, a delegation was sent to Saudi Arabia to discuss the release of Miss Nafeek with the Saudi authorities arid the parents of the victim child.
The Sri Lanka Embassy in Riyadh has also conducted a series of negotiations with relevant parties in Saudi Arabia in this regard.

During the visit of Hon. Minister of External Affairs to Riyadh on March 12, 2012, Hon. Prof. C L Pieris had met the Governor of Riyadh, His Royal Highness Prince Sattam Bin Abduiaziz Al-Saud, under whose purview this matter comes, to convince the parents of victim baby child to forgive Miss Nafeek.

Lalith Weeratunga
Secretary to the President

Our reply to this letter

Mr. Lalith Weeratunga
Secretary to the President
Presidential Secretariat
Galle Face
Colombo 01
Sri Lanka

Your reference: PCMD/1/3/17/4

Dear Mr. Weeratunga,

Thank you very much for your letter dated 20th August 2012. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been writing to His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan authorities ever since it learned about the sentencing of the Sri Lankan housemaid Rizana Nafeek in 2007. As the Sri Lankan government was not willing to provide the lawyer’s fees for an appeal from the death sentence, AHRC took the initiative to raise the funds for filing the appeal, and thus prevented her immediate execution. Ever since, we have taken many initiatives to save the life of this unfortunate girl, who was seventeen years of age at the time she left for employment in Saudi Arabia. Over the years, the AHRC and literally thousands of organisations and millions of individuals around the world have taken up the cause of saving her life, and the efforts made by everyone have been conveyed to the government of Sri Lanka. This is the first occasion on which the Sri Lankan government has cared to send us a reply for our expressions of concerns and we are therefore thankful to you for sending us this letter.

In your letter, you mentioned that Rizana Nafeek has been sentenced to death for the murder of a baby. I’m sure you are aware that on the very first occasion that she was able to, on the 30th of January 2007, she submitted an affidavit to court in which she completely denied the charges and explained the circumstances in which the death of this child took place. Her letter has now been published. From all that has been published in this case, throughout these few years, it is quite clear that there was no murder involved in this case; the murder was never proved in the courts of Saudi Arabia. It is well established that there was no post-mortem into the death of this baby. In addition, based on a publicized medical opinion from a Swedish doctor, there is no proof of murder involved in this case.

Razina Nafeek has been convicted on the basis of an alleged affidavit written in a language that she did not understand, and it has been proved in Saudi courts that there was no qualified Tamil translator at the time she was interrogated by the police. She has clearly stated that force was used on her and that the confession was taken under duress and without her understanding what she was signing into.

Her death sentence is based on a defect in the Saudi Arabian law that treats a confession with finality and where the courts have no discretion to adjudicate on the voluntariness of the confession. This, as you know, is clearly against the well-established principles under international law relating to the inadmissibility of confessions without clear proof of the voluntariness of the confession. Therefore, there is a clear violation of the basic norms that all the nations have agreed to through the admission of this confession. Thus, you are no doubt aware that this matter of a grave violation of international law is a matter that the Sri Lankan government is under obligation to take up in dealing with the issue of the life of one of its citizens.

You mentioned the willingness of the Sri Lankan government to pay the blood money. However, according to published reports in the international media, which have never been contradicted by the Sri Lankan government, the Sri Lankan diplomacy has failed to have a direct meeting with the parents relating to the issue of payment of blood money. As is quite well known, it is only the parents of the child who have the capacity and the power to negotiate this issue, and the failure to meet up with them means that there was no real opportunity for the settlement of this matter.

You are well aware that while the blood money may be a way out, the real issue in this case is of a death sentence, which is blatantly contradictory to well-established norms. This is the issue that the Sri Lankan government, according to the published reports, has never raised with the government of Saudi Arabia or with the international forums where the matter could have been raised.

The Sri Lankan President has asked for clemency and His Royal Highness the King of Saudi Arabia has the same power of granting clemency within his jurisdiction that the Sri Lankan President has in his jurisdiction. Therefore, having made the request for clemency from the King of Saudi Arabia, the obvious course for the Sri Lankan government has been to pursue the matter with His Royal Highness the King of Saudi Arabia. Your letter does not indicate that the government is pursuing this course.

The Sri Lankan government in this instance had the advantage of the support of the international community. United Nations human rights authorities have expressed their concern on this issue to the authorities of Saudi Arabia. Besides this, the European Union has expressed its continuous concern on saving the life of Rizana Nafeek and publicized its desire to work with the Sri Lankan government on this issue. The European Union’s High Representative and Vice President, Catherine Ashton, has announced that the European Union has intervened on this matter and that they will pursue efforts on her behalf together with the Sri Lankan government. Many Western governments have also taken up this issue with the Saudi authorities, as well as the Sri Lankan government. Among the international dignitaries who expressed their concern are His Royal Highness Prince Charles and many others.

Clearly the Sri Lankan government has the support of the international community in pursuing this matter, not merely as a matter of clemency but also as a matter of serious violations of international law, affecting the life of one of Sri Lanka’s subjects. If the Sri Lankan government pursues the matter with diplomatic skill, there is all likelihood of enormous international support to take the matter up with the Saudi authorities.

There is no denying that there are quite serious deficiencies in the manner in which this issue has been pursued by the Sri Lankan government in the past. However, we are not writing this to point a finger, but even at this stage to call upon the Sri Lankan government to make a more dignified and a serious attempt to save the life of an innocent Sri Lankan citizen who has suffered many years in jail due to a clear defect in the Saudi Arabian law, which has led to a miscarriage of justice.

Despite being a small nation, Sri Lanka has the same status with any other nation in the world as a sovereign state. It is with the dignity of a sovereign state that a matter of this nature should be pursued and it is by pursuing matters in that manner that many nations have been able to convince other nations of the seriousness with which they regard the matters of life and death of the citizens of their nations. It is to be hoped that the fear of the loss of trade relationships or other such embarrassments will not be a consideration on matters of this nature.

The Asian Human Rights Commission therefore once again pleads with the Sri Lankan government, as it has done throughout several years now, to take up this matter of the life of one of its citizens, however humble the position of that citizen may be, with the appropriate dignity of a sovereign nation, and to request from the authorities in Saudi Arabia the saving of this person. In this, Sri Lanka will have the assured support of the international community.

We fervently hope that this young Sri Lankan citizen who is unjustly suffering in a foreign land may be soon saved, and that in no event will the Sri Lankans have the misfortune of hearing of her execution.

Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Basil Fernando
Director of Policy and Programs
Asian Human Rights Commission

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-168-2012
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Campaigns : Save Rizana Nafeek
Issues : Child rights, Death penalty,