SAUDI ARABIA/SRI LANKA: Saudi King responds to the plea for Rizana
The Asian Human Rights Commission is happy to learn that His Royal Highness King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia has taken the initial steps towards a reprieve for Rizana Nafeek, the Sri Lankan girl who is currently on the death row in Saudi Arabia convicted for strangling a baby in her care. Rizana, who was 17-years old at the time of the incident, claims it was an accident in which the baby choked while being bottle-fed. The Supreme Court in Riyadh confirmed her death sentence in late October 2010.
The Sri Lankan External Affairs Ministry’s Consular Chief Somadasa Wijeysundera reported this Sunday, November 14, 2010, that King Abdullah has directed officials to meet with the parents of the deceased infant for whom Rizana worked. He stated that the King's actions come as a response to the plea from the Sri Lankan President Rajapakse to grant the girl clemency, emphasizing that discreet diplomatic efforts were underway to secure her release.
Wijeysundera further stated that several other diplomatic efforts have been stepped up both in Riyadh and internationally to gather support for Rizana's release. "Our envoys in several countries both in the West and elsewhere are working closely with those respective countries towards this end. The response is encouraging but the process is slow because it needs a lot of diplomatic patience and understanding," he said.
Saudi Arabia's law is based on Sharia, the Islamic Law, which holds certain restrictions. As the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia recently confirmed her death sentence, the options of judicial remedies have been exhausted. The decision can only be challenged if new evidence comes to light, if King Abdullah, who also serves as Prime Minister, grants her a pardon or the parents of the deceased infant withdraw their claim of murder or settle for blood money. The King's initiative to let officials meet with the family is therefore acknowledged as an important step in granting a reprieve to Rizana.
The Asian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch among other human rights groups and civil society organisations have followed the case closely and worked intensively to put continuous pressure on The Saudi King and The Minister of Interior in Saudi Arabia to grant Rizana clemency as well as requesting President Rajapakse to appeal to King Abdullah and request a diplomatic dialogue on the case.
While the eyes of the world currently are on King Abdullah and President Rajapakse, this should also be used to address the underlying causes to this disastrous situation and how the young girl from a rural, poor family ended up there in the first place. In Sri Lanka there is an urgent need to address the growing problem of illegal operations by the recruitment agencies to send workers overseas. As Sri Lanka's biggest source to foreign currency is remittance from workers overseas, the Sri Lankan government has been slow and reluctant to put pressure on the Saudi King before the international and national attention forced it to intervene. Addressing the problems of the workers overseas have therefore not been a priority before and something President Rajapakse would rather prefer to keep disguised.
In the case of Rizana it was after all the recruitment agency in Sri Lanka, who illegally altered her birthday to be able to employ her in Saudi Arabia. This resulted in Rizana holding a job as a baby caretaker; a job, which she was neither mature nor experienced enough to hold and thus led to the tragic death of a child. The current situation should be used genuinely for a call on the Sri Lankan government to take strong measures against the exploitation of underage labour and the implementation of protection for the country's migrant workers.
While the response by the Saudi King to intervene in Rizana's case is encouraging, it is crucial to maintain international as well as national pressure on the situation so that Rizana will be released.
Kindly see our urgent appeal on the case and write to King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud and the Ministry of Interior in Saudi Arabia: AHRC-UAU-041-2010