SRI LANKA: Death sentences passed against three Sri Lankans — Rights of the family and the public

Further to our statement issued on 22 March 2005, regarding the death sentence handed down to a Sri Lankan migrant worker sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) can now report that the matter has received considerable publicity and has been raised by an Honourable Member in parliament.  In a press statement the Foreign Ministry confirmed the sentence and stated that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has already written to the Saudi Arabian government with a view to intervene on behalf of three Sri Lankans, either to release them or to alter their sentence.

There exists considerable confusion about the charges, as the family has had no access directly or through intermediaries with the accused after their arrest.  However, according to the family there was no armed robbery in which the three persons were allegedly involved in. The only information that has come to light is that one of the men, Mr. Corea, a driver for the Globe Marine Services Company, was driving a car in the vicinity of another incident, but that he was no way involved in that. The family is confused about the developments in this case and has not been assisted in anyway to ascertain the facts of these cases.

While this matter is now attracting the public discussion that it deserves, AHRC wishes to highlight the following rights of migrant workers who are working far away from their homes in social and cultural environments that are not familiar to them.  Under these circumstances it is the duty of the government acting through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassies to inform the families of persons who face such problems as soon as the incidents come to light.  The families have a right to recieve detailed information on these matters through their government and its emissaries.  It is only through such information that families can obtain legal and other relevant advice as to how to best assist their family member. In this endeavour it is the duty of emissaries to continuously assist the process of communication between the accused and their family.

It is also a principal duty of the government to inform the country’s parliament as soon as any death sentence is passed against any of its citizens outside the country, and this applies particularly to migrant workers who are working in many countries now.  They have less capacity to communicate these matters themselves to their countries.  It is the right of the parliament to be made aware of these matters so that they can take appropriate measures upon learning of these events.  We express appreciation for the members of parliament who took notice of this matter when an outside party brought it to their attention.  However, it is the foreign ministry itself who should have informed the parliament of this matter in the first instance.

Migrant workers cannot afford the legal services they need when facing trials outside the country.  It is the duty of the foreign ministry acting together with the ministry of justice to provide legal assistance in these matters.  If legal assistance is provided through competent counsel, it is likely that their case will be put forward in a proper manner before it is too late.  Regarding such matters also, the Sri Lankan parliament has a right to be informed of such interventions.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges that the incident relating to these three persons be taken up as an occasion to establish proper practices that will help to protect migrant workers and will also re-establish the rights of the parliament and the public to information.  The rights of families of persons who are working as migrant workers abroad, must also be upheld.  This is both a matter of rights, as well as humanity.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-34-2005
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Death penalty, Migrant workers,