Saudi Arabia executes Sri Lankan maid

Kingdom breaching global treaty as Rizana Nafeek was 17 when baby died in her care

Saudi Arabia drew widespread censure today as it ignored personal pleas from the Sri Lankan President and executed a migrant worker for the death of a baby in her care, despite her being a minor at the time of the crime.

The news of the beheading – which was followed by a minute’s silence in the Sri Lankan parliament – came as Colombo was preparing to send an emergency delegation to Saudi Arabia in a last-ditch attempt for a resolution. The Sri Lankan President President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had written to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to appeal for clemency, said he “deplored” the decision.

The daughter of a woodcutter from a small village in eastern Sri Lanka, Rizana Nafeek was 17 when the four-month-old baby in her care died, meaning the execution is in breach of an international treaty to protect children to which Saudi Arabia is a signatory. Amnesty International said the execution showed that the religiously conservative kingdom, which executed 79 people last year, is “woefully out of step with international standards on the death penalty”.

The case once again throws a spotlight on the vulnerability of migrant workers in the country and their treatment under its legal system – where human rights groups say access to adequate translation and legal assistance is severely limited. Rights groups raised concerns about the fairness of the trail as Ms Nafeek was denied access to legal representation and adequate translation.

Indonesia last year banned its nationals from working in Saudi Arabia, when a maid was beheaded after confessing to killing her employer, claiming he abused her.

Tales of mistreatment are all too common. Two years ago, a 49-year-old maid returned from Saudi Arabia her body studded with iron nails which had been driven into her flesh by her employer – she said she was afraid he would slit her throat if she screamed as they were hammered in. Surgeons removed 23 nails and needles from her body when she returned home, though Saudi authorities reject her story.

Like many of the Gulf’s migrant workers Ms Nafeek’s parents say they were forced to send her overseas to supplement the struggling family’s income. They say the employment agency forged her documents to make it appear she was an adult and could legally seek employment in the oil-rich Gulf state. Her passport says she was born in February 1982, but rights groups claim she was not allowed to present her birth certificate or other evidence of her age to the court during her trial in 2007.

Ms Nafeek had been in the country for a matter of weeks when the baby in her care in the town of Dawadmi died in 2005. The Saudi Interior Ministry say that she smothered the child after an argument with her employer and that the sentence was carried out “legitimately and honestly”. The maid initially admitted to the crime but later retracted her confession saying it had been extracted under duress, saying the baby had choked on milk. 

“One issue that we have continuously highlighted is the treatment of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, not only at the hands of their employers who mistreat them, refuse salaries and refuse time off, but also at the hands of the authorities,” said Dina El-Mamoun, Saudi Arabia researcher at Amnesty International. “When migrant workers come into contact with the law they are often dealt with harshly and not given their rights, despite being the most vulnerable section of society.”

The execution coincided with an International Labour Organisation report which urged nations to urgently adopt and implement new laws to protect domestic workers, with just 10 per cent given the same legal protection as other workers. “The lack of rights, the extreme dependency on an employer and the isolated and unprotected nature of domestic work can render them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse,” the report said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas