Saudi Arabia drew widespread censure yesterday 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.
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. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had written to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to appeal for clemency, said he "deplored" the decision. Rizana Nafeek was 17 when the 4-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 kingdom, which executed 79 people last year, was "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 Nafeek was denied access to legal representation and adequate translation.
Like many of the Gulf's migrant workers 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. The maid initially admitted smothering the baby but later retracted her confession, saying it was extracted under duress and the child had choked on milk.