Sri Lanka's President Appeals for Nafeek's Reprieve

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Jan 8 2013

UPDATE: According to Emirates 24/7, Sri Lankan authorities failed to secure a pardon from the infant's family. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) accused Sri Lanka of exaggerating progress in the case, a claim that was also made against the delegation sent to Saudi in early 2012. Sri Lanka has been notified that Nafeek may be executed at any time, as Saudi Arabia does not release the schedule of its executions. AHRC emphasized that there is still time for Sri Lanka "to take effective action to conduct negotiations and also to renew diplomatic efforts to save her."

On January 5, President Rajapaksa sent an appeal to King Abdullah to stay Rizana Nafeek's execution. Migrant Rights has followed the story for over a year now, though Nafeek has endured legal hardship for just under 8 eight years. Nafeek was arrested in May 2005 for the alleged murder of her employer's child and was sentenced to death in 2007. The case spent years rebounding between different courts, throughout which Nafeek continued to maintain that the child choked to death. Apart from the case's factual uncertainty, courts had to consider that Nafeek was only 17 at the time of the incident. Saudi Arabia is party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which proscribes the death sentence for crimes committed by an individual under the age of 18. Nafeek's underage status was unknown at the time of arrest because she had falsified her age in order to obtain employment.

The letter marks Rajapaksa's second attempt to personally secure reprieve for Nafeek, the first of which took place during the Asian Corporate Dialogue Summit in October. Sri Lanka also sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia to negotiate Nafeek's release, but the blundered mission failed to produce any results. Unfortunately, such last-minute legal interventions are characteristic of Sri Lanka's attitude towards convicted nationals. Rather than supporting workers with the mechanisms they need to fairly defend themselves in foreign courts already biased against migrants, sending-nations tend to intervene only in the case of eminent death. Migrants are consequently forced to navigate foreign legal systems alone - often without a lawyer or even a translator - circumscribing the likelihood of procuring a just ruling.

Sri Lanka's Bureau of Foreign Employ (SLBFE) still awaits a final response from Saudi authorities. According to Saudi law, only the victim's family can pardon an individual on death row. In the past, sending-nations have paid large sums to families to secure reprieve for their nationals and Sri Lanka has indicated that it is prepared to provide the financial exchange. Emirates 24/7 reports that the mother of the infant is still unwilling to pardon Nafeek but Saudi authorities are expected to report a resolution to the SLBFE shortly. Migrant Rights will continue to monitor the case for updates.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East