Last week, a Nepali domestic worker, a Yemeni migrant worker, and a citizen were beheaded for different crimes. This distribution seemingly indicates a macabre kind of fairness within the legal system; two males, one female, two migrants, one citizen, each beheaded in accordance with the same distortion of Islamic law used to impress fear into the Kingdom’s residents.
But while citizens do not escape the inequity of the Saudi justice system, discrimination renders migrants even more vulnerable to harsh penalties; even ignoring the often problematic context of their initial arrest, detained migrants often lack regular access to a lawyer or translator.
Some may argue that the execution of a Yemeni migrant accused of murdering two migrant domestic works evidences Saudi’s concern for the well-being of its migrant worker population. But the beheading instead reinforces the disproportionality of the legal system, in that migrants are more likely to face severe penalties (especially for abuses against other migrants) than are Saudi citizens. Despite the many reports of domestic workers’ suspicious deaths and suicides, as well as the large numbers of domestic workers escaping abusive employers each year, employers are rarely held accountable. If they are charged at all, they often receive commuted sentences.
The execution of the Yemeni worker reflects Saudi’s sporadic, inconsistent interventions into domestic worker issues, acts that bring domestic workers no future protections. An execution cannot be evidence of concern when there is a refusal to protect – even to admit – the daily physical, sexual, and labor abuses that workers endure.
Similarly, the execution of the Nepali domestic worker, accused of murdering a child under her care, also reflects the imbalance within the Saudi judicial system. Domestic workers accused of committing crimes are more likely to face penalties than are employers. Again, they lack access to translators and lawyers, and rarely receive significant aid from their own consular representatives. In many cases, domestic workers have confessed under duress, in interviews with police and with no lawyer present. The psychological impact of abusive working conditions are not taken into consideration.
The execution is likely to further flame paranoia and xenophobia surrounding domestic workers. Local op-eds and social media regularly dramatize the dangers of leaving domestic workers alone with children, justifying increasing transgressions on their rights.