By: Alexandra Kinias
Rizana Nafeek’s name might not have caught the attention of many people and unfortunately it will soon be forgotten by those who knew her story, but not by her loved ones who are still grieving her death. After being convicted of murdering her employer’s four months old son in Saudi Arabia, a crime she strongly denied, Nafeek was publicly executed and beheaded with a sword.
Driven by poverty, seventeen years old Nafeek, daughter of a woodcutter, left her small village in Sri-Lanka in 2005 after landing a job as a housemaid in Saudi Arabia. She was among the millions of migrant workers who often end up working in non-humanitarian conditions in a land where the laws are still derived from medieval practices.
According to her family, Rizana’s birth certificate states that she was born in 1988 which made her 17 years old when she was arrested. In violation of Sri-Lankan and international laws of minor trafficking, her age in the passport was forged by the job agency to make her appear 23, a common practice in Sri-Lanka to overcome the hurdles of the government restrictions. On her second week on the job, the four months infant who was left in her care died. Inexperienced in child care, Nafeek said that the infant choked while she was bottle feeding him, but her employer accused her of strangling his son after an argument with his wife and took her to the police station where she was arrested.
According to a social worker who worked closely on the case, Nafeek was forced to sign a confession in a language she did not understand. And, Tamil, the language that she spoke was not the interpreter’s native language. Amnesty international Safeguards state that no one under the age of 18 at the time of the crime shall be put to death. And even though Nafeek’s birth certificate stated that she was a minor when the crime was committed, the Saudi officials would only recognized her passport as the only official document.
Her desperate family and loved ones’ anticipation for a miracle to grant Nafeek a pardon ended with the nightmare they had feared all along. She could have walked free if the family of the infant had pardoned her, which after seven years in incarceration; the family would still not forgive her. In one of the most unfriendly country for women and minorities, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that is confined between the sand dunes of the Sahara, not only doesn’t comply with the international laws for human rights, but its natives are notorious about their abusive treatment to their labors. But with the efforts of various human rights organizations, news of abuse, mistreatment and often torture of the migrant workers can no longer be concealed. However, under the iron grip of this rigorous regime, and even with the monitor and intervention of such organizations, not much advancement was taken to improve the work environment of these workers.
The disgraceful record on the conditions of the migrant workers in Saudi Arabia was described as ‘near-slavery’ in the Human Rights Watch Report. Slavery that was common throughout the world for centuries was also practiced in Saudi Arabia. The lands of the Ottoman Empire were the last to abolish slavery. In 1857, under British pressure, the Ottomans banned the trafficking in slaves throughout the Empire, with the exception of the Hijaz that eventually became the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Finally, the Saudi government abolished slavery in 1962, but the culture is still alive and practiced. The working contracts between the employer and the worker is nothing more than a modern time slave ownership document. As long as this culture of master and slave is still embedded in the minds of the Saudis, stories of abuse and aggression against the migrant works will keep flooding the news.
To read more about Rizana Naffek check these links: