UPDATE: On January 9, 2013, the Saudi Ministry of Interior announced the execution of Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan domestic worker convicted of killing a baby in her care in 2005 when she was 17 years old.
Human Rights Watch strongly condemns the execution.
“Saudi Arabia is one of just three countries that executes people for crimes they committed as children,” said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Rizana Nafeek is yet another victim of the deep flaws in Saudi Arabia's judicial system.”
(New York) – Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and the interior ministry should halt the execution of Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan domestic worker convicted of killing a baby in her care in 2005 when she was 17. According to Sri Lankan government sources, Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry under Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz has issued instructions for Nafeek’s execution.
Under the system of qisas (retaliation) that governs murder cases in Saudi Arabia, the baby’s parents may still grant Nafeek a pardon or seek blood money in compensation.
“The Saudi king and interior minister should immediately cancel the execution orders against Rizana Nafeek,” said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi officials should then meet with the baby’s family and Sri Lankan authorities to make sure the death penalty won’t be considered again.”
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa sent an appeal to King Abdullah on January 6, 2013, requesting a stay of the execution until a settlement can be reached between the baby’s family and a Saudi reconciliation committee.
Nafeek had been working in Saudi Arabia for two weeks in 2005 when the ‘Utaibi family’s 4-month-old baby died in her care. Nafeek retracted a confession that she said was made under duress, and says that the baby died in a choking accident while drinking from a bottle. Authorities have incarcerated Nafeek in Dawadmi prison since 2005.
Past Human Rights Watch interviews with Sri Lankan embassy officials and reporting from Arab News found serious problems with Nafeek’s access to lawyers and competent interpreters during her interrogation and trial. Nafeek had no access to legal counsel until after a court in Dawadmi sentenced her to death by beheading in 2007.
In 2010, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld Nafeek’s conviction and death sentence, exhausting all judicial remedies unless new evidence emerges. However, the king and interior minister must sign execution orders before a sentence may be carried out.
International law prohibits the death penalty for crimes committed before the age of 18. A recruitment agency in Sri Lanka altered the birthdate on Nafeek’s passport to present her as 23 so she could migrate for work, but her birth certificate shows she was 17 at the time. The High Court in Colombo, Sri Lanka later sentenced two recruitment agents to two years in prison for the falsification of Nafeek’s travel documents.
“Rizana was just a child herself at the time of the baby’s death, and she had no lawyer to defend her and no competent interpreter to translate her account,” said Varia. “Saudi Arabia should recognize, as the rest of the world long has, that no child offender should ever be put to death.”
Saudi Arabia is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which expressly prohibits the death penalty or life sentences without parole for offenses committed before the accused turned 18. Nevertheless, Saudi law gives judges wide discretion to treat children as adults in criminal cases, and courts have imposed death sentences on children as young as 13.
Saudi Arabia is one of only three countries worldwide known to have executed people in the past five years for crimes committed when they were children.
Saudi Arabia executes those sentenced to death by beheading them in public with a sword.
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and finality. Given the possibility of mistakes in any criminal justice system, innocent people may be executed. Saudi Arabia executed at least 69 people in 2012.