President Refuses To Pay Lawyers For Housemaid On Death Row
In a shocking decision the President’s office has rejected a request for financial assistance to pay lawyers for an appeal on the death sentence passed on Sri Lankan housemaid Rizana Nafeek.
Sri Lankans working abroad have been the biggest single net foreign exchange earner for decades and most of it is from house maids.
In what should be a major embarrassment to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) took the initiative to raise the funds for filing the appeal, and thus prevented her immediate execution.
In a letter to the AHRC, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunge on August 20, wrote, “ I write with reference to your letter of June 05, 2012 addressed to His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka on the above subject and wish to present the following details for your information.
According to the background reports received from the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare, and the Ministry of External Affairs, charges have been made against Miss Rizana Nafeek under the Shariya Law by a court in Saudi Arabia for committing the murder of a baby child even though Miss Nafeek was a minor at the lime of the incident.
His Excellency the President has requested clemency for her from His Majesty King Abdulla bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud in the year 2010.” Unquote. Responding to this letter, the Director of Policy and Programs for the AHRC Basil Fernando has appealed to the Sri Lankan government pleading, as it has done throughout several years, to take up this matter of the life of one of its citizens, however humble the position of that citizen may be, with the appropriate dignity of a sovereign nation, and to request from the authorities in Saudi Arabia the saving of this person.
“Thank you very much for your letter dated 20th August 2012. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been writing to His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan authorities ever since it learned about the sentencing of the Sri Lankan housemaid Rizana Nafeek in 2007.
As the Sri Lankan government was not willing to provide the lawyer’s fees for an appeal from the death sentence, AHRC took the initiative to raise the funds for filing the appeal, and thus prevented her immediate execution,” Fernando wrote.
The AHRC in their response to Weeratunge has said that the human rights organization had taken many initiatives to save the life of the unfortunate girl, Rizana Nafeek, who was seventeen years of age at the time she left for employment in Saudi Arabia. “Despite being a small nation, Sri Lanka has the same status with any other nation in the world as a sovereign state.
It is with the dignity of a sovereign state that a matter of this nature should be pursued and it is by pursuing matters in that manner that many nations have been able to convince other nations of the seriousness with which they regard the matters of life and death of the citizens of their nations. It is to be hoped that the fear of the loss of trade relationships or other such embarrassments will not be a consideration on matters of this nature,” Fernando on behalf of the Asian Human Rights Commission further wrote.
Pushing for the Sri Lankan Government to pursue its call for clemency from the King of Saudi Arabia Fernando further states, “The Sri Lankan government in this instance had the advantage of the support of the international community.
United Nations human rights authorities have expressed their concern on this issue to the authorities of Saudi Arabia. Besides this, the European Union has expressed its continuous concern on saving the life of Rizana Nafeek and publicized its desire to work with the Sri Lankan government on this issue. The European Union’s High Representative and Vice President, Catherine Ashton, has announced that the European Union has intervened on this matter and that they will pursue efforts on her behalf together with the Sri Lankan government. Many Western governments have also taken up this issue with the Saudi authorities, as well as the Sri Lankan government.
Among the international dignitaries who expressed their concern are His Royal Highness Prince Charles and many others.” Unquote. Sri Lanka’s 1.7 million migrant workforce has been a boon for Sri Lanka’s economy. Last year alone Sri Lankan workers abroad sent home Rs. 5,200 million in foreign exchange to the country’s coffers.
Sri Lanka’s Bureau of Foreign Employment estimates that women represent roughly 60 percent of Sri Lanka’s growing migrant work force. Most women Sri Lankan migrants work in the Middle East as housemaids.