Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Watch’

Saudi Arabia behads about 80 people a year

Saudi Arabia beheads about 80 people a year

A Sri Lankan woman who was employed as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia was beheaded by the Saudi authorities on Wednesday after she was accused of murdering an infant in her charge and then sentenced to death in a case that the Sri Lankan government and human rights groups said was deeply flawed.

The Saudi Interior Ministry announced in a brief statement released by the official Saudi news agency that the woman, Rizana Nafeek, had been executed. It said she strangled the infant because of differences between her and the baby’s mother. She was detained and interrogated and was sentenced after trial, the Saudi ministry reported. She had been on the job for only six weeks before the accusation was made against her in 2005.

Waiting patiently, but all hope is now ended.

Waiting patiently, but all hope is now ended. Rizana’s parents.

Her mother, Rafeena, told the BBC at the family’s tiny village home, where they keep one cow, that Rizana Nafeek went to Saudi Arabia to earn money to educate her three younger siblings.

In 2005, war was returning to this part of Sri Lanka between the military and Tamil Tiger rebels. Rizana’s father, Sulthan, could no longer go to the jungle to collect wood, which had been his job.

n Saudi Arabia, their daughter got domestic employment but was also given childcare duties, something her parents say she was not expecting.

Weeks after her arrival, tragedy struck. The baby in her care, Naif al-Quthaibi, died. A Saudi court convicted her of murder and sentenced her to death. She says that Naif choked during a feeding session and she was unable to save him.

The evidence that the accused was a minor when the alleged crime was committed is compelling.

The BBC visited her old school, the Imam Shafi Vidyalaya, and saw a register which says she was born in 1988. That matches her birth certificate.

Rizana Nafeek's name can clearly be seen on the Imam Shafi Vidyalaya school register.

Rizana Nafeek’s name can clearly be seen on the Imam Shafi Vidyalaya school register.

Her passport says she was born in 1982, but her family and neighbours say this was falsified by an unscrupulous Sri Lankan job agent.

If the 1988 date is correct, she was definitely only 17 and therefore a juvenile when the alleged crime took place.

Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had made several appeals to the Saudi government to halt the execution. Sri Lanka also sent ministers to the kingdom on similar appeals and arranged for the woman’s parents to visit their daughter in prison in 2008 and 2011, the Sri Lanka statement said.

“President Rajapaksa and the Government of Sri Lanka deplore the execution of Miss Rizana Nafeek despite all efforts at the highest level of the government and the outcry of the people locally and internationally over the death sentence of a juvenile housemaid,” it said.

Ms. Nafeek’s case was shrouded in controversy all along. Human Rights Watch, which along with other rights organizations had urged the Saudi government to halt the execution, said that she should have been treated as a minor in Saudi Arabia’s judicial system, and it also questioned whether she had been given a fair trial:

Though she was arrested in 2005, she did not have access to legal counsel until after a court in Dawadmi sentenced her to death in 2007. Nafeek has also 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.

Human Rights Watch said that Ms. Nafeek’s birth certificate showed that she was 17 at the time of her arrest, but that a recruitment agency in Sri Lanka had altered the birth date on her passport to present her as 23 so she could migrate for work. Her birth certificate says she was born in 1988, said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in an interview, adding that she has a scanned image of the document.

The High Court in Colombo, Sri Lanka, sentenced two recruitment agents to two years in prison for falsifying her travel documents, she said.

In a statement that was released this week and updated on Wednesday when the sentence was carried out, Human Rights Watch said that international law prohibits the death penalty for crimes committed before the age of 18.

“Saudi Arabia is one of just three countries that executes people for crimes they committed as children,” Ms. Varia said. The others are Iran and Yemen, she said.

Amnesty International said in a statement that as a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Saudi Arabia is prohibited from imposing the death penalty on people under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offense, and that if there was doubt, the courts were required to treat the suspect as a juvenile until the prosecution can confirm the age.

After the sentence was handed down in 2007, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had called on the Saudi authorities for clemency, but the sentence was appealed and then later ratified by the country’s Supreme Court. King Abdullah signed off on it this week, Amnesty International said.

According to information gathered by Amnesty International, Ms. Nafeek said she was not allowed to present her birth certificate or other evidence of her age to the Court of First Instance in 2007. Amnesty International said it also appeared that the man who translated her statement to the court might not have been able adequately to go between Tamil and Arabic.

She also had no access to lawyers either during her pretrial interrogation or at her trial in 2007. Amnesty International said that although she initially confessed to the baby’s murder during her interrogation, “she later retracted and denied it was true, saying she had been forced to make the ‘confession’ under duress following a physical assault.”

Sri Lankan protests were on-going, but ultimately fruitless. The Saudi government and King appear to have simply disregarded them despite the serious doubts in  the case.

Sri Lankan protests were on-going, but ultimately fruitless. The Saudi government and King appear to have simply disregarded them despite the serious doubts in the case.

Ms. Varia said she had spoken on Wednesday to the Sri Lankan ambassador in Riyadh, who told her that Ms. Nafeek was unaware she was to be executed. Ms. Nafeek, a Muslim, is from an impoverished family. Her father is a woodcutter. “In cases where girls are migrating so young it shows how desperate families are for income,” she said.

The news of the execution came on the same day that the United Nations’ International Labor Organization issued a report saying that of the 52 million domestic workers worldwide, only 10 percent are covered by labor laws to the same extent as other workers, and more than one-quarter are completely excluded from national labor legislation. It called on countries to extend protections to such workers.

Saudi Arabia in particular was not keeping up with the international trend to improve protections for domestic workers, Ms. Varia said.

Wellthisiswhatithink has had cause to draw attention to the inadequacies and brutalities of the Saudi legal system before including the case of a woman executed for “witchcraft”. Other commentators have also noticed what’s going on, including threatening the death sentence to bloggers. And this story will again fuel the racist and ignorant perception that this is a country unworthy of acceptance into the modern world, but also – more accurately – one where justice is medieval, capricious, and biased against women and the poor.

The West will soon free itself of reliance on the oil under Saudi Arabia which has made its occupants so accidentally, ludicrously and obscenely rich. When that day comes, and they find world opinion firmly against them, they may regret the death of young girls like Rizana, made to kneel in the sand in terror while their head is brutally struck from their shoulders.

May she rest in peace.

Rona Shafia, 52, left and Sahar Shafia, 17, in a photo recovered from Sahar's cellphone, taken June 26, 2009 while the Shafia family was in Niagara Falls. This photo is a released exhibit from trial of Mohammad Shafia, 56, his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 39, and their son Hamed Shafia, 18 who were convicted of four counts of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the deaths of Rona and Sahar, and also Zainab Shafia, 19, and Geeti Shafia, who was just 13 years old.

A recent case in Canada when a father, his wife and their son were convicted of the so-called “Honour” killing of his other (childless) wife (in a polygamous marriage) and three of the convicted couple’s daughters has galvanised the blogosphere and news outlets with the unimaginable, surreal horror of the event. The murderers have each been jailed for 25 years, the maximum available under Canadian law.

Despite many arguments to the contrary, (and they are easy enough to find on the internet), it would therefore be timely to note, as blogger “Morale Outrage” points out in the article “Honor killings are murder not an Islamic teaching” – which I reproduce below – that this is a cultural phenomenon, and not a religious one.

Zainab

Zainab

This is not to excuse such appalling behaviour, merely to ensure that it does not fuel any further the already poisonous atmosphere between Islam and the “West”, whether by that we mean Christian opinion or secular.

What is most worrying to me is that, in the West at least, we are clearly failing to protect women from this miserable, cowardly violence.

As this story shows, the future murders of the wife and children concerned were well-flagged during an appeal to police for help.

http://www.canada.com/life/Shafia+trial+hears+call+about+threats+beatings/5750419/story.html

The court also heard that Geeti tried to seek help from teachers and child protection authorities, complaining of verbal, emotional and physical abuse at home.

In addition, child protection agencies now admit they failed the children and their mother. TV coverage and commentary here: http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/sunnews/canada/archives/2012/02/20120201-150647.html

This is an increasing problem in the West as we welcome some highly traditional migrant families from these areas. At the very least, we need to provide safe refuge for these innocents and ruthlessly prosecute those within their families who threaten them. We also need to understand that it can take incredible courage for young, vulnerable people to make a complaint, and that they may well recant their stories under pressure or out of simple fear, and that once they have raised the issue of in-family violence they must be taken seriously.

Needless to say, the case, and others like it, has provoked an outpouring of opinion.

Language obscures core issue, says expert

Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women said the language around the Shafia verdict is distracting from the basic fact that four women were murdered.

Instead, she prefers the idea that the deaths were “femicide”.

“Femicide just simply means the killing of women and girls just because they’re women and girls,” she told CTV News Channel on Monday. The term stems from the patriarchal idea that men are the guardians of women and can “do with them as they see fit”, Hogben said.

She said Canadians should stop focusing on the deaths as honour killings “because that makes it kind of exotic and different and therefore does not include them with all of us as Canadian women.”

By viewing the deaths as a female issue, not only that implies ties to any specific cultural group, Hogben said Canadians can focus on how to protect women in the future.

The Government reaction

But Rona Ambrose, Minister for Status of Women, told CTV’s Power Play on Monday that honour killings are real and society needed to “wake up” to the threat.

“I think (the Shafia) trial in particular was a wake-up call to a lot of people who thought honour-motivated violence doesn’t exist in Canada,” she said. “It sends a message that this is real. We need to educate prosecutors, we need to educate police officers, social workers so they understand what this is about.”

Ambrose said that’s already happening in some Toronto women’s shelters, where staff are learning about the phenomenon. Other programs for women and girls, such as those offered through the Indo-Canadian Women’s Association, can also help, she said.

While honour killings are rare in Canada, indeed, in most Western countries including the UK, Australia and the USA, they occur with worrying frequency, and “honour-motivated non-lethal violence against women is prevalent”, Ambrose said.

“Girls are being subjected to violence or intimidation because they wore jeans. This is the kind of thing that’s difficult for Canadians to understand,” she said.

(For many of us, not just Canadians, Ms Ambrose.)

She continued:

“This is an issue – and there’ve been a lot of very brave women in certain cultural communities who’ve come forward to say this is a problem – honour-motivated violence does exist and we have to address it,” Ambrose said, noting that Indo-Canadian and Muslim communities are working with the government to do just that.

The bigger picture
That is all only the beginning of the solution for Western countries, of course. A much longer and more intractable problem is to turn around the attitudes to women throughout much of the Middle East, Asia and Africa that permit such atrocities anywhere. As we shake our heads over the news coverage, we are left, ultimately, with the same, persistent, terrifying question. How can a father or brother look in the eyes of his daughter or sister and murderously wield a cudgel, a knife, or fire a gun? What is it that could conquer any normal paternal or filial duty of care? That such behaviour seems simply incomprehensible to us in the West should merely spur us on to greater efforts to understand, and counter, the cultural beliefs that permit such sociopathic attitudes. In short, not all cultural beliefs are equal. Some are just plain wrong. We need the courage to say this, unflinchingly. And also to remind ourselves that it has nothing to do with religion, which is merely used as a cover for such behaviour.
honor killing victims

All victims of "honour murders". How many more?

The eyes of those thousands of girls and women murdered every year throughout the world on the flimsiest of excuse stare back at us from our computer screens and the pages of our newspapers. They demand that we do more to help them, and to prevent others joining their tragic ranks.

And as we contemplate the mysteries of cultures other than our own, let us also not forget: women are terrified, injured or die every single day in Western countries at the hands of men who are supposed to love them. And that therefore, all over the world, only a fundamental alteration in men can finally, and irrevocably, change the future of all women for the better.

As John Lennon so pointedly remarked, “Woman is the nigger of the world. Think about it. Do something about it.”

The Moral Outrage blog follows:

Honor killings are murder not an Islamic teaching

Leading Muslim thinkers wholeheartedly insist that “honor murders” have no place and no support in Islam.

“There is nothing in the Quran that justifies honor killings. There is nothing that says you should kill for the honor of the family,” said Taj Hargey, director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford in England.

“This idea that ‘somehow a girl has besmirched our honor and therefore the thing to do is kill her’ is bizarre, and Muslims should

Geeti

Geeti

stop using this defense,” he said, arguing that the practice is cultural, not religious in origin.

“You cannot say this is what Islam approves of. You can [only] say this is what their culture approves of,” he said.

Yet several Arab countries and territories, including Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Yemen and the Palestinian territories, do have laws providing lesser sentences for honor murders than for other murders, Human Rights Watch says. Egypt and Jordan also have laws that have been interpreted to allow reduced sentences for honor crimes, the group says.

Nadya Khalife, a researcher on women’s rights in the Arab world for Human Rights Watch, agrees that the practice should not be blamed on Islam. “It’s not linked to religion; it’s more cultural,” she said. “There have been several Islamic scholars who have issued fatwas against honor killing.”

Irshad Manji, the author of “Allah, Liberty and Love: Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom,” said there was another conflict at work in “honor murders”, a term that broadcaster CNN uses in preference to “honor killings” because the latter phrase does not properly describe the crime.

It is “a tribal tradition that emphasizes the family or the tribe or the community over the individual.” Although the practice may not be Islamic, she said, not all Muslims understand the distinction.

“It is a problem within Islam because of how Muslims often confuse culture and religion,” she said. “It’s Muslims who have to learn to separate culture and religion. If we don’t, Islam will continue to get the bad name that it gets.”

On the other hand, honor murders are not a problem in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population. “No such a practice can be found among Indonesian Muslims,” said Azyumardi Azra, the director of the graduate school at the State Islamic University in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Taj Hargey, the director of the Muslim Educational Centre, said violence was sometimes the result of painful transition. “Muslims are in a state of flux,” he said. “They are between two worlds: the ancient world and the new technological age,” he said. “Women are getting rights and the ability to choose their own spouses. [Especially Muslim families living in the West don’t] know how to respond to this: the conflict between the discipline of children and the new reality.”

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service has an expert devoted to prosecuting honor-based violence, Nazir Afzal. Convicting perpetrators can be difficult, he said. “There is a wall of silence around this, and people are not prepared to talk,” he said.

And along with the Islamic scholars and human rights advocates, he rejected out of hand the idea that religion justified it. “At the end of the day, murder is murder. There is no faith on Earth, no community on Earth that justifies this,” he said.

“Abrahamic faiths say ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ ” he pointed out. “At the end of the day, nobody should die for this.”

Nadya Khalife of Human Rights Watch says reliable figures of the number of honor murders are hard to come by, but she pointed to a United Nations Population Fund estimate of 5,000 per year.

Varying Canadian media comments on the case can be found here: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2012/0130/Honor-killings-in-Canada-5-responses-to-the-Shafia-verdict/Honor-killings-deserve-harsher-penalty-than-first-degree-murder

Innumerable blogs on the topic are also available. Sadly, I can hardly wish you “happy reading”.