Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Saudi Arabia: Stop Execution of Domestic Worker

Death Penalty Upheld for Sri Lankan, Age 17 at Time of Alleged Killing

( New York , October 26, 2010) – King Abdullah and Interior Minister Prince Naif should halt the execution of Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan domestic worker convicted of killing a child in her care when she was 17, Human Rights Watch said today. Saudi Arabia is one of only three countries worldwide known to have executed individuals in the past two years for crimes committed when they were children.

Rizana Nafeek had been in Saudi Arabia for two weeks in May 2005, working for the ‘Utaibi family, when their 4-month-old baby died in her care. A recruitment agency in Sri Lanka had altered the birth date on her passport to suggest she was 23 so she could migrate for work, but her birth certificate later confirmed she was 17 at the time.

“There is no dispute that the events happened when Nafeek was a child,” said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Saudi government should not compound one tragedy with another. It’s time for Saudi Arabia to end its outlier status as one of the very few countries still executing people for crimes they are accused of committing as children.”

An official with the Sri Lankan embassy told Human Rights Watch that diplomats learned last week that Saudi Arabia ’s Supreme Court had upheld Nafeek’s conviction and sentence. A social worker who visited Nafeek in prison on October 24, 2010, told Human Rights Watch that Nafeek is still unaware of the latest Supreme Court decision and is anxious to return home.

Past Human Rights Watch interviews with embassy officials and reporting from Arab News have raised concerns about Nafeek’s access to lawyers and competent translators during her interrogation and 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.

With the Supreme Court’s latest decision, judicial remedies have been exhausted, unless it can be shown that the courts falsely interpreted Islamic law in their rulings or new evidence comes to light. The king and interior minister must sign execution orders, however, and no one may be executed without such approval. A senior official in the Sri Lankan embassy told Human Rights Watch that it has requested a meeting with the Interior Ministry.

Under the concept of retaliation (qisas) governing murder cases in Saudi Arabia , the parents of the baby also may seek blood money in compensation or grant a pardon instead of opting to ask the state to execute Nafeek.

“The Saudi government should meet with the ‘Utaibi family, the Sri Lankan authorities, and other relevant parties to leave no stone unturned in efforts to overturn this death sentence,” Varia said.

Saudi Arabia is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 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.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and its finality. In 2009, Saudi Arabia executed more than 53 persons, including at least three individuals for crimes they allegedly committed as children.

Rizana; the continuing saga of our times

Despite well argued cases by the United Nations, Amnesty International and a slew of other organizations the Saudi law has come in the way to block all the moves to save Rizana Nafeek.
Lawyers hold that chances are slim for President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s letter, calling clemency for Rizana, having a major impact on the outcome of the episode given the nature of the Saudi legal setup. However there’s growing international pressure especially following this week’s sentence.
Needless to say the parents of Rizana, however much impoverished they are, should take the blame for sending their teenage daughter to a country which has the worst record for treatment of domestic workers. The 17 year old certainly would not have volunteered to leave her parents and go overseas as a housemaid. Along with the parents, the job agency which made a forged passport to her, Saudi authorities who got a confession under duress and failed to get her a translator, all have combined to make the life of an innocent girl one big tragedy. The adults certainly have made a child woman to pay a huge price for their follies and insensitivity.
Bottle feeding a baby is an art and as rights groups have pointed out in their petitions, even an adult can accidentally choke a child if she/he is not properly trained in the job. Surely an untrained 17 year old would not have known how to bottle feed the infant and charging her for premeditated murder, putting her behind bars, torturing her to get a confession and finally sentencing her to death – all are results of a fundamental mistake made by the parents.
As a country that has ratified Convention against Torture (CAT), Saudi Arabia would have ideally treated the minor as a torture victim. It did not happen and despite the appeal by Rizana’s lawyers in 2007, two years after the incident, the court delivered the judgment against the girl. And the person who prepared a forged passport for Rizana is yet to be identified or charged.
The growing global sympathy towards the innocent victim’s plight may exert some pressure on Saudi authorities however there’s no guarantee of an amnesty for Rizana since the move to pay ‘blood money’ too has failed.

President writes to Saudi King

-Daily News

President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday wrote to King Abdullah bin Abdul Azeez of Saudi Arabia seeking clemency for Sri Lankan maid Rizana Nafeek. Rizana has been sentenced to death for allegedly killing a Saudi infant in 2005.
A three-member panel of judges from the Dawathmy High Court headed by Chief Justice Abdullah Al-Rosaimi sentenced her to death.
The court heard that Nafeek killed the child after she was asked to bottle-feed him by the sponsor's wife. She was then sentenced a death penalty of beheading according to the Saudi Arabian High Court.
Her family has appealed against the verdict and the Saudi Supreme Court has rejected the appeal against the death sentence. priu.gov.lk

Monday, October 25, 2010

Data system to keep tab on migrant workers

by Ananda Kannangara

The new Internet Networking System (INS) which was launched by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) will ensure the safety of over 1.3 million Sri Lankan migrant workers.

Chairman, SLBFE, Kingsley Ranawaka told the Sunday Observer that the INS will provide information on Sri Lankan workers employed overseas and it will also help to keep a track on each worker.

Accordingly, the system will pave the way for Sri Lankan foreign recruiting agency officials to keep a tab on their foreign counterparts on various issues pertaining to our workers.

It is said that over eight million Sri Lankans who are employed in the Middle Eastern region will immensely benefit from the new INS system.

“This system will also help our employment agencies to directly get in touch with the Sri Lankan embassy in that particular country and obtain information on the situation of our workers,”, Ranawake said.

He said this system, which is to be the first of its kind in the world will also ensure the safety and protection of our workers.

Sri Lankan foreign job seekers could also obtain information on licensed recruitment agencies which are presently operating all over the country through this system.

Rizana's death sentence confirmed

The Supreme Court in Riyadh has endorsed the death sentence given to a Sri Lankan maid who murdered a Saudi infant in 2005, sources from Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Ministry told Arab News.

A three-member panel of judges from the Dawadami High Court headed by Chief Justice Abdullah Al-Rosaimi found Rizana Nafeek guilty of murdering the four-month-old son of Naif Jiziyan Khalaf Al-Otaibi and sentenced her to death on June 16, 2007.

The court heard that Nafeek killed the child after she was asked to bottle-feed him by the sponsor's wife.

The court informed Nafeek that she could file an appeal against her death sentence, which she did.
When the maid's case was referred to the Supreme Court via the Court of Cassation, the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) assigned Saudi law firm Khateb Al-Shammary on a reported SR150,000 contract to defend her.

The Supreme Court referred the case again to the Dawadami court for further clarification on the appeal made by Al-Shammary before issuing its verdict.

Nafeek arrived in Riyadh on May 4, 2005 to work as a housemaid for Al-Otaibi. According to Nafeek’s passport, her date of birth is Feb. 2, 1982, while her birth certificate indicates her actual date of birth as Feb. 4, 1988.

She killed the baby on the afternoon of May 22, 2005. She was arrested by Dawadami police officers the same day, and allegedly confessed to killing the child.

AHRC Executive Director Basil Fernando told Arab News by telephone from Hong Kong Sunday that he would seek the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to resolve the case.
He also appealed to Al-Otaibi to consider sparing Nafeek’s life on humanitarian grounds and give her clemency.

"At the moment, we have no comment on the verdict of the Supreme Court," a senior diplomat from the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh said.

In Sri Lanka, the Rupavahini and MTV Sirasa televisions channels also reported the outcome of Nafeek's case.

A social worker who visited Nafeek in jail during the weekend told Arab News that the maid was fine and desperate to see her parents and family.

"Although the prison authorities are aware of the final verdict, they have not told her, nor have I," the social worker said.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

5 distressed Filipino workers in Saudi arrested for filing labor complaints against erring employer

October 17th, 2010
Saudi Arabia
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia -The Kapatiran sa Gitnang Silangan (KGS), an affiliate organization of migrant rights group Migrante-Middle East in Saudi Arabia, today said it received request for assistance from fellow co-workers of the 5 distress OFWs who were detained in Riyadh jail yesterday by their erring employer.
Eric Jocson, Chairperson of KGS-Migrante, said the 5 distress OFWs have been apprehended on Saturday afternoon at their company-provided barracks by local police after their employer has reported that they, 13 of them, staged a “stop of work” action since last week.
The five are now detained at Old Batha Police station in Riyadh.
But prior to this, the 13 distress OFWs working for Keytechnology for Furnishing Est. filed a formal complaints at the Philippine Overseas Labor office (POLO) against their employer.
“The 13 distress OFWs complained of working for more than 8 hours but have not been paid for their overtime, they were not issued protective personal equipment during work, and forcing them to finish their work or else a 2 days salary will be deducted,” Jocson said.
On 15th September, their employer came to their barracks and forced them to sign an agreement insinuating that they are staging a strike, but the 13 distress workers did not sign.
“Yesterday, at about 2:00p.m., 5 of the thirteen distress OFWs have been apprehended by police including Jerry Garingo and 4 other co-workers,” Jocson added.
KGS-Migrante case officers have already alerted the Philippine Embassy-Assistance to the Nationals section to look into this incident.
On his part, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona, said the 5 distress OFWs should be released from jail, adding that “complaining an erring employer’s labor malpractices do not constitute a violation of the Saudi labor law; it is their employer that should be put behind bars violating their own labor law,” Monterona added.
Monterona said they already talked to the concerned RP embassy officials to represent the 5 distress OFWs with the local police so that they could be released.
“We will not stop our calls to the present Aquino administration to work or ink a bilateral agreement or arrangement on the protection of OFWs with its counterpart Saudi host government and other mid-eastern governments hosting OFWs in the Gulf region,” Monterona ended.
Written by: John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Filipina maid inherits millions from Singaporean employer

SINGAPORE, July 21, 2010 (AFP) - A devoted Filipina maid inherited six million Singapore dollars (more than four million US) from her late employer after more than 20 years of service, a newspaper report said Wednesday.

"I am the luckiest maid in Singapore, with or without the money," the 47-year-old single woman -- identified only by the pseudonym "Christine" -- told the Straits Times in an interview.

The maid refused to be named in public for fear of possible threats to her life in the impoverished Philippines, where wealthy people have been kidnapped for ransom and some killed by their abductors.

The windfall, including cash and a luxury apartment near the Orchard Road shopping belt, came from the estate of her employer Quek Kai Miew, a medical doctor and philanthropist who died last year at 66.

The maid had also taken care of the doctor's late mother, and was told that she would be a beneficiary of her employer's will when it was drawn up in 2008.

"There were no secrets between us. I was not surprised at all when she told me how much I was going to get," the maid recalled.

"Christine" was devastated when Quek died a year ago, as the two were inseparable, and temporarily moved in with the doctor's nephew for solace.

"It was heartbreaking for me as I saw more years with Doctor Quek than with my own mother. I would break down every time I thought about her. I could not be by myself," she said.

"I was always beside her. Wherever she went, I was with her."

The maid, who is now applying for permanent residency in Singapore, said her newfound wealth had not changed her lifestyle.

"I do not really think much about the money I got. I just live my life as I did before, and not as a rich person," the maid, dressed simply in a blouse and slacks with short-cropped hair, was quoted as saying.

"I am still who I was before. I cannot behave differently because I have money now. Even my Filipino maid friends here still treat me the same."

Nearly 200,000 foreign maids, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, work in affluent Singapore, which has a population of five million.
Arab onlinetimes

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lankan employees strike in Jordan called off

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

raj A Bandara

The Foreign Employment Bureau said that the strike started by Sri Lankan employees working at the Classic Fashion Garments factory in Jordan was called off and its Manger's service has been suspended by the Garment factory owners with immediate effect.

The strike started against the manager of the garment factory by the employees a few days ago. They demanded from the employer to remove the manager from the factory. The factory owners had agreed to the demands after negotiations with Sri Lankan embassy officials in Jordan and employees involved in the strike.

Jordanian police fired tear gas on Sri Lankan workers after they threw stones damaging police vehicles and injuring police officers following a dispute at the garment factory. Some employees were injured as a result .

Nearly 2,140 Sri Lankan employees work at Classic Fashion Apparel.

Daily news.lk

Web-based system to nab errant job agents

Sunday Observer - October 10, 2010

The Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) will launch a web-based system to nab errant job agents and minimise malpractices in the overseas employment sector, said Chairman, SLBFE, Kingsley Ranawaka.

He said the data system will be launched next month and it will help reduce malpractices and ill treatment of overseas workers.

The web system will include information on job order approvals, migrant worker agreements, local and foreign agents and foreign missions.

Ranawaka said the program will help those planning to go overseas to obtain correct information on job opportunities, salaries, working conditions and labour laws in various countries.

The web system will help those seeking jobs overseas to avoid bogus job agents and seek authentic sources to get to their destination.

Ranawaka said departure approval will not be given to job seekers if agents do not provide information on job opportunities and salaries.

Bogus job agents swindle large amounts of money from people promising lucrative jobs overseas. Many have been taken for a ride by errant job agents due to lack of information.

"The SLBFE trains and educates those seeking foreign employment but many do not make use of the facilities. Job seekers are taking a huge risk by going through illegal agencies", Ranawaka said.

"The SLBFE will raid bogus agencies immediately if it receives information of such places. The Bureau encourages people to provide information of illegal agencies", he said.

The SLBFE Act was amended last year and the minimum fine for a bogus agent was increased from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 100,000 with four years imprisonment.

SLFBE is responsible for overall management, operations and regulating the foreign employment business in the country.Sri Lankans working overseas are the largest foreign exchange sector of the economy.

The country's annual foreign remittance is around US$ 3 billion which is similar to export earnings from garments.

Ranawaka said job opportunities in Europe are gradually increasing and already agents have sent people to the region.

"Employment for Korea which was drastically low due to the global financial crisis has rapidly regained since last April and Korean training is done at an increased level", he said.

SLBFE declared that pre-departure training which was mandatory for housemaids has now been made mandatory for male employees to the Middle East .

SLBFE opened its seventh provincial office in the Sabaragamuwa province at the Divisional Secretariat, Ratnapura recently.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More jobs in Qatar

Tue, 5 October, 2010 20:13:- Daily Mirror -

DOHA : Qatar is expected to attract more Sri Lankan job-seekers as the National Recruitment Committee in Saudi Arabia has said that it will refrain from signing further employment contracts with workers from the island nation. Recruitment agencies here expect many will turn to Doha , due to its huge job potential.

“We believe job-seekers might turn to Doha if the doors to Saudi Arabia are closed. There are many jobs available here,” said a Sri Lankan recruitment agency in Doha . They also claim to have no problems in recruiting procedures.

The National Recruitment Committee in Saudi Arabia had urged all private recruitment offices in the country to refrain from signing further contracts for the employment of Sri Lankans, reports said.

The Sri Lankan Embassy in Doha said it has not received any information on the issue. “No, we are not informed about it” said
A Tharmakulasingham, Counsellor, Sri Lankan Embassy in Doha .

Standard recruitment procedures are followed by the embassy as per memorandum of understanding signed between Qatar and Sri Lanka in 2008. “It was implemented in August this year and followed successfully,” Tharmakulasingham further said.

However, the recent developments pertaining to the rights of workers in Saudi Arabia have worried Sri Lankan residents in Doha too. A family planning to move from Doha to Riyadh by the end of this year said: “There are conflicting reports about Sri Lankan employment in Saudi, we have to really confirm it with the officials there as we cannot take a risk.”

“If a ban is implemented, I hope it will not effect the present workers there, my brother is employed in Jeddah through a recruitment agency,” said another Sri Lankan resident. The Peninsula

Source: thepeninsulaqatar

Saving the migrant worker

October 4, 2010 @ 11:22 pm

SRI LANKA’S migrant workers seem to be caught between a rock and hard place following reports that the Saudi government has banned the recruitment of housemaids. Even though the Sri Lankan government has denied any such situation, the actual fallout is yet to be determined.

According to the Saudi Gazette the National Recruitment Committee in Saudi Arabia has called upon all private recruitment offices in the Kingdom to sign no further contracts for the employment of Sri Lankan nationals from abroad.
The “extremely urgent” call followed disputes between the Sri Lankan Labour Union (ALFIA) and the Sri Lankan Labour Office, which could lead to delays in the arrival of workers to the Kingdom. It is also a response to the Sri Lankan media’s negative portrayal of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the National Recruitment Committee and ALFIA which was due to come into effect on 10 September.
The MoU signed with ALFIA set recruitment charges at a maximum of SR5, 500 for housemaids according to a Saudi newspaper. The article further went on to say that the Sri Lankan Ministry of Labour reportedly backtracked on the pretext that the MoU will deprive the Lankan economy of an additional income of over $50 million.
Recruitment offices in the Eastern Province had said on Sunday that most of them had already put the suspension into effect, and that with the situation currently “unclear” it would remain in force.
Most offices are now turning to Indonesia as a viable alternative,” said one office representative. Indonesia remains committed to the MoU it signed and which came into effect early Ramadan. The MoU with Indonesia sets recruitment costs at SR6, 000, with visa fees on top.
This would result in a serious concern for the government that depends on foreign remittances to a large extent as a source of foreign exchange. Moreover it would have serious repercussions for thousands of people who depend on migrant workers’ hard earned salaries for survival.
The disturbing incident of a housemaid being injected with nails that gained immense popularity is just another indication of the deprivations that migrant workers undergo in these countries. In a sense the government has an obligation to stand up for its citizens and ensure that they are treated properly. Unfortunately it must also be done without making the country lose opportunities, at least till alternatives can be found for the people.
It cannot be denied that Sri Lanka is still a poor country and that it needs the assistance of migrant workers in many capacities. The government moves to send trained labour abroad will also take time to materialise, but even then, brain drain should not be encouraged as Sri Lanka is vehemently focused on development.
So then where is the solution? Perhaps it is in striking a balance between these two extremes — on the one hand safeguarding migrant workers and on the other, the opportunities they have, by maintaining a closer relationship with the Saudi government and the relevant departments in that country so that not only do people have the chance to go to work abroad but also have the capacity to protect themselves.
Migrant workers are people too, and they should be given the chance to have basic rights and space to be in a conducive environment. It is in the best interests of both governments to ensure this. Generating a culture of trust and humanity is the hardest of all and rarely comes into the purview of many of these transactions that are done more with human lives than just money.