The passport of Sri Lankan Rizana Nafeek. She was a foreign domestic worker in Saudi Arabia. And at the age of 17, she was arrested on charges of murdering an infant in her care.
Saudi Arabia has a long, infamous history of denying legal rights to foreign domestic workers, but it’s still outrageous that two recent cases indicate that these workers– whom are predominantly women — can’t even count on basic internationally accepted protections for juveniles and the mentally ill. This month, one Sri Lanka woman paid for this failure with her life. And another’s life is at risk.
The beheading of Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan foreign domestic worker, on Jan. 12 underscored the lack of legal protections for foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. The execution came despite an international campaign protesting her death sentence as violating international legal standards preventing the execution of juveniles.
Only 17 years old at the time of the crime, Nafeek was arrested in May 2005 on charges of murdering an infant in her care. A court in Dawadmi, a town west of the capital Riyadh, sentenced her to death in 2007.
At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Saudi women just took one step closer to the finish line — as the 2012 Olympics are set to begin in London today, Saudi women will be competing for the first time. But there is still a long way to go for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, a country where women can now carry the Olympic flag, but not the keys to the car.
Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, a judo competitor, and 800 meters runner Sarah Attar will be the first Saudi women ever to participate in the Olympics. Just two weeks before the start of the games, Saudi officials finally ended their long resistance and joined Qatar and Brunei in sending female athletes to compete in the games for the first time.
With Saudi’s last minute decision, the 2012 Olympics in London mark the first Olympics where every country will have at least one female athlete competing. A country where girls’ sports and gyms are officially banned in public schools, Saudi Arabia will now cheer for their first female athletes representing the Kingdom. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
Manal al-Sharif publicly defied the ban on Saudi women drivers (Jemal Countess/Getty Images for TIME)
One year ago, Manal al-Sharif, divorced mother of one, took it upon herself to do something, women across the world do every day: Drive.
In May 2011, Manal al-Sharif got in a car and drove through the streets of Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Filmed by an acquaintance, al-Sharif followed the 1990 demonstration in which Saudi women took on the streets of the capital and drove without permission. Her action not only caused an uproar in the kingdom, but also laid ground for the now well-known Women2Drive campaign that celebrates its anniversary on June 17.
Activists around the world took to social media to support the campaign, including Amnesty activists who recently collected portraits of activists supporting the right to drive for Saudi women.
A Bahraini man walks past graffiti that reads 'Your weapons will not make us bow' (AFP/GettyImages)
Last week, the Obama Administration announced that the US Government is providing new arms shipments to the government of Bahrain.
Meanwhile, the Bahrain monarchy continues to avoid basic accountability for its ongoing human rights violations. Not a single senior Bahraini official is publicly known to have been investigated for the many acts of torture, imprisonment, and even killings that have been documented.
In a public statement, US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the military items being given to Bahrain “are not used for crowd control.” Ms. Nuland also stated that the items sent to Bahrain would not include the “TOW missiles and Humvees” that Amnesty International and other organizations opposed late last year.
Having recently won the right to vote, Saudi women activists now are driving to end discrimination and demand all of their human rights.
Saudi women are responding positively to a royal decree granting them the right to vote, but they insist that they will not settle for partial rights. One of their most pressing targets is a continuing ban on their right to drive. “[Winning the vote] is a good sign, and we have to take advantage of it, but we still need more rights,” stated Maha al-Qahtani, one of the women who recently defied the ban on driving.
“There is no repression in Saudi Arabia.” – H.E. Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi, ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabian national Hamza Kashgari and Amnesty International beg to differ.
In a recent talk with the Saudi ambassador at New York University, he claimed that Saudi Arabia is a “land of opportunity” where there was no oppression of dissidents. “We don’t have a Guantanamo. We don’t have an Abu Ghraib,” he pointed out.
That’s the agreement the Saudi and Iraqi government found on the matter of executing prisoners each is holding from the other country.
Arab News reported Friday that government officials of both countries came to a consent, at least in principle, to put executions of Saudi and Iraqi prisoners on death row on hold. This ‘in principle’ agreement reportedly will last two months until a final agreement to swap prisoners is reached. Currently, there are 138 Iraqi nationals imprisoned in the Saudi Kingdom, most of whom were charged with involvement in terrorist operations. Eleven Iraqis were sentenced to death. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
There’s one thing more concerning than a government with a history of using security issues to justify human rights abuses passing a new anti-terrorism measure. What would be more scary is if that government passed new counter-terrorism legislation and then kept the details of the new law from the public.
That’s the situation in Saudi Arabia, where what we know of a draft anti-terrorism law comes only from a document leaked to Amnesty International. Under the draft law, the definition of terrorist crimes is so broad that legitimate dissent would, in effect, be criminalized. Authorities would be allowed to prosecute peaceful dissent with harsh penalties such as “terrorist crime.”
A quick glance at Wikipedia or this ILGA report is enough to tell you that there are a LOT of countries where it’s dangerous or deadly to be (or even to be perceived as) lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
There are still more than 80 countries with sodomy laws, and punishment can include flogging, imprisonment, and in about a dozen jurisdictions, the death penalty. Those suspected of being LGBT are also routinely the victims of harassment, discrimination and violence. Many of those who speak up for LGBT rights – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity – are themselves persecuted with impunity.
Here are 7 countries Amnesty International has recently had particular concerns about: