This Is What Justice Looks Like in Saudi Arabia One Sri Lankan housemaid has been saved from a stoning death—for now. Others are still dying.
Posted on December 21st, 2015

BY JONAH COHEN AND RAMYA CHAMALIE JIRASINGHE Courtesy NEW REPUBLIC

December 21, 2015
A Sri Lankan woman sentenced to be stoned to death on charges of adultery has been granted a reprieve, but she is far from safe.

Signal

Beaten like slaves, treated like merchandise, these women are among the fortunate ones. Other young Sri Lankan housemaids, working for two dollars a day, never return home.

JONAH COHEN AND RAMYA CHAMALIE JIRASINGHE
A married housemaid, she received the death penalty while the man, also a Sri Lankan migrant worker, was given 100 lashes, the New Republic reported earlier this month. Since that article appeared, we received word that the Canadian embassy to Saudi Arabia would try to assist the woman.

The court has now agreed to reopen her case for appeal. But the public still doesn’t know her name, for whom she was working, what she testified in court, or who bore witness against her. Not her family, not even her betrayed” husband, knows that she stands to be executed.

Why won’t her name be released? Officials involved with the case claim she doesn’t want her family to know how far she’s fallen, that she’d feel humiliated. But it’s hard to believe that the same court that would stone a woman to death would also protect her from the sting of social scandal. It’s just as likely that the housemaid’s name is being concealed to stifle media attention, as well as to imply her shame and guilt over a sexual crime for which her male judges might kill her.
If she does somehow survive Saudi Arabia’s judicial system, and makes it out of the country, she will be among the countless migrant women who have returned home with horrific stories.

Now I have become a prostitute. I have come back home a prostitute,” says the woman in this video as she recounts the horror of her experience as a maid in Saudi Arabia. The house I was working in threw me out on to the road. When I got into a taxi on the road, the driver took me to a brothel. I had to work as a prostitute for two months.”

Another woman says that she was tasked with looking after 14 children. When I couldn’t manage, instead of taking me back to my agency, they sold me to another agency. And at that agency they hit me until I started bleeding from my skull.”

Beaten like slaves, treated like merchandise, these women are among the fortunate ones. Other young Sri Lankan housemaids, working for two dollars a day, never return home.

You might have heard about the young woman who was beheaded in Saudi Arabia in 2013. But you probably haven’t heard of the underage housemaid whose corpse was just returned earlier this month to her parents in Sri Lanka.

She hanged herself in the spring. Or so it is claimed by Saudi authorities. Her parents are skeptical. I have doubts that someone who was supposed to come home in May would kill herself like this,” her father says. She called us and said she was coming in May.”

Her parents had to fight tooth-and-nail to obtain her remains. All the agency wanted to do was bury her in Saudi Arabia,” her mom says. No one knows her there; this is our motherland, I wanted to bury her here.” The girl’s body was returned home many months later, rendering an autopsy all but useless.

Some might argue that these abused girls are outliers in an otherwise functional business relationship between the Middle East and Asia. There are, after all, about 2.1 million domestic workers in Middle Eastern countries. In Saudi Arabia, one of the largest employers, there are around 785,000 such workers, two-thirds of whom are women. Surely, the vast majority are fine.

But abuse isn’t an aberration. Namini Wijedasa, a Sri Lankan journalist, recently reported that the tales of misery are too numerous to ignore.”

Few, if any, of these migrant workers receive the protection of domestic employment laws. Visiting workers in Saudi Arabia must obtain permission from their employers to exit legally from the kingdom. If that is not slave labor, what is?

There’s also an utter lack of due process for these workers, and condemned prisoners are silenced, as is likely the case with the Sri Lankan housemaid charged with adultery.

Her future—whether she will live or die—remains uncertain. In the next month or so, pious men will once again stroll into a courtroom and pass judgment on her. Maybe they’ll have her stoned to death or thrown in prison, where there’s a good chance she’ll be raped by prison guards, like so many imprisoned workers before her.

But even if the court sets her free, justice won’t be served: Nobody will pay for the injustices done to her.

Jonah Cohen holds a PhD from the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies.
Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe is an award-winning poet and deputy director to the United States-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission.

3 Responses to “This Is What Justice Looks Like in Saudi Arabia One Sri Lankan housemaid has been saved from a stoning death—for now. Others are still dying.”

  1. Nimal Says:

    If we are a self respecting cultured nation, not greedy for foreign exchange at any cost will stop our maids and workers going to work in the Middle East. We have all the nature on our side to develop the country where every one has a fair chance to make a living.
    Truly shameful of the Western countries to put pressure on these human rights violators but they seem to lecture us on HR,etc.

  2. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    RAMYA AND JONAH !!

    Your speaking for the ” voiceless” Females who leave our shores to go to Saudi and collect a few Dollars as Slaves, is laudatory. Reading this article, I see many anomalies in the system of protection of Migrant Workers. It appears that once these unfortunate females leave our shores, they are completely off Radar from the Sri Lankan authorities. This is not right, and has to be corrected, immediately.

    Just a clarification. These **AGENCIES** that sell Housemaids like selling Dry Fish, are they Sri Lankan manned Agencies, with Sri Lankan Personnel, or are they Foreign Agencies, set up in the Countries referred to by foreign personnel ??? This is a very important factor to know, if reforms to migrant workers protection is in the pipeline.

    What is exposed here, I fervently believe, is the Tip of the Iceberg. Just my points of view:-

    1…..Any Female or Male leaving the Shores of Sri Lanka, should be REGISTERED with the Bureau of Foreign Employment of Migration. Registration should include Pertinent Data, vis-à-vis Name and Address of Authorized Agency, along with the Names of all Directors, Managers engaged in handling the Migrant Worker. MANDATORY.

    2…..The Migrant Worker should be armed with a Letter of Appointment, from the PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYER, His / Her Name and Address, Telephone Number/Fax Number, and conditions of Work, stipulated Hours, and gross remuneration per month, other than Food, three Meals per day. Overtime should be also stipulated, after consideration of the number of work hours per day. This Letter of Employment should be facilitated by the Agency handling the Migrant Workers, Papers, and Documentation. THIS IS MANDATORY, AND NO MIGRANT WORKER SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO LEAVE THE SHORES OF SRILANKA, WITHOUT THIS LETTER OF APPOINTMENT.

    3…..Any Agency attempting to circumvent the aforesaid Mandatory requirements, by dubious means should be brought before the Law. New Laws have to be promulgated By the Ministry of Labour.

    Can the suggested rules be implemented ??? Possible continuation, with more suggestions.

  3. helaya Says:

    Saudi is the best friend with USA. Where is OBAMA, champion of human rights

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