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Press briefing notes

Press briefings notes on Saudi Arabia, Viet Nam and Mexico

11 January 2013

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 11 January 2013
1) Saudi Arabia
2) Viet Nam
3) Mexico

1) Saudi Arabia

We express our deep dismay at the execution of a young Sri Lankan woman in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Rizana Nafeek, who arrived in Saudi Arabia from Sri Lanka to work as a housemaid in 2005, was charged with the murder of her employers' baby a week after her arrival.

Despite a birth certificate that allegedly showed she was a minor at the time of the baby's death and repeated expressions of concern from the international community, she was convicted of murder, sentenced to death and beheaded.

We are deeply troubled by reports of irregularities in her detention and trial, including that no lawyer was present to assist her in key stages of her interrogation and trial, that language interpretation was poor, and Ms Nafeek’s contention that she was physically assaulted and forced to sign a confession under duress.

On 1 November 2010, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, sent an urgent appeal in connection with Ms. Nafeek’s case. In June 2007, his predecessor Philip Alston had already raised concerns about the imposition of the death penalty for an alleged crime committed when Ms Nafeek was still below eighteen years of age.*

We note with great concern the sharp increase in the use of capital punishment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since 2011. The High Commissioner strongly supports the global movement away from the death penalty. She was pleased that a clear majority of Member States (111) recently voted for General Assembly resolution 67/176, which calls for a moratorium on the death penalty. We call on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to join the growing world movement away from the death penalty.

* Reference is made to both appeals in the Special Rapporteur's report (page 354) available here:

2) Viet Nam

We are seriously concerned by the convictions and harsh sentencing of 14 activists in the Supreme People’s Court of Nghe An province in Vietnam on 9 January 2013 for “subversion of the administration” under article 79 of the Criminal Code. They were accused of actively participating in and being members of the Viet Tan organization. Although Viet Tan is a peaceful organization advocating for democratic reform, the Government has deemed it to be a “reactionary organization”. None of those convicted are alleged to have been involved in violent acts.

We are alarmed by the fact that the convictions were handed down after only two days of trial. The defendants received sentences ranging between 3 and 13 years, with three receiving the 13-year sentence. All had been held in custody for more than a year prior to the trial.

These latest convictions, as well as the arrest and detention on December 27 of human rights lawyer Le Quoc Quan, exemplify the limited space for critical voices in Viet Nam. We urge the Government of Viet Nam to review its use of the Criminal Code to imprison people who are critical of its policies, and to review all such cases violating freedom of expression and association in the country.

3) Mexico

We welcome the passing into law by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto of the Law on Victims’ Rights on 9 January. The law had been unanimously adopted by Congress in April 2012. Its enactment had been one of the principal human rights commitments made by President Peña Nieto when he took office on 1 December 2012 and was included in the “Pact for Mexico” signed the following day by the principal political parties. It had also been the object of recommendations of the High Commissioner during her visit to Mexico and of several UN human rights bodies.

The legislation foresees a system for tracking and assisting victims of criminal violence, and is the result of demands from the movement of victims of violence and their relatives.

Our office in Mexico provided expert advice on the drafting of the bill and promoting its adoption. The law will enter into force on 9 February.


For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / [email protected]) or Cécile Pouilly (+ 41 22 917 9310 / [email protected])

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