Lebanon judiciary fails to protect maids: HRW
Beirut, September 16, 2010
Lebanese courts are failing to hold employers accountable for abusing migrant domestic workers, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday in Beirut.
Many maids face severe mistreatment and some are driven to suicide in the country.
The US-based rights group said legal obstacles discouraged abused workers from seeking justice, and that when they did go to court their assailants faced relatively light punishment.
"By turning a blind eye to violations affecting domestic workers, Lebanon's police and judiciary are complicit in the ongoing violations by employers against this vulnerable group," said Nadim Houry, HRW's Beirut director.
There are about 200,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, mainly from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, the Philippines and Nepal.
The group said that out of 114 judicial cases it reviewed, not one employer faced charges for locking up workers, confiscating their passports or denying them food.
Sexual harassment and beatings are also common. HRW provided the account of a 50-year-old Malagasy worker: "I was too tired and sick and could not take care of the baby. I asked the other domestic worker in the house to take care of him that night but Madame was not happy."
"At 7 am in the morning, she took a plate and hit me with it. After that, she pulled my hair and left. A minute later, her husband arrives and he gives me a kick on the neck. I started crying. A few minutes later, he comes in saying, "If you cry any more, I will kill you."
Two years ago, the group said domestic workers in Lebanon were dying at a rate of more than one a week -- either from suicide or accidental death while trying to escape.
Authorities have prosecuted some cases of severe beatings, but these are rare and have led to light sentences. In a 1999 case, a court sentenced an employer who beat a Sri Lankan worker to death with 1-1/2 years in jail.
"These verdicts are a small step in the right direction, but remain a mere slap on the wrist," Houry said, adding the penalties against abusive employers should be "appropriate to the offence and serve as deterrents for others".
The report said it found widespread pretrial detention of workers accused of crimes. Houry said many of them end up in jail on the basis of their employers' accusations without being allowed access to a lawyer or translator.
So far the government has carried out limited initiatives to tackle the problem. HRW called on authorities to ensure that employers who commit crimes against workers are prosecuted and to provide legal aid and interpreters for workers who are victims of abuse or accused of a crime.
HRW also said authorities had to create a simplified mechanism to settle salary disputes and to ensure that workers' visas are no longer tied to the individual sponsor so that they can file complaints without fear of deportation and detentions.
Rights groups often voice concern at the mistreatment of domestic workers, not just in Lebanon, but in the wider Middle East where tales of abuse are common.
In a recent case, a Saudi couple tortured their Sri Lankan maid after she complained of a heavy workload by hammering 24 nails into her hands, legs and forehead, Sri Lankan officials said.-Reuters