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LEBANON: Employers hurt foreign maids with impunity, rights group says

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Justice Lebanese-style: A Lebanese employer in 1999 beat and burned two maids with a hot iron. 

The employer received a fine of $333. 

In a new report presented at a news conference in Beirut on Thursday, the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch offered some troubling statistics on the Lebanese justice system's track record for protecting the rights of migrant workers in Lebanon. 

The 54-page study, titled "Without Protection," concluded that the Lebanese judiciary generally failed to protect the rights of foreign maids who accuse their employers of mistreating them and that employers accused of abuse frequently go unpunished or only receive light sentences. 

The report also found that migrant workers face many obstacles to justice in Lebanon, resulting in their reluctance to report abuse to the authorities.

For the report, Human Rights Watch conducted a review of 114 Lebanese judicial decisions and police reports affecting domestic workers. It also conducted interviews with several lawyers and diplomats and nearly 30 domestic workers, among others.

In not one of the more than 100 cases reviewed did researchers find that an employer faced charges for incidents such locking their live-in maids inside the house for long periods of time, starving them or confiscating their passports.

According to Human Rights Watch's statistics, the Lebanese judiciary even appears to go easy on employers when it comes to cases involving accusations of severe abuse and mistreatment of domestic workers. An example would be a case from 1998 in which an employer beat a maid from Sri Lanka to death and was given an 18-month jail sentence.

Nadim Houry, Beirut director for Human Rights Watch, warns that wide-scale impunity for employers accused of abuse sets a dangerous precedent.

"Bad employers know that they will not be held accountable," he told Babylon & Beyond."The importance of the judiciary is not just for the cases at hand, but to send a strong message of deterrence. Workers are denied justice, and the Lebanese judicial system -- which is supposed to protect them from abusive employers -- ends up being complicit in the violations."

Domestic workers themselves face a myriad of obstacles in pursuit of justice.

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Among the bigger problems they face, Houry told reporters at the news conference, are the lack of information pamphlets outlining the rights of foreign maids in Lebanon, written in their own languages; lengthy judicial processes (especially when workers are the plaintiffs); restrictive visa policies and the country's kafeel, or sponsorship system.

If a maid leaves her kafeel, or employer, who is sponsoring her stay in Lebanon -- even to file a legal complaint -- the worker immediately loses the right to live in Lebanon and could face time in detention and deportation, according to Human Rights Watch.

Lebanese law enforcement and judicial officials add to the domestics' misery, Houry said.

"Policemen, prosecutors, judges ... consider certain behavior normal [like locking a worker in, or keeping her passport, or not giving her a day off] even though the penal code considers forced confinement a crime. So they are insensitive to certain behaviors," he said.

Human Rights Watch estimates that about 200,000 migrant domestic workers, mainly from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, the Philippines and Nepal, are employed in Lebanese households.

Previous media reports and research by rights groups suggest the workers suffer from very high death rates. The deaths of eight domestic workers were reported in the country during the last month, and a 2008 report from Human Rights Watch said that on average one domestic worker dies each week in Lebanon.

Given the alarming statistics, a number of local human rights organizations and foreign embassies have set up shelters and hot lines for maids in need. In June, the Lebanese Ministry of Labor set up its own hot line for workers' complaints.

Gilbert Asuque, the Philippines' ambassador to Lebanon, told Babylon & Beyond that his embassy is housing 98 Filipino domestic workers in its shelter and that the embassy staff has set up a 24-hour hot line for their citizens in Lebanon.

Wm Primarathmam, the Sri Lankan consul in Lebanon, told Babylon & Beyond that his embassy also offers a shelter for maids claiming abuse and that the embassy now checks up on host families before the maids' arrival in Lebanon.

"We contact the ladies who are coming, the sponsors and the agencies. If the contract and the pay is OK, we approve," he said. "After they arrive, we contact them after one month, then two months, then three months ... to minimize all the problems."

Human Rights Watch called on Lebanese authorities to provide foreign maids with access to legal aid and interpreters, reform the sponsorship system and launch a special labor inspection unit to monitor households and create a list of blacklisted employers.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Upper photo: Rights group Human Rights Watch says in a new report that the Lebanese justice system is failing to protect the rights of foreign maids in Lebanon. Credit: Agence-France Presse

Lower photo: A sign outside an agency in Beirut bringing maids from abroad to Lebanese households. Credit: Alexandra Sandels

Comments () | Archives (14)

What about foreign employees (maids) who abuse of Lebanese employers generosity and flexibility? I changed 3 maids in 8 months and decided not to have anyone anymore for house works. I havea very small house and 2 babies (2 yrs and 4 months). The girls I hired had to clean the house only. I wasn't searching nannies or "slaves". They are all coming to Lebanon with this prejudgment that we are barbaric while the 3 oftook advantage of the fact that I am not in the house for the whole day. One of them told me I came as a nanny (that's what she has been told in her country). This one pushed my baby because she was nervous that I gave her a remark of a job that she didn't do for 3 consecutive days (related to laundery).
The last one wanted me to pay 3 months in advance. She said that her son is sick. I did search on google and found out that what she is asking is by far more than the money she needed. I transfered one month with Western Union and the next day she refused to work and became aggressive. Enough with accusing us.
Not all of Lebanese people mistreat their maids.

Rebuttal to John (Doe): Your comments appear to miss my point, historaically ignorant, and totally prejudiced towards ethnic Chinese Filipinos. My comment was about the hard reality of Philipine poverty and the desire for its people to leave the islands in search for jobs abroad, because the previous Philippine government administrations have a history of squandering economic opportunity to become the next South Korean, Singapore, or China due to severe public corruption and money laundering. The Chinese did not install incompetent Aquino as president. The people voted for him. It was in fact the Chinese tourists from Hong Kong who died savagely and brutally while Aquino watched the hostage crisis on t.v. inside Emerald Palace, stuffing his mouth with Chinese food. F.Y.I. Cardinal Sin was a moral crusader, akin to Rev. Martin L. King, who ordered the people to rally peacefully through civil disobedience against the Marcos tyranny, during the 1986 People Power revolution.

I just returned from working 15 months in Abu Dhabi (part of the United Arab Emirates-adjacent to Saudi Arabia) and I became aware of the abuse of Filipino maids there also. That's outrageous that there is one death a week in Lebanon of domestic workers. Thanks for the article-we need to raise awareness and stop this!

To Juan Tamad:
Blame the Chinese like Marcos and Cardinal Sin.
Arroyo did good, the peso got stronger against the dollar. Now the Chinese has installed another CHinese president - NoyNoy Aquino who has never done anything great in his life but exist.

Noynoy government wants all filipinos to leave the islands so he can replace the people with Chinese people. You have no idea how rampant is the identity theft going on in the Philippines.

This is a sad reality of OFWs,(Overseas Filipino Workers)because the Arroyo and Aquino governments could not create enough jobs back in the P.I. so, desperate people have to find work at deplorable places with cruel employers. This is the sad legacy of the 21 years of Marcos dictatorship and his ill-gotten wealth instead of building the P.I. economy. No matter who Pinoys elect their president, the P.I. will always be a third-world, poor country with a high birth rate, courtesy of lack of population control (i.e. no to artificial birth control so says Catholic teachings). The Aquino regime is a disgrace to all Filipinos!

Most rich peoples have maids, unfortunately some rich people are not equipped to handle themselves with their recently acquired wealth, money can't buy good breeding with a class!

There are groups trying to do something about this.

http://ethiopiansuicides.blogspot.com/

But, no, the situation is awful.

@ ABG

Kanank wasn't blaming Israel, the comment was just very badly worded, not to mention inappropriate.

It seems slavery did not really end in the Arab world. It's in the minds of the people.

I heard that lebanos is the worest for almost all sisters.Let God help them. ang give a good heart for lebanon women and men

I appreciate the Greece government and the people for their respect for immigrants

REPLY.
kanank do you think it might be an idea to drop the flyers first,otherwise no-one will be left to read them,including the badly treated workers.
thank you.

not just lebanon.
maids and house workers, working for lebanese house holds world wide are also treated in this manner even more so if the employer has diplomatic immunity,it seems the same every-where the same threats passports being held beatings and hardly any payments for their long hours,quite often these people are to scared to speak up,even if they can get out of the house,this is nothing new i had been told by a young girl many years ago about her treatment at the hands of her male and female lebanese employers. thank you.

Wow. It took one comment to blame Israel.

I love message boards. They bring out the best examples of race fueled idiocy.

I suggest we bomb Lebanon to pieces just like Israel did few years ago and drop warning flyers on those Lebanese people to refrain from abusing the maids.


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