Lebanon urged to investigate death of worker abused on tape

Lebanon is being urged by human rights groups to investigate the death of an Ethiopian domestic worker who killed herself after she was videotaped being publicly abused in Beirut, spurring outrage over her mistreatment.

The eyewitness video above was aired by the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. and quickly spread through social networks. The footage shows 33-year-old Alem Dechasa crying out and struggling to resist as a man forces her into a car. Dechasa killed herself last month, days after the video had spread.

Dechasa claimed that a recruitment agent beat her and threatened to send her back to Ethiopia after she was dismissed by two employers, according to Human Rights Watch. Twice the agent tried to take her to the airport to send her to Ethiopia, but she resisted and screamed.

In the incident caught on video, the agent reportedly tried to leave her at the Ethiopian Consulate, saying she had mental problems. She was ultimately sent to a psychiatric hospital, where she hanged herself with bedsheets, according to the Ethiopian consul general.

Gulnara Shahinian, a human rights expert with United Nations, said Tuesday that Dechasa's story was one example of a broader problem in Lebanon, where migrant workers say they have been exploited and abused by their employers.

Shahinian is part of a chorus of human rights groups in the wake of Dechasa's death that have called on Lebanon to adopt a law to combat high levels of abuse and deaths among domestic workers.

Researcher Kate Denman wrote that overseas domestic workers in Lebanon are in a precarious position because they aren't allowed to switch households unless their employer and authorities agree, tying their immigration status to a single employer. If they leave a job, they become illegal immigrants.

The man alleged to have pushed Dechasa into the car, Ali Mahfouz, was charged last month with contributing to and causing her suicide, the Daily Star of Lebanon reported. Mahfouz told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. that Dechasa had attempted suicide more than once before.

The problem of domestic worker abuse goes beyond Lebanon: Middle Eastern media are rife with stories of the suicides of domestic workers drawn to the Persian Gulf from Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and elsewhere, according to migrant rights groups that track the phenomenon.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Video: Alem Dechasa being forced into a car. Credit: Lebanese Broadcasting Corp.

 
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