Lebanese justice fails migrant domestic workers

September 16, 2010 12:00 am

, BEIRUT, Sep 16 – The Lebanese justice system woefully fails to protect the country\’s large number of migrant domestic workers, many of whom face abuse by employers who act with near total impunity, a human rights group said on Thursday.

"After reviewing more than 114 legal cases affecting migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, unfortunately we reached the conclusion that the justice system is failing them at every level," the Beirut director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Nadim Houry, told AFP.

In a 54-page report entitled: "Without Protection: How the Lebanese Justice System Fails Migrant Domestic Workers," the New York-based watchdog found that Lebanese authorities largely ignore violations involving domestic workers, whose legal complaints can often languish in court for more than four years.

"By turning a blind eye to such violations, Lebanon\’s police and judiciary are complicit in the ongoing violations by employers against this vulnerable group," Houry said.

There are an estimated 200,000 migrant workers in Lebanon, primarily from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, the Philippines and Nepal.

Many have their passports confiscated by their employers upon arrival in Lebanon and are locked up insides homes.

Houry said that on average about four a month commit suicide.

"In August of this year alone, eight committed suicide," he said.

He added that although there was increased awareness of the plight of migrant workers in Lebanon, much still needed to be done to improve their lot.

"We\’re seeing some timid steps but it\’s not sufficient," Houry said.

Two recent cases that gained national attention involved an employer sentenced to 15 days in jail for repeatedly beating a Filipina worker and another sentenced to one month for beating a Sri Lankan worker and confining her to the house.

Many cases, however, never make it to trial given Lebanon\’s restrictive visa policies which make it hard for a domestic worker to remain in the country once charges are filed against an employer.

Houry said that on average a criminal case takes two years to be resolved while a complaint for unpaid wages can take up to 54 months.

"We need to develop a national plan to ensure that complaints againt employers lead to prosecution, we need to resolve cases more quickly and we need to reconsider the visa sponsorship programme," he said.

"I want the justice system to do its job and that should not require any sophisticated reforms," he added. "It requires will."


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