By Team FI
A group of activists and organizations including Domestic Workers Forum have written to the Indian authorities, including the Prime Minister and the President asking the government to address human and labour rights violations of two Nepali domestic workers by a Saudi Diplomat. The case hit headlines after the Gurgaon police rescued the two maids from the Diplomat’s residence. The Saudi Embassy in Delhi has denied the allegation of rape and torture. Meanwhile, the Saudi diplomat who was accused of custodial torture and rape has left the country under diplomatic immunity.
Activists have further demanded an immediate recognition and protection of domestic workers through the establishment of a statutory framework.
Here is the full text of the letter;
15th September, 2015
Subject- Ensure action is taken to address human and labour rights violations against Nepali domestic workers by Saudi Diplomat
On 10th September, 2015 two women domestic workers, from Nepal were rescued from the residence of a Saudi diplomat in Gurgaon, Haryana by a police team. The rescue was conducted on a complaint received by a Nepal based NGO. The two rescued Nepali citizens informed the police that employed as domestic workers through a placement agency; they suffered brutal physical violence and repeated sexual abuse at the hands of the diplomat. They were kept in confinement and starved by the diplomat and his family. Paid very little money, they were virtual prisoners. They also reported that on multiple occasions, they were sexually violated by male visitors to the diplomat’s house. This case is another reminder of the extreme vulnerability of domestic workers across the globe.
Undoubtedly, the police intervention and successful rescue deserves commendation. However, the rescue also sparked the Saudi embassy rushing to declare the allegations false and chiding the police for trespassing a diplomat’s house, in contravention of the established norms. Aside from the fact that the embassy completely ignored the heinous crimes that were committed by the diplomat and his family, it is regrettable that diplomatic immunity has been used to deflect from the core issue: gruesome, repeated human rights violation of two vulnerable domestic workers.
Further, application of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961 and other international legal standards extends in varying degrees to individuals of different ranks and should be applied strictly in light of the spirit and purpose of the Convention. The Convention was designed with the aim that, “the purpose of such privileges and immunities is not to benefit individuals but to ensure the efficient performance of the functions of diplomatic missions as representing States.” The human rights abuses perpetrated within the confines of the diplomat’s home do not pertain to the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission.
While the Indian government contemplates the appropriate course of action, it must not lose sight of the fact that the case involves severe human rights violation, including repeated brutal physical and sexual abuse, including sodomy and bodily invasion with various objects. There is also more than sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of serious crimes,including medical examination and statements from the survivors and witnesses.
Shamefully, the accused diplomat and his family continue to be harboured by the Saudi Embassy although under the Vienna Convention, the home state, Saudi Arabia, has the power to waive the immunity of the diplomat. India should strongly pursue the matter with Saudi Arabia and ensure that diplomatic immunity does not excuse the violation of human rights. Moreover, legal precedents that have recognized that although diplomatic immunity is far reaching, it is not absolute provide an important benchmark in ensuring that diplomats do not abuse their position of immunity (See, e.g. United States v. Guinanc, 688 F. Supp. 744 (D.C.1988) allowing for the trial of a Peruvian diplomat in the United States after his diplomatic term had ended since the underyling crime was unrelated to his diplomatic functions).
This case, moreover, reveals severe international and domestic crises:
Trafficking and unsafe migration: The Nepali women survivors passed through at least three different jurisdictions: they were brought from Nepal, likely to India; taken to Jeddah by their employers; and brought back to India where the victimization was reported. The incident highlights the danger women face due to human trafficking, and other migration related crimes, including deception by placement agencies and middlemen, inhuman working conditions and inadequate remuneration. With a burgeoning demand for domestic workers, there are mushrooming ‘placement agencies’ bereft of any legal backing, government permission, license, or any other form of scrutiny. These agencies continue to bring vulnerable women from across the country as well as neighbouring nations with impunity.
Rampant rights abuses against domestic workers: Domestic workers, confined to the homes of their employers, facing complete control and domination by employers without job security are particularly vulnerable to heinous crimes. A survey by the International Labour Organization found that of 70 countries, 40% did not ensure weekly rest and 50% had no limitations imposed on working hours for domestic workers. Only 22 countries have ratified the Domestic Workers Convention of the ILO (C189). India’s absence from the list reveals a clear lack of political will to address the problems of domestic workers.
Hence, the undersigned specifically demand that the government take concrete steps to end the misuse of diplomatic immunity that abets human rights violation and serious crimes and call for the following action:
1. Fair and thorough investigation, in keeping with principles of natural justice and rule of law; including prosecution of any charges substantiated, including against the diplomat; his family; any guests who participated in or any way aided the severe and ongoing abuse of the Nepali women survivors; and any recruiting agents or agencies that contributed to their extreme vulnerability through human trafficking, cheating or any other criminal offences.
2. Immediate recognition and protection of domestic workers through establishment of a statutory framework and ratification of the Domestic Workers Convention of the ILO C189.
Gharelu Kamgaar Sanghatan, Gurgaon, Haryana Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)-Delhi Subhash Bhatnagar, Nirmala Niketan
Domestic Workers Forum, Chetnalaya, Delhi
Ashim Kumar Roy, Vice President, New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) Hero Honda Theka Mazdoor Sangathan, Haryana
Dr Mira Shiva, Initiative for Health & Equity in Society, Diverse Women for Diversity
Jahnvi Andharia, ANANDI
Pamela Philipose, Senior Journalist
Admiral L. Ramdas
Anweshaa Ghosh, Institute of Social Studies Trust
Sarojini N. B., Jan Swasthya Abhiyan
Kavita Srivastava, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties
Saheli Women’s Resource Centre
Madhu Mehra, Partners for Law in Development
Human Rights Law Network
Virginia Saldanha, Secretary, Indian Christian Women’s Movement Paschim Banga Cha Bagan Shramik Karmachari Unon, West Bengal Working People Trade Union Council, Tamil Nadu
All India Union of Forest Working People
Kalyani Menon Sen, Feminist Learning Partnerships
Lakhan Sahu, Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh, Chattisgarh
Siemens Workers Union
Paschim Banga Khet Mazoori Samiti, West Bengal Madhuri Krishnaswamy, Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan Nazariya, Delhi
D. Gabriele, Pennurimai Iyakkam, Tamil Nadu
Haldia Dock Complex Contractor Shramik Union
Indian Oil Petronas Contractor Shramik Union
Hosiery Workers Unity Centre
Paschim Banga Rajya Sericulture Farm Workers Union Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics Workers Union Bidhannagar Pourasabha Safai Karmachari Union
JN Roy Sishu Seva Bhawan Shramik Union Paschim Banga Biri Shilpa Shramik Union Paschim Banga Nirman Shilpa Shramik Union West Bengal Civic Police Association Progressive Plantation Workers Union Monisha Behal, North East Network
Saswati Ghosh, Assoc. Prof. & Head of Department, Economics, Calcutta University
Vandana Prasad, Feminist Activist
Neeraj Malik, Feminist Activist Juhi Jain, Feminist Activist Shipra Deo, Feminist Activist
Sudeshna Sengupta, Feminist Activist
Soma KP, Researcher/Advisor, Gender, Development and Livelihoods
Rohini Hensman, writer and researcher, Mumbai
Uma Chakravarti, Feminist Activist
Pritam Singh, Professor of Economics, Oxford University (individual capacity) Navsharan Singh, Feminist Activist
Chirashree Das Gupta, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Mina Swaminathan, Feminist Activist
Ritu Dewan, President, Indian Association of Women’s Studies (individual capacity) Sabita Parida
Sumi Krishna, Independent scholar, Bengaluru
Kaveri R Indira, University of Hyderabad