HRW urges Lebanon to protect rights of domestic workers

[JURIST] Lebanon should improve its judicial system by providing mechanisms to better protect the basic rights of domestic workers [press release] and more ardently prosecuting those who violate them, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said in a report [text] released Thursday. The report cites lengthy judicial procedures, stringent visa policies that make it difficult for workers to stay in Lebanon after lodging complaints against their employers and the lack of a viable complaint reporting mechanism as central to the problem. According to HRW, the failure of police and other judicial figures to consider the abuse of migrant and domestic workers as a crime further exacerbates the problem. Beirut director of HRW Nadim Houry said, "[b]y 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." In the 114 cases HRW reviewed, it did not find one instance in which employers who had forcibly confined workers to the house, confiscated their passports or denied them food were actually charged with a crime. Some 200,000 migrant domestic workers are employed in Lebanon, primarily from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, the Philippines and Nepal.

Lebanese officials, including the ministers of Interior and Labor, have pronounced their intentions to improve the treatment of migrant domestic workers, but only slight reforms have been achieved. In 2009, a modest initiative created a compulsory standard employment contract for domestic workers and their employers. In 2008, HRW reported that migrant and domestic workers still face abusive and exploitative treatment [JURIST report] throughout Asia and the Middle East. The rights group observed that workers in many nations throughout the region lacked access to judicial systems, and often lacked appropriate redress even when granted access. Earlier that year, HRW urged Saudi Arabia [JURIST report] to institute new legal protections for the country's estimated 1.5 million domestic workers.

 

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