Rights group says Lebanon's judicial system fails to protect domestic workers

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese courts fail to protect the rights of foreign maids who accuse their employers of crimes such as physical and sexual abuse, an international human rights group said Thursday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said legal obstacles discourage many workers from filing claims and that abusive employers often go unpunished or face light sentences.

"By 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," said Nadim Houry, Beirut director at Human Rights Watch.

About 200,000 migrants work in Lebanon, mostly from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and the Philippines and Nepal.

There has long been concern about the treatment of millions of mostly Asian women who work as maids across the Middle East, where allegations of abuse are common.

On Thursday, a Philippine woman who acknowledged giving birth to a baby on a flight from the Middle East and then abandoning the child in the trash said she became pregnant when her employer in Qatar raped her, according to a lawmaker in the Philippines.

In August, a Sri Lankan maid said the couple she worked for in Saudi Arabia hammered nails and needles into her body. Saudi authorities said there was no evidence to support the charge.

Domestic work abroad is an important source of employment for women in countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Nepal, India, and Ethiopia. Their earnings amount to billions of dollars of remittances sent home each year.

Human Rights Watch said that out of 114 judicial cases reviewed in Lebanon, not one employer was charged with locking workers inside homes, confiscating their passports or denying them food — "even though these violations of the law are commonplace," according to the report.

Houry urged Lebanon to provide legal aid and interpreters for workers who are victims of abuse. He also said the country must reform its visa policy, which makes it difficult for workers to remain in Lebanon to pursue their cases.

Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon Gilberto G.B. Asuque said desperate maids seek refuge at the embassy nearly every day, saying they have no other recourse. "It is our daily burden," Asuque said.