Lebanese domestic worker allegedly kills boss, not herself

By: Mohamed Nazzal

Published Friday, February 24, 2012

She was found semi-naked, hiding in the attic of the house where she worked. She had taken off her blood-stained clothes and was hiding behind her fear.

This was the situation that "Habiba," a Sri Lankan domestic worker, was found in yesterday when security forces arrived at the house where 70-year-old Neemat Munzir was murdered.

The old woman died after she was severely beaten on the head with sharp objects in her home in the southern Beirut neighborhood of Raml al-Aali.

The presence of a foreign domestic worker in a house is considered exceptional in this generally poor suburb.

The deceased’s husband, Tawfik Munzir, concedes that he does not even know the real name of the domestic worker, who worked for two years at his home, “because it is a strange name that is difficult to memorize.”

But the deceased, “who loved her dearly, was the one who named her Habiba and asked everybody to call her by that name,” Munzir said.

He gathered his strength to explain what had happened and continued: "My deceased wife and I were out that night. When we returned home, everything was fine with the domestic worker."

"My wife asked Habiba to go up to the rooftop and get diesel. When she returned, she told me that the reservoir was empty. I went up to check it myself,” he added.

“It was then that the housemaid closed the iron door firmly, so I unable to return home. I began hearing my wife scream."

Neemat started shouting to neighbors until some young men arrived and broke into the house.

They said that they found the furniture scattered all over the place and assumed that "some burglars had broken in," Tawfik recounted.

However, upon entering one of the rooms, they found "Hajja Neemat lying on the floor, covered in her own blood. Beside her were the remains of a broken wooden table."

They told the security forces what had happened. Habiba was arrested after she was found hiding.

Um Rabih, the victim’s daughter, does not want to believe that "the housemaid could do all that.”

“My mother used to say that she gave birth to six daughters and that Habiba was her seventh. She used to ask her to join her in eating, without ever discriminating against her."

The daughter added: "There may have been a quarrel or dispute between my mother and the housemaid at times, but for her reaction to reach the point of murder is inexplicable."

A security official following the investigation explained that "it seems that the housemaid suffers from a psychological problem.”

“She has been silent ever since and has hardly said anything. What we understood from her is that she was not content with working at the victim's house."

He indicated that "no robbery was committed, neither by the housemaid nor anybody else. What is evident thus far is that it was a premeditated crime.”

“It is noteworthy that a fight broke between the victim and the housemaid before the latter hit her on the head with a glass object then with a stick with nails, which resulted in her immediate death," the security official added.

This unusual incident made several observers question organizations that are active in defending foreign domestic workers.

Zoya Rouhana, director of KAFA (Enough) Violence and Exploitation organization, responded that this crime was "an exception, and therefore, it cannot be generalized.”

“It should not be held against our defense of foreign domestic workers. In Lebanon, one domestic worker dies every week, not to mention sexual harassment and physical and mental abuse," she said.

"The only way to limit these disasters relating to domestic working issues is by changing what is known as a sponsorship system through fixed and clear laws," she said.

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