Migrant Workers in Lebanon: Rape in Police Custody

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The judge who handled the case did not find any reason to detain the accused policeman for more than one day. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Mohamed Nazzal

Published Thursday, April 5, 2012

Horrific stories of abuse against migrant workers by their employers continue to make headlines in Lebanon. Those workers who try to escape are often arrested and, in this particular case, subjected to even more extreme violence.

On the night of 14 February 2012, a policeman in the Nabatiyeh Courthouse raped a Bengali immigrant worker in the cell he was guarding. She had run away from her employer’s house only to have her dignity violated by a police officer.

The issue was kept a secret until she was transferred to the women’s jail in Baabda. The warden noticed evidence of violence on the prisoner’s body. She asked her what had happened and the woman gave her all the details of the incident.

The warden then called the prison squad sergeant and informed him about the past incident. She filed a detailed report on the case.

The investigating officer took the worker’s statement and passed it along to a judge, who ordered an official investigation. The case was transferred to the judiciary squad in Nabatiyeh, under the supervision of the military court.

Nevertheless, the judge who handled the case did not find any reason to detain the accused policeman for more than one day. It is not known if the judge was under some kind of pressure to not hold the accused officer or what could otherwise lead to a judge making such a decision.

A separate judge in Nabatiyeh heard about the case and immediately contacted the government commissioner to the military court, Sakr Sakr, to inform him about the impending release of the policeman under investigation.

Although it was presided over by one of his assistant judges, Sakr had no knowledge of the case. He later ordered the policeman to remain in custody.

Today, the policeman remains in custody waiting for a court decision. It is expected that he will face disciplinary action on the part of the ISF following the ruling as well.

Al-Akhbar contacted a high-ranking security official who confirmed the story and the above details. He said “we should wait until the military court completes its investigation until we make a final judgement.”

The official who is “ashamed” of the behavior of some policemen explains that “they do not come from heaven – they are human and make mistakes.”

He blames the presence of such elements in the police forces on “the lack of scrutiny during recruitment.”

The official explains that the authorities have discovered that some recent police recruits “have prior offenses.” Their records “still show that they committed crimes, including misdemeanors and felonies related to drugs, robbery, and theft.”

“In any case, a sifting process has been set up for policemen. Those who have such prior offenses, even if they’re no longer on their record, will not remain on the police force,” says the high-ranking official.

Modern Day Slavery

Last Tuesday, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery Gulnara Shahinian spoke about violence against women migrant workers in Lebanon.

She urged the Lebanese government to investigate the circumstances leading to the death of the Ethiopian domestic worker Alim Dechasa-Desesa.

Alim had committed suicide on March 14, a few days after being beaten up in the street near the Ethiopian Embassy.

A statement issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN said, “These acts of abuse caught on video and posted on a social media websites, show the victim shouting and struggling to resist a man dragging and forcing her into a car.”

“Like many people around the world I watched the video of the physical abuse of Alem Dechasa on a Beirut street,” said Shahinian.

“I strongly urge the Lebanese authorities to carry out a full investigation into the circumstances leading to her death. I also express my deepest condolences to Ms. Dechasa’s family and friends,” she continued.

The UN expert who had visited Lebanon at the end of last month said, “The cruel image on the website reminded me of the many migrant women workers I met in Lebanon during my official visit to the country last year.”

She also indicated that “women who had been victims of domestic servitude told me they had been under the absolute control of their employers through economic exploitation and suffered physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.”


Double Jeopardy

Activists and human rights advocates are very critical of the detention of women migrant domestic workers (MDWs) for failing to renew residency permits.

The workers are arrested by the police when their papers are not in order, although the employment agencies and employers tend to confiscate passports and other official documents in more than 85 percent of the cases, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

A 2010 report on the matter states: “In cases where MDWs complained about employers failing to hand over passports or other identity papers, the courts dismissed the complaint, or simply asked the employer to return the document.”

The report continues by stating: “Even then, there was little follow-up to ensure compliance, and no employer was prosecuted for his or her behavior in any case that Human Rights Watch reviewed.”

Public prosecutors continue to pursue migrant workers based on article 36 of the the law pertaining to foreign residency. They are sometimes arrested for periods much longer than the expected sentence.

Names and information about subjects in the case have been withheld in order not to interfere with official investigation.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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