September 16, 2010

IV. Judicial Response to Violations

Human Rights Watch reviewed 13 criminal cases that MDWs brought against employers for ill-treatment and found that each case took an average of 24 months to conclude from the time the complaint was made. Complaints before civil courts lasted even longer. Human Rights Watch’s review of seven civil complaints that MDWs filed against their employer for unpaid wages shows these cases lasted between 21 to 54 months. Even complaints brought before labor courts, which are supposedly faster than regular civil courts due to their simpler procedures, lasted an average of 32 months. One case before the Civil Court of First Instance for unpaid wages took 27 months—even though the employer admitted owing the money.

Table 7. Length of Time for Criminal Cases or Complaints against Employers

Case

 

 

Court

 

Location

Duration of Case

(by months)

 

Case no. 611/1999

Penal Court of 1st Instance

Kesrouan

27.09

 

Case no. 768/1999

Penal Court of 1st Instance

Kesrouan

14

 

Case no. 703/2003

Penal Court of 1st Instance

Metn

17

 

Case No. 660/2003

Penal Court of 1st Instance

Metn

52

 

Case no. 2715/2000

General Prosecutor

Beirut

8

 

Case no. 64/2003

Penal Court of 1st Instance

Beirut

36

 

Case no. 1280/2004

Penal Court of 1st Instance

Beirut

10

 

Case no. 22544/2005

General Prosecutor

Beirut

1

 

Case no. 28041/1999

General Prosecutor

Baabda

1.09

 

Case no. 804/2005

Penal Court of 1st Instance

Beirut

17

 

Case no. 344/2005

Penal Court of 1st Instance

Metn

36

 

Case no. 316/1999

Criminal Court

Beirut

13

 

Table 8. Length of Time for Civil Cases against Employers

Case Name

Court

Location

Duration of Case

(by months)

Case no. 328/2007

Labor Court

Baabda

54

Case no. 612/2003

Labor Court

Baabda

35

Case no. 610/2002

Labor Court

Beirut

27.13

Case no. 226/2002

Labor Court

Beirut

21

Case no. 258/1998

Civil Court of First Instance

Baabda

27

Case no. 226/1998

Magistrate of Summary Justice

Metn

25

Case no. 261/2008

Labor Court

Baabda

24

In the past, legal commentators have criticized the Lebanese judiciary for generally being slow to resolve all judicial disputes. However, Human Rights Watch research shows that when it comes to disputes between MDWs and employers, the courts are even slower when MDWs are the plaintiffs, and that they resolve cases where employers are the plaintiffs more quickly. For example, in the Penal Court of First Instance (also referred to as the Sole Penal Judge), cases from our sample take an average of 24 months to conclude when an employer is prosecuted, but just over eight months when a criminal case is brought against an MDW based on an employer’s complaint.

Research also revealed many instances where the police and the prosecutor’s office ignored, or dealt extremely leniently, with MDWs’ allegations of abuse. In the sample 114 cases reviewed, Human Rights Watch found no case where the authorities prosecuted employers for locking workers inside their homes, confiscating passports, denying food, or overwork—even though there were at least nine cases in the sample where the MDW complained to the police or investigative judge of such an abuse. While Human Rights Watch cannot determine if the MDW’s complaints in these cases was warranted, a review of police reports shows the police did not conduct a serious investigation into the claims to see if further action was required.

A. Unpaid Wages

As detailed in Section II, non-payment of wages is one of the most common problems facing MDWs in Lebanon, and a leading reason that MDWs leave their employer. Under Lebanon’s code of civil procedure, MDWs seeking to file a claim for unpaid wages, similar to any claim arising from a contractual dispute, are required to hire a lawyer and pay court fees, both of which are expensive in relation to the small amounts generally claimed by MDWs. Accordingly, very few workers file claims before the first instance Civil Court (Mahkamat al-Daraja al-Ula). Only in one of the sample 114 cases had an MDW filed a claim against the employer before the First Instance Civil Court. The case, however,  was quite exceptional in that the MDW claimed $7,000 in unpaid wages, a very large amount given that MDW wages are around $150-$200 per month. The case took 27 months, but the court ended up forcing the employer to pay the $7000, plus interest.

Due to the required time and cost of filing cases before the First Instance Civil Court, lawyers representing MDWs started filing complaints for unpaid wages before the Labor Court (Majles al-Amal al-Tahkimi). The Labor Court’s main advantage is that there are no court or filing fees. While MDWs are not covered by Lebanon’s Labor Code, the Labor Court accepts cases affecting MDWs because a law dated October 21, 1980, (executed by Decree No 3572) expanded the Labor Court’s jurisdiction  to any conflict that emanates from a relationship that fits the definition of work according to article 624 (1) of the Law on Obligations.[84] This would apply to domestic work situations. However, in such cases, the Labor Court applies the general law on contractual obligations and not the laws of the Labor Code. Despite the 1980 law expanding the jurisdiction of Labor Courts, a lawyer working for Caritas Migrant, told Human Rights Watch that “there are still labor courts that say they don’t have jurisdiction over MDW cases. For example, I had a case in Zahle [a city in the Bekaa Valley] where the Labor Court deemed it did not have jurisdiction because domestic work is not covered by the Labor Code.”[85] 

Human Rights Watch reviewed five MDW cases before the Labor Court.[86] While the Labor Court is supposed to operate faster than other civil courts due to its simplified procedure, the cases still took a long time: the shortest 21 months, and the longest 54 months. These delays are not unique to cases involving MDWs: officials and news accounts have criticized the slowness of Lebanon’s Labor Courts in general, due to the high number of complaints and the low number of courts.[87] A judge who heads one of Beirut’s five Labor Courts (but preferred to remain anonymous since he did not have permission to speak to Human Rights Watch) described “a big shortage in the number of judges and court clerks at the Labor court.” He added that he had to work in two courts, and consequently was compelled to divide his weekdays between both.  He also complained that the court clerk was not present every day, also causing delays.[88]

Labor Court cases are quite straightforward. The court has to determine if the wages were paid and, if not, how much money is owed. In some cases, the Labor Court clearly put the onus of proof on the employers to show that they had actually paid. For example, in the case of Jenet Kidane, an Ethiopian domestic worker, the Labor Court argued that it was the employer who had to prove that he had paid since article 362 of Law on Obligation and Contract states that “whoever says that he is creditor, has to show that, and once he does, it is for the person who is the debtor to show that he has performed.” The court found that the MDW proved that she had worked, but that her employer had not proved she had paid the salary at the end of each month.[89]

However, in another case, the Labor Court found against Lilibeth Magaleem, a Filipina domestic worker who claimed $4,360 in unpaid wages. In a decision issued on June 1, 2002, almost three years after the complaint was filed, the Labor Court ruled against the MDW on the basis that the worker had not proved that she was owed the money.[90]

The Labor Court has also tackled the question of salary amount, given a discrepancy in many cases between the sum stipulated in the contract that the worker signed before departing for Lebanon, and the contract signed upon arrival. The court’s answer has been to systematically rely on the (lower) salary that the Lebanese employer agreed to with the agency in Lebanon.  For example, Faith Karanja, a Kenyan worker, came to Lebanon in October 1998 after an agent in Kenya signed a contract with her informing her that she would be paid $150/month. Her employer did not pay her, and the Labor Court eventually ruled in her favor in 2002. However, it calculated the employer owed her $125/month, because that was the amount her employer had agreed to in writing with the agency in Lebanon.[91]

One challenge for MDWs, even after they win their claim of unpaid wages before the Labor Court, is enforcing the judgment against employers who refuse to pay in the hope that MDWs will grow weary of pursuing justice. In such cases, the MDW can file a criminal case against the employers accusing them of the misdemeanor of “refusing or delaying the execution of a decision by the Labor Court” (Article 344 of Penal Code). This is what Faith Karanja, the Kenyan worker discussed above, ended up doing. After the 2002 Labor Court’s judgment in her favor, the employer refused to pay, forcing Karanja to file a criminal case against him under Article 344. On February 28, 2005, the sole penal judge, Hani al-Hajjar, found Karanja’s employer guilty of “refusing to execute the Labor Court’s decision” and sentenced him to two months in jail and a fine of 600,000LBP ($400). In all, it had taken three years for Karanja to see her initial court victory enforced. 

Given the cost, duration, and challenges of filing claims for unpaid wages in civil courts, lawyers and activists for MDWs have tried to collect unpaid wages through criminal courts by arguing that the employer had committed the crime of “abus de confiance”[‘abuse of trust’] (article 670 of Penal Code) by holding the MDW’s wages in trust. The advantage of filing criminal claims is that the MDW can obtain damages, and employers are likely to be more responsive to a case where they could face a prison sentence.

Lebanese criminal courts have often rejected such claims on the basis that the issue is contractual in nature and should be referred to a civil court. However, some criminal tribunals have shown willingness to accept that certain cases of unpaid wages can be considered cases where the employer has failed to return wages deposited with him/her in trust. Notably, on October 25, 2000, the Appeal Court for Misdemeanors in Jdeide overruled the Criminal Court of First Instance by holding that the employer had “abused the trust” of Jamilet Pirou, an Ethiopian domestic worker in his household, by not paying her wages which she thought were being held by him in trust. The court ordered the employer to pay Pirou $400 in damages, but did not order repayment of the unpaid wages since it deemed that the matter should be decided in a civil court.[92]

A subsequent ruling in 2005 refined the court’s approach by noting that criminal cases can be brought in cases of unpaid wages, but “there has to be proof that the worker deposited the money with the employer.” In that case, Adis, an Ethiopian domestic worker had filed a criminal case against her employer under article 670 (“abus de confiance”) for not paying her salary since March 1997. The court found that a civil court should resolve the case because Adis did not provide proof that she had deposited the money with her employer.[93]

Since 2005, Caritas Migrant—which provides free legal representation—has won at least four cases before the criminal court when MDWs claimed unpaid wages from their employers on the basis of article 670 (“abus de confiance”). [94] 

B. Violence against Migrant Domestic Workers

The 114 sample cases included only five cases where charges were filed against an employer for violence against an MDW. In four of these, it was the MDW who filed the initial complaint, while in the fifth case it was the prosecutor who independently filed charges against the employer. Human Rights Watch found five additional cases where MDWs alleged to the police, while being interrogated for accusations of theft, that employers had beaten them, but neither the police nor the prosecutor acted on this information (see Section V.E below).

In cases of violence against MDWs, Human Rights Watch found that police and prosecutors often ignored allegations of physical violence, including slapping, punching, or pushing, and will only pursue and prosecute extreme forms of beating that are documented with extensive medical reports. In addition, many MDWs who filed complaints against employers for ill-treatment ended up facing countercharges of theft that take up much of the police investigation’s effort.

The following cases illustrate the police and the public prosecutor’s timid reaction to employers beating MDWs.

Case 1

The Pastoral Committee for Afro Asian Migrants (PCAAM), a group working for domestic workers, received information that the employer of K.A. (not her real initials), a Sri Lankan domestic worker, had locked her in his house, was beating her, and had not paid her wages.[95] PCAAM informed the prosecutor’s office, which referred the complaint to the police on December 5, 2005. It took the police 21 days to investigate. When police eventually took K.A.’s deposition, she told them that her employer owed her seven months-worth of wages, and beat her regularly—including once with a cane on her right hand, for which she got an x-ray. Confronted by the police, the employer agreed to pay K.A. the $670 he owed her in wages. However, the prosecutor, without providing any reason, did not press charges against the employer for beating K.A.

Case 2

In another case, an MDW left her employer and sought shelter at Caritas Migrant, which informed General Security on September 11, 2006, that the MDW’s employer used to beat her each time she demanded her salary, and that she consequently suffered pain in her ears. The employer answered the claim by accusing her of theft. The prosecutor did not bring any charges against the employer, and the only trial that took place was against the MDW on the theft charge, for which the MDW was eventually exonerated. While the court noted in its judgment that “the defendant suffered from the harshness of her employer and her employer owed her $1,700, which represented unpaid wages for over a year,” the prosecutor’s office did not file charges against the employer.[96]

Case 3

M.A. (not her real initials), a Filipina worker, left her employer on September 18, 2005, and immediately went to her embassy, where she reported her employer had “slapped her in the face twice and held her neck,” and owed her wages for one-and-a-half months. She also reported that her female employer regularly threatened to throw her out of the building.The employer immediately accused her of theft. The Philippines embassy referred the case to General Security.[97] During the investigation, M.A. informed General Security that she had been beaten, but a review of the General Security’s investigation file does not show any examination of the allegations.[98] In his decision on February 8, 2006, the investigative judge, did not mention the allegations and simply referred M.A. to trial on charges of theft.[99] No reasons were noted as to why no charges were brought forward. General Security ended up detaining M.A. for 13 months, until it released her on November 24, 2006, on LBP150,000 bail ($100). Human Rights Watch was unable to obtain information on the outcome of the trial for theft.

Courts did convict employers of violence against MDWs in cases of egregious violence backed by strong forensic evidence, but they imposed penalties that were not commensurate with the gravity of the crime: for example, the maximum penalty imposed by the court was a 15-day sentence for physical assault. One lawyer who works for Caritas Migrant and regularly represents MDWs told Human Rights Watch that there had been “some evolution in court receptiveness.” Previously, he said “in cases of beating, an MDW would only get monetary compensation because the judge would exchange the prison term with money. But now, we see a few cases where employers are sentenced to jail.”[100] However, courts are still extremely lenient on employers convicted of serious violence.

Case 4

R.U. (not her real initials), a Filipina national, accused her employer on July 7, 1997, of beating and intentionally hurting her. She asked for her unpaid wages (dating back more than two years), a ticket back to the Philippines, and damages of $10,000. Two months later, on September 3, 1997, B.E. (not her real initials), an Ethiopian domestic worker who worked for the same employer, at the same time, filed a similar complaint against the employer and her husband. The court joined the two cases. In his testimony, a forensic doctor described “a large bruising on the left eye [of B.E.], and traces of burns on her hands, neck, right shoulder and other parts.” The court determined that “the employer started beating both workers since they came to work for her, and would burn them on different parts of their bodies.” It found her guilty of a misdemeanor under Art. 554, and ordered her to pay LBP3 million ($2,000) to R.U., and another LBP3 million ($2,000) to B.E. The court then sentenced the employer to one month in jail and a fine of LBP 100,000, but ended up replacing the prison sentence with an LBP500,000 ($333) fine.The court ordered the male employer, a physician, who had also participated in the beating, to pay an LBP200,000 ($133) fine.[101]

Case 5

In another case, M.G. (not her real initials), a Filipina domestic worker, escaped to a shelter run by PCAAM. She had burn marks on her back and informed Sister Amelia, who oversaw the facility, that her female employer had burned her with an iron during a dispute they had on May 22, 1999. M.G. also reported that her female employer regularly slapped her on the face and that her male employer had slapped her once after she asked to be returned to the agency that brought her to Lebanon. M.G. filed charges. During the trial, a forensic doctor testified that she had “second degree burns going back three days.” Another doctor who treated M.G. for her wounds told the court that “the burns were of the first degree and resembled an iron someone put on her back.” M.G. left Lebanon for the Philippines on December 17, 1999, and the case proceeded without her. On September 30, 2003, 52 months after the case was started, the judge found the employer guilty of violence (article 554 penal code), sentenced her to 15 days in jail, and ordered her to pay a fine of LBP50,000 ($33) and LBP1,500,000 ($1,000) in damages. Maria had asked for LBP37,500,000 ($25,000) as damages.[102] Human Rights Watch does not know if M.G. received the damages since she had already returned to the Philippines.

Case 6

Another case is that of Jonalin Malibago, whose victory in court made headlines in December 2009. The case dates back to the July 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, when Jonalin’s employer, Fayruz Sfeir, brought her to the Philippines embassy so that she could be repatriated. Within sight of the embassy, Fayruz Sfeir started beating Jonalin to push her to walk faster while carrying her luggage. Jonalin fainted and was taken to a hospital. In the hospital, the doctors saw signs of beating on her body, as well as black, blue and yellow bruises.[103] On December 9, 2009, a criminal court in Batroun sentenced the employer to 15 days in jail, a fine of LBP50,000 ($33), and LBP10,000,000 ($6,666) in damages to Jonalin.

Caritas Migrant shared with Human Rights Watch a summary of 104 cases (from 2002 to 2009) where it has represented MDWs in court. It shows that lawyers from Caritas Migrant won at least four cases against employers who beat their MDW, and that two employers were sentenced to jail for beating an MDW.[104]

Sentences that Lebanese courts impose are very lenient, both compared to the gravity of the offense, and also the sentences that other countries impose on employers who beat MDWs. In Singapore, in March 2009, a district court sentenced Tong Chew Wei to 20 months imprisonment for hitting and scalding a domestic worker, while another sentenced Loke Phooi Ling and her mother Teng Chen Lian to eight months and four weeks in jail respectively for beating a domestic worker and banging her head against a wall.[105] In Malaysia, a court sentenced an employer to 18 years imprisonment, (later reduced to 12 years in December 2009), for severely beating an Indonesian MDW and repeatedly burning her on the breasts and back with an iron.[106]

C. Restrictions on Movement

In cases where MDWs complained about the employer “locking them” in the house, the Public Prosecutor’s office and the courts dismissed the complaint or simply asked the employer to allow the MDW to seek shelter elsewhere. The following two cases illustrate the judicial indifference to forced confinement of MDWs, even though forced imprisonment is a crime under Lebanese law.

S.N. (not her real initials) and A.D. (not her real initials) were two Filipina nationals accused by their employer of theft. During their interrogation, they informed the investigative judge that their employer used to beat them and would regularly lock them in the house. The investigative judge accepted their allegations, noting that “prior to the theft, the employer started having suspicions about the employees and started treating them harshly and under great surveillance and would lock them in when she would travel.”[107] Despite this recognition, the investigative judge did not launch an investigation against the employer, and simply charged the two MDWs with stealing money.

Faith Karanja, a Kenyan domestic worker who escaped from her employer because of unpaid wages and ill-treatment, told the police that her employers would lock her in when they left the house, which they only let her leave in order to buy basic goods at the local store.[108] When interviewed by the police, the employer acknowledged locking Faith at home, but said she was allowed to “to go out to buy things and [to] come out with us when we would go out.”[109] Informed of this by police, the prosecutor told them to “leave the employers free and to obtain an undertaking from employer to prepare all the paperwork of the maid, pay her salary, and not exact revenge against the worker.” Faith, who was instructed to return to her employer, refused to go. The prosecutor eventually allowed her to go with Tina Naccache, the activist who had initially brought the case to their attention.

D. Withholding Passports and Identity Papers

In cases where MDWs complained about the employer withholding their passports or other identity papers, the courts dismissed the complaint or simply asked the employer to return the document. In none of the cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch did the court prosecute the employer for this act.

There is no existing legislation in Lebanon criminalizing passport retention. Activists and lawyers representing MDWs have tried to challenge withholding passports, arguing that doing so amounts to “forced confinement” (hajez huriyat), which is a crime.

In 2001, an investigative judge in Beirut examined a case where two Malagasy women had filed complaints against their agency for abuse of trust, fraud, and passport confiscation. The investigative judge found that the passport had been handed to the employer, who is responsible for the domestic worker, and that it was “natural” for the employer to confiscate and keep the maid’s passport “in case she tries to escape from his house to work in another without compensating him.”[110]

In another case, a Filipina worker, A.N. (not her real initials), filed a criminal complaint against her employers asking them to return her passport and other identity papers. A.N. had ‘run away’ from her employers after she claimed that they owed her $2,085 in unpaid wages. The employers argued that they held the passport “to guarantee her rights and ensure that the employee executes the contract.” The judge held that the court did not find “a criminal intent” in the employers’ confiscation of the passport.[111]

Two sisters from Ghana also filed a complaint against their employer for “forced confinement and confiscation of passport and other identity papers,” and non-payment of salaries. The sisters claimed their employer fired them and kicked them out of his house without paying them $1,580 in wages or returning their passports. [112] The Ghanians’ lawyer argued that holding their identity papers constituted the crime of “forced confinement” because it prevented them from traveling within Lebanon for fear of arrest. When the police called the employer, he was traveling and they spoke to his son, who simply said that the sisters had run away. When the police called the prosecutor to inform him of the phone conversation, he instructed them to stop the investigation and no subsequent charges were filed. Human Rights Watch does not know if the two sisters received their passports.

In a troubling decision in June 2000, an investigative judge accused two Filipina workers of stealing “their identity papers,” as well as gold and money from their employers’ house.[113] In the court file the judge does not explain how the workers could steal their own property, suggesting that at least some members of the judiciary share the impression that many employers have ‘ownership’ rights over domestic workers and their property. Such a view in turn contributes to abuse and exploitation.

E. Cases of Non-Renewal of Residency 

As previously discussed, a high percentage of agencies and employers (more than 85 percent by some estimates) confiscate passports and other identity papers belonging to MDWs. A common problem that MDWs face is that many employers or agencies do not renew their residency papers, thus exposing them to arrest for being in Lebanon illegally, even though they are likely to have not been in possession of the residency papers, and may not even know they broke Lebanese law.

Article 36 of the Foreigners Law makes it illegal to reside in Lebanon on an expired residency unless one has an “acceptable excuse.” However, Lebanese courts have been reluctant to recognize the confiscation of a passport as a valid excuse for not renewing one’s papers. For example, S.H. (not her real initials), a Sri Lankan domestic worker was accused by her employer of theft. During the course of the investigation, the police noticed that S.H.’s residency had expired. While the police investigation established that S.H.’s papers were in her employer’s possession and they had failed to renew the papers, they detained S.H. and a court sentenced her for being in violation of immigration laws.[114] No charges were brought against the employers for failing to renew the papers.

In other cases, the judge held both the MDW and the employer guilty of violating immigration laws, even though the MDW had no control over her papers. On January 9, 2003, a criminal judge in Beirut found Faith Karanja, a Kenyan domestic worker, and her Lebanese employer, guilty under article 36 of the Foreigners Law and article 220 of the Penal Code (this article punishes an accomplice without whom a crime would not have occurred) after determining that “[Faith] neglected to renew her residency papers on Lebanese soil due to interference of her employer.” Both were sentenced to prison for one week and a fine for LBP10,000 ($6). The court’s decision correctly recognizes that Faith’s illegal situation was due to her employer’s “interference,” but fails to find that Faith had an “acceptable excuse” for her illegal situation (as per article 36 of Foreigners Law). However, the facts of the case leave no doubt about Faith’s ability to renew her papers, which she had not had since arriving in Lebanon on August 28, 1998. Locked in the house by her employers, she had been unable to move freely and could only go out with them, or to purchase basic goods. 

The broader issue is that in many cases the court does not examine or give sufficient (if any) weight to the circumstances that led the MDW to be without valid residency papers. By punishing the MDW for a situation beyond her control, the court is not only failing to protect, but also contributes to the abuse. For example, the police detained J.E. (not her real initials), an Ethiopian domestic worker, on January 11, 2002, because she did not have residency papers and because there was a pending “search warrant” for theft filed against her by her employer. J.E. told the police that she had fled her employer in December 2001, after he had tried to strangle her, and that he still had her papers.[115] Six months later, the court of appeal eventually found her not guilty of theft, but guilty of violating immigration rules. However, there was no investigation to determine the circumstances that led to her escape and no investigation of the allegation that the employer tried to strangle her.[116]

The courts have ruled in other cases that an MDW cannot be held liable for her employer’s negligence. On January 19, 2000, the police detained J.N. (not her real initials), a Kenyan domestic worker, because she did not have residency papers. At trial, the judge found her guilty of illegal residence in Lebanon (article 36 of Foreigners Law), even though her sponsor had failed to regularize her status as he had committed to doing. The Appeals Court overturned the judgment, holding that J.N. should not be held liable “for her sponsor not doing what is needed.” [117]

F. Complaints against Agencies

Many MDWs told Human Rights Watch agents had hit them, and in some cases had forcefully detained them. According to Nayla Moukarbel’s study, 15 percent of domestic workers interviewed reported that staff members from their agencies had struck them.[118]

Despite these complaints, Human Rights Watch’s review of 114 cases of MDWs found no cases where the authorities prosecuted or took disciplinary measures against agencies. In her book, Moukarbel recounts a particularly severe case of brutality and physical abuse perpetrated by a Lebanese agent against a Sri Lankan domestic worker. The Sri Lankan ambassador personally complained to the Minister of Labor, resulting in the suspension of the agent’s license for three months, after which he resumed operations. No charges were brought against him.[119]

Human Rights Watch sent a letter on April 14, 2010, to the Ministry of Labor to inquire about how many agencies had been blacklisted for such behavior, but did not receive an answer.

G. Deaths of Migrant Domestic Workers

In August 2008, Human Rights Watch released a study showing that MDWs were dying at a rate of more than one per week in Lebanon.[120] It found that between January 2007 and August 2008, at least 95 migrant domestic workers died in the country. Of these, 40 were classified by the migrants’ embassies as suicide, while 24 others were caused by workers falling from buildings, often while trying to escape employers. By contrast, only 14 domestic workers died because of diseases or health issues. The others died because of car accidents and suffocation due to carbon monoxide caused by improper heating. Two were murdered.

Lebanese police generally investigate death cases, but interviews with lawyers representing domestic workers and officials working at the migrants’ embassies, as well as a review of investigators’ notes in five separate police investigations, reveal many flaws. First, police reports reveal that police do not always investigate when an employer mistreats an employee. When they do, they limit themselves to general questions and accept the employer’s testimony without cross-checking their statements with information from neighbors, or the family of the domestic worker. Most of the cases are classified as suicides, and no further action is taken with respect to the employer. Second, in cases where the domestic worker survives a fall, police often interview her without an interpreter, and generally ignore the motives that prompted the escape.

In only one of the 114 cases that Human Rights Watch reviewed was an employer prosecuted for killing or contributing to the death of an MDW. D.I. (not her real initials), a Sri Lankan domestic worker, died on August 8, 1998, at her employer’s house. According to the police investigation, the employer regularly beat D.I. The medical examiner performed x-rays on D.I.’s corpse and found that she had “broken disks in her neck, additional broken bones, and blood clotting at the level of her neck.” The autopsy confirmed that the cause of death was a broken neck. The court found that the employer had severely beaten D.I. on her body and her neck “to force her to work.” It found her guilty of “unintentional homicide” (article 550 of Penal Code) because her intent “was not to kill but to beat the domestic worker to force her to work.” The court gave the employer a sentence of one-and-a-half years in prison, even though the minimum sentence under article 550 is five years on the basis that there were mitigating circumstances in that the employer was “hysteric and over sensitive.”[121]

[84] See for example, acceptance of this reasoning by Labor Court, Beirut, Third Chamber (president Osta), Case No 226/2002, Labor Court, Mount Lebanon, First Chamber, Case No. 328/2007. For more information on Labor Courts, see introduction to the courts on Lebanon’s Ministry of Justice website, www.justice.gov.lb/CP/HTML_iFrame.aspx?id=146&language=1# (accessed on May 20, 2010).

[85] Human Rights Watch interview with Joseph Aoun, May 28, 2010, Beirut.

[86] We do not know how many complaints by MDWs are handled by Labor Courts across the country. Human Rights Watch wrote to Lebanon’s Higher Judicial Council on May 27, 2010, asking for the numbers of complaints filed by MDWs before the Labor Courts for the years 2008-2010. We received an answer only from the five Labor Courts based in Beirut. They indicated that they handled in total for 2008-2010 seven cases of complaints by MDWs. Caritas Migrant shared with Human Rights Watch a list of 104 judgments they obtained in cases where they represented MDWs. Only two of the cases were cases that were decided by Labor Courts.

[87] See for example, “Labor Courts: 15 Courts and Hundreds of Cases,” An-Nahar, October 14, 2008, “Labor Courts are Not Working,”  al-Akhbar, October 22, 2007. On April 27, 2010, the Council of Minister agreed to prepare a Decree to increase the number of Labour Courts in Lebanon, and notably in the Mount Lebanon governorate. Summary of the Council of Ministers Meeting, April 27, 2010, as reported by the news website Now Lebanon, http://www.nowlebanon.com/arabic/NewsArchiveDetails.aspx?ID=164089 (accessed May 27, 2010).

[88] Human Rights Watch interview with Labor Court judge, June 16, 2010, Beirut.

[89] Case no. 328/2007, Labor Court of Mount Lebanon (First Chamber).

[90] Case no. 612/2003, Labor Court of Mount Lebanon. 

[91] Case no. 226/2002, Labor Court of Beirut (Third Chamber).

[92] Case no. 768/1999, Sole Penal Judge in Keserwan.

[93] Case no. 344/2005, Sole Penal Judge in Metn.

[94] List of cases that Caritas shared with Human Rights Watch. Case no. 172/2008, Sole Penal Judge in Saida; Case no. 210/2008, Sole Penal Judge in Saida; Case no. 114/2006, Sole Penal Judge in Amioun; Case no. 228/2005, Sole Penal Judge in Metn.

[95] Police report no. 22544/2005, Beirut Police, Musaytbe branch (December 26, 2005).

[96] Case no. 89/2007, Sole Penal Judge in Keserwan.

[97] Letter from the Philippines embassy to General Security, on October 18, 2005 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[98] General Security Investigation with M.A., October 18, 2005 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[99] Case no. 55/2006, Decision of Investigative Judge in Mount Lebanon.

[100] Human Rights Watch interview with Joseph Aoun, May 28, 2010, Beirut.

[101] Case no. 611/1999, Sole Penal Judge in Keserwan.

[102]Case no. 660/2003, Sole Penal Judge in Metn

[103] Case No. 09/126/530; Dec 12, 2009 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[104] Case no. 280/2009, Appeals Court of Misdemeanors in Metn  (employer convicted of beating domestic worker but only sentenced to monetary compensation); Case no. 244/2007, Appeals Court of Misdemeanors in Mount Lebanon,  (employer ordered to pay LBP4,000,000 ($2,666) in fines and sentenced to jail; Case no. 737/2006, Sole Penal Judge in Baabda,  (employer ordered to pay LBP2,000,000 ($1,333) in fines and sentenced to jail), Case no. 961/2005, Sole Penal Judge in Baalbeck (employer ordered to pay compensation). 

[105] Elena Chong, “Jailed for maid abuse,” The Straits Times, March 13, 2009 available at http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_349679.html (last accessed June 30, 2009) and Elena Chong, “Jailed for maid abuse,” The Straits Times, March 31, 2009 available at http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_356827.html (last accessed April 1, 2009).

[106] “18-year jail term for abusing maid slashed,” Agence-France Presse, December 3, 2009.

[107] Decision of Investigative Judge in Beirut, June 19, 2000 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[108] Investigation in the case of Faith Karanja, Beirut Police (Damascus Road branch), March 7, 2000 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[109] Ibid.

[110] Case no. 11/2001, Decision by Investigative Judge in Beirut.

[111] Case No. 703/2003, Sole Penal Judge in Metn.

[112] Investigation in the case of Kyere and Linda Ababbio, Antelias Police, July 19, 1999 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[113] Decision of Investigative Judge no. 95/5085, June 19, 2000 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[114] Case no. 983/2000, Sole Penal Judge in Metn.

[115] Police report dated January 11, 2002 (on copy with Human Rights Watch).

[116] Case no. 195/2002, Appeals Court of Misdemeanors in Jdeideh.

[117] Case no. 154/2000.

[118] Moukarbel, Sri Lankan Housemaids in Lebanon , p. 176.

[119] Moukarbel, Sri Lankan Housemaids in Lebanon , p. 177.

[120] “Lebanon: Migrant Domestic Workers Dying at a Rate of More than One per Week,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 26, 2008, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/08/24/lebanon-migrant-domestic-workers-dying-every-week.

[121] Case no. 316/1999, Felony Court of Beirut (8th Chamber).