(New York) – An appeals court should overturn a Riyadh court’s decision to drop charges against the Saudi employer who abused Nour Miyati, an Indonesian domestic worker, so severely she required several surgeries, including amputation of her toes and fingers, Human Rights Watch said today. The judge awarded Nour Miyati 2,500 riyals as compensation, or approximately US$670, a small fraction of what such injuries would normally garner in Saudi Arabia.

Nour Miyati
Nour Miyati (2008, Private)

Human Rights Watch called on the appeals court to impose stiff penalties on the employers, including imprisonment and payment of significant financial compensation to Nour Miyati.

In a previous ruling, all charges against Nour Miyati’s male employer were dropped. The female employer confessed to abusing Nour Miyati and was sentenced to 35 lashes. On Monday, a Riyadh general court judge reviewed the case and handed down a second verdict, ignoring compelling physical evidence and finding the female employer not guilty of abuse.

“This outrageous ruling sends a dangerous message to Saudi employers that they can beat domestic workers with impunity, and that victims have little hope of justice,” said Nisha Varia, senior researcher in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “Instead of instilling confidence among migrant workers that they can seek redress through the Saudi justice system, this decision shows that even a case involving egregious abuse, ample evidence, and intense public scrutiny has not been given fair treatment.”

Nour Miyati told Human Rights Watch that her employers beat her daily and that she had to work long hours without rest or pay. They withheld her passport, knocked out a tooth, and caused damage to one of her eyes. The abuse escalated after she tried to escape; her employers locked her in the workplace and denied her adequate food.

Nour Miyati was first treated at a Riyadh hospital in March 2005 for gangrene, malnourishment, and other injuries. As a result of the delay in receiving medical assistance, Nour Miyati lost her toes and fingers when she finally received care.

“Nour Miyati has suffered not only at the hands of her employers, but also from the unfair legal proceedings she has endured for the past three years,” said Varia.

In a perversion of justice, Nour Miyati also had to defend herself against allegations of changing her testimony. A Saudi court convicted her of making false accusations against her employers in late 2005 and sentenced her to 79 lashes, a ruling overturned in April 2006. Human Rights Watch has conducted research in Saudi Arabia showing that many domestic workers risk spurious counteraccusations of theft, witchcraft, and adultery if they try to bring charges of abuse against their employers.

“Workers often spend months or years penniless and in legal limbo while they wait for their cases to be resolved. Nour Miyati showed her faith in the system and courageously decided to continue with her case despite the long wait and counteraccusations,” said Varia. “The meager compensation of 2,500 riyals is a slap in the face of Nour Miyati’s perseverance and the administration of justice, showing that a foreign domestic worker’s life and limb is not valued on the equal basis of a Saudi.”

Approximately 1.5 million women from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and other countries are employed as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities and the foreign missions of domestic workers’ home countries receive thousands of complaints of labor exploitation or abuse each year. Many more cases are likely unreported, given domestic workers’ isolation in private homes, employers’ ability to summarily have workers deported, and migrants’ lack of information about their rights.