Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Countries: Should safeguard rights of migrants

Gulf Daily News
The message was delivered by an international human rights group, which accused the GCC states of failing in their duty to protect foreign female workers and contributing to a "climate of impunity".
Amnesty International (AI) says they are at a higher risk than most because of their gender and because they are not granted full protection by the law.
It also accused governments in the region of adding to the problem and criticised unfair justice systems, which allow foreign women to be detained indefinitely and even abused in custody.

Some foreign women in detention did not even know why they had been arrested, said the organisation, while others who reported abuse were sent back to their alleged abuser.

"Failures of the GCC governments, the law and the justice systems in these countries increase their risk of gender-based violence from employers and other private individuals," said AI in a new report on violence against women in the GCC.


According to the report, which is the first of its kind, women account for 20 to 40 per cent of a growing number of migrants moving to GCC countries.

"They make a valuable contribution to society and fill gaps in the employment market not covered by nationals of the GCC countries, including domestic service," it said.

"Yet in all the GCC countries, women migrant workers in domestic service are deprived of a wide range of human rights protections."

The report says they are at considerable risk of discrimination and gender-based violence - either at the hands of state authorities or private individuals and employers.

"They face discriminatory laws and practices when they try to exercise their rights and are at risk of being arbitrarily detained or punished, for example, under morality laws," it added.

Women migrant workers are also excluded from the protection of labour laws because they are considered to be part of the family.

"They are also at risk of being subjected to rape or other forms of sexual violence by their employers because they are vulnerable to rape or sexual violence and the failings in the criminal justice systems," said the report.

However, it says women domestic workers do not normally get justice and are rarely given access to legal advice or adequate language interpretation.

"A climate of impunity allows perpetrators of crimes against migrant domestic workers to go unpunished," it said.

"If such workers are women, they face multiple discrimination because of their gender and lower economic and legal status, as well as their nationality."

The AI report is part of a project to analyse and research discrimination and violence against women in the GCC.

Research was carried out in July and August by AI delegates in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE.

It found that women migrant domestic workers, who are detained as a result of alleged breaches of the law or are pending deportation, might also experience problems that are exacerbated by their gender, nationality and legal status.

"It is standard practice for employers in the GCC countries to take possession of the passports of domestic workers," said AI.

"This may result in detained domestic workers being held at deportation centres for weeks or months while their paperwork is being completed."

Meanwhile, women in detention were found to have limited or no access to female interrogators, prosecutors or gender-trained staff.

"They may face intimidation and threats during interrogation, as well as ill-treatment," said the report.

All the female migrant domestic workers interviewed by AI in detention had been interrogated by, and in the presence of, men only - including male prosecutors.

They complained they were not provided adequate information regarding their case in a language they understood.

"Some women told AI that they had no translator and did not understand the court and other proceedings."

As a result, they were described as being "vulnerable to violations, including unfair trials, because of their lack of understanding of judicial processes or because they had signed documents without understanding them or without understanding the full extent and the legal implications of doing so".

In addition, AI said many women domestic workers in the GCC countries face restrictions on their freedom of movement.

"Some are not even allowed to leave the house where they work, while others are required to work excessive hours or do not receive the pay that is due to them," it said.

Most women domestic workers interviewed by AI said their freedom of movement had been restricted by their bosses.

"Some employers told AI that they restrict their domestic workers' freedom of movement because they believe the women are their responsibility and that they would be liable if anything happened to them," says the report.

AI said such restrictions also prevent women from enlisting the support of friends or taking other steps to seek protection or assistance when problems occur.

It found that because migrant domestic workers are excluded from the protection of labour laws in all GCC countries, they lack effective and adequate protection and often work without a day off or annual leave.

In many cases they are also required to work longer than 10 hours a day.

"I worked for two years for one employer. It was hard," an Indonesian housemaid in Bahrain told AI.

"I worked from 5am until 11.30pm every day with no weekly holiday. I was paid BD50."

Some domestic workers interviewed by AI said they were treated well by their employers.

"However, the lack of domestic legislation to protect their rights as employees mean that all are vulnerable to abuse," says the AI report.

Other domestic workers reported that they had not been paid or said there were delays in payment of their salaries.

"Some who had been raped or beaten by their employer, and who had tried to escape their employer's house, had been handed back by the police or held in detention centres," says the report.

They were detained in this way until the paperwork for their return to their country was finalised, or until legal proceedings were brought against them by their employer for violating their contract of employment by running away.

"The abuses and multiple forms of discrimination faced by female domestic workers in the GCC countries, be it at the hands of the authorities, their employers or other non-state actors, are exacerbated by their lack of alternatives," said AI.

The report found that female domestic workers often find themselves faced with three stark choices.


"They can remain in their employer's home and be subjected to further violence and abuse, they can go to the police and risk prolonged detention or they can become homeless, sometimes without papers, in a country where not being a national puts them at risk of arrest and detention," it said.

In its list of recommendations, AI calls on GCC states to ensure that laws, practices, policies and procedures are in line with international human rights law and standards.

This is to ensure states apply the principle of non-discrimination to non-citizens, including women migrant domestic workers.

AI urged GCC states to ensure national legislation and policies expressly recognise the particular vulnerability of women migrant domestic workers to human rights abuse.

It said Gulf countries should also guarantee access to effective remedies - including equal access to national courts and the judicial system - and ensure legislation prohibits employers from taking and keeping possession of passports.

AI called for complaints by migrants that their passports are being withheld to be investigated seriously.

It also called for those who discriminate against non-nationals, whether public officials, other agents of the state or private individuals, to be punished.