Saudi Arabia: Migrant workers beaten to death

"The brutal killings of these Indonesian domestic workers occurred in an atmosphere of impunity fostered by government inaction", argued Nisha Varia, senior researcher in the Women's Rights Division of New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW), on August 17. Varia was referring to the deaths in early August of Siti Tarwiyah Slamet, 32, and Susmiyati Abdul Fulan, 28 — two Indonesian women domestic workers beaten to death by the Saudi family that employed them.

According to HRW, two other workers — Ruminih Surtim, 25, and Tari Tarsim Dasman, 27 — were being treated in the intensive care unit at Riyadh Medical Complex after the attack. However, on August 29 the Jakarta Post reported that according to Indonesian NGO Migrant Care, Tari Tarsim was "allegedly kidnapped by police officers Monday from the Medical Complex Hospital and was taken to an unknown destination for interrogation".

Saudi authorities have detained their employers, who accused the Indonesians of using "black magic" against the Saudi family's son.

Varia said that "Not only do the authorities typically fail to investigate or prosecute abusive employers, the criminal justice system also obstructs abused workers from seeking redress". HRW claims that the 2 million women from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and other countries employed as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia are routinely underpaid, overworked, confined to the workplace, or subject to verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Despite being victims of abuse themselves, many domestic workers are subject to counteraccusations, including theft, adultery or fornication (in cases of rape), or witchcraft.

According to HRW, "During visits to Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka in November and December, Human Rights Watch interviewed Sri Lankan domestic workers sentenced to prison and whipping in Saudi Arabia after their employers had raped and impregnated them. Three months ago, an Indonesian domestic worker in al-Qasim province was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for witchcraft, a reduction from an original sentence of death. The Indonesian embassy did not learn about the arrest, detention or trial of the worker until one month after the sentencing.

"Whether as victims or defendants, foreigners confront several serious problems in getting a fair investigation or trial in Saudi Arabia's criminal justice system. Many migrant workers do not have access to interpreters, legal aid or basic information about their cases. The Saudi government often takes months or years to inform foreign missions if their nationals have been arrested or hospitalized, preventing them from extending badly needed assistance."