Domestic Workers

Document Date: November 7, 2007

Modern Enslavement of Migrant Domestic Workers by Foreign Diplomats in the United States

Modern-day slavery flourishes in the United States as well as abroad.

Foreign diplomats — supposedly the ambassadors of goodwill and international diplomacy — are enslaving, exploiting, and abusing domestic workers, and getting away with it.

These women have had the courage to speak out against these abuses, but none has achieved any form of redress on account of diplomatic immunity. The United States government has failed to ensure these women any remedy for their enslavement.

Raziah Begum
“They treated me no better than they would treat a stray dog. They tried to take from me my humanity.”

Lucia Mabel Gonzales Paredes
“In response to my demand for a decent wage, my employers threatened to get me a plane ticket back home.”

Otilia Luz Huayta
“Worst of all, it was people from my own country who had treated my daughter and I like slaves.”

Siti Rina Aisah
“We are human too, and we deserve to work with dignity and respect.”

Current law in the United States grants foreign diplomats immunity from civil actions and criminal prosecution under U.S. law. Diplomatic immunity bars domestic workers from claiming their legal rights in court and, as a result, gives diplomats a free pass to mistreat domestic workers deliberately and without penalty.

Domestic workers — who are most often women from poor countries — are led to believe that, in coming to the United States to work for diplomats, they will have good jobs with benefits and they will enjoy the protection of U.S. laws. Instead, too often, domestic workers find themselves in abusive, slave-like conditions and discover that their so-called rights are unenforceable.

The ACLU, together with coaltion partners Global Rights, CASA of Maryland, Andolan, Break the Chain Campaign, and the Immigration/ Human Rights Clinic of the University of North Carolina School of Law, is working on several fronts to fight this problem and provide a means for these workers to seek redress. The efforts include litigation (Sabbithi, et al. v. Al Saleh, et al.), federal legislative advocacy (Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008), and the filing of a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The IACHR is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States with a mandate to promote and protect human rights in the Americas.

At a domestic workers rights rally in Washington, D.C., Carla Wara, the daughter of Otilia Luz Huayta, reads a poem about her experience living with the Bolivian diplomat who exploited and abused her mother.
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> Chipping Away at Diplomatic Immunity as a Defense Against Trafficking Claims (6/17/09)
> Standing up for the Rights of Domestic Workers on International Migrants Day (12/18/08)
> Senator Durbin Stands Up For Domestic Workers (8/25/08)
> GAO Report Highlights State Department Abandonment Of Domestic Workers (7/31/08)
> GAO Report Details Need to Address Domestic Worker Abuse (7/30/08)
> DC’s Dirty Slavery Secret (4/16/08)
> It’s DC Emancipation Day! Who Cares About the Slaves in Our Midst? (4/16/08)

Indonesian domestic worker, Siti Aisah, tells her story of exploitation at the hands of the Ambassador to the Qatar Mission of the United Nations.

Otilia Huayta, una trabajadora domestica de Bolivia, cuenta como ella y su hija de 12 anos, Carla, fueron explotadas y abusadas por una diplomática Boliviana quien las trajo a los Estados Unidos.
Read the English translation of this podcast >>

Jennie Pasquarella, Staff Attorney for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, explains how diplomatic immunity allows diplomats to violate domestic workers’ rights and describes the ACLU’s petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

> Coalition Letter to the State Department Offering Assistance in the Implementation of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (3/20/2009)
> News: ACLU Applauds Passage of Human Trafficking Legislation (12/11/2008)
> ACLU Letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Asking to Protect Trafficked Domestic Workers (1/9/2008)
> Petition of Domestic Workers to the IACHR (PDF) (11/15/2007)
> News: Abused Domestic Workers of Diplomats Seek Justice From International Commission (11/15/2007)
> Domestic Workers Abused by Diplomats – Case Summaries (XLS) (11/9/2007)
> ACLU Statement to the House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing on “International Trafficking in Persons: Taking Action to Eliminate Modern-Day Slavery (10/18/2007)
> Statement of Zipora Mazengo to the House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing on “International Trafficking in Persons: Taking Action to Eliminate Modern-Day Slavery (PDF) (10/18/2007)
> Trafficking Coalition Letter to Senators Biden and Lugar and Representatives Lantons and Ros-Lehtinen (10/18/2007)
> Letter to David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the U.S., from Senators Richard J. Durbin and Tom Coburn (5/17/2007)
> Fact Sheet: Human Trafficking: Modern Enslavement of Immigrant Women in the United States (5/31/2007)
> Fact Sheet: Trafficking and Exploitation of Migrant Domestic Workers by Diplomats and Staff of International Organizations in the United States (1/17/2007)
> Fact Sheet: Trapped in the Home: Global Trafficking and Exploitation of Migrant Domestic Workers (1/17/2007)

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