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Archive for May 22nd, 2011

The Rich, The Powerful And Diplomatic Immunity.

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The Guardian has a good piece on the misuse of diplomatic immunity and the terrible treatment of domestic workers by diplomats and those in positions of power:

“Still, a recent case of domestic abuse in a diplomatic household set an encouraging precedent. Vishranthamma Swarna, a maid to former Kuwaiti UN diplomat Badar Al-Awadi, claimed to have suffered sustained mistreatment, including rape, when she was not cooking, cleaning and caring for the diplomat’s children in New York. Swarna was isolated: she spoke no English and was banned by her employer from leaving the house. She also inhabited a legal black hole: since her employer, who brought her in on a special visa, had diplomatic immunity, he could not be prosecuted in the United States for his actions.

With help from the ACLU, Swarna was able to take her case to the federal district court of New York, where the judge ruled that her work did not have a “direct … benefit to diplomatic functions” and that Al-Awadi could subsequently not be protected from prosecution under the Vienna conventions (pdf). The decision means that a diplomat can now be held liable for mistreating a domestic worker, but not for sexually abusing a secretary or intern, whose work is arguably vital to the embassy or consulate’s work. It remains to be seen whether victims like Swarna will begin speak up. But even then, their alleged abusers can conveniently relocate. Al-Awadi has since moved to Paris.

Women who work at international organisations also face sex discrimination and harassment, and the more highly ranked their harassers, the less likely they are to get justice.

In 2004, Ruud Lubbers, the high commissioner for human rights, reportedly grabbed Cynthia Brzak, an American employee, and pressed his groin against her buttocks in full view of other UNHCR staff. Brzak and many other female employees report that it is normal to be treated in such a way at the UN and other international organisations. But since filing a complaint is seen as a career-killer, most sexual harassment incidents go unreported. Victims have very little legal recourse, and must go through the UN’s complex internal justice system. Brzak pressed charges because she was tired of the permissive culture. “I just wanted a message sent that you cannot keep jumping on women at three in the afternoon,” she says today.” “

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Written by modernityblog

22/05/2011 at 14:44