The Rich, The Powerful And Diplomatic Immunity.
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.” “
The ACLU has more:
“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.”
Update 2: Time magazine makes a related point:
“France is having its Anita Hill moment. When the law professor testified before a Senate committee in 1991 that her former boss Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her, he denied everything and was elevated to the Supreme Court. But the hearings were a turning point. Women suddenly said that the Mad Men style of behavior they had put up with for so long at work — the leering, the inappropriate touching, the sexual banter — was not acceptable. Men were clueless as to why it mattered, but legislatures expanded laws about sexual harassment, and businesses began enforcing strict codes of conduct covering sexual relations in the workplace.
France, where powerful men have traditionally treated sex as a right and used it as a weapon, is now embroiled in its own battle of the sexes, involving a powerful man who could have been President and a single mother who works as a hotel maid.”