Lebanon: UN expert on slavery urges authorities to investigate the suicide of a migrant domestic worker

GENEVA (3 April 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, urged the Government of Lebanon to carry out a full investigation into the death of Alem Dechasa, a 33-year-old Ethiopian migrant domestic worker who committed suicide on Wednesday 14 March 2012, a few days after she was seen been beaten by men and dragged into a car in the Lebanese capital.

These acts of abuse caught on video* and posted on a social media websites, show the victim shouting and struggling to resist a man dragging and forcing her into a car as bystanders stood by.

“Like many people around the world I watched the video of the physical abuse of Alem Dechasa on a Beirut street,” said the UN expert monitoring contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences. “I strongly urge the Lebanese authorities to carry out a full investigation into the circumstances leading to her death. I also express my deepest condolences to Ms. Dechasa’s family and friends”

“The cruel image on the website reminded me of the many migrant women workers I met in Lebanon during my official visit to the country last year,” she said. “Women who had been victims of domestic servitude told me they had been under the absolute control of their employers through economic exploitation and suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse.”

At the end of her visit to Lebanon in October 2011, Ms. Shahinian urged the Government to enact legislation to protect the some 200,000 domestic workers in the country, indicating that without legal protection some of them would end up living in domestic servitude. “Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, the majority of whom are women, are legally invisible,” she said at the time. “That makes them acutely vulnerable.”

“There are a number of reports circulating about the human rights violations Alem Dechasa experienced as a migrant domestic worker in Lebanon and the facts surrounding her death,” Ms. Shahinian said. “States are under an obligation to ensure the realization of the right to truth about violations in order to end impunity and promote and protect human rights and provide redress to victims and their families.”

Other UN independent human rights experts also expressed their condemnation of the physical abuse of Ms. Dechasa. Special Rapporteurs François Crépeau (migrants), Rashida Manjoo (violence against women), Joy Ngozi Ezeilo (trafficking in persons), and Juan E. Méndez (torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment), together with Kamala Chandrakirana (Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice), urged the Government of Lebanon to carry out a full investigation and make public the results of such an investigation.

Ms. Gulnara Shahinian was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences in May 2008. She is a lawyer with extensive experience as an expert consultant for various UN, EU, Council of Europe, OSCE and government bodies on children’s rights, gender, migration and trafficking. Ms Shahinian is also a former trustee of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary forms of Slavery. Learn more, log on to:

(*) Watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HBf_-QKp6pw

Check Ms Shahinian’s report on domestic servitude: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Slavery/SR/A.HRC.15.20_en.pdf

UN Human Rights country page – Lebanon: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/LBIndex.aspx

For additional information and media requests, please contact Elizabeth Wabuge (+41 22 917 9138 / ewabuge@ohchr.org) or write to srslavery@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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