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Marichu Baoanan & Lauro Baja’s Diplomatic Immunity

In Qatar the problems faced by domestic worker is being addressed by the National Office for Combating Human Trafficking (NOCHT). An initiative was launched to resolve the grievances of domestic helpers and their disputes with their employers, in collaboration with the embassies of the countries from where the workers are hired.

According to Mariam Al Malki, NOCHT Director, the initiative was in cooperation with government and non-governmental bodies as part of its effort to combat human trafficking. A periodic meeting with members of diplomatic missions of major domestic worker-exporting countries is conducted that includes the Philippines.

A very positive welcome development in the constant dialogue has identified some aspect of the problems below:

The employers believe educating the housemaids about local cultural values can go a long way in preventing actions that clash with Qatari social norms. The embassy officials pointed to the need for covering this segment with a law to ensure proper protection for the maids from various forms of exploitation.
There is no doubt that constant dialogue produces results in understanding the differences among people coming from different cultures, but what happens when diplomats themselves are the ones accused of abusing their own domestic helpers? If the diplomats are guilty of the same abuse that employers and human trafficker’s subject the very citizen they are supposed to protect then it defeats the purpose that reeks of hypocrisy unworthy of their post for their questionable mindset.

One prominent case of human trafficking, forced labor, peonage and slavery in the US involving a diplomat was filed by Marichu Baoanan against her employer a former UN Philippine Ambassador Lauro Baja his wife Norma Baja, their daughter Maria Elizabeth Facundo Baja, and the Baja-owned Labaire International Travel Inc.

The case since its filing on June 24th 2008 has not prospered because Lauro Baja invoked his diplomatic immunity. Baoanan’s case sadly is not an isolated case according to a report by Anthony De Stefano of Chicago Tribune in a GAO did the study after Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked the agency in May 2007 to look into the issue:

Federal investigators have uncovered numerous cases of foreign diplomats — mostly in New York and Washington, D.C.— who abused their domestic workers without fear of prosecution because of diplomatic immunity, according to a government report to be released Tuesday.

The level of cruelty of some of the allegations appears similar to those recently uncovered in the human-trafficking prosecution of Varsha and Mahender Sabhnani, the Long Island business couple convicted of abusing two Indonesian maids.
Page 3 of the U.S. Government’s Efforts to Address Alleged Abuse of Household Workers by Foreign Diplomats with Immunity Could Be Strengthened, states:
We identified 42 distinct A-3 and G-5 visa holders who alleged that they were abused by foreign diplomats with some level of immunity from 2000 through 2008, but the total number of alleged incidents is likely higher. The 42 alleged incidents we confirmed include those identified by federal agencies, NGOs, and legal sources, such as Westlaw. Ten of these alleged incidents resulted in federal human trafficking investigations, most of which remain open. In one instance, Justice determined through its investigation that, absent immunity, it would indict the foreign diplomat’s wife. However, the diplomat’s home government declined to waive the wife’s immunity; thus, Justice could not indict. The diplomat and his wife subsequently left the United States.
The domestic workers are most likely to be exploited by unscrupulous individuals but it gets worse and complicated if the diplomats of their own country are the ones guilty of such dastardly crimes. Not only are the culprits able to hide under diplomatic immunity the residence where the crime was committed is beyond the reach of investigators having no witnesses and the perpetrators that cannot be invited for questioning. Due to the legal technicalities on diplomatic immunity the investigators grapples with legal techniques they can apply to investigate are hampered and delayed. Top that with heightened vulnerabilities of the domestic worker due to their employers’ status seeking justice is almost impossible.

In lieu of all these what are the chances for victims of domestic abuse in their quest for justice? If Lauro Baja insist that he is innocent of the charges against him by Marichu Baoanan why invoke diplomatic immunity? Help Marichu Baoanan and others like her in the same situation by joining DAMAYAN on September 23 to October 1: 7 Days of Action to Waive the Bajas' Diplomatic Immunity, you can also download the Justice for Marichu on pdf file.

UPDATE: 6/17/09

NY Court rejects Baja's petition to dismiss the case based on his diplomatic immunity, the case will now proceed.

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