Inquiry under way into alleged abuse of embassy staff

 

THE GARDA is investigating four cases in which employees of Dublin-based embassy staff have alleged they were the victims of exploitation by their employers.

The cases involve staff of three different embassies. However, prosecutions are unlikely given that embassy staff can invoke diplomatic immunity.

One former domestic worker, who worked in the private home of a diplomat based here whose case is being investigated by gardaí, told The Irish Timesshe worked long hours for no pay, had her passport taken from her and claimed she was frequently locked in the house.

“She [the employer] never allowed me to go out. When she is going out she locked the door,” the worker, who asked that her identity and nationality be withheld for fear of prejudicing her case, said.

The former domestic worker came to Ireland in 2009 at the age of 17 on an embassy visa.

The arrangements for embassy visas are set out under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations which requires the sending state to notify the Department of Foreign Affairs of the arrival and departure of diplomatic staff, their family members and private staff.

The worker said for her first eight months in Ireland, she was not allowed to leave the house and after that time, she was only allowed out for three hours a day to attend evening classes.

The woman claimed that on one occasion, she was beaten by her employer for leaving the house without permission.

“She took up a cane that was close to her door and she [used it] to flog me all over my body. When the cane broke she took a belt from the wardrobe and using the buckle of the belt she beat me.”

The woman also claimed her employer frequently shouted at her, called her names and threatened to use her diplomatic influence if she tried to leave.

“The behaviour was more than unbearable,” said the woman, who eventually ran away from her employer.

Aoife Smith of the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland said exploitation of the woman constituted a serious human rights breach which had taken place on Irish soil.

She said that because such workers lose their visa status when they leave the employ of the embassy staff member, many feel bound to their employer and may stay in exploitative situations as a result.

“If they do exit and they want to pursue justice for the violations they have experienced, diplomatic immunity is used as a complete barrier to them being able to access their fundamental human rights.”

The migrant rights group is calling for, among other measures, private workers of diplomatic staff to be required to provide evidence of signed contracts of employment which comply with Irish law and for workers to have their rights explained to them as a matter of course.

“Mechanisms should be established to protect the rights of domestic workers while also ensuring that they have safe and secure access to justice in situations where their rights have been violated,” Ms Smith said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was the duty of all people enjoying diplomatic privileges and immunities to respect the provisions of Irish law.

She said that in “any possible proven cases there are a number of sanctions open to a receiving state” while there were also protections in place to support victims.

The spokeswoman said her department was working with the Department of Justice and the Department of Enterprise to put a robust system in place for the protection of domestic employees, which was consistent with obligations under international law.

DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY IN IRELAND

DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY is a form of legal immunity that governments give each other’s diplomats when they work in another country. It was formalised through the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, an international treaty ratified by 186 countries.

It gives diplomats certain privileges and immunity, including immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state and immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction.

Last year the embassy of the Philippines in Dublin boycotted a rights hearing at the Labour Relations Commission after a domestic worker who was employed by the embassy alleged that her employment rights had been violated and that she had not been paid the minimum wage.

In 2009, the former South African ambassador Priscilla Jana invoked diplomatic immunity when a Ukrainian domestic worker on her staff complained to the Labour Relations Commission that she had experienced multiple breaches of her employment rights.

The Rights Commissioner Service said it had no jurisdiction to hear the worker’s complaint due to the ambassador’s claim of diplomatic immunity.

The matter at issue was later settled.