Friday, October 5, 2007

Diplomats and domestic workers

It seems that the U.S. government is finally starting to take seriously the problem of domestic worker abuse by the foreign diplomats and officials of international organizations. This problem was first exposed in a 2001 report entitled Hidden in the Home, by Human Rights Watch researcher Carol Pier. These workers, who are brought to the U.S. on A-3, G-5 or NATO-7 special visas, can suffer a range of human rights violations – from wage and hour exploitation, emotional and physical abuse, and even forced labor and trafficking. But because of their employers’ diplomatic immunity, redress for these abuses remains elusive. Although there is a "commercial activity" exception to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Immunity, courts have been reluctant to interpret the exception to encompass domestic work.
In an effort to address the immunity problem, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, Break the Chain Campaign, CASA of Maryland, and Global Rights and law clinics at the University of North Carolina School of Law and at American University Washington College of Law, have been working to encourage the U.S. government to provide legal or administrative remedies to domestic workers who seek redress for these violations. In a series of meetings with the U.S. Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security, these and other organizations have been exploring possible government actions to better protect the rights of these workers – including documenting diplomatic abuse in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, improved interviewing procedures at U.S. consulates abroad, and the creation of government databases to track complaints of workers abuse. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to attempt to codify such reforms in the 2007 Reauthorization of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Also jumping into the fray is the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which is currently investigating the issue at the request of Senators Richard Durbin and Tom Coburn, Chair and Ranking Minority Member, respectively, of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, Committee of the Judiciary.

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