Where Are the Good Saudis?
MY story on abused domestic helpers appeared in the Christian Science Monitor today, and a Saudi friend that I sent it to noticed the difference in the tone I used in it compared to my stories in Arab News. She rightly guessed that articles for Arab News are subject to self-censorship because of the red-lines laid down by the Saudi government and the still-conservative society we live in.
She also noted, rightly, that not all Saudi employers are monsters, and wondered when more nuanced articles about life in Saudi Arabia would appear in the Western press. I replied that I had tried to find a Saudi group that advocates for abused foreign workers, but that unfortunately I couldn’t find any. I even sent questions to the National Society for Human Rights, but more than a week later they still had not replied. So I ask: Where are all the decent-minded Saudis who treat their maids well? Why don’t they speak out against all of these workers who are being beaten to death nearly every month? Why doesn’t the silent majority speak up?!
Here is my article:
Cases of abuse rise for Saudi foreign help
Rights groups say millions of foreign workers should be protected by Saudi labor law.
The brutality of attacks on four Indonesian maids last month in the Saudi town of Aflaj shocked even the most hardened observers in this kingdom, where employers have a long history of mistreating their domestic workers.
Accused of practicing black magic on the son of their Saudi employers, these domestic helpers were beaten over a period of two days beginning Aug. 3. Siti Tarwiyah Slamet and Susmiyati Abdul Fulan were killed. Tari Tarsam and Ruminih Surtim survived, but were taken away by Saudi police from the hospital just days after being admitted once they were deemed well enough to be questioned.
Since then, seven Saudi males from the same family have been arrested and are under investigation. The Saudi government never officially informed the Indonesian Embassy in Riyadh of the crime, and only after migrant groups and relatives of the maids held two demonstrations outside the Saudi Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, did the Saudi ambassador to Indonesia issue a statement saying that authorities in Riyadh needed more time to complete their investigation before they could send the two surviving maids and the remains of the two slain women home.
This latest attack on foreign domestic help came as no surprise to international human rights groups and migrant workers’ rights groups, who say they have been witnessing a steady rise in horrific acts of violence against foreign workers in the kingdom.
“The brutal killings of these Indonesian domestic helpers occurred in an atmosphere of impunity fostered by government inaction,” says Nisha Varia, senior researcher in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in New York. “Not only do the authorities typically fail to investigate or prosecute abusive employers, the criminal justice system also obstructs abused workers from seeking redress.”
Now, says Ms. Varia, the Saudi government should train a special police force to investigate crimes committed against domestic workers and labor laws should be extended to cover them. Currently they are not protected by Saudi labor laws, leaving them with very little legal recourse.
She also said that she hopes Saudi human rights groups “will take a much more active and vocal role in protecting the rights of foreign workers.”