Geneva – A video showing a Lebanese man assaulting a domestic worker is only the tip of the iceberg of wide, unreported violations perpetuated by the kafala system, which opens the door to slavery-like abuses.
In a video circulating on social media since Wednesday, the man can be seen dragging the woman by her hair and hitting her, ignoring her screams and distress calls. Later, the man turned out to be her employer under the infamous kafala system.
According to Lebanese media, the Appellate Prosecution in the Mount Lebanon Governorate ordered the release of the man, as the worker did not file a complaint against him and said he did not mistreat her.
It is feared that the employer may have pressured the worker and forced her to drop the suit and sign statements guaranteeing his release.
Tarik Hajjar, legal researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, said that in such cases, the embassy of the worker’s country of origin and Lebanese Ministry of Labor should guarantee protection to the worker so that she says what really happened to her away from any pressures from her employer.
Issam Boujaoude, the mayor of Jouret el-Ballout, the town where the incident occurred, tried to justify the assault claiming that the “woman arrived at her employer's house before attempting to escape the same night. She was subsequently caught and arrested, and then sent back to the employment office that she was registered with, while the man had his money returned to him.”
Thousands of domestic workers face abuse and ill-treatment in Lebanon due to the kafala system, which is characterized by racism and discrimination and provides fertile ground for violence against workers.
Over the past years, the system has placed thousands of domestic workers in forced-labor-like working conditions and legitimized various inhumane practices, such as forcing workers to live in the employer’s house, not specifying working hours, preventing the worker from leaving the house, and not obtaining weekly or annual leaves.
This system has also given employers great control over workers who often find themselves forced to accept unfair working conditions that deprive them of any tools that help them preserve and obtain their rights in cases of conflict or exploitation. Additionally, any attempt to escape from the employer’s house makes them vulnerable to abuse, deprivation of rights, and deportation.
More than 250,000 migrant workers are under the kafala system in Lebanon, which links their legal status with their employers, making them easy prey for various types of violations.
The authorities are responsible for this unfortunate situation, as the State Council suspended using a new and unified contract for domestic workers one month after it was approved by the Minister of Labor in September 2020.
The new contract was an attempt to comply with international labor laws, as it was based on a work plan and a draft contract submitted by the International Labor Organization and other parties to the Lebanese government to end the kafala system.
The authorities should take legal measures against the man who assaulted the worker, and the prosecutor should become the plaintiff to ensure that such assaults are not repeated.
The authorities should take serious steps to combat the growing racism in the country, curb hate speech and incitement against foreigners, and repeal all racist laws against various groups in compliance with the relevant international agreements that Lebanon has signed, most notably the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.