by Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory
Prime minister says Ethiopians are not the only victims in Saudi Arabia
In his interview of November 28, 2013 on ETV, Prime Minister Hailemariam tried to force down Ethiopian throats the notion that citizens of many countries – Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Sudan, Yemen, etc. – have suffered similar fates as Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia.
The truth is that, we have not so far heard about any deaths or rape of women belonging to other nations. Therefore, to put it mildly, I am disappointed and angered by the prime minister’s defense of Saudi Arabia’s attacks against our citizens, other than Ethiopians.
Firstly, this claim is totally untrue. Secondly, it is a foolish calculation, aimed at justifying his administration’s inaction, when Ethiopians have been killed, maimed and humiliated in the most inhuman ways. In other words, this calculus is intended to make Ethiopians think that they have not been exclusively targeted. Thus it is a shoddy attempt to come up with what they thought plausible explanation for its failure to defend its citizens.
If one were to think rationally, for that matter why should group suffering be seen as having the power of minimizing the pain and extent of human degradation, especially when the crimes of slavery, rape and killings strictly fall under international humanitarian law and are crimes against humanity?
Ethiopian officials would have been wiser in recognizing that, firstly, almost all those Asian countries that had/have their citizens in Saudi Arabia as immigrant workers renewed status of their citizens before the Saudi amnesty expired. To do that, they even employed express mails, DHL, ect. Also to ensure that the process went smoothly and as planned, some nations dispatched senior officials from capitals to Saudi Arabia to follow through regularization of their citizens. Thirdly, those whose status could not be updated, were shipped home in good time, with respective government costs.
Has the Hailemariam administration done anything on behalf of those Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia?
It is extremely disappointing and embarrassing that Prime Minister Hailemariam should now claim that his government has followed exactly the same procedures. He says his government started to engage itself in this immediately to return its citizens the moment Saudi Arabia announced its new law and the amnesty decree “seven or eight months ago.” He added that he had also dispatched the foreign minister to Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter.
Of course, there is reference in the media that Foreign Minister Tedros was in Saudi Arabia in July, where he met his counterpart Saud Al-Faisal. It is reported that, following these discussions Saudi Arabia “agreed to postpone the deadline set for registration of Ethiopians which was to expire in less than ten days.”
In the meantime, like other responsible governments to its citizens, did the Hailemariam administration and the TPLF give instructions to Ethiopian Embassy in Riyadh to expedite issuance of passports or renewal of visas? Did it arrange with the Saudis exit arrangement for these Ethiopians? No! In fact, according to the testimonies of Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia, the embassy started checking who has paid and how much contributions to the Renaissance Dam. In brief, the Hailemariam administration has done none of what he was talking about in the interview. It sat quietly, until this problem exploded on its face!
The fact of the matter is that, we hear allegations from Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia that the Ethiopian embassy in that country proved unapproachable, arrogant and rude in many respects to those Ethiopians without papers. Every Ethiopian immigrant in that country speaks of the difficulties Ethiopian diplomats and consular workers cause them.
Besides harassments, threats and refusals to renew their papers, those with no papers who wanted to regularize their Ethiopian identity during the amnesty period said they were asked to pay substantial sums. This, some of them found too steep as their payments were withheld by their Saudi employers who gave them job in the first place.
Extremely disappointing also on the part of the prime minister is his initial efforts to blame the victims. He almost said it, but turned it to their failure to regularize their status. This was very cruel not trying to be understanding about the immigrants finding themselves between a rock and a hard place, as the ILO committee has realized, see below.
I do not doubt the words of the prime minister, when he says that, Ethiopians willing to return home in the earlier phase were only 450. Interestingly, he did not address the point about difficulties of issuing passports to those Ethiopians early on either to arrange with the Saudis their return home or move to third countries.
This should draw attention to the need to improve conditions at home, especially regarding jobs, security forces and political cadres being free to intimidate, beat and imprison anyone they so choose. The solution is the rule of law, since this to a degree could create some a sense of security.
Passport is the right of any Ethiopian citizen, at least according to existing Ethiopian laws, including Ethiopian Nationality Law Proclamation No. 378/2003
What has happened to our citizens in distress in Saudi Arabia needs to be investigated. Ethiopians should know whether what happened to their fellow citizens in that country constitutes violation of this and other Ethiopian laws, including the grounds for refusal of passport to those citizens. In this situation, denial of passport – because these citizens entered Saudi Arabia illegally – is also denial of their citizenship, which is illegal.
The courageous thing for the prime minister and the foreign minister is to find out sincerely where the problem lies in this situation. It would be in the interest of the government and of benefit in future, if they would set up a genuinely independent committee to institute corrective measures for the future.
Why were the Saudis hard on Ethiopians, aside racism?
Whether one likes it or not, Ethiopians have been repeatedly seen angry in pictures in the past weeks against Saudi security forces. There are also protests against their tormentors. They forcefully reacted when attacked and humiliated for being illegals, but in the time honored cultural and legal principle of self-defense.This is not stated here to challenge the Saudi regime’s right to ensure respect for its laws. All that we are saying is the Saudis could have done that more peacefully, showing those Ethiopians in unfortunate circumstances the way out of the country, instead of selectively subjecting them to brute force, killings and targeting them with the horrendous crime of rape, while refusing them exit permits (visa).
Therefore, in this situation the dilemma for those Ethiopians is whether they could accept indignity in exchange for few Saudi Arabian Riyal (1 USD = 3.75 SAR), which by then has already been terminated, including their pays withheld. This has given rise to struggle between the Ethiopian persona. We saw those young men and women, who are deeply steeped in a country with proud history of resistance and self-respect, which is part of them and their make-up, showing no fear toward violent officials that treated them as slaves.
The November 16, 2013 issue of The Economist has captured the essence of what I am trying to state, although I resent the paper’s reference to Ethiopians as “rowdy”. It quotes Arwa al-Hilal, a working Saudi mother who confirms this personality trait, the paper as follows:
“I have hired maids from different nationalities, but I should say Ethiopians are the most arrogant and stubborn ones … I did have two Ethiopian maids previously and both of them were too hard to handle and always spoke back to us, though we paid their wages on time.”
The state in Ethiopia, especially the TPLF regime, needs to carefully examine its own actions. If it does not do this and correct the problems, it would not escape history’s judgement. Generations of Ethiopians would see them as the ones that have tried to break the pride of citizens, and their proud history which has instilled in them spirit of independence.
Saudi failure to conform and comply with international labor standards
As a young nation, Saudi Arabia became a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1976, the oldest United Nations Organization. The ILO has its roots in the labor struggles of the 19th century, which culminated in its founding in 1919. Saudi Arabia ratified the Forced labor Convention of 1930 in 1978.
Nonetheless, again in February 2013 – as on several occasions before – the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, regarding complying with international labor standards, observed in the context of Article 1 (1) of the Convention (Vulnerable situation of migrant workers with regard to the exaction of forced labour:
In its previous comments, the Committee had referred to the vulnerable situation of migrant workers, particularly domestic workers who are excluded from the provisions of the Labour Code, who are often confronted with employment policies such as the visa “sponsorship” system and subjected to abusive employer practices such as the retention of passports, non-payment of wages, deprivation of liberty and physical and sexual abuse which cause their employment to be transformed into situations that could amount to forced labour. The Committee had requested the Government to provide information on any measures taken to adopt regulations on the employment conditions of migrant domestic workers, pursuant to section 7 of the Labour Code.
The Committee notes the Government’s statement that it is aware of the magnitude of the seriousness of the situation of migrant domestic workers and that it is committed to expediting the process of adopting regulations on the work of this category of workers, especially in light of the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189).
The Committee also notes in the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women dated 14 April 2009, that “upon arrival, all migrants have their passport and residency permit taken away from them […] and some find themselves in slave-like conditions”. Moreover, “female domestic workers who are among the most vulnerable to abuse […] are sometimes locked up in the house with no possibility to make or receive phone calls, or are prohibited from leaving the house at their will” (A/HRC/11/6/Add.3 paragraphs 57 and 59).
Finally the Committee notes the statement in the report of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), for the World Trade Organization General Council on the Trade Policies of Saudi Arabia of 25 and 27 January 2012, entitled “Internationally recognized core labour standards in Saudi Arabia” that migrant workers are forced to work long hours, often all day long with little or no time for rest. Moreover, this ITUC report underlines that a “sponsor” system, also known as Kafala system, ties migrant workers to particular employers, limiting their options and freedom. A migrant worker is not allowed to change employer or leave the country without written consent of the employer. Workers cannot leave their job and in case a worker escapes the employer, then she/he cannot search for a new job, nor leave the country. This system in conjunction with the practice of confiscating travel documents and withdrawing wages puts workers under conditions akin to slavery.
The above only confirms that Saudi Arabia’s problems with foreign workers is deep-rooted. Saudi Arabia has been treating foreign workers as modern slaves, as various living testimonies and international reports are showing.
How could the international community now tolerate Saudi Arabia’s election to the United Nations Human Rights Council, notwithstanding its horrendous human rights records?
For me, there is only one route out of this problem. As I stated repeatedly, especially after Saudi Arabia’s election by the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly on November 12, 2013 to the human rights body, the best course of action is for Saudi Arabia to resign from its membership voluntarily.
If not, in defense of the work of the United Nations in the human rights field, and also to set a precedent, the international human rights community must exert pressure to see to it that Saudi Arabia is booted out of the Council.
Is the PM in any form or shape to praise his role in protecting Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia? Part I