A month after former Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations Lauro Baja was charged with human trafficking and 14 other violations, the United States Government Accountability Office (GOA) came out with a report entitled U.S. Government’s Efforts to Address Alleged Abuse of Household Workers by Foreign Diplomats with Immunity Could Be Strengthened.
Per the report, the GOA identified 42 distinct A-3 and G-5 visa holders who alleged that they were abused by foreign diplomats who had some level of immunity from 2000 through 2008. The 42 alleged incidents we confirmed include those identified by federal agencies, NGOs, and legal sources, such as Westlaw. Ten of these alleged incidents resulted in federal human trafficking investigations, most of which remain open.
In one instance, Justice determined through its investigation that, absent immunity, it would indict the foreign diplomat’s wife. However, the diplomat’s home government declined to waive the wife’s immunity; thus, Justice could not indict. The diplomat and his wife subsequently left the United States.
The GOA speculates that the total number of incidents of household worker abuse by foreign diplomats who have some level of immunity is likely higher than the 42 distinct alleged incidents they identified for the following four reasons:
- household workers’ fear of contacting law enforcement authorities,
- NGOs’ need to maintain client confidentiality,
- limited information on some allegations handled by the U.S. government,
- and federal agencies’ difficulties in tracking household worker abuse allegations and investigations involving foreign diplomats.
Furthermore, the report went on, US government’s process for investigating allegations of abuse by foreign diplomats is complicated by three factors:
- constraints imposed by immunity,
- household workers’ heightened vulnerabilities due to their employers’ status,
- and the length of time it takes for Justice to obtain State’s opinion on the use of certain investigative techniques in trafficking investigations involving individuals with varying degrees of immunity and inviolability.
Law enforcement’s ability to investigate foreign diplomats is limited, particularly if the subject has full immunity or inviolable premises are involved. Diplomats with full immunity have the highest degree of privileges and immunities. They are considered “personally inviolable” and cannot be detained. In addition, their residences are inviolable and cannot be entered or searched without their consent. These limitations are particularly challenging because abuse of household workers typically takes place in the employer’s residence and often is not witnessed by individuals outside the employer’s family. Furthermore, the victims may not cooperate out of fear that the employers will use their political status and connections to harm them or their families or that they will be deported if they leave their employment situations.
“At the four consular posts we visited, we found weaknesses in State’s process for ensuring that its policies for issuing A-3 and G-5 visas are implemented correctly and consistently,” the GOA report notes. “Our review of employment contracts submitted by A-3 and G-5 visa applicants at the posts we visited showed that, in many cases, they did not include some or all of the criteria required in the Foreign Affairs Manual, such as a guarantee that the employee will receive the minimum or prevailing wage (whichever is greater)”
In their report, the GOA recommends that the Secretary of State do the following:
- emphasize to the relevant bureaus and offices the importance of the Foreign Affairs Manual requirement to report all cases that come to their attention and create a system for collecting and maintaining records on these cases,
- work with the Attorney General of the United States and the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish an interagency process outlining agreed-upon policies and time frames for determining which investigative techniques can be used in trafficking investigations involving foreign diplomats,
- establish a system alerting consular officers to seek guidance from State headquarters before issuing A-3 or G-5 visas to applicants whose prospective employers may have abused their household workers in the past,
- and enhance oversight by establishing a monitoring system to spot-check compliance with A-3 and G-5 visa policies and procedures.
Read the piece by Veronica Uy about the report at Inquirer.net.