Human Rights Begin in the Home

Statement of DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association on United Nations Day
October 24, 2008

October 24, 2008 marks the 63rd year since the formal establishment of the United Nations, and the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On this day, domestic workers from New York City and nationwide are marching to the UN to tell the world their human rights are under attack in the homes of UN diplomats.

A stark contradiction: diplomatic immunity
Like Marichu Baoanan, a Filipina nursing school graduate and caregiver who filed 15 counts of trafficking, forced labor and racketeering against former Philippine Ambassador Lauro Baja, domestic workers from around the world who are employed by UN representatives have first-hand experience of abuse, dehumanization, trafficking and enslavement.

An international organization that includes diplomats from 192 countries, the UN claims to promote peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and respect for human rights. But as more domestic workers come forward to tell their stories, a vastly different image of the United Nations has emerged.

Many UN diplomats have violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They have violated UN General Assembly resolutions on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. They have violated UN resolutions on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. They have violated the UN General Resolution to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.

The UN has done nothing to hold its own representatives accountable. Instead, it has given human rights violators protection and security through diplomatic immunity.

Diplomatic immunity gives blanket protection to these violators and inhibits domestic workers from obtaining legal rights from the abuses they suffered. It also sends a message to the governments ultimately responsible for these diplomats—such as the US-backed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime in the Philippines—that human rights violations, trafficking and profiting from the people are tolerated.

The Philippines: Marichu Baoanan vs. Lauro Baja
It is time to speak up. Domestic workers are fighting and reclaiming their dignity and human rights, exposing the abuses and modern-day slavery they experienced in the homes of diplomats. Last August 1, Marichu formally submitted a letter to the Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations requesting assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs, via the Philippine Mission. In addition, Marichu demanded a meeting with top Philippine officials who were in New York City for the UN 63rd General Assembly to deliver a message to waive Baja's diplomatic immunity so that the legal case can proceed. Baja is attempting to appeal to diplomatic immunity to dismiss the charges against him, his family and his business.

"Pakiramdam ko walang silbi ang Philippine Mission at Philippine Consulate," says Marichu. "Wala silang ginagawa." (I feel that the Philippines Mission and Philippine Consulate are useless. They are not doing anything.)

The case and campaign, led by DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association, has drawn international news and front-page headlines, as well as international outrage. More than 30 organizations from across North America have endorsed the campaign and are supporting the call to waive Baja's diplomatic immunity.

Most recently, over 500 letters, faxes and emails were sent to consular offices, UN Permanent Missions, and the Philippine government demanding a waiver.

"The Bajas' receipt of 250,000 pesos from Marichu and use of the Labaire travel agency to traffic Marichu to the United States clearly lies outside his diplomatic responsibilities," explains DAMAYAN organizer Ana Liza Caballes. "The Philippine government must act to hold Baja accountable for violating the human rights of Marichu."

DAMAYAN stresses that the abuse and violation of human rights of Filipino domestic workers by diplomats is a commonly-known problem among DAMAYAN's 500-plus membership and affirmed by the Government Accountability Office's report on diplomatic abuse.

Marichu concludes, "Pag nabalewala ang kaso ko, mas lalong aabuso sila Baja. Kailangang magkaroon ng hustisya para magkaroon ng pag-asa ang mga ibang inaabuso." (If the case is dismissed, the Bajas will continue to take advantage. There needs to be justice so that there can be hope for others who are also abused.)

Human rights and the global economic crisis
As the United Nations celebrates its 63rd year, the world faces a global economic crisis. Human rights and today's global crisis are closely related. The collapse of the banking sector and the massive job losses announced this week are just a few signs. This crisis may be new to the US, but it has long been a reality for impoverished countries like the Philippines. The working class and immigrant workers from the Third World have always been in crisis. They have constantly received the short end of the capitalist promise of prosperity in education, health, housing, and social welfare.

Undocumented immigrants in particular felt the looming economic crisis well in advance of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as the US government desperately tried to find blame and ease the economic bust with deportations, detentions and attacks on the human rights of immigrant communities.

The labor of women im/migrant domestic workers frees bankers and other professionals from the "household" and devalued women's work of raising children, cleaning homes and caring for the elderly. Just as early capitalism in America was built on the backs of Black slaves in the 1600's, so it has advanced on the backs of women migrant workers today.

It is up to the people, especially women workers, to take up the fight against modern-day slavery, trafficking and abuse. It is up to the people to promote human rights and human dignity, fight for just wages and living conditions, and build a more humane society.

Justice for Marichu! Waive diplomatic immunity for human rights violators!
End the human trafficking of Filipino women workers and all women workers!
Pass the NY Domestic Workers Bill of Rights! End Modern-day Slavery!

For campaign updates:

This event is organized by: DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association, Domestic Workers United, Andolan Organizing South Asian Workers, Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, Unity Housecleaners, CASA de Maryland, Domestic Workers from around the world, and our allies from across the country!

Campaign endorsers: Alliance of Filipino Workers, British Columbia Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, Coalition for Defense of Immigrant Rights, Ecumenical Fellowship for Justice and Peace, Filipino Americans for Immigrant Reforms, Filipino Nurses Support Group (Canada), First Quarter Storm Network USA, Gabriela Network USA, International ANSWER Coalition, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jews United for Justice, Kabataan maka-Bayan USA (Pro-People Youth), Philippine Peasants Support Network, Philippine Women Centre of British Columbia, Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California, Ugnayan ng mga Anak ng Bayan/Linking the Children of the Motherland, Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada/Filipino-Canadian Youth Alliance in Canada, and the Urban Justice Center's Human Rights Project.

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