Human rights watchdog urges Kuwait to agree on new worker safeguards with the Philippines

Jessica, center, sister of Filipino worker Joanna Demafelis whose body was found inside a freezer in Kuwait, cries in front of the wooden casket containing her at the international airport in Manila on February 16. (AFP)
Updated 22 February 2018
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Human rights watchdog urges Kuwait to agree on new worker safeguards with the Philippines

DUBAI: Human Rights Watch called on Kuwait to agree to greater protection for migrant workers as a Philippine delegation was due in the emirate Thursday to discuss an outcry over alleged abuses of Filipinos.
But the New York-based watchdog also criticized a ban imposed by the Philippines last week on migrants leaving to work in Kuwait, saying it was likely to increase the number resorting to unregulated channels that exposed them to a greater risk of abuse.
President Rodrigo Duterte imposed the ban in response to the murder of a Filipino maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait earlier this month.
He triggered a diplomatic row with Kuwait by alleging that Arab employers routinely raped their Filipino workers, forced them to work 21 hours a day and fed them scraps.
“Kuwait should confront the outcry over deaths, beatings and rapes of domestic workers by taking immediate steps to reform the kafala system, which traps workers with abusive employers,” HRW’s Middle East women’s rights researcher Rothna Begum said in a statement late Wednesday.
The kafala or sponsorship system, widely prevalent in the oil-rich Gulf states, ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers, prohibiting workers from leaving or changing jobs without prior consent.
“The Philippines should work with Kuwait to protect workers rather than ban them from migrating, which is more likely to cause harm than to help,” Begum said.
“Both Kuwait and the Philippines have an opportunity to work together to increase protections for domestic workers and fix the gaps that are leaving workers vulnerable to extreme abuse.”
Kuwait has said it is investigating reported deaths and abuses, and insisted there were only a small number considering that there are more than 250,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait.
It has invited Duterte to visit the emirate but he has yet to respond.
The Philippine delegation due in Kuwait later on Thursday is headed by Labor Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad.
It is due to travel on to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two other Gulf states with large Philippine migrant workforces.
In all, there are more than two million Filipinos working in the region, whose remittances are a lifeline to the Philippine economy.
Lagunzad said Duterte had ordered the delegation to ensure that the passports of Filipino workers are deposited with the Philippine embassy.
Duterte also wants Filipinos to have access to cellphones so they can call for help in case of abuse, Lagunzad said.


Pakistan's leading political party faces jolt

Updated 4 min 1 sec ago
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Pakistan's leading political party faces jolt

  • Former PM Nawaz Sharif may not be able to spearhead PML-N's election campaign
  • The three-time premier is a crowd-puller and could help the beleaguered PML-N, but only “if he returns to Pakistan and leads the election campaign,” political analyst Tahir Malik told Arab News on Sunday

ISLAMABAD: The electoral success of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) hangs in the balance as its most charismatic leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is outside the country and may not lead his party’s campaign ahead of the July 25 polls, analysts say.
“If Sharif doesn’t return from London to Pakistan by next week, his party may face huge losses in the upcoming elections,” political analyst Tahir Malik told Arab News on Sunday.
The three-time premier is a crowd-puller and could help the beleaguered PML-N, but only “if he returns to Pakistan and leads the election campaign,” Malik said.
Sharif is in London visiting his wife Begum Kalsoom Nawaz, who has been on a ventilator since June 14 and has been undergoing treatment for throat cancer since August 2017.
“Do you think it is appropriate for me to return to Pakistan when Begum Kalsoom is fighting for life?” Sharif asked on Saturday.
He said he had planned a four-day trip to London, but is now unsure about returning to Pakistan due to her health. Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz have been in the UK since June 15.
“The Sharif family is passing through a difficult time, and the situation could adversely impact their party’s electoral prospects,” Malik said.
An accountability court hearing three separate corruption references against Sharif, Nawaz and others is scheduled to conclude the trial by July 9, as per the Supreme Court’s instructions.
In July 2017, the Supreme Court disqualified Sharif from holding the prime minister’s office, and directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to file corruption references against him and his family members.
“Even after being disqualified from holding any public office, Sharif still enjoys public support,” political analyst Rasul Bukhsh Rais told Arab News.
But if the accountability court convicts Sharif in the graft cases before the elections, this would demoralize his party and PML-N voters, Rais said.
His younger brother, who has become the party’s president after Sharif’s disqualification, “may not be able to run an effective election campaign,” Rais added.
Sen. Mushahidullah Khan, the PML-N’s information secretary, said Sharif and his daughter will return to Pakistan to lead the party’s election campaign once his wife’s health improves.
“Our detractors will be disappointed. The PML-N will win a clear majority in the elections under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif,” Khan told Arab News.