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

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.


South Korean justice minister resigns during finance probe

Updated 14 October 2019

South Korean justice minister resigns during finance probe

  • Cho said in a statement he was offering to resign to reduce the burden on President Moon Jae-in
  • The conservative Liberty Korea Party criticized Moon for sticking with Cho for too long

SEOUL: South Korea’s justice minister resigned Monday, citing the political burden of an investigation into alleged financial crimes and academic favors surrounding his family, a scandal that has rocked Seoul’s liberal government and spurred huge protests.

Cho Kuk has denied wrongdoing. But the law professor who for years cultivated an anti-elitist reformist image said he couldn’t remain a government minister while ignoring the pain his family was enduring.

Huge crowds of Cho’s supporters and critics have marched in South Korea’s capital in recent weeks, demonstrating how the months-long saga over Cho has deepened the country’s political divide.

Cho said in a statement he was offering to resign to reduce the burden on President Moon Jae-in, whose office later said he accepted Cho’s offer.

Cho’s resignation came as state prosecutors continued a criminal investigation into his university professor wife, brother and other relatives over allegations of dubious financial investments, fraud and fake credentials for his daughter that may have helped her enter a top university in Seoul and a medical school in Busan.

“I concluded that I should no longer burden the president and the government with issues surrounding my family,” Cho said in an emailed statement. “I think the time has come that the completion of efforts to reform the prosecution would only be possible if I step down from my position.”

Moon’s liberal Minjoo Party and Cho’s supporters, who occupied streets in front of a Seoul prosecutors office for the fourth-straight weekend Saturday, have claimed the investigation is aimed at intimating Cho, who has pushed for reforms that include curbing the power of prosecutors.

South Korea’s main opposition party called Cho’s resignation offer “too late” and criticized Moon for causing turmoil with a divisive appointment.

In a meeting with senior aides, Moon said he was “very sorry for consequentially creating a lot of conflict between the people” over his hand-picked choice but also praised Cho’s “passion for prosecutorial reform and willingness to calmly withstand various difficulties to get it done.”

Moon had stood firmly by Cho, whom he appointed a month ago despite parliamentary resistance. But the controversy dented the popularity of Moon and his ruling liberal party in recent polls, an alarming development for the liberals ahead of parliamentary elections in April.

The conservative Liberty Korea Party criticized Moon for sticking with Cho for too long. “Is President Moon Jae-in listening to people’s voices only after his and his ruling party’s approval ratings face the danger of a nosedive?” the conservative Liberty Korea Party said in a statement.

In South Korea, prosecutors have exclusive authority to indict and seek warrants for criminal suspects and exercise control over police investigative activities. They can also directly initiate criminal investigations even when there’s no complaint.

Critics say such powers are excessive and have prompted past conservative governments to use the prosecution as a political tool to suppress opponents and carry out vendettas.

The controversy over Cho has struck a nerve in a country facing widening inequality and brutally competitive school environments and has tarnished the image of Moon, who vowed to restore faith in fairness and justice after replacing President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached and jailed for corruption.

Recent polls indicate Moon’s popularity has sank to the lowest levels since he took office. In a survey of some 1,000 South Koreans released last Friday by Gallup Korea, 51% of the respondents negatively rated Moon’s performance in state affairs, compared to 43% who said he was doing a good job. The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.