A Botswana consular in Japan, Poppy Majingo, has been accused of abusing and exploiting her domestic worker in a petition filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition with the human rights commission on Thursday, arguing that rules on diplomatic immunity should allow abused household workers some recourse in the courts.
The union is acting on behalf of Hildah Ajasi who was employed by Majingo who was then First Secretary for Economic Affairs at the Embassy of Botswana in Washington D.C. Majingo was, however, recently moved to Japan on promotion.
According to the case records, in violation of the employment contract they signed, the Botswana diplomat confiscated Ajasi’s passport, forced her to work 16 hours per day and paid her only $250 per month ÔÇö barely 50 cents per hour. Four times per week, Ajasi had to sleep with the baby, requiring her to work virtually 24 hours a day. Ajasi was denied any vacation, free time, or holidays.
It is further alleged that Majingo forbade Ajasi to leave the house alone. To keep her confined to the house, Majingo allegedly intimidated Ajasi by telling her that Americans hated Zimbabweans and would kill her if she went out by herself. She also threatened to tell Ajasi’s husband that his wife was unfaithful to him if Ajasi tried to leave the house.
Majingo also allegedly forced Ajasi to attend Seventh Day Adventist services although she did not belong to that church and restricted her from attending her own church. She also verbally abused Ajasi and denied her much needed medical care for her asthma and back pain.
When Ajasi complained of her treatment to the diplomat and her husband, Majingo allegedly screamed at her and told her that she was her slave. Ajasi finally escaped by hiding in the airport after her employer attempted to forcibly send her back to Zimbabwe.
Commenting on the case, Claudia Flores, an attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project said, “As long as the U.S. gives diplomats immunity for enslaving their domestic workers without taking any steps to protect them or provide redress, diplomats can continue to exploit their domestic help.” She said The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations allows exceptions to diplomatic immunity for “any professional or commercial activity … outside (the diplomat’s) official functions”. But the State Department’s interpretation of the rules makes it impossible to hold foreign diplomats working in the U.S. accountable for exploiting their employees, Flores said.
“There’s no way to prosecute a diplomat and there’s no way to take a diplomat to court,” she said.
Nancy Beck, a spokeswoman for the State Department, had no immediate comment on the petition.
If the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights agrees to hear the petition, U.S. officials will have to appear and justify the policy, Flores said.
The commission, part of the Organization of American States, can make recommendations to the U.S. government and appeal to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights if they are ignored.
Two other groups joined in the petition, Global Rights and the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic of the University Of North Carolina School Of Law.
Diplomats from five other countries have also been cited in related cases.