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Diplomatic immunity cannot shield slave-owners, rules UK tribunal

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 14 June 2019 16:10 GMT

A woman casts a shadow as she walks along an alleyway in central London, Britain October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

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Diplomats are normally protected from both criminal charges and civil cases in the countries where they are posted under the rules of an international treaty

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, June 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Saudi diplomat cannot claim immunity from legal action brought by a woman who said he trafficked her into Britain and held her as a domestic slave, a British tribunal has ruled, in a case that could help pave the way for others to claim damages.

Diplomats are normally protected from both criminal charges and civil cases in the countries where they are posted under the rules of an international treaty, but a British judge found it did not apply in such cases involving alleged slavery.

The preliminary ruling means the tribunal can go ahead to test allegations that the woman was held as a domestic slave.

"It is extremely significant" said Nusrat Uddin, a solicitor at Wilson Solicitors LLP involved in the case.

"We would hope it will encourage victims that they do have rights that can be enforced against diplomats who are ill-treating them and exploiting their position.

"We hope it acts as a deterrent for such employers."

No one at the Saudi embassy in London was immediately available for comment.

Last year a similar employment tribunal also heard claims of domestic slavery against a Saudi diplomat.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled the diplomat involved no longer had full diplomatic immunity after finishing his posting and leaving Britain in 2014.

The new case was brought against a currently serving Saudi diplomat, Khalid Basfar, by a Filipino woman who served as a domestic worker for his family.

The woman, who has not been named, said was brought to Britain by Basfar and was promised the minimum wage and a day off every week.

But she said she had to work from 7:00 am to about 11:30 pm each day with no time off, and had to wear a buzzer so she could be summoned at any time of the day or night.

She was regularly verbally abused, was not able to leave the diplomat's house and her wages were withheld, according to her statement to the employment tribunal.

In a ruling made in a preliminary hearing on whether Basfar had immunity from the civil case, the judge wrote that it would be "difficult" to find the British legal system could not provide redress in cases involving domestic slavery.

He ruled that retaining a domestic worker in conditions of modern slavery would be considered a "commercial activity" which is exempt from diplomatic immunity.

"This is really good news and something that we've advocated for over a decade," said Jakub Sobik from Anti-Slavery International.

"No one should be allowed to hide behind immunity – or anything else - when it comes to slavery and exploiting vulnerable people." (Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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