Swiss ambassador calls out Malaysia’s terrible maid abuse record
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Swiss ambassador calls out Malaysia’s terrible maid abuse record

IT was the elephant in the room. Maid abuse, despite its consistent occurrence in Malaysia, was conspicuously missing from Amnesty International’s State of Human Rights 2017/18 report in Kuala Lumpur today.

Switzerland’s ambassador to Malaysia called this out. Referring to the case of Adelina Lisao, an Indonesian domestic helper who died recently from suspected abuse by her employers, Michael Winzap asked how such modern-day slavery still takes place without impunity in Malaysia today.

“There was little outcry about the woman … by the public or by politicians,” he said during the question and answer session.

“That is not how a human being should be treated. It’s modern-day slavery.”

Amnesty International’s interim Executive Director for Malaysia Gwen Lee replied that the organisation is not able to cover all human rights abuses in the country. However, they are tracking the development of these cases and working with other NGOs who are more focused on this particular issue.

In early February, Adelina was rescued from her employer’s home, where she was reported to have been tortured and forced to sleep on the porch with the family’s Rottweiler for more than a month. Autopsy reports showed multiple wounds on her body, several organ failures and swelling on her head and face. Bite marks from a dog, scars and acid burns were also detected.

SEE ALSO: Indonesia, Philippines furious with treatment of workers overseas

Her employer, M.A. Ambika, 60, now faces murder charges for Adelina’s death. Under Malaysian law, a murder conviction carries a mandatory death penalty.

Her daughter, 32-year-old R. Jayavartiny, was charged with employing an illegal immigrant.

Apart from this, Putrajaya’s response to this has been muted. It’s an “isolated” incident, according to Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi, despite figures from the Indonesian government last year which found 62 migrant workers from East Nusa Tenggara alone had died in Malaysia.

In recent years, several high-profile cases also saw Indonesian maids being starved to death, or having a hot iron pressed against their breasts and thighs. While these have led to the introduction of regulations to protect domestic workers, rights groups say enforcement is rare.


Children display placards as they wait for the convoy transporting the body of Joanna Demafelis, to pass by a Filipina domestic helper who was killed and found inside a freezer in Kuwait, in her hometown in Iloilo province in the Philippines, on Feb 17, 2018. Source: Reuters/Erik De Castro

Zahid, who is also the home minister, however, said that Malaysia holds the lowest percentage of maid abuse cases compared to other countries, The Star reported.

It’s a stark contrast to President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines’ reported outrage when a Filipino overseas foreign worker’s body was found dead in a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait. Days later,  the Philippines barred its citizens from travelling to the Middle Eastern country for work.

Indonesia is now considering a similar proposal.

SEE ALSO: Dead Filipina found in Kuwait triggers total workers ban

Indonesia’s ambassador to Malaysia Rusdi Kirana and Indonesia’s Labour Minister Hanif Dhakiri have thrown their support behind introducing a ban against sending its citizens to work in Malaysia until it improves its legal system.

“A moratorium is important so we can restructure our (migrant workers) employment system to prevent cases such as Adelina’s from happening again,” Rusdi said, referring to migrant workers in the informal sector.

Her case is “a heartbreaking tragedy against humanity,” Rusdi said.