Amnesty International accused authorities in gas-rich Qatar on Wednesday of failing to protect domestic workers, citing cases of abuse, sexual violence and “forced labour”.
In a report called “My sleep is my break: Exploitation of domestic labour in Qatar”, Amnesty spoke of “shocking testimonies of violent abuse”.
It said some of the women reported being “slapped, pulled by the hair, poked in the eyes, and kicked down the stairs by their employers” and that three said they were raped.
Amnesty urged Qatar “to urgently remove provisions in the labour law which deny labour rights to domestic and other workers”.
Qatar has been under mounting pressure to improve the working and living conditions of migrant workers building the multi-billion-dollar infrastructure for the FIFA World Cup which it is to host in 2022.
Amnesty said that while preparations for the tournament has put the spotlight on conditions of construction workers, domestic workers are exposed to a greater extent of abuse and “trapped” by their employers.
Promises by Qatari authorities to address the issue have amounted to nothing, Amnesty said.
“Qatar must stop dragging its feet over this and guarantee domestic workers legal protection for basic rights immediately.”
Amnesty’s Global Issues Director Audrey Gaughran said “migrant domestic workers are victims of a discriminatory system that denies them basic protections and leaves them open to exploitation and abuse including forced labour and human trafficking.”
“We have spoken to women who have been terribly deceived, then found themselves trapped and at the mercy of abusive employers, banned from leaving the house. Some women said they were threatened with physical violence when they told their employers they wanted to leave.”
Around 84,000 women domestic workers are employed in Qatar, most of them South and South East Asia, Amnesty says.
Some have told Amnesty researchers they work “up to 100 hours a week with no day off”.
“Under Qatari law there are no limits on working hours for domestic workers and there is no requirement to give them a day off. They are also unable to lodge a complaint with the Labour Ministry,” it added.
– ‘Obstacles to getting justice’ –
Those who complain “face major obstacles to getting justice” while their employers frequently escape prosecution and conviction, said Amnesty.
Domestic workers who try to flee “will be branded ‘runaways’ and are likely to end up being detained and deported,” said Gaughran.
The report cited a case in which a domestic worker “broke both her legs and fractured her spine” when she fell from a window to flee “a rape attack by her employer”.
As she lay injured on the ground, her attacker sexually assaulted her before finally calling an ambulance.
Six months later, she was still using a wheelchair, Amnesty said, adding that her employer was never held accountable.
Women domestic workers who report sexual abuse risk being charged with “illicit relations”, a crime carrying a year-long jail sentence followed by deportation, said Amnesty.
Qatar has rejected claims that construction workers building World Cup venues are being mistreated and published guidelines in February to protect their rights.
Rights groups have frequently criticised the human rights record of wealthy Gulf state, namely over their treatment of millions of foreign workers who rely on local employers to sponsor them in what has been likened to modern-day slavery.