Saudis Behead an Indonesian Maid

Crimes and punishments that cut across borders provoke global judgments on differences in culture and legal systems. Individual players in the sensational dramas represent their nations. Poor nations send millions of workers, 75 percent of them women, overseas as unskilled labor. Given the power imbalance, contracts, if any, are unenforceable. The migrant workers have few protections and are subject to abuse. Frustrations can lead to violence and the incarceration of many migrants, who cannot pay for legal representation or restitution. Indonesian housemaid Ruyati binti Sapubi worked in a Saudi home and was accused of stabbing her employer with a kitchen knife. Despite claims that she was held against her will, the punishment was beheading by sword, videoed and posted on a Saudi Arabian website. The Indonesian government withdrew its ambassador, claiming that it was not informed before the punishment was meted out. Indonesians’ outrage is directed at the host country and their own government for failing to protect a citizen. The Saudi government is embarrassed, but is one woman’s story enough to lead to new protections for young migrants? – YaleGlobal

Saudis Behead an Indonesian Maid

The beheading of an Indonesian maid, accused of stabbing Saudi employer, is posted online; outrage erupts in Jakarta
Sunday, June 26, 2011

Indonesia is experiencing shock and indignation over the beheading by sword Saturday of a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia, with the Foreign Ministry announcing it has recalled the country’s ambassador for consultations.

Heru Lelono, a spokesman for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Monday that the government is also considering a moratorium on sending workers to the desert kingdom.  He told reporters that the Saudis hadn’t informed the Indonesian government of the execution,   “which shows ill will in regard to the relationship between the two countries.” Even more shocking, a video of the execution was carried on a Saudi Arabian website.

Political observers say the Saudi beheading only adds fuel to an already beleaguered Yudhoyono, whose critics have become increasingly vocal in recent months as 2014 elections near.  "This will be used to go after the president," said a veteran politician in Jakarta. "This is just one more case against him."

The beheading follows recent tribulations over the sacking of the  ruling Democratic Party's treasure amid allegations of corruption. Muhammad Nazaruddin fled a summons to appear before corruption investigators weeks ago and has so far refused to come home from Singapore to face questioning. His lawyer has said his client will blow the whistle on senior members of the president's party should he be compelled to testify.

The execution of the maid, Ruyati binti Sapubi, who was said to have stabbed her employer to death with a kitchen knife on Jan. 12, 2010, has focused attention on the fact that the country has some 6 million workers overseas, 75 percent of them women, and with large numbers recorded of abuse and violence against them. The executed woman said she was frequently abused verbally and was kept in the country against her will, according to a report by the Indonesian consulate general in Jeddah.  They provide a lucrative source of foreign exchange, with workers remitting US$7.1 billion in 2010. 

Despite the large amount of money they send home, their safety abroad is still uncertain due to lack of regulations and government protection. Migrant Care, an NGO that provided advocacy for troubled migrant workers, recorded in 2009 that 1,018 migrant workers died abroad. As of October this year, the number of workers dying abroad reached 908, with most cases taking place in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. 

The report of the execution has set off a storm, with local newspapers totaling up hundreds of Indonesian migrant workers on death row across the world. Another 22 Indonesian workers face beheading by sword in Saudi Arabia, according to Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akhbar, with an additional 233 on death row in Malaysia. Patrialis told reporters the government had asked Saudi authorities not to proceed with the execution of those on death row, on the condition that the workers were pardoned by the victims’ families.

An additional 233 Indonesians remain on death row in Malaysia as well. Another 316 Indonesian nationals face various kinds of legal action in Saudi Arabia, government spokesmen said.

The most pressing case today is that a West Java woman named Darsem binti Dawud, who faces the sword on July 7 unless her family and others can raise US$545,000 in blood money.  Darsem allegedly killed her employer because he had tried to rape her.  The family of the murdered man has forgiven the domestic helper and has agreed to spare her if the money is paid.

A House of Representatives commission Monday agreed to a request by Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa  to come up with the money from an overseas worker protection fund, asking that the Foreign Ministry coordinate with other government agencies to allocate the money.

Critics blame the government for mistreatment of overseas workers, saying employment agencies are not held to strict standards in educating overseas workers, and that scores of illegal employment agencies prey off workers, sending them overseas with no training and inadequate understanding of their rights, with the result that when they come up against demanding or abusive employers, trouble ensues. Manpower Ministry guidelines are inadequate, the critics say, and regulations must be tightened for worker placement agencies so that they can be held accountable for legal problems.

The illegal agencies, however, are popular because they are cheaper and faster – mainly because they provide fake visas rather than have the worker wait around for weeks while the government considers the workers’ applications. 

“The sending of workers abroad in the past two decades has clearly indicated that, although export of Indonesian labor contributed to the national economy, a number of problems have also emerged and need to be addressed seriously,” according to a report titled “Overview of Indonesian Overseas Workers. “It must be noted that no special funds have been allocated to help solve any problem concerning Indonesian workers abroad.” 

Common problems include age fraud, mismatch of job supply and demand, fake credentials, anomalous travel document arrangements like over-priced airline tickets and over-blown miscellaneous fees, the report indicates, adding that so far no clear-cut protection policies have been drawn up for the overseas workers, and if there is any, the Department of Foreign Affairs, at the front line in any problems concerning overseas workers, hasn’t been consulted. 

Anis Hidayah, the executive director of the NGO Migrant Care, told local media the high level of abuse against Saudi migrants is directly attributable to the lack of supervision and protection.  Some 5,335 cases of violence towards migrant workers have been filed in the Saudi kingdom, most of them against women.  There is also the specter of death, with 1,018 Indonesians dying overseas from various causes in 2009. The US State Department reported in 2010 that more than 100 Indonesian domestic helpers had been killed abroad in 2009.

It is almost certain that the number of filed abuse cases is a fraction of the total number, since workers who have not been educated and trained concerning their rights rarely complain about their treatment.

Saan Mustopha, the head of a Democratic Party faction, said the National Board for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers should be held responsible for Ruyati’s beheading. Although the dead woman’s family, he said, had repeatedly asked for assistance, they were only told the case was being prosecuted and worked on.

"The National Board for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers should be evaluated due to this incident," Mustopha said Tuesday . "This is purely a blunder. Ruyati's report [issued by the consulate general in Jeddah] was not considered seriously."

Copyright © 2005 - 2011 Asia Sentinel