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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Death sentence for Joanna's killers sends strong message

Swift justice awaits those who abuse their duty of care and responsibility towards vulnerable workers

Family members wait for the arrival of the body of Joanna Demafelis, a Filipina domestic helper who was killed and found inside a freezer in Kuwait, in her hometown in Iloilo province in the Philippines last month. Erik de Castro / Reuters
Family members wait for the arrival of the body of Joanna Demafelis, a Filipina domestic helper who was killed and found inside a freezer in Kuwait, in her hometown in Iloilo province in the Philippines last month. Erik de Castro / Reuters

Those whose lives are cruelly ended cannot cry out for justice – that burden falls on the living. A Kuwaiti court yesterday ensured that justice was done, sentencing a Syrian woman and her Lebanese husband to death for the murder of 29-year-old Filipina domestic worker Joanna Demafelis, who was killed and her body stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait while she was in their employ. Miss Demafalis' body bore the marks of torture; she had been killed nearly a year before she was discovered in February and the couple had fled to Damascus, where they were arrested. They were sentenced in their absence to death by hanging, a verdict which will not bring back their victim, who, until she died, had been sending remittances to support the loved ones she left behind in the Philippines. Nor will her family ever be able to fill the void left by her death. But with the world looking on, an important precedent has been set: that swift and unremitting justice awaits those who abuse their duty of care and responsibility towards vulnerable workers.

About 10 million Filipinos work overseas, contributing approximately $28 billion globally in remittances last year alone. A large number come to the GCC; a quarter of a million are in Kuwait and 600,000 work in the UAE. Most perform domestic work, raising children and maintaining homes. Integral to helping our lives run smoothly and caring for our loved ones, they deserve the utmost respect. As the Kuwait case reaches its conclusion, all those whose duty of care towards domestic workers falls short should watch and learn. Actions do not come without consequences. Miss Demafalis' case caused Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to ban his country's workers from going to Kuwait and announced an amnesty for anyone who wanted to return home. The recent deal he signed with Kuwaiti authorities to regulate the conditions of domestic workers is an important step and goes hand-in-hand with Sunday's verdict. Most domestic workers are treated well by their employers. Those who are not can be assured there will be swift recourse and jurisdiction to protect them. The UN said last month more must be done to protect their rights in this region, not least because economic pressures in the Philippines bring new workers every year. Miss Demafelis’ torturers thought they could act with impunity and flee; they were wrong. In death, she has been served the justice she was so brutally denied in life.