Not many people count how many Indonesian migrant workers die needless deaths overseas. Few take heed of the hundreds of thousands of Indonesian migrant workers who suffer violence and rape. At present, the lives of five female Indonesian migrant workers are under threat in Singapore, where they face possible death sentences. They are among nine Indonesian migrant workers working in various countries who could face the death penalty. Sundarti Suprianto, Purwanti Panji, Sumiyati, Juminem and Siti Aminah currently face the death penalty. Only 16 years old, Siti Aminah is still a child; she is at an age when she should be enjoying school and playing with friends
Domestic workers employed abroad often face poor working conditions (the three Ds: Dirty, Dangerous, Difficult) without legal recognition as workers. Maltreatment of domestic workers by their employers can involve violence, sexual abuse or even rape. Sometimes employers do not pay their domestic workers and some have even tortured their workers to death.
These workers also often have to work without safety equipment. This is especially the case in Singapore. Since 1999, 98 Indonesian domestic workers have died in workplace accidents in the city-state. Most of these deaths occurred as a result of falling from a height.
Maltreatment by employers causes conflict between migrant workers and their bosses. When migrant workers are accused of murdering their employers, the reason is often that the workers feel that they have been treated unjustly.
Sundarti Suprianto was mistreated by her employer. She told Muzamil, her lawyer, that her employer had gone too far. Sundarti’s employer, Ng Wee Peng Angie (34), had an extremely poor track record: in just six months she had changed domestic workers on six occasions. This suggests that the domestic workers could not stand her behaviour.
Sundarti once complained after her employer made her for three days eat noodles that had gone off . When Sundarti asked for appropriate, healthy food, her employer’s answer was extremely cruel: ‘You can just eat my child’s shit!!’ This was the start of the conflict between Sundarti and Ng Wee Peng Angie.
It is hoped that Sundarti, Purwanti, Sumiyati, Juminem and Aminah will receive just verdicts in their trials. Because the five women face a maximum possible sentence of the death penalty, the police must conduct a comprehensive investigation. The investigation should not just concentrate on the suspects. The police should also investigate the track record of the employers to gain a clear picture of the background of each case. Because the five suspects are women who have had limited access to education, they need to be accompanied by an interpreter during the police interrogation and the court process, not just to translate from English into Indonesian, but also into their local languages. Interpreting services are important, so that they can properly understand the charges against them, which are read out in English. The suspects also need a counsellor to provide them with psychological care. Without these facilities, we must question whether they have been granted the right to defend themselves and proper access to legal aid.
Regrettably, neither the Indonesian nor the Singaporean government has conducted a serious investigation to reveal the root cause of the high rate both of workplace fatalities and murder of employers. Clearly, both are systemic. This situation contributes to the injustice faced by migrant workers, because they are not given the opportunity to explain the problems they face in their workplaces.
The Indonesian government’s response in fact has been very slow. This is in stark contrast to the government of the Philippines, which conducted exhaustive political diplomacy to defend Flor Contemplacion and Sarah Balabagan from the threat of the death penalty. The Indonesian government only took action after the Indonesian public launched repeated protests both against the Indonesian government and the Singaporean government. In March-April 2004, a delegation of Indonesian non-government organisations travelled to the United Nations Human Rights High Commission session in Geneva to raise the issue of this threat of the death sentence. Finally, in early May 2004, the Indonesian Minister for Women’s Empowerment and the Minister of Manpower and Transmigration went to visit the five female workers in prison. Unfortunately, the Singaporean government refused the ministers access.
The Indonesian government should concentrate on legal efforts and political diplomacy to free these workers from the death penalty. Most countries in the world have abolished the death penalty as it is considered a violation of human rights. Where it is still applied, its use is selective; for example, for drug dealers or terrorists. From a human rights perspective, these five women must be freed from the threat of the death penalty.
If the Indonesian government does demand that Singapore remove the possibility of a death sentence for the five women, then it will also have to review the death penalty in the Indonesian criminal law system. More importantly, the government should immediately enact legislation to protect migrant workers. This legislation should concentrate on female overseas migrant workers, since this group is particularly vulnerable to violence.
Wahyu Susilo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an activist at Migrant CARE and INFID (International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development, www.infid.or.id).
Possible death sentences for Indonesian migrant workers
Name; Location; Year; Charge; Sentence; Status
Siti Zaenab (36); Saudi Arabia, 1999 ; Arrested in September 1999 for murdering employer; Sentenced to death; Awaiting execution
Nurmakin Sabri; Saudi Arabia, c.1999; Arrested for murder; Sentenced to death; Awaiting execution
Suwarni; Saudi Arabia; c. 2000; Beat employer to death with pipe; On trial with possible death sentence; Trial in progress
Mariana; Malaysia; 2001; Murdered employer; On trial with possible death sentence; Trial in progress
Sundarti Suprianto; Singapore; 2002; Murdered employer and child; burned down house; Trial approaching death sentence; Trial in progress
Purwanti; Singapore; 2003; Strangled employer to death; Under investigation with possible death sentence; Police Investigation
Sumyati Karyo Dikromo; Singapore; 2003; Murdered 2 year old in 2003; Under investigation with possible death sentence; Police Investigation
Juminem; Singapore; 2004; Murdered employer in March 2004 and stole items; Under investigation with possible death sentence; Police Investigation
Siti Aminah; Singapore; 2004; Murdered male employer; Under investigation with possible death sentence; Police Investigation
Source: Migrant CARE Data Base, 2004