Worker abuse by diplomats a problem, advocates say

30 December 2013 | INTERNATIONAL

The prosecution of an Indian consular official in New York for allegedly forcing her maid to toil for little pay highlights a problem advocates say is all too common - workers for foreign governments who bring along the baggage of human trafficking to the US. Because of the complications surrounding immunity laws, many abuse cases often go unreported or uncharged, advocates say. Victims' claims often end up in civil court for that reason, they say. There have been at least 20 cases in the past decade filed by workers who said they were brought to the US by diplomatic officials and threatened with abuse, forced to work endless hours and kept isolated, with their employers not charged criminally. "We've seen it across the board, we've seen it with country missions to the UN, we've seen it with consular officials, diplomats of all levels," said anti-trafficking attorney Dana Sussman, who is representing the maid in the Indian case. The case against Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, is unusual in part because the US State Department has said she does not have immunity, a claim her attorney and the Indian government are disputing. Khobragade, 39, was charged with visa fraud and accused of lying on a visa form by stating she paid her housekeeper $4 500 a month while actually paying her less than $3 an hour - less than half the state and federal minimum wage. Khobragade's attorney Daniel Arshack has said that his client is innocent and that investigators made a critical error by misreading her visa applications, which were not fraudulent. Khobragade has asked to be transferred to India's UN mission, contingent on State Department approval. She would have broader immunity in that position, but it's not clear how that would affect her current case. Nations provide immunity to diplomats so they can engage in their jobs without fear of detainment or prosecution under a vastly different judicial system. The type of immunity depends on the level of an international worker's job. When prosecutors wish to prosecute a diplomat with immunity, the State Department requests a waiver, and if the country refuses, the diplomat is deported, a department official said. NEW YORK NAMPA/AP

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