McClean, Virginia, provides one of the most prestigious and desired communities for Congressmen, diplomats, government employees, and…“victims of domestic servitude”. Yes, slaves–just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC.
The rescue of two women from the Philippines, who were reportedly being used as domestic slaves, took place at a villa owned by the Saudi Armed Forces Office. Used to house its defense attaché, the home was the site for a “sting” after a tip to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It ended with one woman reportedly trying to escape by squeezing through a gap in the front gate as it was closing. The compound is made up of three security gates, a guard shack and security staff on foot patrol, and is owned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, according to Fairfax County real estate records.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said Saudi Arabia has been faulted in the past for abuse of a special visa program that allows foreign diplomats to bring household workers into the United States. “They bring them in; they work them seven days a week; they take their passports away,” Wolf said. “There could be hundreds of people brought to this country and placed in involuntary servitude, essentially as slaves, either for domestic help or as a sex slave,” Wolf told website WTOP. “We should tell those people they have to leave the country and I think the State Department ought to make it clear to the Saudi government that this must never happen again, period.”
Sorry, Rep. Wolf, not happening. Every Saudi diplomat knows those two little magic words: Diplomatic Immunity.
Patrick Ventrell, the Acting Deputy Spokesperson, skipped, dodged, and deflected every question posed to him as to whether immunity had been invoked, whether the State Department was involved, and whether the Department of Justice was opening an investigation during a press briefing on Thursday, May 2.
MR. VENTRELL: Here’s what I can say, broadly speaking about diplomatic immunity, is that the Department honors U.S. treaty obligations with regard to issues of diplomatic or consular immunity. The Department confirms for law enforcement authorities if a foreign mission member is accredited to the United States and any immunity from jurisdiction or arrest that an individual may enjoy as a result of his or her official status.
But just to reiterate, under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomats are under a duty to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state. And so that’s something that holds true for diplomats here and that we hold true for our people when they’re posted overseas.
QUESTION: Well, actually it holds true that when one of your diplomats breaks the law, you generally invoke diplomatic immunity. So would you respect the immunity if it were invoked?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, this is sort of a hypothetical on this specific case. We have to look at these case by case. But it’s also true that in many instances our folks face the legal system back here for issues that have arisen overseas. So —
QUESTION: You said —
MR. VENTRELL: — it’s a case by case basis.
QUESTION: You said that the DOJ was working with Homeland Security. Is the DOJ opening up an investigation?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to refer you to them on that for this specific case.
QUESTION: Well, a couple things. One, a country or governments can – well, I don’t know the right word for it, but we waive diplomatic immunity for certain people, so – that wasn’t in your little background thing, and I think that’s an important thing to note.
Here’s my little “background thing” that I think is important to note about the birthplace of Islam. Ranked as a Tier 3 country (the worst ranking a country can have) by the TVPA-VICTIMS OF TRAFFICKING AND VIOLENCE PROTECTION ACT OF 2000, Saudi Arabia has a long history of human rights violations, including forced slavery. Countries are considered to be Tier 3 when governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.
According to the CIA:
Trafficking in persons: current situation: Saudi Arabia is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and to a much lesser extent, forced prostitution; men and women from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and many other countries voluntarily travel to Saudi Arabia as domestic servants or other low-skilled laborers, but some subsequently face conditions indicative of involuntary servitude; women, primarily from Asian and African countries, were believed to have been forced into prostitution in Saudi Arabia; others were reportedly kidnapped and forced into prostitution after running away from abusive employers; Yemeni, Nigerian, Pakistani, Afghan, Chadian, and Sudanese children were subjected to forced labor as beggars and street vendors in Saudi Arabia, facilitated by criminal gangs; some Saudi nationals travel to destinations including Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh to solicit prostitution.
Is it any wonder that Saudi Arabia was given the lowest ranking of Tier 3?
Again, according to the TVPA, Saudi Arabia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; however, the government undertook some efforts to improve its response to the vast human trafficking problem in Saudi Arabia, including training government officials on its 2009 anti-trafficking law and conducting surprise visits to places where victims may be found; it also achieved its first conviction under its human trafficking law; nonetheless, the government did not prosecute and punish a significant number of trafficking offenders or significantly improve victim protection services (2008)-CIA
The State Department clearly defines the sanctions for Tier 3 countries that refuse to improve its response to human trafficking:
Penalties for Tier 3 Countries:Pursuant to the TVPA, governments of countries on Tier 3 may be subject to certain sanctions, whereby the U.S. government may withhold or withdraw non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance…..Imposed sanctions will take effect on October 1, 2011; however, all or part of the TVPA’s sanctions can be waived if the President determines that the provision of such assistance to the government would promote the purposes of the statute or is otherwise in the United States’ national interest.
In other words, our government is complicit with the plight of “victims of domestic servitude”. Cases of involuntary servitude, forced prostitution, and children subjected to forced labor are well documented. They know exactly the atrocious conditions that many find themselves living in under the rule of Saudi Arabia. Questions about democracy, freedoms and human rights in Saudi Arabia clearly are a lower priority than security issues with President Obama. Chuck Hagel just brokered a new $10 billion arms deal with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates that will provide missiles, warplanes and troop transports to help them counter any future threat from Iran. This follows the largest arms sale in history with the $29.5 billion sale of F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia, in 2010.