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When the system is inherently biased, it's all too easy for justice to evade foreigners in the UAE

July 10, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Jennifer Aresgado Dalquez is like any one of the million Filipinos living in the United Arab Emirates; she’s working hard to send money home for her two children back in General Santos City, a large city in the southern Philippines.

Employed as a domestic worker, in December 2014 she stabbed her Emirati employer to death. According to Dalquez — who admits the killing — this was an act of self-defence. Her arms bear signs of abuse, including bruises and cigarette burns. The language from the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs, which is now representing Dalquez, is unequivocal; Dalquez’s employer “had attempted to rape her.” Dalquez fought back; she was at knifepoint, according to her version of events, and she managed to turn the knife on her attacker. Dalquez is now enduring a lengthy appeals process over her death sentence; if she fails, either she will be shot by a firing squad or the family of her employer may be sated enough through the payment of “blood money” to give a pardon under Emirati law.

What would have happened had Dalquez surrendered to the alleged rape, not fought back, and reported the crime later that day? According to Human Rights Watch, foreign domestic workers who are raped in the UAE typically face adultery charges for reporting their own rapes, not diligent interviews followed by robust investigations.

Yet, at least we can take solace that the Emirati courts – borrowing styling from the colonial judiciary and substance from a sharia rulebook — might at least follow due process. It is not always the case, especially when foreign workers are involved.

Mr Ezhur Kalarikkal Gangadharan, for example, was, until the summer of 2013, a caretaker at Al-Rabeeh School in Abu Dhabi, set up and run mainly by Britons living and working in the UAE. He had not seen his wife and three daughters, back home in India, for two years. Each month, he sent most of his wage packet home. He volunteered at a local community centre, using what little spare time he had.

One day in April 2013, he was arrested, taken to a police station, and beaten for three days. Terrified and in agony, he signed a document thrust in front of him by the police. The words were in Arabic, a language he could not understand. He was accused of the rape of an Emirati schoolchild at the school.

All of the South Asians working at the school that day — so-called “house boys” — had also been arrested and tortured. They were all told explicitly by police that only a confession could end the ordeal. Mr Gangadharan had simply been unlucky; he was the first to break.

The translator assigned to him by the courts, who later turned out to be unlicensed, tried to translate. Unfortunately he only spoke Hindi, not the southern Malaylam language spoken by Gangadharan. The court was told, unfortunately, the exact opposite of what had happened; that he had “not” been beaten by the police, and that his confession was therefore real. His brother, sitting in the stalls, hung his head. To make matters worse, the few foreign teachers who had come forward from the school to support him were barred from giving evidence.

Gangadharan’s back was covered in scratches and bruises from his police beating. Tests were taken to see if the marks came from a struggle with the girl in question; they did not. In fact, no DNA from the man’s clothes and body had matched the girl’s. DNA tests were made on all of the South Asians rounded up that day; although none of them matched, this evidence was not presented in court by the defence lawyer.

The motive for the false accusation against Mr Gangadharan is unclear. Although the court never heard this (and it is unclear why), a medical examination concluded that the girl had been abused over a number of years, not by a one-off rape that Mr Gangadharan was convicted of carrying out. Some suspect it may have been a family member, and that with the hope of marrying off their daughter to an eligible Emirati bachelor the family had covered up the crimes by accusing a school employee. Certainly the family rushed their daughter onto a TV channel to tell the country of the crime committed against her almost as soon as it had allegedly happened, which speaks volumes about insensitive parenting at best and, at worst, a reassurance to the marriage pool she was still virtuous and available.

When I first wrote about Mr. Gangadharan’s case, human rights groups and his brother held out hopes for a reprieve. One of the appeal courts eventually recognised that his translator had been unlicensed and incompetent, that torture had been used and that DNA evidence was lacking. The Emirati legal system, though, has turned out to be unforgiving, with his death sentence being confirmed on appeal recently. As far as I’m aware, no investigation has been launched into the alleged torture by Emirati police officers.

The legal system in the United Arab Emirates is barely what it claims to be. Its’s a shell of cosiness, hypocrisy, sham justice and racism that makes Jim Crow look like the gentle teasing of black Americans, not a rigid caste system on which the colour of your skin or your country of origin defines entirely what treatment you receive from the state.

The position of Western and developing world governments is typically to kowtow to these internal legal procedures in wealthy Gulf States, however absurd the legal outcomes for their citizens may be; let’s keep the fuss and intervention to a minimum appears to be the maxim. The Philippines government has offered legal assistance to Ms Dalquez, and is paying for her two sons to be educated. Though it will probably be impossible to ever know for certain whether Dalquez was being threatened with rape at the time of the killing, the statement on the Philippines government website, confirming its belief that she was without doubt about to be raped at the time of the murder, is highly commendable.

The cases above are complex and fraught with uncertainty. They share one common trait, though: in a power structure as biased in favour of locals; in an economy where foreigners do the work and Emiratis sit back and watch; in a society where visa status is wielded as a political tool to keep in check the millions of foreigners who really make a country tick; with all of this, the system makes it far too easy for the crimes of an Emirati to be passed off on a foreigner. This judicial system is in no way fit to be doling out death sentences, which must be treated with a level of diligence that Emirati courts have proven themselves time and time again to be incapable of delivering.

This is not an unusual phenomenon in countries with migrant labour; in Thailand, the murder of British tourists last year and the subsequent charging of two Burmese men has been beset with allegations that they are scapegoats, tortured into a confession almost overnight, so that Thailand could keep its tourist trade alive. Better that justice be seen to be done, than to enact real justice, and so the real killers go free while two foreigners die in their place.

The campaign to save Jennifer Dalquez is gaining support, to learn more about the case, you can join this Facebook page.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.