Monday, March 26, 2012

Someone had to say it. You can read the original post on CLDH facebook group in English or Arabic
Press release (I received it by email)
We are all Ali Mahfouz!

On March 8, 2012, the LBCI television channel broadcast shocking footage of the young Ethiopian woman, Alem Dechasa-Desisa, as she lays on the ground in front of her country's embassy, weeping and saying that she does not want to return to Ethiopia. A man is then filmed dragging her forcefully into a car. We later learned that the woman in question had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and that Ali Mahfouz, her employer, had been charged. Finally, we learned that she had committed suicide on March 14 by hanging herself.

Much has been written about this tragedy on social networks and in the press. We cannot overstate or repeat it enough: The law is at fault, the hiring agencies are slave-traders, and the employers are often abusers. All these facts are endlessly repeated, to the point where we have lost our ability to distance ourselves and judge the practices of a civil society that supposedly can effect change.

We, the civil society, could have saved Alem. We are all equally as responsible for her death as Ali Mahfouz is!

Because Alem did not die from the beatings of Ali Mahfouz. Nor was she thrown off of a balcony by her employer. Alem chose to commit suicide because no solution was ever offered to her.

She had indebted herself to come and work in Lebanon, and her expulsion (the only solution offered to her) would have meant a return to her country with debts that are simply unbearable for an Ethiopian family: The family would not have been able to send the children to school, and the children could very well have suffered from malnutrition. By committing suicide, Alem canceled out her debts. Who would not have made that very same choice? It's probably painful, but this is not a choice for a mother to make because the answer is clear: She'd rather die than to see her children die.

Yet, even if civil society had vociferously demanded justice for Alem, no one would have offered her a solution: Alem could have found another employer in Lebanon, or the NGOs could have raised funds to pay off her debt before she returns to her country. We certainly should have fought for her to stay in Lebanon until a real solution is found for her! Instead, we talked, and talked, and then talked some more about who is responsible, about what charges to bring, what reforms to make... and while we were talking, we forgot that a woman in a hospital faced no other choice but death.

We killed her. Alem, we ask for your forgiveness!

Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH)

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