Diplomats Accused of Behaving Badly but Protected by Immunity

In recent years, this modern-day horror story has become all too familiar: a young woman claims that she has been enslaved, abused and even raped by a foreign diplomat stationed in the United States.

The prosecution of these kinds of alleged crimes is almost always stymied due to diplomatic immunity, which, using longstanding international agreements, shields diplomats from prosecution when stationed overseas.

Often, the alleged offenders are quietly sent back to their home countries or reassigned to an embassy or consulate in another country.

The latest case involves a woman from India and a Kuwaiti diplomat based in Washington D.C., Brig. Gen. Ahmed S.J. al Naser, who brought the woman to the U.S. to work as a maid at his home in suburban Bethesda, Md.

In a federal lawsuit filed by the woman, she accuses al Naser of repeatedly raping her and says that he and his wife regularly beat her until she bled, confiscated her passport and forced her to work 17 hours a day, seven days a week, without pay.

The 34-year-old woman, whose parents died when she was a child and grew up in an Indian orphanage, claims that al Naser sexually abused her when his wife was not at home.

She has also met several times with the FBI, which is investigating her case, according to Ayuda, a D.C.-based social and legal services provider that helped her leave Naser's house and find a new home.

Criminal charges have so far not been made in the case. But in the woman's lawsuit, she claims that the couple forced her to eat her meals on the floor of the kitchen even after she injured her leg when the diplomat's wife, Muna S.M.N. al Najdai, repeatedly kicked her with her high-heeled shoes.

The complaint also says al Naser, who has since returned to Kuwait, threatened to deport her to Kuwait if she complained, ominously warning that he had friends there and "They'd know what to do."

The woman claims that she finally escaped when she was taking out the garbage one day and a neighboring housekeeper met her and put her in touch with Ayuda, a D.C.-based legal and social services provider, according to court papers.

The Kuwaiti government was also named as a defendant in the suit filed in federal court in Washington D.C. The Kuwaiti embassy's chief of mission, Nabil al-Dakheel, did not return calls for comment.

Since the defendants are still in the process of being served, they have not answered the complaint.

The woman's lawyers at Crowell & Moring declined to comment.

'Tip of the Iceberg'

The case is one of several such lawsuits filed in recent years by former housekeepers and maids alleging abuse by diplomats.

"In recent years, foreign diplomats have perpetrated some of the worst trafficking abuses reported in the United States," according to "Eradicating Slavery," an October 2007 report from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

There have been at least 42 cases of suspected abuse by diplomats in the past eight years, according to a Government Accountability Office report released today, which stated that the number was probably higher due to domestic workers' fear of contacting law enforcement.

"This is the tip of the iceberg -- there are more and more cases being filed involving diplomats abusing their domestic workers," says Steven Macpherson Watt, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, who has helped represent three Indian women who sued a Kuwaiti diplomat for abusing them, among other charges.

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