FORUM & FILM SCREENING
“WOMEN MIGRANTS SENTENCED TO DEATH: THE INVISIBLE REALITY”
Tuesday, 26 October 2021
9.30 PM (Hong Kong)
8.30 PM (Jakarta)
7.30 PM (Bangladesh)
10th October is marked as World Day against Death Penalty as it aims to raise general awareness against the death penalty. This year, on the 19thcommemoration, the World Day will be dedicated to women who risk being sentenced to death, who have received a death sentence, who have been executed, and to those who have had their death sentences commuted, exonerated, or pardoned.
For centuries, women have been enduring extensive gender-based violence, discrimination and abuse based on sex, gender, class, caste, race, sexual orientation, disability and other categories which subject them to structural inequalities. Nevertheless, women are most often targeted for prosecution and even killings.
Migrant workers, including women migrant workers, are among the groups who are disproportionately at risk of death sentence and execution. Worldwide, The Cornell Center on the Death Penalty estimates that women represent less than 5% of the world’s death row population and less than 5% of the world’s executions.
In Saudi Arabia as one of the “favourite destination countries for migrant workers”, there have been at least 358 foreign nationals, mostly migrant workers, on death row since 2016. Around 298 have been executed, including 18 women, while 52 remain on death row. In 2021, it is recorded that there were 205 Indonesian nationals on death row abroad, consisting of 161 men and 40 women. According to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, there are 62 Filipino migrants who are on death row mainly in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. 37% or at least 22 migrants were charged with drug smuggling/trafficking, and half of these cases are migrant women.
There are multiple types of structural and gender-based violence that migrant workers face, one relates to another. Women migrate to save their families from poverty and to escape domestic violence. Lack of recognition to their vulnerability and provide the most needed protection throughout the migratory journey leads them into human and drug trafficking syndicates. Most women migrant workers end up working in the domestic sphere where crimes are invisible and the victims do not have access to proper legal assistance. Moreover, language barriers and financial capacity are the main hindrances in accessing legal protection in their host countries. Thus, victims are often deprived of adequate legal representation.
Furthermore, as the breadwinner of their families, the death penalty is revoked the right to live and capacity to support their families and leaving the women migrants with long-term severe physical, psychological, social, and economic impacts on the family they left behind.
Mary Jane Veloso and Merri Utami: “Fight for Justice and Life”
Saving Mary Jane and Merri Utami, former women migrant workers, from death row in Indonesia have been a long campaign launched and promoted by the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), Migrante International, Network of Indonesian Migrant Workers (JBMI) and other various advocates of migrant’s rights in Asia and beyond. The intensified and globalized campaign saved Mary Jane from death squad in 2015 and pushed the Philippines government to arrest the trafficker.
Mary Jane is a Filipino domestic worker charged with illegal drug trafficking and sentenced to death row in Indonesia. In 2015, after intensive advocacy and an extensive international campaign calling to save the life of Mary Jane, the Indonesian government granted her reprieve from the scheduled execution in the last minutes.
Merry Utami is an Indonesian domestic worker in Taiwan who was lured by the drug ring using a love affair then exploited her to transport drugs to Indonesia in 2001. She was sentenced to death by an Indonesian court, but she continues to fight for her life.
However, the story of Mary Jane and Merry Utami is not alone. In many migrant-destination countries like Saudi Arabia, women migrants languish in jail, with some of them on death row. Access to information about their respective situations and cases is limited, yet women migrant groups and anti-death penalty organizations become aware and call on governments, especially migrant-source countries, to intervene.