• Sat
  • Aug 30, 2014
  • Updated: 9:52pm
Erwiana Sulistyaningsih
NewsHong Kong

Indonesian maid at centre of 'torture ordeal' row could sue Hong Kong government

Indonesian helper who says she was abused for eight months by employer considers a case claiming city violated its 'duty of protection'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 January, 2014, 5:09am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 10:41am

The Indonesian domestic helper who claims she suffered eight months of torture at the hands of her Hong Kong employer may sue the city's government.

Lawyers asked about the case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, 23, who is in hospital back home, claim the city's human rights laws could have been breached.

Under Article 3 of the 1997 Bill of Rights Ordinance, the government has a duty to protect people from torture and "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

Cynthia Ca Abdon-Tellez, head of the Mission for Migrant Workers, said: "We have discussed bringing a case against the government with lawyers. We are now waiting for Erwiana and her family to make a decision."

The news came as organisers claimed about 5,000 helpers and supporters marched from police headquarters to the government building in Admiralty yesterday to demand justice for Erwiana.

Police said 2,100 people took part in the rally at its peak.

Watch: Hong Kong maids march for better protection

Erwiana arrived in Hong Kong to work as a helper on May 27 and went home to Sragen, Central Java, on January 10. She claims her employer in Tseung Kwan O threatened to kill her family if she revealed her ordeal.

She has appointed a lawyer in Hong Kong, said Eman Villanueva, a spokesman for the Asian Migrants' Co-ordinating Body.

Rights lawyer Robert Tibbo, who advised surveillance whistle-blower Edward Snowden, said Erwiana's lawyers could sue the government for failing to fulfil its constitutional obligation to provide state protection to victims of torture or cruel treatment.

He said remedies for a violation of those rights can be sought under Section 6 of the Bill of Rights, but no specific penalty for such a breach is stipulated.

Tibbo said he was shocked to learn that airport immigration officers did not inquire about Erwiana's condition when she left Hong Kong. He said: "The woman showed clear signs of being tortured and nothing less than that. She was emaciated and had a large number of scars on her face, hands and feet."

Simon Young Ngai-man, deputy director of Hong Kong University’s law department, said Tibbo’s idea was “definitely worth exploring”.

“[Lawyers] could argue the government had acquiesced to torture against Erwiana when immigration officers didn’t do anything or because the government had not monitored employment agencies well enough,” Young said.

A government spokeswoman, questioned about the possibility of a lawsuit, said: "We have nothing further to add to the remarks made by Secretary for Labour and Welfare [Matthew Cheung Kin-chung] and Secretary for Security [Lai Tung-kwok]."

Cheung vowed on Saturday to step up the monitoring of employment agencies for foreign domestic helpers and to punish employers who break the law.

Erwiana's recruitment agency, Chan's Asia Recruitment Centre, has denied accusations by her representatives that the agency pressured her to keep working to pay back agency fees of HK$18,000.

Police are treating Erwiana's case as one of wounding and it is being handled by the Kwun Tong district crime squad. Police sources have said officers plan to travel to Sragen today to take statements from Erwiana because so far they had only "second-hand information".

The South China Morning Post has visited the apartment building of Erwiana's former employer, a woman, three times, but got no response.

Additional reporting by Phila Siu


For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

Roy Yau
As a Responsible true HK Citizen, I do feel for Erwiana Sulistyaningsih.
A Responsible HK Citizen
Roy Yau
Earthizen and people from all over the world,
It was the CCP-trained PRC tyrant in HK who did it, not HK people.
We HK people have not the say to filter out cruel people, greedy people, criminals, murders like Ku Hoi Loi or Shi Kwan Lung to move to HK, and they are NOT true HK people.
We need to clarify that internationally, NY times and various newspapers abroad have already a bad name on HK people instead of those from PRC.
Some of the HK people have been asking for abolish the "one-way-permit" scheme to stop CCP sending anyone into HK without HK people's approval and background checks, etc. We also ask for sponsorship to migrate into HK, especially those CCP has sent into HK, are now after the welfare and social resources HK people have been building up and making.
We need stop the Yellow Peril form PRC and CCP!
Please support groups or organisations likes HKAM (Hong Kong Autonomy Movement) and other true HK guardian groups and organisations. Beware of those who claim to be and they pretend to be "leftists" while actually they're CCP's spies in HK or CCP peripheral helpers.
Please help share this clarification to people all over the world, we need your help. Thanks a bunch in advance.
Thanks for your help and concern. : )
A Responsible HK Citizen
Maid-abuse in Hong Kong fundamentally it is the product of the overcrowding people must subject to in their shoebox-size flat. I for one accept this premise and if you do too then let us focus on the followings which tell why we have such debilitating living environment.
First and foremost the pricing of our flats in Hong Kong as a whole is set by housing on property that were purposely set for MTRC. It is set to cover the cost of building a new section of MTR and station by selling the land and air rights for housing. As a result, flats must be small enough to make flats affordable. Still to make them affordable, the exorbitant price must take two incomes for a family.
Second, the property developers make a windfall of profits by following the MTRC model even there is no MTR to be built. The market justifies the price.
Third, the government colluded with property developers in supporting the two-incomes pricing by importing cheap domestic helpers to make expansive housing feasible.
This grand scheme is one of a kind in the world running since the late 70s of the last century. Finally the inevitable social problems get to be caught up with all of us as a society.
I call on Hong Kong people to focus on MTRC, the property developers and the government. Stop them to carry on their business as usual for any new housing to come. Secondly, the government must take the lead to actually reverse the dependency on maids for our family where their shoe-box flats are irreversible. One parent can afford to stay home to care for the family. Yes I advise the goverment to start spending its trillion reserve to right what it has done wrong.
Will anything good come from this case? If the laws are changed to better protect FDH then some will win, but Hong Kong society is not universally racist as some are suggesting. The problem stems from how the relationship between employer and employee in Hong Kong works. That is employees (who are themselves employers of FDH) in Hong Kong are far too passive and accepting of their bosses bad behaviour and abuses of power. The attitude in Hong Kong seems to be that the boss is some kind of God and the employees accept that it is necessary to work whatever hours are demanded in order to support the family. The bosses believe that they can do and say whatever they want and the employees allow them to do this for fear of losing their jobs. This problem is then passed on to the next down the line, in many cases the FDH in Hong Kong.
Before any good can come from this case, the Hong Kong people need to be educated as to what their rights as employees are. If they appreciate this then they could start to appreciate the needs and rights of their employees (FDH).
Or we could simply change laws relating to FDH and ramp up the pressure on Hong Kong people by ignoring the underlying problem.
"If she reports it to the police, the employer fires her. She only has two weeks to find a new job and then she will be sent back to Indonesia. If she is sent back to Indonesia, she will have no way of repaying her debt to the agency."
Is this in theory, has any maid actually come forward to test the system? If proper authorities were notified and concrete proof of physical violence could be obtained, can't the debt be waived or at least sue the employer for the fee, loss of income, etc. Yes, it's a risk...Snowden, Watkins, Manning all didn't have a job after flipping on there bosses. But did anything change?
How can HK be liable if authorities were not informed of the abuse. She kept the abuse secret, away from authorities for one form or another of self gain, whether it was on order from the maids agency or not. The normal thing to do would be to report physical violence to police. If the agency was in fact advising her to keep quiet, then they should be reported to the police as well as that $16000 fee is also illegal. In US, verbally threatening one with death or her family with death would be an arrestible offence equal with actual assault. Either way, I don't want to use taxpayer funds to pay compensation since she did not do her part to inform authorities who could have protected her from further abuse.
Besides the fact that most of these girls know nothing about their right and they are only afraid to lose their jobs, in this case she wasn't even allowed to breath... how could she have reported to police??? Justice must be regardless of colours and passport.
Beaker, you don't understand how things work. If she reports it to the police, the employer fires her. She only has two weeks to find a new job and then she will be sent back to Indonesia. If she is sent back to Indonesia, she will have no way of repaying her debt to the agency. And in this particular case there are many other circumstances that kept her in the job. This will be made plain in the court case.
The employer is to blame for beating her.
The agency is to blame for illegally charging her excessive fees.
The system is to blame because it forces helpers to go home when they lose their jobs.
Don't blame the victim.
Blame those who are the culprits.
Here we go again with the same old line- blame the victim. People like you are part of the problem because you blame the victim.




SCMP.com Account