Cablegate: Trafficked Ugandans Repatriated From Iraq

DE RUEHGB #2403/01 2500621
P 070621Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY: (SBU) From August 18-30, the Embassy and MNF-I,
with the assistance of the International Organization for
Migration (IOM) and the GOI, successfully repatriated 14
women to Uganda who had been trafficked into Iraq for the
purposes of labor exploitation. The women had escaped from
their employers in July and sought refuge at Camp Victory.
During their time in Iraq, the women alleged that they were
subjected to involuntary confinement, physical abuse, and in
one instance, sexual assault. As a result of the
allegations, the GOI initiated both a criminal and a human
rights investigation that to date have resulted in the
issuance of two arrest warrants. While the case has provided
the GOI an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to
addressing its trafficking problem, it has also revealed gaps
in the GOI's capacity, particularly in the area of providing
temporary shelter to trafficking victims. We will encourage
the GOI to take steps to rectify this deficiency. END

Ugandans Trafficked to Iraq

2. (SBU) Over the period July 4-29, 14 women with Ugandan
nationality made their way in small groups to Camp Victory,
with allegations that they had been the victims of physical
abuse and involuntary confinement at the hands of their
employers and requested temporary shelter on the base. On
July 9, the Iraqi Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF), including
members of the FBI, traveled to Victory Base to interview the
women. During these and subsequent interviews, the women
stated that they were hired by a Ugandan company (Uganda
Veterans Development Ltd.) to work as domestic employees in
Iraq. The women said that they were told that they would
work on U.S. military bases, although the MCTF determined
that no USG contractors or sub-contractors were involved in
bringing them to Iraq. Based on information provided by
Uganda Veterans Development, the company sent more than 100
persons to Iraq to work as domestic laborers from April 2008
to June 2009.

3. (SBU) Upon their arrival to Iraq, the women were met by
representatives of an Iraqi company called SOS, which worked
with Ugandan Veterans Development. The women claimed that
they were then sent to work as domestic employees for private
Iraqi families throughout Baghdad and that the wages they
received from the families were much lower than what they had
been promised. Moreover, a majority of the women alleged
that at some point either SOS or the Iraqi family for whom
they worked held them against their will by locking them in a
room. Five of the women said their passports had been
confiscated either by SOS or their Iraqi host family. The
women also claimed that on multiple occasions they were
provided little food or water, and many alleged that an SOS
employee physically beat them when they went to complain
about their treatment by Iraqi families. Several claimed
physical abuse by the Iraqi families. One woman stated that
she was raped by a member of the family for whom she worked;
she is now pregnant.

GOI Takes Action

4. (SBU) From the outset, the GOI took a leading role in
providing assistance to the victims and in conducting a
judicial investigation. On July 10, the Minister of Human
Rights, Wijdan Selim, assigned the GOI's interagency
trafficking coordinator, Dr. Sa'ad Fatahallah, along with Dr.
Mohammed al-Obeidi to work with the Embassy on the case.
Both Dr. Fatahallah and Dr. al-Obeidi attempted to liaise
with the MFA to establish direct communication between the
Qwith the MFA to establish direct communication between the
GOI and the Government of Uganda (GOU) for the purposes of
obtaining travel documents for the women in order to
facilitate their repatriation. This process proved
cumbersome given that the GOU does not currently maintain an
embassy in Iraq. To facilitate the process, Embassy Baghdad
and Embassy Kampala served as a go-between for the two
governments, and temporary travel documents acceptable to
both governments were obtained with the assistance of the IOM
through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
On July 19, Dr. al-Obeidi traveled to Camp Victory to meet
with the women and to gather information for an official
report that was subsequently presented to the Minister of
Human Rights.

5. (SBU) On July 15, an Iraqi investigative judge affiliated
with the Iraqi Major Crimes Task Force, traveled to Camp
Victory to investigate the allegations of physical abuse and
sexual assault. To date, the investigation has resulted in
two Iraqi arrest warrants and one Iraqi search warrant. One
of the arrest warrants was for the Iraqi owner of the company
SOS and the other was for the individual accused of rape.

BAGHDAD 00002403 002 OF 002

Subsequent to the warrants being issued, the owner of the
Iraqi company was taken into custody without incident and
released on bail. Concurrently, the search warrant for his
business headquarters was executed and evidence seized. He
is now awaiting trial and the evidence is being reviewed.
The individual accused of rape is presently in fugitive
status and the GOI is actively seeking his arrest.

Lack of Capacity Revealed

6. (SBU) Notwithstanding the GOI's forthright reaction in
addressing an apparently large trafficking operation within
its borders, the GOI continues to lack the capacity to
provide temporary shelter to large numbers of trafficking
victims. After the first Ugandan women arrived to Camp
Victory, Poloff raised with the Minister of Human Rights the
possibility of the GOI assuming responsibility for the room
and board of the victims as the initial judicial
investigations were ongoing. The Minister was candid about
the fact that the GOI generally and the Ministry of Human
Rights specifically did not have such a capacity. Poloff
suggested inclusion of the creation and resourcing of a
trafficking victims shelter in the anti-trafficking
legislation that the GOI is currently drafting. The Minister
expressed support for this idea, but cautioned that it did
not have support throughout the GOI.

7. COMMENT: (SBU) The GOI's productive engagement with the
Embassy on this case represents a positive step in addressing
the trafficking issue in Iraq. We will continue to monitor
the investigation into the Iraqi company SOS and encourage
the GOI to examine the possibility that additional Ugandan
women may be in Iraq and in need of assistance as trafficking
victims. We will also encourage the GOI to pass
comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation and establish a
facility that can be used to assist trafficking victims in
the future. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Save The Children: Tonga Volcano Ash And Smoke Cause Concern For Air And Water Safety
Families in Tonga are at risk of exposure to unsafe air and water due to ash and smoke from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano that erupted on Saturday, reports Save the Children...

Sudan: 15 Attacks On Health Facilities And Workers In Two Months

With the crisis escalating in Sudan, there have been 15 reports of attacks on healthcare workers and health facilities since last November, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday... More>>

Kazakhstan: Bachelet Urges Peaceful Resolution Of Grievances
Amid alarming reports of deadly violence in Kazakhstan, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday urged all, including security forces, protesters and others, to refrain from violence and to seek a peaceful resolution of grievances... More>>

Tigray: Agencies Suspend Aid As ‘Scores’ Are Killed Due To Airstrikes
Recent airstrikes on camps for internally displaced persons and refugees in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, have reportedly killed scores of civilians, including children, and left many more injured... More>>

UN News: For 25th Year In A Row, Greenland Ice Sheet Shrinks

2021 marked the 25th year in a row in which the key Greenland ice sheet lost more mass during the melting season, than it gained during the winter, according to a new UN-endorsed report issued on Friday... More>>

Afghanistan: Economy In ‘Freefall’, Threatening To Take Entire Population With It

Afghanistan’s economy is in “free fall”, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator told a special meeting on Sunday, warning that if decisive and compassionate action is not taken immediately, it may “pull the entire population with it”... More>>