Ethiopian UN diplomat in Thailand settles maid slavery case out of court

Mr Tegegn and his wife come to the Pak Kret police station in Nonthaburi to hand over as evidence Ms Bezabh's passport and wages in this file photo taken on April 10 this year. (Bangok Post file photo)[Mr Tegegn and his wife come to the Pak Kret police station in Nonthaburi to hand over as evidence Ms Bezabh’s passport and wages in this file photo taken on April 10 this year. (Bangok Post file photo)]

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Thailand, who was being sued for beating and enslaving his Ethiopian house maid, settled the matter out of court on Monday.

25-year-old Emebet Mono Bezabh worked as a maid for Dr. Yonas Tegegn and his family for about two years. Bezabh escaped the Tegegn’s residence in Nonthaburi, Bangkok with the help of a passerby after a suicide attempt.

She claimed Tegegn’s wife consistently maltreated her. Besides being beaten at least three times weekly, Bezabh was forced to sleep with the family dog and eat only rice.

“Once she slapped me so much that for a long tome afterward, some liquid was coming out of my ear. The wife told the husband, and he bought me medicine,” Bezabh said according to Reuters.

Bezabh also alleged that the Tegegn family, who brought her with them from their home country Ethiopia, seized her passport. She added that they also refused to pay her wages for years.

She claimed to have worked for the family from July 2013 to March 2014. However, the Tegegn family say she worked from June 2013 to March 2015.

Three Thai organizations assisted Bezabh, who filed two cases against the Tegegn family. The civil lawsuit accused Mr and Mrs Tegegn of violating labor rights. The other suit accuses them of violating the 2008 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.

Tegegn had denied the accusations and hoped that the Thai legal system would allow his family clear their name.

“These accusations made against me and my family are baseless. We deny any wrongdoing,” Tegegn said in April. However, this week he opted for an out of court settlement.

Tegegn signed an agreement with Bezabh in a Thai court on Monday. He paid her an undisclosed sum of money. Reuters say there was no acceptance of wrongdoing in the settlement.

Bezabh ,who was orphaned at five, said the settlement does not atone for what she suffered at the hands of the Tegegn family.

“This money doesn’t make up for what they’ve done to me,” Bezabh said.

Her lawyer Kohnwilai Teppunkoonngam said a lot more has to be done to protect the rights of workers – especially those working domestically for diplomats from international organizations like the United Nations.

Teppunkoonngam and other activists supporting Bezabh spread the case in the media shortly after she escaped. The move was due to the fear that Tegegn may have diplomatic immunity.

WHO released a statement earlier in the years saying it was conducting its own investigation into accusations against Tegegn.

Reports indicate that Tegegn has been placed on leave as a result of the incident. An acting head of WHO’s outfit in Thailand has since been brought in.

It is unclear how this out of court settlement would affect Tegegn, who has been working with WHO since 1995.

Thousands of Ethiopian women travel to the Middle East, Asia and other parts of the world in search of jobs. Many, who end up as domestic workers, face abuse and even torture in the hands of the employers.

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