The marathon hearings on the Erwiana Sulistyaningsih’s case wrapped up last January 20 at the Wanchai District Court, and migrant organizations in Hong Kong eagerly await the verdict expected to be issued this coming February 10.
Despite the gruelling court procedures and cross-examination sessions, Erwiana has comported herself with great courage and tact, showing her strong character and an unwavering determination to obtain justice for her what she suffered in the hands of her erstwhile employer and tormentor, Law Wan-tung. Thus far, presentations and cross-examinations have revealed further harrowing details of her ordeal, such as being allowed only one bottle of water a day by employer to cut down on toilet breaks, being made to sleep on the floor, being forced to hide her injuries and a twisted metal tube from a vacuum cleaner inserted in her mouth.
Two other Indonesian domestic workers used to work for Law have also testified in court about their own abuse by the same employer, lending weight to Erwiana’s testimony that her physical injuries were not self-inflicted as the defense panel alleges. A senior pathologist from the Hong Kong Health Department tasked with overseeing Erwiana’s medical examination in Indonesia also told the District Court there is nothing to indicate that she herself inflicted the injuries and ruled out the possibility that they were due to “clumsiness”, as Law had claimed.
On the other hand, the defense counsel tried its hardest to erode the credibility of Erwiana’s testimonies and those of other witnesses, harping on the “inconsistencies” of certain details in their accounts. The defense especially took exclusion on Erwiana’s tendency to ask for clarifications on their queries (stated in English) during cross-examination, which they used to bolster their argument that she is being manipulated by human rights organizations supporting her, and that she has a “hidden agenda” in pushing through with the case. Law Wan-tung’s lawyer also expressed incredulity at Erwiana’s physical abuse claims, saying that Hong Kong is a “civilized society” which could not have induced such brutality from a person of Law’s social standing.
Even as migrant organizations and advocates in Hong Kong anticipate the delivery of the verdict next week, significant advocacy gains are already evident in the way that the case has captured the attention and support of the public locally and internationally. Also, by forcing Hong Kong government to give due legal recourse to Erwiana’s case, migrant organizations have shown the indispensability of their collective action to obtain redress even with the Rule of Law in place.
However, it remains to be seen whether this case, with our without a favorable decision by the courts, will impel the Hong Kong government to enact the policy reforms vis-a-vis foreign domestic workers in the territory, which will serve to mitigate factors that have led to grave abuse cases like those of Erwiana. Among the labor and immigration policies urgently in need of abolition are the two-week rule, empowerment of placement agencies, open-ended working hours, and the mandatory live-in policy for foreign domestic workers.
Again, it will be up to the collective advocacy of the grassroots-based migrant movement to ensure that these changes occur and not be buried under the self-serving legalist approach of the Hong Kong government.
Thus, APMM calls on all its partner organizations in the region and around the globe to keep watch over the legal and political progress of Erwiana’s case, lend all necessary support and be ready to take this campaign to the next level, that of eliciting long-term policy changes against modern-day slavery in Hong Kong and other countries that take in foreign domestic workers. With or without a favorable verdict, February 10 will be a crucial milestone in the common struggle of all foreign domestic workers for the recognition of their contribution to the world of work, and for the recognition of domestic work as work. #