Amar Bahadur Bam: Casualty of UAE's deficient legal system

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May 16 2012

NGOs from migrant-sending countries periodically condemn Gulf states for the inequitable treatment of detained or convicted migrant workers. Gulf legal systems systematically preclude migrant workers from obtaining just trials by barring their access to fair representation and subjecting them to undue punishments before, during, and after convictions.

This phenomenon is not an ill exclusive to the Gulf. Society’s socially and economically disenfranchised populations are often the most vulnerable to inequitable legal systems. Migrant workers encompass the majority of such populations in the Gulf, but they are at even further risk for mistreatment because of their essentially invisible legal status as foreigners in marginalized occupations. Migrants struggle through arrests, trials, and convictions because of several factors unique to their position in Gulf societies. One of the most common juridical obstructions migrants face is the language barrier which can prevent their ability to understand, engage, and navigate through foreign legal systems. Migrants find it more difficult to determine appropriate behavior, including how they should address police, or how they should be treated by police, and the decisions they should make at various levels of detainment. Translators or attorneys who speak the same language are often not provided consistently, if at all, by the government. In the UAE, migrants do not receive access to a lawyer until the investigation is complete, limiting their ability to defend themselves.

Migrant-sending nations also contribute to the unfair or prolonged imprisonment of migrant workers. Embassies and political figures often fail to provide substantive support to detained workers, or to intervene into cases at all, until stories become internationalized or death sentences are issued. Many governments make little effort to compensate for the Gulf’s well-known legal inequities. This abandonment is compounded by the language barriers and restrictions on lawyer services to generate an overall isolating experience for detained migrants.  Migrants sometimes harm themselves or commit suicide to escape these conditions. 

Amar Bahadur Bam epitomizes this unfortunate pattern of injustice. Bam is a Nepali migrant on death row in Dubai for a crime he likely did not commit. He was sentenced in 2003 for conspiring in the murder of an Indian businessman. Bam states that he was driving the get-away car, but that he had no prior knowledge of the murder. The two men who committed the murder admitted that Bam was entirely unaware of their acts, but the court refused to admit their statements.

Like many migrants, Bam has endured years in prison because of a slow, blundered judicial processes. He alleges that the Dubai Police tortured him during this time, a reality many detained migrants risk when their governments ignore their imprisonment.

Advocates from around the globe are working to set Bam free by encouraging both Nepal and the UAE to revisit Bam’s case. Citizens have launched a Facebook campaign page has been started here and a Change.org petition here.

In the past, Nepal's government has responded to public outcry. However, the Nepalese government should take proactive rather than reactive measures to ensure the fair and just treatment of detained migrants abroad, as their action can sometimes come too late. Migrants should not have to risk innocent imprisonment or endure the excruciating uncertainty that is bred by last-minute intervention.  

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East