License to Exploit – Servant Abuse Case Could Challenge Diplomatic Immunity

Diplomatic immunity was originally meant to protect embassy personnel from arbitrary harrassment. But a new case in Berlin, involving the alleged abuse of a Indonesian servant, makes it clear that human rights sometimes get lost in the shuffle. The case could go to Germany’s highest court.


Where else could Devi Ratnasari have gone? Should she have gone down to the nearby river and jumped in? Or perhaps to the junkyard lying across the bridge behind the house? Or to the four-lane street where the No. 139 bus stopped? And what then? She doesn’t speak a word of German, and she also didn’t have any money for a ticket.

Instead, the petite Asian woman opted to stay in her employer’s apartment on Boca Raton Street, in northwestern Berlin. For more than a year and a half, laboring seven days a week, usually until late into the night. She was humiliated, kicked and beaten with a stick — like a serf. That, at least, is what she told the police.

Devi Ratnasari, not her real name, is from Indonesia. The 30-year-old had been working as a household employee for a Saudi Arabian diplomat until eight months ago. And if it hadn’t been for Nevedita Prasad at Ban Ying, a center focused on combating human trafficking, she would likely still be slaving away in the diplomatic residence — just like so many other women in Berlin from Indonesia and the Philippines.

The world of Berlin’s diplomats isn’t just one of pompous receptions, luxury vehicles and royal status. It’s also a world in which many domestic employees are apparently treated horrifically.

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