On the occasion of International Women's Day 2009, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights would like to draw attention to the case of a female migrant worker struggling for justice and for her rights in the Bahraini court system.

A 24-year-old Filipina employee at a hotel in Bahrain was allegedly abducted, gang raped, and robbed by three men. According to the woman's lawyer, results from a rape test kit matched the DNA of the men identified as her attackers. All three men have denied the charges.

In a court hearing on March 3, the defendants' lawyer, Fatima Hawaj, appealed to the High Criminal Court judge to acquit the three men. Reportedly, Ms Al Hawaj argues that the men should be acquitted because their actions were committed for the sake of 'fun' and without criminal intent.

"First of all, we condemn any such remarks in the strongest terms. They are indefensible - particularly coming from a lawyer," Bahrain Centre for Human Rights vice-president Nabeel Rajab said.

"The second issue at hand is the issue of double standards. Does our legal system afford migrant workers the same protections that it promises locals?

"In the last year alone, the Migrant Workers Protection Society withdrew a number of court cases filed by expatriate workers, including three rape cases, because of a complete lack of success in the Bahraini court system.

"The one case where the complaint of female migrant victim of abuse has resulted in punishment of her abuser is the case of Meena Dolare, who was sentenced to 3 months in jail and fined BD 500 ($1,330) in 2003, for attacking her housemaid.

"Of course in that case, the abuser was also a migrant. We are yet to see the day when a female migrant worker abused by a Bahraini has appealed to the Bahraini court system for justice, and received it.

"Unfortunately, a much more common scenario is that rape victims are too scared to press charges against their abusers. In other cases, charges are dropped, the matter is settled out of court and the woman is returned to her home country.

"In Bahrain we have even seen cases where migrant domestic worker women who are rape victims have been jailed because of their refusal to return to the house of their employer and alleged abuser.

"Many times, cases are dropped because the court proceedings take too long."

On International Women's Day 2009 we remind the authorities and the Bahrain public that women and children are traditionally the section of society most vulnerable to the effects of political, economic and social ills. Migrant women even more so.

The rape case of this Filipina woman is a symbol of the situation of female migrant workers in Bahrain. In it we see their vulnerable position in society, the lack of redress available to female migrant victims of abuse, and the double standards and deplorable attitude of members of society and Bahrain's legal system.

The BCHR calls on Fatima Al Hawaj to retract her statements.

We call on the Bahraini judge to apply to same standards to this Filipina woman as he would to a Bahraini victim.

We call for better, more reliable, legal protections for women and migrant women in Bahrain's legal system.

We call on Bahraini society to take the same attitude to this rape as they would if it had been committed against a Bahraini woman.