Finally, Justice Served to Families of 12 Nepalis Killed in Iraq

Source: http://www.nepalnews.com

By Rajendra C. Thakuri

Rajendra C. Thakuri Many will recall that in August 2004 twelve Nepali labourers working for a U.S. subcontractor in Iraq were kidnapped and brutally murdered by Iraqi insurgents. Nearly four years after the horrific death of their beloved ones at the hands of Iraqi thugs, there is better news for some of these families coming out of the US Administrative Law Court for the Department of Labour. On March 25 and April 16, 2008, Administrative Law Judge Larry W. Price decided the following:

1. The twelve Nepali men who were killed in Iraq were employed by a U.S. subcontractor.

2. The spouses, children and parents of these men were entitled to death benefits.

3. The amount of compensation is equal to $223/month for each spouse and set of parents, with an additional $75/month for men who had children.

Bottom line: The above mentioned victims designated beneficiaries will receive $223 dollars a month as long as they live. Since some of the victims’ widows were only 19 at the time of their husband’s death, they will potentially see over $150,000 compensation in their lifetime. “This has been a hard fought and difficult case but justice prevailed at the end of the day” Says lead attorney for the Nepali victims Matthew Handley (Matt).

Matt and I have been next door neighbors here in Washington DC for the last three and half years. He and his wife Nabina lived and worked in Nepal as Peace Corps volunteers in the 90’s and understand first hand the plight of hard working Nepalis from every walk of life. One summer day, last year, we were catching up with our stories and experiences being in both countries, while enjoying a cold one to beat the Washington DC summer heat. Matt says that he and his firm (Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, P.L.L.C.) were pursuing the case of 12 Nepali men who were murdered in Iraq in 2004. Matt detailed the facts about which many of us are already aware of — that the day when these men were killed was one of the worst one day killings of foreign Nationals in Iraq since the war started in March of 2003.

Nepal is known as a country that exports labour to various countries but does not have specific laws regarding labour rights once the workers leave for foreign countries. In the case of the twelve people that were brutally murdered at the hands of those Iraqi terrorists, many did not know they were traveling to Iraq, and instead were promised a hotel job in Amman, Jordan. A deceptive way of recruiting innocent Nepali folks, many of the men would likely have opted out of going to Iraq if they knew that was where they were headed — or at least would have had a choice, rather than being duped.

All of us who saw those gory videos of those innocent people being killed were outraged and even ransacked the office of the agency that sent those folks to their ultimate death. Some of us poured money and gifts for the families of those victims and moved on with our daily life. But the fact remained, that the compensation owed by employers to all laborers working for U.S. contractors and guaranteed by U.S. law was never provided to the families of these men. Matt saw that the company which employed these men – a Jordanian company named Daoud & Partner that was a subcontractor to KBR (Kellogg, Brown and Root, subsidiary of Halliburton) had avoided its obligation to these men’s families and needed to be held accountable.

Matt says that soon after reading an article “Pipeline to Peril” by Cam Simpson of the Chicago Tribune (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-nepal-specialpackage,0,7162366.special) in October of 2005, he convinced his firm to pursue this case, and went on to work hard to prove that KBR’s subsidiary, Daoud & Partners, was the responsible employer of these men. “The only way we could win this case was to prove that Daoud and Partners was both a subcontractor of KBR and that it actually employed these men in Iraq – a fact that Daoud denied. Matt brought these case under the Defense Base Act (The Defense Base Act (DBA), 42 U.S.C. § 1651–1654), which is an extension of the federal workers’ compensation program that covers longshoremen and harbor workers, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act 33 U.S.C. § 901–950. The DBA covers persons employed at United States defense bases overseas. The DBA is designed to provide medical treatment and compensation to employees of defense contractors injured in the scope and course of employment.

Since there was no proper paper work to prove that Daoud and Partners was the employer of the men, and since the men’s passports and other documents were held by the employer, Daoud and Partners and their lawyers flat out denied any responsibility for the death of these workers. Matt’s firm was hitting a brick wall in pursuing Daoud and Partners since Daoud did not appear to have any formal office and local folks in Amman, Jordan were not cooperating. After going through many months of investigation and feeling like they were peeling an onion with no end in sight, Matt’s firm got a lucky break of finding a Nepali worker who was in the same caravan as the twelve men who were killed, but who was left behind at the check point. This person actually made it to the US base at which he was supposed to work and, after completing his job successfully, made it back to Nepal with a copy of the work contract that clearly stated that Daoud and Partners was his employer.

Finally, after proving to the judge that the families were dependant on their dead loved ones and working with the opposing counsel to establish the right compensation for these families, the judge ordered the above payment.

Matt will be travelling to Nepal from June 7-21 to distribute the initial payments to the survivors of the victims. “We look forward to be in Nepal once again and enjoy the beauty of the country and the warmth of Nepali people and above all meet these families face to face,” Matt concluded.

Although delayed, some amount of justice has been served, due in part to the conscience of one person whose love for Nepal has not once wavered since that first day he volunteered for the Peace Corps. And while this case has been settled, will Nepali folks working throughout the world be equally protected if something unfortunate befalls them?

Rajendra Thakuri is an entrepreneur based in Washington DC, USA. He can be reached at rcthakuri@gmail.com.

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