SAUDI ARABIA/PHILIPPINES: Melanie Cordon case – government’s neglect & inability to act promptly


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAU-042-2011
ISSUES: Administration of justice, Arbitrary arrest & detention, Migrant workers, Right to fair trial, Victims assistance & protection,

Dear friends, 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that Melanie Cordon, a domestic worker convicted in absentia, has been neglected by the government agencies that have the legal obligation to provide her with assistance. 


On September 14, we reported that Melanie Cordon was convicted for four months over fabricated charges after being tried in absentia (AHRC-UAC-165-2011) despite the fact that she was being held in a Saudi detention facility and was readily available. She is presently held in detention in Ha’il Main Prison in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 

However, before her conviction for theft was read to her inside the prison on August 31, Melanie’s brother, Mario, asked for immediate assistance from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), regional office VI on August 17. At the time, they were asking for help from OWWA to look for her whereabouts because she did not arrive in the Philippines as expected. 

Reynold Pigar, the officer-on-case, whom Mario had asked for assistance, did not take their complaints seriously. He did not bother to inquire further, but rather told Mario that: “probably she had gone into hiding in Riyadh and that she could be in Manila but refusing to return home because she had no money”. In other words, he simply could not be bothered to do his job. 

Despite Mario’s explanation to him that he had spoken to Melanie on August 13, a day before her supposed arrival in the Philippines; and that she had no intention to stay longer in Saudi, Pigar did not consider this a matter of concern. Pigar rather told him that they need to have patience to wait for any progress because it may take time. 

On August 18, Pigar did write to Leila’s Manpower Services, the employment agency who deployed Melanie to Saudi Arabia, but he did nothing apart from letter-writing. In his subsequent letter to the agency was on August 26, Pigar was fully aware that Melanie was already being held in detention in Ha’il Main Prison. 

Despite all of the information in his possession Pigar again did nothing other than writing a letter to the employment agency. In doing so Pigar obviously did not consider Melanie’s case, from the time she was first reported to have gone missing until it was confirmed that she was actually in detention, as a matter that required more prompt and serious intervention than writing letters to the employment agency. 

When Mario received a phone call from Melanie on August 24 at 7pm, the first time they had contact after she went missing for a week, he was told that none of the government representatives–from the Embassy in Riyadh, the Consulate in Jeddah and the OWWA–had come to see her in prison. In prison, nobody told or had shown to her any documents regarding the charges she is being held on; she had no lawyers and no legal assistance to defend her case and did not even know the exact location of her detention facility. 

Here, Mario learned that when Melanie was supposed to go to the airport for her trip to the Philippines, she was taken to the house of Madam Monera, the mother of her employer Yasir Abdul Asis Al-Hawas. Inside the car, Monera threatened her by saying: “Ipapakulong kita, ipapapugot ang ulo (I will put you in jail. I will have your head beheaded)”. 

Instead of taking Melanie straight to the airport, she was taken to Monera’s house from her employers’ where her luggage was, which Monera had refused earlier to return to her. Here, she saw her luggage had been opened. A woman whom she did not know was a police officer and who did not introduced herself to her, told her that a complaint for stealing “strands of hair, photographs, bra and panty” had been made on her. She knew nothing about what they were accusing her of because she had not seen any of the items before. 

In this official police report, given by Leila Baque, the general manager of the employment agency, to Pigar without her providing copies directly to Melanie’s relatives, the charges on Melanie was for “collecting hair and dirty clothes of his family as well as collecting some drawing that is supposed to be as magic work”. The name of the complainant was Omar Abdulaziz Saleh Al-Hawas. 

In her letter to Pigar, Baque claimed that the complainant had “filed already the withdrawal of his complaint against his housemaid. However, we are waiting for the final settlement certification for facilitating the issuance of her exit visa and her travel ticket”. Neither Baque nor Pigar know that the case has not been withdrawn, but that she had been tried in absentia. Their inability to respond quickly had deprived Melanie of the legal aid she desperately needed. 

Frustrated with Pigar’s inefficient and delayed response, on September 13, Mario went to Manila from Iloilo purposely to see Baque in person. However, when he asked for Baque’s assistance in providing to them documents on Melanie’s case he was told they could not produce them. Instead, he was told to just wait. 

Here, Baque told Mario that Melanie “needs to consume her prison terms”. When he questioned the irregularities of her arrest, detention, planting of evidence and the filing of charges, he was told “it is now the government who discuss the matter of her detention”. 

And when Mario told Baque that they could file charges on her agency for their failure and neglect in helping him, she laughed at him saying: “Ok no problem, it is your right”. 

Like, any other domestic workers abroad Melanie pays her membership fee to OWWA; however, in her time of need no one from the government was there to look after her and other detainees. When Mario last spoke to Melanie on September 13, he was told no one from OWWA, the Embassy and Consulate had bothered to visit her at her detention facility. 

Thank you. 

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (