Kuwait


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Kuwait

The State of Kuwait

 

The State of Kuwait is a state at the tip of the Persian Gulf bordering Iraq and Saudi Arabia. As of 2020, 4.2 million people live in Kuwait, about 69% of whom are immigrants. Kuwait’s population is largely made up of Kuwaitis (30.4%), other Arabs (27.4%), Asians (40.3%), and Africans (1%). 74.6% of the population is Muslim, 18.2% are Christian, and the remaining 7.2% practice other religions. 

 

Background

Restored diplomatic relations with Iraq have led to the resolution of many POW issues from the 1991 Gulf War. The Kuwait Human Rights Society was licensed in August 2004, after 10 years of operating without formal government approval. Women were granted the right to vote in May 2005, but violence against women in society continues. 

Foreign workers remain vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, particularly female domestic workers, who have virtually no protection at all. Many Kuwaitis remain classified as “bidun”, that is, without citizenship. Kuwait sped up its “Kuwaitization” process to replace expatriates with nationals in the workforce to address rising unemployment among nationals.

With the spread of COVID-19, residence permit violators were granted a month’s amnesty, allowing them to leave the country without paying fines or travel costs.

Under the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process in July, the government rejected recommendations to ratify or accede to treaties, including those protecting the rights of migrant workers and refugees, and to bring its laws into compliance with the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

Kuwait remained part of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition engaged in armed conflict in Yemen, albeit in a very limited role.

 

Discrimination

Bidun

Stateless Bidun people remained unable to access a range of public services, including health care. During the UPR process, the government accepted recommendations to ensure that the Bidun enjoy equal access to education, health care and employment, and some recommendations on their acquisition of nationality.

In October, the Chairman of Kuwait’s National Assembly attempted to speed up the debate and vote on six proposed drafts laws on the Bidun issue during the last parliamentary session, ahead of parliamentary elections. His attempts were thwarted when Members of Parliament boycotted the discussions.

 

Freedom of assembly, association, and expression

In August, Parliament approved amendments to the law on press and publications, including lifting the Ministry of Information’s control over imported publications.

The authorities detained and prosecuted at least 12 government critics and activists under provisions of the Cybercrime Law and Penal Code provisions that criminalize legitimate speech, including for offending the Emir, criticizing neighboring countries or spreading false news.

In April, a Ministry of Information source told a news outlet that the Ministry had intensified its “monitor[ing] of websites and news services that broadcast lies and rumors and provoke sedition” since the COVID-19 pandemic began, referring “25 news services sites” for prosecution.

On 28 January, a criminal court sentenced three Bidun men, including Redha al-Fadhli, Hammoud al-Rabah and one man in his absence, to sentences ranging from 10 years to life in prison for their peaceful activism. The court acquitted another Bidun man and released 12 others, including human rights defender Abdulhakim al-Fadhli, on a pledge of good conduct for two years.2 Security forces had arrested them in July 2019 during a crackdown on peaceful protesters. On 20 July, the 10-year sentences against Redha al-Fadhli and Hammoud al-Rabah, for membership of a proscribed organization, were overturned on appeal. The court reduced their sentences to suspended two-year prison terms.

 

Death penalty

Courts continued to hand down death sentences; no executions were reported.

 

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

Maha al-Mutairi, a transgender woman, was arrested several times and charged under Article 198 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes “imitat[ing] the other sex in any way”. On 5 June, shortly before fulfilling a summons to attend a police station, she posted Snapchat videos accusing police officers of raping and beating her during her seven months’ detention in 2019 in a male prison for “imitating the opposite sex”. She was released on 8 June without charge.

 

Women’s rights

During the UPR in July, Kuwait accepted recommendations to fully implement CEDAW but rejected other recommendations including to ensure “full equality between men and women”, to criminalize sexual violence and marital rape and to make its personal status and nationality laws gender-neutral.

In August, Parliament approved a bill criminalizing domestic violence, offering further protections for victims of domestic violence as well as legal, medical and rehabilitation services. Women continued to face discrimination in law and practice.

Kuwait retained a law (Penal Code Article 153) that makes murder of a female relative punishable by as little as a fine in “honour killing” cases. Killings of women by their brothers were reported in Kuwait City in September and December.

 

Worker’s rights

Migrants’ rights

The kafala (sponsorship) system, which ties migrant workers’ right to be in Kuwait to their employment, put these workers at greater risk of human rights violations. The workers were also at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19, including because of poor living conditions. Thousands lost their jobs as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic and hundreds were stranded in Kuwait.

At the end of March, the government announced a one-month amnesty for residence permit violators, allowing them to leave the country without paying fines or travel costs. Those with ongoing court cases, bank loans or bills were not eligible. While awaiting repatriation, migrant workers were set up in camps and shelters with dire sanitary conditions, further increasing their vulnerability to infection.

The authorities prosecuted at least three cases of physical abuse of domestic workers by their employers. On 30 December, a criminal court sentenced a Kuwaiti woman to death and her Kuwaiti husband to four years in prison for the murder of their employee Jeanelyn Villavende, a Filipina domestic worker. Both have the right to appeal against their conviction and sentence. In separate cases, two Sri Lankan domestic workers were abused by their sponsors’ wives, including one who later succumbed to her injuries. Following investigation, the authorities arrested the two female suspects.

The authorities also arrested and prosecuted scores of human traffickers and illegal visa traders, investigating hundreds of companies accused of exploiting government contracts to engage in human trafficking.

Kuwait Newsroom



February 26, 2019 • Report

Human rights in the Middle East and North Africa: A review of 2018

The international community’s chilling complacency towards wide-scale human rights violations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has emboldened governments to commit appalling violations during 2018 by giving them …

February 18, 2016 • Report

Amnesty International State of the World 2015-2016

International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. “Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

February 25, 2015 • Report

State of the World 2014/2015

This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change.

May 21, 2013 • Report

Annual Report: Kuwait 2013

State of Kuwait Head of state al-Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah Head of government al-Shaikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad Riot police used excessive force against peaceful demonstrators as part of a …

July 13, 2011 • Report

Annual Report: Kuwait 2011

Head of state: al-Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah Head of government: al-Shaikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah Death penalty: retentionist Population: 3.1 million Life expectancy: 77.9 years Under-5 mortality (m/f): 11/9 …

March 19, 2011 • Report

Annual Report: Kuwait 2010

Head of state al-Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah Head of government al-Shaikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah Death penalty retentionist Population 3 million Life expectancy 77.5 years Under-5 mortality (m/f) 11/9 …

March 10, 2016 • Press Release

Ai Weiwei, Snowden, Pussy Riot take place of online ads to protest censorship

Messages from Edward Snowden, Ai Weiwei and Pussy Riot will be broadcast across the internet by AdBlock and Amnesty International on the World Day against Cyber Censorship, 12 March 2016.

February 22, 2016 • Press Release

Amnesty International’s Annual State of the World Report Slams Governments, Including the U.S., for Global Assault on Freedoms

On the launch of its 2015 State of the World report, Amnesty International USA urged President Obama to use his last year in office to bring U.S. laws and policies in line with international human rights standards.

February 18, 2016 • Press Release

Your rights in jeopardy, global assault on freedoms, warns Amnesty International

International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. “Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

January 11, 2016 • Press Release

Kuwaiti electronic crimes law threatens to further stifle freedom of expression

A new cybercrimes law, which is due to take effect on January 12, 2016, will add a further layer to the web of laws that already restrict the right of people in Kuwait to freedom of expression and must be urgently reviewed, said Amnesty International today.