Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Kuwait

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Kuwait, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Amirs, or princes, from the Al-Sabah family have ruled Kuwait in consultation with prominent community figures for over 200 years. The Constitution, adopted in 1962 shortly after Kuwait's independence, provides for an elected National Assembly and enumerates the powers of the Government and the rights of citizens. It also permits the Amir to suspend its articles during periods of martial law. The Amir twice suspended constitutional provisions and dissolved the National Assembly from 1976 to 1981 and from 1986 to 1992 and ruled extraconstitutionally during these periods. Kuwait was occupied by Iraq from August 1990 to February 1991, when Iraqi forces were expelled by a coalition led by the United States. The Assembly resumed functioning after the 1992 elections.

The Ministry of Interior supervises the security apparatus, including the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Kuwait State Security (KSS), two agencies that, in addition to the regular police, investigate internal security-related offenses. Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

Endowed with oil, the country has largely completed the process of recovery from the destruction caused by the Iraqi occupation, and has an estimated per capita income of approximately $23,000. Because of the costly reconstruction, the Government has incurred a cumulative fiscal deficit of approximately $70 billion, which it covers by liquidating government-owned foreign assets and increasing the public debt. The Government is gradually reducing the deficit and plans to eliminate it by 2000. Despite its emphasis on an open market, the Government continues to dominate the local economy through direct expenditures and government-owned companies and equities.

There continued to be incremental improvement on the human rights scene. During the year, the National Assembly ratified two important human rights conventions and extended the franchise to a large group of adult males who previously did not have voting rights. The Assembly's Human Rights Committee was active in investigating important human rights issues. Moreover, the Government abolished the special State Security Court in favor of the regular judiciary, and there was continued improvement in prison conditions. Kuwait enjoys an active press which is free to criticize the Government.

Nonetheless, significant problems remain. Women do not have the right to vote; however, a bill granting women's suffrage was introduced in the Assembly. The Government continues to be hostile to the human rights problems of the more than 100,000 stateless people residing in Kuwait known as the "bidoon." It also prevents the return of stateless persons, Iraqis, and Palestinians who have strong ties to the country. Domestic servants are not protected by the labor law, and unskilled foreign workers suffer from a lack of a minimum wage in the private sector, and from failures to enforce the labor law. Moreover, the Government bans formal political parties, and places some restrictions on the freedom of assembly and association.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

There were no developments in the investigations into the extrajudicial killings that occurred during the chaotic period after Kuwait's liberation in 1991.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

There were no developments in the approximately 100 cases of disappearance that occurred following Kuwait's liberation in 1991.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Iraqi authorities have not yet accounted for 603 Kuwaitis and residents of Kuwait, including 9 women, who were taken prisoner during Iraq's occupation of Kuwait. The Government of Iraq has refused to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, which stipulates the release of the detainees. Iraq denies that it holds Kuwaiti detainees.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture, and there is no pattern of systematic abuse. Nevertheless, there continues to be credible reports that the police physically abused detainees during interrogation. The police were more likely to inflict such abuse on non-Kuwaitis than on citizens. Reported abuse includes blindfoldings, verbal threats, and slaps and blows.

The Government says that it investigates all allegations of abuse and that it has punished at least some of the offenders. However, the Government does not make public the findings in its torture investigations or what, if any, punishments are imposed. This omission creates a climate of impunity which diminishes the deterrence against torture and abuse.

Defendants have the right to present evidence in court that they have been mistreated during interrogation. However, the courts frequently dismiss torture complaints because defendants are often unable to substantiate their claims with physical evidence. Members of the security forces deliberately hide or misrepresent their identity, a practice that further complicates confirmation of abuse.

The Government has taken some steps to bring its prison system up to internationally recognized minimum standards. Prison conditions are generally acceptable in terms of food, access to basic health care, access to the media, scheduled family visits, cleanliness, and opportunities for exercise and work. The Government has permitted family visits for Jordanian prisoners and granted entry visas to the family members who would normally not be allowed to visit Kuwait.

The National Assembly's Human Rights Committee continued to monitor prison conditions. Committee members visited prisons in early 1995 as they did in the previous year. The committee members noted that problems include overcrowding and the availability of specialized medical care. The Government allows the ICRC access to all detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides for freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. There were no reports of arbitrary arrest this year.

Police officers must obtain an arrest warrant from state prosecutors before making an arrest, although in misdemeanor cases the arresting officer may issue them. Security forces occasionally detain persons at checkpoints in Kuwait City (see Section 2.d.).

Under the Penal Code, a suspect may not be held more than 4 days without charge. Security officers sometimes prevent families from visiting detainees during this confinement. After 4 days, prosecutors must either release the suspect or file charges. If charges are filed, prosecutors may remand a suspect to an additional 21 days in detention. Prosecutors may also obtain court orders for further detention pending trial.

Over 1,900 persons are serving sentences at the central prison of Kuwait, while another 500 are under detention pending deportation. The issuance of deportation orders is arbitrary, and an alien may be deported without trial. The Government may expel noncitizens, even those who have been long-term residents, if it considers them security risks. The Government may also expel foreigners if they are unable to obtain or renew work or residency permits. About 10 percent of the 500 detainees, especially Iraqis or Bidoon (stateless residents of Kuwait), have been in detention for more than 1 year. However, the Government will not deport them to their country of origin against their will. Iraq ended its arrangements for U.N. supervised border crossings in February, preventing the repatriation of those Iraqis who desire to return (see Section 2.d.).

The law protects citizens from exile, and there were no reports of this practice.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution states that "judges shall not be subject to any authority." Nonetheless, the Ministry of Justice controls the judiciary's administrative and financial matters. The Amir appoints all judges on recommendations from the Minister of Justice. Judges who are citizens have lifetime appointments, but the Government also employs many noncitizens as judges. These non-Kuwaiti judges work under renewable contracts, which undermines their independence. The Ministry of Justice may remove judges for cause, but rarely does so. Foreign residents involved in legal disputes with citizens frequently complain that the courts show a bias in favor of Kuwaiti citizens.

In 1995 the National Assembly abolished the Special State Security Court and now has one court system which tries both civil and criminal cases. The Court of Cassation is the highest level of judicial appeal. Sunni and Shi'a Muslims have recourse to courts of their respective denominations for family law case.

Defendants have the right to confront their accusers and appeal verdicts. The Amir has the constitutional power to pardon or commute all sentences. Defendants in felony cases are required by law to be represented in court by legal counsel which the courts will provide in criminal cases. In misdemeanor cases, defendants have the right to waive the presence of legal counsel, and the court is not required to provide counsel to indigent defendants.

Both defendants and prosecutors may appeal court verdicts to the High Court of Appeal, which may rule on whether the law was properly applied, as well as on guilt or innocence of the defendant. Decisions of the High Court of Appeal may be presented to the Court of Cassation, which will conduct a limited, formal review of cases to determine only whether the law was properly applied.

In the regular court system there are no groups, including women, who are barred from testifying or whose testimony is given lesser weight. However, the Islamic courts, which have jurisdiction over family law, apply Islamic law, which states that the testimony of two women equals that of one man.

There are no reported political prisoners, but the Government continues to incarcerate persons convicted of collaboration with Iraq during the occupation. By law such collaboration is a felony. Most of the people convicted in martial law courts (including the majority of collaborators) did not receive fair trials.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for individual privacy and sanctity of the home. The police must obtain a warrant to search both public and private property, unless they are in hot pursuit of a suspect fleeing the scene of a crime, or if alcohol or narcotics are suspected on the premises. The warrant can be obtained from the state prosecutor or, in the case of private property, from a judge. The security forces occasionally monitor the activities of individuals and their communications.

By law males must obtain government approval to marry foreign-born women. However, the Government does not vigorously enforce this restriction, and Kuwaitis routinely obtain exemptions from the Ministry of Justice. The Government also advises women against marrying foreign nationals.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

With a few exceptions, citizens are free to criticize the Government at public meetings and in the media. Several laws empower the Government to impose restrictions on the freedom of speech and the press, but they are rarely invoked.

Kuwaiti newspapers are privately owned and free to publish on many social, economic, and political issues and frequently criticize government policies and officials, including the Crown Prince, who is also the Prime Minister.

The Government ended prepublication censorship in 1992, but journalists still censor themselves. The Press Law prohibits the publication of any direct criticism of the Amir, official government communications with other states, and material that serves to "attack religions" or "incite people to commit crimes, created hatred, or spread dissension among the populace." In 1995 the Government banned publication of one newspaper for 5 days for contravening the law. The media and the National Assembly criticized the ban.

In order to begin publication of a newspaper, the publisher must obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information. Publishers may lose their license if their publications do not appear for 6 months. This 6-month rule prevents publishers from publishing sporadically--it is not used to suspend or shut down existing newspapers. Individuals must also obtain permission from the Ministry of Information before publishing any printed material, including brochures and wall posters.

The Government does not censor foreign journalists and permits them open access to the country.

The Government owns and controls the radio and television companies. The Middle East Broadcasting Company and Egyptian television transmit to Kuwait without censorship. The Government does not inhibit the purchase of satellite dishes. Citizens with such devices are free to watch a variety of programs, including those broadcast from Israel.

The Ministry of Information censors all books, films, videotapes, periodicals, and other imported publications to remove morally offensive material. However, the Ministry has censored political topics as well. The General Organization of Printing and Publishing controls the printing, publishing, and distribution of informational materials in Kuwait.

There is no government censorship of university teaching, research, or publication. However, academics are subject to the same restraints as the media with regard to criticism of the Amir or Islam.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the Constitution affirms the right to assembly, the Government restricts this right, as well as that of association, and bans political parties. Several informal political blocs, acting much like parties, coalesced during the 1992 elections and have been present in succeeding National Assembly sessions. The Government has made no effort to constrain these groupings, which are organized on the basis of common ideological goals. Many may be categorized as "opposition" groups. Public gatherings, however, must receive prior government approval, as must private gatherings of more than 5 persons that result in the issuance of a public statement.

Political activity finds its outlet in informal, family-based, almost exclusively male, social gatherings known as diwaniyas. Practically every male adult, including the Amir, hosts and attends diwaniyas at which every possible topic is discussed.

The diwaniya contributes to the development of political consensus and official decisionmaking.

All nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) must obtain a license from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. The Government uses its power to license as a means of political control. The Ministry has registered over 55 NGO's, including professional groups, a bar association, and scientific bodies. These groups receive government subsidies for their operating expenses. They must obtain permission from the Ministry before attending international conferences. However, since 1985 the Ministry has issued only two licenses. The Ministry has disapproved other license requests on the grounds that previously established NGO's already provide services similar to those proposed by the petitioners.

By banning unregistered NGO's the Government mainly sought to dissolve groups whose efforts were not coordinated with an official government committee working for the release of the missing persons presumed held in Iraq. The ban discourages these groups from fundraising and recruitment, and prevents them from holding public meetings and making their views known in the press. Nevertheless, the Government overlooks the activities of many unregistered NGO's, despite a decree issued in 1993 ordering them to cease activities. No organization has challenged that decree in court.

c. Freedom of Religion

Islam is the state religion. The Constitution states that Islamic law, Shari'a, is "a main source of legislation." The ruling family and many prominent Kuwaiti families belong to the denomination of Sunni Islam. However, 40 percent of the population belong to the Shi'a denomination. They are free to conduct their traditional forms of worship without government interference.

There are several legally recognized expatriate congregations and churches, including a Catholic diocese and several Protestant churches. Expatriates who are members of religions not sanctioned in the Koran (e.g. Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists) may not build places of worship but may worship privately in their homes. The Government prohibits missionaries to proselytize among Muslims; however, they may serve expatriate congregations. The law prohibits religious education for religions other than Islam, although this law does not appear to be rigidly enforced. The Government does not permit the establishment of non-Islamic publishing companies or training institutions for clergy.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens have the right to travel freely within the country and to change their workplace as desired. Unmarried women age 21 and over are free to obtain a passport and travel abroad. However, married women who apply for passports must obtain their husband's written permission. Once she has a passport, a married woman does not need her husband's permission to travel, but he may prevent her departure from the country by placing a 24-hour travel ban on her. He can do this by contacting the immigration authorities. After this 24-hour period, a court order is required if the husband still wishes to prevent his wife from leaving the country. Minors must have their father's permission to travel outside of the country. Citizens are free to emigrate and to return.

A serious problem exists in the case of the Bidoon, who are stateless persons usually of Iraqi or Iranian descent who resided in Kuwait prior to the Iraqi invasion. The Government argues that many Bidoon (the term means "without") are concealing their true citizenship in order to remain in Kuwait, become citizens, and enjoy the generous benefits provided to citizens. Some Bidoon have had residency ties to Kuwait for generations. Others immigrated during the oil boom years. There are approximately 117,000 stateless persons in Kuwait, down from a prewar level of about 220,000. The Government does not wish the return of the Bidoon who departed Kuwait during the Gulf War and frequently delays or denies issuing them entry visas. This policy imposes serious hardships and family separations.

The Government continued its postwar policy of reducing the number of foreign residents from those countries that supported Iraq during its invasion of Kuwait. The number of such residents is now only about 10 percent of its pre-war total. The Government permits the ICRC to verify if a deportee objects to returning to his country of origin. The Government detains those deportees who have objections at the main deportation center.

Security forces in Kuwait City occasionally set up checkpoints where they may detain individuals. The checkpoints are mainly for immigration purposes and are used to apprehend undocumented aliens.

There is no legislation governing refugees, and no clear or standard procedure for processing a person's claim to be a refugee. The Constitution prohibits the extradition of political refugees. The Ministry of Interior may issue residency permits to persons granted political asylum, although this is not a frequent occurrence. The Government states that it does not deport anyone who claims a fear of persecution at home, but it will often keep such persons in detention rather than grant them permission to live and work in Kuwait. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees maintains an office in Kuwait and has access to refugees in detention.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens cannot change their head of state. Women and many others are disenfranchised; only 30 percent of adult citizens are eligible to vote. Under the Constitution, the Amir holds executive power and shares legislative power with the National Assembly. The Prime Minister presides over a 16-member cabinet. In accordance with the practice of the ruling family, the Prime Minister is always the Crown Prince. The Constitution empowers the Amir to suspend its provisions and to rule by decree. In 1986 the Amir effectively dissolved the National Assembly by suspending the constitutional provisions on the Assembly's election. The Assembly remained dissolved until 1992. The Amir had previously dissolved the Assembly from 1976 to 1981.

An election was held for the National Assembly in 1992 in which 303 candidates ran for the Assembly's 50 seats. Members serve 4-year terms. The Constitution empowers the Assembly to overturn any Amiri decrees made during the dissolution. After the election, the Assembly used its power to revoke some decrees issued from 1986 to 1992. Since the Government prohibits political parties, assembly candidates must nominate themselves. Nonetheless, informal political groupings are active in the Assembly (see Section 2.b.).

Approximately 82,000 citizens, almost the entire franchised male population at the time, registered to vote in the 1992 elections. In 1994 the Assembly passed legislation extending the right to vote to the sons of naturalized citizens. It amended that law in 1995 to extend the franchise to citizens naturalized 20 to 30 years ago. These measures should increase the male electorate to an estimated 100-110,000.

Women are disenfranchised and have little opportunity to influence government. In the past, a majority of the members of the National Assembly have expressed opinions favoring women's rights to vote, and a draft law granting this right emerged after 3 years of consideration by a parliamentary committee. However, no strong parliamentary support currently exists for this law, and the Government has made no effort to persuade the National Assembly to pass the legislation. Women's groups in Kuwait are divided on this issue.

Members of Kuwait's Shi'a minority are generally underrepresented in high government positions, although in recent years two Shi'a Muslims were appointed to the Cabinet and one was named to a high-ranking military post.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government has prevented the establishment of local human rights groups by not approving their requests for licenses (see Section 2.b.). The Government permits international human rights organizations to visit and to establish offices. Several organizations conduct field work and report excellent communication with and reasonable cooperation from the Government.

The National Assembly has established a human rights committee which takes testimony from individuals about abuses, investigates prison conditions, and has made nonbinding recommendations for redress (see Section 1.c.). During the year, the Assembly ratified two international human rights conventions: the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and the Convention on the Non-applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, national origin, language, or religion. However, laws and regulations discriminate against women, and non-Kuwaitis face widespread social, economic, and judicial discrimination.


According to some local experts, domestic abuse of women occurs in an estimated 15 percent of all marriages. Each of the country's 50 police stations receives approximately one to two complaints of spousal abuse each week. Women in such cases usually take refuge in the homes of relatives. The police and the courts generally seek to resolve family disputes informally and may ask the offending spouse to sign a statement affirming that he will end the abuse. The police refer serious cases to the psychiatric department at the Ministry of Health. The courts have found husbands guilty of spousal abuse.

A significant number of employers physically abuse expatriate women working as domestic servants, and sexual abuse is also a concern. The local press gives the problem considerable attention. Foreign-born servants have the right to sue their employers for abuse, but few do so owing to both fear of deportation and fear that the judicial system is biased against them. The Government has designated a police station to investigate complaints and provide some shelter for runaway maids. Both the police and the courts have taken action against employers when presented with evidence of serious abuse.

Runaway servants seek shelter at their country's embassy where they seek repatriation or a change in employers. On several occasions, the Philippine embassy has sheltered nearly 300 women at once. Although most of these women sought shelter due to contractual or financial problems with their employers, many also alleged physical and sexual abuse.

Women experience legal and social discrimination. They are denied the right to vote (see Section 3), their testimony is not given equal weight to that of males in the Islamic courts (see Section 1.e.), and married women require their husband's permission to obtain a passport (see Section 2.d). By law only males are able to confer citizenship, which means that children born to Kuwaiti mothers and stateless fathers are themselves stateless. Inheritance is governed by Islamic law, which differs according to sects. For example, Sunni female heirs receive half the male heirs' inheritance, while a sole Shia female heir may receive the whole of her parents' or brother's estate.

Women are traditionally restrained from choosing certain roles in society, and the law restricts women from working in "dangerous industries" and trades "harmful" to health. Educated Kuwaiti women maintain that an Islamic fundamentalist trend limits career opportunities. Women wearing western attire and foreign women experience sexual harassment more frequently than women wearing traditional Islamic garb. Nonetheless, an estimated 28 percent of Kuwaiti women of working age are employed. The law promises "remuneration equal to that of a man provided she does the same work." This promise is respected in practice. Women work as doctors, engineers, lawyers, and professors. A few have reached senior government positions in the Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Education, and the state-owned Kuwaiti Petroleum Corporation. However, there are no female judges or prosecutors, only a few women in the diplomatic service, and none in the National Assembly.

In case of divorce, the Government makes family subsidy payments only to the divorced husband, who is expected by law and custom to provide for his children even though custody of minor children is usually given to the mother. The law discriminates against women married to foreign men. These women are not entitled to government housing subsidies which are available to male citizens. The law also requires Kuwaiti women to pay residence fees for their husbands and does not recognize marriage as the basis for granting residency to foreign-born husbands. Instead, the law grants residency only if the husband is employed. By contrast, Kuwaiti men married to foreign-born women do not have to pay residency fees for their spouses, and their spouses' right to residency derives from marriage.


The Government is committed to the welfare of children. It provides free education and health care to all children and a variety of other services. There is no pattern of societal abuse of children.

People with Disabilities

There is no institutionalized discrimination against disabled persons in housing, employment, education, and in the provision of state services. The Government has not legislated or mandated accessibility for the disabled but does provide extensive benefits for the disabled that cover transportation, job training, and social welfare.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Government's failure to improve the plight of the 117,000 Bidoon remains a significant human rights abuse. The Bidoon have been the objects of hostile government policy since the late 1980's. Since then the Government has eliminated the Bidoons from the census rolls, discontinued their access to government jobs and social services, and sought to deport many Bidoons. In 1993, the Government decreed that Bidoon males would no longer be allowed to enlist in the military service. Those presently in the armed forces are being gradually replaced.

The Bidoon exist in a legal limbo. Because their citizenship and residency status is undetermined, they do not have a legal right to work or enroll their children in public or private schools. If the Bidoon travel abroad, they risk being barred from returning to the country unless they receive advance permission from the immigration authorities. Marriages pose special hardships because the offspring of male Bidoon inherit the father's undetermined legal status.

The Government has established a review process which would regularize the status of some of the Bidoon and their families, especially for any Bidoon who has served in the Kuwaiti military and security forces and for the children born to marriages between Bidoon males and Kuwaiti women. However, the process is slow and ineffective. Government officials and National Assembly members recognize the hardships suffered by the Bidoon, but so far have not acted on the legislation proposed by some members.

Since the end of the Gulf War, the Government has been hostile to workers from those nations that supported Iraq, especially Palestinians, Jordanians, and Yemenis. The Government has delayed or denied the issuance of work and residency permits to persons in these groups, and in many cases has hindered those workers that are permitted to reside in the country from sponsoring their families to join them. The Government imposes further hardships by prohibiting schools from enrolling the children of such persons without valid residency permits.

Religious Minorities

Although Christians are free to practice openly, the Government prohibits Christians from proselytizing Muslims, and Muslims from converting from Islam. The law prohibits non-Muslims from becoming citizens. A non-Muslim male must convert to Islam when he marries a Muslim woman, if the wedding is to be legal in Kuwait. A non-Muslim female does not have to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim male, but it is to her advantage to do so (i.e., failure to do so may ultimately place custody of children in the hands of the Muslim father, should the couple later divorce). Government welfare programs generally do not discriminate against Shi'a Muslim citizens.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right, but are not required, to join unions. Nonetheless, the Government restricts the right of association by prohibiting all workers from freely establishing trade unions. The law stipulates that workers may establish only one union in any occupational trade, and that the unions may establish only one federation. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has long criticized such restrictions.

In 1995 about 50,000 people were organized in 14 unions, 12 of which are affiliated with the Kuwait Trade Union Federation (KTUF), the sole, legal trade union federation. The Bank Worker's Union and the Kuwait Airways Workers Union are independent. The Government has shown no sign that it would accept the establishment of more than one legal trade union federation. The law stipulates that any new union must include at least 100 workers, of whom at least 15 are citizens. Both the ILO and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions have criticized this requirement because it discourages unions in sectors employing few citizens such as the construction industry and domestic sectors.

The Government's pervasive oversight powers further erode union independence. The Government subsidizes as much as 90 percent of most union budgets, may inspect the financial records of any union and prohibits any union from engaging in vaguely defined political or religious activities. The law empowers the courts to dissolve any union for violating labor laws or for threatening "public order and morals." Such a court decision may be appealed. The Amir may also dissolve a union by decree. By law, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is authorized to seize the assets of any dissolved union. The ILO has criticized this aspect of the law. Although no union has been dissolved the law subordinates the legal existence of the unions to the power of the State.

Foreigners constitute most of the work force and about a third of its unionized work force. Yet the law discriminates against foreign workers by permitting them to join unions only after 5 years of residence and only as nonvoting members. Unlike union members who are citizens, foreign workers do not have the right to elect their leadership. The law requires that union officials must be citizens. The ILO has criticized the 5-year residency requirement and the denial of voting rights for foreign workers.

KTUF administers an Expatriate Labor Office which is authorized to investigate complaints of foreign laborers and provides them with free legal advice. Any foreign worker may submit a grievance to the labor office regardless of union status.

The law limits the right to strike. It requires that all labor disputes must be referred to compulsory arbitration if labor and management cannot reach a solution (see Section 6.b.). The law does not have any provision guaranteeing strikers that they will be free from any legal or administrative action taken against them by the State.

Two strikes occurred in 1995. The first was called by approximately 1,000 workers at the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), a government-owned company, to pressure management to upgrade their classifications. The KOC persuaded the workers, all of whom were citizens, to return to their jobs, but did little to address the workers complaints. The second strike was a 1-day sit-down action by nonunion workers at the labor camp of a private company who complained of inadequate food. The workers, all of whom were expatriates, ultimately received more and better food, but the four Bangladeshi leaders of the action were jailed for 21 days and then deported.

The KTUF belongs to the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions and the formerly Soviet-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively, subject to the restrictions cited above. These rights have been incorporated in the Labor Law and have, according to all reports, been respected in practice.

The Labor Law provides for direct negotiations between employers and "laborers or their representatives" in the private sector. Most agreements are resolved in such negotiations; if not, either party may petition the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor for mediation. If mediation fails, the dispute is referred to a labor arbitration board composed of officials from the High Court of Appeals, the Attorney General's office, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor.

The Civil Service Law makes no provision for collective bargaining between government workers and their employer. Technically, wages and conditions of employment for civil service workers are established by the Government, but in practice, the Government sets the benefit scales after conducting informal meetings with officials from the civil service unions. Union officials resolve most issues at the working level and have regular access to senior officials.

The Labor Law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Any worker who alleges antiunion discrimination has the right to appeal to the judiciary. There were no reports of discrimination against employees, based on their affiliation with a union. Employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination must reinstate workers fired for union activities.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced labor "except in cases specified by law for national emergency and with just remuneration."

Foreign workers may not change their employment without permission from their original sponsors unless they have been in the country for over 2 years. Domestic servants are particularly vulnerable to abuses from this practice because they are not protected by the labor law. In many cases employers exercise some control over their servants by holding their passports, although the Government prohibits this practice and has acted to retrieve passports of maids involved in disputes.

Domestic servants who run away from their employers may be treated as criminals under the law. However, the authorities usually do not enforce this provision of the law. In some reported cases, employers illegally withheld wages from domestic servants to cover the costs involved in bringing them to Kuwait. The Government has done little, if anything, to protect domestics in such cases.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The legal minimum age is 18 years for all forms of work, both full- and part-time. Employers must obtain permits from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor to employ juveniles between the ages of 14 and 18 in certain trades. Education is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15. These laws are not fully observed in the nonindustrial sector, although no instances involving Kuwaiti children have been alleged. Some small businessmen employ their children on a part-time basis, and there have been unconfirmed reports that some south Asian domestic servants are under 18, but falsified their age in order to enter Kuwait.

Juveniles may work a maximum of 6 hours a day on the condition that they work no more than 4 consecutive hours followed by a one-hour rest period.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcing all labor laws. There is no legal minimum wage in the private sector. In 1995 the minimum wage in the public sector, administratively set by the Government, was approximately $774 a month (226 dinars) for citizens and approximately $315 a month (90 dinars) for noncitizens.

The Labor Law establishes general conditions of work for both the public and the private sectors, with the oil industry treated separately. The Civil Service Law also prescribes additional conditions for the public sector. Labor law limits the standard workweek to 48 hours with 1 full day of rest per week, provides for a minimum of 14 workdays of leave each year, and establishes a compensation schedule for industrial accidents. Domestic servants, who are specifically excluded from the Private Sector Labor Law, frequently work long hours, greatly in excess of 48 hours.

The ILO has urged the Government to guarantee the weekly 24-consecutive-hour rest period to temporary workers employed for a period of less than 6 months and workers in enterprises employing fewer than five persons. The law pertaining to the oil industry provides for a 40-hour work week, 30 days of annual leave, and a sick leave. Laws establishing work conditions are not always applied uniformly to foreign workers. Labor law also provides for employer-provided medical care and compensation to workers disabled by injury or disease due to job-related causes. The law also requires that employers provide periodic medical examinations to workers exposed to environmental hazards on the job (i.e., chemicals, asbestos, etc.). The Government has issued occupational health and safety standards; however, compliance and enforcement appear poor, especially with respect to unskilled foreign laborers. Employers often exploit workers' willingness to accept substandard conditions. Foreign workers, especially unskilled or semiskilled South Asian workers, frequently face contractual disputes, poor working conditions, and some physical abuse.

Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to their continued employment, and legal protections exist for workers who file complaints about such conditions. Latest available figures for occupational injuries show 1,472 such occurrences in 1994, primarily in the sectors of construction and building, manufacturing, hotels and restaurants, and transportation. To cut accident rates, the Government periodically inspects installations to raise awareness among workers and employers and ensure that they abide by the safety rules, control the pollution resulting from certain dangerous industries, train workers who use new machines in specialized institutes, and report violations.

Search Refworld