Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 08:56 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Kuwait

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Kuwait, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 26 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.

Kuwait's rulers (Amirs), drawn from the Al-Sabah family, have governed the country in consultation with prominent commercial families and other community leaders for over 200 years. The 1962 Constitution provides for an elected National Assembly and details the powers of the Government and the rights of citizens. Although the Constitution permits the Amir to suspend its articles only during a period of martial law, the Amir has twice (from 1976 to 1981 and from 1986 to 1992) suspended constitutional provisions by decree and ruled extraconstitutionally. The October 1992 Assembly elections and the subsequent convening of the Assembly marked a return to parliamentary life. During 1993 the Assembly assumed an active role, enacting legislation, including the national budget. (See Section 3 for further details on the role of the Assembly).

The Ministry of Interior supervises Kuwait's security apparatus, including the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Kuwait State Security (KSS), two agencies that investigate internal security-related offenses. Kuwait's security forces continued to commit human rights abuses, particularly in their treatment of those peoples whose leaders were associated with support for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait (Iraqis, Jordanians, Palestinians, Yemenis, and Sudanese).

Endowed with rich oil resources, Kuwait's market economy made substantial progress in recovering from the destruction caused by the Iraqi occupation. By 1993 Kuwait had an estimated per capita income of approximately $17,234. Reconstruction was largely complete; however, heavy costs accompanied the recovery. Over the past 3 fiscal years, Kuwait incurred a cumulative fiscal deficit of approximately $63 billion, a deficit that it covered by drawing down its foreign assets by half and increasing its public debt. Despite the emphasis the Government places on an open market economy, foreign nationals may not own property or majority shares in significant local businesses and are subject to restrictive labor laws. In addition, the Government has ownership interests in most of the major banks and in many businesses, chiefly in the oil industry.

Although Kuwait showed some progress in human rights in 1993, its overall human rights record was mixed. The Government relaxed its residency restrictions on Gazans, made it easier for foreign workers to sponsor their family members, agreed to begin investigating the cases of long-term detainees, and closed illegal recruitment agencies for domestic servants. The Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly and the press publicized important human rights issues, raising awareness of such issues at both the official and popular level.

Nevertheless, serious human rights problems remained. There were continuing reports of torture and of arbitrary arrest, as well as limitations on the freedoms of assembly and association and women's rights. Political parties remain banned, and citizens do not enjoy the right to change the head of state and government. The Government banned all unlicensed nongovernmental organizations in August, thereby eliminating some organizations that had been engaged in human rights work. The Government continued to refuse to readmit stateless, Iraqi, and Palestinian individuals who had strong family ties to Kuwait, and Kuwaiti labor laws continued to exclude domestic servants from their protective provisions.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

In August the body of a young Iraqi was discovered on the Kuwaiti side of the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border. The Iraqi reportedly died from intracranial bleeding and pressure resulting from a large depressed fracture of the skull, and the body showed clear signs of severe abuse and torture. Preliminary investigations indicated that the youth, along with three companions, had been apprehended by Kuwaiti police while attempting to infiltrate across the border. All four were tortured and subjected to severe abuse before being released near the border a few days later. During the preliminary investigations, Kuwaiti police denied any involvement in the incident and suggested that the perpetrators were Iraqis.

In January a Kuwaiti criminal court convicted three police officers in connection with the death of a Sri Lankan in 1992 and sentenced them each to 5 years in jail with hard labor. The Court of Higher Appeal subsequently reduced the sentences to 2-year suspended sentences following the payment of "blood money" to the deceased's father.

The Government reiterated that it was continuing to investigate the extrajudicial killings that occurred during the chaotic period after Kuwait's liberation in 1991. Most of the killings and disappearances, however, remain unresolved. Only one alleged perpetrator is known to have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted. The defendant, a former police investigator, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of two members and attempted murder of another member of a Lebanese family resident in Kuwait.

b. Disappearance

There were no reported cases of permanent disappearances, but there were credible reports of foreigners (particularly those peoples whose leaders were associated with support for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait) being taken from their homes by unidentified Kuwaitis, held for a few hours, and then released as a tactic of harassment.

Numerous disappearances followed Kuwait's liberation in 1991 as elements of the military and vigilante groups sought retribution against persons, particularly foreigners, whom they suspected of being pro-Iraqi.

While there is no reliable estimate of the total number of disappearances, over 100 cases remained unresolved in 1993. In additional cases where persons are known to be dead, law enforcement officials have failed to identify or indict suspects.

According to the latest and most accurate figures provided to Iraq by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 609 Kuwaitis and residents of Kuwait, including 9 women, were taken prisoner by Iraqi authorities during the occupation and are still missing or detained in Iraq. The Government of Iraq has refused to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, which provides for the detainees' release. Iraq denies that it holds Kuwaiti detainees and refuses to account for missing Kuwaitis taken into Iraqi custody during the occupation.

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

Article 31 of the Constitution specifically prohibits the use of torture, but cases of serious abuse or torture continued to be reported, although far fewer such cases were reported in 1993 than in 1992.

There were credible reports of abuse in Kuwaiti detention facilities, especially at the KSS facility. Reported abuses included blindfolding detainees, verbal abuse, and some physical abuse, particularly beating detainees on the soles of their feet and burning detainees with cigarettes. In some cases detainees were slapped, kicked, or shoved against walls. In one instance, Kuwaiti police and KSS personnel beat and used electrical shocks to torture a Kuwaiti man. The Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly obtained his release, forced the officers involved to resign, and secured financial compensation for the man.

The ICRC has access to all places of detention in Kuwait. The Government claims to have responded to specific allegations of abuse by investigating them and punishing at least some of the offenders. However, because it has not been willing to provide details concerning the types of abuse and the punishment meted out, it is not possible to determine the likely deterrent effect, if any, of such action.

There were also credible reports of abuse of Iraqi infiltrators arrested while attempting to cross the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border (see Section 1.a.). Specifically, there were credible reports of Kuwaiti security personnel beating infiltrators and suspending them from the ceiling for extended periods of time. To date, the Government has not conducted an effective investigation into these reports.

Evidence of mistreatment during interrogation may be submitted to Kuwaiti courts, and confessions or other evidence obtained through torture are excludable. However, a number of sentences handed down by the 1991 martial law courts were based on confessions apparently obtained under torture. In State Security Court trials, including the trial of the 14 men accused of attempting to assassinate former President Bush during his April 1993 visit to Kuwait, defense lawyers occasionally sought exclusion of confessions on the basis of torture. In the latter case, following a court-ordered medical investigation, the judge ruled against excluding the confessions.

While prison conditions do not threaten life, they do frequently threaten health. In addition to experiencing the physical mistreatment described above, prisoners also often must live in severely overcrowded rooms averaging as little as 1 square meter per person.

Prison officials rarely release prisoners with severe medical problems, and sanitary conditions are such that a communicable disease would spread easily throughout the entire prison. Maintenance of toilets and showers is poor, frequently resulting in one shower or toilet being shared by up to 100 people. Maintenance of air conditioning is also inadequate – detainees at the main deportation center went without air conditioning and cold water for the entire summer, often experiencing temperatures above 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Prisoners may, however, exercise outside and receive visits by their family members. The ICRC monitors prison conditions.

In June seven Iraqi detainees at the main deportation center went on a brief hunger strike to protest detention conditions. They sewed their lips together but continued to drink and take nourishment. The Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly investigated conditions at the deportation center and presented a list of recommended improvements to the Minister of Interior. Several of the recommended changes were made, including provision of better medical care at the deportation center.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Article 31 of the Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but this prohibition is not always honored in practice. Although to a lesser degree than in 1992, there were continuing credible reports of arbitrary arrests in 1993, especially of persons picked up at police checkpoints around Kuwait City. Foreign nationals from Yemen, Sudan, Jordan, and Iraq as well as Palestinians were especially subject to harassment and arrest at these checkpoints, as were other people without valid Kuwaiti residency visas.

Arrest warrants are required, but in misdemeanors the arresting officer may issue them. Prosecutorial arrest warrants are used in felony cases. Prosecutors are independent of the Ministry of Interior. A review of the legality of detention is not required, but will be granted upon request. A functioning system of bail exists.

The Kuwaiti Penal Code employs two different standards: one for criminal cases and one for cases involving state security. In all cases, a detainee may not be held for more than 4 days without charge, but in practice that requirement has occasionally been ignored in cases involving the KSS. In cases not involving the KSS, the suspect must either be released or charged by a prosecutor, who may authorize detention for an additional 21 days. A judge may authorize further detention pending trial.

Detention rules are different for cases involving state security. In July 1991, the Government amended the State Security Law to limit to 6 months the period of detention that a prosecutor may authorize. A judge may authorize longer detentions pending trial. A defendant may appeal the detention order to the State Security Court after 21 days in detention. If the appeal is rejected, the defendant may appeal again 30 days after the rejection. The Government, especially the KSS, occasionally prevents families from visiting detainees during the first 4 days while they are being interrogated. After that, families are allowed to visit the detainees. There does not appear to be any long-term incommunicado detention. On average, detainees wait between 20 and 30 days for their trials to begin.

Approximately 650 persons remained in detention as of October, including those who had been convicted in either the State Security or the martial law courts, a decrease of 30 percent since 1992. Approximately 75 percent of these persons were detained under administrative deportation orders, which may be issued arbitrarily and which provide no judicial recourse. Around 10 percent of these persons, especially Iraqis or bidoon (stateless residents of Kuwait), had been in detention for more than 1 year. Cases against many of the people under administrative deportation orders are apparently not strong enough to take to trial, but the Government is unwilling to free them. The Government will not deport them to Iraq against their will; the prisoners have nowhere else to go. Until March of 1993, approximately 30 releases per month took place; after

March the number dropped to approximately 5 releases per month.

Under Kuwaiti law, no Kuwaiti may be exiled. Before the invasion, however, there were a few credible reports of the Government evading this law by revoking citizenship and then deporting the "non-Kuwaiti" individual. There have been no reports of revocations of citizenship in the postinvasion period.

Noncitizens, even long-term residents, may be expelled without charge or judicial recourse if deemed "troublemakers" or "security risks." In addition, foreign nationals may be expelled if they are unable to obtain work or residency permits. During 1993 the Kuwaitis deported approximately 300 detainees and approximately 250 family members of Palestinians, Yemenis, Sudanese, Jordanians, and Iraqis, a marked decrease from the 1992 figures of approximately 1,250 detainees and 2,000 family members deported. The ICRC monitors deportations only of the above-mentioned protected persons, but the Government also deports Iranians and other foreign nationals, including Americans and other Westerners who have violated residency requirements or committed other offenses.

Government policies pressured Palestinians and nationals from Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, and Jordan to leave Kuwait and made it difficult for foreigners in general to sponsor their family members' entry into the country. The Government's actions reflected a deliberate policy aimed at changing the demographic balance to reduce Kuwait's overall reliance on foreign workers, particularly on nationals from countries considered hostile to Kuwait.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Kuwait's judicial system comprises the regular courts, the State Security Court, the Court of Cassation, and the military courts, which have jurisdiction only over offenses committed by members of the armed or security forces, except during periods of martial law. Both Sunni and Shi'a courts exist for family law cases.

The Constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary and states that "judges shall not be subject to any authority." While Kuwait's judicial system is nominally independent, the executive branch controls its administrative and financial matters. In most recent cases, the courts have provided for fair public trials and the right of appeal. The Amir appoints judges in the regular courts on the recommendation of the Justice Ministry. Kuwaiti nationals who serve as judges usually receive lifetime appointments, while many non-Kuwaiti judges serve renewable 1- to 3-year contracts. The Justice Ministry may remove judges for cause, but rarely does so. There have been credible allegations by non-Kuwaitis of instances of pro-Kuwaiti bias in commercial disputes before the courts involving a Kuwaiti and a non-Kuwaiti.

Trials are public unless the judge holds a session in his chambers, a move commonly made in cases involving sexual assault. The Constitution states that "sittings of the court shall be public save in the exceptional cases prescribed by law." Sessions of the State Security Court, including trials of the defendants in the Bush assassination attempt and collaborator trials, were open to the public. Defendants have the right to be present at all trial sessions.

By law, all defendants in felony cases must be represented by attorneys, court-appointed if necessary. In misdemeanor cases, defined as crimes punishable by less than 3 years' imprisonment, legal counsel is optional at the discretion of the defendant, but the court does not have to appoint a defense attorney if the accused cannot afford one. In cases tried by the State Security Court, the Court must notify the defendant of his trial date at least 10 days in advance. In cases tried by the criminal courts, no requirement of advance notice exists. In both systems, however, lawyers may request a delay on the basis of not having had sufficient time and access to their clients in advance of trial. Such a delay was requested by and granted to defense lawyers in the trial of the suspects charged with attempting to assassinate former President Bush.

Defendants may confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to view all accusatory material used against them and must be notified of all prosecution witnesses in advance. The Constitution states that "an accused person is presumed innocent until proved guilty in a legal trial at which the necessary guarantees for the exercise of the right of defense are secured." Defendants tried and convicted in absentia have the right to appeal. Both defendants and prosecutors may appeal verdicts of the State Security Court to the Court of Cassation. The Court of Cassation may conduct a limited, formal review of cases to determine whether the law was properly applied in each sentence. In criminal cases not involving state security, a broader right of appeal is available through the High Court of Appeal. Regarding the case of 10 Palestinians who were sentenced to death by the State Security Court in June, international human rights groups have expressed concern about due process shortcomings, including restrictions on the right of appeal and the lengthy periods of pretrial detention.

In 1991 the Government prosecuted 74 cases involving 164 defendants in martial law courts. These trials did not generally meet internationally accepted standards of due process, but the Government has resisted international pressure to conduct retrials or allow appeals.

Under the Constitution, the Amir has the power to pardon and commute all sentences.

There are no groups (including women) who are barred from testifying or whose testimony is given lesser weight in Kuwait's secular courts. The Islamic courts, however, follow Islamic law, which states that the testimony of one man equals that of two women.

Kuwait holds no Kuwaiti political prisoners but continues to hold foreign detainees and prisoners accused of collaboration with the occupying Iraqi forces, a criminal charge under Kuwaiti law. As noted above, most of the individuals convicted in martial law courts (including the majority of collaborators) did not receive a fair trial.

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

The right to individual privacy and sanctity of the home is provided for in the Constitution, but there were credible reports that authorities continued to ignore this right. Kuwaiti law requires search warrants issued by the court or the prosecutor unless the police are in hot pursuit of a suspect fleeing the scene of a crime or there is an indication of the presence of alcohol or narcotics on the premises. The prosecutor issues search warrants to conduct searches on public premises.

Kuwaiti police frequently manned checkpoints on major roads to search for weapons, infiltrators, or persons without legal residence permits. Although drivers could legally refuse to have their vehicles searched, most allowed the police to do so. There were numerous credible reports of harassment and arrest of foreign nationals (especially peoples whose leaders were associated with support for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, as well as bidoon) at checkpoints. Foreigners without residence permits were also subject to arrest and detention.

In 1986 the Government restricted the right of Kuwaiti males to marry foreigners, decreeing that advance official approval would be required. Government officials said that concern about meeting the State's responsibilities for the children of non-Kuwaiti spouses residing outside the country motivated the action, but the Government was also known to be concerned about the growing number of Kuwaiti males marrying foreigners rather than Kuwaiti women. Kuwaiti women were publicly advised against marrying foreign nationals. The Government has only sporadically enforced the law.

There is occasional surveillance of individuals and communications.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

There are laws that permit the Government to restrict speech and press freedoms, and the Government applied these laws on some occasions in 1993. Many Kuwaitis, including critics of the Government, discussed issues and offered their opinions in public and private meetings. However, public criticism of the Amir or Islam is not permitted, and some public meetings were subject to surveillance by Interior Ministry personnel.

In January 1992, the Government rescinded the 1986 decrees that provided for prepublication censorship. The Kuwaiti Journalists Association concurrently drafted and implemented a code of journalists' professional ethics. However, less overt constraints on press freedom remain.

The press law restricts the press from publishing materials that contain direct criticisms of the Amir, that involve official confidential communications or treaties and agreements with other states, or that "might incite people to commit crimes, create hatred, or spread dissension among the people." With the end of prepublication censorship, the Kuwaiti press had to become its own censor, exercising judgment about what to print under the press law, subject to potential government legal action. The Government sometimes used the law to control and punish the press during 1993. For example, the Attorney General issued a statement instructing local newspapers to ban reporting on financial scandals. The local press published editorials denouncing the ban, and "violators" of the ban have not been punished. Despite numerous efforts by various parties to obtain his release, a Yemeni journalist remained in the main deportation center where he had been sent in 1991 after reporting on a controversy at the Ministry of Education.

The press discussed a wide variety of social, economic, and political issues and criticized government policies and officials, taking care to avoid criticism that the Government might construe as libelous in nature. The press criticized senior Kuwaiti officials, including the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, and the Minister of Interior, all of whom belong to the Al-Sabah family, on some issues but avoided criticism of the Amir. Foreign press reporting from Kuwait is uncensored, and foreign journalists have generally open access to the country. Newspapers must have a license from the Ministry of Information. By law, publishers lose this license if their publications do not appear for 6 months.

One weekly leftist newspaper that served as an oppositionist democratic forum resumed publication in 1993; it had been banned since before the invasion. In March the National Assembly overturned a 1988 Amiri decree dealing with secret state documents. The Amiri decree, issued during a period when the National Assembly had been dissolved, gave ministers discretion to treat as state secrets practically all official documents that were not officially declassified. Under this decree, journalists who revealed the contents of apparently innocuous documents could be subject to criminal prosecution.

In a related case, the courts ruled in favor of an opposition newspaper that had been charged with publishing military secrets.

The Government owns and controls radio and television, but the Middle East Broadcasting Company and Egyptian television transmit their programs directly onto Kuwaiti television without censorship. Satellite dishes are not forbidden, and many Kuwaitis watch a wide variety of uncensored cable television programming, including Israeli television.

Kuwait has a Censorship Department which reviews all books, films, videotapes, periodicals, and other material entering Kuwait in bulk or for commercial purposes. In practice, such censorship is sporadic and aimed mostly at material considered morally offensive or pornographic. In addition, the General Organization of Printing and Publishing controls the printing, publishing, and distribution of informational materials in Kuwait. Private Kuwaiti cooperative societies occasionally boycott publications that offend moral sensibilities or Islam.

Academics operate with no apparent censorship of their teaching, research, or writings, while subject to the same restraints as the media with regard to criticism of the Amir or Islam.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

While political parties are banned, the Government has taken no action against a number of political groups that acted much as parties during the 1992 elections and succeeding National Assembly session. Political activity finds its outlet in informal, family-based social gatherings known as diwaniyas. The Constitution affirms the right to private assembly "without permission or prior notification," specifying that "the police may not attend such private meetings," and also affirms the right to public meetings, processions, and gatherings that are "peaceful and not contrary to morals." Public gatherings, however, must receive prior government approval, as must private gatherings of more than five persons that result in the issuance of a public statement. Professional groups, bar associations, and scientific bodies operate and maintain international contacts without government interference.

To operate legally in Kuwait, a nongovernmental organization

(NGO) must obtain an official permit through the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. Since 1985, however, the Ministry has granted no such permits for NGO's, with the sole exception of a permit issued in 1991 for the Women's Volunteer Association, headed by the wife of the Crown Prince. The Ministry has denied all other requests on the grounds that Kuwait already has enough NGO's. Over 55 NGO's are currently registered. The Government subsidizes all licensed NGO's. Kuwait's law on public interest associations has been criticized by international human rights organizations as being clearly defective when compared to international standards for freedom of association.

Despite the Ministry's refusal to issue additional permits, private organizations have flourished in Kuwait, especially since liberation, their illegal status largely overlooked by the Government. In August, however, the Council of Ministers passed a decree stating that all unregistered NGO's must cease operations. The action appeared to be directed particularly at organizations working for the release of the missing Kuwaitis presumed held in Iraq and had the effect of eliminating some organizations that have been engaged in human rights work (see Section 4). Some of these groups had engaged in activities that the Government viewed as politically unacceptable.

c. Freedom of Religion

Kuwait's state religion is Islam; the Constitution states that Shari'a (Islamic law) is "a main source of legislation" and also declares that "freedom of belief is absolute" but must not "conflict with public policy or morals." The ruling family and many prominent Kuwaiti families are Sunni Muslims. There are no restraints on worship by Shi'a Muslims, who constitute approximately 40 percent of all Kuwaitis. Kuwait has a tiny Arab Christian minority that is allowed to practice its religion freely. There are a number of legally recognized expatriate Christian congregations and churches, including a Catholic diocese and an American-sponsored Protestant church. Foreign nationals (e.g., Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists) who practice certain religions not sanctioned in the Koran may not build places of worship but may worship privately in their homes. Missionaries may not enter the country and proselytize, but foreign clergy may enter Kuwait to serve expatriate congregations in a pastoral function. Kuwaiti law prohibits religious education for religions other than Islam, although this law does not appear to be rigidly enforced. Non-Islamic clergy training institutions and publishing houses do not exist in Kuwait.

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

In general, Kuwaiti citizens have the right to travel freely within the country and to change their workplace as desired. Representatives of societies, associations, and trade unions wishing to travel abroad and participate in international meetings must receive prior permission. In theory, both men and women enjoy the same freedom to travel abroad, but there are limitations in practice. Husbands may prevent their wives and minor children from leaving the country by refusing to sign the required documentation that airport officials may ask departing wives to show upon leaving the country. Married women who apply for passports must obtain their husband's signature on the application form. Kuwaitis are free to emigrate and to return.

An anomalous situation exists in the case of the bidoon – stateless persons generally of Bedouin background who claim that they have no nationality – who resided in Kuwait prior to the Iraqi invasion. The Government argues that many bidoon are merely concealing their true citizenship so that they can remain in Kuwait, become Kuwaiti citizens, and enjoy the generous government benefits provided to Kuwaitis. While some bidoon have longstanding ties to Kuwait, others immigrated to Kuwait in the 1960's and 1970's in response to the oil and construction booms. An estimated 120,000 of the preinvasion bidoon population of about 220,000 remained in Kuwait in 1993. The Government prevented the return of bidoon who had left Kuwait, either willingly or by force, during the Iraqi invasion by delaying or denying their entry visas. The Government's action imposed severe separation hardships on some families.

In 1993 the Government continued its postwar policy of reducing the number of Iraqis, bidoon, Palestinians, and other foreign nationals in the country. Under the arrangements worked out between the Kuwaitis and ICRC representatives, the ICRC was able to interview deportees to verify that they did not object to returning to Iraq. If they did object, they remained in the main deportation center.

As of October, 5,000 of the 8,000 Gazan Palestinians remaining in Kuwait and holding Egyptian laissez passer travel documents had been given 1-year residence permits. The Government relaxed its restrictions on the remaining Gazans, establishing a tacit agreement not to round up Gazans for violating residence laws. Many Gazans, however, left Kuwait voluntarily in response to social and economic pressure.

Kuwait has no national legislation on refugees, but the Constitution prohibits the extradition of political refugees. Persons who are granted political asylum are automatically issued residence permits. The Government does not deport refugees who object to returning to their country of origin, but it does ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to resettle such persons in a third country, as allowing them to remain in Kuwait would not fit in with the Government's population restructuring program, designed to reduce the number of foreigners in Kuwait. The UNHCR has refused all such requests. Refugees may also be held in detention if they are regarded as potential security risks.

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

Kuwaitis do not enjoy the right to change the head of state and government. The 30 percent of adult Kuwaitis eligible to vote (see below) choose the membership of the National Assembly. Under the Constitution, executive power is vested in the Amir and under him in an appointed Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister who, in accordance with family politics, has been the Crown Prince. Following the 1992 elections, the Prime Minister formed a 16-member Cabinet which included 6 elected Assembly members. While the Constitution places legislative power in the hands of the Amir and the Assembly, that has not prevented the Amir from twice suspending constitutional provisions and ruling extraconstitutionally.

The most recent dissolution of the Assembly, decreed by the Amir in July 1986, lasted until the October 1992 elections. Although the Constitution grants the Amir the right to suspend the Assembly, it also obliges him to hold elections for a new Assembly within 2 months of the dissolution, otherwise the old Assembly regains its authority until the new one is elected.

The 1986 decree circumvented the election requirement by suspending the section of the Constitution that called for new elections. The Constitution gives the Amir the authority to suspend its articles only during periods of martial law. The Amir declares martial law. The Amir had previously dissolved the Assembly from 1976 to 1981. In the Assembly's absence, the Amir rules by decrees having the force of law. The Assembly has the constitutional right to review and approve or overturn Amiri decrees made in its absence. After its convocation, the 1992 Assembly reviewed all of the Amiri decrees and revoked some of them, including the official secrecy law (see Section 2.a.) and an amendment to the law on public associations.

Constitutionally, elections for the Assembly are to take place every 4 years by secret ballot. The electoral law provides that candidates for the Assembly be self-nominated, with multiple candidates permitted for the 50 seats. In 1992, 303 candidates registered for parliamentary elections.

Kuwaiti law prohibits the establishment of political parties; however, the Government tacitly accepted the existence of several opposition political groups which acted much as political parties during the 1992 Assembly elections and the ensuing Assembly session.

The law limits suffrage to adult males who resided in Kuwait before 1920 and maintained a residence there until 1959 and to their adult male descendants (21 years of age and older). According to current nationality law, naturalized citizens who do not meet the pre-1920 qualification but who have been naturalized citizens for at least 30 years must wait until 1996 to acquire the right to vote. This waiting period means that a large number of citizens do not have the right or the ability to participate in Kuwaiti elections.

Distinctions based on parentage, length of residence, and gender limit suffrage to approximately 30 percent of the adult population. In the 1992 elections, approximately 82,000 eligible Kuwaitis (almost the entire enfranchised male population) registered to vote. While a majority of candidates elected to the National Assembly expressed opinions favoring women's right to vote during their election campaigns, a public backlash after the election resulted in several proposals on this issue being held in committee. While both the Amir and the Prime Minister have publicly stated that they favor political rights for women, they have maintained that the National Assembly must decide the question.

Non-Kuwaiti residents do not exercise any political rights, nor do they participate in decisions affecting their interests.

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

There are now no private local human rights organizations legally functioning in Kuwait. Until the Council of Ministers' decree banning all unlicensed NGO's in August (see Section 2.b.), the privately organized Kuwait Association for the Defense of War Victims (KADWV), created in March 1991, sought to help in the repatriation of internees from Iraq and address the physical and psychological needs of former prisoners of war and torture victims of the Iraqi occupation. KADWV also sought to curb human rights abuses in Kuwait and took special interest in alleviating the problems of the bidoon. Before the ban, the Government by and large did not interfere in the work of the KADWV, although on December 10, 1991 (Human Rights Day), it censored a KADWV publication that commemorated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Government has permitted visits and often met with representatives of various international organizations and private agencies concerned with human rights, while remaining largely unresponsive to their criticisms and recommendations.

Government officials also cooperated with international humanitarian organizations, including the ICRC, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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


Women in Kuwait suffer discrimination in both law and practice in many areas. Women are denied the right to vote (see Section 3) and are traditionally restrained from freely choosing certain roles in society. There are no female judges or prosecutors, and only a few female Kuwaiti diplomats are stationed outside of Kuwait.

While spousal abuse exists in Kuwait, there are no shelters for women who have been abused by their husbands. Instead, cases are referred to the psychiatric department at the Ministry of Health. Police station and Ministry of Interior employees who handle complaints of spousal abuse are specifically instructed to try to reconcile the dispute within the family before opening a case. Each of the country's 50 police stations receives approximately one to two complaints of spousal abuse each week. Offending spouses are asked to sign a statement at the police station stating that they will not continue the abuse.

Kuwaiti women who wear Western attire and foreign women are subjected to sexual harassment. The physical and sexual abuse of some expatriate Asian women (especially from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and other south Asian countries) who work as domestic servants received considerable attention in the press. Some observers believe that the problem worsened after liberation. On several occasions, the Philippine Embassy sheltered over 100 women at once. Although most of these women sought shelter due to contractual or financial problems with their employers, some cases involved physical and sexual abuse.

Domestic servants may take legal recourse against their employers for abuse but generally do not because of a generally substantiated fear of reprisal and a sustained fear that the police and the judicial system will side with the Kuwaiti employer. In March the Court of Appeal reduced to 2 years a 10-year sentence that had been imposed on a Jordanian couple who had been convicted of "unintentionally" killing their Philippine maid through starvation and beatings. In July, however, a Kuwaiti man and his Lebanese wife were sentenced to 7 years in jail for the "unintentional murder" of their Philippine maid. Although cited as an example of the Court's willingness to sentence a Kuwaiti for a crime committed against a domestic servant, the conviction on the basis of "unintentional murder" appeared highly questionable in view of the maid's injuries, which included a broken pelvis, broken arms, and burns over all her body. The Government said it acted to punish abusers, but government action did not deal effectively with the problem. The Government established an office to investigate crimes and complaints involving domestics but has not yet acted on plans to establish a shelter for runaway maids. As an interim measure, the authorities designated a central police station to handle maids' complaints and shelter a small number of maids. In addition to assisting foreign embassies with the repatriation of some of these women, the Government began to regulate recruitment agencies and close down unscrupulous ones.

Kuwaiti courts have the authority to dissolve a marriage if a woman is in danger of being harmed by her husband; Kuwaiti judges have also found husbands guilty of spousal abuse. Prostitution, although prohibited by Kuwaiti law, takes place.

Some legal discrimination against women exists, particularly with respect to Kuwaiti women married to foreign men. Such women receive no government housing assistance and must pay residence fees for their husbands; residence is not guaranteed for their husbands unless the husband is working. In contrast, Kuwaiti men married to foreign women do not have to pay any fees for their spouses, whose right to residence is automatic. Females do not receive social security benefits. Under the Islamic laws of inheritance, male heirs receive twice as much as do female heirs. (These laws apply only to Muslims; a special judge handles cases for non-Muslims.) Women may own property and have the same property rights as men do.

Women are restricted from working in "dangerous industries and trades harmful to the health." They are promised "remuneration equal to that of a man provided she does the same work." This promise is respected in practice.

Kuwaiti women may drive and do not have to follow a dress code. They have full access to government-provided higher education, and an estimated 60 percent of women of working age are employed. Women work as doctors, engineers, lawyers, and professors. A few women have reached senior government positions. In July a woman was appointed to the Amiri Diwan (royal court) as Director of Political Affairs; a July Amiri decree named the first female president of Kuwait University. In September the woman Director of Political Affairs in the Amiri Diwan became Under Secretary in the Ministry of Higher Education. Kuwait named its first woman ambassador in 1993 and the state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC), which runs Kuwait's oil industry, named a woman as its Managing Director for Administration and Economic Affairs, one of KPC's four top positions.

While a number of individual Kuwaiti women speak openly about the need to grant more rights to women, Kuwait lacks an organized women's rights movement. Before the invasion, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation (KTUF) had a Working Woman Committee. The Committee has not yet resumed full activities since the Gulf war.

Another group, the Women's Social-Cultural Society, has committees dealing with cultural affairs, social activities, alms, nurseries, cancer, the media, cooking, tailoring, illiteracy eradication, and the Kuwaitis presumed detained in Iraq. The Society also concerns itself with statistical studies on women, cases of Kuwaiti women married to non-Kuwaitis, legal and psychological counseling for women, and children's welfare.


The Government demonstrates its commitment to children's human rights and welfare through financial means. For example, the Government provides child benefit allowances and provides free education and health care to all Kuwaiti children. The Government also subsidizes infant formula.

Governmental expenditures on children's welfare cover orphans, foster children, handicapped children, and mentally impaired children. The Government also provides monthly financial assistance for approximately 10,000 limited-income families with children.

There is no pattern of societal abuse (including child prostitution) of children. Children of persons awaiting deportation are held along with their parents at the main deportation facility. The Ministry of Interior forbade schools, public and private, from accepting children who do not have valid residence permits.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The plight of the bidoon (long-term residents of undetermined nationality) remained one of the most pressing human rights abuses in 1993. In the late 1980's and up to the time of Iraq's invasion, the Government promulgated a series of measures that, inter alia, dropped the bidoon from the census rolls and stripped them of civil identification cards which had entitled the bearer to a variety of social services. Many of these persons were in limbo, without the legal right to work, attend school, travel in and out of Kuwait, or marry. The Government established a screening process to grant residence permits to bidoon who had served in the Kuwaiti military and security forces and their families and to bidoon in special categories (children of Kuwaiti/bidoon marriages).

In 1993 the President of Kuwait's Martial Judicial Authority announced that bidoon may no longer join the Kuwaiti army. (This decree reversed a 1967 law which allowed bidoon to enlist; it did not affect the bidoon already in the army.)

Foreign nationals are prohibited from having majority ownership in virtually every business other than certain small service-oriented businesses and may not own property. The Government continued its Kuwaitization policy, begun in 1991, applying significant labor and educational access restrictions to foreigners, especially Palestinians and other "suspect" nationalities. These persons found it difficult to obtain work and resident permits. The Government's tying of access to education to possession of a valid residence permit further restricted access to public education, creating hardships for some foreign nationals with families.

In past years, as part of its deliberate demographic policy to reduce the number of expatriates in the country, the Government also made it difficult for foreign workers to sponsor their families for residency by installing high minimum wage requirements for the individual workers wishing to apply for family visas. In mid-1993, however, the Government eased these difficulties by abolishing the visa fees for children and lowering the minimum wage requirements by almost 50 percent.

Religious Minorities

Before the 1986 dissolution of the National Assembly, Islamic groups within that body secured a bar on granting citizenship to non-Muslims that is still in effect.

The administration of Kuwait's extensive welfare programs reflected no evidence of discrimination among citizens based on religion. Kuwait's Shi'a minority are less likely, however, to be appointed to sensitive government positions, although two ministers, including the important Minister of Oil, and a high-ranking military officer are Shi'a.

People with Disabilities

No institutionalized discrimination exists against physically disabled persons in housing, employment, education, and provision of state services.

While the Government has not legislated or otherwise mandated accessibility for the disabled, Kuwaitis show a high degree of concern about the problems facing people with disabilities. A Committee for Disabled People exists as part of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, the Ministry which serves as the regulatory agency for such issues. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor also provides extensive benefit programs covering transportation, job training, and social welfare for the disabled. Although not required to do so by law, almost all grocery stores have designated special parking spaces for the disabled.

A government rehabilitation center exists, as does a private society for handicapped children.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Kuwaiti workers have the right to join unions, but Kuwaiti law prevents the establishment of more than one union per functional area or more than one general confederation. Union membership in 1993 was approximately 28,400 people organized in 14 unions. All but two of the unions, the Bank Workers' Union and the Kuwait Airways Workers Union, are affiliated with the Kuwait Trade Union Federation (KTUF). The KTUF consists of nine civil service unions (18,800 members) and three oil sector unions (6,900 members), but the oil unions have equal representation (36 members) in the 72-member KTUF assembly. The remaining two unions had approximately 2,700 members.

Foreign workers, who constitute the vast majority of the work force, were permitted by law to join unions as nonvoting members after 5 years of residence in Kuwait. In practice, foreign workers interested in union membership may generally join within a year of starting employment and residency in Kuwait. In 1993 non-Kuwaitis constituted 33 percent of the unionized workers.

Kuwaiti labor law stipulates that any new union must include at least 100 workers, at least 15 of whom must be Kuwaiti. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) criticizes the latter requirement because it prevents workers in sectors where few Kuwaiti nationals are employed, notably the construction and domestic sectors, from organizing in trade unions. The KTUF opened an "Expatriate Labor Office," responsible for resolving problems between foreign workers and their employers in the private sector. The office does not interact with the Government. It looks into complaints of foreign laborers, provides legal advice free of charge, and takes necessary action. The office assists all foreign laborers, regardless of whether or not they are union members.

Although unions are legally independent organizations, in fact,

the Government maintains a large oversight role with regard to their financial records; 90 percent of union budgets are in the form of government subsidies. Unions must also follow a standard format for internal rules and constitutions, which includes prohibitions of any involvement in domestic political, religious, or sectarian issues. In practice, these limitations have not prevented unions from engaging in a wide range of activities. In 1992 and 1993, for example, unions played some role in domestic political affairs; the KTUF actively sought the return of the Kuwaitis detained in Iraq, supported Kuwait's return to parliamentary life in October 1992, urged members of the electorate to vote, and called for standardization of Kuwaiti nationality.

Under the law, a court may dissolve a union for violating labor laws or laws concerning the "preservation of public order and morals." Such a court decision may be appealed. The Amir may also dissolve a union by decree. No union has been dissolved in either manner. Kuwaiti citizen union members have the right to elect representatives of their own choosing, provided the candidates are also Kuwaitis and can demonstrate that they have no criminal record.

The right to strike is recognized but is limited by Kuwaiti labor law, which provides for a compulsory negotiation followed by arbitration if a settlement cannot be reached between labor and management (see Section 6.b.).

One strike occurred in April. Conducted by 170 petroleum workers protesting a 12-year-old labor dispute, it was settled between the Ministry of Oil and the petroleum syndicate within a few days. Kuwait is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and has ratified the 1948 ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association. However, Kuwaiti laws do not have specific provisions to prohibit retribution against strikers and strike leaders.

The ILO's Committee of Experts (COE) reiterated again in 1993 its longstanding criticisms of a number of discrepancies between the Kuwaiti Labor Code and ILO Conventions 1, 30, and 87 on hours of work and freedom of association and noted the Government's assertion that draft revisions to the Labor Code fulfill all provisions of the conventions "except those which run counter to national security."

Areas criticized by the ILO included the prohibition on establishing more than one trade union for a given field, the requirement that a new union must have at least 100 workers, the requirement that foreign workers must reside in Kuwait for 5 years before joining a trade union, the denial to foreign trade unionists the right to vote and to be elected, the prohibition against trade unions engaging in any political or religious activity, and the reversion of trade union assets to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor in the event of dissolution.

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.

Collective bargaining is a three-step process beginning with direct negotiations. The Labor Law provides for direct negotiations between employers and "laborers or their representatives" in the private sector. In practice, most agreements are resolved through negotiations, possibly with the assistance of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. Some employers have wage scales set by wage surveys. If an amicable agreement is not reached, the parties may petition the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor for settlement. If no agreed solution is reached by this means, the dispute is referred to a labor arbitration board composed of officials representing the High Court of Appeals, the Attorney General's office, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. Most differences do not reach arbitration.

The Civil Service Law makes no provision for collective bargaining between government workers and their employers. The government administratively sets civil service wages. Many consider civil service wages and benefits more generous than wages and benefits for comparable jobs in the private sector. In practice, government workers' representatives and ministry officials hold coordination meetings on a periodic basis. If the individual ministry and its workers do not reach an agreement, the issue is raised to the Council of Ministers, whose chairman, the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, also chairs the Civil Service Council. Union officials resolve most issues at the working level and enjoy free access to the Crown Prince and other senior officials.

Kuwaiti 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 union or nonunion employees. Employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination must reinstate workers fired for union activities.

There are no export processing zones in Kuwait.

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." Nonetheless, there continue to be credible reports that foreign nationals employed as domestic servants have been denied exit visas if they seek them without their employers' consent.

Foreign nationals must obtain a Kuwaiti sponsor in order to obtain a residence permit and cannot change their employment without permission from their original sponsors. Domestic servants are particularly vulnerable to abuses from this practice because they are not protected by Kuwaiti labor law. Sponsors frequently hesitate to grant their servants permission to change jobs because of their financial investment in the servants. 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 can be treated as criminals under Kuwaiti 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 minimum age under Kuwaiti law is 18 years for all forms of work, both full- and part-time. Compulsory education laws exist for children between the ages of 6 and 15. These laws are not fully observed in the nonindustrial sector. 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. The Minister of Social Affairs and Labor is charged with enforcing minimum age regulations. Employers may also obtain permits from the Ministry to employ juveniles between the ages of 14 and 18 in certain trades.

Juveniles may work a maximum of 6 hours per day on the condition that they work no more than 4 consecutive hours followed by a rest period of at least 1 hour.

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. A two-tiered labor market ensures high wages for Kuwaiti employees while foreign workers, particularly unskilled laborers, receive substantially lower wages. In 1993 the minimum wage in the public sector, administratively set by the Government, was approximately $630 a month (180 Kuwaiti dinars) for Kuwaitis and approximately $315 a month (90 Kuwaiti dinars) for non-Kuwaitis, amounts sufficient to provide a decent living for a worker and his family.

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 Kuwait 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. Reflecting the petroleum sector's importance to Kuwait, the law governing employment in this area is more generous than the general laws. It provides for a 40-hour workweek, 30 workdays of annual leave, and a generous sick leave policy which authorizes sick leave for up to 2 years. Laws establishing work conditions are not always applied uniformly to foreign workers. Kuwaiti 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. Kuwaiti 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. In August several Indian laborers accused the Kuwaiti police of beating them after police intervened in a bitter contractual dispute. They also alleged that some of them had occasionally been forced to work clearing unexploded mines along the Iraqi border, a task for which they had no training. In practice Kuwaiti labor laws do not protect most foreign workers well.

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. In 1992 there were 798 occupational injuries, 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.

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