Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1996--Kuwait
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 from British protectorate status, 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 from 1976 to 1981 and from 1986 to 1992
and ruled extraconstitutionally during these periods. Iraq occupied
Kuwait from August 1990 until its forces were expelled in February
1991. The National Assembly resumed functioning after the 1992
elections, and elections were held again in October. New legislation
in October granted the judiciary greater administrative and financial
independence, but the Amir appoints all judges.
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.
Richly endowed with oil, the country's estimated per capita gross
national product is approximately $20,600. Costly reconstruction
undertaken to recover from the destruction caused by the Iraqi
occupation led the Government to incur a cumulative fiscal deficit
of approximately $70 billion, which it covered by liquidating
government-owned foreign assets and increasing the public debt.
The Government is gradually reducing the deficit and plans to
eliminate it by the year 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. The Government has initiated a program of disposing
of its holdings of stock in private companies.
The Government's human rights record improved, although problems
remain in certain areas. Police abuse detainees during interogation,
and guards beat a large number of prisoners after a January prison
riot. Citizens cannot change their head of state. The Government
bans formal political parties, and women do not have the right
to vote. The Government restricts freedom of assembly and association,
and places some limits on the freedom of religion. Journalists
practice self-censorship. The Government prevents the return
to Kuwait of stateless persons who have strong ties to the country.
Deportation orders may be issued by administrative order, and
hundreds of persons are being held in detention facilities pending
deportation. Many have been held for a year or more. Discrimination
and violence against women are problems. The Government restricts
the rights of women, e.g., women do not have the right to vote.
Domestic servants are not protected by labor law, and unskilled
foreign workers suffer from lack of a minimum wage in the private
sector and from failures to enforce labor law.
However, for the first time, sons of naturalized male citizens
and citizens naturalized between 20 and 30 years ago were eligible
to vote in the October National Assembly elections. Although
the Government continues to be indifferent to the human rights
problems of the more than 100,000 stateless people residing in
Kuwait known as the "bidoon," the Government naturalized
a small fraction of the bidoon, and made some efforts to address
their status. The Amir commuted the sentences of four individuals
who were convicted of security offenses in 1991 by the Martial
Law Court. During the year the National Assembly passed laws
granting the judiciary greater administrative and financial independence
and providing for increased access and employment opportunites
for the disabled.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
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.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
There have been no developments since 1994 in the 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 602 Kuwaitis and
residents of Kuwait, including 8 women, who were taken prisoner
during Iraq's occupation of Kuwait. Iraq repatriated one woman
in May. 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
The Constitution prohibits torture, however, there continue to
be credible reports that the police physically abuse detainees
during interrogation. The police were more likely to inflict
such abuse on non-Kuwaitis than on citizens. Reported abuse includes
blindfoldings, verbal threats, 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 abuse
investigations or what, if any, punishments are imposed. This
omission creates a climate of impunity, which diminishes deterrence
against torture and abuse. Prison guards beat a large number
of prisoners following a prison riot in January. Although authorities
apparently put an end to the abuse, it is not known if the guards
involved in the beatings were disciplined.
Defendants have the right to present evidence in court that they
have been mistreated during interrogation. However, the courts
frequently dismiss abuse complaints because defendants are often
unable to substantiate their complaints with physical evidence.
Members of the security forces deliberately hide or misrepresent