Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1997Kuwait
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 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 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 an international
coalition. The National Assembly resumed functioning after the
1992 elections. National Assembly elections were held again in
1996. Legislation passed in 1996 granted the judiciary greater
administrative and financial independence, but the Amir appoints
all judges, and renewal of many judicial appointments as subject
to government approval.
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, in 1997 the country's estimated gross
domestic product (GDP) is approximately $17,667 per capita. The
decline in per capita GDP from previous years reflects a significant
increase in resident foreign workers rather than a decline in
economic activity. 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
2000. Due to high oil revenues in 1997, Kuwait recorded a $1.3
billion budget surplus. 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. According to government statistics,
92 percent of the indigenous work force is employed by the Government.
Expatriates constitute 94 percent of the private sector work
The Government's human rights record improved somewhat, although
serious problems remain in certain areas. Citizens cannot change
their head of state. Police abuse detainees during interrogation.
The Government bans formal political parties and women do not
have the right to vote or seek election to the National Assembly.
The Government restricts freedom of assembly and association,
and places some limits on freedom of religion. Journalists practice
self-censorship, and the Government uses informal 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 people
are being held in detention facilities pending deportation. Many
have been held for up to 6 years. Discrimination and violence
against women are problems. Domestic servants are not protected
by labor law, and unskilled foreign workers suffer from a lack
of a minimum wage in the private sector, and from failures to
enforce labor law.
Although the Government has not found a solution to the human
rights problems of the approximately 114,000 stateless people
residing in Kuwait known as the "bidoon", the Government
naturalized a small fraction of the bidoon, and made a proposal
to consider the naturalization of approximately 10 percent of
the bidoon population. The Amir commuted the sentences of 12
individuals who were convicted of security offenses in 1991 by
Martial Law and State Security courts.
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 extra-
judicial killings that occurred during the chaotic period after
Kuwait's liberation in February 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 598 Kuwaitis and
residents of Kuwait, including 6 women, who disappeared 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
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits torture; however, there continue to
be credible reports that some police and members of the security
forces abuse detainees during interrogation. Reported abuse includes
blindfoldings, verbal threats, slaps, and blows. Police and security
forces were more likely to inflict such abuse on non-Kuwaitis,
particularly citizens of other non-Gulf Arab nations and Asians,
than on citizens. There were credible reports of more serious
abuse, including beatings, of several persons held in custody,
although these appear to be isolated incidents.
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 of its investigations
or what, if any, punishments are imposed. This omission creates
a climate of impunity, which diminishes deterrence against abuse.
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 routinely do not reveal their
identity during interrogation, a practice that further complicates
confirmation of abuse.
Prison conditions, including conditions for those held for security
offenses, meet minimum international standards, in terms of food,
access to basic health care, scheduled family visits, cleanliness,
and opportunities for work and exercise. Continuing problems
include overcrowding and the availability of specialized medical
care. In addition, some minor children of female prisoners stay
in the prison with their mothers, where they are provided some
access to educational instruction. In January the Government
acted to improve prison conditions by removing contraband in the
form of illegal drugs and weapons from the prison population and
by removing prison officials who were implicated in drug smuggling.
Some Jordanian prisoners alleged that they had been abused during
a January search and seizure operation. Investigations of the
incident by local and international humanitarian organizations
suggested that it was an isolated event, that the Jordanians were
not specifically targeted, and that it did not characterize overall
The National Assembly's Human Rights Committee continues to monitor
prison conditions, and 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 during the
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.
Approximately 1,800 persons are serving sentences or pending trial
at the central prison. Of the 1,800, approximately 200 are being
held in the central prison on security-related grounds. At any
given time, an additional 600 prisoners are being held in the
Talha detention facility pending deportation. Many deportation
orders are issued administratively, without benefit of a trial.
The Government may expel noncitizens (including "bidoon",
i.e., stateless residents of Kuwait, some of whom are native-born
or 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 detainees awaiting deportation, especially Iraqis, stateless
Palestinians, Jordanians, and bidoon, have been in detention for
more than 1 year, some for up to 6 years. However, the Government
does not deport such detainees to their country of origin against
their will. The Government began granting bail, upon the sponsorship
of a citizen, to prisoners held on non-security related charges
at Talha deportation center. The Government also improved health
and nutritional standards at the center. In November the Government
implemented an amnesty program that allowed illegal residents,
if they had no previous charges pending, to depart the country
without penalty through December 16 (see Section 2.d.).
The law protects citizens from exile, and there are no reports
of this practice.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution states that "judges shall not be subject
to any authority," and legislation passed in 1996 granted
the judiciary greater administrative and financial independence.
However, the Amir appoints all judges, and renewal of many judicial
appointments is subject to government approval.
Judges who are citizens have lifetime appointments, but the Government
also employs many non-citizens as judges. These non-Kuwaiti judges
work under 1- to 3-year 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 pro-Kuwaiti bias.
One court system 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 cases; however, there is no Shi'a appellate court.
Shi'a cases are referred to the Sunni court on appeal.
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 the 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 Shari'a (Islamic) law, which states that
the testimony of two women equals that of one man.
There are no reported political prisoners. 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 the Martial Law Court in 1991, and
the Special State Security Court, which was abolished in 1995,
did not receive fair trials. In February the Amir commuted the
sentences of 12 individuals, two Kuwaitis and ten Jordanians,
convicted by the Martial Law and State Security Courts. This
group included 7 of the 16 remaining Jordanian journalists who
worked for the Iraqi publication Al-Nida during the 1990 occupation
(see Section 2.a.). In addition, the Amir pardoned a total of
405 prisoners, the largest group ever, and reduced the sentences
of 590 more.
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. Many citizens comply with this law by validating their
foreign marriage certificate at a Kuwaiti embassy or consulate.
Although the Government may advise against marriage to a foreign
national, there are no known cases of the Government refusing
permission to marry. The Government also advises women against
marrying foreign nationals.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution states that "freedom of the press, printing,
and publishing shall be guaranteed in accordance with the conditions
and manner specified by law." With a few exceptions, citizens
are free to criticize the Government at public meetings and in
the media. However, journalists practice self-censorship. Several
laws empower the Government to impose restrictions on freedom
of speech and of the press, but they are rarely invoked. The
Government, through the Ministry of Information, practices informal
censorship by placing pressure on individual publishers and editors
believed to have "crossed the line" in attacking government
policies and discussing issues deemed offensive to Islam, tradition,
or the interests of the State.
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, creates hatred, or spread
dissension among the populace." In April the editor-in-chief
and a journalist from Al Hadath were each fined $250 (75 Kuwaiti
dinars) for violating the Press Law's prohibition on publishing
"immoral or defamatory" material. The case stemmed
from the publication of comments made by Kuwait University professor
Alia Shuaib on the prevalence of lesbianism among the student
body. In 1995 the Government banned publication of one newspaper,
Al Anba, for 5 days under a law that the media and opposition
parliamentarians alleged was unconstitutional. The paper took
the Government to court, and has appealed an initial court ruling
in favor of the Government. The case is still pending in the
Appeals Court. The Government is reportedly seeking a settlement.
In order to begin publication of a newspaper, a publisher must
obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information.
However, in July, the National Assembly began printing its own
weekly newspaper, Al-Dustour (the Constitution), without having
obtained a license, but without interference from the executive
branch of government. 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.
In February the Amir commuted the sentences of 7 of the remaining
16 Jordanian journalists who worked for the Iraqi publication
Al-Nida during the 1990 occupation. The Jordanians, who were
convicted in 1991, argued that their collaboration was under duress,
in response to Iraqi threats.
The Government owns and controls the radio and television companies.
The Government does not inhibit the purchase of satellite dishes
which are widely available. Citizens with such devices are free
to watch a variety of programs, including those broadcast from
The Ministry of Information censors all books, films, videotapes,
periodicals, and other imported publications deemed morally offensive.
However, the Ministry has censored political topics as well and
does not grant licenses to magazines with a political focus.
The General Organization of Printing and Publishing controls the
printing, publishing, and distribution of informational materials.
In November the Ministry of Information released for sale at
an international Arab book fair in the country 160 books that
previously had been censored.
In May the Government defeated a bill in the National Assembly
to ban concerts and fashion shows. The Ministry of Information,
announced that current regulations already prohibit any performance
contrary to Islamic tradition, but that the Ministry would tightly
regulate such shows. A ministerial decree issued in July reiterated
this position by forbidding the issuance of licenses for public
musical events that contradict Shari'a and Kuwaiti traditions.
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. Kuwait
University political science department chairman Ahmad Al-Baghdadi
was charged with violating the Press Law's prohibition against
insulting the Prophet. He faces a maximum penalty of 6-months
imprisonment or a monetary fine if he is found guilty of the offense.
In 1996 Al-Bbaghdadi was branded an apostate by private individuals
for writing an article deemed critical of the Prophet. In March
a Kuwait University panel recommended the dismissal of Dr. Alia
Shuaib, a professor who commented on lesbianism at the university.
The recommendation requires the endorsement of the Minister of
Education, who has thus far refrained from acting on the panel's
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Although the Constitution affirms the right to assembly, the Government
restricts this right in practice. Public gatherings 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
Although the Constitution affirms the right of association, the
Government restricts this right in practice. The Government bans
political parties. Several informal blocs, acting much like parties,
exist and were active during the 1996 National Assembly elections.
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.
In May a group of 75 prominent citizens established a self- declared
new political grouping, the National Democratic Association (NDA).
Claiming to represent Kuwait's moderate "silent majority,"
the NDA plans to focus on issues such as franchise expansion,
education, unemployment, privatization, and other economic issues.
The NDA purports to be the first political grouping to include
a woman on its executive board. The NDA's elaborate launching
ceremony was thwarted by the Government's non-response to the
group's request for a permit to hold a public meeting. As a result,
the NDA's opening session and accompanying press conference were
moved from a hotel ballroom to a private office.
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 55 NGO's, including professional groups,
a bar association, and scientific bodies. These groups receive
government subsidies for their operating expenses. Their members
must obtain permission from the Ministry before attending international
conferences. 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.
The Prisoners of War (POW) families organization, a new but as
yet unlicensed NGO, was established in the summer. The license
request was still pending at year's end.
The Government generally overlooks the activities of many unlicensed
NGO's, despite a 1993 decree ordering unregistered NGO's to cease
activities. No organization has challenged the 1993 decree in
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, 30 to 40 percent of the
population belong to the Shi'a denomination. They are free to
conduct their traditional forms of worship without government
interference. However, Shi'a figures claim that the Government
has not approved the construction of new Shi'a mosques in recent
The Constitution states that "all people are equal in...public
rights and duties before the law, without distinction as to...religion,"
and that "freedom of belief is absolute. The state protects
the freedom to practice religion in accordance with established
customs, provided that it does not conflict with public policy
or morals." 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 is not rigidly enforced. The Government does
not permit the establishment of non-Islamic publishing companies
or training institutions for clergy.
Although there is a small community of Christian citizens, the
law prohibits the naturalization of non-Muslims. 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 mean that the
Muslim father will be granted custody of children should the couple
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 the age
of 21 and over are free to obtain a passport and travel abroad
at any time. However, married women who apply for passports must
obtain their husband's signature on the application form. 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. All minor children
must have their father's permission to travel outside of the country.
Citizens are free to emigrate and to return.
The Government has the right to place a travel ban on any citizen
or foreigner who has a legal case pending before the courts.
A serious problem exists in the case of the bidoon, who are stateless
persons, many 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 entered
Kuwait during the oil boom years. There are approximately 114,000
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. In March the Government naturalized
111 children of bidoon fathers who died in the service of the
country during the Iraqi invasion and occupation. In addition,
300 individuals were naturalized in July under an article of the
Nationality Law that pertains to granting citizenship to the children
of Kuwaiti mothers and foreign fathers. Credible reports suggest
that those naturalized in July were bidoon children of Kuwaiti
mothers. The Government announced in August that approximately
3,400 bidoon had "found" their citizenship and were
permitted to remain in Kuwait using their original passports.
This meant that nationals from Gulf Cooperation Council countries
could remain in Kuwait without residence permits but nationals
from all other countries had to obtain a residence permit to live
and work in the country.
The Government continued its postwar policy of reducing the number
of nationals from those countries that supported Iraq during its
invasion of Kuwait. The number of such residents is now only
about 10 percent of its prewar total. The Government instituted
a policy in 1996 to route the residence permit renewals of these
nationals through the State Security Service. As a result, there
has been a sharp increase in the number of renewal denials for
these nationals, many of whom have no country of origin to return
to or have fears of persecution upon return.
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 Talha deportation
center. Many have been held for 1 year or more; some have been
held for up to 6 years.
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. In November and December, the use of roadside checkpoints
increased considerably as authorities stepped up the number of
checks as part of the illegal resident amnesty program, and in
preparation for the 18th annual Gulf Cooperation Council
summit, which was held in Kuwait December 20-22.
In November the Government instituted an amnesty program, permitting
illegal residents to depart the country without penalty, provided
they had no previous charges pending against them. The program
was scheduled to end on December 15; however, the Government extended
it 1 day. The Government announced that more than 11,500 illegal
foreign residents departed the country and 12,074 legalized their
status during the amnesty program. Officially registered bidoon
were exempt from the program (see Section 1.d.).
There is no legislation governing refugees, asylees, or first
asylum, and no clear standard procedure for processing a person's
claim to be a refugee. The Constitution prohibits the extradition
of political refugees. The Government states that it does not
deport anyone who claims a fear of persecution in his home country,
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 (UNHCR) 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 citizens
naturalized less than 20 years earlier may not vote or seek election
to the National Assembly. In addition, members of the armed forces,
police, and other uniformed personnel of the Ministry of Interior
are prohibited from voting.
Under the Constitution, the Amir holds executive power and shares
legislative power with the National Assembly. The Prime Minister
presides over a 14-member cabinet. In accordance with the practice
of the ruling family, the Prime Minister has always been the Crown
Prince. The Constitution empowers the Amir to suspend its provisions
and to rule by decree. The Amir dissolved the National Assembly
from 1976 to 1981, and in 1986 the Amir effectively dissolved
the Assembly by suspending the constitutional provisions on the
Assembly's election. The Assembly remained dissolved until 1992,
when elections were held. Members serve 4-year terms, and National
Assembly elections were held on schedule in 1996. The elections
were conducted freely and fairly among the minority of citizens
who are permitted to vote. Since the Government prohibits political
parties, Assembly candidates must nominate themselves. Nonetheless,
informal political groupings are active in the Assembly. The
Constitution empowers the National Assembly to overturn any Amiri
decrees made during the dissolution, and the Assembly has done
so in some cases.
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.
In January four Members of Parliament submitted a bill to grant
women the right to vote and stand for election to the National
Assembly. As with women's rights legislation previously submitted,
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 the franchise issue.
Members of the Shi'a minority are generally underrepresented in
high government positions. Currently only one member of the Cabinet,
5 out of 50 National Assembly members, and the armed forces chief
of staff are Shi'a Muslims.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International
and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human
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 Kuwait and to establish offices. Several
organizations conduct field work and report excellent communication
with and reasonable cooperation from the Government.
The National Assembly has a Human Rights Committee, which takes
testimony from individuals about abuses, investigates prison conditions,
and has made nonbinding recommendations for redress.
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 in some cases against women and non-Kuwaitis, who
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 1 to 2 complaints of
spousal abuse each week. Of the complaints received, approximately
60 percent involve spousal abuse of non-Kuwaiti women. 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. There are reports
of rape of female domestic servants by male employers.
A significant number of employers physically abuse expatriate
women working as domestic servants. The local press gives the
problem considerable attention. In August the press published
a report of alleged abuse of three Sri Lankan maids by their Kuwaiti
employer. Justice officials promised to prosecute the employer
if the abuse allegations are proved true. 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 and Sri Lankan embassies have each sheltered nearly
300 women. 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. Women 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 men 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.
In the absence of a direct male heir, Shi'a women may inherit
all property; Sunni women inherit only a portion. The balance
is divided among brother, uncles, and male cousins of the deceased.
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. However,
almost all citizens work for the State in office jobs, and women
are allowed into most areas of the bureaucracy, including even
oil well fire-fighting units. Educated women maintain that conservative
religious trends limit career opportunities. Nonetheless, an
estimated 28 percent of 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, bankers, and professors.
A few have been appointed to senior positions in the Ministry
of Education and the state-owned Kuwaiti Petroleum Corporation.
However, there are no female judges or prosecutors.
In case of divorce, the Government makes family entitlement payments
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 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, 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.
Polygyny is legal. A husband is obliged to inform his first wife
that he is taking a second wife. The husband is obligated to
provide the first wife a separate household if that is her preference.
It is the second wife's choice to get married. A first wife
who objects to a second marriage can request a divorce, but the
court's determination of divorce and child custody would be made
on grounds other than the fact of the second marriage itself.
There is at least on active women's organization and several other
NGO's than follow women's rights issues.
The Government is committed to the welfare of children. Both
boys and girls receive a free education up to the university level.
The Government provides free health care and a variety of other
services to all children.
There is no societal pattern of abuse of children.
Marriage of girls under the age of 17 is uncommon among the urban
population, but remains a practice of the Bedouins in outlying
People with Disabilities
There is no institutionalized discrimination against disabled
people in employment, education, or in the provision of state
services. Legislation passed by the National Assembly in 1996
mandates accessibility for the disabled to all facilities frequented
by the public, and provides an affirmative action employment program
for the disabled. However, this law has not been fully implemented.
The Government pays extensive benefits for disabled citizens,
which cover transportation, housing, job training, and social
The Government's failure to improve the plight of the 114,000
bidoon remains a significant human rights abuse. The bidoon have
been the objects of hostile government policy since the mid-1980's.
Since 1985 the Government has eliminated the bidoon from the
census rolls, discontinued their access to government jobs and
free education, and sought to deport many bidoon. 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, although the Government in
August allowed 800 bidoon sons of Kuwaiti mothers to enlist.
The Government does not routinely issue travel documents to bidoon,
and if 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
In May the National Assembly reviewed a proposal by the Government
to naturalize approximately 10 percent of the bidoon population,
i.e., about 10,000 individuals. The proposal has not been enacted
and there are credible reports that naturalization of the 10,000
could take a number of years. The proposal did not address the
problem of the remaining approximately 104,000 bidoon. In March
the Government naturalized a small fraction of the bidoon, primarily
children of bidoon fathers who served in the military and were
killed during the Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait. The
Government claims that it issues a residency visa, and legal status,
to any bidoon who presents a passport, regardless of the country
of issuance. This has led some bidoon to acquire passports from
countries with which they have no tie, but which have liberal
"economic citizenship" programs. There are reports
that the Government has denied residency visas to some bidoon
who obtained passports, particularly Iraqis. In some cases the
Government has unilaterally decided the "real" nationalities
of bidoon without a hearing and without possibility of review.
In August 1996, the Government called on all bidoon to register
with the Ministry of Interior and issued identification cards
valid for 1 year or less. The Government announced in September
that the cards would be renewed but did not stipulate the length
of the renewal period.
Since the end of the Gulf War, government policy has been targeted
against workers from those nationalities whose leaders supported
Iraq, especially Palestinians, Jordanians, and Yemenis. The Government
argues that during the Iraqi occupation many residents from these
places sided with the Iraqi forces. 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. Many of these nationals have also resorted
to the purchase of third country passports in order to gain entry
to Kuwait or legalize their status in the country. A government
policy to route the residency visas of these nationals through
the State Security Service has led to a sharp increase in renewal
denials (see Section 2.d.).
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.
Approximately 50,000 people of a total work force estimated at
1,100,000 are 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, constituting approximately 4,500 workers,
are independent of the KTUF. 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 (ICFTU) 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 political or religious
activities, which the law does not clearly define. 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.
Approximately 955,000 foreigners are employed, constituting most
of the work force but only 10 percent of the unionized work force.
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. The KTUF says that this
requirement is not enforced and foreigners may join unions regardless
of their length of stay. The KTUF administers an Expatriate Labor
Office, which is authorized to investigate complaints of foreign
laborers and provide them with free legal advice. However, these
services are not widely utilized. 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 ensuring strikers' freedom from any
legal or administrative action taken against them by the State.
In May a group of 180 Indian nursing assistants left their housing
camp and moved into the Indian embassy, protesting the fact that
they had not received the wages they were promised by their recruiting
agents in India and Kuwait. By the end of September, most of
the nursing assistants had agreed to return to their jobs at the
original salary; the remaining nursing assistants returned to
In June pilots and air and ground engineers from the national
carrier, Kuwait Airways, staged a strike to protest a cut in free
ticket entitlements and inaction on increases to some of their
Ninety-two employees of the Kuwaiti National Petroleum Company
walked off the job for 4 days in late September to protest the
imposition of certain promotion and hiring precepts. After the
Government intervened, the workers agreed to suspend the strike
and enter into talks with management.
Unions may affiliate with international bodies. 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 certain restrictions (see Section 6.a.). 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 other 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."
The Government does not specifically prohibit forced and bonded
labor by children, but such practices are not known to occur.
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 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.
Some foreign workers, especially unskilled or semiskilled south
Asian workers, live much like indentured servants. They frequently
face poor working conditions and some physical abuse (see Section
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. 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. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum
Age for Employment
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. The Government does not prohibit
forced and bonded labor by children, but such practices are not
known to occur (see Section 6.c.). Some small businessmen employ
their children on a part-time basis, and there have been confirmed
reports that some south Asian and southeast Asian domestic servants
are under 18, but falsified their ages in order to enter the country.
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
1-hour rest period.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcing
all labor laws. An informal two-tiered labor market ensures high
wages for Kuwaiti employees, while foreign workers, particularly
unskilled laborers, receive substantially lower wages. There
is no legal minimum wage in the private sector. In the public
sector, the effective minimum wage is approximately $774 (226
dinars) per month for citizens and approximately $301 (90 dinars)
per month for non-citizens. The public sector minimum wage provides
a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Wages of
unskilled workers in the private sector do not always permit a
decent standard of living. To be eligible to sponsor family members
for residency in Kuwait, government workers must receive a minimum
wage of $1,530 (450 dinars) per month, and private sector workers
must make at least $2,210 (650 dinars) per month.
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. The 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 provide 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
5 persons. The law pertaining to the oil industry provides for
a 40-hour workweek, 30 days of annual leave, and 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, e.g., 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. Some foreign
workers, especially unskilled or semiskilled south Asian workers,
live much like indentured servants, are unaware of their legal
rights and generally lack the means to pursue a legal remedy.
They frequently face contractual disputes, poor working conditions,
and some physical abuse. Most are in debt to their employers
before they arrive in the country and have little choice but to
accept the employer's conditions, even if they contradict the
contractual terms; it is not uncommon for wages to be withheld
for a period of months. Most, if not all, of the foreign workers
are forced to live in "housing camps," which are generally
overcrowded and lack adequate cooking and bathroom facilities;
they are only allowed off the camp compound on company transport
or by permission of the employer.
Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work
situations without jeopardy to their continued employment, and
legal protection exists for workers who file complaints about
such conditions. According to the most recent figures available,
the Government had registered about 800 cases involving occupational
injuries during the year. 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.
Source: U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights Practices