Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1998 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 independence, provides for an elected National Assembly.
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. The Constitution and law provide for a degree of judicial
independence, but the Amir appoints all judges, and renewal of
many judicial appointments is 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.
Members of the security forces committed a number of human rights
Richly endowed with oil, in 1998
the country's estimated per capita gross domestic product (GDP)
was approximately $14,846. The decline in per capita GDP from
previous years reflects a significant increase in resident foreign
workers and lower oil revenues. Due to high oil revenues in 1997,
Kuwait recorded a $1.3 billion budget surplus for fiscal year
1996-97, but returned to deficit in 1997-98 due to lower world
oil prices. Budget sources projected a $5-6 billion deficit for
the current fiscal year. 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.
Foreigners constitute 98 percent of the private sector work force.
The Government's human rights record
improved somewhat, although problems remain in certain areas.
Citizens cannot change their head of state. Although under the
Constitution the National Assembly must approve the Amir's choice
of Crown Prince (i.e., the future Amir), this authority is limited;
if the National Assembly rejects the Amir's nominee, the Amir
then submits three names from which the assembly must choose the
new Crown Prince. The Government bans formal political parties,
and women do not have the right to vote or seek election to the
National Assembly. Some police and members of the security forces
abuse detainees during interrogation. Although prisoners remain
overcrowded, cooperation between executive and legislative leaders
led to improvements in prison conditions with the closure in June
of the Talha deportation center and the resolution of numerous
deportation cases by allowing deportees to legalize their status.
The Amir commuted the sentences of 286 prisoners on February
25, Kuwait's national day, including those of six Jordanians,
three Iraqis and one Kuwaiti who were held as state security prisoners.
On April 27, the Amir pardoned and returned to Jordan an additional
13 Jordanian state security prisoners. The Government infringes
on citizens' privacy rights in some areas. Security forces occasionally
monitor the activities of individuals and their communications.
Males must obtain government approval to marry foreign-born women.
The Government restricts freedom of assembly and association.
Journalists practice self-censorship, and the Government uses
informal censorship. The Government places some limits on freedom
of religion and movement. 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 between 110 and 120 persons are estimated to be held in detention
facilities, some for up to 1 to 2 years. Discrimination and violence
against women are problems. The Government restricts some worker
rights. Domestic servants are not protected by the Labor Law,
and unskilled foreign workers suffer from the lack of a minimum
wage in the private sector and from failure to enforce the Labor
Although the Government has not found
a solution to the human rights problems of the approximately 114,000
stateless persons residing in Kuwait known as the "bidoon,"
it continued to naturalize small batches of the bidoon population
via piecemeal legislation that addressed the marginal aspects
of the bidoon problem, but left the core complexities untouched.
Executive and legislative leaders
continued to strengthen political institutions by resolving major
disagreements within the framework of the Constitution and without
recourse to extrajudicial measures.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity
of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial
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
There were no reports of politically
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 8 women, who
were taken prisoner during Iraq's occupation of Kuwait. The Government
of Iraq has refused to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution
687, which stipulates the release of the detainees. Iraq denies
that it holds Kuwaiti detainees.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman,
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits torture;
however, there continue to be credible reports that some police
and members of the security forces abuse detainees during interrogation.
Reported abuses include blindfolding, verbal threats, stepping
on toes, and 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.
The Government states 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
either 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 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 lack of availability
of specialized medical care. Approximately 1,800 persons are
serving sentences or awaiting trial in the central prison. An
additional 250 prisoners are being held at the state security
facility in Shuwaikh.
The central prison faced charges
of corruption after seven prisoners escaped and the former director
was implicated in drug and alcohol smuggling as well as running
a prostitution ring in the prison. In response to these allegations,
the Ministry of Interior made sweeping changes aimed at tightening
access to the prison and increasing oversight of prison officials
and employees. The most visible sign of these changes was the
assignment of special Interior Ministry soldiers with an independent
chain of command to control access to the central prison and search
all correctional officers entering the facility.
The Government closed the Talha deportation
center, a long-time target of criticism by human rights groups,
and deportees are now housed at the state security facility in
Shuwaikh. This closure improved prison conditions and led to
the review and resolution of numerous deportation cases (see Section
The National Assembly's Human Rights
Committee closely monitored prison conditions throughout the year,
and the Government allowed the ICRC access to all detention facilities.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention,
The Constitution provides for freedom
from arbitrary arrest and detention. There were no reports of
arbitrary arrest during the year, although there were incidents
of prolonged detention.
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 for 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 detention for an additional 21 days. Prosecutors
also may obtain court orders for further detention pending trial.
Of the 2,050 persons serving sentences
or pending trial at the security prison or the state security
facility in Shuwaikh, approximately 170 are being held on security
grounds. 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 also may expel foreigners if they are unable to
obtain or renew work or residency permits. Between 110 and 120
persons are estimated to be held in detention facilities, some
of them pending deportation. Some of these detainees have been
held for up to 1 to 2 years. Many deportation orders are issued
administratively, without the benefit of a trial. However, the
Government does not forcibly return deportees to their countries
of origin, allowing those who object to remain in detention.
This practice leads to prolonged detention of deportees, particularly
Iraqis, who do not wish to return to their own countries. It
also plays a role in the complex problem faced by bidoon deportees,
who essentially remain in detention because their stateless condition
makes the execution of the deportation order impossible.
With the closure of the Talha deportation
center, and the decision to allow a significant number of stateless
persons and potential deportees to legalize their status, the
deportee problem was alleviated temporarily. Remaining deportees
are now housed in an existing state security facility (see Section
2. c.). However, human rights groups and government officials
agree that, without further action, new cases are likely to arise.
The law protects citizens from exile,
and there were no reports of this practice.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution states that "judges
shall not be subject to any authority;" 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 noncitizens
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 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
Both defendants and prosecutors may
appeal court verdicts to the High Court of Appeal, which may rule
on whether the law was applied properly, 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 conducts
a limited, formal review of cases to determine only whether the
law was applied properly.
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 were no reports of 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 persons convicted in the
Martial Law Court in 1991, and the Special State Security Court,
which was abolished in 1995, did not receive fair trials. However,
the Amir commuted the sentences of 19 Jordanians, 3 Iraqis, and
1 Kuwaiti who were convicted previously by the Martial Law and
State Security Courts. At year's end, 57 persons (29 Iraqis,
7 Jordanians, 17 bidoon, and 4 Palestinians) convicted by these
now-abolished courts remained in prison.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy,
Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution provides for individual
privacy and sanctity of the home; however, the Government infringes
on these rights in some areas. 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 may 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. 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 advises women against marrying foreign nationals and
forbids marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties,
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,"
and 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 the press. During the year,
there was an increase in the actual application of these laws.
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.
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 spreads dissension
among the populace."
In June the Court of First Instance
issued an unusually strong sentence against two daily newspapers
accused of publishing items that were deemed to be blasphemous
and obscene. The Court sentenced the Arabic language daily Al-Seyassah
to a 1-week closure and a nominal fine, while sentencing another
Arabic language daily, Al-Qabas, to a 1-week closure, a nominal
fine, and a 6-month jail term for the paper's editor-in-chief.
A higher court later lessened the sentence against Al-Seyassah,
but the appeal of the Al-Qabas case was delayed while the Court
considered the paper's countercase challenging the constitutionality
of the Press Law. Following the Constitutional Court's rejection
of the Al-Qabas countercase, the Court of Appeals set a new date
of January 3, 1999 to hear the Al-Qabas appeal. In the interim,
neither paper was closed and the Al-Qabas" editor has not
yet been incarcerated.
On December 27, the Court of First
Instance sentenced a newspaper columnist to a 3-month prison term
for having criticized the public prosecutor's role in an embezzlement
case. The public prosecutor pressed charges after the journalist
wrote an article in June 1997 that implied that there were irregularities
in the embezzlement investigation. In addition to sentencing
the journalist to 3 months' incarceration, the Court of First
Instance also fined the editor in chief of his newspaper, Al-Atwan,
$330 (100 dinars) for publishing the article.
In order to begin publication of
a newspaper, the publisher must obtain an operating license from
the Ministry of Information. Publishers may lose their license
if their publications do not appear for 6 months. This 6-month
rule prevents publishers from publishing sporadically--it is not
used to suspend or shut down existing newspapers. Individuals
also must obtain permission from the Ministry of Information before
publishing any printed material, including brochures and wall
posters. The Government does not censor foreign journalists and
permits them open access to the country.
The Government owns and controls
the radio and television companies. The 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 that broadcast from Israel and Iraq.
The Ministry of Information censors
all books, films, videotapes, periodicals, and other imported
publications deemed morally offensive. In January the Ministry
announced plans to censor the Internet, but indicated that the
methods of enforcement and technical issues still must be worked
out. 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 March
the Parliament formally questioned the Minister of Information
concerning his Ministry's role in the inclusion of previously
banned books in an exhibition held in November 1997. Ultimately,
the questioning led to a serious threat of a successful no-confidence
vote against the Minister, a senior member of the ruling family,
and precipitated a cabinet reshuffle.
There is no government censorship
of university teaching, research, or publication. However, academics
are subject to the same restraints as the media with regard to
criticism of the Amir or Islam.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
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 five persons that result
in the issuance of a public statement. Political activity finds
its outlet in informal, family-based, almost exclusively male
social gatherings known as diwaniyas. Practically every male
adult, including the Amir, hosts and attends diwaniyas, at which
every possible topic is discussed. The diwaniya contributes to
the development of political consensus and official decisionmaking.
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.
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. However, since 1985
the Ministry has issued only three 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 (see Section 4). In June the Government licensed
the Prisoners of War Families Organization, an NGO originally
established in 1997.
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 court.
c. Freedom of Religion
Islam is the state religion, and
the Government places some limits on freedom of religion. The
Constitution states that Shari'a, or Islamic law, is "a main
source of legislation." The ruling family and many other
prominent families belong to the Sunni denomination of Islam.
However, 30 to 40 percent of the population belong to the Shi'a
denomination. Shi'a 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 years.
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 foreign congregations and churches,
including a Catholic diocese and several Protestant churches.
Foreigners 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 from proselytizing among Muslims; however,
they may serve foreign congregations. The law prohibits religious
education for religions other than Islam, although this law is
not enforced rigidly. The Government does not permit the establishment
of non-Islamic publishing companies or training institutions for
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. Failure to
convert may mean that, should the couple later divorce, the Muslim
father would be granted custody of any children.
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 work place as desired.
Unmarried women 21 years old and over are free to obtain a passport
and travel abroad at any time. However, married women who apply
for passports must obtain their husbands' 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.
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
The Government has the right to place
a travel ban on any citizen or foreigner who has a legal case
pending before the courts. The Government restricts the ability
of members of NGO's to attend conferences abroad (see Section
A serious problem exists in the case
of the bidoon, stateless persons of mainly Iraqi or Iranian descent,
who resided in Kuwait prior to the Iraqi invasion. Some bidoon
(the term means "without") have had residency ties to
Kuwait for generations. Others entered Kuwait during the oil
boom years. There are an estimated 114,000 bidoon, down from
a pre-war level of 220,000. The bidoon issue remains the subject
of nearly continuous press commentary and political discussion.
While many citizens count bidoon among their family members,
a significant number believe that bidoon should not be eligible
for citizenship and the benefits that it conveys. The Government
maintains that many bidoon are concealing their true citizenship
in order to remain in Kuwait, become citizens, and enjoy the generous
benefits provided to citizens. The Government has made only slight
progress towards solving the longstanding issue of the bidoon.
In May parliamentarians passed a bill that resulted in the naturalization
of only 732 bidoon. The Government does not wish the return of
the bidoon who departed the country during the Gulf War and frequently
delays or denies issuing them entry visas. This policy imposes
serious hardships, including family separations.
The Government continued its postwar
policy of reducing the presence 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, such
as Palestinians and Iraqis, have no country to which they may
return, or have fears of persecution upon return.
While the Government permits the
ICRC to verify if deportees object to returning to their countries
of origin, it detains those with objections in the state security
detention facility in Shuwaikh until they either change their
mind or succeed in making alternative arrangements for travel
to a third country (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
at home, but it often keeps such persons in detention rather than
grant them permission to live and work in Kuwait. The United
Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) maintains an office
in the country 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. Although under the Constitution the National Assembly
must approve the Amir's choice of Crown Prince (i.e., the future
Amir), this authority is limited. If the Assembly rejects the
Amir's nominee, the Amir then submits three names from which the
Assembly must choose the new Crown Prince. 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 16-member Cabinet.
In accordance with the practice of the ruling family (but not
specifically the Constitution), the Prime Minister always has
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.
In March the formal questioning (interpellation)
of the Information Minister concerning his Ministry's decision
to include previously-banned books for display and sale at an
Arab book fair led to a crisis between executive and legislative
authorities. Despite fears that the crisis would lead to the
dissolution of the Parliament and the return to extraconstitutional
rule, both the executive and the legislative branches of the Government
managed to resolve it within the framework of the Constitution.
This move generally was interpreted as indicating a growing commitment
to resolve disputed within the framework of the country's political
institutions, while simultaneously increasing the pressure for
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, but in March members of the Assembly's
Legal and Legislative Affairs Committee voted down a bill (originally
submitted in September 1997) which was aimed at giving women the
right to vote and run for office. Women's rights activists used
the occasion of International Women's Day (March 8) to attempt
to register as voters in two districts; they were unsuccessful.
In a positive development, the Ministry of Planning appointed
the country's second female undersecretary.
Members of the Shi'a minority generally
are underrepresented in high government positions. There is only
one Shi'a member of the Cabinet, the Minister of Planning. Five
of 50 National Assembly members are Shi'a, as is the armed forces
chief of staff.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude
Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged
Violations of Human Rights
The Government continued its practice
of preventing 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 the country and to establish offices. Several organizations
conduct field work and report excellent communication with and
reasonable cooperation from the Government.
The National Assembly has an active
Human Rights Committee, which takes testimony from individuals
about abuses, investigates prison conditions, and makes nonbinding
recommendations for redress. Despite its designation as an advisory
body, the Human Rights Committee has shown that, in practice,
it is able to mobilize government agencies to address egregious
human rights problems, as evidenced by its role in helping to
bring about the closure of the Talha deportation center (see Section
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 noncitizens, who face widespread social, economic, and legal
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, though
this may be understated. Of the complaints received, approximately
60 percent involve spousal abuse of noncitizen 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 agrees to 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.
Some employers physically abuse foreign
women working as domestic servants, and there are continuing reports
of rape of these women by male employers. The local press gives
the problem considerable attention, and both the police and the
courts have taken action against employers when presented with
evidence of serious abuse. In June a 26-year-old Sri Lankan maid
died after suffering physical and mental abuse at the hands of
her Egyptian employers. While her employers initially claimed
that her death was the result of a 1-day hunger strike, investigators
linked her death to a series of severe beatings and filed a case
against the employers with the office of the Public Prosecutor.
In another case, the court sentenced a Kuwaiti national to death
for having raped and strangled his Filipino maid. Foreign-born
domestic employees have the right to sue their employers for abuse,
but few do so due 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.
Runaway servants often seek shelter
at their country's embassy for either 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. The Sri Lankan, Indian, and Philippine embassies
all continue to report the steady occurrence of physical abuse
and mistreatment involving domestic servants.
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.). Married women require
their husbands' permission to obtain a passport (see Section 2.d.).
By law only males are able to confer citizenship; therefore,
children born to Kuwaiti mothers and stateless fathers are themselves
stateless. The Government forbids marriage between Muslim women
and non-Muslim men (see Section 1.f.). Inheritance is governed
by Islamic law, which differs according to sect. In the absence
of a direct male heir, Shi'a women may inherit all property while
Sunni women inherit only a portion, with the balance divided among
brothers, uncles, and male cousins of the deceased.
Women traditionally are 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 firefighting 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, the
Ministry of Planning and the state-owned Kuwaiti Petroleum Corporation.
However, there are no female judges or prosecutors.
In cases 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 usually is 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, Kuwaiti men married to foreign-born women do not
have to pay residency fees for their spouses, and their spouses'
right to residency derives from marriage.
Polygyny is legal, and is more common
among tribal elements of the population. 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 are several women's organizations
that follow women's issues, among the most active of which are
the Women's Socio-Cultural Society (WSCS) and the Women's Affairs
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.
Marriage of girls under the age of
17 is uncommon among the urban population, but remains a practice
of the Bedouins in outlying areas.
There is no societal pattern of abuse
People With Disabilities
There is no institutionalized discrimination
against disabled persons 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 implemented
fully. 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 problem.
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 no longer
would be allowed to enlist in the military service. Those presently
in the armed forces gradually are being replaced, although 736
bidoon sons of citizen mothers were allowed to enlist during the
year. The Government does not issue routinely 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 passed
a government-sponsored bill that resulted in the naturalization
of 732 bidoon (a tiny fraction of the country's approximately
114,000 bidoon population). The newly passed legislation, part
of government proposals made in 1997, granted citizenship to those
individuals who were adults (i.e., over the age of 21) when their
fathers were naturalized. The bill also confers citizenship on
the minor grandchildren of naturalized citizens provided that
the child's father is deceased. Further piecemeal legislation
has been proposed that, if passed, would lead to the naturalization
of an additional 10,000 bidoon, but there has been no significant
progress in regard to this issue.
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, although this practice has declined sharply since 1997.
Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that the Government
denied residency visas to bidoon who obtained passports or that
it had unilaterally decided the nationality of any stateless residents
without a hearing.
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 of these workers' governments 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 who are permitted to reside in the
country from sponsoring their families to join them. Many of
these nationals also have resorted to the purchase of third country
passports in order to gain entry to, 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 persons (less
than 5 percent) 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.
In June the KTUF elected a new board of directors. The board
stressed the urgency of getting the Labor Law for the private
sector passed and setting the minimum wage to improve the lives
of domestic laborers and low-income laborers. The KTUF also emphasized
its support for the privatization of industry. In November the
KTUF filed a complaint with the ILO to protest what it characterized
as government stalling in passing the new Labor Law. The Bank
Worker's Union and the Kuwait Airways Workers Union, which consist
of 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 that employ
few citizens, such as the construction industry and the domestic
The Government's pervasive oversight
powers further erode union independence. The Government subsidizes
as much as 90 percent of most union budgets, may inspect the financial
records of any union, and prohibits any union from engaging in
vaguely-defined political or religious activities. The law empowers
the courts to dissolve any union for violating labor laws or for
threatening "public order and morals." Such a court
decision may be appealed. The Amir also may 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 1,271,000 foreign workers
are employed in the country. They constitute most of the work
force but only 10 percent of the unionized work force. The labor
law discriminates against foreign workers by permitting them to
join unions only after 5 years of residence, although the KTUF
states that this requirement is not enforced and that foreigners
may join unions regardless of their length of stay. In addition,
the law stipulates that foreigners may participate 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 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 utilized widely. 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. However, the Ministry of Labor and Social
Affairs has proved responsive to sit-ins or protests by workers
who face obvious wrongdoing by their employers.
In April approximately 500 Bangladeshi
cleaners went on strike because they had not been paid in 6 months.
The workers, after unsuccessfully appealing to their employer,
finally appealed to the Bangladeshi Embassy and the Ministry of
Labor and Social Affairs. The Ministry acted decisively and quickly
resolved the issue by seizing a bond that the employer had posted
as a condition to import foreign labor.
In July over 300 Chinese workers
began striking in protest against delinquent payment of their
salaries. An investigation by the Ministry of Labor and Social
Affairs revealed that the company had acted in good faith, making
timely payments to the Chinese company that held the subcontract.
The investigation further revealed that the Chinese company had
not forwarded payment to its employees. In the end, the Ministry
left the workers to resolve the matter through the Chinese Embassy
and a special labor team that was sent from China.
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
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, according to all reports, have 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
The Constitution prohibits forced
labor "except in cases specified by law for national emergency
and with just remuneration," however, some foreign workers
are treated like indentured servants. The Government does not
prohibit specifically 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 6.e.).
Domestic servants who run away from
their employers may be treated as criminals under the law. However,
the authorities usually do not enforce this provision of the law.
In some reported cases, employers illegally withheld wages from
domestic servants to cover the costs involved in bringing them
to Kuwait. There are also credible reports of widespread visa
trading, a system by which sponsors agree to extend their sponsorship
to workers outside of the country in exchange for a fee of $1,500
to $1,800. Middlemen, generally foreigners, use the promise of
Kuwaiti sponsorship to attract workers from economically depressed
countries, taking a commission and remitting the rest to the nominal
Kuwaiti sponsor. Once in Kuwait, such workers are farmed out
to the informal sector or find employment with parties that would
otherwise be unable to sponsor them. However, foreign workers
who are recruited with these traded visas not only face possible
prosecution for being engaged in illegal employment (i.e., working
for an employer other than their sponsor) but also leave themselves
extremely vulnerable to extortion by employers, sponsors, and
middlemen. Government efforts to crack down on such abuses have
failed to realize significant progress.
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 may
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 age 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,
most of whom are in government white collar or business executive
positions, 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) a month for citizens
and approximately $301 (90 dinars) a 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, government workers
must receive a minimum wage of $1530 (450 dinars) a month, and
private-sector workers must make at least $2,210 (650 dinars)
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 excluded specifically
from the private sector Labor Law, frequently work long hours,
greatly in excess of 48 hours.
The ILO has urged the Government
to ensure the weekly 24consecutive-hour rest period to temporary
workers employed for a period of less than 6 months and workers
in enterprises employing fewer than five persons. The law pertaining
to the oil industry provides for a 40-hour workweek, 30 days of
annual leave, and sick leave. Laws establishing work conditions
are not applied uniformly to foreign workers. The 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, such as chemicals and asbestos. 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. Many foreign
workers are forced to live in "housing camps," which
generally are overcrowded and lack adequate cooking and bathroom
facilities. The workers only are 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 exist for workers
who file complaints about such conditions. Figures available
for roughly the first half of the year indicate that the Government
registered about 800 cases involving occupational injuries. To
cut accident rates, the Government periodically inspects installations
to raise awareness among workers and employers, and to 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.