|The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001. Please see www.state.gov for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date. This site is not updated so external links may no longer function. Contact us with any questions about finding information. |
NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.
TITLE: KUWAIT HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DATE: FEBRUARY 1995 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, 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 those periods. The Assembly resumed functioning after the 1992 election. The Minister of Interior supervises Kuwait's 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. Allegations of human rights abuses by the security forces against nationals of countries that supported Iraq in the Gulf War subsided in 1994, though there continued to be credible reports that security officials physically abused detainees. Endowed with oil, the Government has made significant progress in recovering from the destruction caused by the Iraqi occupation. The costly reconstruction is mostly complete. In the last three fiscal years, Kuwait has incurred a cumulative fiscal deficit of $68 billion which the Government has financed by selling its foreign assets and increasing the public debt. Despite the emphasis the Government places on an open market economy, foreign nationals (with the exception of citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council) may not own property or majority shares in significant local businesses and are subject to restrictive labor laws. The Government owns interests in most of the major banks and in the oil industry. The Government continues to abridge or restrict a number of significant rights. Limitations on the freedoms of assembly and association and women's rights remain in place. The Government bans political parties, and citizens do not have the ability to change their form of government. Associations that are not registered with the Government are banned by law, and the Government enforced that ban: in several instances in 1994, it prevented unregistered human rights groups from holding public meetings. The Government continued its policy of preventing the return of stateless, Iraqi, and Palestinian people who have strong family ties to Kuwait. The labor law excludes foreign-born domestic servants from its protective provisions. Nonetheless, the Government made some progress in human rights, and it has emerged from the troubled human rights environment of the postliberation period. The Government improved conditions in prisons and detention centers, extended the franchise to the sons of naturalized citizens, and invited the International Labor Organization (ILO) to Kuwait for consultations. The Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly continued to investigate important human rights abuses, and recommended improvements in prison conditions. 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. The Government did not make public the results of its investigations into the extrajudicial killings that occurred in the period following Kuwait's liberation in 1991, nor did it signal that it intends to take further action. The Government had announced in 1993 that it would reactivate the investigations into the killings. Most of the cases remain unresolved. b. Disappearance There were no reports of disappearances. Of the numerous disappearances that occurred in 1991, about 100 cases remain unresolved. The Ministry of Interior claims that, in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), it has renewed its efforts to resolve the cases, but has not yet done so. The Government has failed to issue death certificates in cases where those who disappeared are known to be dead. The Government's failure to resolve these cases stems from an unwillingness to open and pursue criminal investigations into the causes of the deaths. According to the ICRC, Iraqi authorities took prisoner 609 Kuwaitis and residents of Kuwait, including 9 women, during Iraq's occupation. These people are still missing or detained in Iraq. The Government of Iraq has refused to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, which stipulates that the detainees be released. Iraq denies that it holds Kuwaiti detainees and refuses to account for missing Kuwaitis taken into Iraqi custody during the occupation. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Although the Constitution prohibits torture, credible reports indicate that physical abuse during interrogation did occur. The number of reports of abuse, however, declined in 1994 compared to the aftermath of the Gulf War. No pattern of systematic or widespread abuse appeared. The reported types of abuse consisted of blindfolding, verbal threats, slaps, and blows. The Government claims that it investigates all torture allegations and that it has punished at least some of the offenders. However, the Government refuses to make public its findings in torture investigations or what, if any, punishments are imposed. This creates a climate of implied impunity which diminishes the deterrence against torture and abuse. Defendants have the legal right to present evidence in court that they had been mistreated during interrogation, and judges routinely review such allegations. Since defendants are often unable to substantiate their complaints with physical evidence, however, these allegations are often dismissed. In 1991 judges in martial-law courts handed down several death sentences based on confessions apparently obtained under torture. Courts later refused to reopen these trials, although the sentences were commuted to imprisonment varying from 10 to 20 years. In 1994 a State Security Court ruled against excluding the confession of 14 persons accused of attempting to assassinate former U.S. President George Bush--despite allegations raised by the defense that the confessions were obtained by torture (see Section 1.d.). Prison conditions do not meet internationally recognized minimum standards. Many prisoners live in severely overcrowded cells where unsanitary conditions are conducive to the quick spread of contagious illnesses. Nonetheless, the Government moved in 1994 to improve some conditions. After a prison tour by several members of the National Assembly in February, prison authorities installed air conditioning at some facilities and gave prisoners permission to take outdoor exercise and receive visits from their families. The Government allows the ICRC access to all detention facilities. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile The Constitution provides for the freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, but security forces do not always respect these rights. In 1994 there were no reports of arbitrary arrest. Security forces in Kuwait City sometimes set up checkpoints where they may briefly detain individuals. The Government has stopped the practice of rounding up and deporting Palestinian residents. Police officers must obtain arrest warrants from state prosecutors before making arrests, though in misdemeanor cases the arresting officer may issue them. 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 an additional 21 days in detention. Prosecutors may also obtain court orders for further detention pending trial. Detention rules are different for cases involving state security. In such cases, prosecutors may hold a suspect in detention for 6 months, and a judge may authorize a longer confinement pending trial. After 21 days in detention, a defendant has the right to petition for his release in the State Security Court. If the judge denies the motion, the defendant may submit another appeal 30 days after the rejection. In general, cases go to trial between 20 and 30 days after arrest. There is no evidence of long-term incommunicado detention, though there are about 30 detainees facing deportation, especially Iraqi citizens and the "bidoon" or stateless residents, who have been in detention for more than a year (see Section 1.d.). Approximately 1,850 people are in prison, of whom 400 are in pretrial detention. About 75 percent of the detainees face administrative deportation orders which the Ministry of Interior may issue arbitrarily. There are no trials for deportations; thus deportees do not have "due process." The Government may expel noncitizens, even those who have been long-term residents, if it considers them security risks. The Government may also expel foreigners if they are unable to obtain or renew work or residency permits. In 1994 the Government deported 122 Iraqis and nationals of countries that supported Iraq in the Gulf War (primarily Yemen and Jordan), well below the 1993 level. Although the ICRC monitors only the deportation of these cases, the Government also routinely deports Iranians and other foreign nationals who have violated residency requirements or committed other offenses. The law protects citizens from exile. However, before the Iraqi invasion there were credible reports that in some cases the Government evaded this law by revoking citizenship in order to deport citizens as noncitizens. There have been no reports of revocations of citizenship since the Gulf War. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The judicial system is composed of the regular courts, which try criminal and civil cases; the State Security Court, which tries cases of a security nature; and the Court of Cassation, which is the highest level of judicial appeal. During periods of martial law, the Amir may authorize military courts to try civilian defendants. There have been no martial-law trials since 1991. Sunni and Shi'a Muslims have recourse to courts of their respective denominations for family-law cases. The Constitution states that "judges shall not be subject to any authority." Nonetheless, the Ministry of Justice controls the judiciary's administrative and financial matters. The Amir appoints all judges on recommendations from the Minister of Justice. Judges who are citizens have lifetime appointments, but the Government also employs many noncitizens as judges. They work under 1-year, renewable contracts, which undermine their independence. The Ministry of Justice may remove judges for cause but rarely does so. Foreign residents involved in commercial disputes with citizens frequently complain that courts show a pro-Kuwaiti bias. Defendants have the rights to confront their accusers and of judicial appeal. 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. 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 verdicts of the State Security Court to the Court of Cassation, but the appellate court may only determine whether the law was properly applied with respect to the sentence; it does not rule on guilt or innocence. In criminal cases not involving state security, appeal is to the High Court of Appeal, which may rule on all aspects of the lower court's decision. In the secular courts there are no groups, including women, who are barred from testifying or whose testimony is given lesser weight. The Islamic courts, which have jurisdiction over family law, follow Islamic law, which states that the testimony of one man equals that of two women. Most trials are public, as was the 1994 trial of 14 persons accused in the foiled assassination plot against former President Bush. In June the State Security Court convicted 13 defendants and acquitted 1. It sentenced six defendants to death and seven to prison terms ranging from 6 months to 12 years. Like other trials, this one did not meet internationally accepted standards regarding an independent judiciary and the evidence required for proving abuse. There are no reported political prisoners, but the Government continues to hold persons accused of collaboration with Iraq during the occupation. By law such collaboration is a felony. Most of the people convicted in martial-law courts (including the majority of collaborators) did not receive a fair trial. 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 or suspect the presence of alcohol or narcotics. The warrant can be obtained from the state prosecutor or, in the case of private property, from a judge. The security forces occasionally monitor the activities of individuals and their communications. By law males must obtain government approval to marry foreign-born women. However, the Government does not vigorously enforce the restriction, and Kuwaitis routinely obtain exemptions from the Ministry of Justice. The Government also advises women against marrying foreign nationals. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press Several laws empower the Government to impose restrictions on the freedom of speech and the press, but the Government did not apply these laws in 1994. In general, citizens are free to criticize the Government at public meetings and in the media. However, the Press Law prohibits the publication of any direct criticism of the Amir, official government communications with other states, and material that "might incite people to commit crimes, create hatred, or spread dissension among the people." The Government ended censorship in 1992, but journalists still censor themselves. Nonetheless, newspapers, which are privately owned, are free to publish on many social, economic, and political issues, and frequently criticize government policies and officials, including the Prime Minister. The Government does not censor foreign journalists and permits them open access to the country. Newspapers must obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information. This licensing power allows the Government control over the establishment of new publications. The law also stipulates that 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 owns and controls the radio and television companies. The Middle East Broadcasting Company and Egyptian television transmit to Kuwait without censorship. The Government does not inhibit the purchase of satellite dishes. Citizens with such devices are free to watch a variety of programs, including those broadcast from Israel. The Ministry of Information has a Censorship Department that reviews all books, films, videotapes, periodicals, and other imported publications. In practice, such censorship is sporadic and aimed mostly at morally offensive material; however, political topics may be censored. The General Organization of Printing and Publishing controls the printing, publishing, and distribution of informational material. Academics conduct their activities with no apparent censorship of their teaching, research, or writings, while subject to the same restraints as the media with regard to criticism of the Amir or Islam. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association Although the Constitution affirms the right to assembly, the Government bans political parties. However, several informal blocs, acting much like parties, coalesced during the 1992 elections and have been present in succeeding National Assembly sessions. The Government has made no effort to limit these groupings, which are organized on the basis of common ideological goals. Many of them may be categorized as "opposition" groups. Public gatherings, however, must receive prior government approval, as must private gatherings of more than five persons that result in the issuance of a public statement. 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 and which contribute to the development of political consensus and official decisionmaking. The Government regards all nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) as illegal unless they obtain a license from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. The Government uses its power to license as a means of political control. The Ministry has registered over 55 NGO's, including professional groups, bar associations, and scientific bodies. These groups receive government subsidies for their operating expenses. They must obtain permission from the Ministry before attending international conferences. However, since 1985 the Ministry has issued only two licenses, including one in 1994 to the Union of Kuwaiti Womens' Groups, which is headed by the wife of the Crown Prince. The Ministry has disapproved other requests for licenses on the grounds that previously established NGO's already provide services similar to those proposed by the petitioners. Despite the Ministry's refusal to issue additional permits, private organizations flourish, and their illegal activities are largely overlooked by the Government. However, in 1993 the Cabinet issued a decree ordering all unregistered NGO's to cease activities. No organization has challenged this decree in court. In September the Ministry of Interior ordered three unregistered NGO's to vacate the offices that they had established in unused government buildings. They complied with the order. By banning unregistered NGO's, the Government sought to dissolve groups whose efforts were not coordinated with a government committee working for the release of missing persons presumed held in Iraq. The Government views these groups as politically unacceptable (see Section 4). However, in issuing the ban, the Government did not cite why it objected to these groups' activities, aside from the fact that the groups were unregistered. The ban prevents unregistered NGO's from holding public meetings and or being cited in the press, though many groups continue activities under the patronage of legal institutions, for example the National Assembly. The ban also discourages these groups from fundraising and recruitment. Some unregistered NGO's remain open and conduct their activities as well as possible in a hostile legal environment. 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 families belong to the denomination of Sunni Islam. However, 40 percent of the population belong to the Shi'a denomination. They are free to conduct their liturgies and rites without government interference. There is a tiny Arab Christian minority which practices freely, and several legally recognized expatriate congregations and churches, including a Catholic diocese and an American-sponsored Protestant church. Residents who are members of religions not sanctioned by the Koran (e.g., Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists) may not build places of worship, but may worship in their homes. The Government prohibits missionaries to proselytize among Muslims, but they may serve expatriate congregations. The law prohibits religious education for religions other than Islam, although this law does not appear to be strictly enforced. The Government does not permit the establishment of non-Islamic publishing companies or training institutions for clergy. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation Citizens have the right to travel freely within the country and to change their workplace as desired. Women must obtain permission from their husbands or a close male relative to obtain a passport for travel abroad. Airport authorities sometimes, but not often, ask female travelers to present the required documentation before departing the country. Representatives from NGO's must obtain government permission before representing Kuwait at international conferences abroad. Citizens are free to emigrate and to return. A serious problem exists in the case of the "bidoon," who are stateless persons, usually of Iraqi or Iranian descent, who resided in Kuwait prior to the Iraqi invasion. The Government argues that many of the bidoon (the term means "without") are actually the citizens of other countries, who claim they are stateless in order to remain in Kuwait, become citizens, and enjoy the generous government benefits provided to citizens. Some bidoon have had residency ties to Kuwait for generations. Others immigrated to Kuwait during the oil boom years. At the end of 1994, there were about 117,000 stateless people in Kuwait, down from the prewar level of about 220,000. The Government does not wish to see the return of the bidoon who departed Kuwait during the Gulf war. It frequently delays or denies issuing them entry visas. This policy imposes serious hardships and family separations. In 1994 the Government continued its postwar policy of reducing the number of Iraqis, bidoon, Palestinians, and other foreign residents. However, the Government permits the ICRC to verify if the deportees object to returning to their country of origin. The Government holds those deportees who have objections at the main deportation center. In 1993 the Government discontinued its postwar practice of arresting and deporting Gazan Palestinians for violating residency laws. The Government issued 1-year renewable residency permits to 5,000 of the 8,000 Gazans remaining in Kuwait, but did not seek to deport those without residency permits. Nonetheless, the Government and social pressure prodded many Gazans to depart Kuwait. There is no legislation governing refugees. The Constitution prohibits the extradition of political refugees. The Ministry of Interior issues residency permits to persons granted political asylum. The Government does not deport anyone who claims a fear of persecution at home; but it will often maintain such persons in detention rather than grant them permission to live and work in Kuwait. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Kuwaiti citizens cannot change their system of government. Women and many others are disfranchised; only 30 percent of adult citizens are eligible to vote. Under the Constitution, the Amir holds executive power and shares legislative power with the National Assembly. The Prime Minister presides over a 16-member Cabinet. In accordance with the practice of the ruling family, the Prime Minister is always the Crown Prince. The Constitution empowers the Amir to suspend its provisions and to rule by decree. In 1986 the Amir effectively dissolved the National Assembly by suspending the constitutional provisions on the Assembly's election. The Assembly remained dissolved until 1992. The Amir had previously dissolved the Assembly from 1976 to 1981. An election was held for the National Assembly in 1992 in which 303 candidates ran for the Assembly's 50 seats. Members serve 4-year terms. The Constitution empowers the Assembly to overturn any Amiri decrees made during the dissolution. After the election, the Assembly used its power to revoke some decrees issued from 1986 to 1992. Since the Government prohibits political parties, Assembly candidates must nominate themselves. Nonetheless, informal political groupings are active in the Assembly. Approximately 82,000 citizens, almost the entire franchised male population at the time, registered to vote in the 1992 election. In 1994 the Assembly passed legislation extending the right to vote to the sons of naturalized Kuwaiti citizens, about 110,000 males. Previously, the law had restricted suffrage to adult males who had resided in Kuwait before 1920 and maintained a residence there until 1959, and their male descendants. According to the 1994 law, naturalized citizens who have been naturalized citizens for at least 30 years will also be eligible to vote in 1996. A majority of candidates elected in 1992 have stated that they favored extending the vote to women, but proposals to do so have been delayed in a legislative committee. The Amir and the Prime Minister have publicly stated that they support political rights for women, but have made no apparent effort to persuade the National Assembly. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights The Government prevents the establishment of human rights groups by not approving their requests for licenses (see Section 2.b.). Until the ban on unregistered NGO's, the Kuwait Association for the Defense of War Victims (KADWV), a private group created in 1991, helped to repatriate citizens interned in Iraq, and aided former prisoners of war and persons tortured by Iraqi occupation forces. KADWV also sought to curb human rights abuses in Kuwait and took special interest in alleviating the problems of the bidoon. In February the Government canceled a KADWV human rights seminar (which subsequently took place under the auspices of the National Assembly). 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 established a Human Rights Committee which has taken testimony from individuals about abuses and has made nonbinding recommendations for redress. In 1994 the Committee investigated prison conditions. As a result of the investigation, the Ministry of Interior has improved some conditions. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status Women Women experience legal and social discrimination. They are denied the right to vote and require their husbands' or fathers' permission to obtain a passport or travel abroad (see Sections 2.d. and 3). By law only males are able to confer citizenship. In rare cases, this means that children born to Kuwaiti mothers and stateless fathers are themselves stateless. Inheritance is governed by Islamic law, which means that female heirs receive half the male heirs' inheritance. A sole female heir receives half her parents' estate; the balance goes to designated male relatives unless a woman's family has made other arrangements to transfer assets to her. Women are traditionally restrained from choosing certain roles in society, and the law restricts women from working in "dangerous industries" and trades "harmful" to health. Educated Kuwaiti women maintain that a resurgent Islamic fundamentalist trend limits career opportunities. Women wearing Western clothes and foreign women experience sexual harassment more frequently than women in Islamic garb. Nonetheless, an estimated 60 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, and professors. A few have reached senior government positions in the Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Education, and the state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corporation. However, there are no female judges or prosecutors, only a few women in the diplomatic service, and none in the National Assembly. Domestic abuse of women is common. Each of the country's 50 police stations receives one or two complaints of spousal abuse per week. Women in such cases usually take refuge in the homes of relatives. The police generally seek to resolve family disputes and may ask the offending spouse to sign a statement affirming that he will discontinue the abuse. The police refer serious cases of abuse to authorities at the Ministry of Health. Kuwaiti courts have found husbands guilty of spousal abuse. Many employers have physically and sexually abused Asian women working as their domestic servants. Such abuse appears to have worsened in recent years. The press gives the problem considerable attention. Foreign-born servants have the right to sue their employers in court for abuse, but few do so owing to both fear of deportation and fear that the judicial system is biased against them. In 1993 the Government established an office under the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor to investigate the complaints of domestic servants. The Government has also announced its intention to establish a shelter for runaway maids but has not yet done so. As an interim measure, the authorities have designated a police station to investigate complaints and provide some shelter. Many domestic servants seek shelter at their country's embassy where they seek repatriation or a change in employers. On several occasions, the Philippine Embassy has sheltered over 250 women at one time, roughly half of whom complain of physical or sexual abuse and half have contractual complaints against their employers. The Government discontinues family entitlements to divorced women, but continues to make such payments to the divorced husbands who are expected by law and custom to provide for the children. The law discriminates against women married to foreign men. These women are not entitled to government housing subsidies which are available to other citizens. The law also requires Kuwaiti women to pay residency fees for their foreign-born husbands and does not recognize marriage as the basis for granting residency rights to foreign-born husbands. Instead, the law grants residency only if the husband is employed. By contrast, men married to foreign women do not have to pay residency fees for their spouses and their spouses' right to residency derives from marriage. Children The Government is committed to providing for the welfare of children, providing free education and health care to all children and a variety of other services. There is no child prostitution, child labor problem, or any pattern of societal abuse of children. However, in 1993 the Minister of Interior ordered all public and private schools not to enroll the children of parents without valid residence permits. Moreover, the Government orders the children of persons awaiting deportation to be held with their mothers at the women's detention facility, in conditions unsuitable for children. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities The Government's failure to improve the plight of the 117,000 bidoon, or persons of undetermined nationality with long residency in Kuwait, remains a significant human rights abuse (see Section 1.d.). The bidoon have been the objects of hostile government policy since the late 1980's. Since that time, the Government has eliminated the bidoon from the census rolls, discontinued their access to government-provided social services, and has sought to deport many bidoon to other countries. In 1993 the Government decreed that bidoon males may no longer serve in the military services. The bidoon exist in a legal limbo. Because their citizenship or residency status is undetermined, they do not have a legal right to work or enroll their children in public or private schools. If the bidoon travel abroad, they are uncertain if immigration authorities will allow them to reenter Kuwait. Marriages pose special hardships because the offspring of male bidoon inherit the father's undetermined legal status. The Government has established a review process which would regularize the status of some of the bidoon and their families, especially for any bidoon who has served in the military or security forces, and for the children born to marriages between bidoon males and Kuwaiti women. However, the process is improvised, slow, and ineffective. Government officials claim they recognize the hardships suffered by the bidoon, but so far they have not proposed any remedial legislation. Since the end of the Gulf War, the Government has been hostile to workers from those nationalities that supported Iraq, especially Palestinians, Jordanians, and Yemenis. The Government has delayed or denied the issuance of work and residency permits to persons in these groups, and in many cases has hindered such workers from sponsoring their families to join them in Kuwait. The Government imposes further hardships by prohibiting schools from enrolling the children of such persons without valid residency permits. Religious Minorities Although Christians are free to practice openly, the Government prohibits Christians from proselytizing Muslims, and Muslims from converting from Islam. The law prohibits non-Muslims from becoming citizens. A non-Muslim male must convert to Islam when he marries a Kuwaiti woman, if the wedding is to be legal in Kuwait. Government welfare programs generally do not discriminate against Shi'a Muslim citizens. Members of Kuwait's Shi'a minority are generally underrepresented in high government positions, although in recent years two Shi'a Muslims were appointed to the Cabinet and one was named to a high-ranking military post. People with Disabilities No institutionalized discrimination exists against physically disabled persons in housing, employment, education, or the provision of state services. The Government has not legislated or mandated accessibility for the disabled, but does provide extensive benefits for the disabled that cover job training, transportation, and social welfare. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association Workers have the right, but are not required, to join trade unions. Nonetheless, the Government restricts the right of association by prohibiting all workers from freely establishing trade unions. The law stipulates that workers may establish only one union in any occupational trade, and that the unions may establish only one federation. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has long criticized such restrictions. In 1994 over 28,400 people were organized in 14 unions, 12 of which are affiliated with the Kuwait Trade Union Federation (KTUF), the sole, legal trade union federation. The Bank Workers Union and the Kuwait Airways Workers Union are independent. The Government has shown no sign that it would accept the establishment of more than one legal trade union federation. The law stipulates that any new union must include at least 100 workers, of whom at least 15 are citizens. Both the ILO and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions have criticized this requirement because it discourages unions in sectors employing few citizens, such as the construction industry and domestic servants. The Government's intrusive 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." The Amir may also dissolve a union by decree. By law, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is authorized to seize the assets of any dissolved union. The ILO has criticized this aspect of the law. Although no union has been dissolved, the law subordinates the legal existence of the unions to the power of the State. Foreigners constitute most of Kuwait's total work force and about one-third of its unionized work force. Yet the law discriminates against foreign workers by permitting them to join unions only after 5 years of residency and only as nonvoting members. Unlike union members who are citizens, foreign workers do not have the right to elect their leadership. The law requires that union officials must be citizens. The ILO has criticized the 5-year residency requirement and the denial of voting rights for foreign workers. KTUF administers an Expatriate Labor Office which is authorized to investigate complaints of foreign laborers and provides them with free legal advice. Any foreign worker may submit a grievance to the Labor Office, regardless of union status. The law limits the right to strike. It requires that all labor disputes must be referred to compulsory arbitration if labor and management cannot reach a solution (see Section 6.b.). The law does not have any provision guaranteeing strikers that they will be free from any legal or administrative action taken against them by the State. Two strikes occurred in 1994, by cleaning personnel in the school system for a pay raise, and by security guards at the Social Welfare Home to collect unpaid wages. The majority of the strikers were foreign workers. The KTUF belongs to the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions and the formerly Soviet-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively Workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively, subject to the restrictions cited above. These rights have been incorporated in the Labor Law and have, according to all reports, been respected in practice. The Labor Law provides for direct negotiations between employers and "laborers or their representatives" in the private sector. Most agreements are resolved in such negotiations; if not, either party may petition the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor for mediation. If mediation fails, the dispute is referred to a labor arbitration board composed of officials from the High Court of Appeals, the Attorney General's office, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. The Civil Service Law has no provision for collective bargaining between government workers and their employers. Technically, wages and conditions of employment for civil service workers are established by the Government, but in practice, the Government sets the benefit scales after conducting informal meetings with officials from the civil service unions. Union officials resolve most issues at the working level and have regular access to senior officials. The Labor Law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Any worker who alleges antiunion discrimination has the right to appeal to the judiciary. There were no reports of discrimination against union or nonunion employees. 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." Nonetheless, there have been credible reports that foreign nationals employed as domestic servants have been denied exit visas if they seek them without their employers' consent. Foreign workers may not change their employment without permission from their original sponsors. Domestic servants are particularly vulnerable to abuses because they are not protected by the Labor Law. In many cases employers exercise some control over their servants by holding their passports, although the Government prohibits this practice and has acted to retrieve passports of maids involved in disputes. By law domestic servants who run away from their employers may be treated as criminals. In some reported cases, employers illegally withheld wages from domestic servants to cover the costs involved in bringing them to Kuwait. The Government has done little, if anything, to protect domestics in such cases. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The legal minimum age is 18 years for all forms of work, both full- and part-time. Employers must obtain permits from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor to employ juveniles between the ages of 14 and 18 in certain trades. Education is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15. These laws are not fully observed in the nonindustrial sector, although no instances involving children have been alleged. There are an undetermined number of underage foreign maids who have given false information regarding their age in order to obtain work. Some small businessmen employ their children on a part-time basis, and there have been unconfirmed reports that some south Asian domestic servants under 18 falsified their age in order to enter Kuwait. Juveniles may work a maximum of 6 hours a day on the condition that they work no more than 4 consecutive hours followed by a 1-hour rest period. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcing all labor laws. There is no legal minimum wage in the private sector. In 1994 the minimum wage in the public sector, administratively set by the Government, was approximately $630 a month (180 dinars) for citizens and $315 a month (90 dinars) for noncitizens. The Labor Law establishes general conditions of work for both the public and the private sectors, with the oil industry treated separately. The Civil Service Law also prescribes additional conditions for the public sector. Labor law limits the standard workweek to 48 hours with 1 full day of rest per week, provides for a minimum of 14 workdays of leave each year, and establishes a compensation schedule for industrial accidents. Domestic servants, who are specifically excluded from the private sector labor law, frequently work hours greatly in excess of 48 hours. The ILO has urged the Government to guarantee the weekly 24-consecutive-hour rest period to temporary workers employed for a period of less than 6 months and workers in enterprises employing fewer than five persons. The law governing in 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. 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 (chemicals, asbestos, etc.). The Government has issued occupational health and safety standards; however, compliance and enforcement are poor, especially regarding unskilled foreign laborers. Employers often exploit workers' willingness to accept substandard conditions. Foreign workers, especially unskilled or semiskilled south Asian workers, frequently face contractual disputes, poor working conditions, and some physical abuse. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to their continued employment, and legal protections exist for workers who file complaints about such conditions. Latest available figures for occupational injuries show 798 such occurrences in 1992, primarily in the sectors of construction and building, manufacturing, hotels, restaurants, and transportation. To cut accident rates, the Government periodically inspects installations to raise awareness among workers and employers and ensure that they abide by the safety rules, control the pollution resulting from certain dangerous industries, train workers who use new machines in specialized institutes, and report violations. (###)
[end of document]
to 1994 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.