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Department Seal


Title: Kuwait Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996


Amirs, or princes, from the Al-Sabah family have ruled Kuwait in 
consultation with prominent community figures for over 200 years.  The 
Constitution, adopted in 1962 shortly after Kuwait's independence, 
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 and dissolved the National Assembly 
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 a coalition led by the 
United States.  The Assembly resumed functioning after the 1992 

The Ministry of Interior supervises the security apparatus, including 
the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Kuwait State Security 
(KSS), two agencies that, in addition to the regular police, investigate 
internal security-related offenses.  Some members of the security forces 
committed human rights abuses.

Endowed with oil, the country has largely completed the process of 
recovery from the destruction caused by the Iraqi occupation, and has an 
estimated per capita income of approximately $23,000.  Because of the 
costly reconstruction, the Government has incurred a cumulative fiscal 
deficit of approximately $70 billion, which it covers by liquidating 
government-owned foreign assets and increasing the public debt.  The 
Government is gradually reducing the deficit and plans to eliminate it 
by 2000.  Despite its emphasis on an open market, the Government 
continues to dominate the local economy through direct expenditures and 
government-owned companies and equities.

There continued to be incremental improvement on the human rights scene.  
During the year, the National Assembly ratified two important human 
rights conventions and extended the franchise to a large group of adult 
males who previously did not have voting rights.  The Assembly's Human 
Rights Committee was active in investigating important human rights 
issues.  Moreover, the Government abolished the special State Security 
Court in favor of the regular judiciary, and there was continued 
improvement in prison conditions.  Kuwait enjoys an active press which 
is free to criticize the Government.

Nonetheless, significant problems remain.  Women do not have the right 
to vote; however, a bill granting women's suffrage was introduced in the 
Assembly.  The Government continues to be hostile to the human rights 
problems of the more than 100,000 stateless people residing in Kuwait 
known as the "bidoon."  It also prevents the return of stateless 
persons, Iraqis, and Palestinians who have strong ties to the country.  
Domestic servants are not protected by the labor law, and unskilled 
foreign workers suffer from a lack of a minimum wage in the private 
sector, and from failures to enforce the labor law.  Moreover, the 
Government bans formal political parties, and places some restrictions 
on the freedom of assembly and association.


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

  a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

There were no developments in the investigations into the extrajudicial 
killings that occurred during the chaotic period after Kuwait's 
liberation in 1991.

  b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

There were no developments in the approximately 100 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 603 Kuwaitis and residents of 
Kuwait, including 9 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 

The Constitution prohibits torture, and there is no pattern of 
systematic abuse.  Nevertheless, there continues to be credible reports 
that the police physically abused detainees during interrogation.  The 
police were more likely to inflict such abuse on non-Kuwaitis than on 
citizens.  Reported abuse includes blindfoldings, verbal threats, and 
slaps and blows.

The Government says that it investigates all allegations of abuse and 
that it has punished at least some of the offenders.  However, the 
Government does not make public the findings in its torture 
investigations or what, if any, punishments are imposed.  This omission 
creates a climate of impunity which diminishes the deterrence against 
torture and abuse.

Defendants have the right to present evidence in court that they have 
been mistreated during interrogation.  However, the courts frequently 
dismiss torture complaints because defendants are often unable to 
substantiate their claims with physical evidence.  Members of the 
security forces deliberately hide or misrepresent their identity, a 
practice that further complicates confirmation of abuse.

The Government has taken some steps to bring its prison system up to 
internationally recognized minimum standards.  Prison conditions are 
generally acceptable in terms of food, access to basic health care, 
access to the media, scheduled family visits, cleanliness, and 
opportunities for exercise and work.  The Government has permitted 
family visits for Jordanian prisoners and granted entry visas to the 
family members who would normally not be allowed to visit Kuwait.

The National Assembly's Human Rights Committee continued to monitor 
prison conditions.  Committee members visited prisons in early 1995 as 
they did in the previous year.  The committee members noted that 
problems include overcrowding and the availability of specialized 
medical care.  The Government allows the ICRC access to all detention 

  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides for freedom from arbitrary arrest and 
detention.  There were no reports of arbitrary arrest this year.

Police officers must obtain an arrest warrant from state prosecutors 
before making an arrest, although in misdemeanor cases the arresting 
officer may issue them.  Security forces occasionally detain persons at 
checkpoints in Kuwait City (see Section 2.d.).

Under the Penal Code, a suspect may not be held more than 4 days without 
charge.  Security officers sometimes prevent families from visiting 
detainees during this confinement.  After 4 days, prosecutors must 
either release the suspect or file charges.  If charges are filed, 
prosecutors may remand a suspect to an additional 21 days in detention.  
Prosecutors may also obtain court orders for further detention pending 

Over 1,900 persons are serving sentences at the central prison of 
Kuwait, while another 500 are under detention pending deportation.  The 
issuance of deportation orders is arbitrary, and an alien may be 
deported without trial.  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.  About 10 percent of the 500 detainees, 
especially Iraqis or Bidoon (stateless residents of Kuwait), have been 
in detention for more than 1 year.  However, the Government will not 
deport them to their country of origin against their will.  Iraq ended 
its arrangements for U.N. supervised border crossings in February, 
preventing the repatriation of those Iraqis who desire to return (see 
Section 2.d.).

The law protects citizens from exile, and there were no reports of this 

  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

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.  These non-Kuwaiti judges work under 
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 bias in favor of Kuwaiti citizens.

In 1995 the National Assembly abolished the Special State Security Court 
and now has one court system which 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 case.

Defendants have the right to confront their accusers and appeal 
verdicts.  The Amir has the constitutional power to pardon or commute 
all sentences.  Defendants in felony cases are required by law to be 
represented in court by legal counsel which the courts will provide in 
criminal cases.  In misdemeanor cases, defendants have the right to 
waive the presence of legal counsel, and the court is not required to 
provide counsel to indigent defendants.

Both defendants and prosecutors may appeal court verdicts to the High 
Court of Appeal, which may rule on whether the law was properly applied, 
as well as on guilt or innocence of the defendant.  Decisions of the 
High Court of Appeal may be presented to the Court of Cassation, which 
will conduct a limited, formal review of cases to determine only whether 
the law was properly applied.

In the regular court system there are no groups, including women, who 
are barred from testifying or whose testimony is given lesser weight.  
However, the Islamic courts, which have jurisdiction over family law, 
apply Islamic law, which states that the testimony of two women equals 
that of one man.

There are no reported political prisoners, but the Government continues 
to incarcerate persons convicted of collaboration with Iraq during the 
occupation.  By law such collaboration is a felony.  Most of the people 
convicted in martial law courts (including the majority of 
collaborators) did not receive fair trials.

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

The Constitution provides for individual privacy and sanctity of the 
home.  The police must obtain a warrant to search both public and 
private property, unless they are in hot pursuit of a suspect fleeing 
the scene of a crime, or if alcohol or narcotics are suspected on the 
premises.  The warrant can be obtained from the state prosecutor or, in 
the case of private property, from a judge.  The security forces 
occasionally monitor the activities of individuals and their 

By law males must obtain government approval to marry foreign-born 
women.  However, the Government does not vigorously enforce this 
restriction, and Kuwaitis routinely obtain exemptions from the Ministry 
of Justice.  The Government also advises women against marrying foreign 

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

  a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

With a few exceptions, citizens are free to criticize the Government at 
public meetings and in the media.  Several laws empower the Government 
to impose restrictions on the freedom of speech and the press, but they 
are rarely invoked.

Kuwaiti newspapers are privately owned and free to publish on many 
social, economic, and political issues and frequently criticize 
government policies and officials, including the Crown Prince, who is 
also the Prime Minister.

The Government ended prepublication censorship in 1992, but journalists 
still censor themselves.  The Press Law prohibits the publication of any 
direct criticism of the Amir, official government communications with 
other states, and material that serves to "attack religions" or "incite 
people to commit crimes, created hatred, or spread dissension among the 
populace."  In 1995 the Government banned publication of one newspaper 
for 5 days for contravening the law.  The media and the National 
Assembly criticized the ban.

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 
must also obtain permission from the Ministry of Information before 
publishing any printed material, including brochures and wall posters.

The Government does not censor foreign journalists and permits them open 
access to the country.

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 censors all books, films, videotapes, 
periodicals, and other imported publications to remove morally offensive 
material.  However, the Ministry has censored political topics as well.  
The General Organization of Printing and Publishing controls the 
printing, publishing, and distribution of informational materials in 

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 and Association

Although the Constitution affirms the right to assembly, the Government 
restricts this right, as well as that of association, and bans political 
parties.  Several informal political 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 
constrain these groupings, which are organized on the basis of common 
ideological goals.  Many may be categorized as "opposition" groups.  
Public gatherings, however, must receive prior government approval, as 
must private gatherings of more than 5 persons that result in the 
issuance of a public statement.

Political activity finds its outlet in informal, family-based, almost 
exclusively male, social gatherings known as diwaniyas.  Practically 
every male adult, including the Amir, hosts and attends diwaniyas at 
which every possible topic is discussed.  

The diwaniya contributes to the development of political consensus and 
official decisionmaking.

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 
over 55 NGO's, including professional groups, a bar association, 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.  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.

By banning unregistered NGO's the Government mainly sought to dissolve 
groups whose efforts were not coordinated with an official government 
committee working for the release of the missing persons presumed held 
in Iraq.  The ban discourages these groups from fundraising and 
recruitment, and prevents them from holding public meetings and making 
their views known in the press.  Nevertheless, the Government overlooks 
the activities of many unregistered NGO's, despite a decree issued in 
1993 ordering them to cease activities.  No organization has challenged 
that decree in court.

  c.  Freedom of Religion

Islam is the state religion.  The Constitution states that Islamic law, 
Shari'a, is "a main source of legislation."  The ruling family and many 
prominent Kuwaiti families belong to the denomination of Sunni Islam.  
However, 40 percent of the population belong to the Shi'a denomination.  
They are free to conduct their traditional forms of worship without 
government interference.

There are several legally recognized expatriate congregations and 
churches, including a Catholic diocese and several Protestant churches.  
Expatriates who are members of religions not sanctioned in the Koran 
(e.g. Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists) may not build places of worship but 
may worship privately in their homes.  The Government prohibits 
missionaries to proselytize among Muslims; however, they may serve 
expatriate congregations.  The law prohibits religious education for 
religions other than Islam, although this law does not appear to be 
rigidly 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.  Unmarried women age 21 and over are 
free to obtain a passport and travel abroad.  However, married women who 
apply for passports must obtain their husband's written permission.  
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.  Minors must have their father's permission to travel 
outside of the country.  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 Bidoon (the term 
means "without") are concealing their true citizenship in order to 
remain in Kuwait, become citizens, and enjoy the generous benefits 
provided to citizens.  Some Bidoon have had residency ties to Kuwait for 
generations.  Others immigrated during the oil boom years.  There are 
approximately 117,000 stateless persons in Kuwait, down from a prewar 
level of about 220,000.  The Government does not wish the return of the 
Bidoon who departed Kuwait during the Gulf War and frequently delays or 
denies issuing them entry visas.  This policy imposes serious hardships 
and family separations.

The Government continued its postwar policy of reducing the number of 
foreign residents from those countries that supported Iraq during its 
invasion of Kuwait.  The number of such residents is now only about 10 
percent of its pre-war total.  The Government permits the ICRC to verify 
if a deportee objects to returning to his country of origin.  The 
Government detains those deportees who have objections at the main 
deportation center.

Security forces in Kuwait City occasionally set up checkpoints where 
they may detain individuals.  The checkpoints are mainly for immigration 
purposes and are used to apprehend undocumented aliens.

There is no legislation governing refugees, and no clear or standard 
procedure for processing a person's claim to be a refugee.  The 
Constitution prohibits the extradition of political refugees.  The 
Ministry of Interior may issue residency permits to persons granted 
political asylum, although this is not a frequent occurrence.  The 
Government states that it does not deport anyone who claims a fear of 
persecution at home, but it will often keep such persons in detention 

than grant them permission to live and work in Kuwait.  The United 
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees maintains an office in Kuwait and 
has access to refugees in detention.

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

Citizens cannot change their head of state.  Women and many others are 
disenfranchised; 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 (see Section 2.b.).

Approximately 82,000 citizens, almost the entire franchised male 
population at the time, registered to vote in the 1992 elections.  In 
1994 the Assembly passed legislation extending the right to vote to the 
sons of naturalized citizens.  It amended that law in 1995 to extend the 
franchise to citizens naturalized 20 to 30 years ago.  These measures 
should increase the male electorate to an estimated 100-110,000.

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, and a 
draft law granting this right emerged after 3 years of consideration by 
a parliamentary committee.  However, no strong parliamentary support 
currently exists for this law, and the Government has made no effort to 
persuade the National Assembly to pass the legislation.  Women's groups 
in Kuwait are divided on this issue.

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.

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

The Government has prevented the establishment of local human rights 
groups by not approving their requests for licenses (see Section 2.b.).  
The Government permits international human rights organizations to visit 
and to establish offices.  Several organizations conduct field work and 
report excellent communication with and reasonable cooperation from the 

The National Assembly has established a human rights committee which 
takes testimony from individuals about abuses, investigates prison 
conditions, and has made nonbinding recommendations for redress (see 
Section 1.c.).  During the year, the Assembly ratified two international 
human rights conventions:  the Convention on the Prevention and 
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and the Convention on the Non-
applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against 

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 against women, and non-Kuwaitis face widespread social, 
economic, and judicial discrimination.


According to some local experts, domestic abuse of women occurs in an 
estimated 15 percent of all marriages.  Each of the country's 50 police 
stations receives approximately one to two complaints of spousal abuse 
each week.  Women in such cases usually take refuge in the homes of 
relatives.  The police and the courts generally seek to resolve family 
disputes informally and may ask the offending spouse to sign a statement 
affirming that he will end the abuse.  The police refer serious cases to 
the psychiatric department at the Ministry of Health.  The courts have 
found husbands guilty of spousal abuse.

A significant number of employers physically abuse expatriate women 
working as domestic servants, and sexual abuse is also a concern.  The 
local press gives the problem considerable attention.  Foreign-born 
servants have the right to sue their employers for abuse, but few do so 
owing to both fear of deportation and fear that the judicial system is 
biased against them.  The Government has designated a police station to 

investigate complaints and provide some shelter for runaway maids.  Both 
the police and the courts have taken action against employers when 
presented with evidence of serious abuse.

Runaway servants seek shelter at their country's embassy where they seek 
repatriation or a change in employers.  On several occasions, the 
Philippine embassy has sheltered nearly 300 women at once.  Although 
most of these women sought shelter due to contractual or financial 
problems with their employers, many also alleged physical and sexual 

Women experience legal and social discrimination.  They are denied the 
right to vote (see Section 3), their testimony is not given equal weight 
to that of males in the Islamic courts (see Section 1.e.), and married 
women require their husband's permission to obtain a passport (see 
Section 2.d).  By law only males are able to confer citizenship, which 
means that children born to Kuwaiti mothers and stateless fathers are 
themselves stateless.  Inheritance is governed by Islamic law, which 
differs according to sects.  For example, Sunni female heirs receive 
half the male heirs' inheritance, while a sole Shia female heir may 
receive the whole of her parents' or brother's estate.

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 an Islamic fundamentalist trend limits career 
opportunities.  Women wearing western attire and foreign women 
experience sexual harassment more frequently than women wearing 
traditional Islamic garb.  Nonetheless, an estimated 28 percent of 
Kuwaiti 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 Kuwaiti Petroleum Corporation.  However, there are no 
female judges or prosecutors, only a few women in the diplomatic 
service, and none in the National Assembly.

In case of divorce, the Government makes family subsidy payments only to 
the divorced husband, who is expected by law and custom to provide for 
his children even though custody of minor children is usually given to 
the mother.  The law discriminates against women married to foreign men.  
These women are not entitled to government housing subsidies which are 
available to male citizens.  The law also requires Kuwaiti 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 


The Government is committed to the welfare of children.  It provides 
free education and health care to all children and a variety of other 
services.  There is no pattern of societal abuse of children.

  People with Disabilities

There is no institutionalized discrimination against disabled persons in 
housing, employment, education, and in 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 
transportation, job training, and social welfare.

  National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Government's failure to improve the plight of the 117,000 Bidoon 
remains a significant human rights abuse.  The Bidoon have been the 
objects of hostile government policy since the late 1980's.  Since then 
the Government has eliminated the Bidoons from the census rolls, 
discontinued their access to government jobs and social services, and 
sought to deport many Bidoons.  In 1993, the Government decreed that 
Bidoon males would no longer be allowed to enlist in the military 
service.  Those presently in the armed forces are being gradually 

The Bidoon exist in a legal limbo.  Because their citizenship and 
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 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 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 Kuwaiti military and security forces and 
for the children born to marriages between Bidoon males and Kuwaiti 
women.  However, the process is slow and ineffective.  Government 
officials and National Assembly members recognize the hardships suffered 
by the Bidoon, but so far have not acted on the legislation proposed by 
some members.

Since the end of the Gulf War, the Government has been hostile to 
workers from those nations 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 those workers that are permitted to reside in 
the country from sponsoring their families to join them.  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 
Muslim woman, if the wedding is to be legal in Kuwait.  A non-Muslim 
female does not have to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim male, but it 
is to her advantage to do so (i.e., failure to do so may ultimately 
place custody of children in the hands of the Muslim father, should the 
couple later divorce).  Government welfare programs generally do not 
discriminate against Shi'a Muslim citizens.

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 

In 1995 about 50,000 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 Worker's 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 sectors.

The Government's pervasive oversight powers further erode union 
independence.  The Government subsidizes as much as 90 percent of most 
union budgets, may inspect the financial records of any union and 
prohibits any union from engaging in 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 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 the work force and about a third of its 
unionized work force.  Yet the law discriminates against foreign workers 
by permitting them to join unions only after 5 years of residence and 
only as nonvoting members.  Unlike union members who are citizens, 
foreign workers do not have the right to elect their leadership.  The 
law requires that union officials must be citizens.  The ILO has 
criticized the 5-year residency requirement and the denial of voting 
rights for foreign workers.

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 1995.  The first was called by approximately 
1,000 workers at the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), a government-owned 
company, to pressure management to upgrade their classifications.  The 
KOC persuaded the workers, all of whom were citizens, to return to their 
jobs, but did little to address the workers complaints.  The second 
strike was a 1-day sit-down action by nonunion workers at the labor camp 
of a private company who complained of inadequate food.  The workers, 
all of whom were expatriates, ultimately received more and better food, 
but the four Bangladeshi leaders of the action were jailed for 21 days 
and then deported.

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 

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 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 

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."

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 some control over their servants by holding 
their passports, although the Government prohibits this practice and has 
acted to retrieve passports of maids involved in disputes.

Domestic servants who run away from their employers 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.  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 Kuwaiti children have been 
alleged.  Some small businessmen employ their children on a part-time 
basis, and there have been unconfirmed reports that some south Asian 
domestic servants are under 18, but 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 one-hour rest 

  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 1995 the minimum wage in the public sector, administratively set by 
the Government, was approximately $774 a month (226 dinars) for citizens 
and approximately $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 long 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 pertaining to the oil industry provides for a 40-hour work week, 
30 days of annual leave, and a sick leave.  Laws establishing work 
conditions are not always applied uniformly to foreign workers.  Labor 
law also provides for employer-provided medical care and compensation to 
workers disabled by injury or disease due to job-related causes.  The 
law also requires that employers provide periodic medical examinations 
to workers exposed to environmental hazards on the job (i.e., chemicals, 
asbestos, etc.).  The Government has issued occupational health and 
safety standards; however, compliance and enforcement appear poor, 
especially with respect to unskilled foreign laborers.  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 1,472 such 
occurrences in 1994, primarily in the sectors of construction and 
building, manufacturing, hotels and restaurants, and transportation.  To 
cut accident rates, the Government periodically inspects installations 
to raise awareness among workers and employers and ensure that they 
abide by the safety rules, control the pollution resulting from certain 
dangerous industries, train workers who use new machines in specialized 
institutes, and report violations.


[end of document]


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