Human rights in Kuwait
Kuwaiti law, including the Constitution of Kuwait, theoretically pledges to protect all human rights. The enforcement mechanisms designed to help protect human rights are very limited in Kuwait. Kuwait has the largest number of stateless people in the entire region. The Kuwaiti government's handling of the stateless Bedoon crisis has come under significant criticism from many human rights organisations and even the United Nations. According to Human Rights Watch in 1995, Kuwait has produced 300,000 stateless Bedoon. The Kuwaiti Bedoon crisis resembles the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar (Burma).
Kuwait is a party to several international human rights treaties, including
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
- Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery
- Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others
- United Nations Convention Against Torture
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour
- Convention concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour
- Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention
- Abolition of Forced Labour Convention
- Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention
- Convention against Discrimination in Education
According to Human Rights Watch in 1995, Kuwait has produced 300,000 stateless Bedoon. Kuwait has the largest number of stateless people in the entire region. The Bedoon issue in Kuwait is largely sectarian.
The State of Kuwait formally has an official Nationality Law which grants non-nationals a legal pathway to obtain citizenship. However, access to citizenship in Kuwait is autocratically controlled by the Al Sabah ruling family, it is not subject to any external regulatory supervision. The naturalization provisions within the Nationality Law are arbitrarily implemented and lack transparency. The lack of transparency prevents non-nationals from receiving a fair opportunity to obtain citizenship. Consequently, the Al Sabah ruling family have been able to manipulate naturalization for politically-motivated reasons. In the three decades after independence in 1961, the Al Sabah ruling family naturalized hundreds of thousands of foreign Bedouin immigrants predominantly from Saudi Arabia. By the year 1980, as many as 200,000 immigrants were naturalized in Kuwait. Throughout the 1980s, the Al Sabah's politically-motivated naturalization policy continued. The exact number of naturalizations is unknown but it is estimated that up to 400,000 immigrants were illegally naturalized in Kuwait. The naturalizations were not regulated nor sanctioned by law. The foreign Bedouin immigrants were mainly naturalized to alter the demographic makeup of the citizen population in a way that makes the power of the Al Sabah ruling family more secure. As a result of the politically-motivated naturalizations, the number of naturalized citizens exceeds the number of Bedoon in Kuwait. The Al Sabah ruling family actively encouraged foreign Bedouin immigrants to migrate and settle in Kuwait, the Al Sabah ruling family favored naturalizing Bedouin immigrants because they were considered loyal to the ruling family unlike the politically active Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian expats in Kuwait. The naturalized citizens were predominantly Sunni Saudi immigrants from southern tribes. Accordingly, there are no stateless Bedoon in Kuwait belonging to the Ajman tribe.
Most stateless Bedoon in Kuwait belong to indigenous northern tribes. The northern tribes are predominantly Shia Muslims. A minority of stateless Bedoon in Kuwait belong to Kuwait's 'Ajam community. The Kuwaiti judicial system's lack of authority to rule on citizenship further complicates the Bedoon crisis, leaving Bedoon no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship. Although non-nationals constitute 70% of Kuwait's total population, the Al Sabah ruling family persistently denies citizenship to most non-nationals including those who fully satisfy the requirements for naturalization as stipulated in the state's official Nationality Law. The Kuwaiti authorities permit the forgeries of hundreds of thousands of politically-motivated naturalizations, while simultaneously denying citizenship to the Bedoon. The politically-motivated naturalizations were noted by the United Nations, political activists, scholars, researchers, and even members of the Al Sabah family. It is widely considered a form of deliberate demographic engineering. It has been likened to Bahrain's politically-motivated naturalization policy. Within the GCC countries, politically-motivated naturalization policies are referred to as "political naturalization" (التجنيس السياسي).
It is widely believed that the Bedoon in Kuwait are denied citizenship mainly because most Bedoon are Shia Muslims. The Bedoon issue in Kuwait is largely sectarian. From 1965 until 1985, the Bedoon were treated like Kuwaiti citizens and guaranteed citizenship, they had free access to education, health care and all other privileges of Kuwaiti citizens. By 1985 at the height of the Iran–Iraq War, the Bedoon were suddenly reclassified as "foreigners" in the Kuwaiti government's databases and denied Kuwaiti citizenship.
60-80% of Kuwait's Bedoon are Shia Muslims. Many Bedoon in Kuwait are pressured to hide their Shia Muslim background. The Bedoon issue in Kuwait “overlaps with historic sensitivities about Iraqi influence inside Kuwait; many who continue to be denied Kuwaiti nationality are believed to have originated from Iraq”. The stateless Bedoon are generally categorized into three groups: stateless tribespeople, stateless police/military, and the stateless children of Kuwaiti women who married Bedoon men. The stateless Bedoon constituted 80-90% of the Kuwaiti Army in the 1970s and 1980s up until the 1990 Gulf War. At the time, Kuwaiti government preferred to identify these stateless people as "Bedoon".
Under the terms of the Kuwait Nationality Law 15/1959, all the Bedoon in Kuwait are eligible for Kuwaiti nationality by naturalization. Kuwait's Bedoon believe that most stateless people who get naturalized are Sunnis of Persian descent or tribal Saudis, but not Bedoon of Iraqi tribal ancestry.
Genocide and ethnic cleansingEdit
According to several human rights organizations, the State of Kuwait is committing ethnic cleansing and genocide against the stateless Bedoon. Since 1986, the Kuwaiti government has refused to grant any form of documentation to the Bedoon including birth certificates, death certificates, identity cards, marriage certificates, and driving licences. The Kuwaiti Bedoon crisis resembles the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar (Burma). The Bedoon face many restrictions in employment and travel. They are not permitted to educate their children in public schools and public universities. The Bedoon are banned from obtaining driving licenses. In recent years, the rate of suicide among Bedoon has sharply risen. In 1995, the British government reported that there are over 300,000 stateless Bedoon. According to Human Rights Watch in 2000, Kuwait has produced 300,000 stateless Bedoon. According to the Kuwaiti government, there are only 93,000 documented Bedoon in Kuwait. There have been various reports of disappearances and mass graves of stateless Bedoon, therefore it is believed that the Kuwaiti government kidnapped and murdered many Bedoon and buried them in mass graves.
From 1965 until 1985, the Bedoon were treated like Kuwaiti citizens and guaranteed citizenship, they had free access to education, health care and all other privileges of Kuwaiti citizens. At the height of the Iran–Iraq War, the Bedoon were reclassified as "foreigners" in the Kuwaiti government's databases and denied Kuwaiti citizenship. The Kuwaiti government has actively engaged in an ethnic cleansing policy against the Bedoon. The government policy is to impose false nationalities (legally ineffective) on the Bedoon. In 1985, the then emir Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah escaped an assassination attempt. Later that same year, the government changed the Bedoon's status from that of legal residents without nationality to illegal residents. By 1986, the Bedoon were fully excluded from the same social and economic rights enjoyed by Kuwaiti citizens because the Al Sabah ruling family needed to isolate the Bedoon from the rest of the society. The Iran–Iraq War threatened Kuwait's internal stability and the country feared the sectarian background of the stateless Bedoon.
In the year 1995, the British government formally announced that there are more than 300,000 stateless Bedoon from Kuwait. At the House of Commons, it was announced that the Al Sabah ruling family deported 150,000 stateless Bedoon to refugee camps in the Kuwaiti desert near the Iraqi border with minimal water, insufficient food, and no basic shelter. The Kuwaiti authorities also threatened to murder the stateless Bedoon if they returned to their houses in Kuwait City. As a result, many of the stateless Bedoon fled to Iraq where they still remain stateless people even today.
Of all the human rights atrocities committed by the ruling family in Kuwait, the worst and the greatest is that against the people known as the Bedoons. There are more than 300,000 Bedoons--one third of Kuwait's native population. Half of them--150,000--have been driven into refugee camps in the desert across the Iraqi border by the regime and left there to bake and to rot. The other 150,000 are treated not as second-class or even fifth- class citizens but not as any sort of citizen. They are bereft of all rights.
It is a scandal that almost no one in the world cares a thing about the plight of 300,000 people, 150,000 of them cast out of the land in which they have lived. Many were born to Kuwaiti mothers, and many of those families have lived in the Kuwaiti area for many centuries. Indeed, given the ruling family's penchant for spending time on the Riviera or in the west end of London, many of them have spent a great deal more time in Kuwait than many of the members of the ruling family.
"The totality of the treatment of the Bedoons amounts to a policy of denationalization of native residents, relegating them to an apartheid-like existence in their own country. The Kuwaiti government policy of harassment and intimidation of the Bedoons and of denying them the right to lawful residence, employment, travel and movement, contravene basic principles of human rights . . . Denial of citizenship to the Bedoons clearly violates international law . . . Denial of citizenship and lawful residence to Bedoon husbands and children of women who are Kuwaiti citizens violates rules against gender-based discrimination."
The report continues:
"Denying Bedoons the right to petition the courts to challenge governmental decisions regarding their claims to citizenship and lawful residence in the country violates the universal right to due process of law and equality before the law. By retroactively implementing restrictive citizenship and residency laws, Kuwaiti authorities deprive Bedoons of their vested rights to state citizenhip and residence."
Human rights organizations have severely criticized Kuwait for its handling of the issue. The Bedoon issue is considered a major humanitarian crisis due to the repressive policies of the Al Sabah ruling family.
In 2004, the Bedoon accounted for 40% of the Kuwaiti Army. There were allegedly 110,729 "documented" Bedoon in Kuwait. All stateless Bedoon are at risk of persecution and breach of human rights.
Although the Al Sabah ruling family claims that it will naturalize up to 4,000 stateless Bedoon per year, this remains highly unlikely in reality. In 2019, the Iranian embassy in Kuwait announced that it offers Iranian citizenship to stateless Bedoon of Iranian ancestry.
Human rights organizations have frequently criticized Kuwait for the human rights abuses toward foreign nationals. Foreign nationals account for 70% of Kuwait's total population. The kafala system leaves foreign nationals prone to exploitation. Administrative deportation is very common in Kuwait for minor offenses, including minor traffic violations. Kuwait is one of the world's worst offenders in human trafficking. Hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals are subjected to numerous human rights abuses including inhumane conditions of involuntary servitude by employers in Kuwait. They are subjected to physical and sexual abuse, non-payment of wages, poor work conditions, threats, confinement to the home, and withholding of passports to restrict their freedom of movement.
Repeated abusers include M A Al-Kharafi & Sons and its subsidiary Kharafi National that have been cited by human rights organizations and the United States Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Kuwait. Many human rights organizations have accused Kuwait of apartheid policies toward foreign nationals. Kuwait is considered one of the most xenophobic countries in the world.
Invasion and Gulf warEdit
In 1990, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein invaded next door Kuwait. The Iraqi military forces defeated Kuwaiti forces and they abused many Kuwaiti citizens and stateless Bedoon. Some were taken back to Iraq and released later.
Kuwaiti women are considered among the most emancipated women in the Middle East region. In 2014 and 2015, Kuwait was ranked first among Arab countries in the Global Gender Gap Report. In 2013, 53% of Kuwaiti women participated in the labor force. Kuwaiti women outnumber men in the workforce. At the end of a 9-day visit to Kuwait on 15 December 2016, the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice praised Kuwait for its achievements in education and in the labour force, but warned against the persistent barriers, both in law and in practice, on the path of women's quest for full equality UN human rights experts Alda Facio and Kamala Chandrakirana said despite significant achievements, “discrimination against women persists in law and in practice, particularly in the context of the family and nationality laws, based on the presumption of women’s dependence on men, which is contrary to the principle of equality.”
Muslim women in Kuwait are discriminated under the family law. Children born to a Kuwaiti mother and non-Kuwaiti father do not get Kuwaiti citizenship, unless a decree is passed by the Minister of Interior.
LGBT people living in Kuwait may face discriminatory laws and public attitudes.
Voice over Internet Protocol is legal in Kuwait.
According to a 2009 report from the Reporters without Borders, Kuwait is engaged in pervasive Internet filtering and selective filtering in security areas. The primary target of Internet filtering is pornography. The Kuwait Ministry of Communication regulates ISPs, making them block pornography and anti-security websites.
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Extra-Legal Naturalisations and Population Statistics
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