On 15 July 2016, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee (HRC) published the findings of its review of Kuwait’s adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Government of Kuwait acceded to the ICCPR on 21 May 1996. It is one of only two members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), along with Bahrain, to have done so. Ahead of the review, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and the Kuwait Watch Organization for Human Rights submitted a shadow report to the HRC. The report highlighted “the State of Kuwait’s failures to meet its obligations to protect the rights outlined in the ICCPR, in particular: the right to freedom of expression, the right to recognition as a person before the law, and the right to freedom of assembly and association.” In its concluding remarks, the HRC detailed many of the same concerns as ADHRB, and issued recommendations to the Government of Kuwait so that it could better comply with the ICCPR’s stipulations.
The HRC took issue with Kuwait’s systemic discrimination against women, and domestic workers, and the stateless Bidoon people, as well as government discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Government of Kuwait attempts to grant citizenship to the Bidoon, however the process is slow, and many remain unregistered and unable to obtain documentation or social services. Kuwait has made deals with other countries in order to offer the Bidoon “economic citizenship” in those countries in exchange for permanent residency in Kuwait. The HRC also expressed its concern about the criminalization of same-sex sexual activities, as well as the harassment, arbitrary arrest, torture, detention, and assault on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, the HRC criticized the Kuwaiti government’s discrimination against women, especially the provisions contained in the Personal Status Law and the Nationality Law. Under these laws, women are unable to pass their citizenship onto their children, their signatures are not mandatory on marriage contracts, and the status of their legal testimonies are valued less than those given by man. The HRC recommended that Kuwaiti officials reform laws to ensure the equality of men and women and strictly enforce their implementation.
Another major criticism made by the HRC is the Kuwaiti government’s use of arbitrary arrests and detentions, the death penalty, and torture. The number of crimes for which the government can sentence one to death is large and increasing, spanning various levels of severity. Some of these crimes have been reported to carry mandatory death sentences upon conviction. In 2013, the Kuwaiti government carried out several executions, ending the de facto moratorium on the death penalty that had been in effect since 2007. Because of this, the HRC urged Kuwait to abolish the death penalty and reinstate the moratorium. Reports that Kuwaiti police officers and security forces torture and degrade prisoners and detainees have increased in the last few months. In light of these activities, the Committee voiced that the government should amend the Penal Code in order to ensure that, under internationally accepted definitions of torture, these acts no longer take place. The HRC also implores the Government of Kuwait to establish an independent complaint mechanism to allow those who are tortured to file complaints against the officials responsible.
The HRC also noted many legal deficiencies within the state. Kuwait does not have a sufficiently independent judicial system, as the appointment, promotion, and disciplining of judges are all handled by the executive branch of the government. The HRC advocates for reform of these processes and the establishment of an independent institution to regulate them. The Committee also highlighted Kuwait’s lack of equal gender representation and balance. There is a very low number of women working within the judiciary. While Kuwaiti officials appointed 22 women as prosecuting attorneys, Kuwait has suspended women’s applications for positions until the original 22’s review process has been completed, a process not required for their male counterparts.
In addition to deficiencies in the legal system, the ICCPR review highlighted flaws within Kuwait’s electoral system, which act to discriminate against and exclude certain sections of society. As in the judiciary, women are underrepresented in Parliament and other decision-making positions within the government. The government discriminates against naturalized citizens as they cannot vote in elections until 20 years after they become citizens, be elected to Parliament or the municipality, nor can they hold ministerial office. Additionally, Kuwait does not have a legal framework in place that regulates the existence of political parties. The HRC advocates for the adoption of a system that is more inclusive to voters, will regulate political parties, and formalize those parties into the Kuwaiti electoral system.
The HRC expressed great concern over Kuwait’s violations of the civil liberties of its residents and citizens. The government infringes upon the freedoms of expression and speech. Blasphemy laws coupled with the restriction on Internet use under the Communication Law No. 37/2014 and the Cybercrime Law 2015 are used by the government to stifle free expression. New amendments to the electoral law in 2016 forbid individuals convicted under these blasphemy crimes from running for official office.
The Government of Kuwait also stifles its residents’ right to assembly by restricting civil society organizations and public gatherings. Article 12 of Law No. 65/1979 bans non-Kuwaitis from participating in public gatherings. Kuwaiti citizens are also barred from gathering without permission from the Ministry of Interior. When gatherings do occur, Kuwaiti security forces have used excessive force to quell them. Government authorities also use administrative deportation and citizenship revocation as punishments against human rights defenders and activists. The HRC also remained concerned about the lack of review processes for those who were arbitrarily detained, tortured, or had their citizenship revoked due to exercising free speech and expression rights. The Committee denounced these practices, and advocated for independent oversight bodies to deal with those seeking redress. Kuwait fails to comply with the ICCPR’s explicit protection of the right to free assembly.
ADHRB welcomes the HRC’s review regarding Kuwait’s adherence to the ICCPR. While Kuwait acceded to the Covenant over 20 years ago, the government still has a great number of adjustments to make in order to fully comply with its stipulations. The government continues to discriminate against wide swaths of its citizenry, both in law and practice. ADHRB urges Kuwait to implement the HRC’s recommendations in order to safeguard the rights and well-being of the residents of Kuwait. ADHRB also implores the international community to push Kuwait to act on these recommendations.
While Kuwait still has much to accomplish, it has demonstrated its willingness to change by virtue of acceding to the ICCPR. The remaining countries in the GCC that have yet to accede to the treaty must follow Kuwait’s example.
To read the full Human Rights Committee concluding remarks, please click here.