UN Committee against Torture releases Concluding Observations on Kuwait

On 12 August 2016, the United Nations (UN) Committee against Torture (CAT) adopted its concluding observations for Kuwait’s third periodic report. Ahead of the review, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) submitted a shadow report to the Committee detailing the Government of Kuwait’s failings to adequately address ongoing allegations of the torture and ill-treatment of citizens and residents. On 25 and 26 July, members of the CAT questioned Kuwaiti representatives regarding these issues, citing specific cases of alleged torture. The CAT’s concluding observations focused heavily on its concerns regarding Kuwaiti authorities’ lack of enforcement of legislation aimed at promoting human rights. ADHRB welcomes the Committee’s numerous recommendations to Kuwait, and hopes that the government will promptly follow through on its responsibility to protect its denizens’ human rights.

The Committee reiterated a call from its second periodic report, advocating for Kuwait to incorporate the crime of torture into its penal domestic law as a distinct crime, as well as properly define the term according to the Convention against Torture. Currently, Kuwait classifies torture as a misdemeanor, offense, or common assault. The maximum penalty for those convicted of torture is five years in prison, which is not commensurate with the gravity of the crime.

The majority of the concluding observations regarded improving the conditions of detention. The Committee raised issues related to Kuwait’s widespread and consistent use of coerced confessions, the practice of holding detainees without access to lawyers or judges, depriving detainees of their liberties, and the frequent use of torture. The CAT also called on Kuwait to specifically discontinue its consistent use torture and ill-treatment during the particularly prolonged detentions of human rights defenders and minorities. Recommendations for curbing these practices include prompt investigations into those reported using torture or ill-treatment, and ensuring that peaceful demonstrations are not repressed by excessive force or detention.

Human trafficking and the abuse of foreign workers, especially in the form of forced labor, were also among the matters the CAT discussed. The Committee called upon the government to urgently reform the employer-based sponsorship system, commit to enforcing current legislation protecting the rights of foreign workers, and provide access to complaint and redress mechanisms.

Independence of the judiciary and other government bodies remained a prominent concern of the CAT. The UN committee welcomed Kuwait’s establishment of its national human rights institution, Diwan Huquq Al Insan, in July 2015. However, it remained leery of the institution’s independence, as it falls under the supervision of the Council of Ministers. The CAT drew attention to the lack of independent complaint mechanisms as well, as many victims and witnesses of torture have been reluctant to report the cases for fear of harassment and reprisals. Concerns over the judiciary’s independence were also raised, due to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), which consists of members appointed by the executive, appointing judges. As the SJC reviews foreign judges’ appointments at short intervals, the judges are insecure in their positions and must meet the SJC’s standards for fear of having their visas revoked.

“Assuring judicial independence is crucial to ensure human rights are respected and protected in Kuwait,” says ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “The government must take its international commitments seriously, and act quickly to implement the CAT’s recommendations,” he continued.

Members of the CAT also raised issue with Kuwait’s continued use of death penalty following the lapse of the de facto moratorium that began in 2007. Kuwaiti officials have executed nine individuals for a wide range of offenses since 2011. The Committee urged the government to reinstate the de facto moratorium on the death penalty and to consider revising domestic legislation “with a view to abolishing the death penalty and commuting death sentences to prison sentences.”

ADHRB appreciates the recommendations of the CAT to the Government of Kuwait, and hopes that they will provide the basis for positive legislative reform. It is long since time that the Government of Kuwait honors its international commitments. ADHRB joins the UN CAT in urging Kuwaiti officials to immediately incorporate these recommendations, ensuring that the human rights of everyone within Kuwait are respected.