There is a frequent question about the philosophy of law – does the law regulate societies, or when societies organize, they formulate laws to protect their regimes? This question is similar to a large extent to what comes first – the chicken or the egg.
The world agrees that laws, whether they are constitutional, judicial, customized or divine, are set to demarcate the pillars of societies to accomplish justice and equality among its members.
In 1962, the late Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah issued constitutional laws to bear on civil rights and the new democratic system of the Kuwaiti society, but legislative laws are sometimes in contradiction with the objectives of the constitution.
Enter the role of civil society organizations to help clarify these circumstances and help the legislator to correct them, as the Sout Al-Kuwait group does.
Protecting Kuwait’s civil rights
In 2008, a volunteer political activist group of Kuwaitis calling themselves Sout Al-Kuwait (Voice of Kuwait) took upon themselves a complicated mission to defend constitutional gains and to put out research studies in the service of parliament members to facilitate their duties. In addition, they set up a parliament watch website – www.raqib50.com – to monitor and appraise the performance of lawmakers in the National Assembly, document the speed of work completion of committees, and their commitment to attend hearings and votes.
“Despite dissatisfaction over some of the legislation of the current National Assembly, we must not deny the most important one – an amendment setting the powers of the constitutional court. Before that, the public had no access to the court in case of direct prejudice from an unconstitutional law,” Abdullah Al-Khonaini, a member of Sout Al-Kuwait, told Kuwait Times.
“The law and the appeals process did not exceed two years. Therefore, Kuwaitis need to be more daring and aware in this area. From our side, we initiated school visits, workshops, exhibitions and seminars directed to all ages. We also designed a mobile virtual journey through the political history of Kuwait. The app will enable visitors to discover that however badly they think about the present, Kuwait has experienced worse. Our legislation is a consequence of a dynamic interaction of the society and the government within existing local and regional situations. Kuwait underwent a period of an unconstitutional parliamentary dissolution, prior and subsequent control and witnessed the closure of newspapers,” Khonaini explained.
The first project carried out by Sout Al-Kuwait was a booklet highlighting unconstitutional suspicions in eight laws in collaboration with a group of specialists. “However, we are not entitled to request an appeal simply because we hold evidence to prove the illegitimacy of a law that violates constitutional articles. Only direct victims can resort to sue,” said Khonaini. This booklet and other documents are available at soutalkuwait.com.
Challenging unconstitutional laws
From 1981 until 2007, the legislature imposed eight laws that some consider unconstitutional – the nationality law, the election law, personal status law, regulation of higher education, establishment of private universities, working in the private sector, the press and publication law and imitating the opposite gender. To demonstrate, as stated in the Sout Al-Kuwait booklet, the press and publication law of 2005 is in conflict with Articles 29, 30, 35, 36 and 37 of the constitution. “The situation worsened after adding social media to it. This is different from the cyber crime law and the e-media law,” added Khonaini.
Similarly, in 2006, there was a tendency to abolish jail sentences for those expressing opinions and confine it only to those insulting God and the Amir. “Strangely, the cyber crime law brought jail sentences back, as if we are regressing,” he said. Another case of violation of the terms of some constitutional articles is the inequality between women and men in the personal status, election, housing and employment in private sector laws. In fact, many laws contain clear violations of the constitution, which equates the genders in rights and duties.
Awareness and rights
“Legal awareness is not enough, and in spite of the law to secure the right of appeal for all affected citizens, not everyone is financially able to claim their rights. Claiming usurped rights requires great courage and effort,” Khonaini stated. This is what a group of college students did when they challenged the law segregating classrooms after their graduation was delayed due to a lack of open sections due to gender separation. “Although some tried to politicize the matter and questioned the morality of these students, the decision on the unconstitutionality of the act was made. The students won the lawsuit,” Khonaini said. “The defaulter fund act was also amended by the constitutional court after it declared that the phrase “committee decisions are not subject to appeal” was invalid, and the last resort is the judiciary.”
The new domestic labor law, the animal welfare law and some other approved legislation, regardless of their content, are a signal of a positive development on the local scene, but keeping up with the entry of these laws into effect and control is the responsibility of the civil society. The community must stand up to this level of cooperation and build an interactive relationship with the government and legislative institutions to elevate the country.
By Athoob Al-Shuaibi