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US Department of State’s Report on Human Rights Practices in Kuwait for 2017 – Part I

Executive summary

Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the Al-Sabah family. While there is also a democratically elected parliament, His Highness the Amir holds ultimate authority over most government decisions. The last parliamentary election was held in November 2016 and was generally free and fair with several members of the opposition winning seats. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included allegations of torture of detainees; political prisoners; restrictions on freedom of speech, including criminalization inter alia of criticism of government officials and defamation of religion; long-term movement and assembly limits on a stateless population referred to as Bidoon; trafficking in persons; criminalization of male same sex sexual activity; and reports of forced labor, especially among foreign workers.

The government took steps in some cases to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was a problem in corruption cases.

Section 1. Respect for the integrity of the person, including freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there continued to be reports of torture and ill-treatment by police and security forces during prolonged detention of persons in cases relating to terrorism, and against detained members of minority groups and noncitizens.

Several persons claimed police or Kuwait State Security (KSS) force members beat them at police checkpoints or in detention. In July a foreign national in long-term detention in the Kuwait Central Prison reported he was beaten by prison personnel, and diplomatic representatives confirmed the prisoner was denied medical treatment for his injuries for at least 11 days following the incident.

The government stated it investigates complaints against police officers and that disciplinary action is taken when warranted. Disciplinary actions resulted in fines, detention, and some officers being removed from their positions or terminated. The government did not make public all the findings of its investigations or all punishments it imposed. In one publicized case, the Court of Misdemeanors in March sentenced a police officer to one month in jail for illegally detaining and physically abusing an innocent citizen. Although government investigations do not lead to compensation for victims of abuse, the victim can utilize government reports and results of internal disciplinary actions to seek compensation via civil courts.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions
According to the Parliamentary Committee Report on Central Prison Conditions, the prisons lacked the minimum standards of cleanliness and sanitation, were overcrowded, and suffered from widespread corruption in management leading to drug abuse and prisoner safety issues. An international organization that visited the Central Prison corroborated some of the findings from the report.

Government authorities were investigating a February attack by another inmate on former member of parliament (MP) and opposition leader Musallam Al-Barrak, who had been convicted in 2015 on charges of insulting His Highness the Amir. The attack prompted a review by parliament of the prison system, and the inmate accused of attacking the former MP reportedly committed suicide.

Physical Conditions: The Central Prison has a capacity of 2,302 inmates. Approximately 3,634 inmates were housed there. Cells in the male prison held four to 12 persons and cells in the female prison held six to eight; inmates reportedly lived in moderately overcrowded conditions. Although the total capacity of the women’s prison was not reported, both prison authorities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have visited the facility mentioned overcrowding at the women’s prison, which currently houses 192 inmates.

A nursery complex was provided for female inmates with children less than two years old. Officials stated the prison was not designed to accommodate prisoners with disabilities as, by law, any convict with a significant disability cannot be held in the Central Prison.

The number of inmates at the deportation center at Talha was close to 400 on an average day. Observers reported that up to 800 inmates could be housed in the facility for short periods of time. They also reported some overcrowding at the deportation center and poor sanitation as a consequence of the aging facility. Noncitizen women pending deportation were kept at the Central Prison due to lack of segregated facilities at the deportation center.

The Parliamentary Committee Report on Central Prison Conditions indicated there was discrimination between prisoners according to national origin and citizenship status. Bribery of prison workers and poor supervision resulted in a black market trading in drugs, cigarettes, cellphones, electronics, as well as makeshift weapons. Some prisoners complained of having cells raided by unidentified masked men.

Administration: There were some reports of corruption and lack of supervision by the administration of the prison and detention center system. While inmates lodged complaints against prison officials and other inmates, no information was available on the resolution of these complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Interior permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by some nongovernmental observers and international human rights groups and required written approval for visits by local NGOs. Authorities permitted staff from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to visit the prisons and detention centers. The government also allowed local NGOs to visit prisons upon approval from the ministry. The Kuwait Society for Human Rights and the Kuwait Association for the Basic Evaluation of Human Rights were allowed to visit prisons during the year. A government official stated that local and international NGOs visited prisons approximately 70 times during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. There were numerous reports, however, that police made arbitrary arrests, principally as part of sustained action against persons in the country illegally, regardless of their actual residency status.

Role of the police and security apparatus
Police have sole responsibility for the enforcement of laws not related to national security, and the KSS oversees national security matters; both are under the purview of civilian authorities at the Ministry of Interior. The armed forces (land forces, air force, and navy) are responsible for external security and are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. The Kuwait National Guard is a separate entity that is responsible for critical infrastructure protection, support for the Ministries of Interior and Defense, and for the maintenance of national readiness. The Kuwait Coast Guard falls under the Ministry of Interior.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

Police were generally effective in carrying out core responsibilities. There were reports some police stations did not take criminal complaints seriously, especially those of foreigners, and of citizen and noncitizen victims of rape and domestic violence. Alleged crimes perpetrated by nationals against nonnationals rarely led to prosecution. Many cases reached an informal resolution through cash settlement. In cases of alleged police abuse, the district chief investigator is responsible for examining abuse allegations and refers cases to the courts for trial.

Arrest procedures and treatment of detainees
A police officer generally must obtain an arrest warrant from a state prosecutor or a judge before making an arrest, except in cases of hot pursuit or observing the commission of a crime. There were numerous reports of police arresting and detaining foreign nationals without a warrant, primarily as part of the government’s action against unlawful residents. The courts usually do not accept cases without warrants issued prior to arrests. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them and allowed access to their lawyers and family members. There were cases of detainees, especially those held for drug crimes, who were detained for periods of one to two weeks, and who were unaware of the charges against them and not allowed access to an attorney.

Diplomatic representatives observed that in some detention cases, authorities permitted lawyers to attend legal proceedings but did not allow direct contact with their clients. Detainees were routinely denied access to their lawyers and translators in advance of hearings. Defendants who do not speak or understand Arabic often learned of charges against them after the trial as they did not have access to a translator when the charges were pressed against them. The law provides the detained person the right to a prompt judicial determination of the detention’s legality. If authorities file charges, a prosecutor may remand a suspect to detention for an additional 10 days for a misdemeanor and 20 days for a felony. Prosecutors also may obtain court orders for up to six months’ detention pending trial. There is a functioning bail system for defendants awaiting trial. The bar association provides lawyers for indigent defendants; in these cases defendants do not have the option of choosing which lawyer is assigned to them. Defendants in drug cases were usually held incommunicado for several days while their case was under investigation.

The Ministry of Interior investigates misdemeanor charges and refers cases to the misdemeanor courts as appropriate. The undersecretary in the Ministry of Interior is responsible for approving all administrative deportation orders.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports that police arbitrarily detained nonnationals during raids, including some who possessed valid residency permits and visas.

Pretrial Detention: Arbitrary lengthy detention before trial sometimes occurred. Authorities held some detainees beyond the maximum detention period of six months. The total staff of 600 judges and 300 prosecutors at the Ministry of Justice was reported as being inadequate to handle cases in a timely manner and was the main cause of delays in processing cases.
Excessive detention at the government-run Talha Deportation Center, in Jeleeb al-Shuyoukh, where there are no maximum time limits on detention prior to deportation, was also a problem, particularly when the detainee owed money to a citizen or was a citizen from a country without diplomatic representation in the country to facilitate exit documents.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees, and those convicted by a court, were able to challenge their detention. Criminal lawyers reported that defendants were able to challenge their detention successfully, particularly in cases involving cases involving drug and alcohol use, by showing violation of the legal process by law enforcement officers at the time of arrest, resulting in acquittals in court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law and the constitution provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The Supreme Judicial Council nominates all prosecutors and judges and submits nominees to the emir for approval. Judges who were citizens received lifetime appointments until they reached mandatory retirement age; judges who were noncitizens held one to three-year renewable contracts. The Supreme Judicial Council may remove judges for cause. Noncitizen residents involved in legal disputes with citizens frequently alleged the courts showed bias in favor of citizens. While no legal provisions prohibit women from appointment as judges and public prosecutors, the only path to those positions is through work in the prosecutor’s office.

Under the law questions of citizenship or residency status and various provisions of immigration law are not subject to judicial review, so noncitizens arrested, for example, for unlawful residency, or those whose lawful residency is canceled due to an arrest, have no access to the courts. The law subjects noncitizens charged with noncriminal offenses, including some residency and traffic violations, to administrative deportations that cannot be challenged in court; however, noncitizens charged in criminal cases face legal deportations, which can be challenged in court.

Trial procedures
The constitution provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The law forbids physical and psychological abuse of the accused. Under the law defendants also enjoy the right to be present at their trial, as well as the provision of prompt, detailed information on charges against them. There were cases where non-Arabic speaking defendants did not understand the charges against them due to language barriers and restrictions on communication between lawyers and their clients. Defendants were not always provided with interpreters as required by law. Criminal trials are public unless a court decides “maintenance of public order” or the “preservation of public morals” necessitates closed proceedings. The bar association is obligated upon court request to appoint an attorney without charge for indigent defendants in civil, commercial, and criminal cases, and defendants used these services. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The public did not have access to most court documents. The Ministry of Justice is required to provide defendants with an interpreter for the entire judicial process, but in practice this did not always occur.

Defendants have the right to confront their accusers, to confront witnesses against them, and to present their own witnesses, although these rights were not always respected in practice. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal verdicts to a higher court, and many persons exercised this right.
Under the new domestic labor law, domestic workers are exempted from litigation fees. If foreign workers had no legal representation, the public prosecutor arranged for it on their behalf, but with little or no involvement by the workers or their families. When workers received third-party assistance to bring a case, the cases were often resolved when the employer paid a monetary settlement to avoid a trial.

Political prisoners and detainees
There were several instances of persons detained for their political views. Throughout the year the government arrested several individuals on charges such as insulting the emir, insulting leaders of neighboring countries, or insulting the judiciary. While authorities arrested and released some individuals after a few days, they held others for weeks or months pending trial. During the year sentences for insulting or speaking out against the emir or other leaders on social media ranged from a few months in prison to up to 10 years.

Civil judicial procedures and remedies
The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary by individuals or organizations in civil matters regarding human rights violations, but authorities occasionally did not enforce such rulings for political reasons. Authorities also occasionally used administrative punishments in civil matters, such as instituting travel bans or deportations. Individuals were able to appeal adverse domestic court decisions to international human rights bodies if they chose to do so.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government respected these prohibitions. Cybercrime agents within the Ministry of Interior, however, regularly monitored publicly accessible social media sites and sought information about owners of accounts, although foreign-owned social media companies denied most requests for information.

In 2015 the government passed a DNA law requiring all persons entering the country, including citizens and noncitizens, to submit DNA samples for security purposes. In October the Constitutional Court ruled that the DNA Law was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the constitution’s articles on personal liberty, leading to the immediate revocation of the law.
The law forbids marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men and requires male citizens serving in police or the military to obtain government approval to marry nonnationals. Nevertheless, the government offered only nonbinding advice on such matters and generally did not prevent marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country’s diplomats were prohibited from marrying noncitizens.

The government may deny a citizenship application by a bidoon resident based on security or criminal violations committed by the individual’s family members. Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status derives from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights.

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