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

Section 3. Freedom to participate in the political process

Recent Elections: Observers generally considered the 2016 parliamentary election free and fair and found no serious procedural problems. The election followed His Highness the Amir’s October 2016 order to dissolve the National Assembly because of “mounting security challenges and volatile regional developments.” Most opposition politicians and their supporters who boycotted the 2013 election returned and participated without incident. Official turnout for the 2016 elections was approximately 70 percent.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not recognize any political parties or allow their formation, although no formal law bans political parties. National Assembly candidates must nominate themselves as individuals. Well-organized, unofficial blocs operated as political groupings, and MPs formed loose alliances. The law prohibits primaries during elections, but some tribes continue to hold unofficial primaries to select candidates for the National Assembly elections. In June the National Assembly amended the election law to bar those convicted of insulting His Highness the Amir and Islam from running for elected office. Voters register to vote every February upon reaching the voting age of 21. Prosecutors and judges from the Ministry of Justice supervise election stations. Women prosecutors served as supervisors for the first time during the 2016 elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Although women gained the right to vote in 2005, they still faced cultural and social barriers to political participation. For example, some tribal leaders have successfully excluded women from participating in local and national elections by banning them from being considered in unofficial tribal primaries. In the 2016 elections, 15 women filed candidate applications. One candidate withdrew resulting in 14 women standing for election with one woman successfully winning a seat. Women voted at a higher rate than men, having registered at 52.4 percent versus 47.6 percent.

Section 4. Corruption and lack of transparency in government
The law mandates criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Government observers believed officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.
There were many reports that individuals had to pay intermediaries to receive routine government services. Police corruption was a problem, especially when one party to a dispute had a personal relationship with a police official involved in a case. Widespread reports indicated that police favored citizens over noncitizens. There were several reports of corruption in the procurement and bidding processes for lucrative government contracts.
Media and government officials reported cases of widespread, visa-related corruption, namely selling visas or visa fraud, at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and Ministry of Interior. According to a study conducted by the Research and Studies Sector at the National Assembly, 73 percent of marginal workers were victims of visa traders. The study criticized the government for failure to curb this illegal trade and bring perpetrators to justice. The study stated that in 2014, 40,000 marginal workers were brought into the country based on 1,000 false commercial licenses.
Financial Disclosure: In November 2016 government officials began filing financial disclosure statements with the ACA after the law came into effect. Approximately 10,000 officials are required to submit this disclosure, and 9,730 officials have complied with the law.

Section 5. Governmental attitude regarding international and nongovernmental investigation of alleged abuses of human rights
The government imposed some limits on the operations of domestic and international human rights groups. A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with limited restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The law permits the existence of NGOs, but the government continued to deny registration to some. NGOs may not engage in political activity or encourage sectarianism.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Assembly’s Human Rights Committee, which operated independently of the government, is an advisory body that primarily hears individual complaints of human rights abuses and worked with the plaintiff and relevant stakeholders to reach a mutual settlement. The committee visited the Central Prison and the central deportation center throughout the year to review overcrowding, prison and detainee treatment, and the condition of both facilities. The committee had adequate resources and was considered effective.

SECTION 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking In Persons

Women
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape carries a maximum penalty of death, which the courts occasionally imposed for the crime; spousal rape and domestic violence are not considered crimes. Authorities did not effectively enforce laws against rape. Violence against women continued to be a problem. The penal code allows for a rapist to elude punishment on the condition that he marry his victim and her guardian consents that the perpetrator not be punished. There were reports alleging that some police stations did not take seriously reports by both citizens and noncitizens of rape and domestic violence.
When reported, police typically arrested and investigated alleged rapists and, in a limited number of cases, prosecuted the accused. In January an Egyptian woman was raped by a fellow Egyptian national. The perpetrator was not arrested, but he was sentenced in his absence to 10 years in prison.

The government does not publish statistics on violence against women. During the year a Kuwait University study found that 40 percent of married women were victims of domestic violence. There were no known shelters specifically for victims of domestic violence.

A woman may petition for divorce based on injury from spousal abuse, but the law does not provide a clear legal standard regarding what constitutes injury. Additionally, a woman must provide at least two male witnesses (or a male witness and two female witnesses) to attest to such injury.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Officials did not report any honor killings during the year. The penal code treats some honor crimes as misdemeanors. The law states that a man who sees his wife, daughter, mother, or sister in the “act of adultery” and immediately kills her or the man with whom she is committing adultery faces a maximum punishment of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 225 dinars ($743).

Sexual Harassment: Human rights groups characterized sexual harassment in the workplace as a pervasive and unreported problem. No specific law addresses sexual harassment, but the law criminalizes “encroachment on honor,” which encompasses everything from touching a woman against her will to rape, and police strictly enforced this law. The government deployed female police officers specifically to combat sexual harassment in shopping malls and other public spaces. Perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault faced fines and imprisonment.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods.

Discrimination: Women do not enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, but citizen women enjoyed many political rights, including the right to vote and to serve in parliament and the cabinet. Sharia (Islamic law) courts have jurisdiction over personal status and family law cases for Sunni and Shia Muslims. Sharia, as implemented in the country, discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, freedom of movement, marriage, child custody, and inheritance. There were no known cases of official or private sector discrimination in accessing credit, owning and/or managing a business, and securing housing. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women. Secular courts allow any person to testify and consider male and female testimony equally, but in sharia courts, which govern personal status matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance issues, the testimony of one man equals that of two women.

The 1984 Kuwaiti Family Law Code prohibits marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men. The law does not require a non-Muslim woman to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim man, but many non-Muslim women faced strong economic and societal pressure to convert. In the event of a divorce, the law grants the father or his family sole custody of children of non-Muslim women who do not convert. A non-Muslim woman who does not convert to the religion of her husband is also ineligible for naturalization as a citizen and cannot inherit her husband’s property unless specified as a beneficiary in his will.

Inheritance is also governed by sharia, which varies according to the specific school of Islamic jurisprudence. In the absence of a direct male heir, a Shia woman may inherit all property, while a Sunni woman inherits only a portion, with the balance divided among brothers, uncles, and male cousins of the deceased.

Female citizens are unable to pass citizenship to their noncitizen husbands or their children; however, exceptions were made for some children of widowed or divorced female citizens. Male citizens married to female noncitizens do not face such discrimination.

The law requires segregation by gender of classes at all universities and secondary schools, although it was not always enforced.

Children
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives entirely from the father; children born to citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers do not inherit citizenship unless the mother is divorced or widowed from the noncitizen father and may then facilitate the child’s application for citizenship. The government designates religion on birth and marriage certificates. The government often granted citizenship to orphaned or abandoned infants, including bedoon infants. Parents were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for their bedoon children because of extensive administrative requirements that prevented such children from accessing public services such as education and health care.

Education: Education for citizens is free through the university level and compulsory through the secondary level. Education is neither free nor compulsory for noncitizens. A 2011 Council of Ministers decree extended education benefits to bedoons.
Medical Care: Lack of identification papers sometimes restricted bedoons access to public medical care.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 17 for boys and 15 for girls, but girls continued to marry at a younger age in some tribal groups.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There are no laws specific to child pornography, because all pornography is illegal. There is no statutory rape law or minimum age for consensual sexual relations, although premarital sexual relations are illegal.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with permanent physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. It imposes penalties on employers who refrain without reasonable cause from hiring persons with disabilities. The law also mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions. Noncitizens with disabilities neither had access to government-operated facilities nor received stipends paid to citizens with disabilities that covered transportation, housing, job training, and social welfare costs. The government still has not fully implemented social and workplace aides for persons with physical, and in particular, vision disabilities.

There is a disability law, and a parliamentary Committee for Disabled Affairs. Under that law the monthly allowance given to the mother of a disabled child or the wife of a person with disabilities is 600 dinars ($1,980), and families of citizens with disabilities are eligible to receive grants worth up to 20,000 dinars ($66,000).

During the year the government reserved a small number of admissions to Kuwait University for citizens with disabilities, and there was regular media coverage of students with disabilities attending university classes. Nonetheless, authorities did not provide noncitizens with disabilities the same educational opportunities, and noncitizen students with disabilities experienced a lack of accessible materials and lack of reasonable accommodations in schools.

Children with disabilities attended public school. The government supervised and contributed to schools and job training programs oriented to persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities
Approximately 70 percent of residents were noncitizens, many originating from other parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia. Societal discrimination against noncitizens and bedoons was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment, education, housing, social interaction, and health care. As part of expanded activity against illegal residents, police stopped, arrested, and sometimes deported noncitizens believed to be using private automobiles as taxis. This action disproportionately affected the noncitizen laborers who could not afford their own automobiles or taxi fares.

Acts of violence, discrimination, and other abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity
Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men and crossdressing are illegal. The law punishes consensual same-sex sexual activity between men older than 21 with imprisonment of up of to seven years; those engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity with men younger than 21 may be imprisoned for as long as 10 years. No laws criminalize sexual behavior between women. The law imposes a fine of 1,059 dinars ($3,495) and imprisonment for one to three years for persons imitating the appearance of the opposite sex in public. Transgender persons reported harassment, detention, and abuse by security forces.

Societal discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity occurred; to a lesser extent, officials also practiced such discrimination, usually upon discovering that a person stopped for a traffic violation did not appear to be the gender indicated on the identification card. Transgender men and women often faced rejection by their families and, in some cases, disputes over inheritances.

HIV and AIDS social stigma
Local human rights NGOs reported no accounts of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but persons with HIV/AIDS did not generally disclose their status due to social stigma associated with the disease.

Other societal violence or discrimination
Unmarried men continued to face housing discrimination based solely on marital status. The law prohibits single men from obtaining accommodation in many urban residential areas. Single noncitizens faced eviction due to a decision by the municipality to enforce this prohibition and remove them from residences allocated for citizens’ families, citing the presence of single men as the reason for increasing crime, a burden on services, and worsening traffic. – To be continued in tomorrow’s issue

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