January 10, 2012

II. Police Abuse Against Transgender Women

The evidence and statements gathered by Human Rights Watch from transgender women all contain similar and harrowing tales of abuse by police. The most common complaint made by the women to Human Rights Watch was of police sexual violence and humiliation. The following sections outline the main findings arising from the evidence gathered and detail police abuse of transgender women, as well as procedural violations during arrest and detention.

Sexual Violence, Physical Abuse, and Torture

If anyone touches me, I have no right to complain. My body is there to be violated. This is what the government did: it turned my body into a receptacle for depraved Kuwaiti men. And then they call me deviant? They punish me?
—Samira, 26, Kuwait City, February 11, 2011
They have turned us into prey for society; we have become victims to anyone’s whims just to avoid prison. Everyone is a threat. Every time we go out, we take a risk.
—Rima, 27, Kuwait City, February 10, 2011

The ramifications of article 198 go beyond unfair detention and imprisonment, opening the door to a number of other violations, all with little recourse for redress. Every one of the 40 transgender women interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that she suffered some form of sexual abuse at the hands of police, most of them unreported due to fear of reprisal. The ubiquitousness of these stories among Kuwait’s transgender population and the manner in which the abuse was carried out suggest that this sexual violence is a result of both the vague wording of the law (criminalizing an unspecified appearance) and the way police apply it arbitrarily.

Transgender detainees have consistently reported beatings, torture, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, humiliating and degrading treatment, sexual assault, and harassment by police. Transgender women have reported that the sexual assault they endure at the hands of the police can take several forms, including harassment such as touching and groping, rape, and blackmailing them into non-consensual sex by threatening to arrest them if they did not comply.

Articles 53, 159, and 184 of the Kuwaiti Criminal Code forbid torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and Kuwait ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in March 1996. In its concluding observations published in June 2011, the UN Committee Against Torture recommended that “a crime of torture, as defined in article 1 of the Convention, be incorporated into the penal domestic law of the State party ensuring that all the elements contained in article 1 of the Convention are included.”[45] The committee also recorded 632 trials of cases of torture, ill-treatment, and corporal punishment in Kuwait. In 248 of those cases perpetrators were punished, although Kuwait’s government failed to give information about the exact penalties applied to the convicted.[46]

However, Kuwaiti law still does not clearly define torture, and torture by police and other security forces continues, according to Geneva-based human rights organization Al-Karama.[47]

Moreover, on January 22, 2007, the Committee against Torture published a decision, V.L. v Switzerland, concluding that sexual violence committed by police officers acting in an official capacity constitutes torture.[48] The committee’s conclusion stated:

The acts concerned, constituting among others multiple rapes, surely constitute infliction of severe pain and suffering perpetrated for a number of impermissible purposes, including interrogation, intimidation, punishment, retaliation, humiliation and discrimination based on gender. Therefore, the Committee believes that the sexual abuse by the police in this case constitutes torture even though it was perpetrated outside formal detention facilities.[49]

Several torture scandals involving police rocked Kuwaiti society in early 2011. The most notorious, a case involving the death of a detainee due to torture while in police custody, resulted in the resignation of Minister of Interior Sheikh Jaber Al-Khaled Al-Sabah. A parliamentary committee that investigated the death of the citizen, Mohammed al-Mutairi, said that he had been tortured for six days before dying in the Ahmadi Criminal Investigation Department on January 11, 2011.[50] The public prosecution investigated 20 individuals for involvement in the incident, 18 of them policemen.[51] The court case is ongoing. This incident received extensive media attention due to the brutality of events leading to al-Mutairi’s death and the heated debates it caused in the Kuwaiti parliament between opposition and pro-government MPs. Most other cases go unnoticed.

Transgender women have also reported degrading and humiliating treatment by the police, such as being forced to strip and being paraded around the police station, being forced to dance for officers, sexual humiliation, and verbal taunts and intimidation. A common complaint among transgender women is police blackmail for sex on threat of arrest, an act that constitutes sexual assault. Rima, 27, recounted a typical encounter:

In October 2009 I passed a checkpoint right outside my university’s gate. I got scared of course and turned back, but the policeman got suspicious. I stayed on campus for five hours until I was sure that the checkpoint moved. The next day I saw the same checkpoint and the same police officer. He found out which car was mine and as I was walking towards it he stopped me and asked me for my ID. I gave it to him, and immediately the sexual harassment started. He forced me to take off my top so he could see my breasts, right in the middle of the parking lot. When I told him he had no right to treat me like this, he said, “Either you take my number and meet me for sex or I will take you to prison.” I had no choice. For the rest of the time I was in college I had to keep seeing him.[52]

Khouloud said that she was disappeared for two weeks after police stopped her at a checkpoint and subjected her to a range of abuses:

When the police officer took out IDs, he said he couldn’t believe I was a male. He forced his arm through the car window and grabbed my bag. I tried to explain to him that I am a woman, I feel like a woman. He asked me if I had transitioned, and I told him I hadn’t. He raised his eyebrows and said, “Oh, so it still works?” I couldn’t believe it. He asked if I would come with him to his apartment. I asked him why, and he just said, “You know why.”
I was so frightened, but I knew I had to get out of it somehow, so I agreed to meet him later. He took my number, and before letting me leave he felt up my crotch. He kept calling me after that but I never answered. He found out where I worked. One day after leaving work, I found him standing right outside my office building waiting for me. He was furious, he wanted to punish me for not having sex with him. He gave me one last chance: his apartment, or the police station. I refused to go home with him, so I ended up in handcuffs. He called the police station and told them that he’s bringing in a third sex for them to “make a man of.”
There were five officers total with me at the station. They took me to a small room with no cameras. They beat me, made me take my clothes off and touched me everywhere. One of them took his pants off and tried to make me touch him. I was crying the whole time, begging them to stop. They put music on and made me dance naked for them. They would touch me and tell me how pretty I was, then beat me and tell me to be a man. They kept asking me to have sex with them but I kept refusing so they would hit me more. They punched me, beat me with canes on my legs and then forced me to walk around so the blood wouldn’t coagulate and if I faltered they would hit more.
Khouloud spent two weeks detained in the Criminal Investigation Department never being brought before a judge—as required by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)—[53] without her parents knowing where she was, she said, and during which police regularly beat and sexually abused her:
For two weeks I did not see the sun, I didn’t know if it was night or day. They tortured me psychologically, telling me that I would be released soon, in two hours, in one hour, and then they would tell me I’m going to prison for a year. Every day they paraded me around in my underwear and touched me. In the end I just started showing them my tits myself to spare myself the humiliation of them forcing me to strip. I saw the worst things possible. They would torture people in front of me and tell me that’s what they were going to do to me.
They finally released me after shaving my head and making me sign a paper that said that they had caught me on the street in full makeup with a throng of men behind me, causing a disturbance.[54]

The frequency with which transgender women told researchers that police gave them the choice of having sex with them or going to prison suggests this population serves as easy sexual prey for police, who have allegedly employed threats, intimidation, and physical violence to ensure that these incidents go unreported. Samira, for example, was arrested four times, the last time in the beginning of 2010, when she said that four police officers raped her while in detention and then threw her from a moving police car onto the street. She was not charged with any crime, and did not file a complaint for fear of reprisal.[55]

Farah, 25, told Human Rights Watch another all-too common story of sexual assault at the hands of police. In October 2009 two policemen stopped her and a friend as they left a mutual friend’s apartment early in the morning. According to Farah, the policemen took a liking to her friend, and told them that they would not arrest either, and would let Farah go on condition that her friend go with them in their car:

She had been arrested twice before, and did not want to go through the pain and humiliation of it again. So she went with them. When I called her that evening to ask what had happened, it was as I suspected: they both raped her in the police car.[56]

Haneen suffered terribly at the hands of the police. She recounted one incident where two police officers attempted to break in to her apartment and rape her in June 2009:

As I was opening my door they grabbed me and I lunged myself inside. Half of me was inside the apartment and half outside, so they tried to pull me out completely. They know they have no right to arrest me inside my apartment without a warrant. What were they going to do, arrest my legs? They tried to reason with me, telling me that they find me pretty and just want to talk to me. That was before they got really angry and yelled at me that they were both going to fuck me. I managed to push them off and enter my apartment. One of them was yelling at me to come out or he would get a warrant to arrest me.  When I pulled out my camera to take a picture of them they ran away. As they left one of them said that they would be watching for me downstairs to arrest me when I walk into the street.[57]

The second time Ghadeer was arrested, in 2008, she said she was dressed in a track suit outside a restaurant in broad daylight. She reported that the arresting officer let her go after he forced her to give him her number to arrange for a date. That same year, she said a police officer followed her into a mall and threatened to arrest her:

I begged him not to but he started to pinch me on my ass and breasts and pressed himself up against me…. His hands were all over me. He said he wouldn’t arrest me if I agreed to go up to the roof where there was no one and have sex with him there. The roof turned out to be locked so he got flustered and decided to take my number instead, telling me he would come to my apartment after his shift was over. After that I changed my number.[58]

Abeer, 29, recounted how police arrested and abused her and her friend for appearing dressed in women’s clothes, including detaining them in an informal place of detention:

Before the law was passed in 2007, I was detained twice because of the way I look, and the police never even told me what law I had broken. I was kept in the station for four hours, beaten, and then released.
I was arrested for the third time in March 2008 with a friend of mine. We were stopped at a checkpoint and arrested after they saw that our driver’s licenses state our sex as male and we were dressed as women. By law, we were supposed to be transferred to the police station to be investigated or charged. Instead, they took us to their friends at the garage next to the Salmiya police station where police patrol cars are parked. Inside, they took pictures of us with their personal camera phones, probably to make fun of us to their friends and brag that they had arrested transsexuals. They told us they were going to use the pictures for our criminal files, but they had no right to take them in the first place; it’s only at the station that they can do that.
They kept us there for an hour and half humiliating, ridiculing and cursing us. They beat my friend with a heavy stapler; she was bruised for weeks after that. She stood strong, so they punched and kicked me even more because they could tell I was afraid. After they saw my friend’s shoulder turn blue from the beating, they made sure to hit us in places where there would be no bruises, so I got punched in the stomach a lot. One of them touched my friend’s breasts,[59] and when she told him that he can’t do that, he said it’s not sexual harassment because she is really a “man.”[60]

Ghadeer, 22, is a working class transsexual Bidun—one of a group, now estimated to be 106,000 stateless persons who claim Kuwaiti nationality but have been in legal limbo for the past fifty years.[61] All Bidun have the status of “illegal residents.”[62] Over time, their precarious position has contributed to poverty, and limited access to education and health care. The combination of Ghadeer’s gender identity, statelessness, and poverty has amplified her vulnerability at the hands of the police and society at large. The dual stigma attached to being Bidun and transsexual greatly increased her vulnerability to extortion and violence.

Since 2008 Ghadeer said that police had arrested her nine times for allegedly violating article 198 and detained her each time between four and twelve days. In 2009, a Kuwaiti court fined her 1000 KD ($3000) for “imitating the opposite sex.” She said that she has been unable to find and keep a job due to her gender identity and lack of citizenship, and has had to leave her apartment several times because of continued harassment by both police and civilians in her neighborhood.[63]The first time Ghadeer was arrested was in March 2008, while she was driving with two Kuwaiti citizens and two Bidun men, wearing a unisex training suit covered by a dishdasha(traditional Kuwaiti male garment):

As soon as the police saw us at the checkpoint they pulled us aside and searched us. They searched the trunk, even though they have no right, and found my lipstick and makeup. They dragged me from the car by my hair, kicked and punched me and took us all to the Salmiya police station.
There they asked me if I was a man or a woman. I replied that I am a man, and then they beat me yelling at me to confess I was “third sex”. In the end I had to confess from all the beatings even though outwardly I was dressed like a man. The issue is inside me: I am a woman in a man’s body.
They took my phone and started going through my text messages and personal pictures of myself and my family. When I tried to object one of the policemen threw a stapler at me. Then he asked me, “Why are you Bidun?” What kind of a question is that?[64]

Ghadeer and her friends suffered doubly because of their Bidun status. She said that police singled them out for abuse and humiliation that they spared their two Kuwaiti friends:

They abused me and my two Bidun friends and did nothing to the Kuwaitis. They even took a trash can full of dirt and cigarette butts and dumped it over my Bidun friend’s head, and forced another Bidun to do push-ups with a radiator on his back.
One of the policemen then told me to strip, but I refused. He forcefully lifted my dishdasha and when he saw the training suit underneath he asked to see my underwear. The other police officer beat me and forced me to take everything off in front of everybody, made me turn around to see my ass, my breasts.

At one point, Ghadeer said, her mother called her phone.

The police officer answered her and told her, “Your son is third sex,” and then hung up, just like that. My mother is old, she is sick, she is a Bidun. Why would he torture her like that?

Both Kuwaiti citizens were let go without any criminal charges. The Biduns were taken to the Criminal Investigation Department. Ghadeer’s mother visited “every hospital and every police station in Kuwait” but was simply told there was no one there with her child’s name. Ghadeer’s time in detention was punctuated by abuse and humiliation.

They would call us to the door just to spit on us and walk away. We'd sleep on the floor without any covers and they would purposely turn on the air conditioning on the highest setting. They took the makeup and the clothes they had found in the trunk of the car and forced me and my Bidun friend to put them on. In the police report they wrote that they caught us red-handed in full impersonation of the opposite sex and included photographs they took of us in the women’s clothes they forced us into as evidence.
When I asked to pray I wasn’t allowed to change from the women's clothing they forced me to wear. The clothing is inappropriate for praying as it is figure-hugging and they refused to let me change.
Finally they took us to the investigating officer, and while we waited outside his office policemen passing by would just hit us or spit on us on their way. We pleaded with the officer not to call in our fathers. My friend's father is religious, my family is Bedouin, they are a simple, proud, and honorable people. They called them in anyway and beat us in front of them and showed them the pictures they had taken of us after they forced us to wear women’s clothes. They swore at us and made derogatory comments in front of them, which was humiliating to our fathers.

Before they were released, Ghadeer and her friends were forced to sign a declaration saying they would never imitate the opposite sex or be found in suspect places. “In the report they wrote down that I was stopped in a ‘suspect place.’ Is the 5th circle highway a public place or a suspect place?” she asked.

After that my whole extended family found out. My sister was divorced by her husband because of this and my friend had to repeat the school year because he missed his exams in the time we were in detention. And my mother got even sicker.[65]

In mid-2008, Ghadeer was arrested for the third time in a coffee shop in the busy Salmiya district while she was with an older Lebanese woman and her grandchild:

The police officer who saw me called in a patrol, and eight officers came to pick me up. Eight, just for me. They took the child from my lap, placed him on the table, and then cuffed my hands and my feet and walked me out in front of everyone as if I were a murderer. I was in a track suit and had my long hair tucked under my baseball cap. When they arrested me, they took my cap off so that everyone could see my hair.

Ghadeer was taken to the Criminal Investigation Department, where she was detained for four days.

I had just had breast implants so I was bleeding the entire time from sleeping on the floor and from the way they grabbed and pinched me. I was in so much pain. They saw the blood but didn’t clean it up or call in a doctor.[66]

Procedural Violations

Interviewees frequently cited procedural violations in police arrests and detentions of transgender women.

Some of these violations appear to be rooted in lack of clarity in the amendment to article 198—specifically, its failure to explain what constitutes “imitating the opposite sex”—among its central provisions—allowing police complete freedom to define what violates the law.

According to Kuwaiti lawyer Abbas Ali, who has defended a number of transgender women and who has spoken about the issue in the media, most arrested transgender women are not prosecuted by the state, but are detained and released with a warning, keeping them in jail for any time between a few hours to over a week.[67]

Furthermore, despite Kuwaiti and international laws requiring due process guarantees for detainees, transgender women have reported arbitrary detention with no regard to their due process rights. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Kuwait acceded in 1996 guarantees everyone the “right to liberty and security of person” and protection from arbitrary arrest or detention. The right to security obligates the state to take reasonable steps to protect individuals against threats of physical violence whether from agents of the state or third parties.  Article 9 requires that anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge be brought promptly before an independent judge.  Article 31 of Kuwait’s Constitution also protects against arbitrary arrest and detention, a right supported by article 60 of Kuwait’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which limits police custody to four days without judicial authorization.

Despite these legal requirements, 12 out of the 39 transgender women who had been arrested and whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said that police detained them illegally for more than four days, sometimes up to 20. Seven were also not allowed to communicate with their families or inform anyone of their arrest, and the police refused to acknowledge the detention of four of those to their families, act that constitutes an enforced disappearance, a serious human rights violation.[68] Additionally, all 39 arrested individuals whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said that police did not allow them access to a lawyer during interrogation or inform them of this right, a direct violation of article 75 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

According to Ali, police have no right to conduct body inspections without permission from the public prosecutor, yet it is common practice for them to force transgender women detainees to strip in front of them to determine, for example, whether they are wearing female underwear or whether they have had breast implants, particularly if they were arrested while wearing male or gender neutral clothing. Such behavior is often accompanied by humiliating sexual harassment.[69]

Unless police actually catch someone in a clear case of “imitation” (a biological male wearing obviously female clothes), they have no legal right to call in a forensic doctor for a bodily inspection).[70] Yet 15 of the transgender women interviewed reported that police subjected them to such inspection regardless of their state of dress at the time of arrest. Ban, 22, said police caught her wearing a dishdasha while in her car, then forced her to undress on the street to reveal she was wearing female underwear. They arrested her on that basis.[71] Article 17 of the ICCPR guarantees that, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy” and further guarantees the right to protection from such interference. Forcing an individual to undress in public to assess her undergarments constitutes a clear violation of the right to dignity and privacy.

All of the transgender women we spoke to also reported that police forced them to sign a statement that they would not “imitate the opposite sex again.” They also claimed that police accompanied these forced confessions with humiliation, abuse, torture, sexual harassment, and sometimes sexual assault before releasing them.

For Tabtabai, the author of the law, arresting and forcing transgender individuals to sign these declarations ought to constitute an effective deterrent, although the facts say otherwise.[72] Approximately half of the 39 arrested transgender women interviewed for this report were arrested more than once, some up to six times. Twelve of the transgender women interviewed were arrested wearing gender-neutral or male clothes, including the traditional dishdasha, while three were arrested for “wearing a feminine watch,”[73] “having a smooth face,”[74] and “having a soft voice”.[75] Ghadeer, the 22-year-old transsexual woman who was arrested nine times, told Human Rights Watch:

Every time they catch me they expect me to repent. If I wear women's clothes, I get caught. If I wear men's clothes, I get caught. If I wear something in between, I get caught. And in all these situations I get sexually harassed. You begin to understand that getting arrested becomes part of your everyday life.[76]

In fact, transgender women trying to pass as men are often at even more risk of arrest because their male attire clashes considerably with their overall female appearance, attracting police suspicion. Khouloud, 26, said: “When we wear men’s clothes, we become more conspicuous. It is obvious we are hiding something, with our caps, sunglasses, shoulders hunched down. We attract even more attention; we look like women in drag.”[77]

Amira’s Story

Amira, a 26-year old transgender woman, told Human Rights Watch:
In March 2008 I went to visit my friends wearing a tracksuit. I had long hair. A man began following me in his car trying to flirt with me. When I realized he was from the criminal investigation department, I pulled over. He called a five-car police patrol to come get me. Five cars, just for me, as if there are no real problems in the country.
When they put me in one of their cars, a police officer told me that if I showed him my chest he would let me go. I had no choice, so I lifted my shirt. He played with my breasts, but still took me to the Criminal Investigation Department anyway. I was put in a room full of policemen and forced to take off all my clothes, but I refused to take off my underwear. They beat me, and took pictures of me naked and crying with their personal cell phone cameras; they eventually forced me to take off my underwear. They stood there laughing, making me pose for them and taking pictures.
There were no questions, no investigation, and they refused to let me call my parents. They just threw me in a cell and insulted and humiliated me. I spent two days in detention. Every hour someone would open the door, laugh and humiliate me, and then leave.

The next morning I was taken to the vice unit and paraded from office to office just to be put on display. Even the questions they asked were ridiculous: “How long have you grown your hair?” One of the policemen finally took pity on me and called my parents. When my brother came to pick me up they humiliated him for having a brother like me and telling him his sister must be a whore. One of the policemen emptied my wallet on the floor to make me bend over and pick the contents up in front of my brother to humiliate him even more. They made me sign a declaration stating that I would never imitate a member of the opposite sex again.[78]

Fear of arrest, and the actual experience of arrest and detention, is so strong that many transgender women live in what amounts to self-imposed house arrest. In Amira’s words:

After that experience, I do not leave the house anymore. I go to work and come straight back home. Every time I leave the house I can never guarantee that I will come home. My parents call me to check on me if I am even two minutes late, even they live in fear now.[79]

The impunity and arbitrariness with which police arrest and mistreat individuals has placed Kuwait’s transgender population, and in particular transgender women, under constant threat. Seventeen transgender women we interviewed have reported being stopped at checkpoints, asked for their ID cards, and then arrested because the police determined that their gender presentation did not match their stated sex, regardless of what they were wearing.

Abeer, 29, says that when the police arrested her and her friends in March 2008 for the third time, they transferred them to the Criminal Investigation Department in Salmiya for five days, even though the law only allowed them to be detained for four without instruction from the public prosecutor to extend detention pending investigation.
For the first two days they didn’t allow us to call anyone or inform our families or lawyers. On the third day they interrogated us and charged us with violating amended article 198. Then they shaved our heads like sex offenders and released us on a bail of 100 Kuwaiti Dinars (US$360). Of course we had to sign a declaration that said that we would never imitate a member of the opposite sex or frequent “suspect” places or be seen after midnight in public, even though they had caught us at 10 a.m. on a Friday in our car.
The court fined Abeer and her friend 1000 dinars each ($3,600) and sentenced them to three years probation.[80]

Transgender women are police targets just by being in public. Because of numerous checkpoints and police patrols around the city, some transgender women have said that the risk of arrest is often too great to venture out. After being arrested twice in the space of 18 months, Maha, 26, fears going out at all because of her own experiences and those of the transgender people around her:

I am a human being. I need to go to the supermarket to buy necessities for my house. If I get sick, I need to go to the hospital. I have to go to work to make a living. But now every time I leave the house I think that I may not come back. Things people take for granted, like going to a restaurant, seeing friends, going to the cinema, these are all things I cannot do anymore.[81]

These fears are not unfounded. In October 2010 Abeer said that police arrested her for a fourth time outside a supermarket at 11 a.m., while she was wearing Western-style men’s clothes and a baseball cap:

A police car pulled over right behind me as I was parked outside the supermarket to buy cigarettes. The policeman went in the store and then approached my car. I was afraid of course, but I thought I was safe because I was dressed as a man. He asked me for my ID and then told me I had to come with him to the police station in Adan. He gave me two options: either he rides in my car to the station or he humiliates me in front of everyone and forces me into his patrol car. I was scared, so I told him to drive my car as he requested. I was stupid. Of course he didn’t take me to the directorate; instead he took me to the police patrol car parking garage right next to it.
He told me that he would let me go, but on condition that I show him my breasts. I protested, but he told me that I’m nothing but filth and that anyway it’s OK because I’m a boy like him. I was afraid of what would come next, so in a last effort I showed him my medical document that said I have GID. He looked at it and said, “Oh, so you’re crazy. I clean the streets from filth like you.” I refused to show him my breasts and begged him to let me go, so he hit me and pulled me by the hair into a police car to the criminal investigation department. For three days my parents did not know where I was.[82]
In a clear violation of the rights of detainees, many transgender women said police refused to allow their families and lawyers to visit them in detention and at times even denying to them that their relatives were in custody:
They had taken my mobile phone at the station, but I had another one that I hid. The second day I called my mother and told her what happened. My father and brother came to the station every day for the nine days I was there, but the police told them that they had no one there by my name. They didn’t even let my lawyer in. My father was able to sneak in once. I saw him, but I hid because I didn’t want him to see me like this. I made a mistake, I should have spoken to him. One of the officers saw him and kicked him out again. Then the investigating officer asked me if my father was in the Ministry of Interior or the police or army, because in those cases they let the detainees go. My father is retired.
My father brought my medical papers with him, which were official documents from the government psychiatric hospital stating that I have gender identity disorder. This paper has the stamp of the Ministry of Health. The police refused to take them and add them to my file.[83]

Sara said police placed her in solitary confinement in the Salmiya station for nine days:

On the first floor, there are detention cells for men, women, and minors. On the second floor, there were around 40 solitary confinement cells. This is what they call the “hotel.” Each room was about two by one meters. It was terrifying. I was really cold, and they didn’t give me any blankets, I would sleep bare on the floor. There were only transsexuals in solitary [confinement] when I was there.
In solitary [confinement] they would rarely allow me to go to the bathroom. They gave me an empty water bottle to urinate in. The food was disgusting; they would throw it on the floor. I didn’t eat anything, for nine days I lived on water and juice. They let me out twice just to leer at me and make fun of me. Every time the shift changed I would be asleep, and a new policeman would kick on the door until I woke up; they would make me stand, turn around for them to leer and gawk at me and insult me, and then leave.
They have a room in the Criminal Investigation Department that they call the “VIP room.” It has a bed and a private bathroom. It’s one of the only places that doesn’t have a camera. I would hear heels clicking around in that room. One of my friends who had been arrested told me a police officer took her there and had sex with her. One officer took me there and tried to sweet-talk me into sleeping with him. I refused.[84]

Several transgender women told Human Rights Watch that on several occasions police arrested them while wearing male clothes, but forced them to change into women’s clothes at the station before photographing them for their criminal files. Khouloud said that a policeman arrested her in 2010 after she refused to have sex with him. She spent two weeks in the Criminal Investigation Unit, where security forces beat and humiliated her:

When I was arrested I was wearing an XXL-sized tracksuit, and as you can see I’m small. I am careful with these things. When they took me in to the station, they beat me incessantly and made me wear women’s clothes and put on makeup, stuff that they had confiscated from another transgender woman they had arrested previously. They took pictures of me like that and claimed that that is how they found me. It was purely for revenge because I refused to give into the policeman’s sexual blackmail.[85]

[45]United Nations Committee Against Torture, “Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 19 of the Convention, Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture - Kuwait,” CAT/C/KWT/CO/, June 28, 2011, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/docs/co/CAT.C.KWT.CO.2.pdf, (accessed August 2, 2011), para. 11.


[47]Al-Karama, “Report submitted to the Committee against Torture in the context of the review of the second periodic report of Kuwait”, April 13, 2011, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/docs/ngos/Alkarama_Kuwait46_en.pdf (accessed December 21, 2011).

[48]V.L. v. Switzerland, Communication No. 262/2005, 20 November 2006, UN Doc. CAT/C/37/D/262/2005 (2007)

[49]Ibid., Para. 8.10

[50] James Calderwood, “Kuwait minister resigns and avoids 'torture death' questions,” The National, February 7, 2011, http://www.thenational.ae/news/worldwide/middle-east/kuwait-minister-resigns-and-avoids-torture-death-questions (accessed July 12, 2011).

[51] Ahmad Lazim, “Public prosecutor charges Maimouni ‘killers’ with crimes punishable by death, life imprisonment,” Al-Rai, February 24, 2011, http://www.alraimedia.com/Alrai/Article.aspx?id=258660&date=24022011 (accessed July 12, 2011).

[52] Ibid.

[53] ICCPR, Article 9(3)

[54]Human Rights Watch interview with Khouloud, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 9, 2011.

[55]Human Rights Watch interview with Samira, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 11, 2011.

[56]Human Rights Watch interview with Farah, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 12, 2011.

[57]Human Rights Watch interview with Haneen, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 13, 2011.


[59]Transgender women who have undergone breast implant surgery are particularly vulnerable to police sexual harassment.

[60]Human Rights Watch interview with Abeer, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 10, 2011.

[61] International law defines a stateless person as one “who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.” UN Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, 360 U.N.T.S. 117, entered into force June 6, 1960, art.1.1.

[62]Statelessness in Kuwait, as in neighboring Gulf countries, stems from restrictive citizenship laws, and from the lack of effective mechanisms to hear and review applicants’ claims for citizenship. The Bidun are comprised mainly of Bedouins who either did not learn about the 1959 drive to nationalize the population in preparation for independence from the British and the creation of a new state, or neglected to register their claims. Some could not read or write, and those who kept no written records faced particular difficulties proving that they met the legal requirements of the new Nationality Law. See Human Rights Watch, The Bedoons of Kuwait: Citizens without Citizenship (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1995).

[63]Human Rights Watch interview with Ghadeer, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 14, 2011.

[64] Ibid.



[67]Human Rights Watch interview with Abbas Ali, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 14, 2011.

[68]The Declaration for the Protection of all Persons Against Enforced Disappearances defines enforced disappearance as when “persons are arrested, detained or abducted  against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government or by organized groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government, followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law.”  See United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, adopted December 18, 1992, G.A. res. 47/133, 47 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 207, U.N. Doc. A/47/49 (1992).

[69]Human Rights Watch interview with Abbas Ali, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 14, 2011.


[71]Human Rights Watch interview with Ban, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 11, 2011.

[72]“Al-Tabtabai: Imprisoning third sex and boyat is a law I am proud of,” online video clip, YouTube , April 25, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unAV4mkk3Jg (accessed June 20, 2011).

[73]Human Rights Watch interview with Ghadeer, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 14, 2011.

[74]Human Rights Watch interview with Amani, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 8, 2011.

[75]Human Rights Watch interview with Jasim, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 8, 2011.

[76]Human Rights Watch interview with Ghadeer, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 14, 2011.

[77]Human Rights Watch interview with Khouloud, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 9, 2011.

[78]Human Rights Watch interview with Amira, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 9, 2011.


[80]Human Rights Watch interview with Abeer, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 10, 2011.

[81]Human Rights Watch interview with Maha, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 9, 2011.

[82]Human Rights Watch interview with Abeer, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 10, 2011.

[83]Human Rights Watch interview with Sara, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 6, 2011.


[85]Human Rights Watch interview with Khouloud, Kuwait City, Kuwait, February 9, 2011.