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In the aftermath of the 1990-1991 Iraqi occupation, Kuwaiti officials promised major human rights improvements. Almost ten years later, enduring violations far outweighed incremental improvements. Kuwait's ratification of five major human rights treaties had not been accompanied by significant changes in law or practice. The government had still not investigated or punished those responsible for hundreds of cases of extrajudicial execution, torture, and "disappearance" in custody, which took place during the February to June 1991 post-liberation martial law period. Forty-two persons remained in prison serving sentences imposed after grossly unfair martial law court trials.

More than 100,000 long-term residents of Kuwait faced widespread and systematic discrimination, and tens of thousands more were prevented from returning to Kuwait. Known as Bidun, they had lived in Kuwait for decades, even generations, unable to obtain Kuwaiti nationality, and without effective nationality elsewhere. Kuwait severely restricted their rights to leave and return to Kuwait, to marry and found a family, and to work, and their children's rights to education, to be registered immediately after birth, and to acquire a nationality. Bidun also suffered disproportionately from discrimination on the basis of sex, particularly with regard to issues of nationality and naturalization, marriage, divorce, and family reunification. According to the Ministry of Interior, some 37,000 Bidun became eligible to apply for naturalization following amendments to the Nationality Law on May 16. However, the law limited the number who would be granted nationality in any given year, raising concern that even those eligible could continue to face discrimination for many years to come. The government also said that Bidun not eligible for naturalization would face prosecution and potential deportation if they did not register as foreigners. Prosecutions began immediately following June 27, when the Ministry of Interior ended a nine month program in which it issued five year residency permits and other benefits to Bidun who signed affidavits admitting to a foreign nationality and renouncing claims to Kuwait nationality. The government tolerated a trade in forged foreign passports, raising concerns that significant numbers of those who presented passports purporting to have been issued by countries such as the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Nigeria when applying for the program may not have had effective nationality in those countries.

Despite repeated government promises to amend labor laws and to crack down on the illegal trade in work visas, more than one million foreign workers faced serious restrictions on their ability to organize and bargain collectively, and had few legal remedies against abuses by employers. Female domestic workers, who were excluded from the labor law, were particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse by employers. In March, India announced that it had stopped issuing immigration clearances to Indian nationals wishing to work as domestics in Kuwait because of abuses there. In October 1999, army and national guard units were deployed to halt two days of rioting by thousands of Egyptian migrants. According to Kuwaiti newspapers, many of those rioting had paid Kuwaiti brokers thousands of dollars in return for what they believed were legal work visas, only to find no jobs awaiting them.

Women faced widespread discrimination in both law and practice. The Personal Status Law discriminated against women in inheritance rights, the weight given to their testimony in court, and rights in contracting marriage, during marriage, and at its dissolution. The Penal Code reduced or eliminated punishments for violent crimes committed by men against women, and criminalized abortion even when it was necessary to save a woman's life. Women were prohibited from voting and standing for election, and discriminated in relation to the passage of nationality to their spouses and children. In November 1999, the National Assembly twice rejected legislation granting voting rights for women, and on July 4 the Constitutional Court rejected four legal challenges to the ban on women voting. As of this writing, the National Assembly had yet to vote on several draft amendments to the election law, including amendments granting women voting rights but not the right to stand for office. On June 26 the National Assembly passed legislation requiring gender segregation in private universities. As of this writing, however, a similar law passed in 1996 requiring public universities be segregated within five years had not been implemented.

Vaguely worded provisions in the Penal Code and Printing and Publications Law were repeatedly used against writers and journalists deemed to have offended religion, morality, the head of state, or national security. Punishments included imprisonment, fines, and confiscation and closure of periodicals. On March 26, an appeals court fined prize-winning novelist and short story writer Laila al-`Othman and publisher Yahiya al-Rubay`an KD1000 (U.S. $3260) each for distributing al-`Othman's novel, al-Rahiil (The Departure), despite provisions in the Penal Code exempting works "published according to the accepted rules of science or art." The court also fined al-Rubay`an and Kuwait University philosophy professor Dr. `Aliya Shu`ayb KD100 (U.S. $326) each for distributing Shu`ayb's collection of poetry, `Anakib Tarthi Jurhan (Spiders Bemoan a Wound), without a permit. In January, a lower court had sentenced all three to two months in prison. Both books were ordered banned, although al-Rahiil had been published and had circulated legally in Kuwait since 1984, and Anakib Tarthi Jurhan had been in circulation since 1993.

On February 7, Kuwait executed Matar al-Mutairi, a Kuwaiti national convicted of murder. As of this writing, at least twenty-eight persons were awaiting execution. Many had been convicted of drug offences following Kuwait's expansion of the death penalty in 1995. Others included `Ala Husayn, the Iraqi-imposed prime minister during its occupation of Kuwait. Husayn, who had been granted political asylum in Norway, was sentenced to death after he returned to Kuwait to face trial in January.

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