(Kuwait) – Kuwait’s government should follow through on promises to address citizenship claims of stateless residents, known as Bidun, Human Rights Watch said today in issuing its World Report 2012 at a news conference in Kuwait City. The government should also amend its national laws to protect domestic workers following its approval, in June 2011, of a new international treaty on decent work for domestic workers.
Starting in February, hundreds of stateless people in Kuwait held numerous demonstrations demanding citizenship. The Interior Ministry warned Bidun not to demonstrate and violently dispersed protests on several occasions withwater cannons, tear gas, smoke bombs, and sound bombs. Security forces beat protesters, detained dozens, and threatened to deny their citizenship applications. A committee set up in November 2010 promised some rights to Bidun, such as identification papers and access to public education. However only16,000 citizenship applications have been approved in the past 20 years, recent news reports said, citing a statement by the head of the committee.
“Following decades of broken promises, Kuwait needs to act now to address the plight of the Bidun,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Punishing Bidun for protesting while refusing to act on their citizenship claims shows how little respect the government has for their rights.”
In its 676-page World Report 2012, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including popular uprisings in the Arab world that few would have imagined. Given the violent forces resisting the “Arab Spring,” the international community has an important role to play in assisting the birth of rights-respecting democracies in the region, Human Rights Watch said in the report.
At least 106,000 Bidun, considered illegal residents by the authorities, livein Kuwait. After an initial registration period for citizenship ended in 1960, authorities shifted Bidun citizenship applications to a series of administrative committees that have avoided resolving their claims. Many have lived in Kuwait all their lives or for many years, but, without citizenship, they are denied many rights citizens have to education, health care, employment, and travel.
Freedom of expression has also been a concern in Kuwait. In a positive step, Kuwait’s Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah ordered the Information Ministry in February 2011 to withdraw all lawsuits it had filed against local media. However, authorities increased internet surveillance, and during the year detained and criminally prosecuted people based on nonviolent political speech, including web commentary. In December, the Interior Ministry said it intended to suspend all anonymous accounts on Twitter to force users to disclose their real names.
In June, the government detained Nasser Abul for Tweets critical of the Bahraini and Saudi royal families. A court found Abul guilty of the charge but released him in late September because he had served his prison term while on trial.
A discriminatory law passed in 2007 that criminalizes “imitating the opposite sex” has caused severe problems for transgender women – people who are born male, but identify as female – Human Rights Watch said. Since then, police have arbitrarily detained people under the law. The law was passed despite an official recognition of gender identity disorder (GID) by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health as a legitimate medical condition.
In 39 cases documented by Human Rights Watch in 2011, police subjected transgender detainees to either physical abuse or degrading and humiliating treatment that in some cases amounts to torture, as well as sexual abuse.
In June 2011, the government voted to adopt the International Labor Organization’s Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which establishes global labor standards on domestic work. In 2010, Kuwait had more than 660,000 migrant domestic workers, many of whom have reported forced confinement in the houses where they work; long work hours without rest; long periods of unpaid wages; and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.
“Voting to adopt the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers was a step in the right direction and Kuwait should be proud of it,” Storksaid. “Now Kuwait needs to act on the vote by ratifying the treaty and amending its national laws to protect these workers.”