(Kuwait City) – Kuwait’s government passed legislation in 2015 that improved protections for migrant domestic workers, Human Rights Watch said today, as it released its World Report 2016. However, another law, which increased the government’s ability to encroach on freedom of speech, should be amended to bring it in line with international human rights standards.
Law no. 68 gives domestic workers enforceable labor rights for the first time, including a weekly day off, 30 days of annual paid leave, and a 12-hour working day with rest periods. But it lacks key protections in the general labor law. The new law prohibits employers from confiscating workers’ passports, a common abuse, but fails to specify penalties and does not include enforcement mechanisms, such as labor inspections.
“In passing the domestic workers law, Kuwaiti legislators took an important step in protecting domestic workers in Kuwait,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director. “They should now look at revisions that would meet additional important international standards.”
In the 659-page World Report 2016, its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.
In June, Kuwait passed a new cybercrime law that includes far-reaching restrictions on Internet-based speech. These include prison sentences and fines for insulting religion and religious figures and for criticizing the emir or the judicial system, harming Kuwait’s relations with other countries, or revealing classified information, without exceptions for disclosures in the public interest.
The government continued to limit free speech, using provisions in the constitution, the national security law, and other legislation to stifle political dissent. Courts convicted at least five people on speech charges.
In July, in response to a suicide bomb attack on the Shia Imam Sadiq Mosque, which killed 27 people, Kuwait became the first country to require all Kuwaiti citizens and residents to provide DNA samples under a new counterterrorism law. DNA collection databases are not inherently illegal, but to meet international privacy standards enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Kuwait has ratified, the law would need to be narrowed.
The government made no advances in addressing the citizenship claims of at least 105,702 Bidun residents, born in the country but not considered entitled to citizenship. Instead, government officials have suggested that Kuwait may pay the Comoros Islands to grant the Bidun a form of economic citizenship, leaving them open to deportation from Kuwait.
In September 2015, a Kuwaiti court sentenced seven suspects in the Shia Imam Sadiq Mosque bombing to death. In 2013, Kuwait carried out two rounds of executions, the first since 2007.
“While 2015 represented an improvement with fewer speech prosecutions and no citizenship revocations – as Kuwait has done in previous years – resorting to the death penalty is a serious step backward for human rights in Kuwait,” Houry said.