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Human Rights Developments

There was no change in the government's policy to pressure the Bedoons, Kuwait's longtime native residents, to leave the country. Asian maids remained without legal protection from abusive employers. Early promises to give women and naturalized citizens the right to vote were not fulfilled and dissolved human rights organizations were not permitted to reopen. The State Security Court handed down death penalties and other harsh punishments in proceedings falling far short of international standards for fair trials. Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported.

Renewed Iraqi threats against Kuwait were cited in 1994 by Kuwaiti officials as justifications for continued human rights abuses and delays in dealing with past violations. Those tensions and Iraq's refusal to assist in locating missing Kuwaitis contributed to a hostile atmosphere for groups suspected as a whole to hold Iraqi sympathies, including the Bedoon and Palestinian communities, leading to renewed pressure on the two groups to leave the country; they were denied freedom of movement, employment, and education for their children.

With few exceptions, the authorities failed to account for the hundreds of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, and torture cases that took place during the post-liberation martial-law period (February through June 1991). In the first case of its kind, however, a Kuwaiti government official was tried for abuses during the martial-law period; in December 1993, Jaber al-Omairi, a Ministry of Interior official, was sentenced to life in prison for killing Ismael Farhat, a Lebanese citizen, and his son Osama, and the attempted murder of Naimat Farhat, his daughter. In June an appeals court reduced his sentence to fifteen years, citing as a mitigating circumstance what it believed had been al-Omairi's motives_the desire to avenge Iraqi atrocities. Although members of the Farhat family in fact supported the Kuwaiti resistance to the occupation, the courts appeared to make light of the serious crimes which the defendant_and other Kuwaitis_committed in the name of vengeance against foreign residents of Kuwait shortly after the end of the war.

In August, police officers accused of torturing Sudanese prisoner Ahmad Mubarak Badawi in 1992 were arrested and charged with aggravated assault. Other than these two notable exceptions, none of the officials implicated in extradjudicial executions, disappearances or the torture of hundreds of prisoners have been brought to justice. In both the Farhat and Badawi cases, it took years of concerted efforts by local and international human rights organizations, and those of U.S. officials and Kuwaiti parliament members_in addition to extensive media coverage_to bring those responsible to justice. In most other cases Kuwaiti officials expressed doubts that any further investigations of post-liberation abuses would take place.

During 1994, continuing a process begun immediately after liberation, the State Security Court tried scores of Iraqis, Palestinians, and Bedoons charged with collaboration with the Iraqi occupying forces. Although the procedures followed in their trials were an improvement over those of the 1991 martial-law courts, serious shortcomings remained, including the use of confessions obtained through torture, the denial of legal counsel of the defendants' own choosing and a limited right of appeal. Collaboration was defined by the prosecution to include many forms of minor association with the occupiers, under the broadly worded State Security Law of 1970. Assertions made by many defendants that they had been coerced into cooperating with the Iraqi occupation authorities were not accepted in mitigation.

During 1994, the Court of Cassation reduced to long periods of imprisonment eleven death sentences imposed in 1993 by the State Security Court for collaboration. Most other judgments were upheld, despite often credible charges of torture at the hands of investigative authorities; the evidence of torture in the case of ten Palestinians, convicted on charges of supporting the occupation as members of the Arab Liberation Front, was disregarded even when court-appointed physicians documented defendants' injuries.

On June 4, the State Security Court sentenced five Iraqis and one Kuwaiti to death for plotting to kill former U.S. President George Bush during his April 1993 trip to Kuwait. Eight others were sentenced in the same case to prison terms ranging between six months and twelve years. On October 16, the Court of Cassation held its first session to review the case against nine of the defendants. The petition of the other five's convictions was denied, because their sentences were less than three years. Several defendants recanted their earlier confessions, which they said had been obtained through the use of torture. Three defendants, Ali Khudair, Wali al-Ghazali, and Ra'ad al-Asadi told the court that they made their confessions after they had been subjected to torture. Although most of the accused faced the death penalty, all but one of the fourteen defendants were denied legal counsel until their first court appearances.

During 1994, hundreds of foreign residents and Bedoons were administratively detained without charge or trial in the Talha Deportation Prison and then given a choice between leaving voluntarily or remaining in the overcrowded makeshift detention facility indefinitely. Some had been held since the end of the war, including many who were stateless or refugees. The promise made by the Prime Minister in June 1993 to improve conditions and relocate Talha inmates after some of its residents went on a hunger strike went largely unfulfilled, despite urging from the National Assembly's human rights committee.

The Kuwaiti government employed a range of actions to induce Iraqi, Palestinian, and Bedoon residents to leave the country. Measures of intimidation included arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, unlawful searches, heavy fines, threats, public humiliation, and the denial of employment. Having succeeded in reducing the nearly 400,000-strong Palestinian community to about 33,000, the Kuwaiti government has sought to achieve similar results with the Bedoon community. During the year, it escalated pressure on the Bedoons to secure citizenship elsewhere if they wanted to remain in Kuwait lawfully. Most Bedoons are long-term residents of Kuwait who were born there and have lived there all their lives, but are not officially deemed to qualify for Kuwaiti citizenship. Government figures estimated the community size in 1994 at about 125,000, down from a prewar estimate of over 250,000.

Accused as a group of aiding the Iraqi occupying forces, Bedoons were targeted for retribution, although many had in fact resisted the Iraqis and been killed by the Iraqi occupiers for acts of resistance. Since liberation, Bedoons have been prevented from sending their children to government schools and threatened with expulsion from the only country they have ever known. All those employed by the government were dismissed from their jobs. The military and the police, which before the invasion were largely composed of Bedoons, rehired only a small fraction of their prewar employees_depriving the community of its chief source of income. In 1994, Bedoons found outside the remaining Bedoon slums were detained and pressured to leave the country in exchange for the government dropping the charges of illegal residence. The government remained opposed to reopening the citizenship application process to give Bedoons an opportunity to make their claims.

Many of the Palestinians still in Kuwait are stateless refugees who came originally from the Gaza Strip, but are not allowed by Israel to return. During 1994 in Kuwait, most Gazans were harassed, threatened with imprisonment, denied employment and education, or subjected to fines for every day they stayed in Kuwait.

Another vulnerable group of foreign residents subjected to violent mistreatment was the nearly 200,000 Asian maids, mainly from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh. They are expressly excluded from the protection of labor legislation, and in practice also left at the mercy of their private employers with regard to violent abuse. Hundreds of abused Asian expatriates sought refuge in their respective embassies, charging their employers with rape, physical assault or unlawful confinement, as well as withholding wages. In 1994, about two thousand runaway maids sought shelter in foreign embassies, notably those of the Philippines, where 250 runaways sheltered in October, and Sri Lanka, with 120 in the same month. Abuses by employers recorded in 1994 included cases of murder, rape and other sexual abuse, beatings, confinement, and passport confiscation. Most were not investigated and only two abusive employers were known to have been prosecuted during the year.

The Dasma Police Station, used to detain maids pending their deportation or the resolution of their claims, became extremely overcrowded during 1994, with an average population of 300 maids. In December 1993, a Human Rights Watch investigator found credible evidence of physical and sexual abuse by Dasma guards. Kuwaiti law requires maids who complain about their employers to either stay with their employers until the conflict is resolved or be detained. Most of those complaining who were not in embassy shelters were detained until their cases were resolved, which may take months, leading many maids to drop their complaints and accept repatriation.

In 1994, the Kuwaiti government reiterated its ban on political parties and took steps to enforce a 1985 moratorium on the formation of new private associations, including human rights groups. On April 21, Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs told KUNA, the official news agency, that Kuwait did not have political parties and none would be allowed there. The government also enforced its 1993 decision to close down over fifty unlicensed private organizations, including six human rights groups. The authorities prevented the unauthorized groups from holding public functions or advertising their activities.

In 1994, earlier hopes of enfranchising women and naturalized citizens were not realized. However, the Parliament took action to give the right to vote to male children of naturalized males, provided that they were born after their fathers were naturalized. If implemented, the change is expected to add about 25,000 voters. The enlarged electorate would still be only 16 percent of all citizens, who themselves represent less than 40 percent of the total population.

The Right to Monitor

The right to monitor was dealt a severe blow with the closure in August 1993 of all human rights groups in Kuwait, including the Kuwaiti Association to Defend War Victims (KADWV) and Kuwaiti Association for Human Rights (Kuwait's branch of the Cairo-based Arab Organization for Human Rights). Established immediately after the Gulf War, KADWV had been the main local human rights group. The Kuwaiti government, which never formally recognized the organization's legal existence, ordered KADWV and the other human rights and humanitarian groups to close down, because they had not been licensed.

Although the order was directed at all unlicensed organizations, government officials cited only human rights and humanitarian organizations and singled out KADWV for criticism. Groups that attempted to defy the ban in 1994 were threatened with the use of force if they held public meetings or conducted public activities. Newspapers were barred from publishing advertisements for the dissolved organizations, and licensed groups were ordered not to host activities by the banned organizations. An attempt in March by KADWV and the Kuwaiti Association for Human Rights to hold a symposium on human rights was scuttled by the Ministry of Social Affairs. In May, the government ordered the eviction of KADWV, the League of Families of POWs and the Missing, the Popular Committee for Solidarity with POWs and the Missing and the Amnesty International's Kuwait group from the public building they had occupied since 1991. Nevertheless, KADWV continued to work privately, as have some of the other banned groups, albeit in a much reduced capacity.

Included in the government's ban were four other human rights and humanitarian groups: Mutual Assistance Fund for the Families of the Martyrs and POWs, Pro-Democracy Committee, Supporters of Single-Citizenship Committee, and Women Married to Non-Kuwaitis Support Association.

In 1994, the Kuwaiti government allowed visits by several international human rights groups, but rarely provided information required by these groups to conduct their research. Most non-Kuwaiti lawyers who volunteered to travel to Kuwait to represent those accused of state security offenses or to assist victims of abuse were not granted entry visas by Kuwaiti embassies. The few who were able to secure visas were not permitted to represent their clients in court.

U.S. Policy

Since the end of the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. has been the main force protecting Kuwait from renewed Iraqi attack and Kuwait's chief arms supplier. Under a 1991 military agreement, the U.S. maintained a substantial naval presence nearby and held frequent U.S.-Kuwaiti maneuvers. These exercises amount to a semi-permanent presence in light of their frequency, their duration and the large number of troops involved. The U.S. has pre-positioned a large amount of war materiel in Kuwait and integrated Kuwaiti facilities with those of the U.S. In October, when Iraq amassed a reported 70,000 Republican Guards near the Kuwaiti border, the U.S. demonstrated its commitment to Kuwait by dispatching tens of thousands of troops to the region and threatening to take military action against Iraq unless Iraq withdrew its troops far from the border.

Senior U.S. officials who visited Kuwait during 1994, including President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Secretary of Defense William Perry cited the defense of Kuwait as a key part of the U.S. strategy for the defense of the Arabian Peninsula.

In statements before the House Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East in March and October, Robert H. Pelletreau, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, listed as one of the U.S. priorities in the region "promoting more open political and economic systems, and respect for human rights and the rule of law." There was little evidence of the administration's efforts towards achieving that priority, other than occasional statements that human rights were raised with Kuwaiti officials in private meetings. One potentially effective method was pursued in 1994 by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. OPIC withheld approval of insurance for investment in a petrochemical project in Kuwait until the State Department engaged in a high level dialogue with the Kuwaiti government regarding the treatment of Asian maids. OPIC also decided to condition additional insurance on achieving progress in the field of workers' rights.

In addition to military ties, commercial interest appeared to dominate the bilateral relationship. In March, Secretary Pelletreau emphasized the need to ensure unimpeded access, at reasonable prices, to the Gulf's vast petroleum resources and "fair access for American business to commercial opportunities in the region." In June, he told the Congress that, "Since the liberation of Kuwait, American companies have won over $5 billion in reconstruction contracts constituting 50 percent of all the contracts that were awarded. The U.S. Government, our Embassy, our officials in Washington and members of our cabinet have been active in supporting the bids of U.S. contractors....I can assure you that I will be personally engaged in this effort as will our Embassy in Kuwait and other members of the administration." In October, Secretary Pelletreau told Congress, "From President Clinton down, this Administration has made crystal clear its view that supporting American business overseas would be at the heart of our foreign policy interests...Our embassies have been the Gulf helping American business to secure, for instance, over 500 construction contracts in Kuwait worth approximately five billion dollars and a 98 million dollar contract to dredge a channel in Doha."

There were no comparable declarations on human rights. In fact, there was rarely public criticism of the human rights practices of the Kuwaiti government other than the cataloguing of human rights abuses in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993.

On specific issues, such as the trial of those accused of plotting to assassinate former President Bush, administration officials expressed their satisfaction with the Kuwaiti record. In June, Secretary Pelletreau defended the trial and praised the "vibrant and growing" role of Kuwait's parliament_an elite all-male body_and made no reference to, for example, previous assurances by U.S. officials that the government had pledged that Kuwait would expand its electorate to include women. The reticence to raise human rights issues is particularly disappointing given Kuwait's near-complete reliance on the U.S. to protect it from external threats, thus giving the U.S. a unique opportunity as well as a greater obligation to press for improvement in human rights.

The Work of

Human Rights Watch/Middle East

In 1994, Human Rights Watch/Middle East focused on advocacy to improve the observance of human rights in Kuwait, engaging in substantive discussions with Kuwaiti officials and following up previous published reports. A mission sent to Kuwait in December 1993 and January 1994 investigated the conditions of the Bedoons and raised other human rights concerns with officials, including the ban on local human rights groups and the plight of Asian maids.

A Human Rights Watch/Middle East representative observed trials before the State Security Court and the first trial ever of a government official accused of human rights violations in Kuwait v. al-Omairi, a case in which Human Rights Watch/Middle East had been instrumental since 1991. Human Rights Watch/Middle East sent letters to Kuwaiti officials urging them to rescind orders preventing human rights and humanitarian groups from continuing their activities.

Human Rights Watch/Middle East sent letters to Kuwaiti officials regarding the mistreatment of Asian maids. It also raised the issue with the Overseas Private Insurance Corporation. OPIC decided to withhold its approval of insurance for investment in Kuwait until the State Department conducted a high level dialogue with Kuwaiti officials on workers' rights. In addition, Human Rights Watch/Middle East worked closely with U.S. Justice Department attorneys who successfully prosecuted a Kuwaiti employer, living in the U.S., charged with holding his Sri Lankan maid in servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

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