Human Rights Developments
During 1995, the Kuwaiti government took several steps to improve human rights conditions in the country. It abolished the State Security Court, which in the past handed down death penalties and other harsh punishments in proceedings falling far short of international standards for fair trials, including the use of coerced confessions and denial of the right to legal counsel. Also during 1995, Kuwait signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. However, the signing of these instruments was not accompanied by any steps to permit local human rights groups, dissolved since 1993, to resume their activities legally.
Kuwait for the first time extended a limited franchise to "second-class" male citizens_Kuwaitis who were either naturalized or otherwise deemed ineligible for first class citizenship because they failed to prove that they or their ancestors settled in Kuwait before 1920. The parliament granted naturalized male citizens the right to vote after twenty years of their naturalization. In another significant step, male children of naturalized citizens born after their father's acquisition of Kuwaiti citizenship were also granted the right to vote. Women, whether of the first or second class, remained disenfranchised, as did male children born before their fathers were naturalized.
Iraqi threats against Kuwait were cited in 1995 by Kuwaiti officials as justifications for continued human rights abuses and delays in dealing with past violations. Those tensions and Iraq's refusal to provide information on hundreds of Kuwaitis who remain unaccounted for since their detention during the Iraqi occupation contributed to a hostile atmosphere for groups suspected as a whole of holding Iraqi sympathies, including the Bedoon and Palestinian communities. This led to renewed pressure on these populations to leave the country; they were denied freedom of movement, employment and education for their children.
There was no perceptible change in 1995 in the government's refusal to account for the hundreds of extrajudicial executions, disappearances and torture cases which took place during the post-liberation martial-law period (February through June 1991).
In July, the parliament dissolved the State Security Court, established in 1970 and mandated to try a variety of offenses broadly defined in the State Security Act of 1970. After the end of the war in February 1991 and until it was disbanded, the court tried scores of Iraqis, Palestinians, Bedoons and others charged with collaboration with the Iraqi occupying forces. Throughout its history, trials before this court were characterized by serious shortcomings, including the use of confessions obtained through torture, the denial of legal counsel of the defendants' own choosing and a limited right of appeal. Relying primarily on evidence provided by the notorious State Security Investigations Apparatus, the court handed down scores of death penalties and other harsh punishments, disregarding defendants' claims of torture and ill-treatment.
During 1995, hundreds of foreign residents and Kuwaiti Bedoons were administratively detained without charge or trial in the Talha Deportation Prison and then given a choice between leaving the country 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. Although already crowded in 1994, with an average population of 650, the number of detainees doubled during 1995 at the Talha facility, a former school converted into a detention center in 1991.
The Kuwaiti government continued to employ a range of actions to induce Iraqi and Palestinian residents and Bedoons 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 were long-term residents of Kuwait who were born in Kuwait and have lived there all their lives, but were not officially deemed to qualify for Kuwaiti citizenship. From a total population of over 300,000, only half remain in Kuwait. The rest, most of whom left during the Gulf conflict, were stranded in exile, mostly in Iraq, because Kuwait refuses to permit their reentry.
Accused as a group of aiding the Iraqi occupying forces, Bedoons were targeted for retribution, although many had in fact 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 1995, 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 were stateless refugees who came originally from the Gaza Strip, but were not allowed by Israel to return. Despite the agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians granting them autonomous rule over Gaza and parts of the West Bank, Israel retained control over the borders, preventing most stateless Palestinians from returning. During1995 in Kuwait, many 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 mistreatment was made up of nearly 200,000 Asian maids, mainly from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh. They were 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, unlawful confinement or withholding wages. Abuses by employers recorded in 1995 included cases of murder, rape and other sexual abuse, beatings, confinement and passport confiscation. While in 1995 the Kuwaiti government brought charges against some employers accused in the murder or wrongful death of their maids, most lesser abuses went unpunished. In a positive step, in September, Ahmed al-Kulaib, minister of social affairs and labor, conducted surprise inspections and threatened abusive employers and employment agencies with fines and other penalties. However, without a legal mandate to extend labor law to the maids, it was not clear how the ministry could penalize employers where criminal law could not be invoked.
The Dasma Police Station, used to hold maids pending their deportation or the resolution of their claims, became extremely overcrowded during the first half of 1995, with a population of 300 maids. 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 their countries' embassy shelters, were detained until their cases were resolved: this sometimes took months, leading many maids to drop their complaints and accept repatriation. Responding to criticism of the crowded conditions at Dasma detention and deportation facility, and dismal conditions at embassy shelters, the Kuwaiti government agreed to repatriate the maids without the required consent of their employers and the return of their original residency permits which were regularly withheld by the employers. Between June and August, several hundred maids were repatriated. To facilitate their departure, most had to forfeit their claims to back wages and drop criminal charges against their employers.
In 1995, 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. The government 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.
The Right to Monitor
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 1995 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 them. In 1995, the government evicted KADWV, the League of Families of POWs and the Missing, the Popular Committee for Solidarity with POWs and the Missing and 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: the Mutual Assistance Fund for the Families of the Martyrs and POWs, the Pro-Democracy Committee, Supporters of Single-Citizenship Committee, and the Women Married to Non-Kuwaitis Support Association.
In 1995, while the Parliamentary Committee for the Defense of Human Rights continued its activities under its limited mandate, there was little cooperation from the executive branch to facilitate its investigations. In June, the Committee's chair, Deputy Muhammed al-Marshad, resigned from the committee, reportedly in protest of the government's failure to cooperate.
While severely restricting the activities of local independent groups, the Kuwaiti government in 1995 began efforts to establish a semi-governmental human rights group and permitted outside human rights groups to visit Kuwait.
U.S. and European Policies
During March, Defense Secretary William Perry visited Kuwait to discuss joint defense cooperation in the face of reported Iraqi buildup. Defense officials said that these exercises were part of ongoing preparations by the United States and Kuwait to meet quickly any sudden military threat from Iraq or Iran.
In addition to military ties, commercial interests appeared to dominate the bilateral relationship, with U.S. companies accounting for nearly half of foreign investment in Kuwait, according to U.S. officials. Despite the extensive military, political and economic contacts between the two countries, no public criticism of human rights abuses in the country was voiced, with the exception of the cataloguing of human rights abuses in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
France, Russia and the United Kingdom also signed military agreements with Kuwait undertaking to defend its independence and territorial integrity. In 1995, the three countries competed with the U.S. in providing the Kuwaiti military with advanced hardware and in securing a sizable share of Kuwait's government and private sector contracts, but failed to voice public concern over human rights abuses in Kuwait. France and the U.K., both of which were visited in May by the Emir of Kuwait, Shaikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, were among Kuwait's top five trade partners and after the U.S. were the next two top suppliers of military equipment. In 1994, France exported 4.5 billion francs ($461 million) in non-military goods to Kuwait. Its imports from Kuwait amounted to 959 million francs ($93 million) and its military sales included advanced missile-carrying warships for the Kuwaiti navy. During the same year, Britain exported _312 million ($490 million) in non-military goods to Kuwait. Its imports from Kuwait amounted to _239 million ($375 million) and its recent military sales included 250 British armored cars. In addition, the Kuwaiti government was reportedly the largest single shareholder of the British Petroleum Company.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Middle East
In July, Human Rights Watch published The Bedoons of Kuwait: "Citizens Without Citizenship," a 105-page detailed study of the conditions under which Bedoons have been forced to live after they were effectively denationalized by the Kuwaiti government.
Also in July, the Kuwaiti government abolished the State Security Court, a tribunal that had been repeatedly criticized by Human Rights Watch/Middle East for failing to meet international standards for fair trials. We worked closely with Kuwaiti jurists who had campaigned for its abolition.
During 1995, Human Rights Watch/Middle East appealed, unsuccessfully, with Kuwaiti officials to rescind orders preventing local human rights and humanitarian groups from continuing their activities.
Human Rights Watch/Middle East continued its efforts, begun immediately after the liberation of Kuwait, to urge Kuwaiti and U.S. officials to take steps to improve conditions for Asian maids in Kuwait. In 1994, the Overseas Private Insurance Corporation had 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 and made future commitments contingent on positive steps taken by the Kuwaiti government. In August, Human Rights Watch/Middle East contributed a section on the mistreatment of Asian maids in Kuwait to the Human Rights Watch Global Report on Women's Human Rights. Without addressing the underlying issue of the legal vacuum in labor law, the Kuwaiti government took several steps to improve conditions for the maids, including the repatriation of several hundred maids stranded in embassy shelters and deportation detention facilities. In addition, Kuwaiti prosecutors demonstrated more vigor in 1995 in investigating serious abuses.
In the United States, there was a landmark ruling on the treatment of maids. On June 1, in a case on which we worked closely with the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Court of Appeals (first circuit) in United States v. Alzanki upheld a district court's conviction of Talal al-Zanki, a Kuwaiti citizen living in Boston, of holding a Sri Lankan maid he had hired in Kuwait in involuntary servitude in violation of the 13th amendment of the U.S. constitution and statutes. Al-Zanki was sentenced to one year and one day in prison, plus restitution. This was the first case of its kind to be decided on 13th amendment grounds since the 1988 United States v. Kozminski case. The al-Zanki case was widely discussed in Kuwait, with many calling for improvement of the treatment of maids to prevent a similar outcome.
In July, Human Rights Watch/Middle East wrote to the Iraqi government urging it to provide full accounting for nearly one thousand Kuwaitis and others who disappeared and were believed detained by Iraqi authorities during the occupation of Kuwait.