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End of Mission Statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Ms. Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, on her visit to Kuwait

Kuwait City, 5 December 2018

Members of the press,
Ladies and gentlemen,

In my capacity as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, I conclude today my first official visit to Kuwait, which took place from 26 November to 5 December 2018. I am an independent expert who reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, and advises on progress, opportunities and challenges encountered in the implementation of the rights of people with disabilities worldwide.

I would like to begin by warmly thanking the Government of Kuwait for the invitation to visit the country and assess, in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation, the level of enjoyment of the rights of persons with disabilities, the opportunities and existing challenges; and for the cooperation extended to me prior and during the visit. I would like to express my particular appreciation to the Deputy Assistant of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Human Rights Office for coordinating my visit.

I would like to especially thank all the persons with disabilities and their representative organizations with whom I met, who shared with me their situation, concerns and desires for change, including persons with intellectual disabilities and stateless Bidoon with disabilities. The State of Kuwait officially refers to this latter group as illegal residents. I also take this opportunity to thank the UN Resident Coordinator and his Office and the entire United Nations Country Team for the crucial support they provided to make my visit a success. 

During my stay, I had discussions with numerous senior Government officials, including the Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Planning and Development, the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor, the Minister of Higher Education and the Director General of the Public Authority for Disability Affairs (PADA). I also met with senior representatives of the Ministries of Awqaf, Education, Foreign Affairs, Health, Information, Interior, Justice, and of the Central Agency for Remedying Illegal Residents’ Status. In addition, I met with the President of the Supreme Judicial Council, Constitutional Court and Court of Cassation, the Committee of Persons with Disabilities of the National Assembly, the newly established National Council for Human Rights (Diwan Huquq al-Insan), the UN Country Team in Kuwait, a wide range of organizations of persons with disabilities and other civil society groups, including parents’ organizations. I visited a public special school for children with intellectual disabilities, a rehabilitation center for persons with intellectual disabilities, and the Kuwait Center for Mental Health. On the 3rd December, I was also invited to participate in the celebrations of the International Day on Persons with Disabilities, jointly organized by PADA and UNDP.

I am now pleased to present some of my preliminary observations and recommendations, which I will elaborate in more detail in a report that I will present at the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2020. These preliminary observations neither reflect all the issues presented to me, nor all the initiatives undertaken by the Government of Kuwait in the area of disability.

Legal and policy framework

At the international level, Kuwait has acceded to the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) in 2013, and several other international human rights treaties. Only two Conventions and three Optional Protocols are pending accession: the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families; the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; the Optional Protocol to the CRPD, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, and the second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR on the abolition of the death penalty. I would like to encourage Kuwait to accede to these Conventions and Optional Protocols, as well as to the “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled”. I also encourage the Government to consider withdrawing its interpretative declaration on article 12 para 2 of the CRPD and its reservations concerning articles 18 para 1(a) and 23 para 2.

In May 2015, Kuwait submitted its first State report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the Committee will consider in 2019. The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women recently reviewed Kuwait (2017) and made specific recommendations concerning the rights of persons with disabilities. The country has a good record submitting its periodic treaty-body reports on time. In 2015, Kuwait was also examined as part of the Universal Periodic Review, including on disability issues. Kuwait has a standing invitation to special procedures of the Human Rights Council and regularly hosts visits by these independent experts.

At the national level, the Kuwaiti legislative and normative framework in the field of disability is based primarily on the Law no. 8/2010 for the rights of people with disabilities. With the adoption of this law, Kuwait has taken important measures to promote access of Kuwaiti persons with disabilities to social protection, health, employment and education. However, this law does not cover the entire spectrum of rights contained in the CRPD and is not fully compliant with it. For instance, the law does not recognize the right of persons with disabilities to life, freedom from torture, political participation and other civil and political rights. Moreover, the definition of disability in the law is not in line with the Convention.

I am also concerned about other legislation and provisions that are not in line with article 12 of the CRPD, which recognizes the full legal capacity of all persons with disabilities. Examples include the Kuwaiti Civil Code and the Kuwaiti Penal Code. Some of these laws establish restrictions to the full enjoyment of legal capacity of persons with disabilities (including those with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities). They are also framed under the medical model of disability and use pejorative language to refer to persons with disabilities, such as “deaf and dumb”, “mentally retarded”, “insane”, or “demented”.

I would strongly encourage the relevant legislative authorities to undertake a comprehensive legislative review and complete the process of legal harmonization, in accordance with article 4 of the CRPD.

I noted with appreciation that the long-term Kuwaiti National Development Plan launched in 2017, which reflects the vision of the country by 2035, includes under the “human capital” pillar several projects for the inclusion of persons with disabilities, with a total investment of over 60 million USD. The Plan also includes provisions on universal design. This is a significant accomplishment that should be completed with time-bound benchmarks and effective implementation plans and accountability frameworks, along with the necessary budgetary and fiscal measures.

While welcoming these developments, I noted that there is no national strategy on disability. I would like to encourage the authorities to adopt one and to ensure that all public policies, including disability-specific ones, adopt a human rights-based approach to disability, and aim to remove barriers that impede the effective and full participation of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.

Implementation and monitoring of the CRPD

The Public Authority for Disability Affairs (PADA) is the Governmental focal point on disability, as provided for by article 33(1) of the CRPD. PADA’s mandate includes the implementation of an integrated action plan covering social welfare for persons with disabilities, as well as the provision of social services for all nationals with disabilities. I acknowledge PADA’s efforts to strengthen its technical skills, knowledge and capacity through the implementation of a UNDP-sponsored project, and to gradually move away from service provision and focus on the effective implementation and coordination of disability issues within the Government. I encourage PADA and UNDP to continue this project and to develop the skills and capacities of organizations of persons with disabilities and other civil society organizations working for the benefit and empowerment of persons with disabilities.

I also strongly encourage the Government to include, in the Strategic Partnership Framework that is being negotiated with the United Nations, support for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the Vision Kuwait 2035 and to mainstream disability in all cooperation strategies and programmes in the country. Moreover, efforts to support the implementation of the SDGs in Kuwait should consider the rights of persons with disabilities in a crosscutting matter, to ensure that no one is left behind.

Additionally, more efforts are needed to secure the adequate implementation of provisions of the CRPD and national legislation, some of which are yet to be implemented. While PADA was recently reformed and strengthened, it cannot be the only body within the Government tasked to implement law no. 8/2010 and the CRPD. I urge the Government to ensure that all its ministries take responsibility to implement the rights of persons with disabilities, through the establishment of a governmental coordination mechanism, under the overall coordination of PADA. This could include the designation of senior disability focal points within all line Ministries, with responsibility to mainstream disability in public policies, programmes and initiatives within their respective ministries, empowered with a clear mandate and terms of reference.

I have also observed that the Government of Kuwait is yet to designate or set up an independent mechanism, compliant with the Paris Principles, to monitor the implementation of the Convention, and with the participation of persons with disabilities, as required by its articles 33 para 2 and 33 para 3 In this regard, I welcome the creation in September 2018 of the National Council for Human Rights, mandated to promote and monitor the implementation of all international human rights treaties within the country. Once fully established and operational, the Government could consider designating this independent institution as the independent monitoring mechanism as required by the Convention. 

Data collection

Kuwait relies heavily on the collection of administrative data for the design and implementation of policies and programmes relating to persons with disabilities. Generally, I have noted a serious lack of socio-demographic data and statistics on persons with disabilities, and data disaggregated by disability. For instance, the national census and household surveys do not include questions on disability, and there is no disability-specific survey. This makes it very difficult to inform, design and monitor adequate rights-based policies and responses. Moreover, there is little to no demographic data on non-Kuwaitis with disabilities, including stateless Bidoon.

I encourage the Government to include the short set of questions of the Washington Group on Disability Statistics in the 2020 Census. For data collection on children with disabilities, the UNICEF-Washington Group module on child functioning could be added in all other demographic surveys, and allow the State to disaggregate all national collected data by disability and age, and to obtain international comparable data. 

Stigma and discrimination

I note with appreciation the high-level political commitment and efforts of the Ministry of Information, in cooperation with PADA, to raise awareness on the rights of persons with disabilities, counter negative perceptions and change society’ view of persons with disabilities and support their inclusion in society through a series of public awareness-raising campaigns, films, and programmes.

Notwithstanding the above, cultural beliefs and lack of awareness on disability continue to play a significant role in the way Kuwaiti society perceives persons with disabilities. For instance, I have received allegations of children and adults with disabilities who continue to be hidden at home. I was also informed of women divorced by their husbands when they acquired a disability, and of women and girls with disabilities who faced many barriers in their enjoyment of their rights in decisions related to marriage, education and higher education.

During my visit, I noted the prevalence of the medical model of disability. Persons with disabilities continue to be considered as “patients in need of constant care”, and therefore as neither autonomous nor capable to manage their own affairs. This approach is clearly reflected in the law no. 8/2010 and in the type of benefits and services provided to them. Persons with severe cerebral palsy, intellectual and psychosocial disabilities are particularly perceived as unable to make any contributions to the community or participate in activities on an equal basis with others. Moreover, widespread perceptions that persons with disabilities are “unable to work” reinforces stereotyping, and perpetuates their dependency on “care-givers” by eliminating any expectation of their entering the labour market. To tackle these issues, additional wide-scale awareness raising programmes aimed at portraying a positive image of persons with disabilities are urgently needed.

I am very concerned by the stark disparities and discrimination regarding the enjoyment of the rights of persons with disabilities between Kuwaiti nationals and non-Kuwaitis. For instance, law no. 8/2010 does not apply to non-Kuwaiti citizens (unless their mother is Kuwaiti or at the discretion of PADA), despite representing 70% of the population of Kuwait.

While the State indicated that it provides and remains open to provide services to everyone who requested them, including non-Kuwaitis with disabilities I am particularly concerned about the numerous allegations of discrimination against stateless Bidoon with disabilities. Many of them are unable to register and obtain an ID card issued by the Central Agency for Remedying Illegal Residents’ Status, which is a prerequisite to access any services. Moreover, I received reports of reprisals against entire families after some of their members publicly complained about the lack of services, including withdrawal of ID cards. I urge the authorities to provide non-Kuwaitis and stateless Bidoon with disabilities access to these rights on an equal basis, and assurances that no person or group of persons will be subject to any kind of reprisals. 

Accessibility to the physical environment, information and communication

I welcome the approval of the Kuwaiti Code on Universal Design, governmental efforts to make all public buildings and infrastructure gradually accessible, and the designation of reserved parking lots for persons with disabilities in governmental buildings, malls and commercials centers. However, during my visit, I observed that many public and private infrastructures open to the public, as well as the public transport system in Kuwait, are still not fully accessible to persons with disabilities. Moreover, I noted that most efforts are directed towards accessibility for persons with physical disabilities, while almost no efforts are made to ensure accessibility for blind, deaf and persons with intellectual disabilities to navigate the built environment. I would like to encourage the Government to continue its accessibility work and to establish time-bound benchmarks to achieve full accessibility of the built environment.

With regard to access to information and communication, I was pleased to learn about efforts made by the Minister of Information to introduce the use audio-description in national television. I was also told that sign language interpretation is provided during the 9 pm news bulletin, official events and conferences, and emergencies. However, I am concerned that Kuwaiti sign language is not officially recognized as an official language. Moreover, the Ministry of Education has decided to use unified Arabic sign language as the official sign language in the country. Many deaf persons raised concerns about this, since Kuwaiti sign language is their mother tongue. I would like to remind the Government of its obligations stemming from articles 21 (b) and 24(b) of the CRPD, including accepting and facilitating the use of sign language of the deaf persons’ choice in official interactions, as well as facilitating the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community. I encourage the Government to support the development and widespread use of Kuwaiti sign language.

In the area of information and communication technology, I welcome PADA’s efforts to develop and implement web accessibility standards. Nevertheless, the use of alternative and augmentative technology for persons with disabilities remains very limited. I have also noted a general lack of knowledge about existing low-cost communication methods available to enable the participation of persons with cerebral palsy in society.

Social protection

Kuwait has a very comprehensive social protection system for Kuwaitis with disabilities, and allocates significant financial resources to it. The system covers a wide range of benefits targeting persons with disabilities, which vary depending on the degree of a person’s impairment (mild, moderate or severe). According to law no. 8/2010, these can include an allowance for domestic help or driver, a housing grant, an allowance for those under 21 years, and a disability pension for those over 21 years who do not work. Moreover, there are additional benefits for family members, such as the monthly allowance for the woman caregiver (art. 29), reduced working hours (art. 39) and extra vacation time (art. 40).

While disability benefits are fundamental to ensuring income security for persons with disabilities, they should be designed in a way that promotes the inclusion and active participation of persons with disabilities within their communities. In this regard, I am concerned that the Kuwaiti social protection system is creating disincentives to the inclusion of person with disabilities in education and in the labour market, as they must choose between keeping a stable disability pension or seeking employment or education opportunities for which accommodation and services do not exist.

PADA is in charge of the disability assessment and determination, which is solely based on a medical assessment. The authorities and civil society organizations identified several challenges related with such process, including the use of different determination criteria, the lack of training of staff conducting the assessment, and delays in the issuance of disability certificates. PADA has requested my technical assistance, and to share good practices from other countries, which I have accepted.

Finally, I was informed that many Kuwaitis with disabilities only manage to access entitlements provided for in the law no. 8/2010 or have their disability status recognized only after successful litigation. For instance, one law firm alone represented more than 400 persons with disabilities in court cases related to the non-respect of provisions of this law.

Education

I welcome the Government’s project to establish, within the framework of its national development plans, a center of excellence to include persons with learning disabilities in mainstream education. Moreover,  Law no. 8/2010 refers to inclusive education. However, in practice, I noted that there is no inclusive education in Kuwait for children with disabilities. Therefore, these children only attend public or private special education schools, or are enrolled in special classes within private mainstream schools. There are nine public special schools enrolling some 1700 children. However, the majority of children with disabilities (over 7,000) attend private special schools. Unlike children without disabilities, the State covers their school fees. This subsidy has created a proliferation of private special schools and increased tuition fees, while there are no incentives to transform the educational system towards an inclusive one.

I am concerned that there is no official data on the number of children with disabilities outside the school system. I have received allegations that many stateless Bidoon children with disabilities are not attending compulsory education, as their parents lack the financial means to pay for the school fees, making them rely on private charities. Kuwait has an international obligation to ensure that all children, including those with disabilities and regardless of their nationality or social origin, have access to free and compulsory quality basic education.

I reaffirm the recommendations formulated by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2013, which include – inter alia – the need to develop a national strategy to implement an inclusive education system, and to provide all schools with sufficient numbers of specialist teachers and professionals offering individual support to children with disabilities. Moreover, schoolteachers in ordinary schools should be trained to support children with disabilities.

I welcome the government’s efforts to support the access of Kuwaitis with disabilities to higher education and the provision of scholarships to study abroad.

Living independently in the community

PADA manages four care and rehabilitation centers for persons with disabilities, which provided day care to 183 persons and residential care to another 594. I was informed that there are also several residential institution run by private charities.

During my visit to PADA’s residential care and rehabilitation centre in Sabahiya, I noted with concern the conditions in which persons with disabilities live: treated as patients, sleeping in hospital-type beds, without personal rooms and belongings, wearing uniforms, and under a strict schedule. I was informed that most of the residents do not receive visits from their families or are abandoned. Moreover, I was alarmed to note the conditions in the men’s rehabilitation ward, where persons were kept in “sitting rooms” under permanent surveillance. The showers do not ensure the privacy of residents and, despite being recently cleaned, emanated a foul smell.

Against this background, I was pleased to learn that PADA is gradually reducing the number of residents in such institutions in favour of non-residential services, including early intervention, day care and vocational training. This is a move in the right direction, since institutions segregate and isolate individuals from their communities, deny their choice of and control over living and support arrangements, and significantly restrict their day-to-day decisions.

I urge the Government to adopt a concrete action plan to progressively close all existing public and private institutions and to transform the existing services into community-based services for persons with disabilities, including adequate housing. The de-institutionalization of children with disabilities should be a political priority, and the Government should consider establishing a moratorium on new admissions.

Legal capacity

I noted with concern that the Civil Code restricts the legal capacity of persons with disabilities and appoints a guardian to those who “suffer from severe physical incapacity, particularly if deaf and dumb, deaf and blind, or blind and dumb”. Similarly, I was informed that blind persons must be accompanied by a third person to act as a witness when they carry out certain commercial transactions, such as opening a bank account, limiting their capacity to act on their own.

I wish to stress that equal recognition for the legal capacity of persons with disabilities is a core obligation under article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which covers both the capacity to be a rights-holder and the capacity to act in abidance with the law. In reality, far from being protected, persons placed under guardianship are deprived of their rights, and are at risk of abuse and segregation. I strongly urge Kuwait to review its legislation and eliminate the guardianship regime, and ensure that support for the exercise of legal capacity is available to all persons with disabilities, regardless of the level of support they may require to take informed decisions.   

Health

I noted the efforts of the Ministry of Health to provide access to quality healthcare to Kuwaitis with disabilities, including by supporting access to specialized treatment abroad. The Government also provides some assistive devices based on the technical decision of PADA. In this regard, I was informed that the list of available devices is limited.

As part of its efforts to implement SDG Goal 3, I encourage the government to incorporate the WHO’s priority Assistive Products List through the development of a national assistive technology policy.

During my visit to the Kuwaiti Center for Mental Health, I was informed about efforts to transit from institutional care to community mental health care. However, I was also told that many persons with psychosocial disabilities receive psychiatric care based on consent provided by their families, including the administration of medication and electro-convulsive therapies. Moreover, 46 persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities had been locked in this institution for over ten years, in overcrowded rooms, with little ventilation and natural light, and do few  activities. I urge the State to take immediate action to close the wards for "chronic patients" and implement supported housing programmes that ensure the right of persons with disabilities to live independently in the community.

Employment

Kuwaiti persons with disabilities who work are provided several benefits, such as reduced working hours and extra vacations. The law no. 8/2010 establishes a quota of at least 4 per cent of Kuwaiti persons with disabilities in the public, private and oil sectors when these have at least 50 Kuwaiti employees. I urge the Government to enforce this quota, as I was informed that there are only 19 persons with disabilities employed in the private and oil sectors, and 283 in the public sector.

In addition, more efforts are required to enable the effective inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workplace, for instance by ensuring that all workers with disabilities are provided with reasonable accommodation at all levels of employment, including in recruitment, career development and vocational training.

Participation of persons with disabilities

In relation to political participation, the Government informed me that persons with disabilities can participate in the electoral process, and that some of them are provided support to vote by the courts. Accessibility measures should be incorporated to guarantee that vote is conducted by secret ballot, such as through the provision of Braille ballots. Moreover, information about the electoral process and political campaigns should be accessible for all persons with disabilities, including in Kuwaiti sign language, Braille and easy-to-read materials for persons with intellectual disabilities. Special efforts should be devoted to promote the participation of persons with disabilities as candidates for public offices. In this regard, I am particularly concerned that persons with disabilities under guardianship measures are deprived of their political rights.

In relation to participation in decision-making processes, I noted that there is no formal mechanism to consult and directly engage with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations. Additional efforts are required to ensure consultations and the representation of the diversity of persons with disabilities.

I would like to encourage the Government to promote and support the establishment of organizations representing all persons with disabilities, including those with intellectual, developmental, psychosocial and multiple impairments, who are currently not represented by existing organizations, as required under article 29 of the CRPD. Moreover, it would be important to take measures to increase the participation of persons with disabilities in public functions. The meaningful participation of women and children with disabilities in all decisions affecting them should also be strengthened.

Members of the press,
Ladies and gentlemen,


There are good opportunities to achieve the realization of rights of persons with disabilities in Kuwait. The implementation of the 2030 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the National Development Plan “Kuwait Vision 2035”, constitute great opportunities to foster development that is inclusive of persons with disabilities. The vast majority of the interlocutors with whom I interacted during my visit expressed a keen interest, commitment and political will to improve the situation of persons with disabilities in Kuwait. If adequately implemented, Kuwait’s experience could serve as an example of inclusion for other countries in the Gulf region.

I hope that my recommendations will help Kuwait to advance in the implementation of its international obligations, including the upcoming review by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2019. In line with my mandate, I stand ready to facilitate processes of technical assistance upon the request of the State.

Let me conclude by reiterating that I am very grateful to the Government of Kuwait for inviting me to visit the country. I hope that my visit and my report will assist to move forward with the inclusion of persons with disabilities, and to make the shift necessary to create a truly inclusive society by 2035.