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In Dialogue with Kuwait, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Inquires about Women’s Rights, and about the Situation of Domestic Workers

29 September 2021

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today completed its review of the third periodic report of Kuwait on measures taken to implement the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, inquiring about the situation of domestic workers and the rights of women, among other issues. 

Jamal Al-Ghunaim, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of delegation, introduced the report and told the Committee that sustainable development was central to the country’s plans.  A set of policies aimed to strengthen the economic, social and cultural rights of people in Kuwait, in particular through the National Plan focusing on Sustainable Development Goal 5 for improving gender equality through projects aimed at ending discrimination against women.

Committee Experts inquired about the role of Kuwait’s National Bureau for Human Rights, as well as asking about progress made toward the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.  Women’s human rights were one area of focus for the Committee Experts, who underscored that culture or tradition was not a static thing, and asked detailed questions about rules around women’s rights to transfer their Kuwaiti nationality to their children.  The human rights of foreign workers in the country was also a topic during the dialogue, with Committee members inquiring about legislation around strikes and contracts, including for foreign and domestic workers.  The Committee also asked about people’s access to healthcare, especially in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The delegation said progress had been made on the situation of women, notably through the adoption of a law to protect women from domestic violence.  The Government had also ensured that Kuwaiti women could access their rights without any distinction or discrimination in terms of housing and assistance.  Over half of all graduates from universities were women.  As for gender equality, some aspects were provided for in Islamic law, the delegation explained, adding that today, the situation of women in Kuwait was down to mindset and culture.  On the subject of culture, theatre in Kuwait was flourishing, as was popular art and literature.  Kuwait guaranteed education to all residents in the territory without any form of discrimination. 

The delegation of Kuwait was comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Supreme Family Council, the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters, the Ministry of Interior for Correctional Institutions Affairs and Sentence Implementation, the Public Authority for Manpower Sector of Protection, the Ministry of Education, the Legal Affairs of Health, the Central System for the Remedy of Situations of Illegal Residents, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Human Rights Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva.         

The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Kuwait at the end of its seventieth session, which concludes on 8 October.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 30 September at 10 a.m. to begin its review of the report of Azerbaijan.

Report

The Committee has before it the third periodic report of Kuwait (E/C.12/KWT/3)

Presentation of the Report

JAMAL AL-GHUNAIM, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of delegation, introducing the report,

noted that the right to development was an essential human right.  There were five sustainable development plans in Kuwait as a roadmap to achieve the sustainable goals effectively.  They were human-centered, and aimed to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDG).  The first development plan was set up in 2014 and focused on setting up a legislative framework.  The second plan looked at the development goals up to 2030.  The third development plan was set up for the period from 2020 to 2025, looking at issues covering the private sector.  The fourth development plan emphasised the knowledge economy.  And the fifth allowed the start of continuous and sustainable development in accordance with international indicators. 

Sustainable development in Kuwait was central to the plans.  Kuwait had decided to include the 2030 sustainable development goals in the plans, in particular the 2020 to 2025 plan, which had five pillars emphasising the development of the knowledge economy, strengthening of State institutions, and citizen well-being.  Kuwait’s principal development plans would establish an international economic zone and improve privatization, making it stronger and more dynamic.  A set of policies aiming to strengthen economic, social and cultural rights would prepare Kuwait to work harder on sustainable development plans by ensuring the well-being of all its citizens.  Kuwait’s sustainable development plan from 2020 to 2025 aimed at achieving sustainable development through a number of projects, which would contribute to bringing an end to all forms of discrimination against women.  Kuwait had set up a Higher Council for Employment, which encouraged women’s employment.  A programme included in the plan aimed to strengthen women’s participation in public life across various sectors. 

Kuwait had made progress on the situation of women, adopting a law in 2020 to protect women from domestic violence.  Training was also ensured for all officials to help them manage issues of domestic violence.  The legal competence of women had also been ameliorated, to enable them to act in the absence of men.  The Government had also ensured that Kuwaiti women could access their rights without any distinction or discrimination in terms of housing and assistance.  Over half of graduates from universities were women.   On the subject of culture, Mr.  Al-Ghunaim said theatre was flourishing, as was popular art and literature.  Kuwait guaranteed education to all residents in the territory without any form of discrimination. 

Kuwait had developed legislation to promote the protection of domestic workers, including through setting up a home for them which provided assistance and aided voluntary return.  The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on human rights could not be ignored, he said, noting that it called for the cooperation of the international community.  Kuwait had provided financial assistance to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to express solidarity with the rest of the world, and otherwise taken health and administrative measures to monitor the pandemic and to limit its repercussions.  Significant health benefits were provided to all citizens, so that all could have access to the health system.  Kuwait’s delegation stood ready to provide statistics related to matters including healthcare services, education, benefits for people with disabilities, people working in the public and private sector, the guardianship system, marriages including minor marriages, human trafficking, domestic violence, and other matters. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

ASLAN ABASHIDZE, Committee Vice-Chair, asked which steps were taken to guarantee the independence of the National Bureau for Human Rights, and for information about its budget and structure.  How many complaints had the Bureau received, and how had it proceeded with those cases?  

Had Kuwait made progress in reaching its goals under the Paris Agreement on climate change?  Was there an existing regulatory framework, for public and private companies, ensuring that economic, social and cultural rights were safeguarded as per the Covenant?  Kuwait was a rich country, and according to the report, nobody was living under the poverty line.  Yet the only supporting statistical information was from 2013.  How had the situation changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?  On the topic of discrimination, was it time for Kuwait to adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination law?  

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation, thanking the Committee for its questions, said that the global economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic had caused the incomes of some to increase, whereas others had remained on the same level.  Kuwait had taken a number of initiatives to minimize the negative impacts on family incomes, and on the foreign workforce residing in Kuwait. 

Kuwait’s National Bureau for Human Rights was a body composed of legal experts and representatives of civil society organisations.  The National Bureau had its own budget and special headquarters, and was currently engaging and hiring experts.  The Ombudsman of the Bureau was in charge of receiving human rights complaints.  Governmental bodies were encouraged to follow up on any questions put to them by the National Bureau.  The Bureau had become a positive element in promoting human rights in Kuwait, the delegation said.  It had received classification according to the Paris Principles.  Kuwait’s Ministry of the Interior and Prosecutor’s Office were among the institutions with which the Bureau cooperated. 

With regard to Kuwait’s obligations on climate action, the delegation said there had been improvement on a few points, including projects aimed at mitigating climate change and limiting emissions.  The main fact remained that Kuwait had joined the Paris Agreement.  With regard to the issue of discrimination, the constitution of Kuwait had provisions to combat racial discrimination.  On another subject, the delegation specified that enterprises established in Kuwait were subject to Kuwaiti laws. 

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts 

A Committee Expert asked for more information on equality between men and women.  Women in Kuwait could not confer their nationality to their children on an equal basis with men, and that was discriminatory.  What would the harm be for Kuwait in lifting its relevant reservations to the Covenant?

Another Expert asked about business and human rights, noting the obligations of the State to abide by its obligations as per the Covenant.  How many of the cases submitted to the National Bureau for Human Rights were related to economic, social and cultural rights, another Expert inquired, and what type of complaints did it receive?  Why had Kuwait not adopted clear legislative measures allowing for the legal exercise of the right to establish trade unions and the right to strike?  

Replies by the delegation 

The delegation agreed with the Committee that the attribution of nationality was a sovereign right.  Kuwait was convinced that Kuwaiti women had the right to pass on their nationality to their children; Kuwaiti legislation did not draw distinction between men and women.  However, Kuwait had some beliefs, and its own culture.  Given the respect Kuwait had for Western culture, the delegation asked for respect for Kuwait’s culture.  Human rights did not mean denigrating a culture which was different from one’s own.  As regards gender equality, it was an important value to Kuwait.  In Kuwaiti society, women were more present in the public sector than men were, and had access to high-level posts; there was no discrimination. 

Follow-up questions by the Committee Experts

HEISOO SHIN, Committee Vice-Chair, noted that the reservations of Kuwait on the Covenant had big implications for women’s equal economic, social and cultural rights, expressing hope that the reservation could be withdrawn soon. 

Replies by the Delegation

In response to questions about companies, the delegation said that all companies in Kuwait upheld principles in terms of trade and entrepreneurship set up by the Human Rights Council.  Turning to questions on the National Bureau for Human Rights, the delegation said it was not a governmental body, or it would have been part of the delegation.  It was an independent body.  As for gender equality, some aspects were provided for in Islamic law, the delegation explained, adding that today, the situation of women in Kuwait was down to mindset and culture.  Further to questions about nationality, the delegation explained that Kuwaiti women could transfer their nationality to their children under certain conditions.  A child born on Kuwaiti soil held Kuwaiti nationality. 

The National Bureau of Human Rights in Kuwait had provided some statistics, the delegation said.  The Bureau had six commissions working in different areas: children; family; economic, social and cultural rights; human trafficking; complaints; and econonomic rights.  Since the beginning of 2021, that commission had dealt with 28 complaints concerning family reunification, illegal acts, and economic issues.  Many other complaints were not classified. 

On trade unions and strikes, the delegation explained that Kuwaiti law did not prohibit strikes, and protected trade unions’ rights.  Trade union freedom was protected by national legislation.  As regards membership, that depended on the internal procedures of each union.  No legislative text prohibited the right to strike, and thus there were no sanctions if a strike took place.  There were competent bodies who could intervene in cases of tensions, for example, if a group of workers claimed they had been deprived of their rights. 

The delegation gave an overview of the rights and obligations of women in Kuwait.  Women had access to social benefits, if they were divorced, widowed, single, or had no-one to meet their needs.  Social benefits were also accorded to married women who were unemployed оr elderly, and other circumstances.  The benefit could also be provided to other members of the family.  37,000 women received those benefits, the delegation said.  A number of measures and projects aimed to ensure that women were autonomous.  Kuwait had other programmes, including a programme that gave access to a better standard of living, social assistance, and development of companies by women. 

Follow-up questions by the Committee Experts

MOHAMED EZZELDIN ABDEL-MONEIM, Committee Chair, thanked all who had participated in drafting the report before the Committee, noting that it reflected significant efforts and included valuable information.  It was a balanced report.  On the creation of trade unions, the recent report included information on workers present in Kuwait.  As for the minimum wage, at what point was it sufficient to cover everyday needs?  Could the delegation give more information on what impact the economic crisis had made on human rights in Kuwait?  

Replies by the Delegation

In terms of the points raised by the Committee Chair, the delegation explained that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economic, social and cultural rights was still being studied, yet Kuwait had tried to overcome its repercussions.  Kuwait had not stopped providing training sessions.  Kuwait had tried to support countries in need as they faced the pandemic, including through providing vaccines.  The minimum wage was subject to a number of regulations in Kuwaiti law.  Many contracts in use in Kuwait determined wages far superior to minimum wage levels.  Employers’ organizations had provided training courses for employees. 

On the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the delegation explained which measures Kuwait had taken to control the pandemic.  Treatment centers were established in hospitals specialized in dealing with COVID-19.  A number of volunteers were employed to support health workers dealing with the pandemic; survey workers had been sent to remote areas.  Social media was also used to spread knowledge about the pandemic.  Information on cases was published on the website of the Ministry of Health.  More than 80% of the population of Kuwait was vaccinated. 

Questions by the Committee Experts 

HEISOO SHIN, Committee Vice-Chair, underscored that culture or tradition was not a static thing, adding that her own country, which was not a Western one, had changed greatly in the last 70 years.  Noting that Kuwait had been reviewed by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 2017, she asked whether there had been any elimination of discrimination against women since then?  Turning to questions about family, she asked whether marriage with a foreigner was possible only with prior authorization by the Kuwaiti Foreign Marriage Committee?  What was the role and function of Kuwait’s Supreme Family Council?  What was the current minimum wage, was it sufficient to make a living, and did it apply to domestic workers?  Which measures were in place to monitor whether foreign workers were actually provided with suitable accommodation, and what were being done in case of violations? 

Turning to questions about health, she noted that her information stated that health service fees for non-nationals were double that of nationals.  What was the basis for that discrimination?  As for women belonging to the “Bedoon” group, she asked the delegation to clarify whether they could access health services including sexual and reproductive health services.   There was information that people with disabilities had psychosocial problems due to their disabilities and rely on painkillers which results in addiction.  Which measures was Kuwait taking to address that problem, especially regarding the problem of addiction?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that some laws had been amended to give decision-making powers to women, and to prohibit discrimination at work.  Provisions in Kuwaiti law ensured that a divorced mother, for instance, could be provided with housing.  Concerning domestic violence, Kuwait had enacted a law protecting the family unit which also provided for establishing a National Committee.  That Committee would develop general policies to protect the family and to cope with all aspects of domestic violence.  It coordinated with institutions of civil society and published annual reports.  Kuwait’s Supreme Council for Family Affairs drew up policies to protect the family, ensure their life in dignity, and develop roadmaps for partnerships between stakeholders.  It worked to promote the values of the family.  Centers had been established to work with people addicted to drugs. 

Kuwait also had other initiatives to protect children and families; a draft national plan was envisaged to promote the rights of women in society, and to integrate them in sustainable development.  The idea was to enhance their participation in high-level posts.  Turning to Kuwait’s Marriage Committee, the delegation explained that it ensured that certain applications for marriage were rejected due to information about the individuals concerned.  The law concerned more just marriages to foreigners.  For instance, if a Kuwaiti man wanted to marry an American woman, the Marriage Committee ensured that the woman was informed whether the man had another wife, what his financial status was, and other relevant information. 

Turning to questions asked about the minimum wage, the delegation said that particular laws protected domestic workers.  As for migrant workers, in addition to the minimum wage, further conditions were necessary for contracts, including housing, treatment, health insurance and clothing.  Foreign and migrant workers outnumbered national workers in Kuwait; more than two thirds of the population of Kuwait were foreigners.

On housing, a National Center investigated, visited sites, markets, camps, and government entities.  Fines were on a per worker basis.  There were also administrative sanctions for the owners of businesses, which meant they could not sign contracts with the government before paying fines.  The Center also organised campaigns and training sessions on prevention measures. 

In response to questions about access to care, the delegation said equal health care was provided to all, in the same hospitals, clinics and vaccination centers.  Illegal residents were vaccinated without any legal measures being against them.  Some treatment was provided for free.  As for people with special needs,  they received multiple types of care in government and private hospitals.  In 2018, Kuwait had invited the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, who had submitted recommendations which would be taken into account by Kuwait.   

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts 

RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Vice-Chair, inquired about the right to strike.  If it was guaranteed, why did Kuwait not want to put it specifically in the legislation and aligned with the Covenant?  Was there any decision to abolish the Kafala system or failing that, a way to guarantee the rights of migrant workers? 

HEISOO SHIN, Committee Vice-Chair, asked for further clarification on Kuwait’s implementation of the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).  In many Arab States, the rights guaranteed to women varied under Sharia law, she observed.  On issues facing domestic workers, could the delegation respond to information the Committee had received alleging that workers had been beaten to death?   

MICHAEL WINDFUHR, Committee Vice-Chair, asked for information about foreign workers who it was said lost their residency rights once they reached 60 years.  Was there any data on abuse of domestic workers? 

Replies by the delegation 

The delegation said that as Kuwait was an oil-dependent country, if all workers went on strike, the economy would collapse.  Relations between the employer and the employee were based on contracts, not a Kafala system.  Kuwait was keen on drafting model contracts which could guide the relationship between the employer and the employee, in which each of them had rights and obligations.  There were institutions monitoring compliance, and Kuwait tried to ensure a balanced relationship between the two parties. 

Regarding the situation of workers above the age of 60, the delegation explained that rules around their residence were based on the contract they had signed.  Once they reached the age of 60, the work permit ended, and it had to be renewed within a certain period of time.  In response to questions regarding cases of violence, authorities monitored the situation on a number of levels, through cooperation with embassies and external employment services.  Complaints could be sent on many platforms, including through social media.  Domestic workers were required to have a mobile phone and download the application for complaints.  Legal education and vocational professional training were promoted in Kuwait to ensure that workers were informed on their rights. 

In response to questions regarding health fees, the delegation explained that those who were not residents of Kuwait had to pay fees.  A number of tourists came for costly operations, and wanted to benefit from the free health system.  Kuwait found it fair to ask for health insurance from them. 

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts 

MIKEL MANCISIDOR, Committee Member, asked questions on education and culture.  The Committee had information that once women were married, it was difficult for them to continue with their education.  What did Kuwait do to ensure they retained access to education like all other women?  Was pre-primary education free of charge, and if so was it free for all social groups?  Were there human rights education programs in Kuwait?  Was it true that access to the internet had been limited due to the pandemic?

Replies by the delegation 

The delegation said that young married women were entitled to their education, adding that compulsory education was guaranteed by law.  Human rights education was part of the curriculum.  The allegation that Internet access had been restricted was not correct.  Quite the opposite, the Government had reduced the Internet fee by 40% during the pandemic.  Pre-primary private education was not free in Kuwait for residents or for non-residents.    

Concluding remarks

ASLAN ABASHIDZE, Committee Vice-Chair, said he hoped that Kuwait’s constructive dialogue with the Committee would serve as input to further strengthening the country’s resources with a view to better safeguarding economic, social and cultural rights, and to fulfil its obligations as per the Covenant. 

JAMAL AL-GHUNAIM, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of delegation, expressed gratitude to the Committee and to civil society groups for their comments and contributions.  Kuwait was keen to adhere to the principles of the Covenant and would further examine the questions raised by the Committee.  Kuwait would continue to promote and protect human rights in the country, while ensuring that national expectations were met as well.  Kuwait would continue to amend relevant legislation, in such a way that would meet and respect the Islamic Sharia. 

MOHAMED EZZELDIN ABDEL-MONEIM, Committee Chair, said the dialogue had been constructive.  The Committee hoped that Kuwait would take into account their observations. 

 

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/09/koweit-le-comite-des-droits-economiques-sociaux-et-culturels-se

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