GENEVA (3 August 2017) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twenty-first to twenty fourth periodic report of Kuwait on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Introducing the report, Jamal Alghunaim, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Kuwait had established mechanisms and institutions to protect human rights, including the National Human Rights Office and the Office for the Rights of the Child. The principles of equality and non-discrimination were enshrined in the Constitution, while justice, freedom and equality were the principles underpinning the society. The law prohibited all forms of discrimination as to sex, language, origin and other differences between humans, and it applied in private and public life. A family was a key social structure and a foundation of the society, and it was protected by the law. Hate speech, a cause of conflict and discrimination among individuals, was criminalized in the 2102 law on national unity. In Kuwait, foreigners found security and stability in the context of mutual respect and non-discrimination; today, foreign workers from over 164 nationalities, representing the majority of religions and cultures of the world, made up more than a third of the population.
In the discussion which followed, Committee Experts congratulated Kuwait on its timely reporting which showed its commitment to engage in the dialogue with the Committee. They raised a series of questions, including on the situation of the stateless Bidoon people and their right to nationality, the rights of illegal residents, and the rights of women married to non-Kuwaiti citizens to pass the nationality to their children. Experts addressed the issue of the rights of migrant workers and raised questions on the equality of wages between Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti workers, the Kafala system and the rights of domestic workers to file complaints. The delegation was asked about the status of Palestinians in the country, different status of men and women under Sharia law, measures to promote positive discrimination, awareness raising measures to combat discrimination, and other issues. Finally, Experts urged Kuwait to adopt a definition of racial discrimination in line with article 1 of the Convention.
In his concluding remarks, Melhem Khalaf, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur for Kuwait, urged Kuwait to promulgating the laws in relation to the Convention as the ratification alone was not enough, to grant equal right to Kuwaiti women married to non-Kuwaitis to confer nationality to their children, and to acknowledge and end the suffering of the Bidoon people.
Mr. Alghunaim reassured the Committee of Kuwait’s commitment to implement all the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and said that Kuwait would take all necessary steps to promote human rights and to prevent and prohibit racial discrimination.
Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for all the contributions, especially at this difficult time of commemoration, and stressed that the Committee’s commitment was to support the country in the implementation of the provisions of the Convention.
The delegation of Kuwait included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Human Resources and Finance Manpower, Committee on Women’s Affairs, Central Bureau for Illegal Residents, Prosecutor’s Office, Ministry of Interior, and the representatives of the Permanent Mission of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will reconvene in public at 3 p.m. today 3 August, to consider the twenty-third to twenty-fourth periodic report of Russian Federation (CERD/C/RUS/23-24).
The twenty-first to twenty-fourth periodic report of Kuwait can be accessed via the following link: CERD/C/KWT/21-24.
Presentation of the Report
JAMAL ALGHUNAIM, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations and all international organizations in Geneva, said that Kuwait believed in all human rights and had established all the mechanisms and institutions to protect those rights, including the National Human Rights Office, General Authority against Corruption, General Authority for Persons with Disabilities, National Anti-Trafficking Authority, and the Office for the Rights of the Child, among others. The principles of equality and non-discrimination were enshrined in the Constitution, which underlined that people were equal in human dignity, equal before the law in rights and in public duties; while justice, freedom and equality were the principles underpinning the society. The law prohibited all forms of discrimination as to sex, language, origin and other differences between humans, and it applied in private and public life. The Kuwaiti women made great gains and participated in decision-making - they were ministers, managing directors and ambassadors and also had place in the judiciary. The Constitution considered the family to be a key social structure and a foundation of the society, and the law protected the family, as well as mothers and children including through the family code, the law on children’s rights and the law on guardianship, said Mr. Alghunaim.
In order to achieve the constitutionally guaranteed principles of equality and non-discrimination, everyone had the right to a legal redress for a breach in those principles, both due to a shortcoming in the law or due to human practice, and also the right to raise a case before the Constitutional Court if there was a law or a legislative decree that run counter to constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms. Additionally, everyone had the right to submit a complaint for rights violations to the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly. In 2015, Kuwait had adopted the law creating the National Human Rights Office with the mandate to receive complaints, monitor cases of violation of human rights, and to follow up these cases with the relevant authorities. Human dignity and equality were the foremost principles on which the respect of human rights was based, and Kuwait was fully aware of the importance of national unity and societal coherence. Since hate speech could be a cause of conflict and discrimination among individuals, Kuwait had adopted in 2012 a law on national unity which criminalized hate speech and any justification thereof.
Kuwait was a “melting pot” and attracted workers from many countries. The number of foreigners was constantly rising: today, foreign workers from over 164 nationalities representing the majority of religions and cultures of the world, made up more than a third of the population. Foreigners found security and stability in the context of mutual respect and non-discrimination, underlined Ambassador Alghunaim. Kuwait was taking steps to improve the conditions of work in the country and had ratified a large number of the International Labour Organization’s Conventions, including on forced or compulsory labour, night work of women, and on domestic workers, and it had created a special department for domestic work had been established. Furthermore, there was a large number of public associations in the country, about 30 newspapers and magazines and more than fifteen television channels. Kuwait had been ranked second in the region in terms of the media transparency, and first in the Middle East as far as press freedom was concerned. The right to freedom of belief and right to freedom of expression were guaranteed by the Constitution.
Kuwait was a state of prosperity and stability, but it was also a country that had suffered an invasion and an occupation of all its territory, during which its institutions and infrastructure had been destroyed. Nevertheless, said Mr. Alghunaim, Kuwait continued to work to improve the situation of human rights based on the national objectives and on Arab and Islamic history, in an international system in which hopefully peace and friendship would prevail.
Questions by Rapporteur
MELHEM KHALAF, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur for Kuwait, thanked the State party for the timely reporting which showed its commitment to engage in the dialogue and have a profound and results-oriented discussion with the Committee. It was an honour to have a State that underlined the principles of equality and non-discrimination as its character, and also highly important was the sense of charity and harmony as one its principal values.
Kuwait had addressed all the points raised in the concluding observations and the report had been easy to read; it had the right structure and methodology, although some of its elements and points needed to be discussed, including the lack of statistical data.
Did Kuwait intend to adopt a definition of racial discrimination that corresponded to Article 1 of the Convention and which means and methods would it adopted to achieve this? How many cases had been submitted to the courts for which the provisions of the Convention had been applied?
Commending the adoption of the law on the National Human Rights Office, Mr. Khalaf noted that it had not yet been established; there were also questions about its independence and in particular why it was linked to the Cabinet.
Had there had been any cases of hate crimes and hate speech and which sentences had been handed down?
Turning to the situation of the Bidoons, the Country Rapporteur remarked that hundreds of thousands lived in Kuwait and considered themselves as Kuwaitis, but were denied citizenship, described as illegal residents, and activists that promoted the Bidoons’ rights had been imprisoned. What was the current situation of the group leader who was allegedly still not released from custody? Were the Bidoon children deprived of public education and birth registration? Mr. Khalaf requested the delegation to explain how the Bidoons could obtain a passport, and to comment on their frequent arbitrary arrests and discrimination at the hand of the security forces.
Regarding discrimination against women, allegedly Christian women were not allowed to hand down their nationality to their children or husband, even if they were Kuwaiti
Questions by Experts
Another Expert recalled that in its previous concluding observations, the Committee had requested the information on human trafficking to which Kuwait had not responded. The Committee attached great importance to follow-up and would be awaiting the interim report by the State party in 2018.
Committee Experts took positive note of the participation of women in the delegation and urged Kuwait to ensure that next time women would make up half of the members. There was a need for Kuwait to draft a common core document, which indeed had been done in 2016 but the document did not meet the criteria.
Kuwait was an important country in the region and in the world, which had agreed to share its wealth to foster development, Experts remarked and noted that several states were grateful for that.
It was strange that the national human rights institution had not yet been established, Experts said, even though the State had reported its establishment in 2001. Hopefully, by the time of the next review, Kuwait would have a fully established national human rights institution with an A status under the Paris Principles, and that its representatives would be present in the room during the dialogue.
It was regrettable that the right of Kuwaiti women to transmit their nationality to their children was so restricted at the moment; Kuwait should ensure that all Kuwaiti women, regardless of their personal circumstances, were able to do so, including to the children born to foreign fathers. Kuwait had reported that 580 people had received the nationality – what was the basis for this?
The delegation was asked to explain the situation concerning the declaration on article 14 of the Convention which enabled individuals to contact the Committee if they believed that the provisions of the Convention had been violated, and also to inform of the position concerning the funding provided by States parties which allowed the Committee to function.
To what extent did the cooperation with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation help in terms of implementing the Convention?
Several Experts raised concern about the situation of the Bidoons who were indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula, and thus to Kuwait, whose State boundaries were a recent phenomenon. They asked the delegation to inform about the efforts undertaken to register all Bidoons-including the Bedouins-and grant them the nationality, and to explain the procedure to acquire nationality and whether there were any differences in the procedure for the three groups. What training was being provided to the police to ensure the protection of the Bidoons? How many Bidoons were in primary and secondary school and what was their access to the university? Did Kuwait intend to register the children and treat this group as regular citizens?
Another issue of concern in this context was the lack of application of legal safeguards, with Bidoons receiving sentences in absentia for example. Reminding the delegation of the principle of non-discrimination in legal justice, Experts asked for a break-down of the prison population and how many Bidoons were currently in prison.
What judicial training was being provided and how it included the provisions of the Convention?
Regarding freedom of religion or belief, was there a supreme religious holy authority which decided on the issue of compatibility of religions in Kuwait, and had it found any religion incompatible?
Was the authority that was allowed to dissolve an association subject to judicial review?
Referring to an article related to the use of a person as a target of any form of projectile, the Expert wondered why the language was so specific. Was there any problem in Kuwait that needed this type of specificity?
What were the principles in relation to the right of women to vote and the Sharia law, and could the delegation explain the women’s enjoyment of the right to freedom of movement and the right to a residence at a place of choice? Was there discrepancy between men and women under Sharia law?
What measures were in place to enable those undergoing a trial to invoke the provisions of the Convention? Did the Convention take precedence over domestic law and over the Constitution?
An Expert, referring to political participation, inquired about the rights of foreigners in this respect. What positions did they occupy in national decision making bodies?
Regarding measures to promote positive discrimination, what was their impact in practice, which sectors of society had benefited from such measures, and how were they applied to access of women to employment in the formal sector?
Experts also asked about the nature and impact of the awareness raising measures to fight against discrimination, the status of the 160,000 Africans in the country, whether Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti workers received the same wage for the same job, and if there were women serving in the army.
Could the Delegation clarify the status of the schools, were the schools segregated according to nationality? What did the extension of compulsory education mean: did the schooling start at the age of nine or that schooling of up to nine years was mandatory?
An Expert inquired about the Office of Domestic Workers and asked the delegation whether any sentences had been handed down based on complaints submitted to the Office.
The delegation was asked to explain the difference in inheritance between a Muslim and non-Muslim woman following the death of the husband, and also to inform the Committee of the circumstances in which the death penalty had been used, considering that it was reserved for the most heinous crimes.
An Expert, referring to Article 4 of the Convention, asked how the State party was complying with this Article if there was no definition of discrimination? What statistics was available about the crimes referred to under Article 4 - hate crimes, discrimination, and so forth? How was the police been trained to identify and pinpoint these crimes?
How had non-governmental organizations been involved in the drafting of the report?
Allegedly, migrants were subjected to higher state fees, including for road pay-tolls, driving license fees and renewal of driving license fees. Migrant workers seemed to be deported without a real reason, or for “crimes” such as deserting the work place. What rights did the migrant workers have to lodge an appeal to such decisions?
MELHEM KHALAF, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Country Rapporteur, noted that foreign workers represented more than 70 per cent of the population of Kuwait and said that such a high demand for labour often led to trafficking in persons. Mr. Khalaf asked for the statistics on the cases and the number and nature of sentences handed down. Had there been any prosecution of recruitment agencies staff for prostitution?
According to a report there were 5,000 Palestinian workers which might be considered for deportation and may be considered illegal residents. Could the delegation comment?
The Kafala system was still being practiced - what safeguards were in place to protect foreign workers and in particular domestic workers keeping in mind that some 2,800 domestic workers had filed complaints? Was it true that standard work contract were available only in Arabic?
Replies by the Delegation
In response to the first round of Experts’ questions and comments, the delegation explained that Kuwait had a parliamentary system in which the Government could not make a decision without it first being requested by the Parliament; therefore amending the Civil Service Act, changing the definition of racial discrimination, etc., fell under the competence of the Parliament itself. Certain Members of the Parliament had spoken in racist terms about foreign workers, and the delegation noted that many other Members and other people had spoken against those who had uttered racist words.
The Parliament was free to debate issues and everyone was free to speak, stressed a delegate.
The delegation referred the Committee to official memos from the Office of the High Commissioner which had clearly and unambiguously demonstrated the violations of rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The imprisoned Bidoon leader had been released from prison. The delegation asked the Committee to provide it with the evidence of beatings that Bidoons had been subjected to when imprisoned, so that an issue could be raised.
A complaint had been received in reference to one case and this was being followed up.
With regards to irregular residents, the delegation had already provided disaggregated data on education, assistance provided to persons with disability, and to irregular residents. The statistics on social benefits paid to the elderly and others had been provided as well. What the Committee had been told was not true, remarked a delegate, stressing that Kuwait had a Parliamentary system and an active civil society, and in which many issues were raised and discussed.
The delegation reiterated the commitment to submitting its reports on time and remarked that Kuwait took its reporting obligations seriously; Kuwait submitted more reports than any country in the region, in spite of lack of human capacity.
Kuwait had provided financial assistance to Somalia, funding to the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other entities in a bilateral context. It provided more financial assistance to Africa than any other country.
With regard to the police, statistics had been provided to the Committee.
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, said that the nature of the questions asked by the Experts were in no way different than those posed to any other State party. During the dialogue, many Experts had actually acknowledged and praised the support provided by Kuwait to developing countries. The Chairperson stressed that the Committee’s concern was to be very clear with regards to the issues pertinent to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Committee understood the separation of powers and stressed a responsibility of all parliamentarians and all public officials to create a non-discriminatory environment in which human rights of all were acknowledged.
Replies by the Delegation
In response to the question of Palestinians living in Kuwait, the delegation stressed that Kuwait was the only country that had helped them and had treated them decently by giving them access to all public services. The information received by the Committee was inaccurate and the Ministry of Interior would clarify those inaccuracies. The Palestinian community was indeed large, and recently an order had been issued to increase the number of teachers.
The matter of illegal residents was often raised in discussions regarding international conventions. According to the Article 29 of Kuwait’s Constitution, all people were equal in dignity and terms “stateless,” “Bidoons” or “undetermined nationality” were not used. The official term used in Kuwait was “illegal residents.” They were of great concern to the Kuwaiti society because they wanted to acquire all the benefits from the Kuwaiti State, and thus destroyed their own nationality papers. That was confirmed when about 8,500 people had “found” their identity cards and had become legal residents. Although most illegal residents held other nationalities, Kuwait was nevertheless helping them. Pursuant to a ministerial decree, the Government had issued them about 96,000 identity cards and had implemented a myriad of measures to ensure their welfare, such as covering fees for primary until secondary education. Over 53,000 illegal residents had benefited from free healthcare, whereas the State also paid for treatment abroad for the wives of Kuwaitis.
In order to acquire the Kuwaiti nationality, a person should not have previous moral incompatibility and had to be listed in the 1965 census. Buying passports was not an option. Over 40,000 passports had been issued between 2011 and 2017. Illegal residents had the right to enjoy almost all rights as citizens. Kuwait had established a number of committees in order to determine nationality and had issued over 20,000 birth certificates. Among illegal residents, there were 1,038 persons with disabilities.
The Constitution had the highest ranking in the State, and international conventions gained the same footing as national law once ratified. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights could also be invoked. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination became an integral part of the national law following a decree and based on the article 70 of the Constitution.
In addition to Islamic Sharia, article 29 of the Constitution reaffirmed the general principle of fighting discrimination and racial discrimination. It consolidated all regulations to combat racism and promote human dignity. The article stipulated that everyone was equal in human dignity, before the law, in rights and obligations, without any discrimination due to sex, language, origin or religion. Article 7 of the Constitution stipulated that justice, liberty and equality were the pillars of the society.
On hate speech, the delegation clarified that the 2012 law prohibited hatred and denigration of any category of society; the promotion of ideas that favoured the supremacy of any race, group, colour, national or ethnic origin, or religious confession; and the encouragement to or any act of violence. Printing propaganda or spreading rumours were also strictly prohibited.
The National Human Rights Office, established in 2015, was not affiliated to any administrative or governmental authority, but was a permanent national office in the field of human rights which aimed at the dissemination and protection of human rights and freedoms. The mandate of the National Human Rights Office was in line with the Paris Principles. The delay in establishment was due to the political and parliamentary crises and a conflict between legislative and executive authorities which had led to the dissolution of the National Assembly.
A 2013 law committed Kuwait to the fight against trafficking in persons. Special training for law enforcement personnel, judges, public prosecutors, and other Government personnel had been implemented by the Kuwaiti Institute for Legal Studies in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons had been invited to Kuwait and had met with all relevant stakeholders.
The Decree Law 19 criminalized all acts inciting violence, including racial hatred, fanaticism, sectarian hatred, and speaking against any race or creed. The printing, transmission, retransmission and propagation of racial hatred in audio-visual forms were also prohibited. The law stipulated a monetary fine and imprisonment of up to seven years for any person committing such acts, whereas exacerbating circumstances were applied in case of the repeat offence.
With respect to the right to assembly, the alleged denial of the right to protest to the Bidoons was an outright fallacy. The Bidoons enjoyed the right to demonstrate under the law and had been supervised by the authorities to ensure their own safety and security. In reference to the Friday protests, hundreds of individuals had gathered, including young people and juveniles; some had set fire to tires and vehicles, endangering the lives of others. The authorities had exercised restraint as long as possible, before intervening. As a result, there had been casualties both among the protesters and the authorities. The authorities had allowed those protests to go on.
The Ministry of Interior had established a body to receive complaints, investigate and document violations pertaining to domestic workers. Due to the documented lack of wages, abuse and other human rights violations, some licences had been revoked. The Ministry had also developed a brochure in five East Asian languages for domestic workers, outlining their responsibilities and rights, and legal guarantees provided to them based on Law 68 of 2016.
Turning to the questions about the Kafala system, the delegation noted that all labour rights were respected. Decrees relating to wages, conditions for work, and other important matters had been amended in order to improve the rights of migrant workers. A national agency governed the recruitment of workers and the transfer of workers from one work place to another. The Government was working towards having more transparency in the labour recruitment system.
A law distinguished between Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis in the civil service, but there was no discrimination. The law stipulated that the recruitment of civil servants would give priority to nationals. Kuwait did not discriminate between nationals and residents in terms of fees, including driving licence fees.
According to the Constitution, freedom of belief was absolute. There were no restrictions whatsoever on this right. No faith was imposed on any foreign residents.
School enrolment was open to anyone. A Kuwaiti child could go to a Pakistani or a French school and vice versa.
In her follow up questions, ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, asked whether the State party had applied for A status for the National Human Rights Institution according to the Paris Principles. She also clarified that the previously asked questions referred to women married to non-Kuwaitis and the possibility for them to transfer their Kuwaiti nationality to their children.
Answering, the delegation remarked that some of the information received by the Committee was inaccurate.
Responding to a series of questions on domestic workers, the delegation clarified that workers could leave before the three-year period of employment. Workers could change employers before the three-year period. According to the law, employers could not withhold passports from employees. If that happened, individuals could go to court and the authorities would retrieve their passports.
The delegation stated that the Government was seeking the A status for the National Human Rights Institution according to the Paris Principles.
Questions by Experts
Experts informed that the Committee was trying to protect the rights of minority women. While it was concerned with racial discrimination, there was an overlap between the different types of discrimination. Would the four-month period of widowhood also be extended to other non-Muslim women who would otherwise not enjoy protection?
Regarding domestic workers, why had Kuwait not ratified the International Labour Convention 189? Which countries did the domestic workers of African descent come from?
Experts also inquired about the circumstances under which foreign residents could apply for elected posts.
How did the State party track the compliance with regulations? How did the State party facilitate the lodging of complaints and receiving redress to victims of discrimination?
An Expert inquired whether Kuwait would participate in the International Decade for People of African Descent, while another reiterated her questions on raising awareness on the possibility of seizing the justice system in the case of human rights.
Response by the Delegation
Responding to the final round of questions, the delegation said, concerning the persons of African descent, that Kuwait worked with the embassies of African countries, while the Emir had taken a number of initiatives in favour of Africa, including providing the funding to build infrastructure. There were firm ties with the African continent which had been established long before the creation of the African Union.
The delegation confirmed that irregular residents had guaranteed access to education.
Everything possible was being done to improve the situation of those individuals whose human rights were violated; victims could call a centre in the Ministry of Interior and report the violations directly.
Kuwait would consider the ratification of the International Labour Convention 189, prior to which a legal study must be conducted.
MELHEM KHALAF, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur for Kuwait, thanked the delegation for the serious and transparent dialogue which was in the interest of not just Kuwaiti nationals but of all persons living in Kuwait. There had been a responsible response to the dialogue with the aim of improving the situation and the Committee was grateful for the participation of the delegation. Mr. Khalaf emphasized several final points, including on the importance of promulgating the laws in relation to the Convention as the ratification alone was not enough; and the importance of granting equal rights to confer nationality to their children to Kuwaiti women married to non-Kuwaitis and to Kuwaiti women having a child of an unknown father. Finally, Mr. Khalaf asserted that Kuwait had to acknowledge and end the suffering of the Bidoon people.
JAMAL ALGHUNAIM, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked all members of the Committee and stressed that the fact that Kuwait had submitted its report in due time and had provided very detailed statistics, despite the commemoration of the invasion by Iraq, was a demonstration of Kuwait’s commitment. Kuwait took into account all the ideas and comments put forth by the Committee Experts. Mr. Alghunaim assured the Committee that, despite all the challenges Kuwait faced, including those in the region, and despite all the upheavals, Kuwait intended to make progress in order to implement all the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Kuwait would continue to undertake all necessary steps to promote human rights and to prevent and prohibit racial discrimination.
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for all the contributions, especially at this difficult time of commemoration and stressed that the Committee’s commitment was to support the country in the implementation of the provisions of the Convention. Kuwait was a unique country with a unique contribution, and with unique circumstances of a small national population and a large foreign population. This created a unique condition and a challenge, but also an opportunity for something unique and very important globally. The Committee was looking forward to helping Kuwait with that unique role.
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