Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Kuwait: Activists Charged, Protesters Attacked, Migrant Workers at Risk

Source: Human Rights Watch

Activists Charged, Protesters Attacked, Migrant Workers at Risk

(Kuwait City) – Human rights conditions deteriorated in Kuwait in 2012 during an ongoing political crisis, Human Rights Watch said today at a news conference for its World Report 2013. The security forces used what appeared to be excessive force to disperse stateless bidun residents and anti-government demonstrators on multiple occasions, and authorities briefly banned protests in October.

Government prosecutors charged at least 25 people, including online activists and former members of Parliament, with speech-related crimes such as “offending the emir” and “misusing electronic devices” for posting remarks on Twitter, or giving speeches during anti-government protests. The government should drop those charges, Human Rights Watch said.The government should also address the citizenship claims of bidun, and protect migrant workers by ratifying the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

“Kuwait’s political crisis had a negative impact on the country’s human rights record as security forces cracked down on protests and the government grew intolerant of dissident speech,”said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should reverse this trend in 2013, by dropping all speech-related charges against online activists and former members of parliament, and finally addressing the bidun’s outstanding claims.”

In its 665-page report, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including an analysis of the aftermath of the Arab uprisings. The willingness of new governments to respect rights will determine whether the Arab uprisings give birth to genuine democracy or simply spawn authoritarianism in new clothes, Human Rights Watch said.

In February, the opposition, led by Islamists, gained a majority following parliamentary elections. Following the parliament’s close scrutiny of the government’s performance, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah suspended parliament in June. His decision was followed by a Constitutional Court ruling that dissolved the parliament. New Parliamentary elections were finally held on December 1. But opposition groups, consisting primarily of Islamists, liberals, and nationalists, boycotted the elections to protest a decision by the Emir to change the electoral law. The opposition groups say that the decision was in violation of the constitution, and that the electoral law should be amended only by an elected parliament.

The government used force, tear gas, and sound bombs to disperse at least four protests between October and December, and beat protesters while arresting them. The government justified the use of force against protesters on the grounds that they blocked traffic and threw stones at the police. A Human Rights Watch investigation found that some demonstrators tried to break iron barricades that security forces had installed around the demonstration site at one protest. However, in other cases, security forces used tear gas and sound bombs without warning to disperse the protests, and beat protesters while arresting them.
Throughout the year, authorities consistently prohibited bidun from organizing demonstrations, and the government introduced a plan that separated bidun into four categories based on factors such as whether a family participated in the 1965 census or served in the army or police. However, there was no progress in granting citizenship in 2012. On February 7, 2013, the parliament passed a legislation that would grant citizenship to 4,000 bidun in 2013. The legislation needs a second approval by the parliament and emir’s approval.

“The bidun community has waited for many years hoping that the authorities will follow through with their countless promises to address their citizenship claims,” Houry said. “The government should speed up the process of addressing the citizenship claims of bidun.”

In June 2011, the government voted to adopt the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (Convention 189), which establishes global labor standards on domestic work. However, the government has not taken any steps to ratify the convention or improve the treatment of an estimated 660,000 migrant domestic workers.

In 2010, the government passed a new private sector labor that set working hours, leave, and bonuses for migrant workers. However, the law excluded domestic workers who work and live inside employers' homes in Kuwait. Many domestic workers complain of long working hours without rest; months or years of unpaid wages; and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.

“Kuwait needs to follow through on the commitment it made in 2011 to protect domestic workers by ratifying the convention and reforming its laws in line with the international standards,” Houry said.