Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kuwait: Kuwait's stateless - Not giving up the fight

Source: Refugees International 

Kuwait's stateless: Not giving up the fight
by  Sarnata Reynolds

On March 2, a 14-year-old boy named Ali Habib was put in a Kuwaiti jail and charged with disturbing the peace. He had been arrested while participating in a peaceful demonstration for the right to citizenship, one of many in a decades-long movement demanding that Kuwait’s stateless people, called the bedoon, be recognized as citizens.

After two days Ali was released, but eight other stateless activists remain in jail on trumped-up charges including participating in an “illegal gathering” and “damaging police property.”

For the last three years, peaceful gatherings in support of the right to nationality have been met with rubber bullets, tear gas, sound bombs, beatings, and detentions. And yet the protests continue. In response, some elected officials have taken up the cause, and in March 2013, Kuwait’s parliament passed a law that would grant citizenship to 4,000 “foreigners” – although it has not been implemented.

In April 2013, activists held the first international conference on statelessness in Kuwait, which led to the formation of a National Committee on the issue and a four-year plan for the realization of citizenship rights. Despite an attempt by the government to shut down the conference, it was attended by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, foreign diplomats (including from the U.S. and UK), and non-governmental organizations including Refugees International. Just last month, the U.S. government officially and publicly documented the mistreatment and exclusion of the bedoon in its annual report on human rights, with the UK having previously documented their persecution.

The movement for citizenship rights in Kuwait is undeniable and growing. The bedoon are not going anywhere, their supporters are steadfast, and the international community is increasingly calling for recognition of their human rights.

While the Kuwaiti government has the authority to determine who makes up its citizenry, it does not have the privilege of rendering people stateless. Therefore, a just and transparent procedure should be approved that both protects every person’s right to a nationality and honors the government’s power to impose fair criteria for citizenship. Granting citizenship to Kuwait’s longstanding, multi-generational and loyal residents is both the right thing to do, and inevitable.

To get there, the Kuwaiti government should immediately recognize and document the Kuwaiti citizenship of all individuals and families with relevant links to the nation, including birth on the state’s territory, descent, marriage, or habitual residence.

Until their nationality claims can be resolved, the government should:
  • protect the human rights of all stateless people, including the right to liberty, assembly, education, healthcare, and due process before the law;
  • file a court complaint if a person’s citizenship is under suspicion, provide conclusive proof of their foreign nationality, and protect the right to due process; and
  • incorporate stateless Kuwaitis into all aspects of public life, including public schools, residences and employment.
Among the more than 100,000 stateless people in Kuwait are the spouses and children of Kuwaiti citizens, veterans and police officers, hospital technicians, taxi drivers, poets, and little boys like Ali. They know no other country and identify themselves with the people, culture, and history of Kuwait. They may currently be without citizenship, but they are not without rights. They must be respected - See more at: