KUWAIT: (From left) Belkis Wille, Researcher Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, Mohammad Al-Humaidhi, Director of Kuwait Human Rights Society and Joe Stork, Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch attend the press conference. — Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat
KUWAIT: (From left) Belkis Wille, Researcher Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, Mohammad Al-Humaidhi, Director of Kuwait Human Rights Society and Joe Stork, Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch attend the press conference. — Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT: Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted some important improvements and setbacks for human rights in Kuwait this past year. Improvements in domestic labor laws were considered among the most important achievements for human rights in Kuwait in 2015. HRW held a press conference Tuesday night to discuss the situation of human rights in Kuwait in 2015, following the World Report 2016 release. Belkis Wille, Researcher Middle East and North Africa, HRW, Joe Stork, Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa at HRW and Mohammad Al-Humaidhi, Director of Kuwait Human Rights Society attended the press conference.

Protection for domestic workers
Law no. 68 gives domestic workers enforceable labor rights for the first time ever, including a weekly day off, 30 days of annual paid leave, and a 12-hour working day with rest periods. But it lacks key protections in the general labor law. The new law prohibits employers from confiscating workers’ passports, a common abuse, but fails to specify penalties and does not include enforcement mechanisms, such as labor inspections.
“In passing the domestic workers law, Kuwaiti legislators took an important step in protecting domestic workers in Kuwait,” said Wille. “They should now look at revisions that would meet additional important international standards.”

Bedoons, press restrictions and DNA
But the 659-page World Report 2016, now in its 26th edition, also noted that there remained many concerns regarding basic human freedoms and rights in Kuwait including a continued failure to provide for the more than 100,000 plus bedoon community (those without passports) here.
Kuwait has also cracked down on press freedoms, passing cybercrime and e-media laws that have far reaching implications for journalists and activists in the oil-rich country.
“These include prison sentences and lines for insulting religion and religious figures and for criticizing HH the Amir or the judicial system, harming Kuwait’s relations with other countries, or revealing classified information, without exceptions for disclosures in the public interest,” she stated.
“The government continued to limit free speech, using provisions in the constitution, the national security law, and other legislation to stifle political dissent. Courts convicted at least five people on speech charges,” Wille, added during the press conference.
Kuwait has also passed a law requiring the establishment of a DNA database after the June 26 suicide attack on the Imam Al-Sadeq Mosque in Kuwait City where 26 people were killed. Kuwait became the first country to require all Kuwaiti citizens and residents to provide DNA samples under a new counterterrorism law. “DNA collection databases are not inherently illegal, but to meet international privacy standards enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Kuwait has ratified, the law would need to be narrowed,” HRW notes.

Over 90 countries
Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.

By Nawara Fattahova