Human rights in Kuwait
Kuwaiti law, including the Constitution of Kuwait, does pledge to protect numerous human rights, provided that protecting such rights does not conflict with basic nature of the Kuwaiti government, traditional cultural norms or the teachings of Islamic morality. The enforcement mechanisms designed to help protect human rights, are relatively new in Kuwait, with limited independent oversight from Kuwaiti courts or NGOs.
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Workers Union Obtains International Court Order for Foreign Teachers Against Threats by Kuwaiti Ministry of Education
Quotable: “The ‘foreign workers’ in this case are not some privileged visitors… they are also mostly ethnic Arabs from other ‘developing’ countries… which also suffered damages from wars and revolutions. So this… is a case of the shared struggle of all peoples in the Middle East striving to collectively escape from poverty.” – Prince Judge Matthew of Thebes
Press Release: The Human Rights Court Division of the Sovereign Court of International Justice (SCIJ), an inter-governmental organization (IGO) of the independent Judiciary profession, issued a Preliminary Court Order on 05 August 2017, opening a class action civil lawsuit and also criminal investigation against the State of Kuwait, for claims of decades of unpaid wages of thousands of foreign teachers, allegedly driven by a policy of discrimination. The Court ruling also issued a protective order against public threats by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education overtly intimidating workers into not seeking access to Justice with the international Judiciary.
Ashraf Ali Abouelella, Chief Administrator of the plaintiff Workers Rights International, described the Court case in this way:
“The foreign teachers employed by the Ministry of Education served as public role models of dedication to the general welfare of Kuwait. A whole generation of the youth of Kuwait graduated with quality education thanks to their efforts. As a result, the State of Kuwait has flourished. However, instead of returning the favor to those who were the reason for its renaissance by education, Kuwait continued to deprive them of their contractual and statutory rights, and thus constitutional rights, thereby violating international human rights.”
Prince Judge Matthew of Thebes, a Barrister and Privy Council facilitating the case with the international Judiciary, noted:
“The ‘foreign workers’ in this case are not some privileged visitors from dominant countries with strong economies. Like the Kuwaitis, they are also mostly ethnic Arabs from other ‘developing’ countries in the Middle East with disadvantaged economies and widespread poverty, which also suffered damages from wars and revolutions. So this is not a case of protecting national interests for some balance with more prosperous countries. It is a case of the shared struggle of all peoples in the Middle East striving to collectively escape from poverty, by working to stimulate and elevate the economies of all countries throughout the region.”
For several years, newspaper articles worldwide have described a national crisis which has been escalating to educational workers pursuing lawsuits with international courts against the State of Kuwait for discriminatory non-payment and deprivation of wages by its Ministry of Education as violations of constitutional rights and human rights.
The Kuwait Court of Appeal issued a Judgment ruling that contractual and statutory payments must be equally applied to foreign workers generally (Madkour v. Ministry of Education, April 2013). The Kuwait Constitutional Court issued a Judgment ruling that discrimination denying a class equal pay for equal work is unconstitutional, and that unpaid statutory benefits to foreign workers must be paid retroactively (Female Educational Workers, October 2016).
However, these and other Judgments of the Kuwaiti High Courts have been mostly disregarded, and defiantly ignored by the government agencies responsible for payment. As a result, the plaintiff workers union appealed to the Sovereign Court of International Justice (SCIJ) essentially seeking international enforcement of those binding legal precedents by the Kuwaiti High Courts.
Officials of the Ministry of Education publicly denied the need for an international Judiciary process, arguing that Kuwait “has a fair Judiciary, which can be resorted to in order to resolve any grievances or problems”.
A spokesperson for the Sovereign Court (SCIJ) responded: “We agree that the High Courts of Kuwait have upheld the highest Judiciary standards, consistently ordering the enforcement of foreign workers rights. The problem is that the Ministries ordered by those excellent national Courts to pay all workers systemically ignore and defy their own Kuwaiti Courts. That is precisely why the international Judiciary is needed, for a higher level of enforcement, addressing violations of a higher rule of law.”
Officials of the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance and even the Parliament of Kuwait have refused payment and blocked budgets otherwise available for payment, claiming “budget failure” and legislative efforts to impose an “austerity plan”, as an excuse for disregarding the rulings of the Kuwaiti High Courts.
However, lawyers for the plaintiffs point out that Kuwait must have reserves from its previous record-high surplus budgets in 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2013, which in 2005 peaked at 43% of Kuwait’s gross domestic product (GDP), and argue that from those years it had many opportunities to fully pay all wages owed to all workers.
In direct and immediate response to social media rumors of the plaintiffs planning to appeal to the international Judiciary, the Ministry of Education publicly made aggressive threats through Kuwaiti newspapers, both in English and Arabic:
“Ministry of Education will not stand idle in the face of these measures, which affect the country’s reputation in international forums. Firm actions will be taken against any teacher who harms Kuwait’s reputation. If any teacher is proven to have done so, his/her service will be terminated. … Kuwait’s reputation is the ‘Red Line’ and no one will be allowed to tarnish the image of the ‘State of Humanity’.”
The Court Order by the Sovereign Court (SCIJ) held that “In international law, a State has limited rights to protect its reputation only against a ‘campaign’ of ‘propaganda’ by another State which undermines its ‘sovereignty and political independence’… A State most certainly has no reputational rights whatsoever against private persons seeking to assert their lawful rights. … A State is solely responsible for the consequences to its reputation from its own policies and its own official actions towards the people living and working on its own territory.”
The advocacy group Migrant-Rights.org has documented a history of such threats by the Kuwaiti Ministry against foreign workers planning lawsuits, who “were threatened with losing their jobs, no matter the outcome of the Court order.”
The Court ruled that “it is a universal criminal offense to intimidate a victim of rights violations by threatening ‘retaliation’, specifically including threats against their ‘lawful employment or livelihood’, to prevent their asserting lawful rights… This major violation constitutes the international crime of ‘victim intimidation’."
A spokesperson for the Court noted that it was those last-minute public threats by the Kuwait Ministry which compelled the Presiding Judges to additionally open the criminal investigation, which was not previously planned.
The founder of the trade union Workers Rights International, the Egyptian teacher Ashraf Ali Abouelella, as the primary member of the plaintiff class, was employed by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education for 20 years and 7 months since 1992, and has persisted in pursuing his legal claim of unpaid wages throughout 26 years.
The trade union Workers Rights International is represented by Doctor Galal Wadnan Elaboudi of the Egyptian law firm International Center for Legal Consultancy (ICLC).
The union’s class action lawsuit was directly joined by the first group of 104 workers, most from Egypt, with a few from Jordan and Syria. The larger class consists of an estimated 20,000 foreign teachers employed by Kuwait, who are also affected by Judgments regarding this plaintiff group.
Kuwait is a party to several international human rights treaties, including
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
- Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery
- Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others
- United Nations Convention Against Torture
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour
- Convention concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour
- Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention
- Abolition of Forced Labour Convention
- Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention
- Convention against Discrimination in Education
Some migrant workers are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude by employers in Kuwait. The workers were subject to physical and sexual abuse, non-payment of wages, threats, confinement to the home, and withholding of passports to restrict their freedom of movement.
There are 100,000 Bedoon in Kuwait. The Bedoon are reportedly stateless people. The Kuwaiti government believes most Bidoon are foreign nationals from neighboring countries. Kuwait considers the Bedoon illegal immigrants.
Kuwaiti women are among the most emancipated women in the Middle East region. In 2014 and 2015, Kuwait was ranked first among Arab countries in the Global Gender Gap Report. In 2013, 53% of Kuwaiti women participated in the labor force. Kuwaiti women outnumber men in the workforce. At the end of a 9-day visit to Kuwait on 15 December 2016, the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice praised Kuwait for its achievements in education and in the labour force, but warned against the persistent barriers, both in law and in practice, on the path of women’s quest for full equality UN human rights experts Alda Facio and Kamala Chandrakirana said despite significant achievements, “discrimination against women persists in law and in practice, particularly in the context of the family and nationality laws, based on the presumption of women’s dependence on men, which is contrary to the principle of equality.”
Muslim women in Kuwait are discriminated under the family law. Children born to a Kuwaiti mother and non-Kuwaiti father do not get Kuwaiti citizenship, unless the father is dead, a POW or divorced with the Kuwaiti mother.
LGBT people living in Kuwait may face discriminatory laws and public attitudes. Homosexuality and transgenderism are widely seen as being immoral activities, often attributed to foreign influences. The law punishes these activities as debauchery, public immorality and even offending the recognised teachings of Islam.
In 2017 Saudi Instagram star King Luxy was arrested in Kuwait for allegedly looking too feminine. He spent 2 weeks in custody before he was released.
All forms of news and entertainment media, is subject to government censorship.
Content that embarrasses or insults members of the royal family or religious leaders or recognized religious values, is prohibited.
Content that features nudity, sexual behavior or anything that is pornographic or expresses support for liberal sexual attitudes, is prohibited.
According to a 2009 report from the Reporters without Borders, Kuwait is engaged in pervasive Internet filtering and selective filtering in security areas. The primary target of Internet filtering is pornography. The Kuwait Ministry of Communication regulates ISPs, making them block pornography and anti-security websites.
Voice over Internet Protocol is legal in Kuwait.
- "Ratification of International Human Rights Treaties - Kuwait". University of Minnesota Human Rights Library. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
- "Trafficking in Persons Report 2007". U.S. Department of State. 2007. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
- "2007: Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights". International Trade Union Confederation. 2007. Archived from the original on 18 March 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
- "BBC Talk Show about Bedoon (29:07)" (in Arabic).
- "The Global Gender Gap Index 2014 - World Economic Forum". World Economic Forum.
- "Kuwait highest in closing gender gap: WEF".
- "Global Gender Gap Index Results in 2015". World Economic Forum.
- "Kuwait: Selected Issues" (PDF). p. 17.
Kuwait has higher female labor market participation than other GCC countries; further improvements in labor force participation can support future growth prospects. Kuwait’s labor force participation rate for Kuwaiti women (53 percent) is slightly above the world average (51 percent) and much higher than the MENA average (21 percent).
- "OHCHR | Kuwait: Tackling persistent barriers for women to sustain progress". www.ohchr.org. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
- "OHCHR | Kuwait: Tackling persistent barriers for women to sustain progress". www.ohchr.org. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
- ?, ? (10 March 2014). Human rights watch. Kuwait City: ?. p. 2.
- Arab, The New. "This controversial Instagram star was arrested and abused for being 'too feminine' in Kuwait". alaraby. Retrieved 2019-06-16.
- "Kuwait: State of the media", Menassat
- "Nokia Networks' Zain Make Kuwait's First High-definition Voice Call in Live LTE Network". Retrieved 2014-07-26.