Kuwait has acceded to six of the seven United Nations conventions on human rights, namely: the two Covenants on Civil and Political Rights; on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1996), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1968), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1994), the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1994), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1991). It has also acceded to the two optional protocols attached to the Rights of the Child convention concerning the involvement of children in armed conflicts and the sale of children and exploiting them in prostitution and pornographic materials (2004).
Kuwait has also acceded to seven of the eight International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions concerned with human rights, namely: Convention (87) on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining (1961). The two Conventions (29 and 105) that pertain to Elimination of Forced or Compulsory Labour (1968 and 1961 respectively); the Convention (111) on the Prevention of Discrimination in respect of Employment and Occupation (1966); the two Conventions (138 and 182) concerning the Prevention of Employing Children and Minors (1999 and 2000 respectively) and Convention (98) on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (2007).
Kuwait made reservations on certain provisions of the conventions it has acceded to:
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: It declared that article (2/2) states that the exercise of rights mentioned in the covenant are to be exercised without any distinction. That it would apply article (3) pertaining to securing equal rights for men and women according to Kuwaiti law. That article (9) concerning the right of every person to social security, including social insurance, would be restricted to Kuwaiti citizens. It also made a reservation on article (8/1-d) concerning the right to strike.
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Kuwait declared that article (2/1) means that no kind of discrimination should be practiced. That article (3) on equal enjoyment of all civil and political rights would be applied within the limits of Kuwaiti law. Also made a reservation on article (25/2) that gives every citizen the right to vote because it contradicts Kuwait's electoral law. Kuwait also declared that this right does not apply to the police and armed forces.
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: Kuwait declared that acceding to this convention does not imply recognizing Israel or a basis for establishing any relations with Israel. Kuwait also made a reservation on article (22) concerning ways of resolving disputes among parties over interpreting or implementing the convention.
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: article (7/1) concerning voting in all elections and public referendums, as well as in all elected committees. Article (9/2) that grants women equal right in terms of their children's citizenship. Article (16/6) that gives women equal rights in terms of guardianship, custody of children and adoption. Kuwait abides by its own laws concerning these issues. Reservation on article (29/1) concerning ways of resolving disputes among state parties over interpreting or implementing the convention.
- The Convention Against Torture: article (20) concerning the committee's right to ask parties to the convention to examine the information it has received, to write their remarks, to conduct a secret investigation, and to visit the state in question in the case of such an investigation. Article (30/1) concerning ways of resolving disputes between state parties over interpreting or implementing the convention.
- Rights of the Child Convention: general reservation on all provisions that contradict Islamic Shari'a and Kuwaiti law. Declaration on article (7) concerning the child's right to citizenship affirming that Kuwait grants its citizenship to any baby born in Kuwait to unknown parents in accordance with Kuwait's citizenship law. Stating its disapproval of article (21) concerning adoption, this is contradictory to Islamic law.
Kuwait has agreed to the "Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam" issued in 1990 by foreign ministers of Muslim countries. The declaration is a guiding document that does not require ratification. Kuwait also acceded to the "Arab Charter of Human Rights/Amended" prepared by the Arab Summit in Tunisia in May 2004. Kuwait did not ratify the charter just like most Arab countries.
Human Rights Institutions
Kuwait has two types of human rights institutions, a parliamentary committee and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). A parliamentary committee called "Committee for the Protection of Human Rights" was formed on October 24, 1992. The committee works on removing provisions that contradict human rights off Kuwaiti legislation; monitors the performance of government agencies in terms of their adherence to human rights principles; receives complaints and comments on practices that violate human rights, and forms fact-finding committees on issues within its jurisdiction. In the area of NGOs, Kuwait witnessed the establishment of NGOs that defend women's rights, such as "The Kuwaiti Union of Women's Associations" and "Women's Cultural and Social Society" (1963). The Kuwaiti Society for Advancement of Arab Children was established in (1980). Kuwait also allowed a de-facto existence, rather than legal existence, of some human rights NGOs. However, in 2004 Kuwait took an important step forward by licensing the first human rights organization, namely "The Kuwaiti Society for Human Rights".
Achievements on the Road to Good Governance
1. In the area of enhancing public freedoms, the Kuwaiti parliament unanimously approved on March 6, 2006 a new publications law that prohibits the imprisonment of journalists over publishing crimes before a final judicial decision is reached. The new law also permitted, for the first time in 30 years, the licensing of new daily newspapers.
2. The Higher Constitutional Court abolished on May 1, 2006 the civil societies law that had been in effect since 1979. That law mandated that security authorities must be notified of and approve any public meeting or open seminars that discuss public issues. The Constitutional Court's decision was taken following a complaint by some activists and lawyers who were referred to public prosecution for holding a seminar in 2005. The Court saw that the provisions of articles 6 and 44 of the constitution guarantee the right of individuals to hold public meetings without having to obtain a permit from the authorities.
3. At the end of June 2006 parliamentary elections were held one year earlier than their due date. The elections witnessed a high participation rate and were distinguished by women's first time ever participation. The opposition won the majority of seats in the parliament (33 out of 50 elected seats). However, the elections saw some faults, most notable of which was vote purchase on a wide scale in some electoral districts. Vote purchase was practiced by all political groups. The Kuwaiti ruler had issued a decree on May 21, 2006 dissolving the parliament and calling for early elections on the grounds of unresolved dispute between the parliament and government over the number of electoral districts.
4. The Kuwaiti government pursued its enhancement of women's rights to political participation. The parliament amended on May 16, 2005 the first article of the elections law which restricted the right of voting and running in elections to Kuwaiti males, thereby extending that right to Kuwaiti women. The Emir appointed 2 women to the municipal council that was elected on July 2, 2006. These were the first two female members of a representative body. The municipal council consists of 16 members, 10 of whom are elected while the Emir appoints 6 members. Then on March 25, 2007 the Emir appointed two women ministers in the newly formed government.
5. The government allows independent Human Rights observers to visit prisons. It had also allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisoners, especially Iraqi war prisoners, citizenless prisoners, citizens of countries that have no embassies in Kuwait and prisoners who returned from Guantanamo prison.