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POGAR > Countries > Country Theme: Constitution: Kuwait
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Historical Background

Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy. In 1962, an elected Constituent Assembly drew up the constitution of Kuwait, which authorizes the ruling family to choose an Emir, who is the chief executive and can proclaim legislation by decree. Kuwait is governed by this constitution, which established a National Assembly. The constitution came into force on January 29, 1963 when the first Kuwaiti National Assembly convened.

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Separation of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Powers

The system of government is based on the separation of powers. Legislative power is vested in the Emir and the Assembly. Executive power is vested in the Emir, as the head of state, and in the cabinet. Judicial power is vested in the courts, which exercise it in the name of the Emir within the limits of the constitution. The Emir’s person is immune and inviolable. The Emir appoints the prime minister and two deputy prime ministers. The Council of Ministers is appointed by the prime minister and approved by the Emir. The National Assembly has the authority to withdraw confidence from ministers and the cabinet, although individual members of the National Assembly may not interfere with the work of either the judicial or the executive power.

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Main Provisions

The Emir has the right to initiate and promulgate laws and to issue decrees and regulations necessary for the execution of the laws. Promulgation of laws takes place within thirty days of their submission by the National Assembly to the Emir, after being confirmed in the Assembly by a two-thirds majority vote. This period is reduced to seven days in case of urgency. If the period of promulgation expires without the head of state demanding reconsideration, the bill is considered as having been sanctioned and is promulgated.

The Emir declares defensive war and martial law by decree. Such decrees are referred to the National Assembly within fifteen days. Martial law may not continue unless a decision to that effect is made by a majority vote in the Assembly. The Emir also concludes treaties by decree and transmits them to the National Assembly for approval. The Emir appoints and dismisses civil, military, and diplomatic officials. The Emir may grant a pardon or commute a sentence. However, a general amnesty is only granted by law. In the event of his absence outside the country and the inability of the heir apparent to act as deputy for him, the Emir appoints a deputy who, at a special sitting of the National Assembly, takes the oath to be loyal to the Emir.

Should the need arise for urgent measures to be taken while the National Assembly is not in session or is dissolved, the Emir may issue decrees which have the force of law, provided that they are not contrary to the constitution or to the appropriations included in the budget law. Such decrees are referred to the National Assembly within the fifteen days following their issue if the Assembly is in session. If the Assembly does not confirm them, they retrospectively cease to have the force of law.

The constitution describes Kuwait’s political system as democratic, with sovereignty residing in the people. Justice, liberty, equality, and cooperation are listed as the main social values, and the state is to ensure security, tranquility, and equal opportunities for citizens. Personal liberty and equality of rights and duties before the law, irrespective of race, origin, language, or religion, are guaranteed. There are safeguards against arbitrary arrest and torture. Also safeguarded are the freedom of movement, the presumption of innocence, and the right to trial. According to the constitution, freedom of belief is absolute. The State protects the freedom of practicing religion in accordance with established customs, provided that it does not conflict with public policy or morals. Individuals have the right of private assembly without permission or prior notification, and the police may not attend such private meetings. However, public meetings and rallies are firmly restricted by the law of public assembly issued in 1979 by Emiri decree while the parliament was suspended. The law was approved by parliament in 1981 upon lifting its suspension. The 1979 law stipulated that Kuwaiti citizens must obtain a permit from the authorities before they hold any public meeting or rally. On May 1, 2006 the constitutional court abrogated that part of the public assembly law. Kuwaiti citizens need only notify the authorities of their intention to hold public meetings and rallies without having to wait for an official approval or permission.

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Civil Rights

Freedom of opinion, the press, printing, and publishing, and freedom to form associations and unions on a national basis and by peaceful means that are “not contrary to morals” are guaranteed “in accordance with the conditions and manner specified by law.” Every Kuwaiti has the right to work and to choose his type of work. Work is a duty of every citizen “necessitated by personal dignity and public good.” The state makes work available to citizens and makes its terms equitable.

Individual rights protected by the constitution are extensive and include personal liberty and equality before the law, freedom to hold beliefs and express opinions, and freedom of the press. The residences of citizens are inviolable, the torture and the deportation of Kuwaiti citizens are prohibited, and the accused are assumed innocent until proven guilty. Also guaranteed is the freedom to form associations and trade unions.

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Constitutional Court

The Superior Constitutional Court is the highest level of the Kuwaiti judiciary. The Superior Constitutional Court interprets the constitution and deals with disputes related to the constitutionality of laws, statutes and by-laws. The judgment of the Constitutional Court is binding on all lower courts.

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Constitutional Amendments and Procedures

The Emir or one-third of the National Assembly has the right to propose revising provisions in the Constitution by amending , deleting or adding new ones. If the Emir and the majority of the National Assembly approve the principle of revision and its subject matter, the Assembly debates the bill article by article. Approval by a two-thirds majority is required for the bill to be passed. The provisions relating to the Emiri System in Kuwait and the principles of liberty and equality are not subject to revision except in relation to the title of the Emirate or to the increase of the guarantees of liberty and equality.

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International Conventions

.Kuwait is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

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