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COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS EXAMINES REPORT OF KUWAIT

5 November 2013

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today considered the second periodic report of Kuwait on how that country implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Introducing the report, Khalid M. Al-Maqamis, Director of the Coordination and Follow-up Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, said that recent developments which demonstrated Kuwait’s commitment to the promotion of human rights included the finalization of a bill for the establishment of a human rights institution and ratification of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Kuwait was also providing political and financial support to various international human rights initiatives.  Specific measures had been taken to strengthen women’s rights, and high-quality healthcare was provided to all free of charge.  Employment matters, especially those concerning domestic employees, were carefully monitored and measures were taken to protect labour rights.      

Experts commended Kuwait on adopting a series of measures to improve the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights of all its citizens.  The Committee raised issues concerning the situation of the “bidun”, measures taken to protect foreign workers, particularly domestic employees, access of non-Kuwaitis to higher education, and the ratification by Kuwait of international human rights instruments.  Questions were also asked about the rights of women, restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, the recognition of religious, ethnic and other minority groups, and the incorporation of the provisions of the Covenant in domestic legislation.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Al-Maqamis said that there was no doubt that dialogue helped to develop Kuwaiti human rights legislation.  The excellent ideas and suggestions of the Committee would be taken into consideration for adoption and Kuwait would provide answers to all the questions asked by Committee Experts.

Jaime Marchan Romero, Committee Member and Rapporteur for the report of Kuwait, said that Kuwait had enacted many laws and had set up many programmes to promote and protect economic, social and cultural rights.  A framework of general laws addressing all issues of discrimination was now needed.  Beyond the laws and the constitutional norms which existed, the Committee was very interested in the practical application of the laws.

Zdzislaw Kedzia, Committee Chairperson, said that domestic law could sometimes become a barrier to the implementation of the Covenant but domestic law could not be used to justify non-compliance with a State’s obligations under international law.  Mr. Kedzia expressed hope that Kuwait would continue to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Committee.              

The delegation of Kuwait included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Interior, the Central Agency for Illegal Residents, the Committee for Women Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and the Permanent Mission of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 6 November, when it will consider the combined second to third periodic report of Albania (E/C.12/ALB/2-3).


Report

The second periodic report of Kuwait can be read here: E/C.12/KWT/2.  

Presentation of the Report

KHALID M. AL-Maqamis, Director of the Coordination and Follow-up Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, said that Kuwait firmly believed in the importance of promoting and protecting human rights.  The savage attack to which Kuwait had been subjected in 1990 had had a major impact on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by its citizens.  The implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was guaranteed by the Kuwaiti Constitution and its provisions were part of domestic law.  Kuwait had finalized a bill for the establishment of a human rights institution and it had adhered to the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in August 2013.  These recent developments well demonstrated Kuwait’s strong commitment to human rights.  In addition, Kuwait was actively participating in the strengthening of human rights internationally through the provision of political and financial support to various initiatives. 

Kuwait paid particular attention to the family, which was the foundation of society and should be based on religion and morality, and to motherhood.  Kuwait protected the rights of women in the areas of education, healthcare and employment, in order to enable them to discharge their duties.  Maternity leave with full wages was available and various provisions had been put in place to guarantee women’s access to decent housing.  Specific measures had also been taken to cover women who had reached the age of 55 years and had no fixed income, and students of both genders studying abroad. 

Kuwait provided the highest possible standard of free medical services to all, and medical care also covered psychological health.  Education was seen as the basis for the full development of human resources, so free education was available to all at primary and secondary level and efforts were currently underway to make kindergarten attendance mandatory.  School curricula were modernized in accordance with international standards.  Furthermore, Kuwait protected all cultural and scientific research activities through the National Council for Culture, Arts and Literature, established in 1973. 

Labour was regarded as one of the pillars of human economic rights.  Private sector labour was regulated by law and considerable progress had been achieved in establishing legal safeguards and more freedom for labour unions.  Kuwait had recently set up an inspectorate to supervise employment in the oil sector and the country was striving to find an alternative system to the sponsor system.  Domestic labour was regulated by Act 40.  Working hours and a minimum wage had been fixed to protect domestic employees, and domestic labour agencies were monitored and inspected.

Kuwait would continue its efforts to promote and protect all human rights in all fields, and would also continue to allocate resources to human rights initiatives.  The country had recently hosted a conference on Syrian refugees and had contributed $300 million dollars to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.                    

Questions by Experts

JAIME MARCHAN ROMERO, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the report of Kuwait, said that the Committee welcomed measures taken by Kuwait to regulate domestic labour and tackle issues concerning workers in an irregular situation.  The Committee appreciated the detailed report and written answers provided by Kuwait and commended the State party on its large and inclusive delegation.  Positive recent measures taken by Kuwait included the enactment of Law 91 of 2013 on trafficking in persons; amendments made to criminal code, which now criminalized the retention of salaries; and the creation of the Committee for Women’s Affairs, the Department for Domestic Employees, and the Central Office working to resolve the problems facing the “bidun” population.

The Committee noted, however, that the latest Kuwaiti report did not include information on any systematic follow-up to the concluding observations issued by the Committee in 2004.  The population known as “bidun”, currently about 107,000 persons, continued to reside in Kuwait but, because of their statelessness, had restricted economic and social rights.  Another issue was the lack of ratification by Kuwait of several International Labour Organization conventions, although Kuwait had taken steps to ratify the Palermo Protocol.  Kuwait had provided no disaggregated data on non-Kuwaiti children’s access to free education.  The numerous reservations made by Kuwait on the Covenant undermined the effectiveness of the treaty.  Would Kuwait consider lifting those reservations?            

An Expert wanted to know how the provisions of the Covenant had been embodied in domestic law, and asked whether there were specific cases in which the provisions of the Covenant had been directly invoked in court.

A Committee member asked whether any measures had been taken to tackle indirect discrimination and said that in Kuwait there appeared to be cases of legal discrimination.  For example, the minimum age of marriage was lower for women than for men and women could not confer citizenship on their children.  Were such examples covered by the acceptance of “gender differences” in the Kuwaiti Constitution?
 
An Expert noted that the Committee expected Kuwait to make serious efforts to implement the Committee’s previous recommendations.  Had Kuwait introduced specific legislation on domestic violence?  A shelter had been established for the victims of domestic violence, but was that enough for all women victims of domestic violence?  The Committee understood that a bill had been proposed to establish a family court.  The Expert wanted to know how soon the family court would be established and asked whether there were any female judges.  Introducing harsher sentences for rape was a positive development.  Could the delegation provide specific information on how rape cases were tackled?

An Expert welcomed the large Kuwaiti delegation, and asked what the status of the Covenant in Kuwait was and to what extent it had an influence on the country’s policies, strategies and action plans.  Did the Kuwaiti Constitution guarantee the full implementation of the Covenant?

Kuwait had a good record regarding international aid, said a Committee Member.  Could the delegation state what percentage of Kuwait’s Gross Domestic Product was allocated to international aid?  Was the Kuwaiti Human Rights Commission established in accordance with the Paris Principles and, if so, to what extent did it take into account the Covenant?  Were human rights taught as an integral part of the school curriculum and was school education based on international human rights instruments?

Another Expert asked the delegation to provide information on measures taken to improve the situation of persons with disabilities.  How many companies with more than 50 employees hired persons with disabilities?  Was the quota for employing persons with disabilities fully respected in practice?  If companies failed to respect the quota, were they subjected to penalties?  Concerning domestic workers, the Expert said that supervising domestic labour agencies was not enough to protect employees and asked what was being done to ensure that laws on domestic employees were enforced within the household, which was where abuse and exploitation often occurred.  The Expert also pointed out that employers should be informed about the provisions of the Covenant and made to respect the rights of domestic workers.

The Committee understood that Kuwait had embarked on a plan to reduce the overall number of foreign workers, despite having a remarkably low unemployment rate of three per cent.  An Expert asked why this was the case and wanted to know whether it was part of Kuwait’s deliberate efforts to upgrade its internal labour market.  It was a positive development that a minimum wage had been introduced for workers in the oil and security sectors.  Were all other workers covered by the minimum wage legislation?  Did Kuwait have plans to make minimum wage laws applicable across all sectors?  Also, were non-nationals, domestic workers and irregular workers entitled to social security services?   

Responses by the Delegation

Responding to the questions asked by Committee Experts, the delegation said that healthcare services were available to all persons across the country regardless of status or nationality.  No fees were required of non-Kuwaitis for medical treatments or medication, which was provided free of charge to those in an irregular situation on an equal footing with Kuwaiti citizens.  Pregnant women were looked after and had access to all reproductive health services.  There were several Departments set up to provide physical and psychological health care.  Awareness-raising campaigns were launched in order to educate women on their reproductive rights and inform the public of the dangers of alcohol, smoking and obesity, especially for women in the reproductive age.  Women were free to make decisions about reproduction and pregnancy without coercion.      

All international treaties and conventions ratified by Kuwait were taken into consideration in all complaints brought before Kuwaiti courts.  The provisions of the Covenant had been directly incorporated into domestic law.  Appointment within the judiciary was accessible to women, who also had the right to be promoted in conformity with the law.  Sentences handed down by Kuwaiti courts were in conformity with the law and with Kuwait’s international legal obligations.

The delegation said that the Constitution guaranteed women’s right to confer citizenship to their children.  Article 3 provided that children born to a Kuwaiti mother or father were Kuwaiti citizens. 

Concerning the work of the Department for the Rights of Domestic Workers, the delegation said that it had closed down 860 domestic worker agencies which did not operate in conformity with the law.  Measures were taken against agencies violating the rights of domestic workers.  Kuwait was also working with foreign embassies to prevent the violation of the rights of foreign domestic workers.  The Department had the capacity to address up to 700 complaints at a time.

Concerning the questions about violence and rape, the delegation said that all acts of violence, including rape, were criminalized in the Kuwaiti penal code and punishment was severe, particularly in cases where minors were the victims of violence.

In response to questions about the ratification of international instruments on labour matters, the delegation said that Kuwait had acceded to many International Labour Organization conventions.  Kuwait had also ratified 19 international human rights instruments and was currently considering ratifying further international human rights treaties.  The National Department for Persons with Disabilities had been set up to gather, among other things, detailed information on persons with disabilities in several areas, including employment.  Persons with disabilities had guaranteed access to employment, both in the public and the private sector, including the oil industry.  The Council of Civil Servants carefully monitored the implementation of those provisions on the ground.  Minimum wage laws did not only apply to those working in specific sectors, such as the oil and security sectors, but were applicable in all employment sectors.  The minimum wage was reviewed every five years and the inflation rate was taken into account. 

The Social Security Act did not cover non-Kuwaitis in the private sector for legal reasons.  Persons had to be permanent residents in Kuwait to avail of social security.  Foreign workers in Kuwait were contractual workers residing in Kuwait on a temporary basis and were not covered by the social security system.  Kuwait was a small country with a population of around one million, with foreign workers outnumbering several times Kuwaiti workers.  That was the reason for which Kuwait was introducing restrictions on unskilled foreign workers seeking employment in the country. 

The delegation said that the term “bidun” was not used in Kuwait.  There were no persons without nationality but, rather, illegal residents whose nationality had been identified and legal measures were being taken to tackle the matter.  Kuwait was working to improve the situation of illegal foreigners and was drawing up development plans to address all matters relating to them.  A five-year action plan would be implemented to provide all necessary humanitarian, civil, healthcare and education aid to illegal residents. 

The Committee for Women’s Affairs concerned itself with cross-cutting issues and coordinated its efforts with several Ministries.  Its members came from various Government sectors, including health, justice and education.  The Committee’s functions included expressing its views on legislative decisions related to women’s affairs and coordinating Government and civil society initiatives.

Concerning the status of the Covenant in Kuwait, the delegation said that when it ratified the Covenant in 1996, Kuwait was still recovering from the 1990 invasion and was seeking to protect human rights.  The country had acceded to various international instruments, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and, more recently, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Kuwait ensured an alignment of its domestic laws with the provisions of international instruments.  Concerning reservations made on the Covenant, the delegation said that the enjoyment of rights must be within the limits of domestic law.  Many of the rights enshrined in Kuwaiti laws were implemented in accordance with the law, such as the Nationality Act.  The delegation also said that the right to strike was fully respected and workers had exercised that right in the past. 

The Human Rights Commission’s duty was to receive complaints about human rights violations and to ensure the implementation of the international conventions on human rights which Kuwait had ratified.  The Commission also guided citizens about the legal measures which could be taken in the case of human rights violations.      
 
Additional Questions by Experts

An Expert asked what Kuwait was doing to address the social housing deficit for “bidun” persons and to regulate the housing market in general in order to prevent the exploitation of foreigners and migrant workers.        

What measures had Kuwait taken to monitor environmental pollution and what public events had been organized to raise awareness and minimize polluting activities?

Concerning freedom of expression, an Expert asked to what extent the freedom of expression was hampered with regard to scientific, artistic and literary works because of restrictions posed on foreign publications.  There had been international complaints about the detention of persons who had criticized the Government in the social media.  Was the right to freedom of expression guaranteed in terms of ensuring free access to the internet?

A Committee Member said that additional information was required on non-Kuwaiti children’s access to education.  What measures were being taken to provide foreign children with adequate compulsory schooling?  The children of “bidun” families and migrant workers did not appear to have access to higher education on an equal footing with Kuwaiti children.  Were there any guarantees to ensure everyone’s access to State universities, or did non-Kuwaiti citizens have no option other than to attend private institutions?             

An Expert asked whether the laws about rape also applied to domestic workers.  Had any such complaints been lodged and, if so, did they lead to prosecution?  Also, was there any statistical data available on clandestine residents?  What sort of subsidies did they receive from the State?

A Committee Member asked what the awareness-raising campaign about smoking entailed and how it was enforced.  Was there a public ban on smoking?  What specific measures was Kuwait taking to combat cardio-vascular diseases?

An Expert asked who determined public ethics, which, in turn, resulted in restrictions on cultural rights.  Did Kuwait have a law in place to recognize minorities, especially ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, to enable them to exercise their rights and express their cultural identity?  Did any parts of the Kuwaiti population have aspirations to be recognized as a minority? 

In the framework of the positive reforms recently made to Kuwait’s criminal code, was marital rape recognized as a crime and punished by law?

Responses by the Delegation

Rape was criminalized in Kuwaiti legislation and punishment was especially harsh in cases where the perpetrator had their victim in their care when the rape occurred.  Witnesses in such cases did not have to be Muslim.

Concerning the question about employers providing housing for workers, the delegation said that the employer was bound by law to provide housing for foreign workers who worked in Kuwait away from home.  Housing conditions and specifications were carefully regulated, particularly regarding the size and type of the accommodation provided and the number of workers housed.  Housing laws were not theoretical but were in fact implemented in practice.  A separate Directorate in the Ministry of Labour was in charge of inspecting housing and oversaw the enforcement of relevant labour legislation.  Inspections were regularly carried out and employers had been found to be in violation of employer housing obligations and punished. 

Moreover, Kuwait was currently taking measures to have worker towns built so that it could provide housing for workers in accordance with the law.  Concerning illegal foreign residents, 5,000 housing units had been made available to illegal residents.  Those who had not been housed were given a rent allowance instead. 

Concerning marriage contracts, society had developed greater awareness about early marriages and the phenomenon had decreased a great deal.  However, as the custom still existed, marriage contracts were drawn up to protect the spouse.  Kuwaiti society was based on Islamic law, which was also the source of the law on marriage, and Islamic law did not specify a minimum age for marriage. 

Kuwait had set up a Directorate for the Environment in accordance with a 1985 law.  The Directorate drew up policies, action plans and strategies to promote sustainable development in accordance with specific environmental and health criteria, and also dealt with the exploitation of natural resources in an environmentally sound manner.  It oversaw the protection of the environment both in the short and long term, monitored industrial installations, and organized awareness-raising campaigns about recycling.  The Directorate imposed fines on enterprises and factories which were in breach of the law.  Inspection groups had visited 76 factories and forced them to use appropriate equipment to reduce the emission of pollutants.

Human rights education was provided at the graduate level and was a requirement for all university students in Kuwait.  Concerning State education, since 2006 a human rights class was taught at the secondary level.  The programme focused on various issues, including knowledge of the meaning of human rights, and the sources of human rights and international human rights instruments, including the Covenant.  A copy of the syllabus and textbooks could be provided to Committee Members.

Kuwait was taking part in the Arab plan for human rights education which was drawn up by the League of Arab States for the period 2009-2014.  The focus was on general objectives, especially the fact that learners should be aware of human rights and teachers should transmit human rights values to their pupils, always respecting the principles of cultural diversity and peaceful co-existence.  In secondary education a syllabus called “environmental awareness” instilled environmental values in the minds of pupils.  Decision-makers had always taken international instruments into account.  A Directorate for Early Learning was currently being set up, based on human rights instruments such as the Covenant. 

The delegation said that freedom of publication was guaranteed in Kuwait.  However, all material transmitted had to be checked and the Constitution provided for that.  Kuwait did not prohibit any material which contributed to the development and fulfillment of its citizens but needed to protect its citizens from publications and materials which were offensive, taking into account the demographic set-up of the country and the need to comply with Kuwaiti laws.  Concerning the use of social media, freedom entailed responsibilities and any abuse of social media and other public for a was unacceptable.  Abuses of the right to freedom of expression and causing offence to others were not tolerated. 

Kuwait’s sole State University was too small to accommodate all Kuwaitis.  Therefore, all residents had the right to attend private universities operating in the country and foreign residents could enroll in universities according to each institution’s regulations. 

The delegation stressed that Kuwait believed in cultural diversity and said that the country comprised citizens with a variety of cultural backgrounds.  Foreign workers had added to Kuwait’s cultural diversity, which was reflected in the arts and literature of the country.  Numerous cultural events were organized on a regular basis and foreign countries often organized “cultural week” events in Kuwait. 

Article 35 of the Constitution stated that freedom of belief was absolute, so there were no limits to that.  However, the right to freedom was also linked to public ethics and morals.  Kuwait allowed the freedom of belief and did not impose Muslim beliefs on others.  For example, non-Muslim students who studied in State schools did not face any impositions on their religious beliefs.  When the practices of citizens violated general ethics and morals, then the State might interfere.

The law prohibited smoking in public places in Kuwait, such as airports, restaurants and cafes, and the Ministry of Health had established a National Commission to combat smoking.  It had also raised tariffs for tobacco products by over 100 per cent.  There was a curriculum in the education system to raise awareness among young persons about the dangers of smoking.  A smoking ban had been strictly implemented in hospitals and was now being extended to cover other sectors.

The Kuwaiti constitution, laws, but also the Islamic religion determined moral restrictions which applied to all.  Concerning the question on minorities, the delegation said that there were no minorities in Kuwait as defined internationally.  Each citizen had their own identity and background and the laws protected the identity of all Kuwaiti citizens.  Domestic legislation reflected Kuwait’s respect for the diverse background of its population.

Under Islamic Sharia law, the concept of rape within a marriage did not exist.  A spouse who had been raped by her husband could go to court and file for divorce on personal harm grounds.

Concluding Remarks

KHALID M. AL-MAQAMIS, Director of the Coordination and Follow-up Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, said that there was no doubt that dialogue helped to develop Kuwaiti human rights legislation.  The excellent ideas and suggestions of the Committee would be taken into consideration for adoption and Kuwait would provide answers to all the questions asked by Committee Experts.  The delegation appreciated the frankness displayed by Members of the Committee.

JAIME MARCHAN ROMERO, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Kuwait, said that Kuwait had enacted many laws and had set up many programmes and institutions to attend to the diversity that existed in the area of economic, social and cultural rights.  Kuwait now needed a framework of general laws addressing all issues of discrimination.  Beyond the laws and the constitutional norms which existed, the Committee was very interested in the practical application of the laws.  All States had to ensure that rights were realized in practice.  The situation of the “bidun” or illegal residents in Kuwait remained a pending issue, the resolution of which required time and the adoption of many measures.  The Committee encouraged Kuwait to continue to take concrete measures to assist that part of the population which suffered many human rights violations.  Ratification of further international instruments would form a foundation upon which to build respect of human rights.  For example, international treaties could help Kuwait settle the “bidun” issue.  The Committee looked forward to receiving further information about the establishment of a free, independent human rights institution in the country.  Human rights should become a cross-cutting issue and training in that area should expand to areas other than education, such as the judiciary and law enforcement.

ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Chairperson, said that domestic law could sometimes become a barrier to the implementation of the Covenant.  All States parties struggled to ensure compliance of domestic law with their international obligations under the Covenant.  A principle which was binding for all Member States was the Vienna Law on International Treaties, which prohibited recourse to domestic law to justify non-compliance with a State’s obligations under international law.  There was no room for a flexible interpretation of the Vienna Law on International Treaties.  Mr. Kedzia reminded the Kuwaiti delegation that the Committee was available for further consultation and expressed hope that Kuwait would continue to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Committee.              


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ESC13/016E