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COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES EXAMINES THE INITIAL REPORT OF KUWAIT

Experts Denounce the Medical Approach and Charity-based View of Disability and the Absence of Full Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities
10 September 2019

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Kuwait on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

During the dialogue, Committee Experts commended Kuwait for its robust social protection system for persons with disabilities and the implementation of the Kuwait Vision 2035 for persons with disabilities that encompassed education, employment, healthcare, and leisure and recreation.

Challenges however remained, especially in ensuring a full social inclusion of persons with disabilities in the society and the enjoyment of their rights on an equal footing with others. Kuwait continued to apply a medical approach rather than a human rights-based approach to disability, which called for the elimination of the barriers to the social inclusion of persons with disabilities based on the principle of non-discrimination.

A genuine change and a switch from a charity-based to a human rights-based approach to disability was still to be seen in laws, policy and practice, while the definition of disability focused on deficits and impairments instead of barriers, inequality and discrimination that prevented persons with disabilities from fully participating in the society.

Kuwait should do more to prohibit disability-based discrimination, tackle negative social attitudes and stereotypes of persons with disabilities, and raise awareness about their potential to lead productive and dignified lives, urged Committee Experts.

At the beginning of the meeting, Jamal Alghunaim, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva, introducing the report, said that the ratification of the Convention in 2013 had firmly cemented Kuwait’s commitment to human rights in general and to the rights of persons with disabilities in particular, based on Islamic values and principles which called for their protection.

Kuwait was working relentlessly to provide persons with disabilities with equal opportunities in the areas of education, employment and social welfare, and had adopted the Act number 8 of 2010 on the rights of persons with disabilities, under which the Public Authority of the Disabled had been established.

The National Development Plan 2016-2020 translated many of the Sustainable Development Goals into action, while taking into account national circumstances, policies and priorities. In partnership with the United Nations Development Programme, Kuwait was implementing the National Strategy for Persons with Disabilities and the Kuwait Vision 2035 for persons with disabilities.

Mr. Alghunaim, in his concluding remarks reiterated his country’s commitment to strengthening the enjoyment of the rights of persons with disabilities and the firm intention to continue to take legislative measures to cement the human rights-based approach to disability, in conformity with Islamic values and the Kuwaiti Constitution.

Ahmad Al Saif, Committee Rapporteur for Kuwait, concluded by urging Kuwait to continue to adopt legislative measures to guarantee equality and non-discrimination on the grounds of disability, to eliminate multiple forms of discrimination against women with disabilities, and to end the exclusion of children with disabilities from inclusive education.

The delegation of Kuwait was composed of the representatives of the Public Authority of the Disabled, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice, the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters, the Central System for the Remedy of Situations of Illegal Residents, the Supreme Council for Planning and Development, and the Permanent Mission of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon, to consider the initial report of Iraq (CRPD/C/IRQ/1).

Presentation of the Report

JAMAL ALGHUNAIM, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva, introducing the report, recalled that Kuwait had acceded to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2013. This had firmly cemented Kuwait’s commitment to human rights in general and to the rights of persons with disabilities in particular, based on Islamic values and principles which called for their protection. The Constitution of Kuwait attached the greatest importance to the care and empowerment of persons with disabilities and had endowed the State with a duty to provide to its citizens care and protection in case of old age, incapacitation or illness.

Kuwait was working relentlessly to provide persons with disabilities with equal opportunities in the areas of education, employment and social welfare, and had worked with the United Nations Development Programme to draft empowerment programmes to integrate persons with disabilities in education and the labour market.

Act number 8 of 2010 on the rights of persons with disabilities had been enacted, based on the Islamic concepts of solidarity and interdependence. Persons with disabilities were a duty of the society and the State was obliged to attach importance to this population group, which was not to be deprived of their economic, civil and political rights because of their disability. The Act provided for the establishment of the Public Authority of the Disabled, which was considered a significant improvement for the rights of persons with disabilities.

The National Development Plan 2016-2020 translated many of the Sustainable Development Goals into action, while taking into account national circumstances, policies and priorities. To operationalize the National Strategy for Persons with Disabilities, the Public Authority of the Disabled had concluded partnerships with the High Council for Development and Planning and the United Nations Development Programme to implement Kuwait Vision 2035 for Persons with Disabilities.

The radio provided important space to disability issues and as such it helped to improve public awareness on the rights of persons with disabilities, supported and promoted their access to education, and protected persons with disabilities against discrimination. Kuwait was dedicated to using information and communication technologies in service of persons with disabilities and persons with learning difficulties.

The Public Authority of the Disabled had developed a national strategy in a number of fields, including education, health and the media, and had taken steps to ensure that all Government relevant agencies implemented Act 8 of 2010. The 1980 Civil Code included provisions on legal capacity under which a court could appoint a judicial aide to persons with severe impairments with the aim of protecting their rights.

Kuwait was a pioneer in the Middle East in terms of the rights of persons with disabilities, and care and services provided to them. The Ministry of Education was in charge of 25 special schools with 1,427 students with disabilities, both Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti citizens, while 22 students with disabilities had received scholarships to study at university abroad. Kuwaiti athletes with disabilities received support to develop their skills and capacities and had achieved great achievements, and had even broken sports records.
Questions from the Experts

AHMAD AL SAIF, Committee Rapporteur for Kuwait, said that the dialogue would centre on taking stock of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Kuwait and identifying challenges faced. By ratifying the Convention in 2013, Kuwait had expressed its commitment to implement a human rights-based approach to disability throughout its policies, legislation and practices, recalled Mr. Al Saif.

The Rapporteur welcomed the adoption of the strategy and the Vision 2020-2025 that encompassed fields such as education, employment, healthcare, and leisure and recreation, and which took into account the interest of persons with disabilities. Also commendable was the establishment of a robust social protection system for persons with disabilities.

Challenges, however, remained, especially in ensuring a full social inclusion of persons with disabilities in the society and the enjoyment of their rights on an equal footing with others. Kuwait continued to apply a medical approach rather than a human rights-based approach to disability, which called for the elimination of the barriers to the social inclusion of persons with disabilities based on the principle of non-discrimination.

A genuine change and a switch from a charity-based approach to a human rights-based approach to disability was still to be seen, in laws, policies and practice, including in the law on the rights of persons with disabilities. The definition of disability was not in line with a human rights-based definition: it excluded persons with disabilities from full participation in the society and saw them as ill persons in need of particular care. Negative social attitudes towards persons with disabilities still prevailed, as did a lack of awareness about their potential to lead productive and dignified lives.

Disability was not a constitutionally prohibited ground for discrimination, other Experts remarked, and asked about the laws in place to protect from disability-based discrimination and redress mechanisms that existed for those who were discriminated against. They specifically asked about the efforts to prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities, including non-Kuwaiti persons with disabilities who lived in the country under the law on the rights of persons with disabilities. What steps were being taken to ensure that children with disabilities were considered by laws relating to all children in Kuwait and was there an equality and non-discrimination policy and strategy for women with disabilities?

DANLAMI UMARU BASHARU, Committee Chairperson, asked for age, gender, and disability disaggregated data on children with disabilities in special classes and special schools. He also requested information about steps taken to eliminate harmful practices and stereotypes against persons with disabilities, to eliminate the so-called “honour killings”, and whether any persons with intellectual disabilities had been sentenced to death.

Further on children with disabilities, another Expert asked about their access to early intervention programmes and inclusive educational environments, especially for children with severe, multiple, psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.

The delegation was asked to explain how persons with disabilities and their representative organizations participated in the design and implementation of laws and policies that concerned them.

The Experts denounced derogatory terminology still used in relation to persons with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, such as “mentally retarded” or “insane” – those terms were clearly in violation of the letter and spirit of the Convention.

The disability concept remained very medical and deficit-based. Persons with disabilities, they stressed, did not have impairments, but were suffering from barriers, inequality and discrimination that prevented them from fully participating in the society.

Responses by the Delegation

Responding to questions and comments, the delegation recalled that since adopting its Constitution in 1962 and joining the United Nations in 1963, Kuwait remained committed to the principles of equality and non-discrimination, including in relation to the rights of persons with disabilities. All citizens in Kuwait were equal in rights and progressed in career and society, thanks to their own efforts and the policy of non-discrimination.

Kuwait had carried out important efforts to raise awareness about the rights of persons with disabilities in the society, as well as to ensure that persons with disabilities were not deprived of their opportunity to enjoy television and radio programmes.

Responding to questions raised about the medical approach to disability, a delegate said that Kuwait was in the process of moving towards a human rights-based approach, which took into account the entire life course of persons with disabilities. The State was working together with the United Nations Development Programme and the World Health Organization to make sure that the approach was a correct one. Kuwait would take on board the Experts’ comments about the definition of disability and would consider amending the relevant laws to ensure to persons with disabilities a life in society on an equal footing with others, the delegate reaffirmed.

Persons with disabilities were fully involved in the development of the public campaign on disability rights, another delegate said.

The National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters was mandated with fighting discrimination and guaranteeing the equality of opportunity for all Kuwaiti nationals and residents. This commitment was reflected in the laws that prohibited discrimination. About 30 per cent of the participants in the National Council were persons with disabilities, while theatres, libraries and other cultural buildings were accessible. The law on intellectual property did not distinguish between persons with disabilities and other members of the society.

A committee was in place in Kuwait in charge of reporting to human rights treaty bodies and it had been commended for the timely submission of reports. During the preparation of the report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the committee had held two meetings with non-governmental organizations, whose concerns were therein included. Therefore, the delegation considered that civil society organizations had been fully involved in the reporting process.

Equality between women and men was enshrined in article 29 of the Constitution – women and men were equal in dignity, rights, and duties before the law. Discrimination based on sex, religion, or language was prohibited, and equality and justice were the pillars of development. Kuwait was the first country in the Gulf Cooperation Council which had launched a campaign for the economic empowerment of women, which called for equal opportunities and the promotion of the role of the private sector. The 1989 Civil Code regulated legal capacity and was in line with the principles of equality and non-discrimination. No woman with disabilities could have her legal capacity limited solely because she was a woman.

Women who cared for children with disabilities were entitled to a monthly allowance of $900 and about 3,000 mothers benefitted from this service.

Non-Kuwaiti persons with disabilities enjoyed a range of services in the country, such as care, health care, education, vocational habilitation, disability cards, and others.

On accessibility, the delegation said that the National Codes Commission had adopted the Building Code and had organized a number of workshops for engineers to disseminate and apply the new Code. The Public Authority of the Disabled had adopted a national framework on e-content accessibility to allow persons with disabilities access to the Internet, e-books, and other e-content.

The Public Authority of the Disabled was mandated to receive complaints from persons with disabilities on any matter and to process those objectively and anonymously. Complaints could be submitted through Twitter and the Internet. The Authority had received 47 complaints of which 44 had been settled through conciliation, while the other three had been referred to the competent authorities.

The Public Authority of the Disabled used to classify mental and psychological disabilities under the same category, but it had recently separated them into two categories; there were 509 persons with psychological disabilities and 14,000 persons with intellectual disabilities. A committee composed of social workers, psychologists, and lawyers had been set up in 2015 to receive complaints of physical assault and abuse of persons with disabilities.

The Government had a constitutional obligation to provide education to persons with disabilities on a par with others. Parents decided whether to send their children with disabilities to Government-run special schools or to private schools. The Ministry of Education had set up specialized schools for students with disabilities. In the academic year 2017-2018 there had been 280 boys and 189 girls in school for motor disabilities, 79 boys and 49 girls in special school for visually impaired children, 68 boys and 50 girls in school for hearing disabilities, 209 boys and 209 girls in school for children with intellectual disabilities, 24 boys and 29 girls in school for students with Down syndrome, and 32 boys attended special school for students with autism.

Questions from the Experts

Continuing the interactive dialogue, Committee Experts raised questions on situations of risk and humanitarian emergency and asked about measures to ensure that disaster risk reduction strategies specifically included persons with disabilities in all stages of risk management, in line with the Sendai Framework. Could the delegation inform on the 250,000 stateless Bidoon who lived in a situation of humanitarian emergency in Kuwait?

Kuwait was studying the abolition of sheltered institutions and replacing them with other forms of accommodation for those persons with disabilities who needed continuous care and could not live autonomously. Could the delegation provide an update on this process, with particular attention on children with disabilities without parents and steps taken to facilitate their placement with families? Were all persons with disabilities, including those with intellectual disabilities, able to choose where to live in the community?

When and how would Kuwait implement article 12 of the Convention, including by abolishing guardianship and putting in place supported decision-making? The delegation was also asked to explain what happened if a person with intellectual disabilities was accused of a crime, stood trial, and was found guilty.

Involuntary hospitalization of persons with disabilities did not require their consent, but only the consent of the nearest relative – what steps were being taken to change this provision? Furthermore, the Committee raised concern about inadequate living conditions in certain places of deprivation of liberty, and especially that Kuwait, not having yet ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, had not established a national prevention mechanism that would monitor such places of deprivation of liberty. Did the Public Authority of the Disabled have the mandate to monitor all places where persons with disabilities were held?

In relation to the legislative policy and practice framework for the protection of women with disabilities from gender-based violence, how could they seek justice for domestic violence, marital rape and other forms of ill treatment?

AHMAD AL SAIF, Committee Rapporteur for Kuwait, asked about the protection of women with disabilities against violence, especially those with intellectual disabilities.

Responses by the Delegation

A person with intellectual disabilities who committed a crime was usually exempted from punishment, the delegation said. The International Committee of the Red Cross and non-governmental organizations carried out visits to detention centres and places of deprivation of liberty, so they were well monitored and supervised.

All government agencies were urged to set up e-platforms to provide services to all, in accessible formats.

Kuwait was a parliamentary democracy, thus any accession to an international treaty, including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, was subject to parliamentary approval.

Another delegate stressed that citizenship was a sovereign matter and explained that it was governed by conditions described in the act number 15 of 1959 which set out the naturalization process.

Law number 8 of 2010 covered the needs of persons with disabilities and there was a coordination between Government agencies and the Public Authority of the Disabled as far as the implementation of this law was concerned.

Kuwait had made huge strides in changing the negative stereotyping of women. The Development Plan of Kuwait contained a number of measures to promote gender equality in line with Sustainable Development Goal 5. There were no cases of so-called honour killings in Kuwait, stressed the delegation. A draft law on domestic violence had been submitted to Parliament and would be examined and approved in the next parliamentary session in October 2019.

The Public Authority of the Disabled was working on amending the Act number 8 of 2010 on the rights of persons with disabilities which would bring the definition of a person with disabilities in line with the Convention and would add articles on non-discrimination on the grounds of disability, the guarantees to the right to liberty, access to courts, and freedom of expression for persons with disabilities.

The Civil Defence Agency was in charge of the safety of buildings, while emergency workers were being trained on the specific needs of persons with disabilities in situations of risk and emergency. Emergency hotlines were in place and functioned around the clock.

The person in charge of care of a person with disabilities was different from a guardian who was appointed by the court; that person took care of the needs and interests of a person with disabilities without interfering into her or his legal affairs.

On guardianship and the limitation of legal capacity, the delegation stressed that the law guaranteed any person who reached the age of majority a full legal capacity. A court could appoint a judicial aid to assist a person with disabilities in their action if the court found that such assistance was required. This was usually the case when there was severe physical or intellectual impairment that prevented a person from fully understanding the terms and conditions of entering into a contract.

Kuwait was currently examining the residential centres where persons with disabilities lived, with a view of providing different solutions for independent living. Personal allowance was being provided for severe and moderate disabilities to some 27,000 persons with disabilities amounting to $27 million monthly. Furthermore, the delegation stressed that many of the residents were non-Kuwaiti, therefore, a gradual approach to deinstitutionalization was needed.

Kuwait had been a subject to an invasion and seven-months occupation that had resulted in a great deal of destruction and displacement of the population. A number of residential institutions had been established to protect displaced children with disabilities, many of whom had been orphaned by the invasion, from falling into criminality and immorality.

Building permits were not issued unless account was taken of accessibility requirements and the needs of persons with disabilities. Regular inspections of buildings were undertaken to identify and remedy any accessibility issues.

Everyone in Kuwait, a citizen or a foreign resident, had guaranteed access to justice and to defend their rights in a court of law. There was no discrimination on the basis of race, language, or religion in accessing justice. Courts were responsible for criminal law. Act number 109 of 2014 had amended the law on the foundations of the Constitutional Court, while the Act number 8 of 2010 placed an obligation on the Government of Kuwait to ensure the full enjoyment of civil and political rights for persons with disabilities.

The Government provided care and protection for children with disabilities without parental care. Those whose parents were unknown were placed with foster families and their health care and education were provided for by the Government of Kuwait. The population was encouraged to take care of such children. If a child with disabilities lost a parent, a guardian was appointed.

The Act 21 on the protection of the rights of the child had been enacted in 2015. All children were also protected under the Criminal Law. The Higher Family Council was responsible for handling any complaints about the violation of children’s rights, which could be filed by children themselves but also by parents, teachers, neighbours, or social workers. Each province had a Specialized Child Protection Centre staffed with social workers, doctors, and psychologists.

The Personal Status Law of 1984 gave the right to both spouses to file for divorce in case of violence. The Public Authority of the Disabled received complaints of violence against all persons with disabilities, including women and children. A serious and confidential follow up to every complaint was provided. Until now, the Public Authority of the Disabled had not received any complaints of violence against women with disabilities. Islam ordered all in the society to refrain from violence against children and women – those principles and values served as a powerful deterrent. Therefore, cases of abuse and violence were rare.

Questions from the Experts

In the final round of questions, Committee Experts noted with concern the lack of references to deinstitutionalization, the creation of community networks, and the right to an independent living in the Act 8 of 2010 on the rights of persons with disabilities. Was there a social inclusion network that enabled them to live independent lives?

Stressing the human rights and autonomy-based approach in decision-making, the Experts wondered about many provisions in the law for the care of persons with disabilities and asked to what extent they could freely express their opinions and choices, including in matters related to health care.

The delegation was asked about the status of the sign language, training and certification of sign language interpreters, and the training of interpreters for deafblind persons.

AHMAD AL SAIF, Committee Rapporteur for Kuwait, queried the delegation on the issue of inclusive education, and the laws and policies in place to guarantee its provision to all children with disabilities, including in rural areas, to support and provide training to teachers and schools. How did representative organizations of persons with disabilities participate in habilitation and rehabilitation initiatives and projects and what was the unemployment rate of persons with disabilities compared to the general population?

During its 2015 Universal Periodic Review, Kuwait had accepted to set up a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles. The law of July 2015 however had placed the National Human Rights Commission, which was also mandated with monitoring of places of detention and deprivation of liberty, under the Council of Ministers. What steps were being taken to ensure the Commission’s full independence and thus compliance with the Paris Principles?

DANLAMI UMARU BASHARU, Committee Chairperson, asked about the status of Braille in Kuwait and about provisions that protected the parental rights of persons with disabilities. What was being done to eliminate discrimination in employment against disadvantaged groups of persons with disabilities such as women and girls, refugees and stateless Bidoon, and the Baha’i and other non-Muslims?

Responses by the Delegation

In response to questions raised on access to information, the delegation said that a framework on electronic access to information had been adopted in 2018 and that so far 25 experts in various Governmental bodies had been trained in how to make websites accessible to persons with disabilities. The provisions of the 2016 law set out the conditions for the issuing of licences for accessible websites and of the 20 newly graduated newscasters, six were persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Education had taken necessary measures to provide education and training to persons with hearing disabilities on an equal basis with others, including hiring sign language specialists to provide teaching. Standardised Arabic sign language was a sign language of choice in educational institutions, partly because adequate training for Kuwaiti sign language was lacking and because standardized Arabic sign language was not that different. The Amal schools were responsible for teaching hearing impaired children and had 12 sign language interpreters.

A person with disabilities could marry as long as they were of age and had legal capacity.

Family courts had been set up in each province for personal status issues, family conflicts, and protecting members of the family. They also provided protection from abuse and violence and helped reach adequate solutions for problems.

The Public Authority of the Disabled had set up the Higher Committee for Inclusive Education to carry out research and prepare a roadmap for the education of persons with disabilities, which would cover a five-year period. There were several components of the plan, such as training of teachers and school officials in teaching methods for persons with disabilities, socialization of persons with disabilities, and meeting their specific needs.

According to the Electoral Law, all persons aged 21 and above, including persons with disabilities, had the right to participate in the elections through secret ballot. Persons with disabilities also had the right to stand as candidates and in the past there had been several parliamentarians with disabilities.

The National Human Rights Commission enjoyed full independence without any Government interference. The Council of Ministers only approved its budget, the delegation explained.

Concluding Remarks

JAMAL ALGHUNAIM, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in his concluding remarks, reiterated Kuwait’s commitment to strengthening the enjoyment of the rights of persons with disabilities and the firm intention to continue to take legislative measures to cement the human rights-based approach to disability, in conformity with Islamic values and the Kuwaiti Constitution. The comments and observations made by the Committee’s Experts during the dialogue would contribute to addressing the gaps in the implementation of the Convention in Kuwait.

AHMAD AL SAIF, Committee Rapporteur for Kuwait, concluded by urging Kuwait to accelerate the change and the shift from a medical to a human rights-based approach to disability. This would be achieved also by adopting legislative measures to guarantee equality and non-discrimination on the grounds of disability, eliminating multiple forms of discrimination against women with disabilities, implementing national accessibility plan, and ending the exclusion of children with disabilities from inclusive education.

DANLAMI UMARU BASHARU, Committee Chairperson, in his concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for the fruitful dialogue which, together with the Committee’s concluding observations, would contribute to a more effective implementation of the Convention in Kuwait.


For use of the information media; not an official record

CRPD19.018E