From the Editors
[The following letter was issued by Refugees International, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International on 27 September 2012.]
His Highness Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah
Al Diwan Al Amiri
Seif Palace – Building 100
State of Kuwait
We write to you regarding the more than 100,000 stateless residents of your country, commonly referred to as the Bidun. The legal, social, and economic vulnerability of the Bidun has long been a source of unease to our organizations and to governments around the world.
Since the start of demonstrations in 2011, however, the Kuwaiti Government’s treatment of the Bidun has deteriorated to such an extent that it has eroded Kuwait’s ability to fulfil its international human rights commitments.
We feel bound to convey our concerns to Your Highness directly.
In the realm of civil and political rights, the Bidun are not treated equally before the courts and continue to be denied protection conveyed through nationality and residency; and have been subjected to repeated abuse and discrimination.
- Instead of acting decisively to resolve claims to nationality, The Central System for Resolving Illegal Residents' Status, the “Bidun Committee,” made matters worse in the first quarter of the year by proposing that the Bidun population be separated into four categories. Each category would have different rights based on arbitrarily-determined factors, such as whether a family participated in the 1965 census or served in the army or police. All Bidun born in Kuwait should be recognized as citizens, and those who have resided in the country for a reasonable amount of time should be eligible to apply for citizenship and acquire citizenship, if they would otherwise be stateless, following a fair and transparent process;
- In contravention of its obligations under international human rights law, the government has significantly curtailed the rights of Bidun to free speech and expression, in particular their ability to assemble, demonstrate peacefully, and publicly criticize government policy. The government has repeatedly warned members of the Bidun community against organizing peaceful protests, claiming that only Kuwaiti citizens have the right to demonstrate. Kuwaiti security forces stand accused of using excessive force against peaceful Bidun protestors in 2011 and 2012, and detained Bidun have complained of police abuse. A promised investigation of these abuses has not happened.
Progress on securing the social and cultural rights of Bidun have also stagnated in recent months.
The eleven benefits for Bidun that were promised by the Government in April 2011 have not been implemented, leaving many Bidun without access to employment, health care, education, and other vital public services, as well as documents such as birth certificates. Particularly egregious is the government’s exclusion of Bidun children from primary and secondary education – a problem that is exacerbated by a recent government ban on charitable contributions, including tuition, to Bidun individuals and organizations.
For decades, Kuwaiti, Arab, and international human rights activists and organizations, along with United Nations human rights bodies, have called on the government to implement policies to resolve the plight of the Bidun.
The absence of such policies, rooted in human rights standards, is a stain on the country’s international reputation. It deprives thousands of families of their basic political, economic and social rights and bars them from contributing fully to Kuwaiti society.
We firmly believe it is in Your Highness’s interest to address this issue decisively, and we urge Your Highness to initiate five steps to:
- enable Bidun residents to go to court to challenge decisions taken by the Bidun Committee and to make the case for their recognition as Kuwaiti nationals;
- provide, without further delay, proof of nationality to the 34,000 individuals acknowledged to be Kuwaiti nationals by the Bidun Committee, and start a fair and transparent adjudication of the other 80,000 pending applications for nationality, including by providing the right to appeal;
- guarantee the right to peaceful assembly to Bidun and end the use of excessive force as a response to peaceful demonstrations for Bidun rights; investigate and address allegations of police abuse; and ensure that the Bidun detained during demonstrations are freed or, if charged with a crime, afforded fair, transparent, and expeditious trials;
- eliminate regulations that discriminate against Bidun in terms of access to employment and public services, especially with respect to education and health care;
- revoke rules barring individuals and private organizations from donating to individual Bidun or Bidun organizations;
Director of Programs
Director, Middle East and North Africa Program
Sarah Leah Whitson
Director, Middle East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch
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