Op-Ed by Dr. Shamlan Yousef AlـIssa in Al-Watan Daily: "Dealing with human rights abuse in Kuwait"

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An interesting opinion piece that criticizes the pervasive denial among Kuwaiti government officials in reaction to the US State Department's Human Rights Report.

The U.S. State Department''s annual report on human rights abuse has raised a storm of protests and rejection by the Kuwaiti government and members of the National Assembly because the report accused Kuwait of human trafficking and human rights abuse. The report confirmed that there were more than 500,000 women working as domestic workers in Kuwait, most of them hailing from Asia. The report indicated that most of those women are being subjected to forced labor by their sponsors such as physical abuse, sexual abuse and nonـpayment of salaries with the intention of forcing them to continue working under horrid conditions. The report also accused the Kuwaiti government of not committing itself to even the minimum attempts towards the elimination of human trafficking.

Politicians slammed the report and launched a vigorous campaign against the United States. The National Assembly Speaker Jassem AlـKharafi has confirmed that Kuwait is not a "State of Angels" and expressed concern that the U.S. has appointed itself as a watchdog over other countries.

A group of MPs have also rejected the report and accused the U.S. of being biased against Kuwait. The Kuwaiti government deemed the report as unfair and unjust while the minister of Social Affairs and Labor spoke about steps taken by the government in improving the expatriates'' living conditions.

The U.S. State Department''s report however, also mentioned some positive steps taken by the government of Kuwait but confirmed that there were still many existing issues that need to be rectified. Personally, the report did not surprise me because we have repeatedly called upon the Kuwaiti government, through the press and the Human Rights Society, to initiate legal action against all offenders in order to avoid being accused by international human rights organizations. More than 30 years ago, I had written a thesis on employment in Kuwait and I had then stressed upon the magnitude of injustice and human rights violations in the treatment of domestic and expatriate workers. Later, I became a member of the board of directors of the Human Rights Society. The members of that society and I, for more than 10 years, tried and are still trying to urge the government to expedite the enactment of laws protecting foreign workers estimated at about two million and constitute the backbone of the Kuwaiti economy. They represent more than 70 percent of the workers while the percentage of citizens in the labor market does not exceed 18 percent of the total workers and most of them work in the government sector.

The U.S. Department of State''s report is indeed realistic, fair and just because the human rights abuses in Kuwait have exceeded all parameters. Despite attempts by the MPs and the government to conceal the truth, evidence remains crystal clear against Kuwait concerning the inhumane practices imposed on expatriate workers in general and domestic workers in particular.

What is the evidence which proves that Kuwait is indeed involved in violating human rights? The reports of the United Nations and specifically the Arab Human Development reports, from 2002 until 2006 refer to the magnitude of inhumane abuses imposed on domestic workers. The reports of the Kuwaiti Human Rights Society condemn such practices and local newspapers publish, on a daily basis, stories of sexual abuse by the citizens and their children against domestic workers. Newspapers have also reported sexual attacks on domestic workers by police officers.

MPs have raised the issue more than once and formed parliamentary committees but yet nothing has changed and no action has been initiated against visa traders.

Expatriate workers in cleaning companies and other companies have time and again organized demonstrations calling for their rights. How did we deal with all those who simply called for their rights? We assaulted and deported them without any trials. Why didn''t we apply the law? Don''t we always claim that we live in a democratic country?

Finally, I advise the speaker of the Parliament, MPs and media persons to heed the advice of the U.S. which is a friendly country instead of criticizing U.S. policies for personal and partisan reasons. (for link, click here)

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