The plight of Kuwait's stateless community: Silenced and deprived of human rights

Statless Kuwaitis protesting for their rights on 30 March 2019. Photo via Wikimedia by users Bedoon [CC BY-SA 4.0]

This post was written by Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, an independent, nonprofit organisation that promotes freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the Gulf region and its neighbouring countries.

An estimated 120,000 people belong to Kuwait's Bidoon community and hold no government identification papers. Bidoon translates roughly to “without” in English and the term is used to describe stateless communities throughout the Gulf region.

The Kuwait government deprives them of their basic rights, especially to citizenship, education and health care. Although the Bidoon were living in Kuwait when it gained independence from Britain in 1961, and some defended their land during the Iraq invasion in Kuwait in 1990, they continue to live without the means to access their full civil and human rights.

Instead of embracing them as reliable citizens, Kuwait authorities have created many obstacles to isolate them from society and showed no real desire to change their conditions. While some stateless Kuwaitis have engaged in peaceful human rights work to demand their rights, others despaired enough to take their own lives, such as Ayed Hamad Mudath, a 20-year-old man, who died by suicide on 7 July 2019 due to his frustration with a lack of identification papers that he could use to study, work and obtain public services.

The government of Kuwait established the Central Apparatus for Illegal Residents’ Affairs by Decree No. 467 of 2010, ostensibly to fairly and expeditiously address the chronic problems of the Bidoon community, but this government body has failed to reform the situation and protect Biddon peoples’ civil and human rights years after its establishment.

Meanwhile, security services spare no effort to eliminate the Bidoon community's human rights movement. In recent years, security services have targeted Bidoon activists and thrown them into prison on fabricated charges solely for their peaceful human rights activities in which they exercise their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful protest, as guaranteed by the Kuwaiti constitution.

Arrests of Bidoon activists

On 11 July 2019, a series of arrests of Bidoon activists began without any judicial order issued by relevant authorities. The arrests targeted activists and protesters for holding demonstrations demanding recognition of the stateless community's rights following Mudath's death by suicide.

Fifteen Bidoon activists remain in prison as a result of participation in the demonstrations. They are: Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli, Ahmed Al-Onan, Awad Al-Onan, Abdullah Al-Fadhli, Mutaib Al-Onan, Mohammed Khudair Al-Anzi, Yousif Al-Osmi, Nawaf Al-Bader, Hamid Jamil, Yousif Al-Bashig, Jarallah Al-Fadhli, Ahmed Shaya Al-Anzi, Hamoud Al-Rabah, Khalifa Al-Anzi and Reda Al-Fadhli.

Those arrested were initially in the custody of the State Security agency, which rejected their repeated requests for transfer to a public prison, even after interrogations ended. Fears persist that the authorities keep activists detained away from official government prisons until signs of ill-treatment and torture disappear, as official prisons only accept new inmates after a medical examination.

It is worth mentioning that the public prosecution has, on repeated occasions, refused to refer Bidoon activists who alleged being victims of torture to the forensic medicine department to investigate. Some employees claimed that it was not within their competence to make this transfer — a blatant violation of Kuwaiti law that protects the perpetrators of torture, mostly security services members.

The imprisoned Bidoon activists ended their hunger strike on September 2 Infographic by Visualizing Impact illustrates the physiological effects of a hunger strike [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0].

On 25 August 2019, at the request of the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Magistrate's Court renewed the group's detention until 4 September 2019, where they face three main charges: misuse of their phones, calling for an unauthorised gathering, and joining an unauthorised gathering.

These activists began a hunger strike on 22 August 2019, demanding their immediate and unconditional release, that charges against them be dropped and that the civil and human rights of the Bidoon community in Kuwait be respected. They continued their hunger strike despite the authorities’ attempts to force-feed them through tubes, lawyers and family members told the GCHR.

After some experienced deteriorating health conditions, they ended their hunger strikes on 2 September. Others are suffering from chronic diseases and all need proper health care.

The detained activists exercised their peaceful rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and they should be immediately and unconditionally released. Instead of locking them up, the Kuwaiti authorities should acknowledge their legitimate grievances and take action to improve the situation of the country's Bidoon community by fully recognising their civil and human rights including their right to citizenship.

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