October 6, 2009 Special Dispatch No. 2553

Responses in Kuwait to U.S. State Department Report on Human Trafficking

October 6, 2009
Kuwait, The Gulf | Special Dispatch No. 2553

In June 2009, the U.S. state department published the Trafficking in Persons Report for 2008, [1] which reviewed 180 countries, ranking them into three tiers according to the extent of their governments' efforts to eliminate severe forms of human trafficking. Kuwait, along with 17 other countries, was ranked in the third tier, associated with "governments that do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so."

The report states that foreign workers who come to Kuwait, especially from Asian countries, are often "subjected to conditions of forced labor, such as restrictions on movement, unlawful withholding of passports, non-payment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse." The report also mentions that "some female domestic workers are forced into prostitution after running away from abusive employers or after being deceived with promises of jobs in different sectors."

As for measures taken by the Kuwaiti authorities to combat these phenomena, the report states that in September 2007, Kuwait undertook "to take future steps [against trafficking], including enacting already drafted legislation that prohibits all forms of trafficking; providing evidence of increased prosecutions, convictions and sentences for trafficking; continuing to develop a fully operational shelter freely accessible to all victims of trafficking; and providing technical training to law enforcement officials, attorneys, and judges on criminally investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases. During the reporting period, however, the Government of Kuwait has not achieved any of these commitments."

The report evoked considerable response from politicians and columnists in Kuwait, which has a high percentage of foreign workers in its work force. Some MPs characterized it as inaccurate, stressing that Kuwait was making considerable efforts to combat human trafficking, while others accused the U.S. of hypocrisy, stating that it makes allegations against other countries while ignoring its own human trafficking record. Conversely, some MPs agreed that Kuwait needed to step up its anti-trafficking measures, because these crimes contravened the values of Kuwaiti society, and also in order to prevent harm to Kuwait's reputation.

Also, liberal Kuwaiti columnists wrote that Kuwait should thank the U.S. for its criticism, and that its authorities must do much more to combat human trafficking and protect the rights of foreign workers.

Following are excerpts from some of the responses:

Kuwaiti Parliamentary Speaker: America Is Not a Country of Angels

Kuwaiti parliamentary speaker Jassim Al-Khorafi stated, "The U.S. leadership must know that it is not the guardian of the world in these matters. If it wants to appoint itself as the world's international police force, it must examine all the information before putting it down in official reports...

"Kuwait is not a country of angels, but what saddens me is that America sees itself as a country of angels. Its depiction [of Kuwait] is inaccurate and inappropriate..."

Al-Khorafi added that the report's authors had not consulted with the U.S. Embassies in Kuwait before compiling it - otherwise they would have known that Kuwait does punish human rights violators. [2]

MP 'Adnan 'Abd Al-Samad said, "it is the U.S. that does not respect human rights and violates international [human rights] laws." Alluding to Guantanamo, he added, "We have all heard about intentions to close down Guantanamo, but so far it has not been closed down completely." He also accused the U.S. of treating Kuwaiti students inappropriately at U.S. airports. [3]

MP Saleh 'Ashour conceded that there were human rights violations against foreign workers in Kuwait, but added that the authorities were monitoring the situation closely and taking legal steps against the offenders. [4]

Kuwaiti MPs: Kuwait Must Combat Human Rights Violations

MP Khalaf Dumaithir demanded that the government use an iron fist against violators of human rights and against all others who harm Kuwait's reputation, while MP Dr. Rola Dashti urged the Interior Ministry and Labor Ministry to demand an account from the officials in charge of foreign workers. Like MP Dumaithir, she stated that the issue was a stain on Kuwait's good name, adding, "Human trafficking contravenes the values of Kuwaiti society, and is at odds with the efforts of the government and parliament to implement an economic and administrative reform in the country." [5]

MP Dr. Asil Al-Awadhi said that the report was a warning bell that should alert people to the inhuman conditions endured by foreign workers in the country. She added, however, that the root of the problem lay in the kafil (i.e. sponsor) system, [6] which allows employers to exploit workers, and not in the conduct of the government and parliament, which, she said, had made considerable progress in this domain. [7]

Liberal Journalist: We Should Thank the U.S. for Its Criticism

In response to the MPs' criticism of the report, liberal Kuwaiti journalist Ahmad Al-Sarraf wrote in the daily Al-Qabas: "...Some of [the report's] critics claimed that the U.S., with its history of inhuman [acts] and its cruel treatment of the prisoners in Guantanamo, is the last country that has any right to criticize others... and that it must therefore give up its role as the world's policeman!

"Here we face two options...: We can leave each country to handle [the issue of human rights] as it pleases, or else entrust the role of preparing the annual global report on human rights to some other element, which is not America. For many reasons, it is of no use to entrust this task to the U.N.

"Since none of us... want to leave this issue up to each country to handle on its own, since and [Kuwait's] experience of being invaded and occupied [by Iraq] demonstrates the necessity of the international intervention [which led to] our being liberated from the occupier, [there seems to be] no choice but to find some other country [to monitor the human rights issue].

"But is any country [really] better qualified than the U.S. to compile such an important, committing and complex report... to monitor its implementation and to punish the offending countries? Does any other force have America's authority and clout, or possess a vast database on the conditions of workers in nearly every country in the world, [compiled through] years of research?

"No country but America has the overt and covert mechanisms necessary to compile such a report... Some European countries might have undertaken the task, [but they cannot, either because] their colonialist history prevents them from doing so, or because they lack America's abilities, or because they do not want to deal with this sensitive and complicated matter. Therefore, the world has no choice but to entrust America [with this task].

"[Kuwaiti Social] Affairs Minister [Muhammad Al-'Afasi] called the report unfair, [8] saying that [the Muslim] religion commands us to [respect human rights]. At the same time, he took pride in the fact that his ministry, in cooperation with the Justice Ministry, was studying anti-human trafficking law. How can the report be called 'unfair' if we are only now studying anti-trafficking law, after all the [past] criticism against us...?

"[We should] thank America and its embassies for their efforts to expose our faults, the crimes [committed] by some of us who traffic in human beings, and our government's silence in the face of these violations... We should thank [America] for its efforts, rather than scolding and admonishing it. Twenty years ago, we 'allowed' America to liberate us and restore our human rights. After it sacrificed its sons for our sake, it is entitled to warn us against violating human rights [ourselves]..." [9]

Kuwaiti Columnist: The Authorities Are Not Combating the Phenomenon

Kuwaiti columnist Lama Farid Al-'Othman wrote in the daily Al-Jarida: "Some Kuwaiti MPs are still downplaying [the importance] of the report, calling it exaggerated... They are forgetting the strikes, the riots, and the destruction caused by the Bangladeshi workers in July 2008, and the security forces and special forces that used tear gas against them...

"These events are blatant proof that the human trafficking issue is a time bomb... and that we are [now] facing a real crisis threatening the security of our country and its international reputation - not to mention the harm caused to our society and the rise in crime rates.

"...The foreign workers are subjected to injustice, exploitation, and enslavement by those who trade in residence permits. They suffer humiliation, abuse and torture... Their meager wages are [sometimes] withheld for months. They are starved, their passports are taken from them, and they are denied their legal, civil and human rights. They are [completely] dependent on their kafil, who can expel them [from the country] at any moment...

"[As for] the government and parliament, despite all their efforts... they have not done enough to pass a law against human trafficking. The kafil system, which benefits those who deal in permits, is still in place...

"We are a people that takes no interest in human rights - especially the rights of those who cannot vote [in the Kuwaiti elections]." [10]


[1], accessed August 5, 2009.

[2], June 17, 2009; Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), June 18, 2009.

[3] Al-Rai, Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), June 18, 2009.

[4] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), June 18, 2009.

[5] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), June 18, 2009.

[6] According to the custom in some Arab countries, and especially in the Gulf, a foreign worker must have a kafil (local sponsor), and cannot leave his employer or the country without the kafil's permission.

[7] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), June 18, 2009.

[8] Al-Rai (Kuwait), June 18, 2009.

[9] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), June 22, 2009.

[10] Al-Jarida (Kuwait), June 26, 2009.

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