Geneva – Kuwait’s government must end discriminatory measures against stateless people such as the Bidoon and consider the severe ramifications of policies that have prompted a number of Bidoon to end their own lives over the past few years, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement on Tuesday.
Suffering from grinding poverty and a complicated living condition resulting from his being stateless, a young man named Hamad Obaid threw himself from the fourth floor of a building on February 15, according to tweets written by those who were close to him.
The Kuwaiti government refuses to grant citizenship to more than 100,000 Bidoons who have lived in Kuwait for decades, and still classifies them as “illegal residents” from neighboring countries who are concealing their true nationalities. As such, Bidoons have been deprived of many civil, political, and social rights, especially those pertaining to work, health care, education, and public services, as well as participation in public assemblies.
Last year in Kuwait, three Bidoons—one of whom was a child—committed suicide and many more attempted it due to the difficult living conditions that arose from their legal status. Authorities, however, continue to ignore the Bidoons’ urgent need of citizenship rights and are unwilling to put an end to their half a century long of suffering.
Kuwaiti authorities have shown clear intentions of ignoring the Bidoons’ cause. An Emiri decree issued last November gave two more years to the Central Apparatus for the Remedy of the Situation of Illegal Residents (popularly known as the “Bidoon Committee”)—a group established in 2010 with the power to block the issuance of identity documents to Bidoons.
If Kuwaiti authorities refuse to grant them citizenship or address their legal status, Bidoons are unable to seek judicial review. In 1990, the government implemented a law abolishing judicial jurisdiction over cases concerning national sovereignty, including citizenship and residency claims.
Identity cards are issued to Kuwaiti citizens and foreigners who have residency permits, while Bidoons continue to face discrimination in all aspects of their lives due to lack of legal documentation. The authorities refuse to allow them to obtain education, health care, and labor services as other groups in the country are able to do.
For example, Bidoon children are only allowed to go to private schools, usually designated for Bidoons, where their parents have to pay large fees. Still, these schools are regarded as “low class.”
While most Bidoons must work illegally in Kuwait, the government provides them with a limited number of jobs. Yet if they try to start small businesses themselves—such as grocery or sewing shops—they won’t be able to register these businesses legally. As a result, they are forced to register their businesses and properties under the names of friends or other persons.
Legal researcher Youssef Salem at Euro-Med Monitor says, “There is no acceptable justification for the continued marginalization and discrimination against the Bidoons, especially since most of them have been living in Kuwait since its founding, and are descended from Arab tribes that inhabited the region hundreds of years ago.”
“Requiring them to give up Kuwaiti citizenship in exchange for identity cards is a violation of their right to freedom of choice. It is an abolition of all steps that can be taken to obtain citizenship rights and break the cycle of deprivation and marginalization.”
Kuwait did not sign the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons or the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, though it has ratified other international instruments protecting the rights of this vulnerable group, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention against Discrimination in Education.
The Kuwaiti authorities must ratify these two agreements as a prerequisite to dealing responsibly with the Bidoon crisis; amend the Central Apparatus for the Remedy of the Situation of Illegal Residents’ unfair policy; reverse all measures that violate the rights of stateless persons; and present clear, transparent, and objective criteria for granting citizenship.
The National Assembly must bring the country's internal nationality legislations into accord with international law instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; end all practices of marginalization and discrimination against the Bidoons; and ensure that their rights are respected and that they are integrated into society.