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Human Rights Office prepares study on impacts of COVID-19 measures

Move aims to improve human rights situation

KUWAIT CITY, Aug 5: The Complaints and Grievance Committee – one of the permanent committees in the National Office for Human Rights – has prepared a study covering the events that occurred since the government imposed precautionary and preventive health measures to contain and fight the spread of COVID-19 from February to the end of July 2020.

The Chairperson of the committee Lawyer Ali Al-Baghli explained that the study, through his presentation of the events that occurred during the aforementioned period, aims to suggest a number of recommendations and proposals to improve the human rights situation by addressing it and finding solutions to a number of problems that were exposed by the COVID- 19 pandemic in a manner that alarmed both the leadership and the general public, and also created a sincere interest to resolve them.

The COVID-19 crisis came as a test for every society in the world after its remarkable outbreak. Human rights laws and the challenge of respecting them represented a fundamental principle for the success of the response plans adopted by health authorities around the world.

The brief study reviewed a number of files that emerged during societal discussions related to human rights. These are recurring files that the COVID-19 crisis reignited, and they pose a major challenge in implementing the precautionary and preventive health measures.

The crisis also exacerbated issues associated with conditions of quarantine, restriction of movement, and the loss of jobs for many workers, especially those working on daily wages.

Some of the cases have existed for decades due to slackness of the public administration to revolve them, prominently the issue concerning demographics and the problems stemming from the migrant labor rights.

The report contains the following items:

1. General aspects related to human rights

■ visa trading ■ conditions of labor housing

*freedom of expression

2. Performance of the government concerning human rights issues *Promises of reform and fighting corruption ■ Dealing with visa trading problem ■ Implementing health measures for the expatriates in Kuwait

3. Performance of the complaints and grievances committee during the COVID-19 pandemic ■ Status of detention centers and temporary prisons

*Overcrowding in prisons ■ Implementing preventive and health measures ■ Field visits during the COVID- 19 pandemic

Meanwhile, Lawyer Al-Baghli explained that the report concluded with a number of recommendations and solutions concerning human rights issues in Kuwait such as:-

1. Demographics The current population policy is offensive to all Kuwaiti and expatriate workers due to the popular criticism of the institutions’ performance as a result of dummy and political employment in various sectors without any development or economic benefits, even though the employees are the victims of unpopular policies, which cause widespread populist calls to expel expatriates that are often void of human conscience. The committee suggests starting with a vision to solve the demographic problem and abolishing the sponsorship system through a joint committee with representatives from Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Public Authority for Manpower, Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Kuwait Trade Union Federation. This should be aimed at controlling the labor market and determining the jobs that the Kuwaiti society needs.

2. Phenomenon of tampering with entry visas Correcting this phenomenon will address the imbalances in the employment structure and the country’s demographic structure, and ensure adoption of advanced technology as much as possible. There should be an urgent and serious review of the sponsorship system. It should be developed in a way that differentiates between highly skilled and highly specialized expatriate workers whose jobs can be covered by the Kuwaitization policy in the future. On the other hand, marginal foreign workers are difficult to replace with the national manpower for reasons and circumstances related to the conditions of economic abundance and social status.

3. Conditions of labor housing The conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic caused disastrous results in terms of controlling the number of infected people in areas densely populated by expatriate labor workers due to inadequate housing. The residents of these areas were isolated for long periods of time during which the need for food worsened with the loss of jobs for thousands of workers. They lost their livelihoods as the economic life came to a halt, especially employees who earn daily wages. This issue must be dealt with urgently by containing it through the completion of full-service labor city projects with a capacity of not less than two million workers or more depending on the movement of economic activity required.

4. Freedom of expression Freedom of expression in all its forms is subject to a general retreat due to many strict laws, including: ■ Law No. 3/2006 related to publications and publishing ■ Law No. 61/2007 regarding audiovisual media ■ Law No. 8/2016 on regulation of electronic media ■ Law No. 63/2015 on combating technological crimes

The issues of reconsideration are summarized around two points:

■ Abolishing the prison sentence for issues related to expressing thoughts and opinions, and instead replacing it with monetary fines

■ Reducing the scope of criminalization therein

■ Opting to continuously spread media awareness of the aforementioned articles of law, especially targeting the young generations who are unaware of the dangers of using the latest communication and social media platforms. 5. Correctional institutions The core problem facing the prison sector in Kuwait is overcrowding. This phenomenon has existed for many years.

Ministry of Health has intensified its plans and procedures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 virus. The issuance of decree No. 87/2020 contributed to pardoning the inmates from serving the rest of their sentences or reducing their sentences, restricting freedoms and paying fine.

About 2,044 inmates benefited from the amnesty, and they were pardoned for cases that were not related to the state security issues and public funds. However, there are fundamental measures that must be taken to prevent the recurrence of many issues in the correctional facilities.

They include: ■ Increasing the size of the prisons

■ Activating the bilateral agreements on exchange of prisoners

■ Taking care of the psychological aspects of the prisoners to prevent the recurrence of suicides, the last of which was by an inmate who died by hanging himself in July 2020

■ Expediting the implementation of amnesty decrees for prisoners, especially in consideration of the exceptional situations that we and others live in during the pandemic

■ Always maintain a list of inmates who qualify for amnesty whenever such opportunity arises in order to ensure speedy process.

The members of the Complaints and Grievances Committee at the National Office for Human Rights are: 1 – Attorney Ali Ahmed Al-Baghli as the chairperson. 2 – Mona Al-Attiyah as Rapporteur. 3 – Prof. Dr Reda Asiri. 4 – Osama Al-Duwaikh. 5 – Attorney Hamdan Al-Namshan. 6 – Muzaffar Abdullah Rashid.

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