UNHRC: Bedoun Discrimination and Safety in Kuwait under the Spotlight

UN panel issues findings on Iran, Kuwait, Korea, Trinidad & Tobago, US, Venezuela

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GENEVA, Nov 4: The UN Human Rights Committee today issued its findings on the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kuwait, the Republic of Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States of America, and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, after examining the six States parties in its latest session. The findings contain the Committee’s main concerns and recommendations on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as positive aspects. Highlights include:

Kuwait
The Committee expressed concern about the discriminatory measures and practices against “Bedoun”, the stateless people, who endure different types of discrimination. It also voiced concern over the very high death rate among migrant workers who carry out dangerous jobs, particularly in construction sites. The Committee called upon Kuwait to ensure that no one becomes or remains stateless and provide full protection against discrimination in all spheres to Bedoun and other stateless people in the country. It also asked the State party to intensify its efforts to prevent the death of migrant workers, in particular by effectively enforcing the adopted measures to protect the safety and health of workers. While the Constitution of Kuwait prohibits discrimination based on gender, the Committee was concerned about exceptions in the Personal Status Act that provide for unequal rights in marriage, divorce, parental authority, inheritance rights, and the value of testimony in courts. The Committee called upon the State party to undertake a comprehensive review of existing laws to repeal or amend all provisions that discriminate on the basis of gender. Kuwait should also develop strategies to combat patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes about the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and society at large.

The United States of America
The Committee was disturbed by the increase of state-level legislation and barriers that impede women’s access to safe and legal abortion, notably the criminalization of healthcare providers, family members, and pregnant women themselves. It was also deeply concerned with restrictions to inter-state travel, bans on medication abortion, and digital surveillance of abortion seekers for prosecution purposes. The Committee highlighted the disproportionate impact of these measures on women and girls with low incomes, vulnerable groups, and ethnic and racial minorities. It called on the State party to provide legal, safe, and confidential access to abortion throughout its territory. It further asked the United States to end the criminalization of abortion, to remove and refrain from introducing new barriers impeding access to abortion care, and to protect women seeking abortion care from digital surveillance.

The Committee raised concern about the increase of legislative initiatives and practices that limit the exercise of the right to vote; these include partisan gerrymandering, restrictions on voting by mail and ballot collection, and burdensome voter identification requirements. The Committee highlighted the disproportionate impact of these measures on low-income voters, people with disabilities, and racial and ethnic minorities and expressed concern at harassment and attacks against election officials. It recommended that the State party ensure that all voters can exercise their right and that polling stations are accessible, particularly in states with weak election infrastructure and for people with restricted accessibility. It further asked the State party to ensure that electoral districts are designed by non-partisan commissions subject to checks and balances and do not have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on racially discriminatory grounds, and to conduct effective investigations on harassment and attacks against election officials and to punish those responsible.

Islamic Republic of Iran
The Committee was disturbed by legal provisions that continue to discriminate against women and girls, particularly the “Support the Family by Promoting the Culture of Chastity and Hijab Bill,” which imposes severe punishments on women and girls for violations of the mandatory dress code, including up to ten years in prison and flogging. It was also concerned about the redeployment of morality police to monitor the dress code in public. It urged the State Party to reform or repeal laws and policies that criminalize non-compliance with compulsory veiling, specifically the “Bill to Support the Family by Promoting the Culture of Chastity and Hijab”. It also asked the State party to disband the morality police. The Committee raised the alarm about the very high number of executions in the State party, including for offenses eligible for death sentences but do not qualify as “most serious”, such as drug-related offenses and offenses against the State and religion. It also questioned the disproportionate use of the death penalty against members of minorities and the execution of minors. The Committee called upon the Islamic Republic of Iran to ensure that the death penalty is imposed only for the most serious crimes, involving intentional killing, and give due consideration to establishing a moratorium on the death penalty. It underscored that no one under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of an offense should be subjected to the death penalty under any circumstance.

Republic of Korea
While acknowledging the various measures taken by the State party to prevent suicides, the Committee remained concerned that suicide rates remain high among the elderly, youth, and within the military. The Committee was concerned by claims that large numbers of military personnel suffer from mental illness linked to the high levels of pressure in their service. It called on the State party to address the social root causes of suicide, including the very high levels of pressure in educational, working, and military environments, and with regard to individuals in particularly vulnerable situations. It stated that the Republic of Korea should also increase financial resources and allocate appropriate budgets to strengthen the suicide prevention centers network and provide psychological support at the local level.

The Committee was also concerned about restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly, noting that the banning of a significant number of gatherings to ensure smooth traffic flow, particularly near the President’s office, did not comply with the principles of necessity and proportionality. It also flagged its concern at reports of heavy-handed policing of protests staged by disability rights activists in the Seoul subway, including using excessive force to block and remove protestors and applying criminal law to arrest and prosecute protest organizers and participants. The Committee called on the Republic of Korea to guarantee the right of peaceful assembly and ensure that limitations on that right comply with the Covenant and the principles of necessity and proportionality.

Venezuela
The Committee expressed grave concern at allegations that judicial, administrative, and constitutional institutions, such as the National Electoral Council, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Supreme Court of Justice, have been restricting democratic space through political disqualification to prevent opposition party members from running public office. It regretted that some political opponents have already been disqualified from participating in the presidential elections scheduled for 2024. It urged Venezuela to ensure that all individuals, including the youth, have full and effective enjoyment of the right to political participation by securing their registration in the national electoral register. It further called on the State party to ensure fair, transparent, inclusive, and pluralistic elections at all levels, guaranteeing due process and transparency in the administrative procedures. The Committee was disturbed by the closure of civic space and persecution of dissidents, and it particularly highlighted its concern about spurious charges such as “criminal association” and “disclosure of confidential information” brought against human rights defenders and public officials who had denounced corruption cases involving State authorities. It asked Venezuela to review the legal framework to safeguard whistleblowers, witnesses, and corruption victims from criminalization. The Committee also voiced concerns about the closure of media companies, as well as the intimidation, persecution, arbitrary arrests, and imprisonment of journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists. It urged Venezuela to end harassment, intimidation, and violence against journalists, human rights defenders, trade unionists, indigenous activists, and politicians so that they can carry out their work without fear of violence or reprisals. The above findings, officially known as Concluding Observations, are now available on the session page.

Trinidad and Tobago
While noting the State party’s longstanding de facto moratorium on the death penalty, the Committee was gravely concerned that courts continue to hand down sentences of death, and that the death penalty remains mandatory for murder, leading to a long list on death row. It asked the State party to take legislative and other measures to ensure that the death penalty is only applied to the most serious crimes involving intentional killing and is never mandatory. It also asked the State party to irrevocably eradicate the death penalty and commute all pending death sentences to imprisonment. The Committee was alarmed by reports of the increase in deportation of individuals seeking international protection, particularly those from Venezuela. It was deeply concerned by the ongoing arrest and detention of asylum-seekers and refugees and that these detainees, including children, are held for extended periods of time, and sometimes in prisons alongside convicts. The Committee called upon the State party to strictly adhere to the principle of non-refoulement for all asylum-seekers and refugees, refrain from penalizing anyone in need of international protection for irregular entry, and ensure that the detention of migrants and asylum-seekers is reasonable, necessary, and proportionate.

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