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Calls for Kuwait to redouble efforts in protecting human rights
September 17, 2016, 2:42 pm

Human trade constitutes a flagrant violation of human rights and dignity of the individual, said Minister of Justice, Awqaf and Islamic Affairs Yaqoub Al-Sanea. Emerging after a meeting with Maria Grazia, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Minister Al-Sanea reiterated that human rights in Kuwait are safeguarded by the country's constitution and by national legislations.

The UN Special Rapporteur was on a five-day official visit to Kuwait to assess the situation of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, and to identify the progress made and challenges remaining in combating this phenomenon in the country.

During her visit, Ms. Garcia met with a number of government officials from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and the Public Authority for Manpower. She also met and discussed with members of the Anti-trafficking unit and the Department of Domestic Labor of the Ministry of Interior and held interactions with members of the Judiciary and the Kuwait Institute for Judicial and Legal Studies. She also visited the Women’s Shelter for Domestic Workers under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, as well as the Women’s prison, the private nurseries for children of women prisoners and the Immigration detention center for women. She also engaged with members of civil society organization working on the issue of human trafficking and related matters, as well as with representatives of the United Nations Agencies and members of the diplomatic community.

At the end of her visit, the UN Special Rapporteur delivered a statement in which she expressed her gratitude to the Government of Kuwait for inviting her and extending full cooperation to assess first-hand the situation in the country. She also appreciated the access she was given to obtain information on the current legislative, policy and institutional framework and programs in place to address human trafficking in the country.

She clarified that trafficked victims in Kuwait are usually migrants from South and Southeast Asia, the Middle-East and increasingly from throughout Africa, who arrive in the country mainly for employment in the domestic work, construction and hospitality sectors. The victims of trafficking are, for the most part, subjected to forced labor and labor exploitation including domestic servitude and in some cases sexual exploitation, particularly forced prostitution. Moreover, some domestic workers flee their employers as a result of deception about the type and conditions of employment by recruitment agencies in countries of origin, and exploitation by their employers in Kuwait. Some domestic workers have also been forced into prostitution.

Positive achievements: The Special Rapporteur commended the Government of Kuwait for its Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling Law 91/2013, which aims to eradicate this phenomenon in Kuwait, and for the establishment of the Anti-Trafficking Unit within the Ministry of Interior, which is dedicated to addressing human trafficking in the country. She also lauded the establishment of two shelters for women, which to date has received over 7,000 domestic workers fleeing their employers. While praising Kuwait for taking an active and determined role in countering domestic servitude, she encouraged the government and other institutions to redouble efforts to better prevent trafficking and protect its victims.

She added that, following her visit to the Women Shelter for Domestic Workers run by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, she was impressed by the high standard and quality of the government funded shelter, which accommodates up to 500 female domestic workers at a time, as they await possible voluntary repatriation or reemployment by another employer,  She also praised the Public Authority of Manpower for actively engaging in combating trafficking through its regularly revised labor laws and regulations and labor inspections of businesses. She also lauded the government for taking steps to foster bilateral, regional and international cooperation to combat trafficking in persons.

Areas of concern: Notwithstanding these positive steps she said, there were a number of challenges that must be addressed by the Government of Kuwait, if it is to succeed in effectively combating trafficking in persons and protecting the human rights of trafficked persons.

One area of grave concern that the Special Rapporteur noted was the 'kafala' system that bounds every worker to a particular employer as a sponsor and which creates a situation of vulnerability that favors abusive and exploitative work relationships. She pointed out that often domestic workers are deprived of their documents and of their mobile phones, which prevents them from communicating with their families and from establishing social relationships outside. They are obliged to work long hours and are eventually mistreated and beaten. In this context hundreds of them flee their employers every year.

She pointed out that some labor recruiting companies in countries of origin, but also in Kuwait, have been complicit in trafficking, through their use of deceptive recruiting techniques to bring in migrant workers on the basis of unenforceable contracts and non-existent positions, while promising  employers to recruit workers who are well-trained but turn out to be unskilled.

Given the government's immigration policy based on repatriation of undocumented migrants, she also expressed concerns of the possibility of trafficked person being either not identified or misidentified  as irregular migrants, detained and subsequently deported without provision of adequate opportunity for social reintegration and recovery.

Moreover, she added that migrant workers are often coerced into paying labor broker fees in Kuwait, which according to Kuwaiti law, should be paid by the employer; this makes workers highly vulnerable to trafficking and forced labor. She called on the government to exert further efforts to curb practices such as withholding of passports, payment of inadequate wages, long working hours and confinement to the workplace, which sometimes amount to trafficking for domestic servitude.

She also lamented that the rate of prosecution of cases for all types of trafficking remains very low, while convictions rate for trafficking was even lower. She pointed out that the capacity gap of government authorities, law enforcement agencies, judicial authorities and labor inspectors, to identify cases of trafficking in persons based on the 2013 anti-trafficking and smuggling law, limits the prosecution and punishment of all forms and manifestations of trafficking in persons.

Recommendations: She recommended more stringent implementation of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling law, as well as other labor laws. The setting up of a National Human Rights institution with an independent statute, which includes trafficking as a human rights issue, would also further the anti-trafficking drive, she noted.

Furthermore, she called for abolishing the sponsorship (kafala) system and to fast track the intention to establish a government owned recruitment agency.

She added that in line with the recent law acknowledging the rights of domestic workers, the area of domestic workers should be placed under the competence of the Ministry of Labor and the Public Authority for Manpower, which implies full recognition of equal rights of domestic workers.

She noted that increasing engagement with civil society organizations would help collect credible data on the phenomenon of human trafficking, its causes and consequences.

With regard to trafficked persons she called for better protection and assistance to all victims of trafficking, including those victims of labor trafficking, domestic servitude, refugees and asylum seekers and children, with full respect for their human rights.

She called for closing the capacity gap by adequately training staff to identify trafficking and exploitation while screening vulnerable persons, including exploited migrant workers and domestic workers.

She pointed to the need to remove absconding charges against people who have been sheltered as a consequence of trafficking and exploitation, and establishing an exemption from employers’ approval for job transfer.

Finally, she called for establishing a victim fund that will provide comprehensive compensation scheme for victims of trafficking.

Prevention: Measures to prevent trafficking, outlined by the Special Rapporteur, included creating public awareness about all forms of trafficking in persons including for domestic servitude, forced labor, sexual exploitation and removal of organs.

Developing, strengthening and increasing options for safe migration and legal employment channels, while acknowledging that the current approach to migration management, especially in relation to the recruitment of foreign or migrant labor via unscrupulous employment agencies, may at times favor the activities of traffickers.

Speedily investigating, prosecuting and convicting traffickers, including employment agents involved in different forms of labor exploitation and sex trafficking based on existing anti trafficking law.

The Special Rapporteur also called on Kuwait to ratify and domesticate relevant international human rights instruments, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant workers, as well as strengthen partnership with source countries and extend cooperation for exchange of information and mutual legal assistance with these countries.

- The Times Report

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