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US keeps Kuwait at Tier 3 on trafficking
July 28, 2015, 10:32 am

Kuwait remains in Tier 3 in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for 2015 due to the failure of its government to fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking and its efforts are not enough to do so.

Countries are categorized into tiers based on their trafficking records as follows:

Tier 1 — Countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards.

Tier 2 — Countries whose governments do not fully comply with TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to do so.

Tier 2 ‘Watch List’ — countries whose governments do not fully comply with TVPA’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to do so and the following:

a. The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing.

b. There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year.

c. The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.

Tier 3 — countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.
Kuwait has been in Tier 3 since 2008 and it is the only GCC country under this category. Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are in Tier 2; while Qatar and Saudi Arabia are in Tier 2 ‘Watch List’ in this year’s report.

According to the report, men and women from different countries are subjected to forced labor and, to a lesser degree, forced prostitution. Although most foreign workers enter Kuwait voluntarily, some sponsors subject them to forced labor upon arrival; as well as other forms of abuse such as nonpayment of wages, long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as confinement to the workplace and withholding of passports.

The report pointed out the government of Kuwait increased its capacity to protect human trafficking victims in 2014 through the official opening of its high-capacity shelter and amendment of its shelter regulations, which now allow any woman access to the shelter without formal referral. It continued exerting efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period by conducting investigations into visa fraud rings, including those allegedly involving government officials leading to the closure of hundreds of labor recruitment firms and hundreds of people referred for prosecution.

However, of the hundreds of visa fraud violators referred for prosecution, only one case has been investigated under the 2013 counter-trafficking law and the government has yet to prosecute or convict suspected traffickers. Existing laws do not provide adequate prosecutorial power or punishments for those operating labor recruiting firms. Emerging efforts to issue exit and travel documents to abused workers whose passports had been confiscated were not accompanied by any enforcement activities against the employers from whom the workers had fled.

Following are the recommendations for Kuwait to improve its ranking: Enforce laws against sponsors and employers who illegally hold migrant workers’ passports; implement the 2013 anti-trafficking law by investigating and prosecuting trafficking offenses and convicting and punishing offenders, particularly sponsors who subject domestic workers to involuntary servitude; greatly increase law enforcement efforts, including investigations of trafficking offenses perpetrated by Kuwaiti citizens, and establish standard operating procedures for investigations and prosecutions of trafficking crimes; coordinate with the public prosecutor’s office to amend current laws to allow for the prosecution of labor recruiting firms; establish procedures to proactively identify and refer to protection services all victims of human trafficking, especially among the female domestic worker population; establish linkages between emerging victim care efforts and law enforcement activities; continue to train shelter staff in providing services to potential trafficking victims; ensure the availability of shelter and services to male victims, sex trafficking victims, and forced labor victims outside of the domestic worker context; amend the sponsorship law to protect foreign workers, including domestic workers, from abuse; increase effective coordination between ministries through the inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee; and continue to increase efforts to prevent trafficking.

In terms of prosecution, the government was found to have made weak anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. It enacted anti-trafficking legislation in March 2013, which prohibits all forms of trafficking. The law stipulates penalties ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the reporting period, the government did not report any prosecutions, convictions, or sentences of trafficking offenders for either forced labor or sex trafficking. While it investigated visa fraud rings, allegedly involving complicit officials, including those in the ministries of Interior Social Affairs, Labor, Commerce and Industry, the government failed to prosecute and convict officials complicit in these trafficking or trafficking-related offenses.

Although the withholding of workers’ passports is prohibited under Kuwaiti law, this practice remains common among sponsors and employers of foreign workers, and the government demonstrated no efforts to enforce this prohibition. It remained uncommon to find domestic workers who took refuge in their home-country embassy shelters with their passports in their possession. The government remained reluctant to prosecute Kuwaiti citizens for trafficking offenses. Kuwaiti law enforcement treated cases of forced domestic labor as administrative infractions, and punishment was limited to assessing fines, shutting down employment firms, issuing orders for employers to return withheld passports, or requiring employers to pay back-wages. In 2014, the Ministry of Interior, in partnership with an international organization, held an anti-trafficking training. The judicial institute continued its mandatory human trafficking course for all newly-hired judicial officials, including prosecutors and judges.

Source: Arab Times

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