International Day in Support of Victims of Torture: Kuwait


The 26th of June will be an important date for the international community, as it will mark the 34th anniversary of the Convention against Torture and Other Curel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The CAT has been ratified by 162 countries and the crime of torture, which amounts to a crime against humanity, is prohibited under mutliple different treaties and international customary law. Nonetheless, many continue to be subjected to torture throughout the world, denying them them their inherent dignity. That is why the UN General Assembly chose the 26th June to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. 

Kuwait ratified the CAT on the 6th of March 1996. It must be noted that the State of Kuwait has made some limited legal improvements in order to comply with this treaty. For instance, in the last decade, Kuwaiti authorities have amended the Code of Criminal Procedure in order to protect persons deprived of their liberty by guaranteeing their fundamental legal safeguards. However, it is far from being enough,  as Kuwaiti authorities still continue to violate the treaty on numerous occasions.

Although Article 31 of the Kuwaiti Consitution, as well as other legislations, prohibits acts of torture in Kuwait, numerous cases of torture committed by the police, security forces, Kuwait State Security force members and the Ministry of Interior’s Drug Enforcement General Directorate have been documented. To give a concrete example, Zuhair Al Mahmeed, a Kuwaiti national who has been detained arbitrarily according to the Working Group on Arbitrary detention, was beaten and electrocuted on several occasions during his interrogation, resulting in his transfer to a hospital. Furthermore, reports suggest that some punishments or disciplinary measures in detention facilities are carried out in the form of torture or significant ill-treatment. Victims are often human rights activists or the people of the country who are subject to minimal legal protection such as migrant workers and Bidoons residents. 

There are many obstacles when it comes to tackling torture in Kuwait. The absence of a clear definition of torture makes it easier for perpetrors to escape justice, especially when they have committed psychological torture. The international community has expressed deep concerns over this absence of definition in the Kuwaiti legislation. For instance, Article 31 of the Kuwaiti Consitution only states that “No person shall be subjected to torture or to ignominious treatment” whitout any guideline of what torture actually is. As the definition of torture remains too vague and its psychological aspects do not seem to be taken into account, the Committee against Torture has claimed that Article 31 of the constitution and the Criminal Code violate Article 1 of the CAT. Although the State of Kuwait has stated that a national commission was put into place within the Ministry of Justice to develop a definition which would comply with international law standards, nothing has changed yet.

Another reason for the continuous use of torture in Kuwait is the culture of impunity present within the state. Even though a small number of security forces members and other ministry staff were investigated following allegations of torture, the investigations are rarely effective and very few individuals are sanctioned as a result. Instead, torture often appears to be rewarded, as various tribunals continously accept coerced confessions, violating multiple human rights provisions such as Article 15 of the CAT. Furthermore, by raising the maximum penalty for someone committing torture to five years, Article 70 of the no16 1960 law and Article 184 of the Criminal Code are in violation of Article 4 of the CAT, as this sanction is considerably too soft given the act.  

In addition, the lack of independence and impartiality of the complaint and inquiry mechanisms in Kuwait promotes acts of torture by rendering investigations ineffective. This lack of impartiality and independence is a direct violation of numerous articles of the CAT, such as Articles 2, 12, 13, 14 and 16. The torture complaints are monitored by the General Department of Monitoring and Inspection of the Ministry of the Interior, which, according to the CAT Committee, is deemed to lack independence.  Furthermore, the Kuwaiti National Institution for Human Rights often does not fulfill its inquiry role under Article 6 of the no 67 2015 Law and lacks independence, as the institution is under the control of the Council or Minister under Article 2 of the no 67 2015 Law, thereby violating the Paris Principle. According to different sources, the judicial body of the Kuwaiti state is not independent, despite independence being required by Article 163 of the Kuwaiti Constitution. This lack of independence may also explain the lack of accountability of perpetrators of acts of torture. Due to this lack of transparency and independence, it has been reported on several occasions that witnesses or even doctors in the forensic divisions are too scared of retaliatory measures to speak out.

We hope that the international community, on the 26th of June, as well as on any other day, will be mindful that victims of tortures are still plentiful and that many diplomatic and legal tools exist to uphold the law. As outlined above, the State of Kuwait remains conducive to torture and has implemented a legal system that does not punish, but rather appears to reward acts of torture. This is why the international community must act urgently. We urge the European Union to pressure the State of Kuwait to show the international community that human rights are of the highest priority and that the European Union stands united against torture and the abuse of human dignity.