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Kuwait: citizenship bill welcomed, but Bidun discrimination still 'stain' on reputation

The Kuwaiti parliament’s decision this week to grant citizenship to up to 4,000 “foreigners” is a step in the right direction but much more must be done to protect the rights of more than 100,000 of the country’s Bidun, Amnesty International has said.

This Wednesday 43 Kuwaiti MPs voted in favour of a bill on the issue, with only two abstentions. In order to take effect, the law must now be signed by the Amir of Kuwait. 

In February the Kuwaiti parliament passed the first reading of the bill which stipulated the naturalisation of at least 4,000 of Kuwait’s stateless people. The bill has since been amended from “4,000 stateless” to a “maximum of 4,000 foreigners”, which could exclude the Bidun, or at least limit the number that could be granted citizenship. 

In the past the Kuwaiti government has pledged to address Bidun grievances, while saying that only 34,000 Bidun were eligible for citizenship. Many Bidun are without access to employment, health care, education and other vital public services, as well as documents such as birth certificates. Bidun Children's rights are excluded from primary and secondary education.

Inspired by the protests which broke out in the Middle East and North Africa two years ago, Kuwait’s Bidun community has protested peacefully since February 2011, demanding to be recognised as Kuwaiti citizens. The security forces have forcibly dispersed demonstrations and arrested protesters, some of whom are now facing trial for participating in demonstrations. The Kuwait Criminal Court this week reportedly postponed until 19 May the trial of 33 Bidun for participating in “unauthorised demonstrations” last December. 

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“While this bill is a welcome step, the Kuwaiti government must intensify its efforts to find a lasting solution for all the Bidun in the country.

“The Bidun’s human rights must be upheld without discrimination, in particular their rights to health, education and work.

“The absence of policies to resolve the plight of the Bidun, rooted in human rights standards, is a stain on the country’s international reputation. It deprives thousands of Bidun families of their basic political, economic and social rights and bars them from contributing fully to Kuwaiti society.”

Amnesty has previously raised concerns about the Bidun. Last October Kuwait’s Prime Minister Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah told Amnesty’s Secretary General Salil Shetty that his government would resolve the status of the Bidun people within five years. 

Background information:
Many Bidun are descended from nomadic Bedouin tribes that roamed freely across the borders of the Gulf countries. Their ancestors did not apply for nationality around the time Kuwait gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1961. As a result, the Bidun have been trapped in limbo and denied Kuwaiti nationality and full access to public services.

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