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Human Rights: Yet another commodity for the new society or a necessity?
As one stands on the doorsteps of a new millennium, one can only imagine the future ahead. With the globalization movement making its way around the world, issues such as human rights are coming up, and are becoming international issues of concern rather than local ones. International organizations monitor governments and note the extent to which those governments adhere to and respect human rights.
In the age of globalization, free trade between the nations of the world exists along with a sizeable transfer of knowledge and technology. And for one nation to succeed in that new environment it must have positive relations with others.
For this good relation to evolve and develop, a nation must first address its inner issues of which human rights is a part of, for the human factor is prime in the globalization age that is based mainly on human-brain based industries.
The Director of the Kuwait Information Office in Washington, in a lecture at Georgetown University, said, "The democratic process taking place in Kuwait is compatible with the Western definition of democracy, and it is clear when tracing country’s modern history that there is in fact a true democratic process presently sweeping the country."
In 1948, the United Nations adopted the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" which included the minimum requirements that nations around the world must aim for to achieve and maintain man’s fundamental freedoms and rights. This included principles of equality without regard to race, color, sex, language, religion etc. in addition to the right to life, liberty and security. The Declaration was the platform on which all people should act. Any breach of its articles would put the breaching Nation under great pressure and criticism from its peers, who usually aim to correct the situation.
Al-Ghabra added, "It has become increasingly difficult to maintain authortarian government in the modern era."
By 1997, more that 116 nations had a president chosen by elections, up from only 39 nations in 1974.
In the middle eastern nation of Kuwait, human rights have come a long way towards achieving a formidable status for the 38 years old nation has taken measures that surpass those taken by older nations. Kuwait’s constitution that dates back to the year 1962 ensured human rights in many of its articles.
Kuwaiti Parliament member AbdulMohsen Jamal said that the constitution is a, " great achievement that has gained Kuwait the respect of the international community.
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The constitution took a humanitarian capitalistic approach towards dealing with citizens and society. It based national economy on social justice and equal cooperation between public and private sectors aiming to achieve economic development and a better standard of living for its citizens.
The constitution allocated a full chapter that deals with rights and public duties, guaranteeing personal freedom, freedom of religion, press and gathering, and the right to education and work.
Article 6 states that Kuwait is a democratically ruled nation. Article 7 states that freedom and fairness are the basic principles of society where cooperation and mercifulness is the closest tie between citizens. Article 8 deals with providing security and opportunities by the nation’s government. Article 29 states that all people are equal in their responsibilities and public duty without indifference due to race, sex, language or religion. Article 30 states that personal freedom is guranteed. Article 35 provides for freedom of religions. Article 43 deals with the freedom to establish non governmental organizations on national basis using peaceful means adopted by law. Article 80 states that a parliament is made up of 50 members elected by the people.
In addition to its constitution, Kuwait has signed most international treaties that deal with human rights such as treaty against all forms of discrimination against women, treaty for kids rights, treaty against torture, and was the first Arabian Gulf country to ratify the two international treaties formulated by the International Committee for Human Rights in 1954 called the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
With a firm basis, Kuwait took a step further in 1999 when the Amir signed a decree giving women in Kuwait the right to vote and run for office by 2003. It was a historical day in Kuwait’s democracy and the beginning of what some observers called "a new age for Kuwait". The invasion of Kuwait in 1990 proved to all that the Kuwaiti women is able to play a big role in public life in the small nation. The decree crowned 30 years of determination and effort by Kuwaiti women to get their rights that were stated in the constitution.
The Decree brought positive responses world-wide. American President Bill Clinton said the decree was a "historic step" that would "achieve a firm future for the State of Kuwait." The European Union also wlecomed the move that "copes with the role of women in the kuwaiti community." Other notable reactions came from the Speaker of the Russian Duma, the Director General of UNESCO, and Lebanese Prime Minister Saleem Al-Huss.
Human rights organizations around the world cast positive light on Kuwait after its move that affects the role of women in politics, society, economy and most importantly in the field of human development.
A woman who refused to be named said " I think a society that saw the ages of the sea and desert and occupation come and go is capable of succeeding in this democratic move putting our country on a developed platform whilst entering the new millennium. "
Although reactions were positive, observers believe that a small group of islamic opposers to the decree will be vocal about their views in the upcoming parliamentary session dedicated to the issue.
Al-Ghabra said in a lecture held in Virginia that, " to reject it (the decree) will be very, very difficult, so approval is the most likely scenario".
Al-Ghabra added that ," the president of Kuwait University is a woman and so is the secretary of state for higher education. Women are strong and have power."
By 2003, nearly 140 thousand women will be eligible to vote and run for office, a number higher that that of men which stands at nearly 137 thousand.
In addition, Kuwait’s government took some positive measures after the invasion of 1990 by discontinuing the martial laws court and the National Security Court in 1995, both of which had brought negativity on Kuwait’s human rights record. The Amir also issued a decree lowering the sentences turned over by these courts.
In 1999, the Amir of Kuwait issued a decree based on humanitarian factors, to release eight Jordanian citizens convicted by martial courts of collaboration with the Iraqi forces during the invasion in 1990. This was preceeded by decree in 1996 that allowed for the release of 10 Jordanian citizens with the same convicted of the same crime.
Kuwait’s democracy started in 1921 when AlShoura Council was established as the first political organization that dealt with the state authorities and ways and means of managing those authorities. Kuwaities first experienced election in 1930 when the Municipal Council was established. This developed in 1963 when the the people elected the first National Assembly made up of 50 members.
Kuwait has constantly offered free education and access to health services to its people. This upheld the articles of the constitution that called for that. Kuwait also provided housing for its citizens at minimal charges.
The press, although it was censored for national security reasons at times, maintained its freedom throughout the changing times to reach a high level of freedom surpassing all the countries in the Gulf. The democracy evident in Kuwait allowed the press to become much tougher and straightforward that ever before since people were not satisfied with vague transcripts of events and rather wanted truth.
A black cloud was cast on Kuwait’s freedom and democracy when Iraq invaded it in 1990. One of the many consequences of that invasion was the detainment of more than 600 Kuwaities until now. This left the people of Kuwait, nine years later, still living in the shadow of the events that took place in 1990.
"The people of Kuwait are still experiencing the effects of the Iraqi invasion due to the humanitarian issue of the missing and POWs which the Iraqi regime continues to deny their existence,"
In a move towards creating pressure on the Iraqi government to release those detained Kuwaities, the government of Kuwait founded the National Committee for Missing and POW affairs (NCMPA) in May of 1991. Its initial task was to establish files on all missing kuwawaities due to the invasion so that the Red Cross could formally approach the Iraqi government about the issue. The organization represented the families of the missing kuwaities and POWs and worked towards relieving the families physically and mentally while ensuring their financial security.
It also had the task of spreading awareness around the world of the human rights issue of Kuwait’s missing and POWs in Iraq and its ramifications. The organization continues to work towards releasing the missing and POWs of whom eight are women. The Amir of Kuwait continues his discussions with international powers to secure the release of those Kuwaities.
Although Kuwait’s human rights record seems positive and advanced in comparison to other middle eastern countries, it does have a slight negative side.
"Bidoon" or people without a national identity continue to live in Kuwait. Many of those people are deprived from basic necessities of life such as education and health service in attempt to pressure them to state their real identities.
Observers believe that a number of "Bidoon" are citizens of other nations but continue to refuse to state their true identity claiming they are true Kuwaities in order to continue living in Kuwait and taking advantage of its many free services.
Indeed, pressures from a number of sources has forced many to state their true identity in exchange for the right to continue living in Kuwait. Others continue to refuse that, causing their standards of living to go down everyday. A number of "Bidoon" are true Kuwaities but due to errors by computers or humans, have lost that identity. The Kuwaity government is now taking measures to restore citizenship to those who lost it due to error. The Kuwaity government has assured the public many times that it is serious in ending the case of the "Bidoon".
Another issue that is shedding negative light on Kuwait’s otherwise proud record of human rights is the large number of workers, mainly Asian, who are suffering from poor working conditions and low wages. These workers are becoming more vocal about their rights, and have organized demonstrations on more than one occasion to display their discontent.
Kuwait lacks a non-governmental human rights organization that would have dealt with such issues. Indeed, Kuwait does have an unofficial human rights organization and a committee in the National Assembly for human rights, but has yet to make it official.
Member of Parliament AbdulMohsen Jamal said in an interview conducted by Kuwait News Agency that " refusing to recognize a human rights organization is a negative point in itself " demonstrating that such an organization is a getaway for people who feel they need assistance due to human rights violations.
Unknown reasons stand behind stopping the progress of the organization that would be vocal in defending human rights issues related to Kuwait and its citizens in front of the international community among its many tasks. A human rights organization would also add positively to Kuwait’s democratic record that has reached an advanced level and can be viewed as one of the best amongst most developing countries.
Jamal added that, // The organization is a necessary part of the civil society needed to regulate unclear issues between the people and the government,// acting somewhat like a filter for negative issues that could mar society.
Jamal added that a human rights organization would aim to exercise constitutional rights, look into any local human rights violations, recommend new laws or enhance the ones that exist to positively affect human rights in Kuwait and follow on-going local issues.
In response to a question regarding the organization’s role and image as a tool to attack the government, Jamal assured that the organization is not a confrontational one but one that calls for peace and justice and is a self-protection tool for Kuwait which demonstrates the inner-strength of society.
Jamal concluded that the international community is heading towards exercising human rights globally by observing and recommending to governments ways to enhance human rights locally adding that the in this age, a society’s advancement and civilization is measured by how much human rights are afforded to its people before anything else.