Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the Al Sabah family. The 1962 constitution grants the amir executive authority and authorizes him to appoint a crown prince and a prime minister, who selects a cabinet for amiri approval. The government and the elected National Assembly share legislative authority. Although there were reports of vote buying by the government and certain candidates in the May 2008 parliamentary election, local observers and the press considered the election generally free and fair. The government limited citizens' right to change their government and form political parties. Female citizens have the right to vote and run in elections but face other legal and societal restrictions. According to NGO reports, security forces abused prisoners and enjoyed impunity. The government limited freedoms of speech, press, religion, association, and movement for certain groups. The status of stateless Arab residents (called "Bidoon") remained unresolved. Expatriate workers faced difficult conditions in the domestic and unskilled service sectors, and trafficking in persons continued.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The U.S. Government has three main democracy objectives in the country: to increase democratic stability and accountability of democratic institutions, to improve treatment of foreign laborers (including by addressing human trafficking), and to expand empowerment of women. The United States supports the government's efforts to strengthen its democratic practices to ensure long-term stability, reduce governmental cronyism, and counter the appeal of extremists who advocate the use of violence to achieve political goals. The United States seeks to highlight the treatment of foreign laborers in public discourse and encourages stronger legislation and enforcement of internationally accepted standards to combat trafficking in persons. Finally, the United States supports the country's efforts to further enhance the role of women in the political process.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

The U.S. Government employs diplomatic, programmatic, and public diplomacy tools to promote increased democratic stability and transparency in the country. In January 2008 then-president George W. Bush visited and held a roundtable discussion on democracy and women's rights with female activists. The visit received widespread coverage in the local press and signaled to the country that the U.S. Government cares about democracy building and advances in women's rights. U.S. officials took advantage of coinciding U.S. and Kuwaiti elections to arrange seminars and roundtables, including two digital video conferences between accomplished American academics and Kuwaiti students at two universities. Participants discussed various aspects of the U.S. election, including the roles of independent candidates and third parties. In February 2008 a spoken-word poet and U.S. cultural envoy taught high school students how to write and perform plays that raise societal awareness of political issues. In May 2008 the embassy held a question and answer session at the American University in Kuwait about elections. Throughout the year, the ambassador hosts roundtables for journalists and dinners for academics interested in democracy and visits high schools to discuss democracy and political reform. Following the U.S. election, the embassy hosted an "election watch" breakfast for over 300 Kuwaiti guests, and in mid-November 2008 embassy officials gave a series of lectures in Arabic on the U.S. election to local students.

Each year, the United States awards English-language microscholarships to approximately 75 high school students as part of an effort to help instill the values of democracy and civic participation through in-class elections and community service projects. In advance of the 2008 and 2009 parliamentary elections, a U.S. Government partner organization provided campaign development and planning assistance to candidates. The embassy gives its National Day celebrations themes to promote democratization, citing the American experience with topics including U.S. elections and the evolution of participatory governance, Lincoln's presidency, strengthening institutions, and the transition to majority rule. Embassy officials regularly address democratization in meetings with a range of government officials. The ambassador and embassy staff also regularly visit the country's numerous diwaniyas (evening political salons) to voice support for the developing democracy.

The U.S. Government consistently and publicly calls for the government to address the problem of foreign worker rights. The United States implements a program to raise awareness among foreign workers of their rights and responsibilities. U.S. officials work closely with labor-sending countries to increase awareness among government officials about the plight of the expatriate labor community. The U.S. Government also engages in ongoing and frequent bilateral discussions with government officials at all levels to raise awareness of the problems faced by foreign workers in the country, including conditions of human trafficking. Embassy officials meet with their counterparts to advocate for more shelters, legislation, and convictions of trafficking violators. During 2008 the ambassador held a press roundtable to discuss trafficking in persons and met with the deputy prime minister to discuss ongoing reports of the detention and deportation of demonstrating Bangladeshi laborers. Since 2007 the embassy has hosted bimonthly informal meetings with diplomats and NGO representatives to share information, discuss problems, and consider joint approaches. In one instance, the embassy created multilingual brochures informing foreign workers of their rights and instructing them how to seek help in an emergency. Embassy officers also participated in a workshop that brought together high-level government officials with labor attaches of labor-sending countries to discuss trafficking in persons.

To promote women's rights, the embassy held discussions with members of the government and female activists, hosted speakers and roundtables, and publicly called for the end of discrimination in housing rights. Embassy officials met with a prominent female activist to discuss women's rights. In February 2008 U.S. officials arranged for the visit of an award-winning American recording artist. During her visit, she helped Kuwaiti high-school girls to write and perform a play that dramatized their concerns about such problems as corruption and social inequality in their country. Later that month, a visiting U.S. official hosted a roundtable with eight female activists to discuss women's rights. In May 2008 an IIP Arabic traveling speaker toured Kuwait for four days discussing women's rights with various audiences. In July 2008 the ambassador met with the minister of housing to discuss the minister's efforts to end discrimination in housing allowances for Kuwaiti women married to non-Kuwaitis. The ambassador also regularly delivered remarks underscoring the importance of women's participation in economic spheres.