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Equality is key

The place: A bystreet near a private clinic in Jabriya. The time: Approximately 10 minutes before sunset. A 2012-13 Ford Taurus police patrol pulls over near a power transformer where a man was walking. A police officer steps out of the patrol car, stops the man who from appearance looks to be from Southeast Asia, and asks him for his identification.

So far the scene doesn’t seem so very out of the ordinary – at least not in Kuwait. Then while the visibly dumbfounded man was searching inside his handbag for his wallet, something unusual happens: the officer spontaneously thrusts his hand inside the opened bag, and starts inspecting its contents in clear violation of the man’s rights. Moments later, the man handed his ID over to the officer; who went back to the patrol vehicle to check his record before ultimately letting him go.

Illegal search and nationality
According to Kuwait’s law, police officers are barred from inspecting potential suspects unless they obtain a warrant from the prosecutor. There have been many cases in court in which drug dealers were acquitted of all charges due to incorrect arrest procedures – namely police searching the suspects without obtaining a warrant.

One of the reasons why a search warrant is required – by law – before searching a person is to insure that his rights are not violated. Here the law protects individuals’ rights, but as can be seen from the example above, those rights are not necessarily protected by law enforcers all the time. One wonders: Did the policeman in that case know the correct procedures to be taken when stopping a potential suspect? Did he knowingly ignore the law? Or was he improperly trained?

Given the fact that all police officers have to go through thorough training and classes in which they become acquainted with all laws and regulations before they graduate, it is hard to imagine that he never knew that he was not supposed to search the man’s bag without obtaining a warrant. So, why did he do what he did?

I felt compelled while writing the first paragraph to mention the man’s possible nationality. I honestly believe that if the man was a Kuwaiti national or an Arab citizen, the circumstances would have probably been a lot different – that is if he was even stopped at all. Unfortunately, the concept of equality and respecting individuals equally in Kuwait and many other parts in the Arab world remains not fully comprehended.

Kuwait prides itself by having a constitution and a sophisticated list of laws that protect human rights, yet it remains stuck in lower tiers in international human rights, freedom and trafficking in persons reports. It is not a contradiction.

Inhumane treatment
What Kuwait sees as sufficient humane treatment of individuals on its land is seen as inadequate by international standards. For example, the long-awaited domestic workers law which was passed in parliament earlier this year still lacks elements to guarantee that the rights of housemaids are not violated. There is no way to insure that a maid who is locked inside her employer’s home 24/7 is having her full rights guaranteed. The law primarily deals with organizing the process by which a domestic helper is hired, rather than introducing strict measures to protect workers’ rights. A quick glance through the law makes you think that legislators were more concerned about employers’ wallets rather than domestic worker rights. Yet, the law has internally been hailed as ‘another victory in Kuwait’s illustrious human rights record.’

Kuwait can spend millions to build hundreds of shelters and introduce thousands of new laws. But unless it experiences a drastic social change that sees human beings treated and respected equally, it is hard to predict any improvement in the country’s human rights record anytime soon.

By Ahmad Jabr

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