HRW urges Kuwait to free stateless protesters

AFP , Sunday 20 Feb 2011

Rights groups calls on Kuwait's government to release protesters from bedouins' community

Kuwait
Hundreds of stateless residents of Kuwait demonstrate for their rights in Sulaibiya, 40 Km North of Kuwait City on Saturday 19 February 2011. The banner in Arabic reads: "Even the animals have passports but we don't". (AP)

Human Rights Watch called on Kuwait on Sunday to release dozens of stateless Arabs who were detained at a protest to demand basic rights and citizenship.

The New York-based rights body said the government of the oil-rich Gulf state should either free the detainees or bring them immediately before an independent judge.

A number of protesters were wounded as riot police used tear gas to disperse protests by the stateless Arabs, known as bedouns, on Friday and Saturday.

HRW quoted human rights activists as saying as many as 120 protesters were arrested on Friday but cited Interior Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Homud al-Sabah as saying only 42 were held.

"The bedouns have legitimate grievances about discrimination and government inaction, and the government should listen and address them, instead of attacking them and throwing them in jail," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the HRW Middle East director.

"Kuwaiti authorities should look around the neighbourhood to see that violent attacks on demonstrators only fuel the protests," she said in a statement received by e-mail.

Bedouns number more than 100,000 and come primarily from Bedouin, or nomadic, origins. Most say they are stateless because they or their forefathers failed to apply for citizenship at the time of Kuwait's independence, HRW said.

Currently, the Kuwaiti government obstructs the bedouns' right to civil documentation by requiring them to relinquish citizenship claims before they can receive birth, marriage or death certificates, the organisation said.

"The government does not recognise their right to work, and bedoun children may not attend government schools," and they can not press their claims to nationality before Kuwaiti courts, it said.

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