The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Kuwait is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Kuwait is not a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Kuwait is a state party to the 2004 Arab Charter of Human Rights. Under Article 24(6) of the Charter, every citizen has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 44 of the 1992 Constitution of Kuwait stipulates that:
Individuals have the right to meet without need for permission or prior notification; no member of the Security Force shall be allowed to attend their private meetings.
Public assemblies, processions and gatherings are permitted in accordance with the conditions and the stipulations defined by Law provided the objects and the means of the gathering be peaceful and not incompatible with morals.
Law No. 65 of 1979 on public gatherings is the primary legislation governing assemblies in Kuwait. Sections 1 and 2 of the law define public meetings as those attended by more than 20 persons, but exclude religious meetings and those organised by legally established institutions, such as trade unions and employers' organisations, which may meet to discuss relevant issues. The Law has been used to ban public assemblies of more than 20 persons.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Kuwait does not appear to regulate and restrict the use of force by law enforcement officials as international law requires.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Kuwait does not appear to regulate and restrict the use of firearms by law enforcement officials as international law requires.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2016 Concluding Observations on Kuwait, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern
about article 12 of Law No. 65 (1979) on public gatherings, as it bars non-Kuwaitis from participating in public gatherings, and about the overly broad prohibition on public gatherings without the prior authorization of the Ministry of the Interior. In addition, it remains concerned at reports that the State party unduly restricts freedom of peaceful assembly and that security forces have dispersed peaceful demonstrations with excessive and disproportionate uses of force....
The Committee called on Kuwait to:
(a) ensure that the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly is not subject to restrictions other than the ones permissible under the Covenant;
(b) investigate all allegations relating to the excessive use of force by security forces and ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted and the victims adequately compensated;
(c) increase its efforts to systematically provide training to all security forces on the use of force, especially in the context of demonstrations, taking due account of the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Kuwait:
Freedom of assembly is constrained in practice. Kuwaitis must notify officials of a public meeting or protest, and those who participate in unauthorized protests are subject to prison terms or, for noncitizens, deportation. Nevertheless, some peaceful protests have been allowed without a permit. Family members and other supporters of the opposition figures and activists accused of storming the parliament in 2011 held a series of protests on the defendants’ behalf during 2018.