The Kuwaiti parliament's decision to grant citizenship to up to 4,000 "foreigners" is a step in the right direction but much more must be done to protect the rights of more than 100,000 Bidun in Kuwait, said Amnesty International.
Forty-three MPs voted in favour of a bill on Wednesday with only two abstentions. In order to take effect, the law must now be signed by the Amir of Kuwait.
"While this bill is a welcome step, the Kuwaiti government must intensify its efforts to find a lasting solution for all the Bidun in the country," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
"The Bidun's human rights must be upheld without discrimination, in particular their rights to health, education and work.
"The absence of policies to resolve the plight of the Bidun, rooted in human rights standards, is a stain on the country’s international reputation. It deprives thousands of Bidun families of their basic political, economic and social rights and bars them from contributing fully to Kuwaiti society."
In February, the Kuwait parliament passed the first reading of the bill, which stipulated the naturalisation of at least 4,000 of Kuwait’s stateless people. The bill has since been amended from “4,000 stateless” to a “maximum of 4,000 foreigners”, which could essentially exclude the Bidun, or at least limit the number that could receive citizenship.
Amnesty International has previously raised concerns about the Bidun and, in October 2012, Kuwait’s Prime Minister, Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah told Amnesty International's Secretary General, Salil Shetty, that his government would resolve the status of the Bidun people within five years.
In the past the Kuwaiti government pledged to address some Bidun’s grievances but stated that only 34,000 Bidun were eligible for citizenship.
The benefits for Bidun that were promised by the Government in April 2011 have not yet materialised, leaving many Bidun without access to employment, health care, education, and other vital public services, as well as documents such as birth certificates. Bidun children are excluded from primary and secondary education. Inspired by protests which broke out in 2011 in the Middle East and North Africa region, the Bidun community have protested peacefully since February 2011, demanding to be recognized as citizens of Kuwait.
The security forces have used force to disperse demonstrations and arrested protesters, some of whom are facing trial for participating in the demonstrations.
The Kuwait Criminal Court this week reportedly postponed until 19 May 2013 the trial of 33 Bidun for participating in "unauthorised demonstrations" in December 2012.
Many Bidun are descended from nomadic Bedouin tribes that roamed freely across the borders of the Gulf countries. Their ancestors did not apply for nationality around the time Kuwait gained independence in 1961. As a result, the Bidun have been trapped in limbo and denied Kuwaiti nationality and access to some public services.