(Kuwait City) – Kuwaiti police have tortured and sexually abused transgender women using a discriminatory law, passed in 2007, which arbitrarily criminalizes “imitating the opposite sex,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The government of Kuwait should repeal the law, article 198 as amended in 2007, and hold police officers accountable for misconduct.
The 63-page report, “They Hunt us Down for Fun": Discrimination and Police Violence Against Transgender Women in Kuwait , documents the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and persecution that transgender women – individuals who are born male, but identify as female – have faced at the hands of police. The report also documents the discrimination that transgender women have faced on a daily basis – including by members of the public – as a result of the law, an amendment to penal code article 198. Based on interviews with 40 transgender women, as well as with ministry of interior officials, lawyers, doctors, and members of Kuwaiti civil society, the report found that the arbitrary, ill-defined provisions of the law has allowed for numerous abuses to take place.
Police have free rein to determine whether a person’s appearance constitutes “imitating the opposite sex” without any specific criteria being laid down for the offense. Transgender women reported being arrested even when they were wearing male clothes and then later being forced by police to dress in women’s clothing, and the claim made that they arrested them in that attire. In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, transgender women said police arrested them because they had a “soft voice” or “smooth skin.”
“No one – regardless of his or her gender identity – deserves to be arrested on the basis of a vague, arbitrary law and then abused and tortured by police,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Kuwaiti government has a duty to protect all of its residents, including groups who face popular disapproval, from brutal police behavior and the application of an unfair law.”
Transgender women reported suffering multiple forms of abuse at the hands of the police while in detention, including degrading and humiliating treatment, such as being forced to strip and being paraded around the police station, being forced to dance for officers, sexual humiliation, verbal taunts and intimidation, solitary confinement, and emotional and physical abuse that could amount to torture. Redress for these violations is difficult, as few said they reported incidents of police misconduct because of threats of retribution and re-arrest.
(To read full article, visit this Human Rights Watch link )