The following is Sarnata Reynolds’ testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on the Human Rights of Stateless People on March 23, 2014. A video of the hearing is available here.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Co-Chairs McGovern and Pitts, and the members of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for this opportunity to discuss the lives of stateless persons and the profound suffering they endure because they do not have legal identities.
On March 2, a 14-year-old boy named Ali Habib was put in a Kuwaiti jail and charged with disturbing the peace. He had been arrested while participating in a peaceful demonstration for the right to citizenship, one of many in a decades-long movement demanding that Kuwait’s stateless people, called the bedoon, be recognized as citizens.
After two days Ali was released, but eight other stateless activists remain in jail on trumped-up charges including participating in an “illegal gathering” and “damaging police property.”
Last month in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, Mohammed al-Huraisi, a stateless street vendor, died after lighting himself on fire. His act of protest came after months of harassment and extortion by Saudi authorities, who refused to issue a permit for his a watermelon stand. So far, however, Mohammed’s tragic death has been virtually ignored by the international community, and the larger issue of Saudi statelessness remains virtually unknown outside the Gulf.
This post originally appeared on UN Dispatch.
This week at the first-ever Conference for the Stateless in Kuwait, I met Omran Al-Garashi. Since 1982, he has been arrested 15 times for his human rights activism. He took on many issues, one of which was the right of more than 100,000 stateless Kuwaitis to nationality. As a citizen, he technically had the right to freedom of speech, but in reality this was not the case. Instead, fighting for the rights of Kuwait’s stateless brought him a step closer to their experience.
This post originally appeared in The National.
In the last few weeks alone, the country has seen summary executions, the bombing of a major university, and population displacement on a massive and growing scale.
Today, RI, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International submitted a joint letter to the Emir of Kuwait demanding an end to abuses of the stateless bidoon and the acknowledgement of their citizenship rights. The full letter is as follows:
September 27, 2012
HH Sheikh Sabah IV Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah
Al Diwan Al Amiri
Seif Palace – Building 100
State of Kuwait
In early March, the government of Kuwait was taking some positive steps. All stateless bidoun who had been arrested during and after December 2011/January 2012 gatherings were released on bond, while members of parliament were interrogating the prime minister over long-time ill treatment of the bidoun community. It also seemed that the government would finally provide nationality documents to 34,000 bidoun and begin adjudicating at least 80,000 other applications before the parliament’s Bidoun Committee.
On March 20th, longstanding members of the Washington Circle were joined by new friends and supporters at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Nearly 70 guests took time from their busy schedules to join us for a spring luncheon and briefings by RI Board Member and author Roya Hakakian and RI Statelessness Program Manager Sarnata Reynolds.
Before they first took to the streets, the stateless bidoun community in Kuwait thought extensively about how best to claim their rights to identity, education, and health care (among other concerns). They had studied campaigns from other countries and other periods of history.
Inspired by the U.S. civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr., they decided to take a peaceful and non-confrontational approach.