Country Listing

Kuwait Table of Contents


Police and the Criminal Justice System

The Ministry of Interior has overall responsibility for public security and law and order. Under the ministry, the national police has primary responsibility for maintaining public order and preventing and investigating crimes. The National Guard--a semiautonomous body--has guard duties on the border and at oil fields, utilities, and other strategic locations. The guard acts as a reserve for the regular forces and reinforces the metropolitan police as needed.

Police selected for officer rank attend a three-year program at the Police Academy. National Guard officer candidates attend the Kuwaiti Military College, after which they receive specialized guard training. Women work in certain police departments, such as criminal investigation, inquiries, and airport security.

The principal police divisions are criminal investigation, traffic, emergency police, nationality and passports, immigration, prisons, civil defense, and trials and courtsmartial . The criminal investigation division is responsible for ordinary criminal cases; Kuwait State Security investigates security-related offenses. Both are involved in investigations of terrorism and those suspected of collaboration with Iraq.

The Kuwaiti judicial system generally provides fair public trials and an adequate appeals mechanism, according to the United States Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1991. Under Kuwaiti law, no detainee can be held for more than four days without charge; after being charged by a prosecutor, detention for up to an additional twenty-one days is possible. Persons held under the State Security Law can be detained. Bail is commonly set in all cases. The lowest level courts, aside from traffic courts, are the misdemeanor courts that judge offenses subject to imprisonment not exceeding three years. Courts of first instance hear felony cases in which the punishment can exceed three years. All defendants in felony cases are required to be represented by attorneys, appointed by the court if necessary. Legal counsel is optional in misdemeanor cases, and the court is not obliged to provide an attorney.

Kuwaiti authorities contend that the rate of ordinary crime is low, and data available through 1986 tended to bear this out. Of more than 5,000 felonies committed in that year, only 5 percent were in the category of theft. The number of misdemeanors was roughly equal to the number of felonies, but only 10 percent were thefts. Offenses involving forgery, fraud, bribery, assaults and threats, and narcotics and alcohol violations were all more common than thefts.

Two separate State Security Court panels, each composed of three justices, hear crimes against state security or other cases referred to it by the Council of Ministers. Trials in the State Security Court initially are held in closed session but subsequently are opened to the press and others. They do not, in the judgment of the Department of State, meet international standards for fair trials. Military courts, which ordinarily have jurisdiction only over members of the armed services or security forces, can try offenses charged against civilians under conditions of martial law. Martial law was imposed for the first time after the liberation of the country from Iraqi occupation. About 300 persons suspected of collaboration with Iraq were tried by military courts in May and June 1991, and 115 were convicted. Twenty-nine received sentences of death, later commuted to life imprisonment after international criticism of the trials. Human rights groups drew attention to the failure to provide adequate legal safeguards to defendants and an unwillingness to accept the defense that collaboration with Iraqi forces had been coerced. Many of the accused alleged that their confessions had been extracted under torture.

Data as of January 1993