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Human Rights Group Cites Kuwaiti Abuses

Kuwaiti officials concede 'difficulty,' but claim progress in curbing killings

SIX months ago, after United States-led forces drove out the Iraqi military, Kuwaitis began to rebuild their country. But the liberation of Kuwait has had a dark side: People thought to have collaborated with the invaders have been arrested, deported, and in some cases killed.A New York-based human rights group says the reassertion of Kuwaiti control has been marred by a broad range of human rights abuses - including torture, unlawful detention, and "scores" of extrajudicial executions carried out by Kuwaiti security forces. A Middle East Watch (MEW) report released yesterday says vengeful violence is waning, but warns that "inhumane and illegal" deportations persist, the result of a Kuwaiti decision to reduce the number of foreigners allowed to live in the country. Masoud al-Fehaid, spokesman for Kuwait's ambassador to the United Nations, acknowledges that his government "had difficulty in enforcing the law" in the aftermath of liberation. Now the utmost is being done to maintain law and order, he says. In response to questions about Kuwait's record, a US State Department human rights official, who would not speak for attribution, said: "I think we've seen steady progress since March." The report also criticizes Kuwaiti leaders for not charging or prosecuting a single Kuwaiti official for human rights violations, in contrast to the quick justice meted out to collaborators during a series of martial-law trials in May and June. Citing interviews with witnesses, MEW details cases where uniformed Kuwaitis killed suspected collaborators, mostly Palestinians. But Mr. Fehaid says that as recently as July Iraqi infiltrators masquerading as Kuwaitis have been apprehended in his country, adding that Kuwaiti officials are not responsible for extrajudicial killings. "We are not in the business of killing people for vengeance." This explanation does little to console Naim Farhat, a US citizen of Lebanese origin whose family lived in Kuwait. Mr. Farhat's father and brother were killed by a gunman in the aftermath of the liberation. His sister Naimat says she was raped by the attacker, who then shot her. The Farhats moved to Kuwait City more than 30 years ago. Naim says his father, Ismail, worked for an agency of the Interior Ministry equivalent to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. He and two Farhat brothers were active in Kuwaiti resistance efforts, according to Naim and a Kuwaiti newspaper article that cites one brother's heroism during the occupation. Nonetheless, said Ms. Farhat in a telephone interview from Naim's home in Santa Cruz, Calif., the attacker was sent to their house to kill them for collaboration with the Iraqis. She says he was a soldier who claimed to have had some training in the US. The MEW report cites the attack in its list of extrajudicial killings, and MEW researcher Aziz Abu Hamad says he interviewed witnesses who confirmed that the attacker was a soldier affiliated with the neighborhood police station. The stations were the main source of civil control in the wake of the Iraqi withdrawal. "In some ways [the Farhat case] is typical" of extra-judicial killings in post-liberation Kuwait, says Mr. Hamad. Naim Farhat says his attempts to have the killer brought to justice and to obtain compensation have been ignored by the Kuwaitis. "They just deny the whole thing," he says. (Fehaid says he is not familiar with the case; a press assistant at the Kuwaiti Embassy in Washington said she had "heard the name," but refused further comment because the ambassador was out of the country.) "When my family was mass-murdered," says Naim, "they didn't have a chance to be put on trial." But he adds: m not asking for revenge, I'm asking for justice." Fehaid says the Farhat family is free to pursue the compensation it is demanding in Kuwait's courts; Naim says a friend of the family who is a lawyer in Kuwait is looking into a lawsuit. The MEW report criticizes the martial-law tribunals formed to try collaborators after the liberation, saying "the courts relied primarily on confessions extracted through torture," and refused defendants basic legal rights. Fehaid, however, cites the commutation to life imprisonment of the death sentences handed down by the tribunals as evidence of Kuwaiti fairness.

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