Kuwaiti police have been accused of torturing and sexually abusing transgender women under a discriminatory law, passed in 2007, that criminalises “imitating the opposite sex”.
In a new report, titled ‘They Hunt us Down for Fun’: Discrimination and Police Violence Against Transgender Women in Kuwait, Human Rights Watch said the government of Kuwait should repeal the law and hold police officers accountable for misconduct.
The 63-page report 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.
Transgender women reported suffering 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.
In one case, a transgender woman told Human Rights Watch that after police arrested her and two of her friends, they took a trash can full of dirt and cigarette butts and dumped it over her friend’s head. Another friend was forced to do push-ups with a radiator on her back. In another, a transgender woman who was arrested with another person reported that police punched and kicked her brutally and beat her friend with a heavy stapler.
Redress for these violations is difficult, as few of the women interviewed said they reported incidents of police misconduct because of threats of retribution and re-arrest.
“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 behaviour and the application of an unfair law.”
In several cases, Human Rights Watch found that police officers took advantage of the law to blackmail transgender women into sex. Transgender women claimed that police used the threat of arrest to force them into sex, and that sexual abuse at the hands of the police has been rampant.
Transgender women said that before the law, while sexual advances by the police were commonplace, they could decline such advances, whereas now police had leeway to imprison them if they refused.
“The Kuwaiti authorities should ensure proper monitoring of police behaviour”, said Whitson. “They should also investigate unchecked police abuse, hold those found guilty accountable for their actions, and make sure that vulnerable populations, such as transgenders, have access to mechanisms of redress without fear of retribution.”
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 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.
Despite an official recognition of gender identity disorder (GID) by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health as a legitimate medical condition, the law criminalising “imitating the opposite sex” makes no exception for people who have been diagnosed with GID.