Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the Al-Sabah family. The 1962 constitution grants the emir executive authority and authorizes the emir to appoint a crown prince and a prime minister, who selects a cabinet for emiri approval. The government and an elected National Assembly share legislative authority. According to the constitution, the emir may dissolve the elected National Assembly by decree but must call elections within two months. The emir exercised this authority in May 2006 and March 2008. Local observers and the press generally considered the June 2006 parliamentary elections free and fair, although there were reports of vote buying by the government and certain candidates. While political parties are not technically illegal, the government effectively barred them in practice and in 2008 used coercive force to disrupt unsanctioned tribal primary elections. The National Assembly passed a law in 2005 granting women the right to vote and run for office, and women participated in the June 2006 parliamentary elections; however, none was elected. Of the two appointed female cabinet ministers, one resigned in August 2007 under pressure from the National Assembly, and at the end of 2007, the other female cabinet minister also was under fire from the National Assembly. There was a lack of judicial independence. The government restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement for certain groups, and corruption continued to be a problem. Expatriate laborers faced significant violations of human rights due to the country's labor laws and practices. Trafficking in persons and forced labor continued to be a significant problems. The status of stateless Arab residents ("Bidoons") remained unresolved.
The U.S. strategy for promoting human rights and democracy in the country is multifaceted and involves engaging in a vigorous dialogue on human rights issues. Some of the tactics used in promoting this dialogue include study tours to the United States; U.S. government outreach; and digital video conferences between Kuwaiti and American students, journalists, subject experts, and government officials. The United States works to instill the values of democracy and participatory civil society, especially among youth and women, through support to NGOs and participation in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and educational and training programs. A major focus of the U.S. government's activities continues to be raising awareness about human trafficking in society and among government officials.
In 2007 the United States took a number of diplomatic and programmatic steps to promote democracy, including ongoing and frequent discussions with parliamentarians and government officials to encourage further progress in the development of democracy in the country. An ongoing U.S.-funded program focuses on voter education and elections in light of elections scheduled for May 2008. To promote political and civic participation, the United States sends local participants to the United States on numerous IVLPs on topics such as youth and civic participation, promoting the rule of law and judicial reform, and U.S. elections and foreign policy. U.S.-funded grants to various local groups promote political and civic participation. In 2007 approximately 200 high school students received English language microscholarship grants, which helped instill the values of democracy and civic participation through in-class elections and community service projects. In 2007 16 local ninth- and tenth-graders spent one year in the United States through an exchange and study program, where they were able to learn first-hand about American democratic values. A U.S.-funded grant aimed at youth taught leadership and organizational skills geared towards mobilization of peers on environmental issues.
Although the country has a generally open environment for the press, the U.S. government continued to encourage additional media freedoms and facilitate local reporters' exposure to U.S. counterparts. In 2007 two local journalists traveled to the United States on an exchange program for journalists, where they examined first-hand journalistic practices in the United States through visits with government institutions, NGOs, and journalism schools. A U.S. grant assisted the Kuwait Journalists Association (KJA) to help draft an amendment to the press law. U.S. experts provided guidance on international norms based on UN and European conventions and recommended a plan for government action. The KJA then drafted an amendment to the law and laid the groundwork for future experts to advise the government on how to gain public and government support for the passage of the new legislation. Another U.S. grant taught journalists and editors, as well as eight local NGOs, how to produce public service announcements for television.
NGOs in the country operate in a difficult environment, since they are prohibited by law from engaging in overt political activity. To strengthen the country's NGO community, the United States continues to fund a number of programs through small grants.
Expatriate laborers, who form the majority of the country's labor force, face significant problems, particularly household workers, who are not covered by labor laws. U.S. officials consistently and publicly call for the country to address the problem of domestic worker rights. The U.S. government continues to implement a program to raise awareness among foreign workers of their rights and duties. U.S. officials work closely with labor-sending countries to increase awareness among government officials about the plight of the expatriate labor community. The U.S. government also engages in ongoing and frequent discussions with government officials at all levels to raise awareness of the problems faced by foreign workers in the country and to combat trafficking in persons. Following strong U.S. advocacy, in September 2007 the government opened a temporary shelter for domestic workers, and in 2007 the government drafted antitrafficking legislation.
The U.S. government continues to engage government interlocutors and support programs to promote religious freedom, tolerance, and women's rights. In 2007 a government official participated in an IVLP focused on promoting interfaith dialogue. The U.S. government also funds a Fulbright Scholarship for a Kuwaiti student to study women and Islam in the United States. Another U.S. grant assisted in promoting women's political participation and leadership. High-level visits by the Secretary of State and the First Lady in 2007 helped promote awareness about women's civic and political participation. During both visits the Secretary and the First Lady met with prominent female activists and discussed challenges and opportunities for women.