By Peter Boyle
Reporting back on April 19 after a two-week visit to Kuwait, an Amnesty International fact-finding team said scores of people had been killed, hundreds arbitrarily arrested and many brutally tortured by Kuwaiti armed forces and members of "resistance" groups since the February 26 "liberation" of Kuwait.
"These violations are continuing and appear to be largely unchecked", said an Amnesty spokesperson. "Their scale and persistence threaten to leave an indelible stain on Kuwait's human rights record. This is all the more lamentable in the light of hopes that the kind of violations that occurred under Iraqi occupation would be a thing of the past."
The Amnesty team confirmed the overall accuracy of the December 1990 report on human rights violations in Kuwait under Iraqi occupation. But the highly publicised reports about babies being killed because the Iraqi forces had removed them from incubators was not supported by reliable evidence.
The vast majority of human rights abuse victims since February 26 were Palestinians, among them Jordanian passport holders. They included Iraqi and Sudanese nationals and members of the large "Bidun" community (stateless people who have long lived and worked n Kuwait but are denied basic civil and political rights).
"Victims have been gunned down in public or taken away, tortured and killed in secret. Hundreds of victims were plucked from their homes, taken from the streets or arrested at checkpoints, many to be tortured in police stations, schools and other makeshift detention centres", Amnesty said.
Amnesty is also concerned about 600 detainees acknowledged by the authorities. They had been held for over a month in the military prison outside Kuwait.
The fact-finding team visited some of these prisoners who had been transferred to the Kuwait Juveniles Prison, where conditions were better.
"The people we saw had clearly been through an extremely harrowing time and the few detainees we were able to examine medically still bore the scars of torture. Others were ill and appeared to be suffering from infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and dysentery", reported the AI team, which included a British forensic pathologist.
The authorities said that the detainees would be tried under 1967 martial law regulations for collaboration with the Iraqi occupation forces. Some offences carry the death penalty.
Amnesty reported that in the immediate aftermath of Iraqi withdrawal, most of the abuses were carried out by "resistance" squads but that the Kuwaiti armed forces were cited increasingly in later cases. People were still being tortured and killed during Amnesty's visit.
Amnesty could not be precise about the number of extrajudicial killings but suspected that there were scores. The authorities had not granted full access to detainees by independent bodies such as the International Red Cross, and relatives were not being informed of detainees' whereabouts.
The team had detailed testimony from 40 people, aged from 16 to 60, who said they had been tortured. One Palestinian victim, aged 24, told the team that uniformed personnel identifying themselves as members of the Kuwaiti Military Intelligence had beaten him for hours, stamped on his body, thrown acid on him and submitted him to electric shocks.
Severe injuries covered most of his back and shoulders. Parts of his thighs were raw, with skin peeling off "consistent with the application of sulphuric acid, though some could also be caused by electric current".
Amnesty said savage beatings with sticks, hose-pipes and rifle butts and whippings with electric cables appeared to be the norm for many detainees, but the team catalogued over a dozen forms of torture used. These included electric shocks, burning with cigarettes, candles and acid, cutting with knives, biting and threats of execution and sexual assault. Teams of torturers worked in relays, maintaining the torture for hours.
"Although revenge for alleged collaboration appears to have been the motive in some cases, many people seem to have been targeted simply because of their nationality", said Amnesty.