KUWAIT CITY — Amnesty International said Thursday that a wave of arbitrary arrests, torture and killings has plagued foreign nationals in Kuwait since the withdrawal of Iraqi forces, and the group complained that the government has placed a low priority on ending human rights abuses.
At least 10 people have died, and there are documented reports of 40 others who have been tortured, most of them Palestinians, Iraqis, Sudanese and stateless Kuwaitis, the human rights group said.
"Victims have been gunned down, or taken away, tortured and killed in secret. Hundreds have been plucked from their homes, taken from the streets or arrested at checkpoints," stated the report, prepared after a two-week fact-finding trip by a group that arrived in Kuwait on March 28.
"Torture was said to have been rife, including beatings, electric shock and prolonged deprivation of food and water," the Amnesty team reported. It added that the reported violations are continuing and appear to be largely unchecked.
Armed forces personnel have been cited increasingly in many of the cases although most abuses in the immediate aftermath of Iraq's withdrawal were attributed to resistance squads, the group said.
"The scale and persistence of the violations threaten to leave an indelible stain on Kuwait's human rights record," said the London-based organization. "This is all the more lamentable in light of hopes that the kind of violations that occurred under the Iraqi occupation would be a thing of the past.
". . . In spite of some positive steps, overall safeguards against human rights violations appear to have been accorded an extremely low priority by the country's rulers."
A senior Kuwaiti familiar with the report said simply, "We say what hurts is the truth."
He said much of the blame rests with the government's failure to move quickly to assert its authority over resistance squads and members of the armed forces in the aftermath of the liberation of Kuwait, when emotional sentiment against Iraqi troops and perceived collaborators ran high.
"There was a period when there was no government, and anyone carrying a gun regarded himself as the authority, and people took the bloody law into their own hands," he said.
Abdul-Rahman Awadi, the acting minister of state for Cabinet affairs, said he had not seen the report. But he insisted that any abuses against Palestinians and other foreign nationals were carried out against the government's orders.
"Of course, I'm very sorry to hear this is going on. This is definitely a policy the government would never approve. It must be completely individual behavior," Awadi said.
"All of us have been very keen to make sure everybody gets the right trial, and that kind of thing," he said, adding that Kuwaiti officials improved conditions under which detainees were being held after visiting the prisons.
About 600 to 700 detainees, many held on charges of collaborating with Iraqi forces, are acknowledged by the authorities. Senior justice officials and U.S. military advisers say about a third are Iraqis and another third are Palestinians, but the group also includes a small number of Kuwaitis accused of crimes during the occupation.
Amnesty International said it has details of 10 extra-judicial killings but that it believes there have been scores of such killings. The group said it has detailed testimony from more 40 people, ages 16 to 60, who said they were tortured by the civilian militia or the armed forces.
In one case, a 24-year-old Palestinian said men who identified themselves as members of the Kuwaiti military intelligence beat him for several hours, stamping on his body, throwing acid on him and applying electrical shocks to his body. Investigators said he had injuries over most of his back and shoulders and that parts of his thighs were raw.
"Savage beating with sticks, hose pipes and rifle butts and whippings with electric cables appeared to be the norm for detainees, as was electric shock treatment, burning with cigarettes, candles and acid," the human rights group said. Teams of torturers, it said, "often appeared to work in relays for hours."
The group appealed to the emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah, to intervene personally to end the incidents.
U.S. authorities have provided a list of Kuwaiti army officials believed to have been involved in mistreatment of detainees, and officials say they are satisfied that the Kuwaiti government has pursued the matter and attempted to end any abuses.
At least one Kuwaiti army official is being court-martialed for his role in treatment of foreign nationals, according to a Western diplomat.