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TITLE:  OMAN HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995









                              OMAN


The Sultanate of Oman is a monarchy which has been ruled by the 
Al Bu Sa'id family since the middle of the 18th century.  It 
has no political parties or elected representative 
institutions.  The current sultan is Qaboos Bin Sa'id Al Sa'id 
who acceded in 1970.  Although the Sultan retains firm control 
over all important policy issues, he has brought tribal leaders 
and other notables into the Government.  Much decisionmaking is 
by consensus among these leaders according to longstanding 
tradition.  In 1991 the Sultan established a 59-seat 
Consultative Council, or Majlis Ash-Shura, which replaced an 
older advisory body.  Council members are selected from lists 
of nominees proposed by each of the 59 wilayats (regions).  
After the country's first national census in 1993, the Sultan 
expanded the membership of the new Council to 80 seats.  The 
Council has no formal legislative powers, but may question 
government ministers and recommend changes to new laws on 
economic and social policy.

The entire security apparatus falls under the authority of the 
Ministry of Palace Office Affairs which coordinates all 
intelligence and security policies.  The internal security 
service investigates all matters related to internal security.  
The Royal Oman Police performs regular police duties, provides 
security at airports, acts as immigration officials, and 
maintains a small coast guard.  There were no confirmed reports 
indicating that these agencies were involved in human rights 
abuses in 1994.

Since 1970, Oman has used its modest oil revenue to make 
impressive economic progress and improve public access to 
health care, education and social services.  The Government 
seeks to diversify the economy and stimulate private investment.

The Government continues to restrict or deny important human 
rights.  In 1994 the Government detained 200 people in 
connection with an alleged plot to destabilize the country.  
The Government charged 131 of these suspects with sedition and 
tried them in secret before the State Security Court.  The 
detentions and secret trials raised serious questions about 
freedom from arbitrary arrest and the right to due process.  
Other human rights restrictions included infringements on the 
freedoms of expression and association.  The Government does 
not guarantee full rights for workers and women.  As a 
practical matter, the people do not have the right to change 
their government.

Nonetheless, the Government took several steps in 1994 to 
address human rights concerns.  It increased the number of 
seats on the Consultative Council and allowed women to take 
part in nominations for Council members.  In November the 
Government selected two women to serve on the Council.  The 
Government also joined the International Labor Organization 
(ILO) and began to draft a new labor law that addresses worker 
rights.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or extrajudicial killing.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

There were no confirmed reports of torture.  However, there 
were unconfirmed reports that security forces physically 
mistreated an undetermined number of persons arrested for 
subversion.  These reports were not confirmed.

The Government severely restricts access to prisons.  However, 
prison conditions reportedly meet internationally recognized 
minimum standards.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

In general the police obtain warrants prior to making arrests 
but are not required by law to do so.  The authorities must 
obtain court orders to hold suspects in pretrial detention.  
Within 24 hours of arrest, the police are required to file 
charges or ask a magistrate judge to order continued 
detention.  The police do not always follow these procedures, 
and in one confirmed case in 1994 an individual was detained 
for more than 72 hours without charge.  Judges may order 
detentions for 14 days to allow investigation and may grant 
extensions if necessary.  There is a system of bail.

The police do not routinely notify a detainee's family or in 
the case of a foreign worker, the worker's sponsor of the 
detention.  The authorities post a list of persons scheduled 
for trial near the magistrate court building in Muscat.  While 
there were no reports of incommunicado detention in 1994, the 
police do not always permit attorneys and family members to 
visit detainees.  Judges occasionally intercede to ensure that 
security officials allow such visits.

In May, June, and September, security forces detained at least 
200 persons, and questioned at least a hundred more, for their 
alleged membership in a subversive group.  The Government later 
tried 131 of the detainees for conspiracy to subvert national 
unity and security and the misuse of Islam (see Section 1.e.).  
The authorities stated that the police obtained the necessary 
court orders for the detentions and that formal charges were 
brought as quickly as possible.  However, the lack of public 
information about the cases has raised questions about the 
possible arbitrary nature of the arrests and detentions--and 
the fairness of the trials.  In December the authorities 
announced that family members and friends may visit the 
prisoners, but had earlier denied such visits.

The Government does not practice exile as a form of punishment.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system does not always ensure fair trials based on 
internationally accepted norms.  The judiciary comprises the 
magistrate courts, which adjudicate misdemeanors and criminal 
matters; the Islamic, or Shari'a, courts, which adjudicate 
personal status cases such as divorce and inheritance; the 
Authority for the Settlement of Commercial Disputes (ASCD); the 
Labor Welfare Board; and the Real Estate Committee, which hears 
tenant-landlord disputes.  A State Security Court tries cases 
involving national security.  Although it is administratively 
distinct from the other courts, magistrate court judges have 
presided over trials in the State Security Court.

The various courts are subordinate to the Sultan and subject to 
his influence.  The Sultan appoints all judges, acts as a court 
of final appeal, and intercedes in cases of particular 
interest, especially in national security cases.  However, 
there have been no reported instances in which the Sultan has 
overturned a decision of the ASCD or the magistrate courts.

The Criminal Code does not specify the rights of the accused.  
There are no written rules of evidence, or codified procedures 
for entering cases into the criminal system, or any legal 
provision for a public trial.  Criminal procedures have 
developed by tradition and precedents in the magistrate 
courts.  In criminal cases, the police provide defendants with 
the written charges against them, defendants are presumed 
innocent, and have the right to present evidence and confront 
witnesses.  The prosecution and the defense question witnesses 
through the judge, who is usually the only person to question 
witnesses in court.

There are no jury trials:  a single judge tries misdemeanors; a 
panel of three judges tries felonies and security offenses.  
Magistrate court judges must be citizens.  Public prosecutors 
are senior police officers.  They may bring additional charges 
after defense attorneys have inspected the charge sheet or 
during trial.

A detainee may hire an attorney but has no explicit right to be 
represented by counsel.  The Government does not pay for the 
legal representation of indigents.  Judges often pronounce the 
verdict and sentence within 1 day after the completion of a 
trial.  Defendants may appeal jail sentences longer than 3 
months and fines over the equivalent of $1,300 to a three-judge 
panel.  Defendants accused of national security offenses and 
serious felonies do not have the right of appeal.  Death 
sentences, which are rare, require the Sultan's approval.

The Government tried 131 persons for subversion in secret 
before the State Security Court, which issued verdicts on 
November 12 (see Section 1.d.).  The Court sentenced two 
defendants to death and the others from 3 to 15 years in 
prison.  The Sultan later commuted the death sentences to 
prison terms.  The defendants did not receive a fair trial by 
international norms.

There are no known political prisoners.  However, the secrecy 
of the subversion trials prevents any independent assessment of 
the Government's assertion that the defendants were actual 
subversives found guilty of plotting to destabilize the country.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
         Correspondence

The police are not required by law to obtain search warrants.  
There is a widespread belief that the Government eavesdrops on 
both oral and written communications, and Omanis are guarded in 
both areas.  Citizens must obtain permission from the Ministry 
of Interior to marry foreigners.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

There is no legal protection for free speech or press.  The law 
prohibits any criticism of the Sultan in any form or medium.  
The authorities tolerate criticism of government officials and 
agencies, but such criticism rarely receives media coverage.

The 1984 Press and Publication Law authorizes the Government to 
censor all domestic and imported publications.  Ministry of 
Information censors may act against any material regarded as 
politically, culturally, or sexually offensive.  However, 
journalists and writers generally censor themselves to avoid 
government harassment.  Editorials reflect the Government's 
views, although the authorities tolerate some criticism on 
foreign issues.  The Government discourages in-depth reporting 
on controversial domestic issues, and seeks to influence 
privately owned dailies and periodicals by subsidizing their 
operating costs.  In late August, all four daily newspapers 
reported the arrest of the 200 alleged subversives only 
once--by publishing the dispatch of the government-owned Oman 
News Agency without further comment.

On several occasions in 1994, the Government prohibited the 
entry onto the market of several foreign newspapers.  The 
authorities prevented distribution of the August 6 edition of 
the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, reportedly because it 
contained some statements regarded as critical of the Majlis 
Ash-Shura, and of the November 7 edition of the Financial 
Times, reportedly because it contained an article critical of 
the Government's economic policy.  Customs officials sometimes 
confiscate video cassette tapes and erase offensive material.  
The tapes may or may not be returned to their owners.

The Government controls the local radio and television 
companies.  They do not air any politically controversial 
material.  The Government does not allow the establishment of 
privately owned radio and television companies.  However, the 
availability of satellite dishes has made foreign broadcast 
information accessible to the public.

The appropriate government authority, such as the Sultan Qaboos 
University, the police, or the relevant ministry must approve 
cultural events, including plays, concerts, lectures, and 
seminars.  Most organizations avoid controversial issues for 
fear the authorities may cancel their events.  Academic freedom 
is restricted, particularly regarding controversial matters, 
including politics.  Professors may be dismissed for going 
beyond acceptable boundaries.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law does not guarantee freedom of assembly.  The Government 
regards all private associations as illegal unless lawfully 
registered.  The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor must 
approve the establishment of all associations and their 
by-laws.  The Government uses the power to license associations 
as the power to control the political environment.  It does not 
license groups regarded as a threat to the predominant social 
or political views of the Sultanate.

All public gatherings require government sponsorship.  The 
authorities do not always enforce this requirement, and 
unauthorized gatherings take place without government 
approval.  In 1994 the Government increased restrictions on 
most types of public gatherings (see Section 2.c.).

     c.  Freedom of Religion

Islam is the state religion.  Most Omanis are Ibadhi or Sunni 
Muslims, but there is also a minority of Shi'a Muslims.  
Non-Muslims are free to worship at churches and temples built 
on land donated by the Sultan.  There are many Christian 
denominations which utilize two plots of donated land on which 
two Catholic and two Protestant churches have been built.  The 
Government prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing Muslims.  
It also prohibits non-Muslim groups from publishing religious 
material, although imported printed material may be brought 
into the country.  Members of all religions and sects are free 
to maintain links with coreligionists abroad and undertake 
foreign travel for religious purposes.

The 1994 restrictions on most types of public gatherings 
resulted in a substantial curtailment of non-Muslim religious 
celebrations.  For example, the authorities did not grant 
permission to the Hindu and Zoroastrian communities to 
celebrate some of their religious festivals in public.

The police monitor mosque sermons to ensure that the preachers 
do not discuss political topics and stay within the 
state-approved orthodoxy of Islam.  Security forces reportedly 
arrested a mosque preacher in the city of Salalah for his 
alleged association with an unauthorized Islamic group.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government does not restrict travel within the country 
except to military areas.  While a man may travel abroad 
freely, a woman must have authorization from her husband, 
father, or nearest male relative to obtain a passport.

The Government does not have a policy on refugees or a 
tradition of harboring stateless or undocumented aliens.  Tight 
control over the entry of foreigners into the country has 
effectively screened out would-be refugees.  However, in 1994 
the Government offered temporary refuge to several thousand 
Yemenis displaced by the civil war in Yemen.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Oman is an autocracy in which the Sultan retains the ultimate 
authority on all important foreign and domestic issues.  The 
country has no formal democratic political institutions, and 
its citizens do not have the ability peacefully to change their 
leaders or the political system.

There is no constitution, political parties, or elections.  
Citizens have indirect access to senior officials through the 
traditional practice of petitioning their patrons, usually the 
local governor, or wali, for redress of grievances.  Successful 
redress depends on the effectiveness of the patron's access to 
appropriate decisionmakers.  The Sultan appoints the 
governors.  The Sultan makes an annual 3-week tour of the 
country, accompanied by his ministers, to listen directly to 
his subjects' problems.

In 1991 Sultan Qaboos established a Consultative Council, or 
Majlis Ash-Shura.  In 1994 he expanded the number of Council 
seats to 80 from the original 59, a move which allocated two 
members for districts with a higher population.  The Government 
selected the Council members from several nominees elected in 
caucuses of prominent persons in each district.  In 1994 four 
women were nominated for Council seats; two of them were 
selected to serve.

The Council has no formal legislative powers.  The Council is 
not an effective check on the Sultan who issues all laws by 
decree.  However, it serves as a conduit of information between 
the people and the government ministries.  No serving 
government official is eligible to be a Council member.  The 
Council may question government ministers, review all draft 
laws on social and economic policy, and recommend legislative 
changes to the Sultan, who makes the final decision.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

The Government prohibits the establishment of human rights 
groups.  The existing restrictions on the freedom of speech and 
association do not permit any activity or speech critical of 
the Government.  There were no known requests by international 
human rights organizations to visit Oman in 1994.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

     Women

Women face many forms of discrimination.  Most women live their 
lives within the confines of the home.  Widespread illiteracy 
hampers women's ability to own property, participate in the 
modern sector of the economy, or even inform themselves of 
their own rights.  Government officials frequently deny women 
land grants or housing loans, and prefer to conduct business 
with a woman's husband or other male relative.  Many educated 
women face job discrimination because prospective employers 
fear they might quit to marry or raise families.  Government 
grants for study abroad are limited almost exclusively to males.

Many aspects of Islamic tradition also discriminate against 
women.  Islamic law favors male heirs in adjudicating 
inheritance claims.  Many women are reluctant to take an 
inheritance dispute to court for fear of alienating the family.

Some educated women have attained positions of authority in 
government, business, and the media.  An estimated 14 percent 
of all civil servants are women.  Two women also serve in the 
Consultative Council.  In both the public and private sectors, 
women are entitled to liberal maternity leave and equal pay for 
equal work.  The bureaucracy, the country's largest employer of 
women, observes such regulations, as do many private sector 
employers.  Women constitute roughly half of the 3,000 students 
at the Sultan Qaboos University and are a majority in the 
colleges of arts, education, science, business, and Islamic 
studies.

There is no evidence of a pattern of spousal abuse but 
information is scant and difficult to collect.  Doctors do not 
have a legal responsibility to report either spouse or child 
abuse cases to the courts.  Battered women may file a complaint 
with the police, but more often seek family intervention to 
protect them from violent domestic situations.  There have been 
reports that employers or male coworkers have sexually harassed 
foreign females employed in such positions as domestic servants 
and hospital nurses.  Foreign women employed as domestic 
servants and garment workers have complained that their 
employers have withheld their salaries and that government 
officials have been unresponsive to their grievances.

     Children

The Government has made the health, education, and general 
welfare of children a budgetary priority.  There is no pattern 
of familial or other child abuse.  Communities in the interior 
and in the Dhofar region still practice female genital 
mutilation.  Experts believe that the number of such cases is 
small and declining annually.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Citizens of East African origin complain that they frequently 
face job discrimination in both the public and private 
sectors.  Some public institutions reportedly favor hiring 
members of one or another regional, tribal, or religious 
group.  However, no group is banned from employment.

     Religious Minorities

Some members of the Shi'a Muslim minority claim they face 
discrimination in employment and educational opportunities.

     People with Disabilities

The Government has mandated parking spaces and some ramps for 
wheelchair access in private and government office buildings 
and shopping centers.  Compliance is voluntary.  Students in 
wheelchairs have easy access to Sultan Qaboos University.  The 
Government has established several rehabilitation centers for 
handicapped children.  Handicapped people, including the blind, 
work in government offices.  Free government medical assistance 
to all citizens includes physical therapy for the handicapped.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

In 1994 the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor drafted a new 
labor law, and the Consultative Council recommended some 
changes.  Although consensus on the final draft has not yet 
been reached, government officials said that the new labor code 
will be consistent with international labor standards.  It will 
reportedly contain a provision for the establishment of worker 
committees in the workplace and remove the prohibition against 
strikes.  The current law stipulates that "it is absolutely 
forbidden to provoke a strike for any reason."

Labor unrest is rare.  Although strikes are technically 
illegal, workers sometimes stage job actions.  In general, 
these disputes are settled without police intervention.  In 
1994 the Government joined the International Labor 
Organization.  The Government received an ILO representative 
who provided advice on the draft labor law.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The current law does not provide for the right to collective 
bargaining.  It requires that employers of more than 50 workers 
form a joint labor-management committee as a communication 
forum between the two groups.  The implementation of this 
provision is uneven, and the effectiveness of these committees 
is questionable.  In general the committees discuss such 
questions as living conditions at company-provided housing.  
They are not authorized to discuss wages, hours, or conditions 
of employment.  Such issues are specified in the work contracts 
signed individually by workers and employers and must be 
consistent with the guidelines of the Ministry of Social 
Affairs and Labor.

The current law defines conditions of employment for some 
Omanis and foreign workers.  It covers domestic servants and 
construction workers, but not temporary workers or those with 
work contracts that expire within 3 months.  Foreign workers 
constitute at least 50 percent of the work force and as much as 
80 percent of the modern-sector work force.

Work rules must be approved by the Ministry of Social Affairs 
and Labor and posted conspicuously in the workplace by 
employers of 10 or more workers.  Similarly, any employer with 
50 or more workers must establish a grievance procedure.  
Regardless of the size of the company, any employee, including 
foreign workers, may file a grievance with the Labor Welfare 
Board.  Sometimes worker representatives file collective 
grievances, but most grievances are filed by individual 
workers.  Lower paid workers use the procedure regularly.  
Plaintiffs and defendants in such cases may be represented by 
legal counsel.

There are no export processing zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits compulsory labor but foreign workers 
sometimes find themselves in situations amounting to forced 
labor.  In such cases, employers withhold letters of release, a 
document releasing the worker from his employment contract, 
thus allowing him to switch jobs.  Without the letter, a 
foreign worker must continue to work for his current employer 
or become technically unemployed--which is sufficient grounds 
for deportation.  Many foreign workers are not aware of their 
right to take such disputes before the Labor Welfare Board.  
Others are reluctant to file complaints for fear of retribution 
by unscrupulous employers.  In most cases, the Board releases 
the grievant from service and awards compensation for time 
worked under compulsion.  Employers face no other penalty than 
to reimburse the worker's back wages.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law prohibits children under the age of 13 from working.  
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor effectively enforces 
this prohibition.  Children between 13 and 16 years of age may 
be employed but must obtain the Ministry's permission to work 
overtime, at night, on weekends or holidays, or perform 
strenuous labor.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor issues minimum wage 
guidelines for various categories of workers.  The minimum wage 
for nonprofessional workers was about $156 a month (60 rials).  
Minimum wage guidelines do not cover domestic servants, 
farmers, government employees, or workers in small businesses.  
Many foreigners work in fields exempt from the minimum wage 
statute.  The Government is lax in enforcing minimum wage 
guidelines for foreign workers employed in menial jobs.  
However, foreign workers with high skills are frequently paid 
more than their Omani counterparts.

The minimum wage is sufficient to provide a decent standard of 
living for a worker and family.  The compensation for foreign 
manual laborers and clerks is sufficient to cover living 
expenses and to permit some savings to be sent home.

The private sector workweek is 40 to 45 hours and includes a 
rest period from Thursday afternoon through Friday.  Government 
officials have a 35-hour workweek.  While the law does not 
designate the number of days in a workweek, it requires at 
least one 24-hour rest period per week and mandates overtime 
pay for hours in excess of 48 per week.  Government regulations 
on hours of employment are not always enforced.  Employees who 
have worked extra hours without compensation may file a 
complaint before the Labor Welfare Board, but the Board's 
rulings are not binding.

Every worker has the right to 15 days of annual leave during 
the first 3 years of employment and 30 days per year 
thereafter.  Employers provide many foreign nationals, 
including maids, with annual or biannual round-trip tickets to 
their countries of origin.

All employers are required by law to provide first aid 
facilities.  Work sites with over 100 employees must have a 
nurse.  Employees covered under the Labor Law may recover 
compensation for injury or illness sustained on the job through 
employer-provided medical insurance.  The health and safety 
standard codes are enforced by inspectors from the Department 
of Health and Safety of the Directorate of Labor.  As required 
by law, they make frequent on-site inspections.

The law states that employers must not to place their employees 
in situations involving dangerous work.  However, the law does 
not specifically grant a worker the right to remove himself 
from dangerous work without jeopardy to his continued 
employment.

(###)

[end of document]

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