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Title:  Oman Human Rights Practices, 1995 
Author:  U.S. Department of State  
Date:  March 1996  
 
 
 
 
                                 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 directly 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.  In 
accordance with tradition and cultural norms, much decisionmaking is by 
consensus among these leaders.  In 1991 the Sultan established a 59-seat 
Consultative Council, or Majlis Ash-Shura, which replaced an older 
advisory body.  The Government selects council members 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 internal 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, serves as the 
country's immigration agency, and maintains a small coast guard.  There 
are credible reports that security forces occasionally mistreated 
detainees. 
 
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.  Oman has a mixed economy with significant 
government participation in industry, transportation and communications.  
The Government seeks to diversify the economy and stimulate private 
investment. 
 
The Government continues to restrict or deny important human rights.  
Human rights abuses include arbitrary arrest, mistreatment of detainees, 
prolonged detention without charge, and the denial of due process.  The 
Government restricts freedom of expression and association, and does not 
guarantee full rights for workers and women.  On November 5, Sultan 
Qaboos granted a general amnesty to an undetermined number of persons 
who were tried and sentenced in 1994 during a roundup of alleged 
subversives.  An undetermined number of prisoners held since the 1980's 
on similar charges were also released.  As a practical matter, the 
people do not have the right to change their government. 
 
 
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 other extrajudicial killings. 
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. 
 
   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
Security forces mistreat some detainees, particularly during 
interrogation.  However, the abuse does not appear to be systematic, and 
often varies depending upon the social status of the victim and the 
official involved.  Techniques range from sleep deprivation to harsher 
measures such as hanging a bound victim from a steel bar in such a way 
that the wrists must support the full weight of the body.  Security 
officials sometimes beat detainees but are often careful to conceal 
evidence of abuse by employing such tactics as restricting blows to less 
visible areas of the body.  Although judges have the right to order 
investigations of allegations of mistreatment, there is no recent 
evidence that any officer has been punished for abusing detainees. 
 
The Government does not permit independent monitoring of prisons.  
Nevertheless, prison conditions appear to meet minimum international 
standards.  Access to some prisoners is severely restricted.  Prison 
officials refused some requests for visits by relatives of the alleged 
subversives jailed in 1994.  These prisoners were held in a special 
section at Rumais maximum security prison.  A previously unknown group 
calling itself the "Oman Civil Rights Committee," believed to be based 
in the United Kingdom, alleged in early May that prison officials at 
Rumais denied medical care to "50 of the 146" alleged subversives who 
were suffering from possible food poisoning.  The group described 
conditions at Rumais as "atrocious."  These allegations were 
unconfirmed. 
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The police may 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.  In practice, however, 
the police do not always follow these  procedures.  Judges may order 
detentions for 14 days to allow investigation and may grant extensions, 
if necessary.  There is a system of bail. 
 
Police handling of arrests and detentions constitutes incommunicado 
detention in some instances.  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.  Sometimes notification is made only just 
prior to the detainee's release.  The authorities post a list of persons 
scheduled for trial near the magistrate court building in Muscat.  The 
police do not always permit attorneys and family members to visit 
detainees.  Judges occasionally intercede to ensure that security 
officials allow such visits. 
 
The Government does not practice exile as a form of punishment. 
 
   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
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 Rent Dispute 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, cannot be carried out without the 
Sultan's approval. 
 
There are no known political prisoners.  An undetermined number of 
individuals who were tried and sentenced for engaging in alleged 
subversive activities in 1994 remained incarcerated for most of 1995.  
However, the secrecy of their trials prevented any independent 
assessment of the Government's assertion that all those convicted were 
actually guilty of plotting to destabilize the country.  In November the 
Sultan granted a general amnesty to "all prisoners involved in 
activities and organizations that are forbidden by law."  This had the 
effect of freeing those jailed in 1994.  Some of these individuals 
occupied important positions in the Government. 
 
   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, which is not automatically granted.  In one recent case, 
officials at an Omani embassy abroad confiscated the passport of an 
Omani woman who had married a European national without permission from 
her father or the Government.  When her husband traveled alone to Oman 
to discuss the marriage with his wife's family, he was placed under 
arrest.  The man was allowed to depart the country after his wife 
surrendered her passport and his government intervened on his behalf. 
 
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 affairs 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. 
 
The Government prohibits the entry onto the market of foreign newspapers 
and magazines containing reports or statements deemed critical of Oman.  
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 Sultan Qaboos University, 
the police, or the relevant ministry must approve cultural events, 
including plays, concerts, lectures, and seminars.  Most organizations 
avoid controversial issues due to fear that 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 law states that the 
Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor must approve the establishment of 
all associations and their by-laws.  Despite this, some groups are 
allowed to function without such formal registration.  The Government 
uses the power to license associations as a means 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 gatherings sometimes take 
place without formal government approval.  Regulations implemented in 
1994 restricting most types of public gatherings remain in effect. 
 
    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.  Other land has been made available to Catholic and Protestant 
missions in Sohar and Salalah. 
 
The Government prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing Muslims.  It 
also prohibits non-Muslim groups from publishing religious material, 
although material printed abroad 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.  Due to government restrictions on public gatherings, there 
has been a substantial curtailment of non-Muslim religious celebrations 
in recent years. 
 
The police monitor mosque sermons to ensure that the preachers do not 
discuss political topics and stay within the state-approved orthodoxy of 
Islam.  In major mosques in a number of cities, imams preach 
standardized sermons distributed by the Ministry of Justice, Awqaf, and 
Islamic Affairs. 
 
   d.   Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
The Government does not restrict travel by citizens within the country 
except to military areas.  Foreigners, other than diplomats, must obtain 
a government pass to cross border points.  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.  Yemeni refugees who were allowed to enter southern Oman in 
mid-1994 have since returned to their country. 
 
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 written constitution, political parties, or direct 
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.  The 
tour allows the Sultan 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.  Caucus participants are also subject to government approval.  
In some cases, nominees with the most votes did not win appointment to 
the Council.  The Council has no formal legislative powers, which remain 
concentrated in the Sultan's hands.  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. 
 
The Sultan has publicly advocated a greater role for women in both the 
public and private sectors.  In 1994, the Government selected two women 
to serve on the Consultative Council. 
 
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. 
 
Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
Oman does not have a written Constitution.  It does not have laws to 
prohibit discrimination.  Institutional and cultural discrimination 
based on gender, race, religion, social status, and disability exists. 
 
   Women 
 
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. 
 
Most women live within the confines of their homes.  They continue to 
face many forms of discrimination.  Illiteracy among older women hampers 
their 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. 
 
However, since 1970 conditions for women have improved dramatically in 
several areas.  Whereas just 25 years ago no schools existed for girls, 
in 1995, the Omani Ministry of Education reported an enrollment rate of 
86.7 percent for all girls eligible for elementary school.  In the 1994-
95 school year, female students constituted 48 percent of the total 
number of students attending public schools.  Women constitute roughly 
half of the 3,000 students at Sultan Qaboos University. In November 432 
women and 307 men received degrees as members of the sixth graduating 
class.  The University has a quota system with the apparent goal of 
increasing the number of men studying certain specialities.  Reportedly, 
women are being limited to 50 percent of the seats in the medical 
department, and are no longer permitted to take degrees in engineering.  
The quotas will allow women to constitute a majority in some other 
departments. 
 
Women have also made gains in the work force.  Some educated women have 
attained positions of authority in government, business, and the media.  
Approximately 19 percent of all civil servants are women.  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.  Still, many educated women face job discrimination 
because prospective employers fear they might quit to marry or raise 
families.  Several women employees in the Government have complained 
that they have been denied promotion in favor of less capable men.  
Government grants for study abroad are limited almost exclusively to 
males. 
 
Some 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. 
 
   Children 
 
The Government has made the health, education, and general welfare of 
children a budgetary priority.  The infant mortality rate continues to 
decline and comprehensive immunization rates have risen.  There is no 
pattern of familial or other child abuse.  A few communities in the 
interior and in the Dhofar region still practice female genital 
mutilation (FMG).  FMG is widely condemned by international health 
experts as damaging to a girl's physical and psychological heath.  
Experts believe that the number of such cases is small and declining 
annually. 
 
   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 disabled children.  Disabled persons, 
including the blind, work in government offices.  Free government 
medical assistance to all citizens includes physical therapy and 
prosthetics support for the disabled. 
 
   Religious Minorities 
 
Some members of the Shi'a Muslim minority claim they face discrimination 
in employment and educational opportunities.  Some members of this same 
community, however, occupy prominent positions in both the private and 
public sectors. 
 
   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. 
 
Members of the Shihuh tribe in the strategic province of Musandam have 
charged that security authorities have harassed and detained tribe 
members who complain about alleged inattention or ill treatment by the 
central Government.  Clashes between Shihuh and security forces occur 
periodically, most recently in October 1994. 
 
Section 6   Worker Rights 
 
   a.   The Right of Association 
 
The Government has not yet promulgated a new labor law first drafted by 
the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor in 1994.  The Consultative 
Council later recommended some changes.  The Government is currently 
reviewing additional changes to the proposed law recommended by the 
Consultative Council.  Government officials have 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 work place 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. 
 
   b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
The current law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining.  
It requires, however, 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 work place 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 investigative and enforcement 
mechanisms are lacking.  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.  In 1995, for example, workers at a 
construction company who had not been paid for 
3 months staged a work action.  The expatriate manager of the company 
was jailed briefly, but the Omani owner faced no legal action.  The 
workers reportedly received only a promise of payment in the near 
future. 
 
   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 enforces this prohibition.  In 
practice, however, the enforcement often does not extend to some small 
family businesses which employ underage children, particularly in the 
agricultural and fisheries sectors.  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 is 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 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 on-site inspections. 
 
The law states that employers must not 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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