Omani Commission for Human Rights must improve its effectiveness, pluralism and independence from the government

Mena Rights Group & The OCHRD welcome the Sub-Committee on Accreditation's decision to defer the review of the Omani Commission for Human Rights. The Commission must improve its effectiveness, pluralism & independence from the government.

The Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the Global Alliance of NHRIs (GANHRI) has recently announced its decision to defer the review of the Oman Human Rights Commission (OHRC) by 18 months. The SCA’s’ report cited concerns over the OCHR’s independence, effectiveness and pluralism. This undoubtedly echoes the concerns shared by civil society organisations (CSOs), including MENA Rights Group and the OCHRD, with the SCA ahead of the review.

The OHRC was examined during the first SCA session for 2024 (March 26-28, 2024; April 29 – May 3, 2024). The SCA is responsible for reviewing national human rights institutions’ (NHRIs) compliance with the Paris Principles through a peer-review process. The pillars of these principles are pluralism, independence and effectiveness, whereby NHRIs must be independent from the government, represent and cooperate with civil society, and effectively promote human rights by monitoring violations and addressing them.

NHRIs that are deemed fully compliant with these Principles are accredited with “A status”, while those that are partially compliant are accredited with “B status”. Currently, the OHRC holds B status, which it received during its last review in 2013.

Prior to the review, CSOs are invited to submit information to assist the SCA in its evaluation of NHRIs. As such, MENA Rights Group jointly with the Omani Center for Human Rights and Democracy (OCHRD) sent a letter to the SCA highlighting concerns over the OHRC’s insufficient compliance with the Paris Principles. The letter also urged the SCA to grant the OHRC status “B”, citing concerns over its independence and effectiveness.

Following its session, the SCA decided to defer the OHRC’s review for another 18 months rather than take a decision on their respective status. 

First, the SCA referred to the OHRC’s lack of independence, reporting that the  selection process of members is not sufficiently transparent. This is because the 14 members of the Commission, are themselves selected and appointed by the Sultan of Oman though a Royal Decree. Therefore, the SCA recommended that the OHRC advocate for amendments to the selection process and ensure its selection and appointment process is clear and transparent.

Another impediment to the OHRC’s independence is the influence of sitting or former government representatives on the Commission’s mandate. The SCA recommended that the OHRC’s rules of procedure be amended to limit the involvement of sitting or former government representatives in deliberations and strategic decisions, and to reduce the number of such representatives, which currently stands at six. 

Furthermore, the SCA noted that OHRC’s Internal Regulations do not sufficiently protect its members from being dismissed by state authorities, which hinders the Commission’s independence. The regulations also fail to protect OHRC members from criminal and civil liability, which gives external parties the ability to influence the Commission’s mandate by threatening legal action. The SCA emphasised that the dismissal process should be independent and objective, and that the national law should protect OHRC members from legal liability for the actions and decisions that are undertaken in good faith in their official capacity.

The SCA report further raised concern over the OHRC’s practice of deliberating its annual report on human rights in Oman with the Sultan. Instead, the Commission should establish a process whereby the Majles Oman can discuss the annual report and its findings.

Second, the SCA cited the OHRC’s shortcomings in effectively addressing human rights violations. It noted that Royal Decree No. 57/2022  “does not provide the OHRC with the explicit mandate to encourage ratification or accession to international human rights instruments”. The SCA recommended this decree be amended and encouraged the OHRC to “continue its advocacy for the ratification of international human rights instruments in practice.”

Another hindrance to the OHRC’s effectiveness is the “limited number of complaints and cases” it receives and handles. An NHRI, when handling complaints of alleged violations of human rights, should deal with them “fairly, transparently, efficiently, expeditiously, and with consistency.” The SCA urged the OHRC to remove potential barriers to its complaints process including by improving accessibility, public awareness and confidence.

Finally, the SCA pointed out  the OHRC’s lack of pluralism, i.e. the broader representation of national society in the Commission. More specifically, the SCA encouraged the OHRC to ensure pluralism in its membership composition, which currently only includes three women for a total of 14 members.

MENA Rights Group and the OCHRD welcome the SCA’s decision to defer the OHRC’s review by 18 months in light of the shortcomings outlined above and in our report. The OHRC must improve its independence from the government, its effectiveness in addressing human rights violations, and better represent the whole of society, including women, in the composition of its members. MENA Rights Group and the Oman Center for Democracy and Human Rights will continue to monitor the OHRC’s compliance with the Paris Principles in both legal and practical terms.

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