The ‘Paris Principles’ and Human Rights in Oman

The establishment of the Oman Human Rights Commission through a Royal Decree 2008/124 was met with approval by numerous activists and intellectuals. This was particularly noteworthy as the concept of ‘human rights’ had not been formally acknowledged within Omani law at that time. Additionally, the human rights situation in Oman remains a contentious issue, with authorities often violating the rights of individuals and groups without being held accountable.

On its website, the Commission explained that its terms of reference included monitoring the protection of human rights in Oman, tracking violations, and offering advice to the relevant authorities on questions relating to human rights.

The large-scale protests of 2011, characterised by a broad protest movement, served as the initial significant challenge for the Commission in upholding human rights and freedoms. Regrettably, it failed to meet this challenge adequately, a pattern that persisted in its handling of subsequent events.

The Commission failed in the following ways:

X       It failed to defend the rights to protest and to peaceful assembly.

X       It supported the government’s narrative, and failed to defend detainees and treat them as prisoners of conscience.

X       It raised no objection to laws being amended to ban peaceful gatherings without permission from the authorities.

X       It raised no objection to laws banning, indeed criminalising, any party activity of a political nature or relating to human rights.

X       The Commission has repeatedly failed prisoners of conscience by making no effort to look into their cases and find out the reasons for their detention, or to publicly champion their right to express their opinions through peaceful activism, or to condemn the arbitrary punishment of activists and their ongoing oppression.

The Commission departs from the ‘Paris Principles’ – the international minimum standards for effective, credible national human rights institutions (NHRIs), adopted by the UN General Assembly – in several respects, such as:

X       failing to promote human rights and public and individual freedoms;

X       failing to submit reports or recommendations concerning the judicial and legislative arrangements and administrative provisions in force with a view to protecting human rights; and

X       ignoring instances of violations committed by the government or security services.

The current chairman of the committee, although having previously worked at Sultan Qaboos University, also served as a security officer for the Royal Oman Police and the Public Prosecution. The same applies to several other members of the committee who have backgrounds in security institutions or lack legal or human rights backgrounds.

Moreover, in Oman, there is no civil society activity on both the human rights and political fronts, and local laws, such as the Omani Penal Code, criminalise the establishment of associations or parties with any political character.

Maina Kiai, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, stated at a press conference during his visit to Oman in September 2014 that the Sultanate used the maintenance of peace, order and stability as a rationale for limiting assembly and association rights.

The demonstrations that took place in several Omani cities, such as Sohar, Salalah, Nizwa, Sur and Ibri, in May 2021 showed clearly the extent of the Commission’s inability to defend the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, since it declined to condemn the abuses inflicted on the demonstrators by the security authorities.

Oman is one of a number of Middle Eastern states in which the political regime is an absolute monarchy, and the ruler or Sultan keeps a grip on many institutions and holds many official positions.  

What do you think – does the Oman Human Rights Commission’s lack of independence affect its credibility?


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