The Annual Report Of Human Rights in Oman – 2023

Key Features

 The full copy of the report:

The Annual Report- Oman 2023

Despite Oman’s commitment to several international agreements, human rights continue to deteriorate.

The Internal Security Service lacks oversight and accountability, operating without scrutiny of actions or personnel behaviour.

Freedom of opinion and expression represents one of the major challenges faced by activists and writers in Oman.

The right to peaceful assembly or advocacy for peaceful demonstration is considered one of the restricted rights.

Oman persists in discriminatory practices against women in various aspects.

The Kafala system, infamous for its bad reputation, constitutes a legal framework delineating the contractual arrangement between migrant/expat workers and their employers.

The Council of Oman, in its two branches, has very limited powers that do not exceed a consultative role.

  1. Introduction:

The Sultanate of Oman is one of the countries that remains distant from the global media spotlight, largely due to its limited international role, both economically and politically. Despite being relied upon by major world powers for international mediations, such as the Iranian’s nuclear programme and hostage negotiations, Oman’s modest role has, for the most part, kept it away from the global media lens, particularly concerning its domestic human rights situation. Omani authorities have, thus far, excelled in maintaining a positive international reputation, primarily built upon non-contentious international relations, both with its Gulf Arab neighbours and countries worldwide.

In 2011, Oman witnessed a significant wave of protests, which can be described as substantial, spreading across several Omani cities, including the capital, Muscat, as well as Sohar (in northern Oman) and Salalah (in southern Oman). This protest movement revealed the discrepancy between the image the authorities consistently presented to the outside world and the internal situation. The authorities responded to the protests with severity, deploying security and military forces to swiftly quell the demonstrations. This intervention resulted in casualties, including fatalities and injuries, as these forces employed weaponry against the protesters.

Another adverse outcome of this protest movement was the enactment of laws and regulations by the authorities, often through royal decrees, leading to a significant regression in the state of human rights and civil liberties. This regression was notably manifested in the amendment of Oman’s penal code and the addition of supplementary laws, which restricted and criminalized intellectual activity, freedom of opinion, and expression. Additionally, the issuance of the Cyber Crime Law served as a supplementary legal framework to further restrict freedom of opinion and expression by monitoring electronic activities, particularly on social media platforms, of individuals.

Despite the optimism expressed by many activists regarding the current Sultan, Haitham bin Tariq, who assumed the reins of power in Oman in January 2020, the situation has remained largely unchanged. Despite Oman’s signing of several international agreements related to human rights, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Convention for The Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the current Sultan has also initiated the updating of existing laws and the creation of new ones. These include laws like the Internal Security Service Law and the Cyber Defence Centre, both of which solidify repression and grant extensive powers to the domestic security apparatus and intelligence agencies, often infringing on individuals’ privacy under the pretext of security and safety concerns.

Furthermore, women’s rights in Oman currently face significant challenges due to discriminatory laws, including those found in personal status laws and the Omani penal code. These laws not only perpetuate male dominance but also exhibit discrimination against women concerning the transmission of nationality to their children in cases of marriage to non-Omanis. Additionally, issues related to guardianship and custody rights for children arise in the event of a spouse’s death or divorce. Despite the ongoing efforts by authorities to polish their external image by presenting women as having equal rights to men, such as their appointment to high political positions, discrimination against women in certain rights remains one of the most contentious issues to date. Furthermore, the persistent inadequacy of authorities in providing necessary protection for women against domestic and spousal violence, along with delays in implementing effective legal measures, adds to the complexity of the situation.

Another aspect that must be highlighted is that individual freedoms in Oman face a formidable challenge to the extent that any activity deemed as an exercise of individual freedom is at risk of being classified as dangerous. Several activists have faced imprisonment and defamation due to their atheistic activities on social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter). Harsh sentences have been issued against them. Additionally, the LGBTQ+ community faces significant challenges due to laws criminalizing same-sex relationships, imposing restrictions, and enforcing severe penalties.

Moreover, there is a systematic and harsh crackdown against any criticism of the Sultan, who himself serves as the head of state and prime minister, or criticism of the government, especially ministries that could be described as sovereign. All these violations are followed by severe judicial sentences and fines, which will be addressed in more detail later.

  1. The Executive Summary:

Oman is an authoritarian state characterized by the absolute rule of a monarch, operating without a formal constitution but instead governed by the Basic Statute of the State, commonly referred to as the White Book. The current monarch, a cousin of the late monarch who passed away in January 2020, wields unchecked authority. Oman commemorates its national day on November 18th each year.

Despite the recent appointment of a crown prince to assist in governance and broaden participation in decision-making, Oman remains distant from achieving democratic status. Majles Oman serves as the parliamentary body, comprising the elected lower chamber, A’Shoura, and the upper chamber, A’Dhawla, whose members are appointed by the monarch. However, Majles Oman primarily provides advisory recommendations, with its members’ perspectives seldom influencing executive decisions. The monarch concurrently holds the positions of chief of state and head of government and retains the authority to appoint the cabinet. Succession to the throne follows a hereditary process.

Despite the current Sultan’s decision to appoint a crown prince to assist him in certain tasks and broaden the scope of decision-making, Oman is not a democratic state. The Oman Council, which serves as the parliament, consists of two chambers: the lower and the upper. Members of the lower chamber, the Consultative, A’Shoura, Council, are elected by the people, but members of the upper chamber, the State, Council, A’Dhawla, are appointed by royal decree. The State Council possesses more authority than the Consultative. Furthermore, Oman Council in its two chambers functions merely as an advisory body, not a legislative authority as commonly understood. It is rare for the opinions of Oman Council members on laws and legislation to be considered by the executive authority, headed by the Sultan himself, who appoints ministers and forms the government through royal decrees. The governance system in Oman is not only absolute monarchy but also hereditary, with the concept of power transitioning to the Sultan’s eldest son or the crown prince after the Sultan’s death.

In accordance with the Basic Statute of the State Law, Islam is designated as the state religion, granting non-Muslims the right to worship but prohibiting proselytization. Religious organisations are required to register with the government, and mosque sermons are expected to adhere to standardized texts distributed by the authorities.

The centralisation of power within an absolute monarchy has led to a deteriorating human rights situation and limited civil liberties. Authorities persistently detain and prosecute critics, activists, and peaceful protesters. Migrant workers remain vulnerable to exploitation, lacking sufficient safeguards. Gender discrimination persists both in legal provisions and daily practices, and the death penalty remains in effect.

In conclusion, Oman’s political landscape is characterized by absolute monarchical governance, a limited democratic framework, and significant human rights concerns, including constraints on freedom of expression and gender disparities.

The full copy of the report:

The Annual Report- Oman 2023

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