Report on Human Rights Practices for 2000
The Sultanate of Oman is a monarchy that has been ruled
by the Al Bu Sa'id family since the middle of the 18th century. It
has no political parties, but does have one representative institution,
which is directly elected by voters selected by the Government. The
current Sultan, Qaboos Bin Sa'id Al Sa'id, acceded to the throne in 1970.
Although the Sultan retains firm control over all important policy issues,
he has brought tribal leaders--even those who took up arms against his
family's rule -- 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 Al-shura, which replaced an older
advisory body. Beginning with the September elections, Council
members are chosen directly by the vote of 175,000 government-selected
electors. The Council was expanded to 83 seats for the September
elections. The Council has no formal legislative powers but may
question government ministers, even during unrehearsed televised hearings,
and recommend changes to new laws on economic and social policy, which
sometimes leads to amendments to proposed decrees. In December 1997,
the Sultan appointed 41 persons as members of the new Council of State (Majlis
Al-Dawla), which with the current Consultative Council forms the bicameral
body known as the Majlis Oman (Council of Oman). In late 1996, the
Sultan promulgated by decree the country's "Basic Charter" (also
known as the Basic Law), which provides for citizens' basic rights in
writing for the first time. The courts are subordinate to the Sultan
and subject to his influence.
The internal and external security apparatus falls under
the authority of the Royal Office, which coordinates all intelligence and
security policies. The Internal Security Service investigates all
matters related to internal security. The Royal Oman Police, whose
head also has cabinet status, performs regular police duties, provides
security at airports, serves as the country's immigration agency, and
maintains a small coast guard. In the past, there were credible
reports that security forces occasionally abused 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. The economy is mixed, with
significant government participation in industry, transportation, and
communications. The Government seeks to diversify the economy and
stimulate private investment.
The Government generally respected its citizens' human
rights in several areas; however, its record was poor in a number of other
areas, and serious problems remain. Human rights abuses have included
mistreatment of detainees, arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention without
charge, and the denial of due process. The Government restricted
freedom of expression and association and did not ensure full rights for
women and workers.
The 1996 Basic Charter provides for many basic human
rights, such as an independent judiciary, and freedoms of association,
speech, and the press. The Basic Charter states that the Government
was to strive to issue all enabling laws within 2 years of November 1996;
however, this has not occurred. Only certain laws pertaining to the
legal code for family and interpersonal relationships, to judicial reform,
and to aspects of the Finance Ministry, had been enacted by year's end.
There has been no public statement made by the Government noting the end of
the 2-year period since issuance of the Basic Charter and proposing a new
target date for implementation.
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
There were no reports of politically motivated
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
There have been allegations in the past that the
security forces abused some detainees, particularly during interrogation.
The abuse does not appear to have been systematic and often varied
depending upon the social status of the victim, the official involved, and
the location of the incident (for example, whether the abuse occurred in a
rural or an urban area). The authorities have made efforts to prevent
such abuse, and there were no confirmed incidents of such abuse in recent
years. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that detainees
sometimes were left in isolation with promises of release or improved
treatment as a means to elicit confessions or information. Judges
have the right to order investigations of allegations of mistreatment.
The 1996 Basic Charter, which has not yet been implemented in this area,
specifically prohibits "physical or moral torture" and stipulates
that all confessions obtained by such methods are to be considered null and
void. There were no reports of torture during the year.
On one or two occasions the police used tear gas and
physical force to control demonstrations and some arrests were made.
Prison conditions appear to meet minimum international
standards. In the past, access to some prisoners was restricted
The Government does not permit independent monitoring of
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The police may obtain warrants prior to making arrests
but are not required by law to do so. However, within 24 hours of
arrest, the authorities must obtain court orders to hold suspects in
pretrial detention, and the police are required to file charges or ask a
magistrate judge to order continued detention. However, in practice
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. The 1996 Basic Charter
provides for certain legal and procedural rights for detainees; however,
these provisions have yet to be implemented.
Police handling of arrests and detentions constitutes
incommunicado detention in some instances. The police do not always
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 the
previous week's trial results (including the date of the trial, the name of
the accused, the claim, and the sentence) 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.
On one or two occasions the police used tear gas and
physical force to control demonstrations and some arrests were made.
The Government does not practice exile as a form of
punishment. The 1996 Basic Charter prohibits exile; however, the
provisions concerning exile have yet to be implemented.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The 1996 Basic Charter affirms the independence of the
judiciary; however, 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
magistrate courts or the commercial courts.
The judiciary comprises the magistrate courts, which
adjudicate misdemeanors and criminal matters; the Shari'a (Islamic law)
courts, which adjudicate personal status cases such as divorce and
inheritance, and which are administered by the Ministry of Justice; the
commercial courts; the Labor Welfare Board; and the Rent Dispute Committee,
which hears tenant-landlord disputes.
The magistrate court system was established by royal
decree in 1984 to take over all criminal cases from the Shari'a courts; it
is independent and its president reports directly to the Sultan.
Regional courts of first instance handle misdemeanor cases, which are heard
by individual judges. All felonies are adjudicated at the Central
Magistrate Court in Muscat by a panel made up of the President of the
Magistrate Court and two judges. All rulings of the felony panel are
final except for those in which the defendant is sentenced to death.
Death sentences must be approved by the Sultan.
The Criminal Appeals Panel also is presided over by the
President of the Magistrate Court in Muscat, and includes the court's vice
president and two judges. This panel hears appeals of rulings made by
all courts of first instance. In the past, specially trained
prosecutors from the Royal Oman Police (ROP), all of whom are trained as
policemen as well as prosecutors carried out the role of public prosecutor
in criminal cases; however, as a step toward implementing a November 1999
Royal decree affirming the independence of the judiciary, prosecutors were
made independent of the ROP.
The Criminal Code does not specify the rights of the
accused. There are no written rules of evidence, 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 direct question to
witnesses through the judge, who is usually the only person to question
witnesses in court. A detainee may hire an attorney but has no
explicit right to be represented by counsel.
The 1996 Basic Charter affirms both right to counsel and
government-funded legal representation for indigents; however, these
provisions have yet to be implemented, and the Government does not pay for
the legal representation of indigents. Judges often pronounce the
verdict and sentence within 1 day of the completion of a trial.
Defendants may appeal jail sentences longer than 3 months and fines over
the equivalent of $1,300 (480 rials) to a three-judge panel.
Defendants accused of national security offenses and serious felonies do
not have the right of appeal.
A State Security Court tries cases involving national
security and criminal cases that the Government decides require expeditious
or especially sensitive handling. Magistrate court judges have
presided over trials in the State Security Court. Defendants tried by
the Security Court are not permitted to have legal representation present.
The timing and the location of the Court's proceedings are not disclosed
publicly. The Court does not follow legal procedures as strictly as
the magistrate courts, although prominent civilian jurists form the panel.
The Sultan has exercised his powers of leniency, including in political
The Shari'a courts are administered by the Ministry of
Justice, and apply Shari'a law as interpreted under the Ibadhi school of
Islamic jurisprudence. Preliminary courts of first instance are
located in each of the 59 "wilayats," and are presided over by a
single judge, or qadi. Appeals of the rulings of the courts of first
instance involving prison sentences of 2 weeks or more or fines greater
than $270 (100 rials) must be brought within 1 month before the Shari'a
Court of Appeals in Muscat. Panels of three judges hear appeals
cases. Court of Appeal rulings themselves may be appealed, within a
1-month period, to the Supreme Committee for Complaints, which is composed
of four members, including the Minister of Justice and the Grand Mufti of
In 1997 the Government promulgated into law the
provisions of the 1996 Basic Charter pertaining to "family law,"
i.e., law that falls under the purview of the Shari'a courts. The
effect of this new law has been to regularize the nature of the cases and
the range of corresponding judgments within the Shari'a court system.
The Authority for the Settlement of Commercial Disputes
(ASCD), better known as the commercial courts system, was established by
royal decree in 1981 to decide all cases related to commercial matters.
Subsequent decrees have empowered the commercial courts to decide labor
disputes referred to it by government departments, commercial disputes to
which the Government is a party, and arbitration cases involving private
parties. The ASCD is financially and administratively independent of
the Ministry of Justice and reports directly to the Minister of Commerce
and Industry. The ASCD is made up of the Chairman, Deputy Chairman, a
number of judges appointed by royal decree, and members of the Oman Chamber
of Commerce and Industry. Cases are heard in regional courts for
suits involving not more than $27,000 (10,000 rials).
In November 1999, the Sultan issued several royal decrees to establish a
law on judicial authority and to affirm the independence of the judiciary
as called for in the 1996 Basic Charter. The decrees formally
established the judiciary as an independent, hierarchical system composed
of a Supreme Court, an appeals court, primary courts (one located in each
region), and, within the primary courts, divisional courts. Within
each of the courts there are to be divisions to handle commercial, civil,
penal, labor, taxation, general, and personal cases (the latter under
Shari'a). The general prosecutor, which currently falls under the
Royal Omani Police Chief Inspector, is to become an independent legal
entity. Implementation of these decrees is expected to take place in
There were no reports of political prisoners.
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 citizens are guarded in both
areas. Citizens must obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior
to marry foreigners, except nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
countries. Such permission is not granted automatically. Delays
or denial of permission have resulted in secret marriages within Oman.
Marriages in foreign countries can lead to denial of entry into Oman of the
foreign spouse and prevent a legitimate child from claiming citizenship
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law prohibits 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
announced 1996 Basic Charter provides for freedom of opinion expressed in
words, writing, or all other media within the limits of the law; however,
these provisions have yet to be implemented.
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. Journalists and
writers generally censor themselves to avoid government harassment.
Editorials generally are consistent with 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.
In late 1997, the Government began to permit the entry
onto the market of foreign newspapers and magazines containing reports or
statements deemed critical of Oman, including articles critical of the
Sultan. The lifting of the boycott against Israel in December 1994
eliminated prohibitions on publications from or about Israel that otherwise
meet censorship standards. However, in August 1999, the Ministry of
Information stopped distribution of a London-based, Arabic-language
magazine that contained an interview with a representative of the Israeli
trade mission in Oman. Customs officials sometimes confiscate video
cassette tapes and erase offensive material despite the fact that there are
no published guidelines on what is viewed as "offensive."
The tapes may or may not be returned to their owners. Government
censorship decisions are changed periodically without apparent reason.
There is a general perception that the confiscation of books and tapes at
the border from private individuals and restrictions on popular novels have
eased somewhat; however, it reportedly has become more difficult to obtain
permission to distribute in the local market books that censors decide have
factual errors about Oman (including outdated maps).
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 Government, through its national telecommunications company, provides
full, uncensored Internet access to citizens and foreign residents;
however, as use of the Internet to express views not normally permitted in
other media has grown, the Government has taken some steps to monitor and
control its use. Warnings have appeared on web sites that criticism
of the Sultan or personal criticism of government officials is likely to be
censored; however, at least some of these sites have operated without
The appropriate government authority, such as Sultan
Qaboos University, the police, or the relevant ministry, must approve
public 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
The law does not ensure freedom of assembly; all public
gatherings require government sponsorship. The authorities do not
always enforce this requirement, and gatherings sometimes take place
without formal government approval. Over the course of 8 days in
October, rare public demonstrations in support of the Palestinians and
against Israeli and United States policies took place at Sultan Qaboos
University and other venues. Most demonstrators were young men, and
most demonstrations were peaceful. Some demonstrations included rock
throwing and vandalism of private vehicles. On one or two occasions
the police used tear gas and physical force to control demonstrations and
some arrests were made. The Government, after 8 days of
demonstrations, took quiet action to prohibit further demonstrations.
Regulations implemented in 1994 restricting most types of public gatherings
remain in effect. The 1996 Basic Charter provides for limited freedom
of assembly, but these provisions have not yet been implemented.
The law states that the Ministry of Social Affairs,
Labor, and Vocational Training must approve the establishment of all
associations and their bylaws; however, some groups are allowed to function
without formal registration. The Government uses the power to license
associations to control the political environment. It does not
license groups regarded as a threat to the predominant social or political
views of the Sultanate. Formal registration of foreign associations
is limited to a maximum of one association for any nationality. The
1996 Basic Charter's provisions in this area--not yet in effect--regulate
the formation of associations. In February a royal decree was
promulgated that allowed for the formation of nongovernmental organizations
(NGO's) in the area of services for women, children, and the elderly.
c. Freedom of Religion
Islam is the state religion, which is affirmed by the
1996 Basic Charter. The 1996 Basic Charter provides that Shari'a is
the basis for legislation and preserves the freedom to practice religious
rites, in accordance with tradition, provided that such freedom does not
breach public order. Discrimination against individuals on the basis
of religion or sect is prohibited. Implementing decrees for the 1996
Basic Charter in this area have not yet been established. Non-Muslim
religious organizations must be registered with the Government and the
Government restricts some of their activities.
Most citizens 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. Hindu
temples also exist on government-provided land. Land has been made
available to Catholic and Protestant missions in Sohar and Salalah.
In June the departure from the country of a foreign
Baha'i due to termination of his employment may have been hastened by the
proselytizing activities of his wife. The authorities requested
members of the Baha'i community to sign statements that they will not
proselytize, in accordance with the country's law and custom.
The Government prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing.
It also prohibits non-Muslim groups from publishing religious material,
although religious 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.
The police monitor mosque sermons to ensure that the preachers do not
discuss political topics and stay within the state-approved orthodoxy of
Islam. The Government expects all imams to preach sermons within the
parameters of standardized texts distributed monthly by the Ministry of
Awqaf and Religious 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. To
obtain a passport and depart the country, a woman must have authorization
from her husband, father, or nearest male relative. However, a woman
having an Omani identity card (which also must be authorized by a male
relative) may travel to certain Gulf Cooperation Council countries without
Until the promulgation of the Basic Charter, the
Government did not have a policy on refugees or a tradition of harboring
stateless or undocumented aliens. The 1996 Basic Charter prohibits
the extradition of political refugees; however, this provision has not yet
been implemented. The issue of the provision of first asylum did not
arise during the year. Oman offered temporary refuge to several
thousand Yemenis displaced by a civil war in 1994. They returned to
Yemen after the war. Tight control over the entry of foreigners into
the country effectively has screened out would-be refugees.
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
The Sultan promulgated the country's first defacto
written constitution, known as the Basic Charter, in November 1996.
Although it has immediate force of law, most laws and regulations to
implement its provisions have not yet been enacted; it is expected that
this process may take until 2001 or beyond to be completed. The law
does not provide for 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' concerns.
In 1991 Sultan Qaboos established a Consultative
Council, or Majlis Al-shura. In 1994 he expanded the number of
Council seats to 80 from the original 59, which resulted in the allocation
of 2 members for districts with a population of more than 30,000. Due
to the population increase from 1994 to 2000, the number of seats was
expanded further to 82 for the 1997 elections and to 83 for the September
elections. Unlike in 1999, when the Government selected the Council
members from several nominees who were elected only by prominent persons in
each district, the Government established a new system beginning with the
September elections under which council members, male and female, are
elected directly by receiving the most votes from eligible voters in their
districts. In the October 1997 elections, 55,000 men and women, 3
percent of the total population, were eligible to nominate Council members
in all districts throughout the country. In the September elections,
the Government selected more than 175,000 men and women to register to
vote, of whom 114,000 registered and 100,000 voted. The number of
eligible female voters increased from 5,000 to 52,000. In August a
royal decree abolished the prior procedure under which voters (or electors)
had volunteered as candidates for Council seats, had their police records
checked by the Government, and relied on government approval of their
decision to run. If the Sultan decided not to appoint them, the
nominees with the most votes did not win appointment to the Council.
Under the new procedures, candidates are not subject to government
scrutiny, and the Sultan no longer ratifies winning candidates. At
least two sitting members of the Council were excluded from standing for
reelection in September because of their criticism of ministers during
previous council sessions.
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 in public or in private, review
all draft laws on social and economic policy, and recommend legislative
changes to the Sultan, who makes the final decision. During the year,
the membership of the Majlis Al-Dawla (Council of State), which was
established in 1997, was increased from 41 to 48 members. The precise
responsibilities of the Council of State and its relationship to the
existing Consultative Council have yet to be clarified. The Council
of State and the Consultative Council together form the Majlis Oman, or
Council of Oman. A royal directive issued in April prohibited members
of the Council of Oman from serving more than two 3-year terms.
The Sultan publicly has advocated a greater role for
women in both the public and private sectors; however, women remained
underrepresented in government and politics. In the 1997 elections,
the Government selected two women from among the nominees to serve on the
Consultative Council. In December 1997, the Sultan appointed 4 women
to the 41-member Majlis Al-Dawla; during the year he appointed 5 women to
the now 48-member body. In 1999 the Sultan, for only the second time,
appointed a woman to the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI)
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding
International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of
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.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability,
Language, or Social Status
The 1996 Basic Charter prohibits discrimination on the
basis of sex, ethnic origin, race, religion, language, sect, place of
residence, and social class; however, decrees to implement its provisions
have not been promulgated. Institutional and cultural discrimination
based on gender, race, religion, social status, and disability exists.
There is no evidence of a pattern of spousal abuse
although observers say that allegations of such abuse in the Shari'a courts
are not uncommon. Definitive 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. Likewise, families
seek to intervene to keep such problems out of public view. There
have been reports that employers or male coworkers have sexually harassed
foreign women 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,
due to investigative procedures that disadvantage the victim.
Individuals known to be abusing domestic servants are not always brought to
account for their actions. In the past, several foreign women have
had to ask their governments' embassies for shelter to escape abuse (see
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 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.
Women require permission from a male relative to leave the country (see
Some aspects of Islamic law and tradition as interpreted
in the country also discriminate against women. Shari'a favors male
heirs in adjudicating inheritance claims. Many women are reluctant to
take an inheritance dispute to court for fear of alienating the family.
Since 1970 conditions for women have improved
dramatically in several areas. Whereas in 1970 no schools existed for
girls, the most recent figures available from the Ministry of Education
report an enrollment rate nearing 90 percent for all girls eligible for
elementary school. In the 1997-98 school year, female students
constituted approximately 50 percent of the total number of students
attending public schools. Women constitute roughly half of the 5,000
students at Sultan Qaboos University. In November 574 women and 497
men received bachelor's degrees as members of the 11th graduating class,
while 2 women and 9 men received master's degrees. The university has
a quota system with the apparent goal of increasing the number of men
studying certain specialties. Reportedly, women are being limited to
50 percent of the seats in the medical department. Restrictions on
women studying engineering and archeology were lifted in September 1998.
The quota system is expected to allow women to constitute a majority in
some other departments.
Women also have made gains in the work force. Some
educated women have attained positions of authority in government,
business, and the media. Approximately 30 percent of all civil
servants are women; of these, 59 percent are citizens. In both the
public and private sectors, women are entitled to maternity leave and equal
pay for equal work. The government bureaucracy, the country's largest
employer of women, observes such regulations, as do many private sector
employers. Many educated women still face job discrimination because
prospective employers fear that they might resign to marry or raise
families. In the past, several female employees in the Government
have complained that they have been denied promotion in favor of less
capable men. Unlike the case in previous years, when government
grants for study abroad were limited almost exclusively to males, such
grants are now awarded based on merit, and in 1999 were divided evenly
between men and women.
Within the Government, women's affairs are the
responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor, and Vocational
Training. The Ministry provides support for women's affairs through
support for and funding of the Oman Women's Association (OWA) and local
community development centers (LCDC's). The OWA consists of 25
chapters with an active membership of more than 3,000 women. Typical
OWA activities include sponsoring health or sociological lectures,
kindergarten services, and handicraft training programs. The OWA also
provides an informal counseling and support role for women with
divorce-related difficulties, girls forced to marry against their will, and
women and girls suffering from domestic abuse. The main purpose of
the 50 LCDC's located throughout the country is to encourage women to
improve the quality of life for their families and to improve their
contributions to the community. LCDC activities focus on health and
sociology lectures, child care issues, and agricultural and traditional
handicraft training programs.
The Government has made the health, education, and
general welfare of children a budgetary priority. Primary school
education is free and universal but not compulsory. Most children
attend school through secondary school, to age 18. No significant
sectors or groups within the population are prevented from receiving an
education. The infant mortality rate continues to decline, and
comprehensive immunization rates have risen. There is no pattern of
familial or other child abuse. Government officials have publicly
called for greater awareness and prevention of child abuse.
A few communities in the interior and in the Dhofar
region still practice female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM is
condemned widely by international health experts as damaging to both
physical and psychological health. 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, yet widely observed.
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. While the Government now charges a small fee to citizens
seeking government health care, the disabled generally are not charged for
physical therapy and prosthetics support.
Some members of the Shi'a Muslim minority claim that
they face discrimination in employment and educational opportunities.
However, some members of this same community occupy prominent positions in
both the private and public sectors.
In the past, citizens of east African origin complained
that they frequently faced 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.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The current law stipulates that "it is absolutely
forbidden to provoke a strike for any reason." The Government
has not yet promulgated a new labor law that was first drafted by the
Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor in 1994. In the last quarter of
1996, the Consultative Council recommended some changes to the draft, but
the Government has not yet issued the new law. Government officials
have stated that the new labor law is to be consistent with international
Labor unrest is rare. There have not been any
known job actions within the last 7 years.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain
The current law does not provide for the right to
collective bargaining; however, 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 matters as the 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 citizens 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 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 1973 Labor Law prohibits forced or bonded labor, and
although the enabling laws have not yet been implemented, the 1996 Basic
Charter affirms that forced or bonded labor for any person is prohibited;
however, governmental 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
(documents that release workers from employment contracts), which allow
them to change employers. Without such a 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 from unscrupulous employers. In most cases, the Board
releases the worker from service and awards compensation for time worked
under compulsion. Employers face no other penalty than to reimburse
the worker's back wages.
The law prohibits forced or bonded labor by children,
and instances of forced or bonded child labor are unknown.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age
The 1973 Labor Law prohibits children under the age of
13 from working. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor enforces
this prohibition; however, in practice the enforcement often does not
extend to some small family businesses that 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. Child labor does not exist in any
Although primary school education is not compulsory,
most children attend school to age 18 (see Section 5).
The law specifically prohibits forced or bonded labor by
children and it is not known to occur (see Section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor issues minimum
wage guidelines for various categories of workers. In July 1998, the
Government raised the minimum wage for most citizens to about $270 (100
rials) per month, plus $54 (20 rials) for transportation and housing.
Minimum wage guidelines do not apply to a variety of occupational
categories, including small businesses that employ fewer than five persons,
the self-employed, domestic servants, dependent family members working for
a family firm, and some categories of manual labor. Many foreigners
work in occupations that are exempt from the minimum wage law, and the
Government is lax in enforcing minimum wage guidelines, where applicable,
for foreign workers employed in menial jobs. However, highly skilled
foreign workers frequently are 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 workers 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 domestic servants, 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 regular onsite inspections.
There have been reports that employers or male coworkers
have sexually harassed and abused 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, due to investigative procedures
that disadvantage the victim. Individuals known to be abusing foreign
domestic servants are not always held accountable for their actions.
In the past, several foreign women have had to ask their governments'
embassies for shelter to escape abuse (see Section 5).
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.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons;
however, there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from,
within, or through the country.
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, U.S. State Department,