Report on Human Rights Practices for 2006
The Sultanate of Oman is a hereditary monarchy with a population of approximately 2.5 million, ruled by Sultan Qaboos Al Bu Sa'id. In 1996 Sultan Qaboos, who acceded to the throne in 1970, issued a royal decree promulgating a "Law of the State," characterizing the country as "Arab" and "Islamic." Only the sultan can amend the country's laws, through royal decree. The 83‑member Consultative Council (Majlis al‑Shura) is a representative advisory institution whose members were elected in 2003 by approximately 194,000 voters directly, freely, and fairly. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
Significant human rights problems remained. Citizens did not have the right to change their government, which is a "hereditary sultanate." The government restricted freedoms of speech, the press, assembly and association, and religion. Despite legislated equality for women, discrimination and domestic violence persisted due to social and cultural factors. There were no registered domestic human rights NGOs and no government‑controlled or autonomous human rights entities in the country. There was a lack of sufficient legal protection and enforcement to secure the rights of migrant workers, particularly domestic servants. There were reports that migrant laborers in private firms and domestic servants were placed in situations amounting to forced labor, and that some suffered abuse.
Between July and November, the government passed comprehensive legislation to improve workers' rights, allowing workers to create more than one union per firm and allowing more than one federation to represent workers in international fora. Decrees explicitly allow collective bargaining and the right to strike, while prohibiting dismissal of workers for union activity, raising penalties for child labor violations, providing stronger measures to enforce the prohibition of forced and coerced labor, and allowing unions and federations to practice their activities without outside interference. The Ministry of Manpower subsequently issued a legally enforceable administrative circular that prohibits employers from withholding workers' passports.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Article 20 of the Basic Law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them, unlike the previous year when there were accusations of police employing unnecessary force to disband protestors and of investigative judges threatening physical harm to uncooperative detainees.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards, although there were reports that some prison cells lacked proper sanitation. No international observers requested to visit prisons or detention centers during the year. The government permitted volunteers from local religious groups to visit prisons. The government also allowed diplomatic representatives to tour two deportation centers for illegal immigrants; these centers generally met international standards.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Article 18 of the Basic Law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; unlike previous years, there were no reports that police handling of arrests and detentions constituted incommunicado detention.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Royal Office, part of the cabinet, controls internal and external security and coordinates all intelligence and security policies. Under the Royal Office, the Internal Security Service investigates all matters related to internal security, and the sultan's Special Force has limited border security and anti-smuggling responsibility. The Royal Oman Police (ROP), also part of the cabinet, performs regular police duties, provides security at airports, serves as the country's immigration agency, and operates the coast guard. The Ministry of Defense, and in particular the Royal Army of Oman, is responsible for border security and has limited domestic security responsibilities.
Corruption was not perceived to be a widespread problem. The ROP's Directorate General of Inquiries and Criminal Investigation is charged with investigating allegations of police abuse, and its findings are turned over to the Director General of Human Resources for disciplinary action. There is no public information about the ROP's internal disciplinary action. Officers receive human rights training at the police academy. There were no instances in which the police failed to respond to societal violence.
Arrest and Detention
The law does not require the police to obtain warrants prior to making an arrest. The law provides that within 48 hours of arrest, the police must either release the accused or refer the matter to the public prosecutor. The public prosecutor must, within 24 hours, formally arrest or release the person. Public attorneys were provided to indigent detainees. Authorities must obtain court orders to hold suspects in pretrial detention. Judges may order detentions for 14 days to allow investigation and may grant extensions if necessary. The authorities post the previous week's trial results near the magistrate court building. There was a functioning system of bail.
The police sometimes failed to follow legal procedures in practice. Unlike previous years, there were no reports that police handling of arrests and detentions constituted incommunicado detention. The police did not always inform detainees of the charges against them; nor did they always notify a detainee's family or, in the case of a foreign worker, the worker's sponsor, of the detention.
In some cases, foreign workers were detained without charges pending investigation of immigration status. Beginning May 8, and continuing throughout the year, police detained several thousand suspected illegal migrant laborers. Using police checkpoints and profiling, military and civilian security agencies detained persons unable to document their legal status in the country upon request, which required displaying both a valid labor card and a valid passport with visa. Women and children were deported, while the government prosecuted men suspected of criminal activity. The government stated its intention to deport all illegal aliens. The migrant workers were held in a special detention center until authorities could determine their immigration status or arrange deportation. Representatives of foreign diplomatic missions and local religious groups alleged that conditions in the deportation camp were harsh (see sections 2.d. and 5).
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Article 60 of the Basic Law provides for an independent judiciary; however, the sultan can act as a court of final appeal and exercise his power of pardon as chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, the country's highest legal body with the power to review all judicial decisions. Members of the Supreme Judicial Council included the president of the supreme court, the minister of justice, the public prosecutor and the inspector general. An Administrative Affairs Council approves all judicial nominations, with the exception of the posts of the Supreme Court president, deputy president, and judge, who are appointed by a royal decree based on the council's nomination.
The Ministry of Justice administers all courts. The magistrate court system is composed of courts of first instance, courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court. There are 42 courts of first instance located throughout the sultanate that hear civil, criminal, commercial, labor, and personal status cases. One judge presides over each court of first instance. There are six courts of appeal, each with a panel of three appointed judges. The Supreme Court standardizes legal principles, reviews decisions of lower courts, and monitors judges in their application and interpretation of the law. The sultan can pardon or reduce sentences but not overturn a Supreme Court verdict. The Supreme Judicial Council can hear appeals beyond the Supreme Court.
Principles of Shari'a help form the civil, commercial, and criminal codes. Laws governing family and personal status are based on the government's interpretation of Shari'a.
Article 22 of the Basic Law provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The General Prosecutor's Office operates independently within the Ministry of Justice. All felonies are adjudicated in courts of first instance. All appeals to a judge's ruling must be made within 30 days. The criminal appeals panel hears appeals of rulings made by all courts of first instance. Appeals of appellate court decisions go to the Supreme Court, which consists of five judges.
A 1974 royal decree with subsequent amendments established rules of procedure for criminal cases, provided rules of evidence and procedures for entering cases into the criminal system, and detailed provisions for a public trial. In criminal cases, the police are required to provide defendants with the written charges against them, and defendants have the right to present evidence and confront witnesses. The prosecution and defense counsel question witnesses before a judge in court.
The law provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to counsel. For defendants facing prison terms of three years or more, the law provides legal defense. Judges often pronounced the verdict and sentence within a day of the completion of a trial. Those convicted may appeal jail sentences longer than three months and fines over the equivalent of $1,250 (480 rials).
The administrative court, under the authority of the Diwan of Royal Court, reviews complaints about the misuse of governmental authority. It has the power to reverse decisions made by government bodies and can also award compensation. Appointments to the administrative court are subject to approval of the Administrative Affairs Council, with the exception of the posts of the court president and the court deputy president, who are appointed by a royal decree based on the council's nomination.
The State Security Court, created by royal decrees in 2003, tries cases involving national security and criminal matters that require expeditious or especially sensitive handling. The security court procedures mirror closely those applicable elsewhere in the criminal system. The sultan has exercised his powers to extend leniency, including in cases involving state security.
Ministry and security personnel are subject to a military tribunal system of justice.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of arrests of political prisoners or detainees. Former parliamentarian Taybah al-Ma'wali was released from prison on January 30 after having been convicted on July 13, 2005, for insulting a public official and using a mobile phone to send allegedly slanderous and libelous text messages which criticized the government's arrest of Ibadhi activists (see section 2.a.).
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Civil cases are governed by applicable civil procedure codes. Citizens and third-country nationals were able to file cases in the courts. There were instances in which courts ruled in favor of domestic servants against their sponsors, requiring sponsors to return the workers' passports and allow them to break the employment contract. In some of these instances, the courts issued orders to apprehend the sponsor and force his appearance before the court. Both citizen and foreign workers can lodge complaints regarding working conditions with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for administrative redress. The MOM may refer cases to the courts if it is unable to negotiate a solution (see section 6.e.).
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law provides for broad governmental discretion, which the government utilized in practice.
The law does not require police to obtain search warrants, although the police often obtained them; the public prosecutor, not the court, issues them. The government monitored both oral and written communications, including mobile phones, e‑mail, and Internet chat room exchanges (see section 2.a.). Citizens were required to obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior to marry foreigners, except nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and permission was not granted automatically. Marriages to foreigners may lead to the foreign spouse being denied entry into the country and prevent a legitimate child from claiming citizenship rights.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Article 29 of the Basic Law provides for freedom of speech and of the press "within the limits of the law"; however, the law and government practice generally restricted freedom of speech and of the press. The law prohibits criticism of the sultan in any form or medium, or "material that leads to public discord, violates the security of the state, or abuses a person's dignity or his rights." Articles 61 and 62 of the 2002 Telecommunications Act make it illegal to knowingly send a message via any form of communication that violates public order and morals or is harmful to a person's safety. Courts have interpreted these articles as meaning that it is also illegal to insult a public official. On January 30, the government released Taybah al-Ma'wali, a former parliamentarian convicted of violating these articles based on her mobile phone messages that criticized the government (see section 1.e.).
Journalists and writers generally exercised self‑censorship due to fear of government reprisal, while various media companies reportedly refused to publish articles by several journalists who previously had criticized the government. Some journalists alleged that the government maintained a "black list" of journalists and writers who cannot be published in the country. The authorities tolerated a limited degree of criticism of policies, government officials, and agencies, particularly on the Internet; however, such criticism rarely appeared in the mass media. The government used libel laws and concerns for national security as grounds to suppress criticism of government figures and politically objectionable views.
Censors enforced the Press and Publication Law, which authorizes the government to censor all domestic and imported publications. Government censorship decisions were changed periodically without any declared reason. Ministry of Information censors acted against material regarded as politically, culturally, or sexually offensive. Some journalists stated that customs officials at the border followed an unwritten policy to confiscate books and tapes containing material considered offensive. Although there were no published reports of such seizures taking place during the year, journalists claimed that customs officials targeted those writers on the alleged "black list." Editorials generally were consistent with the government's views, although the authorities tolerated some limited criticism regarding foreign affairs issues, including GCC policies, which the country participates in determining.
There were six daily newspapers: three in Arabic and three in English. Arabic language dailies Al‑Watan and Shabiba and English dailies Times of Oman and Oman Tribune were privately owned. There were 31 state‑owned and privately owned magazines published in the country.
The government owned three radio stations and two television stations, the second of which began operations in October. The stations generally did not air politically controversial material. In October 2005 the Ministry of Information approved licenses for one private television station and three private radio stations, which were expected to begin operations in early 2007. Access to foreign broadcast information via satellite was widespread in the major urban areas, and satellite subscribers even were able to view Israeli Arabic-language programming.
The government's national telecommunications company made Internet access available for a fee to citizens and foreign residents. However, it blocked numerous Web sites that it considered pornographic, politically sensitive, or competitive with local telecommunications services. The rules and criteria for blocking Internet sites were not transparent. Growing use of the Internet to express views normally not permitted in other media led the government to take additional measures to monitor and censor it. The government placed warnings on Web sites that criticism of the sultan or personal criticism of government officials would be censored and could lead to police questioning, which increased self‑censorship. The government also blocked voice over Internet protocol.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government restricted academic freedom, particularly regarding publishing or discussing controversial matters, such as domestic politics, through the threat of dismissal if a teacher's work exceeded government boundaries. In 2005, Sultan Qaboos University did not renew a professor's contract after he made comments critical of the country's politics and culture. As a result, professors often practiced self-censorship. There were no reported cases during the year, however, in which the government dismissed a professor or other teacher or academic for writings or speech.
The appropriate government authority, the police, or a relevant ministry must approve all public cultural events. Most organizations avoided controversial issues due to belief that the authorities might not approve such events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
Article 32 of the Basic Law provides for circumscribed freedom of assembly "within the limits of the law," and the government restricted the exercise of this right in practice. Prior government approval was necessary for all public gatherings. The authorities enforced this requirement with rare exceptions, allowing workers to strike, for instance, over the circumstances and conditions of work. While the government has not released updated statistics on the number of strikes that occurred during the year, the MOM reported six strikes in 2005.
Freedom of Association
Article 33 of the Basic Law provides for freedom of association "for legitimate objectives and in a proper manner." Under the Law of National Associations, the Council of Ministers approves the establishment of NGOs--officially recognized as associations--to work on a set of acceptable issues, including women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and others approved by the council. The council limited freedom of association in practice by prohibiting associations whose activities were deemed "inimical to the social order" or otherwise not appropriate, and did not license groups regarded as a threat to the predominant social and political views or the interests of the country. Through either outright denial or imposition of burdensome bureaucratic requirements, the government effectively blocked the formation of even the most benign organizations. In January 2005 the government denied a request by citizens to establish a domestic human rights center. Associations were not permitted to engage in politics, form parties, or interfere with religious matters (see section 3).
Formal registration of nationality‑based associations was limited to one association for any nationality. The law states that associations must register with the Ministry of Social Development, which is responsible for approving association by‑laws. The average time required to register an association was about two years. Some social or charitable groups functioned informally before being registered, but the government sent letters to several groups in 2004 threatening sanctions unless they completed the registration process.
Women's associations, which total 47, were able to register somewhat more quickly because the associations require approval only by the minister of social development, not the Council of Ministers. In all other ways, however, they are subject to the Law of National Associations. Some of the women's associations received limited government funding or in‑kind support, while others were self‑funded. With the inclusion of women's associations, a total of 66 registered associations exist in the country. The Ministry of Social Development registered at least one new charitable association during the year.
c. Freedom of Religion
Article 28 of the Basic Law provides for freedom of religion "within the limits of the law"; however, the government generally restricted this right in practice. The law provides that Islam is the state religion and that Shari'a is the source of all legislation. Most citizens were Ibadhi or Sunni Muslims, with some Shi'a and a fewnon‑Muslim citizens. The government permits worship by non‑Muslim residents. All religious organizations must be registered with the government, and some of their activities were restricted.
Non‑Muslims were free to worship at churches and temples built on land donated by the sultan. However, the government prohibited religious gatherings and practice in private residences. Although the law does not prohibit proselytizing, the government prohibited non‑Muslims from proselytizing Muslims, while proselytizing of non‑Muslims by Muslims was allowed. The government also prohibited non‑Muslim groups from publishing religious material, although religious material printed abroad could be brought into the country.
Members of all religions and religious groups were free to maintain links with members abroad and undertake foreign travel for religious purposes.
The government required all imams to preach sermons within the parameters of standardized texts distributed monthly by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments. The government monitored mosque sermons to ensure that imams did not discuss political topics or instigate religious hatred or divisions and stayed within the state‑approved interpretation of Islam. Imams may be suspended or dismissed for exceeding government boundaries; there were no reported suspensions or dismissals during the year.The government also monitored sermons of non‑Muslim clergy.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There was no Jewish population and no reports of anti-Semitic acts or public statements by community or national leaders that vilified Jews. Anti-Semitism in the media was present, however, and anti-Semitic editorial cartoons depicting stereotypical and negative images of Jews along with Jewish symbols, and comparisons of Israeli leaders to Hitler and the Nazis, were published during the year. These expressions occurred primarily in the privately owned daily newspaper, Al-Watan, and occurred without government response.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2006 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law does not provide for these rights; however, the government generally respected these rights in practice. The law prohibits exile, and there were no reported cases during the year.
Protection of Refugees
The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, although the country is not party to either the convention or the protocol. In practice, the government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution, but did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status. The Royal Oman Police is responsible for determining refugee status, but did not accept refugees for resettlement during the year. The law does not specify a timeframe in which the ROP must adjudicate a resettlement application.
The law prohibits the extradition of political refugees, and there were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. The issue of temporary protection for refugees and asylum seekers did not arise during the year. Government officials reported that during the year several hundred Somalis holding UN refugee cards entered the country illegally via Yemen to look for work or to transit to other Gulf countries. The authorities stated that Yemen already had granted the Somalis refugee status, and that none of the Somalis applied for protection or resettlement before being deported.
Tight control over the entry of foreigners effectively limited refugees and prospective asylum seekers. Besides Somalis, authorities apprehended and deported hundreds of Yemenis, Ethiopians, and Eritreans who sought to enter the country illegally by land and sea in the south, and Afghanis and Pakistanis who generally came to the country by boat via Iran in the north. Authorities generally detained these persons in camps in Salalah or the northern port city of Sohar, where they stayed an average of one month before being deported to their countries of origin (see sections 1.d. and 5).
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The law does not provide citizens with the right to change their government. The sultan retains ultimate authority on all foreign and domestic issues.
Elections and Political Participation
The law does not provide for political parties. There are direct elections only for the Consultative Council (Majlis as-Shura). Citizens 21 years or older (except military and security personnel) may vote. In 2003 approximately 74 percent of registered voters, or about 194,000 persons, voted. The government did not allow candidates to advertise or actively campaign for office. A total of 506 candidates, including 15 women, competed in generally free and fair elections for the 83 council seats. Of the 15 female candidates, 2 were elected. In 2003 a royal decree also reappointed the incumbent president of the Consultative Council, although the council elected two vice presidents from within its membership. The sultan did not influence the nomination of the Consultative Council candidates.
The Consultative Council serves as a conduit of information between the citizens and the government ministries; however, it has no formal legislative powers. Government ministries or the cabinet author all draft legislation. No serving government official is eligible to be a consultative council member. The Consultative Council may question government ministers in public or in private, review all draft laws on social and economic policy, and recommend new laws or legislative changes to the sultan, who makes the final decision. Any five members of the Council can make an official request for information from a minister, who has two weeks to respond to the request, generally in person. In 2005 and during the year, members of the council held regular meetings with their constituents regarding conditions in the various regions and the effect of laws and regulations. In 2005 representatives from the southern state of Dhofar used information from these public meetings to challenge regulations that set electricity duties. In January the Cabinet of Ministers, over which the sultan presides, amended the regulations to lower duties significantly.
The 58 members of the State Council (Majlis ad-Dawla) are all appointed by the sultan. It serves as an advisory body that reviews draft laws proposed by the government and presents its opinions to the sultan and his ministers in cooperation with the Consultative Council. The State Council president is appointed by royal decree and its two vice presidents are elected from within its membership. The membership of the State Council included nine women.
The State Council and the Consultative Council together form the 142-seat Council of Oman. In 2003, a royal decree extended the term of office to four years for members of both councils. There are no term limits, although state council members historically have served two terms.
Citizens had indirect access to senior officials through the traditional practice of petitioning their patrons, usually the appointed local governor, for redress of grievances. Successful redress depended on the effectiveness of a patron's access to appropriate decision makers. Citizens can contest decisions of government ministers in the administrative court. A court awarded a private citizen damages of $1.04 million (400,000 rials) in a land dispute against the Minister of the Diwan of the Royal Court.
There were 11 women in the 142‑seat Council of Oman. There were four female ministers appointed to the 42‑member cabinet.
The Council of Oman and the Cabinet of Ministers are composed of representatives from a variety of linguistic, religious, racial, and other backgrounds.
Government Corruption and Transparency
There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year. In 2005, several high-ranking government officials, including an undersecretary and a member of the State Council, were sentenced to between three and five years in prison for bribery, misuse of public office, and breach of trust. The officials currently are serving their prison sentences. Such sentences allegedly lowered the perception of corruption among citizens during the year.
The law does not providepublic access to government information. All royal decrees and ministerial decisions are published in the Official Gazette for public access.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The government restricted NGO activity. There were no registered domestic human rights NGOs and no government‑controlled or autonomous human rights entities in the country. In January 2005, the government denied a request by citizens to establish a domestic human rights center. Activists involved in foreign‑registered organizations were threatened with arrest or loss of government employment or scholarships. No association may receive funding from an international group without government approval. Individuals convicted of doing so could receive up to six months in jail and a $1,310 (500 rials) fine. Heads of domestic NGOs reported that the government periodically asked to review their financial records to confirm sources of funding and required that NGOs inform the government of any meetings with foreign organizations or diplomatic missions. There were no reported cases during the year of individuals charged with receiving unauthorized funding.
In November, the government allowed the UN special rapporteur for trafficking in persons to visit the country on a fact-finding mission, the first visit of a UN official with a human rights portfolio. The special rapporteur was allowed to meet with government officials, representatives of NGOs, and migrant workers, and to hold a press conference to summarize her findings. The special rapporteur called attention to the government's need to increase efforts to combat trafficking in persons (see section 5).
Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Article 17 of the Basic Law prohibits discrimination against citizens on the basis of sex, ethnic origin, race, language, religion, place of residence, and social class. However, the government did not effectively enforce it. Societal and cultural discrimination based on gender, race, social class, and disability existed.
The law does not specifically address domestic violence against women; however, the government's interpretation of Shari'a prohibits all forms of physical abuse. There was no evidence of a pattern of spousal abuse, although allegations of such abuse in civil courts handling family law cases were reportedly common. Battered women may file a complaint with the police but often sought family intervention to protect them from violent domestic situations. Likewise, families sought to intervene to keep such problems from public view, which is the cultural norm. Some employers reportedly sexually abused domestic servants. There were no government programs for abused women.
The law prohibits rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. Spousal rape is not criminalized.
According to a 2003 UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization study, female genital mutilation (FGM) was broadly socially accepted. There is no law prohibiting FGM; however, the Ministry of Health prohibited doctors from performing the procedure in hospitals. The problem remained sensitive and was not discussed publicly. Planners at the Ministry of Health have not taken action to eliminate FGM. Local women primarily performed FGM on young girls in villages.
Prostitution was illegal. Despite strict cultural norms and immigration controls, observers reported that women from Eastern Europe, South Asia, some Middle Eastern countries, and China--some of whom may have entered Oman on legal tourist or work visas--engaged in prostitution.
While progress has been made in changing laws and attitudes, including the appointment of women as ministers, ambassadors, and senior government officials, women continued to face many forms of social discrimination. Aspects of Islamic law and tradition as interpreted in the country discriminated against women. The government's interpretation of Shari'a, as contained in civil codes, favors male heirs in adjudicating inheritance. Many women were reluctant to take an inheritance dispute to court for fear of alienating the family. Women married to non-citizens may not transmit citizenship to their children.
Although women may own property, government officials applied different standards to female applicants for housing loans, resulting in fewer approvals for women. Women were forbidden from receiving free government housing unless they were divorced, widowed, or listed in the registry of social affairs as fatherless or extremely poor. Illiteracy among women 45 and older also hampered their ability to own property, participate in the modern sector of the economy, or educate themselves about their rights.
Government policy provided women with equal opportunities for education.Half of all first degree university students were women, and women comprised 35 percent of all post-graduate students at Sultan Qaboos University.
Educated women have attained positions of authority in government, business, and the media; however, many educated women still faced culturally based job discrimination. Approximately 31 percent of all civil servants were women, and women held 56 percent of the teaching positions in government schools. In both the public and private sectors, women were entitled to maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. The government, the country's largest employer of women, observed such regulations, as did many private sector employers.
The Ministry of Social Development is the umbrella ministry for women's affairs. The ministry provided support through the Oman Women's Association and local community development centers.
Primary school education for children, including non-citizen children, was free and universal but not compulsory. In 2004‑05 the ratio of female to male enrollment was equal in primary education. Primary school enrollment was 65 percent. Most children attended school through secondary school. The government provided free health care for all children up to age six. The infant mortality rate continued to decline, and the reported rate of infant immunization against diseases such as TB, polio, and hepatitis B remained above 90 percent. There were no public reports of violence against children; however, the government called publicly for greater awareness and prevention of child abuse. FGM was performed on some girls ages one to nine.
There were no reports of child prostitution. Child labor existed in the informal, subsistence, and family business sectors of the economy; however, it was not a problem in the organized labor market (see section 6.d.).
Trafficking in Persons
The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons; however, trafficking crimes are prosecuted under Article 261 of the Penal Code, which prohibits "slavery and the transportation, receiving, or in any way handling someone in a state of slavery or semi-slavery." Those convicted face three to five years in prison. The sultanate is a destination country for men and women primarily from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, who migrate willingly but subsequently may become victims of trafficking when subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude as domestic workers and laborers. Oman also is a transit country for migrants to the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries.
The UN special rapporteur for trafficking in persons, who visited on a fact-finding tour in November, said that trafficking victims predominantly were domestic servants and casual laborers. The special rapporteur received reports that some local recruitment agencies and source countries brought domestic servants and casual laborers to the country under fictitious contracts and sponsor relationships. Some workers complained of long working hours, the withholding or nonpayment of wages, lack of access to means of communication, and other forms of physical, mental, and verbal abuse. The special rapporteur also heard reports that some sponsors confined workers and confiscated passports and other labor documents.
The local UNICEF representative cited no reports that foreign children were trafficked and employed as camel jockeys during the year. Citizen children as young as seven continued to ride camels in competitive events despite recent legislation that gradually raises the minimum age of riders to 18 (see section 6.d.).
The government deported thousands of illegal migrant workers during the year, but did not use special screening procedures to distinguish illegal migrants from trafficking victims (see sections 1.c. and 2.d.).There are no government protective services for victims of trafficking.
The government operated a 24‑hour hotline to register complaints of potential victims and also worked with foreign governments to prevent trafficking in persons. The MOM is tasked with investigating reports of labor abuse.
Persons with Disabilities
During the year there were no reported acts of discrimination committed by the government against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or in the provision of other state services; however, there was societal and cultural discrimination against persons with disabilities. The labor law states that persons with disabilities are to be provided with the same rights prescribed for other citizens. Although the labor law stipulates that private enterprises employing more than 50 persons should have at least 2 percent of the jobs reserved for persons with disabilities, this regulation was not widely enforced.
The Ministry of Social Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and it implemented legislation during the year to ensure access to buildings for persons with disabilities. The government actively enforced the law through the construction permit process. There was one government‑sponsored rehabilitation center in the capital area and 17 private rehabilitation centers throughout the country. The law does not require the government to reserve a percentage of jobs for persons with disabilities. While the government did not provide statistics on the number of persons with disabilities it employed, a few persons with disabilities, including visually impaired persons, worked in government offices. Persons with physical disabilities, who numbered 40,000 to 45,000 according to 2003 census figures, generally were not charged for physical therapy and prosthetics.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
While there were no reports of official discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, societal attitudes in the country remained fearful toward persons with the disease. The Ministry of Health initiated and promoted a "Peer Education" pilot project in the Muscat area to improve awareness of and education about the disease among youth. An outreach center opened in the town of Sur in June and provided free HIV/AIDS testing and counseling. The Ministry of Health, in conjunction with UNICEF, also performed outreach and free testing at several large cultural festivals held during the year. A toll‑free AIDS hot line fielded several hundred calls during the year and approximately 2,000 calls in 2005. The hot line also provided information on sexually transmitted diseases.
The Penal Code criminalizes homosexuality. Individuals can be prosecuted based on complaint, and sentenced to a jail term of six months to three years.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. Right of Association
Between July and November, the government passed comprehensive legislation to improve worker rights. On July 9, Royal Decree 74 officially recognized worker rights to form unions, formerly called "representative committees," and a General Federation, formerly called "The Main Representative Committee," to represent unions at regional and international fora. The decree also amended Articles 108 and 110 of the 2003 Labor Law to allow more than one union per firm. Royal Decree 113 amended Article 109 of the 2003 Labor Law to allow unions to form more than one federation. The royal decrees further stated that unions and their representative bodies are free to act as independent entities without interference in their affairs by government or other parties. The MOM issued implementing regulations covering union organizing that reduced the level of government control over the formation and activities of unions. The ministry removed the requirement that unions notify the government at least one month in advance of union meetings. The regulations also dropped the requirement that union leaders speak and write Arabic.
Some government control over union activities remained. The new regulations maintained, for instance, the prohibition on accepting grants or financial assistance from any source without the ministry's prior approval. The new regulations also added that union formation requires 25 workers regardless of the size of the firm.
Royal Decree 74 amended Article 110 of the 2003 Labor Law to prohibit employers from firing or imposing penalties for union activity. The provisions of the 2003 Labor Law and recent amendments apply to women and foreign workers. The law does not grant members of the armed forces, public security institutions, employees of the state, or domestic workers the right to form unions. Conditions of employment of these categories of workers are covered by the Civil Service Law and individual ministerial decrees.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Article 107 of the Labor Law explicitly allows for collective bargaining and guarantees the right to strike. Royal Decree 74 provided unions and federations with the right to practice their activities freely and without interference from outside parties. In November, the MOM issued implementing regulations covering collective bargaining and strikes. The regulations require employers to engage in collective bargaining over the terms and conditions of employment, including wages and hours of work. The regulations also affirm workers' right to strike, although they stipulate that unions or worker representatives must inform the employer at least three weeks in advance of a scheduled strike. The regulations also state that strikes must cease at the start of collective bargaining procedures.
There were no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Basic Law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including of children; however, there were reports that such practices occurred. Royal Decree 74 amended the 2003 Labor Law to prohibit forced labor and set penalties not to exceed more than one month in prison and/or a fine of $1,300 (500 rials).
At times foreignworkers were reportedly placed in situations amounting to forced labor (see section 5). Employers sometimes withheld documents that released workers from employment contracts and allowed them to change employers. Without such a letter, a foreign worker must continue to work for his current employer or become technically unemployed and consequently a candidate for deportation. In November, the MOM issued a legally enforceable administrative circular that prohibited employers from withholding workers' passports.
Many foreign workers were not aware of their right to take such disputes before the Labor Welfare Board (LWB). Others were reluctant to file complaints for fear of retribution from unscrupulous employers. In most cases the LWB released the worker from service without deportation and awarded compensation for time worked under compulsion. In addition to reimbursing the worker's back wages, guilty employers were subject to fines.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law specifically prohibits forced or compulsory labor by children, and there were no reports of the practice. Royal Decree 74 amended Article 118 of the 2003 Labor Law to raise the fines from $260(100 rials) per violation to $1,300 (500 rials), and increased possible prison terms for repeat offenders from one week to one month.
In 2003 the government raised the minimum age for children to work from 13 to 15 years. For certain hazardous occupations, the minimum employment age is 18. Children 15 to 18 years of age may be employed but can only work between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Minors are prohibited from working in hazardous occupations, for more than six hours per day, on weekends, or on holidays. The MOM generally enforced the law; however, in practice, enforcement often did not extend to some small family businesses that employed underage children, particularly in the agricultural and fishing sectors.
Child labor did not exist in any formal industry. As a cultural practice, Bedouin children participated in camel racing for their families. In August 2005 the government raised the minimum age of camel riders from 12 to 18 years, to rise annually by one year until the 18‑year minimum is achieved in 2009. The initial minimum age was set at 14 years in 2005.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Work regulations, including rules governing the workplace and the rights and duties of both workers and employers, must be approved by the MOM and posted conspicuously in the workplace by employers of 15 or more workers. Government inspectors performed random inspections to enforce implementation of these regulations; there were more than 4,541 inspections in 2005. Similarly, any employer with 50 or more workers must establish a grievance procedure. All employees, including foreign workers, have the right to take disputes to the LWB and are encouraged to contact the MOM's 24‑hour hot line to report labor abuse or violations. The LWB attempts to mediate disputes between employers and employees. In some cases, worker representatives were able to file collective grievances. If a settlement cannot be reached, the parties may seek recourse in the appropriate courts.
The Labor Care Directorate of the MOM is responsible for enforcement of, and compliance with, workplace laws and regulations. Its responsibilities include occupational safety and health, labor inspections, dispute settlement, women's employment, issues related to child and forced labor, and the resolution of individual and collective labor disputes. The MOM employed 82 inspectors who worked throughout the sultanate. The MOM also operated a 24-hour complaint hotline in English and Arabic. According to midyear government statistics, the MOM received more than 2,900 calls to the hotline, 938 of which it resolved through direct negotiations between workers and their employers, and 470 that it referred to the courts for action.
The MOM issues minimum wage regulations for various categories of workers. The minimum wage for most citizens is approximately $260 (100 rials) per month, plus $52 (20 rials) for transportation and housing. Minimum wage regulations did not apply to a variety of occupations and businesses, including small businesses that employed fewer than five persons, the self‑employed, domestic servants, dependent family members working for a family firm, and some categories of manual labor. There were reports that migrant laborers in some firms and households worked more than 12-hour days for as little as $90 (35 rials) per month.
The private sector workweek was 40 to 45 hours and included 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 regarding hours of employment were not always enforced. Employees who worked extra hours without compensation could file a complaint with the LWB; however, the LWB rulings were not binding.
Every worker has the right to 15 days of annual leave during the first year of continual employment and 30 days per year thereafter.
The 2003 Labor Law states that an employee may remove himself from dangerous work without jeopardy to his continued employment if the employer was alerted to the danger and did not implement corrective measures.All employers are required by law to provide first aid facilities. Employees covered under the 2003 Labor Law could recover compensation for job‑related injury or illness through employer‑provided medical insurance. Medical professionals reported that some employers did not provide low-skilled, migrant workers with medical insurance, or provided them with coverage as low as $12 (5 rials) per month with any excess costs deducted from their salaries. Inspectors from the Department of Health and Safety of the Labor Care Directorate generally enforced the health and safety standard codes. As required by law, they made regular onsite inspections. Some companies found guilty of withholding salaries were fined and prohibited from receiving commercial services, such as labor clearances. Such actions resulted in the immediate payment of salaries.
Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006, Released by the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, (March 6, 2007)