International human rights treaties: The OCHR-Oman considers how Oman measures up

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International Conventions (Download your PDF copy)

Out of nine major international conventions relating to human rights, and nine optional protocols to those conventions, Oman has signed only four conventions and two protocols, as follows:

 the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
 the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
 the Convention on the Rights of the Child
 the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
 the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict
 the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography

Oman has refused to sign or ratify several other important conventions and covenants, such as:

 the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
 the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
 the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families
 the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
 the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

The conventions that Oman has refused to sign guarantee individuals the rights to work, political participation, and protection from unlawful arrest or enforced disappearance. They allow individuals or groups to establish cultural and political parties and associations, and provide for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration, freedom of belief, and freedom to publish. In Oman, exercising most of these rights is regarded as a crime, punishable by imprisonment or a fine under the Omani Penal Code.

Despite the procedural obstacles that the Omani security authorities place in the way of implementing these conventions and protocols, monitoring by international human rights organisations together with the UN Human Rights Council has started to reveal the huge impediments to any human rights activity that does not come under the government’s wing. For example, Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, sharply criticised Oman’s suppression of rights activists after his visit to the Sultanate from September 8 to 13, 2014. He called the right to form associations in Oman “virtually non-existent in practice”, and said the right to peaceful assembly was often annulled by legal restrictions. He pointed in evidence to the security authorities’ response to Omani protestors, activists and critics from 2011 onwards, with reports of excessive force and arbitrary arrests, and noted his own difficulties, as the UN Special Rapporteur, in meeting Omani activists in Muscat. Kiai also noted that Omani officials excused their repressive behaviour by talking to him about the need to maintain peace and security in the country.

Looking at Oman’s observance of international human rights conventions as a whole, it can be clearly seen that, once the wave of Arab Spring uprisings swept toward to the country, the authorities became quite blatant in their glaring violations. Whereas the outside world once thought Oman was upholding international laws and conventions, relying entirely on local media for information as to what was going on inside the country, the arrival of the Internet revealed official crimes against the population that had previously been kept quiet. The exposure of abuses gradually increased from the late 1990s onwards, when there were only a few activists; reached a climax in the opposition protests of 2011; and has continued to this day to paint a true picture of the fate suffered by any citizen who points out hidden shortcomings.

Despite the fact that Oman has signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, many women see their rights violated openly, deliberately and with premeditation in the Omani courts, and by judges themselves. By attending hearings where women are seeking to divorce husbands from whom they have suffered all kinds of wrongdoing, you can see clearly the extent to which the judicial authorities will arbitrarily oppose women’s rights and even deliberately humiliate them. There are quite a few judges who do not even bother to listen to women’s complaints in the courtroom and, on the pretext of reconciling and keeping the family together, they shout in their faces, prevent them from presenting their grievances, and rule in favour of the husbands. This is a violation not only of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women but also of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (which Oman has not ratified), as the justice system punishes women for applying for divorce, humiliates them, and grants husbands the right to torture their wives physically, psychologically, economically and by various forms of discrimination, abuse and contempt.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination is also routinely violated in the Omani courts. Given the social sensitivities normally involved in such cases of discrimination, not to mention fear on the part of those discriminated against, and activists’ lack of statistical data and the consent of injured parties, the Omani judiciary is able to carry on issuing racially discriminatory rulings, especially in matters of marriage.

Instead of seeking to erase its shameful record of violations, the OCHR and other observers see Oman consolidating it through the training of its security personnel (both those employed by the security forces and those working in various ministries and institutions, like the Ministry of Social Development). It gives them human rights training by sending them, secretly or openly, as individuals or as institutions, on human rights courses at human rights organisations in Arab states! This is simply so that they can defend their suppression of freedoms on social media or in the Universal Periodic Review of human rights at the United Nations.

Based on the way things stand at present, the OCHR does not consider Oman to provide an environment conducive to freedoms and implementation of either the international conventions it has already signed or those it has not signed yet. Civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights, and the rights of workers and migrant workers, are all routinely violated; activists are subjected to arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance and torture; and freedoms are suppressed both by means of security measures and judicially. Worse still, Oman continues to turn facts upside-down, regarding critics and activists as transgressors, endeavouring by various means, both official and personal, to scare them off, and threatening those who have fled abroad with revenge by means of “international treaties” – meaning agreements between Oman and other individual states, such as extradition treaties, rather than international conventions on human rights!

So, what do you think – will Oman sign up to the treaties it has so far refused to sign, and provide an appropriate environment for their implementation?