The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

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The United Nations General Assembly established the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to safeguard the cultural, religious and social rights of individuals and various groups.  It was adopted in 1966 and entered into force in 1976.

The Covenant lays down, among other things:

  • the right of all peoples to self-determination;
  • the right of all peoples to freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources;
  • that rights shall be exercised without discrimination as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion etc.;
  • the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights;
  • the rights of workers;
  • the right of everyone to form trade unions, the right of trade unions to function freely, and the right to strike;
  • protection for women, mothers and children;
  • the rights to education, health and participation in cultural life.

As of 2015, 164 countries had ratified the Covenant, but Oman is not one of them.  Despite having agreed to sign it in 2015, nothing further has happened since then.

The government in Oman has banned a number of independent cultural initiatives, especially those involving community activism and making people aware of their civil and political rights.

In Oman it is a crime to establish a civil or independent party to carry out political or human rights activities, even if only at the intellectual level.  The punishment for such a crime, under Article 116 of the revised Penal Code of 2018, is between three and ten years in prison.

Civil associations like the Omani Society for Writers and Literati, the Omani Women’s Association, and the Oman Human Rights Commission are in practice controlled by the government.  They are not only funded by the government but run by officials chosen and approved by the Internal Security Service (ISS).  The blatant interference of the ISS in various ways shows such contempt for freedom of expression that they will even tamper with the results of periodic elections to the association’s board of management.  This happened in the case of the Omani Society for Writers and Literati, where elections to the board were dominated by the names of writers and intellectuals who had often been seen as pro-government and as standing in the way of freedom of opinion and expression.  So while the activities of these associations are held up as being of a civil and non-governmental character, these and other institutions are all subservient to the government in one way or another, and their performance is monitored by government employees.

Despite the cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity of Oman, with its Swahili, Mahri, Baluchi and other communities, the government does not provide schools, universities or official institutions where languages other than Arabic are spoken.  Calling for such cultural rights may be interpreted as fomenting sectarian strife, according to Article 108 of the revised Omani Penal Code, for which the punishment is imprisonment for between three and ten years.

The idea that women have equal rights with men is still disputed in Oman, especially regarding the right of mothers to pass their nationality to their children, and young women’s freedom to move about, travel and marry.

Freedom of religion or belief, including the freedom to have no religion at all, is non-existent in Oman.  Atheistic activity is a crime under the new Omani Penal Code.

The Penal Code also fails to ensure the prevention of domestic violence against children and women, according to Article 44.

How, in your opinion, do you think it would be possible

to persuade the Omani government to sign up to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights?