Statelessness in Oman

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What is “statelessness”?

In international law, a stateless person is someone who is “not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law” (UNHCR).  In other words, he or she has no nationality or citizenship, and therefore no legal connection with any country.

Are there any “stateless persons” in Oman?

No case of withdrawal or loss of nationality involving an Omani citizen has come to the attention of the Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR).

However, Oman has another way of achieving the same result:  withdrawing people’s personal documents, such as passports and identity cards.

In several cases documented by OCHR-Oman, human rights and other civic activists have had their passports withdrawn.  Some of them have been without passports for the past ten years!

The authorities start by carrying out arbitrary arrests, then pronounce the victims guilty, and then retain the “guilty” parties’ personal documents, even after their sentence has been completed or quashed by a higher court.

In 2014, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who is still the country’s ruler, issued the Nationality Law Royal Decree No. 38/2014, which gave the government, represented by the Ministry of the Interior, full powers to withdraw nationality from any Omani citizen without the need to refer to the individual in question, and without giving the individual the right of legal recourse.

Articles 17 and 18 of the decree addressed the nationality rights of children of an Omani man married to a non-Omani woman, and of an Omani woman married to a non-Omani man.  The decree set out complicated conditions for children or foreign husbands to be able to acquire Omani nationality.

Articles 20 and 21 of the decree covered withdrawal or loss of nationality. They made human rights activism or work in journalism a potential reason for any citizen to lose or be stripped of their Omani nationality, on the pretext of working “for a foreign party”!

A previous investigation by the OCHR-Oman found that the fear many activists, writers and journalists had of having their passports withdrawn, or of being banned from travelling abroad, was a major reason for a decline in human rights activity in Oman.  Activists are afraid that the authorities will continue to deny them freedom of movement and keep possession of their passports and identity cards.

It should also be pointed out that there are a large and increasing number of undocumented cases, because many social media activists are receiving threats and being summoned, interrogated and imprisoned.  We have no information on their situation for various reasons, such as that they may write under assumed names, or are not known to or in contact with other activists who do have contacts with human rights organisations.  Fear and threats may also be direct reasons for silence.

In United Nations terms, activists in Oman are constantly at risk of this second form of statelessness, where the person is officially a national of the country but their nationality has no validity!!!

Do you see now how the Omani government

plays the “stripping of nationality” card

to silence its opponents?