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.

On 7 April 2020, Oman agreed to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), while declaring reservations to two clauses of Article 8, paragraph 1, namely:

  • “(a) The right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of their choice, subject only to the rules of the organisation concerned, for the promotion and protection of their economic and social interests. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public order or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others;”

and

  • “(d) The right to strike, provided that it is exercised in conformity with the laws of the particular country.”

Oman’s unwillingness to ratify these clauses calls to mind the provisions in the Omani Penal Code prohibiting the formation of independent parties to carry out political or human rights activities, and banning peaceful demonstrations.

However, observers hope that Oman’s accession to the ICESCR might pave the way for it also to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), allowing Omanis more individual and civil liberties and legal rights.

Again, its failure to do so to date serves as a reminder of the current human rights situation and state of civil society in Oman:

 The government in Oman has banned a number of independent cultural initiatives! 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

Do you think Oman’s accession to these international treaties will help to broaden individual and civil liberties,

and strengthen citizens’ legal and political rights?