The Oman Human Rights Commission was established by Royal Decree in 2008. At the time, many activists and intellectuals welcomed its creation, since even the phrase ‘human rights’ was not yet recognised in Omani law.
On its website, the Commission explained that its terms of reference included monitoring the protection of human rights in Oman, tracking violations, and offering advice to the relevant authorities on questions relating to human rights.
The events of 2011, which took the form of a widespread protest movement, were the first real test of the Commission’s role in defending human rights and freedoms, a test that it failed dismally, just as it failed in dealing with subsequent events.
The Commission failed in the following ways:
- It failed to defend the rights to protest and to peaceful assembly.
- It supported the government’s narrative, and failed to defend detainees and treat them as prisoners of conscience.
- It raised no objection to laws being amended to ban peaceful gatherings without permission from the authorities.
- It raised no objection to laws banning, indeed criminalising, any party activity of a political nature or relating to human rights.
- The Commission has repeatedly failed prisoners of conscience by making no effort to look into their cases and find out the reasons for their detention, or to publicly champion their right to express their opinions through peaceful activism, or to condemn the arbitrary punishment of activists and their ongoing oppression.
The Commission departs from the ‘Paris Principles’ – the international minimum standards for effective, credible national human rights institutions (NHRIs), adopted by the UN General Assembly – in several respects, such as:
- failing to promote human rights and public and individual freedoms;
- failing to submit reports or recommendations concerning the judicial and legislative arrangements and administrative provisions in force with a view to protecting human rights; and
- ignoring instances of violations committed by the government or security services.
Maina Kiai, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, stated at a press conference during his visit to Oman in September 2014 that the Sultanate used the maintenance of peace, order and stability as a rationale for limiting assembly and association rights.
The Oman Human Rights Commission criticised Kiai’s statement, describing his comments on the government’s suppression of peaceful protests and demonstrations as mere “inferences not based on specific facts”. It likewise called his meetings with activists outside his government-arranged schedule “purely informal social encounters”.
Oman’s delegate to the United Nations also criticised Kiai’s report, saying he had breached the terms of his mandate, and that his report contained gross exaggerations far removed from the actual facts.
However, according to the reports of violations in Oman that regularly reach us here at the Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR), in addition to Omani laws that in themselves violate human rights and help the government to suppress them, Kiai’s report actually reflected the true situation, especially since it was based on testimony from victims of the government’s repression.
Kiai also commended Oman’s creation of a national human rights institution, the Oman Human Rights Commission, but criticised its lack of credibility:
“For the National Human Rights Commission to be more than a public relations gimmick, it must have credibility in the eyes of human rights activists. The Omani Human Rights Commission suffers from a deficit of credibility.”
Instead of playing its proper role of monitoring rights violations and defending activists who exercise their natural right of free speech, the Commission has set itself up as a defender of the state’s repression!
Oman is one of a number of Middle Eastern states in which the political regime is an absolute monarchy, and the ruler or Sultan keeps a grip on many institutions and holds many official positions. This results in the worst possible model of centralised power, one that perpetuates itself through hereditary rule and its security policy, both of which lack any national dimension and regard any criticism of corruption or officials as harmful to the prestige of the state. This is their way of defending the fact that their very existence is essentially unlawful and has been forcibly imposed.
What do you
think – does the Oman Human Rights Commission’s lack of independence affect its