The ‘Paris Principles’ and the Oman Human Rights Commission
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 demonstrations that took place in several Omani cities, such as Sohar, Salalah, Nizwa, Sur and Ibri, in May 2021 showed clearly the extent of the Commission’s inability to defend the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, since it declined to condemn the abuses inflicted on the demonstrators by the security authorities.
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.
What do you think – does the Oman Human Rights Commission’s lack of independence affect its credibility?