The Omani government’s stance toward international and non-governmental investigation of human rights violations
One of the main ways of safeguarding human rights at both a domestic and an international level is by means of independent, non-governmental, international investigations of human rights violations. Independent investigations are seen as extremely important for many reasons, the main one being to ensure that states comply with international human rights agreements and treaties. They are also important for having the ability to call out violations and hold officials answerable and accountable, as well as to protect people, especially the groups most commonly abused, such as women, children and migrant workers, from violations committed by the very authorities responsible for protecting them in the first place, like the police. This kind of inquiry can also act as a means of achieving justice for people who have suffered injustice from those in high positions of authority who have stifled their complaints, such as people who have experienced arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and other institutional abuses.
According to the US Department of State’s 2021 Country Report on human rights practices, no independent, officially sanctioned human rights organisations exist in Oman. Civil society groups that advocate for persons protected under human rights conventions, particularly women and persons with disabilities, are required to register with the Ministry of Social Development. While domestic and international actors are permitted by law to request permission to engage in human rights work, none has done so because they believe the government is not likely to grant permission. There is a Human Rights Commission (the OHRC) that is funded by the government and reports to it, which means that it follows government guidance. According to the US Department of State, the OHRC functions semi-independently with moderate effectiveness in protecting human rights in the country, based on limited public information. However, the Commission’s dependence on the government means it may not act as effectively as it should to protect people from violations they may suffer at the hands of government agencies, as commonly happens in Oman. The OCHR (the independent London-based Omani Centre for Human Rights) has documented, in its Annual Reports since 2015, numerous cases where the government has committed violations.
Independent investigations are usually undertaken in accordance with some provision of the international human rights agreements that States Parties ratify. However, the effectiveness of international treaties and conventions depends on the right to force states to comply by respecting human rights. Yet states have the right to make reservations over, or opt out of, certain provisions of the agreements they sign. This usually happens when governments, especially Arab governments, see it as a way of getting out of parts of human rights agreements that would stop them violating certain rights in furtherance of their own interests, on grounds of their incompatibility with Sharia or domestic laws.
There are several major human rights agreements that Oman has not signed, such as the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness; and the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. In some cases Oman has signed agreements while maintaining reservations over certain of their provisions. For example, it signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2005 but made reservations over several provisions, including women’s right to pass on citizenship to their children.
In other cases, Oman has made reservations over provisions that allow official bodies to investigate the extent of member states’ compliance with the agreement and look into complaints from individuals that the agreement protects. For example, Oman signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on 17 March 2007, but refrained from signing the Optional Protocol to the CPRD, a side agreement letting parties recognise the competence of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to consider complaints from individuals. This weakens any claim that Oman is committed to ensuring the full rights of persons with disabilities, since it refuses to accept accountability or oversight.
The Omani government must support the independence of human rights organizations that work to expose abuses and hold those responsible accountable, as this is essential to protecting people, enhancing their sense of safety and security, and delivering justice to all.
 US Department of State. 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Oman. https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/oman/
 Human Rights Watch, 2020. Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on Oman. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/11/30/submission-committee-rights-child-oman
 OHCHR: Status of ratification interactive dashboard. https://indicators.ohchr.org/
 Disabled World: CRPD List of Countries by Signature, Confirmation, Accession, Ratification.