International Day of Democracy 15 September

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The UN’s International Day of Democracy, held on September 15 each year, provides an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world. To mark the occasion, the Omani Center for Human Rights presents this brief outline of the political system in Oman:
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The state of democracy in Oman, September 2017

Oman is a hereditary sultanate, or monarchy, in which the Sultan (ruler) holds absolute power.

The Sultan holds many positions of authority, including Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Minister of Finance, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chair of the Supreme Council for Planning, President of the Central Bank, Chair of the Supreme Judicial Council, Chair of both houses of the Council of Oman (Consultative Council and Council of State)… and so on.

Sultan Qaboos’s control of all these positions is a continuing source of human rights problems for activists. Any activist who voices his or her opinion concerning the way the country is ruled or the government performs may face trumped-up charges like “insulting the person of the Sultan”, “undermining the prestige of the State”, or “disturbing public order”.

The Internal Security Service (or “Mukhabarat”) and the Royal Security Office intervene directly in the work of several institutions, such as the public prosecutor’s office, the judiciary and government ministries.

The quasi-parliamentary Council of Oman was established merely as window-dressing to impress the outside world.

How does this affect human rights in Oman?

• The establishment of parties and organisations, and the freedom to join them, is considered a crime in Oman, according to Article 116 of the revised Omani Penal Code of January 2018.
• Criticism of the government is seen as detracting from or damaging the prestige of the State, because the current Sultan is also the head of government.
• Criticism of the head of government or ministers, or ministries such as the finance, oil and foreign ministries, or even the performance of the security establishment, is considered a crime and harmful to the prestige of the State or disruptive of public order, because the current Sultan heads these institutions.
• Calling for a separate prime minister or a new Constitution or a constitutional monarch is regarded as a crime in Oman and an insult to the Sultan, according to the Omani Penal Code and the Basic Statute of the State.
• There is no separation of powers in Oman, and neither is the judiciary independent: it reports directly to the Sultan.
• Most prisoners of conscience have been and continue to be arrested for reasons directly or indirectly related to the charges described above.
• Freedom of the press and media is non-existent in Oman. Websites have been blocked and a newspaper closed down for activities not in accordance with government policy.
Oman has not signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which gives international legitimacy to human rights. Among its provisions are:

The right of all peoples to self-determination and to freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources.
Freedom to form parties and associations, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.
Respect for people’s rights without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political opinion etc.
The principle that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The right to liberty and security of person and not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest.
The right to freedom of movement within the territory of a State, and the freedom to leave any country.
The right to take proceedings before a court, and the equality of all persons before the courts.

Article 21 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Do you think that implementing democracy, or democratising official institutions, might help to protect human rights in Oman?