Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1985

The Sultanate of Oman is an absolute monarchy without popularly
elected representative institutions. The reigning sultan,
Qaboos bin Said Al Said, is the 14th ruler of the current
dynasty. The State Consultative Council, formed in 1981,
functions as an advisory body on economic and social
questions. Members are appointed by the Sultan who has
continued the House of Al Said's long tradition of firm control
over all questions affecting the Omani State.
National security remains a matter of continuing close
attention. In the early years of the rule of Sultan Qaboos,
the Government's concern was focused on quelling an
insurrection in the southern province of Dhofar supported by
the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. The insurrection
was finally defeated in 1975, but threats from South Yemen and
later from Iran forced Oman to continue to devote much revenue
to defense. As the nation on the south shore of the Strait of
Hormuz, Oman has become the focus of attention for efforts to
protect the flow of oil from the area, with concomitant
increased expenditure on military modernization. Many key jobs
in the Government, especially in the military and internal
security services, are occupied by outsiders, including many
Almost totally undeveloped in 1970, Oman has used its modest
oil revenues to foster a remarkable degree of progress in the
social, economic, and administrative spheres, achieving a
significant improvement in the living standards of its people.
The economic and social benefits that have accrued from the
Government's efforts to modernize the country have won the
allegiance of the urban population of the capital area and the
provincial administrative centers. Sultan Qaboos has also
built on a trend, already visible during the reign of his
father, to bring notables of the tribal system of the interior
into the national administrative system.
There were no major developments in 1985 with significant
impact on the human rights environment in Oman. Although
lacking formal codification of civil and political rights, the
Government is reasonably accessible to the people through their
tribal leaders and walls (governors). The internal security
services are large, efficient, and pervasive, but are not
generally regarded as repressive, and the integrity of the
individual is generally respected.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
There have been no known political killings in Oman in recent
years .
b. Disappearance
There were no known disappearances in 1985.
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Though Islamic law is administered throughout the country by
Islamic judges, the amputations prescribed by such law are
generally commuted by the Government to prison terms.
Exceptions may occur in remote areas, or among Bedouin tribes,
but there is no confirmation of such practices, nor do they
have the central Government's sanction. Prison conditions are
considered severe by Western standards; cells are not
air-conditioned despite summer temperatures which can reach
over 115 degrees Fahrenheit, and all prisoners must observe the
fasting requirements during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
There are no reports of torture or other forms of cruel
punishment by Omani authorities.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Though Omani law does not provide for habeas corpus or its
equivalent, the period of detention before trial in criminal
cases is usually short. Abuses of the police power of arrest
have occurred, but the criminal code imposes penalties for
unjustified arrest or detention. Citizens have several
channels through which they can seek redress of any grievance
against law enforcement authorities, and these appear to
function well, particularly in rural areas. Membership in
certain unauthorized organizations is a criminal offense. A
small number of former members of the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Oman (PFLO) are reportedly still under detention,
as are fewer than 50 guerrillas from the Dhofar Insurgency
Approximately 500 Dhofaris returned to Oman in 1983 under an
amnesty following the rapprochement between Oman and South
Yemen. Smaller numbers continued to return in 1984 and 1985.
All Omanis who were in exile under the previous Sultan were
given the opportunity to return, and many thousands have done
so since 1970. Incommunicado detention is not practiced.
There is no forced labor.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Islamic law prescribes a fair and speedy trial before
experienced and impartial judges, and judicial practice in Oman
conforms largely to these prescriptions. In fact, however, the
majority of cases are settled by out-of-court negotiations.
There is no right under law to a jury, counsel, or public
trial, but members of the public do attend trials and
hearings. The defendant is formally charged, either before a
magistrate of the police court in the capital area or a local
magistrate (qadi) in outlying areas. The defendant may call
and question witnesses. If convicted, he may appeal his case
to the chief magistrate of the police court system, and
ultimately to the Sultan in cases involving serious offenses.
The various judicial systems are technically subordinate to the
Sultan, but they operate independently in the vast majority of
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
There are no reported instances in which the Government has
interfered arbitrarily or unreasonably with the private lives
of its citizens. However, warrants are not required to search
private residences or offices. Such searches, as well as
monitoring of telephones and private correspondence, are
confined to cases where the Government perceives a security
threat or criminal activity. There is no forced membership in
political organizations. While there is no government policy
to discourage the use of other languages in speech or print, or
in religious instruction in the home, the Government has
increasingly insisted that correspondence with it, and in
public and legal documents, be in Arabic. Omani men have the
right to marry as they choose but, in accordance with Islamic
law, marriages between Omani women and non-Muslim men are not
Section 2 Respect for Civil Rights, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
There are no guarantees in law which protect freedom of speech
or freedom of the press. Criticism of the Sultan in any form
or medium is prohibited by law. Criticism of individual
officials, agencies, and their programs is tolerated, but is
not given media coverage. The Government controls all radio
and television broadcasting. Government control of all printed
matter, including newspapers and magazines, is specified in the
Press and Publication Law, issued in May 1984. The law imposes
strict controls on, and a mechanism for prior censorship of,
all information in printed form in both domestic and imported
publications. The Government owns two of the three daily
newspapers, one in Arabic and one in English. Subsidies to the
several privately owned weekly and biweekly publications
provide an effective incentive to self-censorship, although
there have been arrests and closure for offensive articles.
Thus, editorials and news coverage invariably reflect
government views. Publications arriving in Oman from foreign
countries are censored for politically or sexually offensive
material and are occasionally banned. The censor's attention
generally focuses on articles that directly attack or embarrass
the Omani Government. In 1985, the Sultanate's only resident
Western correspondent had his residence permit revoked and was
forced to leave the country. Authorities are reported to have
objected to his pursuit of news stories on sensitive matters.
Such stories never appeared in the Omani media, but the
authorities objected to their publication elsewhere. Academic
freedom is not an issue as there are no institutions of higher
education. Conversations with or among Omanis are candid on
the subject of social, economic, and administrative development.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of assembly is not guaranteed by law. Associations of
any kind must register with the Government, and those which
oppose the political system of the Sultanate are prohibited.
Labor unions and strikes are illegal, and there is no
collective bargaining; although Oman's labor law specifically
prohibits the right to strike, it does mention the concept of
"collective grievance" and encourages conciliation of disputes
through the formation of joint consultative bodies of labor and
management. The organization of other professional groups is
embryonic .
c. Freedom of Religion
Oman is an Islamic state and virtually all Omani citizens
adhere to one or another sect of Islam, the exception being a
small Hindu community made up of Omani citizens of Indian
origin. Ibadhi Muslims are in an overall majority and include
the Royal Family. However, members of the minority Sunni and
Shi ' a Muslim communities are found in all walks of life in both
the public and private sector. Non-Muslim foreigners, both
Christian and Hindu, are allowed to worship at designated
locations. The Government of Oman has donated land for the
purpose of building a Christian church and a new Hindu temple.
Non-Muslims in Oman are prohibited from proselytizing.
Conversely, conversion to Islam is encouraged and publicized.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Omanis living abroad before 1970 have returned to Oman in large
numbers with official encouragement and without legal
obstacles. Several thousand ethnic Omani refugees from East
Africa, particularly Zanzibar, have been successfully
resettled. Many Omanis who had sought refuge in South Yemen
during the insurgency in Dhofar (1965-75) have returned to Oinan
with official encouragement. Non-Omani refugees are not
permitted to remain in Oman. Those few that reach Oman are
generally returned to their homelands unless they can be
quickly resettled in a third country.
Omanis may travel abroad freely, although a woman must have
authorization from her husband or father to obtain a passport.
Many Omanis work abroad, particularly in the United Arab
Emirates, where an estimated 30,000 Omanis are currently
employed. Many of these people travel home to Oman on
weekends. With the exception of a few military areas, there
are no restrictions on travel by Omanis within their country.
The Government's transportation program has greatly increased
the ability to move within the country to heretofore
inaccessible areas.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Oman is a monarchy in which the Sultan retains final word in
all government decisions. Succession to the Sultanate is
determined through a consensus of the Royal Family and leading
public figures. There are no political parties, legal
opposition groups, elections, or constitution. Citizens do
have access to senior officials through the traditional
practice of submitting petitions for the redress of
grievances. Successful redress depends on the effectiveness of
personal contact and the quality of the persons chosen as
intermediaries. Outside of Muscat, the Government still
reflects the tribal nature of Omani society. Traditional
elites dominate the tribal and town councils, which settle
intratribal disputes. Final authority, however, is with the
walls (governors), who are appointed by the Sultan.
In an effort to broaden participation in the Government, the
Sultan formed the State Consultative Council in 1981. It
consists of 55 members drawn from the Government, the business
community, and the outlying districts. It includes members of
every significant ethnic, geographic, and religious group. At
present, the Council's role is an advisory one, limited to the
social and economic spheres.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
The Government of Oman declined to receive a proposed Amnesty
International mission in 1972 during the insurgency in Dhofar.
Since then, there have been no known requests by international
human rights organizations to visit Oman. There are no
independent organizations in the country to monitor human
rights violations. Freedom House rated Oman "not free."
Amnesty International does not include Oman in its 1985
report. Oman has played a passive role in the United Nations
and regional bodies on human rights issues.
Oman's population of 1,200,000 is growing at the rate of 3.4
percent a year, boosted by an inflow of Omanis from overseas
and of migrant workers from the Indian subcontinent and East
Asia. Per capita gross national product is now over $6,250.
Before 1970, the Government of Oman actively discouraged all
forms of modernization. Oman was among the poorest countries
in the world with a rudimentary economy and virtually no modern
infrastructure. With the start of oil exports in 1967, the
accession of the present Sultan to power in 1970, and the
increase in oil prices in the 1970 's, Oman has made remarkable
advances in almost every index of development. Since 1970, the
Government has devoted a large proportion of its oil revenues
to infrastructure, industrialization, agriculture, fishing,
expansion in communications, and the provision of a full range
of social services to the population. The benefits of Oman's
new prosperity have been by and large centered in the capital
area and a few key provincial centers such as Salalah. The
Government is aware of this imbalance, and has made some effort
to redress it. Corruption in some areas has also siphoned off
some of the gains from the commonweal, but the Government is
taking steps to curtail corruption. Since 1970 the number of
hospital beds has jumped from 12 to several thousand, the
number of students in the schools from a few hundred to more
than 200,000, and the length of paved roads from approximately
10 kilometers to over 3,000. Life expectancy has increased to
53.5 years, and progreims for the eradication of endemic
diseases are widespread. The infant mortality rate is 115 per
1,000 live births. Many towns and most rural areas still lack
reliable supplies of safe water and electricity. The adult
literacy rate is still below 50 percent, and many primary age
children are not in school.
Since the early days of the reigning Sultan's rule, Oman has
had a comprehensive labor law defining conditions of employment
for both Omani and foreign workers, who constitute a large
percentage of the work force. Reports are that the labor law
is fairly enforced, and that workers' grievances, which are
handled within the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, are
generally given the benefit of the doubt in hearings conducted
by labor inspectors.
Employment of children (those under 13) is prohibited. Omani
law regulates the employment of juveniles, defined as those
between the ages of 13 and 16, prohibiting evening and
nighttime work, strenuous occupations, and overtime and holiday
work. A special section deals with employment conditions for
women, prohibiting evening and nighttime work, safeguarding
health and morals, and setting out their rights to maternity
Omani labor law is very specific on matters of occupational
safety and access to medical treatment. Likewise, the workweek
is set at 48 hours (36 hours for Muslims during Ramadan), and
various categories of leave are set forth.
Though conservative, Oman has not been extreme in its attempts
to impose strict adherence to Islamic precepts on women. For
example, women have shared in the benefits of the social and
economic growth of recent years, and schooling for girls is
available to the same extent as for boys in urban areas, less
so in rural areas. However, for cultural reasons, the
educational level of girls still lags behind that of boys.
Many urban Omani women drive. A few women have reached high
levels in the public sector. By and large, however,
occupational advances available to women are limited to the
traditional spheres of teaching, secretarial work, and
nursing. Oman's labor laws are protective of women,
guaranteeing maternity leave and working conditions.
The gains achieved by a small minority of women are largely
irrelevant to the great majority, both in the towns and in the
rural areas, whose lives are carried out within the confines of
the house and the local marketplace. The previous lack of
adult education facilities means that all but the youngest
females in rural areas are illiterate. This general lack of
education, combined with communal and tribal customs which
dictate a subsidiary role for women, makes it difficult for
most adult women to participate fully in the modern sector.
The expansion of educational facilities for girls (including
the new university) will allow for some egualization of the
position of women in the future, but the communal and tribal
customs will continue to militate against full participation by
women for the foreseeable future.