Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1987

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 focused its concern on quelling an insurrection
in the southern province of Dhofar, supported by the People's
Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) . The insurrection was
defeated in 1975, but in the face of threats from the PDRY and
later from Iran, Oman continued to devote considerable revenue
to defense. Oman's strategic location on the south shore of
the Strait of Hormuz exposes the country to the increased
tension in the Persian Gulf area. Many key jobs in the
Government, especially in the military and internal security
services, are occupied by outsiders, including many British,
although the number of expatriates is declining.
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.
Sultan Qaboos has also built on an earlier trend to bring
notables of the tribal system of the interior into the
national administrative system.
There were no major developments in 1987 with significant
impact on the human rights environment in Oman. While civil
and political rights are not formally codified, 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 were no known political killings in Oman in 1987.
     b. Disappearance
No cases of disappearance were reported in 1987.
     c. Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
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. 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 were no reports of torture or other forms of
cruel punishment by Omani authorities.
     d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Exile or Forced Labor
Although Omani law does not provide for habeas corpus or its
equivalent, the period of detention before trial in criminal
cases is usually short. Police notification may be slow, but
incommunicado detention is not practiced. Under current Omani
practice, a person suspected of a crime may be held up to 15
days while a case is under investigation, although this may be
extended to a maximum of 70 days if approved by the magistrate.
Attorneys are not always permitted access to their clients.
While abuses of the police power of arrest have occurred, 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. The Dhofar insurgency (1955-1975) led to the
imprisonment of members of the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Oman (PFLO) . Although the PFLO remains a
proscribed organization and a few of its members remain in
custody, many former insurgents benefited from an amnesty and
returned to Oman from the bordering areas of the PDRY. All
Omanis who were in exile under the previous Sultan were given
the opportunity to return, as many thousands did after 1970.
The grace period for those in self-imposed exile who wished to
return to Oman ended on December 31, 1986.
There is no forced labor in Oman.
     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, the
majority of cases are settled by out-of-court negotiations.
There is no right under law to a jury, counsel, or public
trial, and attorneys are not provided for those who cannot
afford them. If a case proceeds to trial, it is heard before
a judge alone. Generally, all questioning is conducted by the
judge, and there is no examination or cross-examination by the
prosecution, accused, or attorney of the accused. Either side
may request the judge to ask particular questions of a witness,
however, and some judges do permit direct questioning of
witnesses. At the discretion of the judge, the accused may
call witnesses. Decisions are generally pronounced promptly,
and sentencing is immediate. Verdicts are final, although
there may be informal appeals to the State Advisor for Penal
Affairs and ultimately to the Sultan in cases involving
serious offenses. The Sultan must approve death penalty
verdicts. The various judicial systems are technically
subordinate to the Sultan, but they operate independently in
the majority of cases.
In January the Ministry of Interior announced the return of
the "Al Barzah" or people's courts which are described as one
of Oman's most ancient and traditional institutions. According
to the plan, the Al-Barzah sessions will be convened in the
forts of the larger wilayats of the country. The wali
(governor), assisted by his deputy, a judge, and staff will
preside over the sessions. The Al Barzahs handle personal
disputes as well as minor commercial disputes, but do not
handle criminal cases. Those cases not settled by the
people's courts are referred to Oman's existing formal courts
of law.
     f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or Correspondence
Warrants are not required to search private residences,
offices, or vehicles. Such searches, however, as well as the
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.
Although 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 public and legal
documents, be in Arabic. A 1986 law banned, with a few
insignificant exceptions, marriage between Omanis and
foreigners. The move was explained as an effort to stem the
erosion of Omani culture. Those already married to foreigners
had to register within a specified period or risk forfeiting
their citizenship and that of their offspring.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
     a. Freedom of Speech and Presso
There are no provisions 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 the Government's 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 regional correspondent of a respected
economic journal was warned of the consequences of critical
coverage of Oman, and one local English newspaper was shut
down. In 1987 two expatriate reporters were deported for
articles written about Oman.
     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
the small Hindu community made up of Omani citizens of Indian
origin. Ibadhi Muslims are in the overall majority and include
the ruling 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 on land donated by the Government. Although there
is no indigenous Jewish community, Jews are not barred from
living and working in Oman. Religion is not a factor in
gaining entry into Oman. Non-Muslims in Oman are prohibited
from proselytizing. Conversion to Islam is encouraged and
     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 the PDRY
during the insurgency in Dhofar (1965-75) have returned to
Oman 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
guickly 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 development of
transportation 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 Gonvernment
The Sultanate of Oman has no formal democratic institutions.
Consequently, most of its citizens do not have a say in the
choice of leaders or in changing the political system. Oman
is a monarchy in which the Sultan retains the final word in
all government decisions. Succession to the monarchy is
determined through a consensus of the ruling family and leading
public figures. There are no political parties, legal
opposition groups, elections, or constitution. Citizens 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, 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. Though Oman usually plays a passive role
in the United Nations and other bodies on human rights issues,
it has criticized Israel's practices in the territories under
its occupation and the South African system of apartheid in
U.N. forums.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Though conservative, Oman has not been extreme in the
interpretation of Islamic precepts on the status of women.
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 level of
education which girls attain is still below that of boys.
Many urban Omani women drive cars. A few women have reached
high positions 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.
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, who live their lives 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 equalization of the
position of women in the future, but communal and tribal
customs will continue to mitigate against full participation
by women for the foreseeable future.
Oman's labor law, issued in 1983, is a comprehensive document
defining conditions of employment for both Omani and foreign
workers, who constitute approximately 50 percent of the work
force. The labor law reportedly is fairly enforced, and
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.
Oman's labor law states that the Government can determine the
minimum wage and make adjustments according to economic
circumstances. In practice, the minimum wage in Oman has
covered only unskilled Omani workers and is currently set at
75 Omani riyals (approximately $195) per month. Unskilled
foreign workers are not covered by these provisions, but in
many cases the respective embassies set suggested minimum
wages. Every worker has the right to annual leave of 15 days
per year during the first 3 years of employment and 30 days
per year thereafter.
Employment of children under age 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 leave.
Omani labor law is very specific on matters of occupational
safety and access to medical treatment. Employees covered by
the labor law can recover compensation for industrial injury
or illness. The workweek is set at 48 hours (36 hours for
Muslims during Ramadan)