Sultanate of Oman: Joint Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review - 37th Session of the UPR Working Group
1.1 CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS has members in more than 180 countries.
1.2 The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is an independent, non-profit CSO founded in 2011 that provides support and protection to human rights defenders (HRDs) in order to promote human rights, including but not limited to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. GCHR is based in Lebanon and documents the environment for HRDs in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries, specifically Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemen.
1.3 The Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) as an independent, human rights research center based in Germany and work on the documentation of human rights violations in Oman and to enhance the protection of human rights defender in the country.
1.4 In this document, CIVICUS, GCHR, and OAHR examine the Sultanate of Oman’s compliance with its international human rights obligations to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment for civil society. Specifically, we analyse Oman’s fulfilment of the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression and unwarranted restrictions on HRDs, bloggers and online activists since its previous Universal Periodic Review (UPR) examination in November 2015. To this end, we assess Oman’s implementation of recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle relating to these issues and provide a number of follow-up recommendations.
1.5 During the 2nd UPR cycle, the government of Oman received 37 recommendations relating to the space for civil society (civic space). Of these recommendations, 21 were accepted and 16 were noted. However, an evaluation of a range of legal sources and human rights documentation addressed in subsequent sections of this submission, as well as consultations with HRDs and experts, demonstrates that the Government of Oman has not implemented any of the recommendations relating to civic space. The government has persistently failed to address unwarranted restrictions on civic space since its last UPR examination, and acute gaps in implementation were found with regard to protecting the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression and the persecution of HRDs.
1.6 Oman is a country of 4.6 million people which is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Since 23 July 1970, the Sultanate of Oman was ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who became the longest-serving ruler in the Middle East, reigning for almost 50 years. On 10 January 2020, Sultan Qaboos died, and his cousin Haitham bin Tariq, the former Culture Minister, was sworn in as Oman's new Sultan. Despite calls from activists and civil society for reforms, several social media activists were interrogated during the first few months of Haitham bin Tariq’s reign and the family members of those who had fled the country were targeted. Despite the fact that Oman ratified some international human rights conventions, restrictions persist as provisions in the Penal Code are used to restrict freedoms of expression, association and assembly.
1.7 We are deeply concerned by the closure of civic space and the use of draconian legislation to restrict civic space and limit the ability of HRDs and journalists to report effectively on human rights issues and the actions of the state. Power is concentrated in the hands of the Sultan and while the Constitution of Oman guarantees the rights to association, peaceful assembly and expression, restrictive legislation and policies, including the Penal Code, the Law on Associations, the 1984 Press and Publications Law and the Communications Act, are routinely used to prevent independent human rights organisations from operating and to subject HRDs to judicial persecution and arbitrary detention. The hostile environment for civil society has forced most HRDs to flee Oman and all independent human rights organisations have either been closed by the authorities or work from abroad.
1.8 We are further alarmed by the targeting of bloggers, journalists and writers who report on the state of human rights or the actions of the government. Journalists and bloggers are routinely subjected to arbitrary arrests and judicial persecution without regard to the law. Independent newspapers have been shut down and the authorities target writers and seek to silence them by jailing them and banning their books in Oman. Since the popular protests in 2011, when hundreds of Omanis took to the streets in several cities, the authorities have used the Penal Code to forestall and prevent protests. When protests occur, they are immediately dispersed and protesters are arrested. The threat of violence towards protesters has forced many people to resort to self-censorship and refrain from organising or taking part in public assemblies.
1.9 In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world, including Oman, implemented measures to enhance social distancing and limit the movement of people. However, some of these measures implemented in Oman have been used to restrict civic freedoms.
1.10 As a result of these issues, civic space in Oman is currently classified as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.
- Section 2 of this submission examines Oman’s implementation of UPR recommendations and compliance with international human rights standards relating to the protection of HRDs and civil society activists.
- Section 3 examines Oman’s implementation of UPR recommendations and compliance with international human rights standards concerning the freedom of expression, independence of the media and journalists.
- Section 4 of this submission examines Oman’s implementation of UPR recommendations and compliance with international human rights standards concerning the freedom of association.
- Section 5 examines Oman’s implementation of UPR recommendations and compliance with international human rights standards relating to the freedom of peaceful assembly.
- Section 6 makes recommendations to address the concerns listed.
- An annex lists the implementation of recommendations received by Oman during the 2nd UPR cycle that are referenced in this submission.
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