COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CONSIDERS REPORT OF OMAN


Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

8 August 2006



Holds Dialogue with UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues


The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the initial report of Oman on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Committee then had a dialogue with Gay McDougall, the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues.

Presenting the report, Al-Sheikh Kallifa bin Mohamed Al-Hadrami, Deputy Chief Justice of the High Court of Oman, said that in Oman there were no barriers of any form or kind between races. The Sultanate had taken all necessary measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment of human rights. It had enacted relevant laws to ensure protection of special groups and groups that lived in difficult conditions in order to satisfy their needs and to enable them to enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms in social, economic, cultural and political fields. As for measures taken to protect ethnic groups, there were no such groups in the Sultanate.

In preliminary remarks, Alexei S. Avtonomov, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for Oman, said that he was happy to go along with the Government’s contention that it did not wish to define its population on racial grounds, but felt he had to point out that the Convention provided for other categories of discrimination, such as descent or tribal origin. The Committee did not wish to insist that everyone talk about their origins – it was a question of getting objective statistics against which to measure participation in various areas of society. Perhaps there were no obvious problems at the moment, but they could emerge later.

Committee Experts also asked about the absence of a specific provision criminalizing racial discrimination; whether economic, social and cultural rights were the same for nationals and non-nationals; measures guaranteeing the basic rights of women and to improve their living conditions; why Oman was party to so few international human rights instruments; what civil society participation there had been in drafting the report; further details on the equal rights of citizens and non-citizens to health and education services; and why women marrying non-citizens could not transmit their nationality to their children.

The delegation of Oman also included another representative of the Ministry of Justice as well as representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Legal Affairs, the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of National Economy, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Committee will present its written observations and recommendations on the initial report of Oman at the end of its session, which concludes on 18 August.

In an address to the Committee, Gay McDougall, the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues, said she believed that the Committee’s work with regard to early warning indicators was of critical importance with regard to the work of the United Nations and with regard to her work as well. Everyone wanted to find ways not just to react to genocide appropriately, but also to prevent it. Furthermore, minorities could benefit from the general debates the Committee organized and the General Recommendations formulated as a result. In that connection, of great interest among minority communities was how discrimination with regard to education was further entrenching them into poverty.

In the ensuing discussion among Experts, many felt that the Committee and the Independent Expert could usefully collaborate on a number of areas she had outlined, in particular, a general thematic debate in the context of education with regard to minority issues; studies of the links between minority rights and poverty and on the use of statistics and disaggregated data; and the need to increase and strengthen cooperation with the Committee with regard to early warning and urgent action procedures, and preventing the risk of genocide in the world.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it is scheduled to take up the sixteenth to eighteenth periodic reports of Mongolia, presented in one document (CERD/C/476/Add.6).

Report of Oman

The initial report of Oman, submitted in one document (CERD/C/OMN/1), says that Oman had been an empire with a flourishing civilization until the nineteenth century when it lapsed into an almost complete isolation from the outside world. Since its revival in 1970 Oman has relentlessly endeavoured to establish foundations of justice and equality among all citizens. It consolidated the values of tolerance, fraternity and solidarity that are deeply rooted in Omani society, and has supported them with a series of laws and measures to guarantee fundamental rights for all Omanis without discrimination. Islam is the main source for legislation and constitutes the national culture and a pattern of life for the overwhelming majority of the population. As Islam combats discrimination in all its forms and rejects acts of discrimination among human beings on any grounds, discriminatory practices are alien to the Omani society.

In confirmation of this orientation, the Basic Law (Yemen's Constitution) states that “all citizens are equal before the law ... There shall be no discrimination between them on the grounds of gender, origin, colour, language, religion, sect, domicile or social status”. The Sultanate of Oman never had any laws or actions that lead to discriminatory practices and thus need to be cancelled or amended. In the Sultanate there are no integrationist multiracial organizations and movements and there are no barriers of any kind between races in the first place. As for the creation of national societies, the Basic Law stresses that “the freedom to form associations on a national basis for legitimate objectives and in a proper manner, in a way that does not conflict with the stipulations and aims of this Basic Law is guaranteed under the conditions and in the circumstances defined by the law”. As for measures taken to protect ethnic groups, it should be noted that there are no such groups in the Sultanate and there are no groups that live separately or outside the social mainstream.

Presentation of Report

AL-SHEIKH KALLIFA BIN MOHAMED AL-HADRAMI, Deputy Chief Justice of the High Court, Ministry of Justice, said that, according to the 2003 census, Oman had a total population of 2,340,815, of whom 1,781,558 were Omanis and 559,257 were resident foreigners. Arabic was the official language of the Sultanate, the majority of whom were Muslims. Non-Muslims were mainly expatriate workers coming from all parts of the world.

The State ensured the freedom of religious practice, and the society lived in total accord and harmony. As a coastal State Oman had been a destination as well as a source of many waves of immigrants from and to Asia and Africa; however, Omani society had not known any social disruption.

The Deputy Chief Justice noted that the modern Omani State had focused since 1970 on ensuring fundamental human rights in accordance with provisions of international covenants, declarations and conventions. Consecutive laws had been enacted to guarantee human rights to such freedoms as residence, movement, personal liberty, expression and opinion.

With the inception of the new age of the Sultanate, the State had officially declared that Omani women would no longer be marginalized and would enjoy their full rights under the law and Islamic Sharia, Mr. Al-Hadrami said. Today Omani women played an increasingly important and concrete role in the efforts for national development through their membership in the Council of State and the Shura Council and their high positions in the administrative structure of the State and in various fields. Three women held ministerial posts: in higher education, social development and tourism. Another woman with the rank of a minister headed the General Organization for Small Industries. The Sultanate has also ratified the Agreement Establishing the Arab Women Organization to strengthen the role of working Arab women.

Girls and women accounted for 49 per cent of all students, the Deputy Chief Justice cited from the report, and enrolment rates for females between 6 and 23 years of age did not differ from male enrolment rates of about 69 per cent. Omani women had become doctors, social workers, civil servants, teachers and policewomen. Today Omani women enjoyed the same rights and duties as men and received equal pay for equivalent work both in the public and private sectors, the Deputy Chief Justice remarked.

Social care covered a number of fields and direct and indirect initiatives in a complete system to provide social solidarity, taking such forms as social security, special care programmes, job creation programmes, welfare societies, the national programme for the development of local communities and programmes for the rehabilitation of women. The State also provided for the basic needs of underprivileged families, as well as the necessary care for disabled persons with special needs through community rehabilitation programmes and the provision of facilities to enable them to lead a better life.

The State had spared no effort to encourage education for all and to develop the educational sector. Mr. Al-Hadrami drew attention to the fact that the number of schools multiplied by more than 322 times and number of students more than 510 times. The educational policy recognized the principle of equal enjoyment of the right to education and annual statistics indicated a steady increase of female enrolment in literacy programmes since 1983. In addition to the increase of numbers, the geographic coverage had also expanded as literacy classes were opened in each school and specific facilities set up for this purpose.
Turning to the judiciary, the Deputy Chief Justice said the Basic Law of the State provided that the judicial power was independent and there was no power over the judges in their rulings except the law. A 1999 law organized the Omani judicial system in an integrated structure, with the Supreme Court at the top. Its function covered examination of consistency in the application and interpretation of laws. With the exception of administrative disputes, the Higher Court was also mandated to consider all criminal and civil cases.

In implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, guaranteeing the enjoyment by all individuals and groups of their human rights and fundamental freedoms, laws – including the Basic Law – had been enacted to establish clear rules and procedures to give effect to provisions of that instrument, Mr. Al-Hadrami said.

The Sultanate had enacted laws criminalizing any act of racial discrimination. Mr. Al-Hadrami cited the Omani Penal Code, which stated that: “Any person who promotes or incites religious or sectarian conflicts or theorems of hatred or strife among the population shall be punished by imprisonment for a maximum of 10 years.”

Mr. Al-Hadrami stressed that in Oman there were no integrationist multiracial organizations and movements and there were no barriers of any form or kind between races in the first place. The Sultanate had taken all necessary measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment of human rights. It had enacted relevant laws to ensure protection of special groups and groups that lived in difficult conditions in order to satisfy their needs and to enable them to enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms in social, economic, cultural and political fields. As for measures taken to protect ethnic groups, there were no such groups in the Sultanate.

The Omani Criminal Law sanctioned any participation in, support of or incitement to acts of discrimination. There were, moreover, no recorded incidents of instigation, promotion, publication or incitement of ideas based on racial superiority or racial hatred in the Sultanate, or participation in such acts by individuals, groups, or governmental organs, the Deputy Chief Justice observed. Nor had there been any incidence of violence or incitement to violence against any individual or group on ethnic or racial grounds or on grounds of colour or origin. There were no organizations that advocated racial discrimination or instigated, promoted or financed such acts. Therefore the Sultanate has no need to take any measures to ban the formation of such organizations or to prohibit or punish membership in such organizations. Accordingly, Omani authorities and institutions do not perform any acts of racial discrimination or acts that may lead to support of or incitement to such acts.

Response by Delegation to Written Questions by the Rapporteur

Men and women had the same rights with regard to inheritance, the delegation confirmed. Every citizen also had the right to citizenship, and every citizen had the right to enjoy his civil and political rights.

The delegation said that all enjoyed equal rights in the labour sphere under the new Omani Labour Code. In addition, the Omani civil service accorded the same rights to all employees, whether citizens or not.

Turning to the situation of refugees, the delegation said that the Government was studying the situation and contemplating legislation in that regard. Currently refugees were afforded very good living conditions. The Government was working in cooperation and coordination both with the UN Refugee Agency and the various Governments concerned.

All foreigners had the right to lodging, the delegation affirmed, and employers had to provide proper lodging for employees by law – either through actual provision of housing or through material assistance or grants for housing.

The delegation once again reiterated that there were no racial groups in the Sultanate and there was no discrimination with regard to any racial groups. Thus issues of compensation for discrimination was not applicable, as there were no such cases.

Human rights formed part of the educational curricula. The delegation underscored that that included teaching about the subject of discrimination and the promotion of tolerance.

Oral Questions Raised by the Rapporteur and Experts

ALEXEI S. AVTONOMOV, the Committee Expert serving as Country Rapporteur for Oman, congratulated the delegation on beginning its dialogue with the Committee with the presentation of the initial report.

Mr. Avtonomov drew attention to the fact that the Omani State had been actively engaged in modernization for the past 10 years. The traditions of the Omani people had deep historical roots – almost 10,000 years old. At the crossroads of trade routes, the population and culture of Oman today was the product of different influences. Those who lived in the mountains spoke a different Arabic dialect than those living on the coast. While noting that Omanis were mainly Muslims, he pointed out that many Muslims or Arabs from other countries were living in Oman. Over the past 30 years immigrants from South East Asia had come to the country. Yet, such a complex population composition did present the possibility for discrimination in Oman. It might not even have to do with State policies, but with people’s traditions or way of life.

Mr. Avtonomov took note of what the delegation had said regarding the lack of discrimination in the Government and in the State. But he would be more careful about saying that there was no discrimination. The analysis of whether or not there was discrimination under the Convention required the examination of statistics such as composition of the population and then looking at data of representation of those groups in such areas as employment, in Government positions, in civil service and in prison populations. In that connection, he hoped that that information could be included in the State party’s next report.

Mr. Avtonomov drew attention to the fact that, though social and historical information had been included in the report, a core document would provide more details. Discrimination was also possible in a range of areas that were not included in the report, for example he was particularly interested in information regarding the right to access to water.

He would also be grateful for information on whether Oman belonged to other human rights instruments, including within the framework of the League of Arab States.

Other Committee Experts raised questions and asked for further information on subjects pertaining to, among other things, the absence of a specific provision criminalizing racial discrimination; property rights of non-nationals; whether economic, social and cultural rights were the same for nationals and non-nationals; measures guaranteeing the basic rights of women and to improve their living conditions; why Oman was party to so few international human rights instruments; what civil society participation there had been in drafting the report; further details on the equality of citizens and non-citizens to health and education services; and why women marrying non-citizens could not transmit their nationality to their children.

An Expert commended the Government of Oman with regard to the very high statistics for the enrolment of women in education in general, and the various programmes focused on raising their level of education.

One Expert noted that the report was an opportunity for self-reflection and self-improvement; it was a tool for the State party to use to ask itself what direction it would like to go in the future. In that regard, the self-congratulatory tone of the present report was not really helpful and she hoped that the State party would perhaps be more self-critical in future.

Response by Delegation to Oral Questions

The delegation said that it needed to clarify one point. It was not that there were no legal measures to prevent discrimination because there was no discrimination. There were articles and provisions that punished such actions. There had simply been no such cases.

Moreover not joining an international agreement did not mean that the State did not believe in the principles enshrined in them nor that the State did not uphold the principles of non-discrimination.

The delegation confirmed the overview that had been given by the country Rapporteur of the different ethnic groups that had come from South West Asia and elsewhere to Oman. However, they were not classified as racial or ethnic groups. Those people had integrated into Omani society and had become Omanis. In a single Omani family it was possible to find seven or eight different tribal origins; that did not mean that those people were minorities and did not enjoy certain rights.

In Oman people were tolerant and friendly, the delegation stressed. Foreigners were welcomed and treated with great respect and tolerance. Foreign workers – 23.9 per cent of the population – came on short contracts and returned to their homes thereafter. They had certain relations with their employers, guaranteed by work contracts and the Labour Code also ensured that the rights of foreign workers were fully guaranteed. The laws provided for the full care, including health care, of foreign workers. There were also guarantees of equality between domestic and foreign workers in terms of pay, and indeed, in terms of all other provisions, which were ensured by the Ministry of Labour. As long as two workers had the same duties, they had the same rights.

The delegation noted that the administrative tribunal guaranteed the administration of the rights of workers in the civil service and compensation could be awarded in cases of abuse.

Concerning detailed information on the population, classification was not done on a racial or ethnic basis. Honestly, the delegation said, those words were even very strange for Omanis to say. There was also no difference between foreigners and nationals; that was the simple truth. Statistics were kept on the basis of nationality regarding where workers came from, in accordance with international instruments and national law. There were two classifications for population statistics: Omani and non-Omani; and then by province or county.

Everyone had the right to take part in elections by voting or by standing candidate. There were 14 women in the Shura Council, the delegation observed.

With regard to statistics on immigrant workers, the delegation said that they would provide a CD to members that contained all the information on immigrant workers.

The Sultanate of Oman was in a water-poor region, the delegation pointed out. Rainfall was the main source of water in the Sultanate, as well as in the other countries of the region. The Sultanate was making efforts to better exploit the available water so that all of those who lived in Oman could benefit from it. Alternative sources of water were extremely important, and Oman had several desalination plants that provided water to a number of different regions. There were areas that did not receive water through the current water network. In those cases, the water had to be distributed on an individual basis by truck. In those cases a modest fee was charged.

Concerning Oman’s accession to international human rights instruments, including the Arab Charter of Human Rights, the delegation reiterated that just because the Government was not a party to an instrument did not mean that it did not agree with or uphold its objectives. Accession to an instrument meant that Oman approved all of the provisions of that particular instrument. Oman was making major efforts to ensure equality without discrimination on the basis of origin, race, religion or any other grounds.

In Oman everyone was free to practice their religion as they wished. When foreigners came to the Sultanate the only issue was that they respond positively to the question of whether they would adapt themselves to the situation and traditions in Oman.

The delegation observed that it was obvious that if a woman went out late at night dressed in a non-traditional way she could expect to encounter certain problems in Oman. The Sultanate was making efforts, however, to accede to international instruments to promote women’s rights. Women lived in full equality with men, and enjoyed all the same rights as men did. The administrative tribunal and the social security law worked to ensure equality for women in the personal sphere, ensuring the right to divorce, inheritance and other rights. A woman had the right to visit her family and to keep her name when she married. Women’s property rights were fully guaranteed.

Turning to the issue of a specific legal provision against discrimination, the delegation said that Oman had left that open to jurisprudence. The fact that there was no specific definition did not mean that there were no laws under which such a claim could be made. The Basic Law, or Constitution, provided for equality for all, regardless of race, gender and ethnicity, as well as on other grounds, as did the Penal Code. But as there had been no crimes in this area there had simply not had to be a specific definition of it.

Property rights were respected both for nomads and for foreigners. Those rights were guaranteed by the Basic Law as well as by case law, the delegation said. There had been individual cases where disputes had occurred

Regarding non-governmental organization contributions to the report, the delegation admitted that Oman did not have very many such organizations. The Women’s Association had provided information used in drafting the present report. In future, if non-governmental organizations wished to participate they would have to present themselves.

On the topic of refugees, the delegation said that the Government was currently contemplating adopting the United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees rights. Indeed, the delegation hoped to be able to tell the Committee when they next met that the Sultanate had a partnership agreement with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

In Oman children took their father’s nationality. That was also true in many other countries, the delegation pointed out. It was not a case of discrimination. Countries were free to make their own laws for the conditions to be met for the granting of nationality. However, for children born in Oman there were exceptions to the foregoing conditions to prevent statelessness. For example, if the mother was Omani and the father was unknown, or if the father had been Omani but had lost his citizenship, the child could be granted Omani citizenship.

Preliminary Concluding Remarks

ALEXEI S. AVTONOMOV, the Committee Expert who served as Country Rapporteur for Oman, thanked the delegation for the very constructive dialogue. He was fully prepared to accept the delegation’s assertion that there were no States in which the implementation of the Convention was complete. In his view, Oman seemed to be making every possible effort to comply.

Mr. Avtonomov said that he was also happy to go along with the Government’s contention that it did not wish to define its population on racial grounds, but felt he had to point out that the Convention provided for other categories of discrimination, such as descent or tribal origin. The Committee did not wish to insist that everyone talk about their origins – it was a question of getting objective statistics against which to measure participation in various areas of society. That was possible, for example, in Oman today with respect to women and their participation.

Perhaps problems were not obvious at the moment, but they could emerge later. That, for example, had been the experience of his own country, Russia, Mr. Avtonomov noted. Oman wanted to avoid a situation where later groups of people had felt discriminated against.

Mr. Avtonomov thanked the delegation for the seriousness of their approach and he looked forward to a constructive dialogue in the future.

Dialogue with Independent Expert on Minority Rights

GAY McDOUGALL, United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Rights, said that her mandate explicitly called on her to cooperate closely with existing relevant United Nations mandates, bodies and mechanisms. That included, in particular, the work of the Committee, of which she was a former member.

Ms. McDougall commented that the Committee had a long and distinguished history of work on minority issues, and had established itself as a key United Nations mechanism in the area. Over many years it had developed a vital expertise and a documentary resource, which had greatly informed her work. The Committee had, for example, elaborated a General Recommendation on the Roma, which she had consulted, along with the Committee’s Concluding Observations, in preparation for her recent visit to Hungary, during which Roma were the focus of her activities.

In its Concluding Observations on State reports the Committee often mentioned minorities specifically and made valuable recommendations on minority issues, Ms. McDougall observed. The Committee regularly noted a lack of data on the ethnic composition of States and requests that disaggregated data be provided to it, which she enthusiastically endorsed.

Ms. McDougall’s mandate was to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, including through consultations with Governments, and to identify best practices and possibilities for technical cooperation by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Ms. McDougall identified four broad areas of concern in the context of addressing the situation of minorities: protecting a minority’s existence, including through protecting their physical integrity and the prevention of genocide; the right of national and linguistic groups to affirm and protect their collective identity and reject enforced assimilation; ensuring effective non-discrimination and equality measures and, indeed, affirmatively establishing a regime of equality; and ensuring effective participation of minority groups in public life, in particular with regard to decisions that impacted on them. She had also formulated four broad thematic priorities: to increase the focus of minority communities in the context of poverty alleviation, development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals; to increase the understanding of minority issues in the context of promoting social inclusion and ensuring stable societies; to promote the situation of minorities in the context of citizenship; and mainstreaming the consideration of minority issues within the work of the United Nations and other multilateral forums.

Ms. McDougall invited the Committee’s views with regard to her very new mandate and the work of the Committee, but, first, she wished to outline some of her own ideas on that subject. She believed that the Committee’s work with regard to early warning indicators was of critical importance with regard to the work of the United Nations and with regard to her work as well. Everyone wanted to find ways not just to react to genocide appropriately, but also to prevent it. While the Committee had exercised leadership in that regard, she felt more could be done and she could make a contribution in that area and she would therefore like to cooperate with the Committee’s working group on the topic.

Furthermore, Ms. McDougall noted that minorities could benefit from the general debates the Committee organized and the General Recommendations formulated as a result. Of great interest among minority communities was how discrimination with regard to education was further entrenching them into poverty. It was an issue that affected even countries with a lot of resources, such as her own – the United States – where it was a major concern.

In the ensuing discussion among Experts, many felt that the Committee and the Independent Expert could usefully collaborate on a number of areas she had outlined, in particular, a general thematic debate in the context of education with regard to minority issues; studies of the links between minority rights and poverty and on the use of statistics and disaggregated data; and the need to increase and strengthen cooperation with the Committee with regard to early warning and urgent action procedures, and preventing the risk of genocide in the world.

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