(And the ever deepening global depression is just too depressing to comment on right now).
Stories today: US State Dept issues its latest report on global Human Rights, and the Ministry of Labour has un-banned new expat visas for several professions just a few months after banning them for expats in the first place. Surprises!
Here's Oman's 2008 Human Rights report card as written by Essa's favorite the US Dept. of State. I think it's pretty accurate, if a bit generic and overly generalised.
(There's a highly edited version of the reports interesting highlights at the end. The internet freedom part is left in full, FYI.)
Good news: (as far as the US State know, which is a lot), in 2008 there were:
- no reports that the [Omani] government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
- no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
- the law prohibits (Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment), and there were no reports that government officials employed them.
- no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
- [although] the law does not require police to obtain search warrants before entering homes, the police often obtained warrants to do so anyhow.
Plus, it passed a comprehensive law to combat trafficking in persons.
and established an independent human rights commission with membership from both the public and private sectors. And is keeping a firm watch on the immams.
On the downside:
- The government monitored private communications, including mobile phones, e-mail, and Internet chat room exchanges. [UD: OH, MY, GOD!]
- The authorities tolerated a limited degree of criticism of policies, government officials, and agencies, particularly via the Internet; however, such criticism rarely appeared in traditional mass media. [UD: OH, MY, GOD, AGAIN!]
Perhaps that's the self censorship. But a striking thing is the extent to which self censorship is evident in many spheres, not just publishing. Sometimes for the good, undoubtedly, but the overall image the report portrays of intellectual sterility, at least in public, should be of worry (ie: no books published, academics forced by threat to keep quiet (thats one of the good ones, unfortunately), critical reporters not published, media censorship, etc. (Its a good job the overall quality of public debate is apparently not considered an affront to some sort of inalienable human need, or we would suffer somewhat, including some of my occasional comments' readers of late).
Meanwhile, its heartening to know the Omani Government can change its mind, and do it in public too. Reported today in the always insightful and hard-hitting Times of Oman, its now OK (again) to hire new expat mechanics to repair cars (which I can understand), and to sell retail clothes (which I can't).
Ban on eight professions for expatriates lifted
Times News Service
Sunday, March 01, 2009
MUSCAT — The Ministry of Manpower has lifted the restrictions in place on a number of professions effective from this month. Sayyid Hamad bin Hilal Al Busaidi, undersecretary for labour affairs in the ministry, said the government, after intensive studies, had decided to grant permission for the recruitment of expatriates in eight professions out of the 15 banned last year.
The eight professions covered by the lifting of ban comprise car repair and affiliated works, hair-dressing and beautification, sale of carpets and furniture, sale of readymade garments and textiles, gents and ladies tailoring, carpentry workshops, smithy and aluminium works.
The ban will continue on the other seven professions, including import, export and commercial representation; cleaning works, barbershops, laundry, sale and repair of electronics and sale and repair of mobile phones, and health clubs, said Sayyid Hamad, adding that the revision of earlier decision conforms to the actual needs of the community, particularly in the densely populated areas.
What??? But, but, what about all those 1000s of new Omani carpenters trained over the past few years, at great Government expense? And what's with a reversal on 'beautification or readymade garments'???
Ahhh, I know, all the Omani carpenters must all be off fixing mobile phones and working out in the gym as fitness instructors.
Photo: A newly re-designated critical skill in Oman: retail. Its a brutal world folks, and another 40000 female high school graduates have been saved from a life of occasional till ringing and mobile phone talking.
Here's the Human Rights report.
2008 Human Rights Report: Oman
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2009
The Sultanate of Oman is a hereditary monarchy with a population of approximately 3.3 million, including approximately 900,000 nonnationals, ruled by Sultan Qaboos Al Bu Sa'id since 1970. Only the sultan can amend the country's laws through royal decree. The 84-member Majlis as-Shura (Consultative Council) is a representative advisory institution that can review legislation. In October 2007 approximately 245,000 registered voters participated in generally free and fair elections for all of the council's seats. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
Citizens did not have the right to change their government. The government restricted freedoms of privacy, speech, press, assembly, association, and religion. Discrimination and domestic violence persisted for women. There was a lack of sufficient legal protection and enforcement to secure the rights of migrant workers. There were reports that expatriate laborers, particularly domestic workers, were placed in situations amounting to forced labor and that some suffered abuse.
On November 16, the government established an independent human rights commission with membership from both the public and private sectors. On November 24, it also passed a comprehensive law to combat trafficking in persons.
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. The law prohibits (Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment), and there were no reports that government officials employed them.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
The law does not require police to obtain search warrants before entering homes, although the police often obtained warrants from the public prosecutor's office. The government monitored private communications, including mobile phones, e-mail, and Internet chat room exchanges.
Various media companies reportedly refused to publish articles by journalists who previously criticized the government; however, unlike in 2007, there were no reports that the government maintained an alleged blacklist of journalists and writers whose work is not to be published in the country. The authorities tolerated a limited degree of criticism of policies, government officials, and agencies, particularly via the Internet; however, such criticism rarely appeared in traditional mass media.
The government continued to use libel laws and concerns for national security as grounds to suppress criticism of government figures and politically objectionable views.
There were no major publishing houses in the country and very little publication of books. The government restricted the importation, distribution, and publication of books as it restricted other media.
The law restricted free speech via the Internet, and the government enforced the restrictions. The government's national telecommunications company made Internet access available for a fee to citizens and foreign residents. Despite infrastructure increases, less than 5 percent of the population had subscription Internet access during the year; however, Internet access was widely available via Internet cafes in urban areas.
The government's telecommunications company restricted access to numerous Web sites considered pornographic, culturally or politically sensitive, or competitive with local telecommunications services. The criteria for blocking Internet sites were not transparent. The government placed warnings on other Web sites that criticism of the sultan or personal criticism of government officials would be censored and could lead to police questioning, which increased self-censorship. The government also monitored Internet communications and reportedly questioned some chat room contributors who were critical of government officials or policies, or whose postings precipitated criticism, after tracking the contributors through their Internet service provider addresses.
The country's former most popular chat room site, al-Sablah al-Omania, remained closed at year's end. In January 2007 police arrested the site's founder and 10 of his associates for publishing comments critical of government officials. After a four-month trial, a court of first instance acquitted the founder and three codefendants on charges of slander but fined the six other defendants and sentenced one defendant to one month in jail. Although several sites served as replacements for al-Sablah, all were rigorously cautious concerning content, and moderators reportedly quickly deleted potentially offensive material.
The government restricted academic freedom, particularly publishing or discussing controversial matters such as domestic politics, through the threat of dismissal. As a result, academics generally practiced self-censorship. There were no reported cases during the year in which the government dismissed an academic on these grounds.
The government restricted NGO activity. There were no registered domestic human rights NGOs or fully autonomous human rights groups in the country. On November 16, the government established a human rights commission to protect and report on human rights via the State Council to the sultan.
The government allowed several international organizations to work in the country without interference, including the UN Children's Fund, the World Health Organization, and the International Labor Organization (ILO).
According to a 2006 report by the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation (FGM) occurred in rural areas to a limited extent. There is no law prohibiting FGM, but the Ministry of Health prohibited doctors from performing the procedure in hospitals. The problem remained sensitive and was not discussed publicly. Planners at the Ministry of Health have not taken action to eliminate FGM.
There were no public reports of violence against children; however, FGM allegedly was performed on some girls ages one to nine.
There were no reports of discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.
Child labor did not exist in any formal industry.
The minimum wage for citizens of 140 rials (approximately $364) per month did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. ...There is no minimum wage for foreign workers. There were reports that migrant laborers in some firms and households worked more than 12-hour days for as little as 30 rials ($78) per month. The MOM effectively enforced the minimum wage for citizens.
The penal code criminalizes homosexuality, with a jail term of six months to three years; however, there were no reports of prosecutions for homosexual conduct during the year.
Observant readers will pleased to note that frequent commentator Mr T was apparently not successfully prosecuted last year...
This view on things seemed appropriate...