Tuesday, December 18, 2007

When in doubt, hold a Conference!

Sometimes it seems as if 50% of Oman’s Government employees are at some conference or workshop, somewhere, all the time. Yes, this time it’s a conference on Human Trafficking (see the awesome Times of Oman, December 17th). Of course, reading the incisive reportage from the Omani 4th Estate it seems a great idea and original initiative, held under the auspices of the Oman Prosecutor General Hussein bin Ali Al Hilali with the theme ‘Public Awareness in combating human trafficking and the collective responsibility’. Wow. And apparently we are assured a draft decree is in the works.

Aside: Dragon notes that Prosecutor General Al Hilali is a very fantastic person who is doing a wonderful job.

What the newspapers are not pointing out, naturally, is the real reason for such sudden interest in the problem. Recently the US State Dept listed Oman as a Tier 3 country with regard its lack of efforts to combat the problem of human trafficking – the lowest rating, placing Oman along side such tourist wonder-zones as North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. More ominously, the US Senate mused about sanctions for such countries, and certainly weren’t too impressed to have just entered into a Free Trade agreement with such a state. OK, US politics play a part of course. But a huge embarrassment for the Government.

Hint: This is why such a legal and public awareness themed gathering is actually sponsored by the Oman Foreign Ministry.

I’d recommend reading the complete Oman country report highly, its really good (and free) US State Dept. report on Oman Human Rights
And, actually, there is a lot of good stuff in the report too, because while I like to criticize because I think things can always be made better, in many ways Oman is pretty civilized and has done a huge amount of good things. Especially obvious when compared to their many and totally fucked up neighbours [Saudi, Yemen, UAE, Iran, Qatar, Pakistan].

Omani official sensibilities were somewhat disturbed by the report when it was issued, to the extent that several Government Officials were even reported in the Omani press defending their [rather poor] record on the issue (which shows how big a deal it had become, making one suspect the report had reached the attention of the highest levels of government). They failed to realize that the State Dept. bureaucrats actually focused on demonstrable action, like laws against human trafficking, actual arrests and prosecutions, victims not being arrested and deported, institutions in place and funded to protect the victims, police resources to enforce, evidence that foreign workers basic human rights are actually protected, and a clear commitment to improve things. None of which applied to Oman.

Hence, this conference, and maybe a law soon. Expect the pliant press to play their role with some preachy stories too. Unfortunately, just talking about it and being seen trying to be seen trying to be doing something about it (the typical government response to any issue, see recent action on inflation, Gonu, …) may well be enough to lift the country into Tier 2 [where the UAE is]. As opposed to actually doing anything.

Like prosecuting the pimps and importers of the prostitutes, or their clients. Or actively protecting the rights of Indian and Philippino workers. Or prosecuting the employers who illegally confiscate passports of expats. Or making it easier for those abused Philippino and Indonesian housemaids to complain about the violence and rapes, the 7-day week 18 hr days work, the not being paid, etc. Or protecting the Indian building workers here on less than 100 rials a month and made to work in flip-flops, up on rickety scaffolding with no safety kit what-so-ever. The list goes on.

But, the Ministry boys have probably called it right. A conference, some press reports, and a specific law will probably be enough for the diplomats to convince the US State Dept. that they have enough to elevate Oman to Tier 2 in the next report. Problem solved.

So, wonderful news for exploited expats and trafficked sex workers in Oman. A conference! Well done lads!


  1. Again, another fantastic blog... I must remember to pat myself on my back for finding your blog.

    You hit the nail right on the head with your take on the conference. Of course they wont do anything, that will hurt their profit margins! haha!

    Is there anyway to contact you non-publically?

  2. A couple of my work colleagues attended the event. It was obviously a publicity stunt to impress the Americans. The original news about report on Oman's claimed traffic came from the top levels down and not the other way.

    A note worth mentioning about the newspaper 'article' is that it was probably a press release written by the Ministry itself and not something a newspaper reporter wrote. The majority of stuff you read on papers here are written by the people whom the article is about. Newspapers are very lame in Oman.

    We think that the report on trafficking in person is very exaggerated. The women that wrote the report came to Oman knowing exactly what she wants to write when she leaves. We know that many of the cheap Asian labour in the country is not treated well, but the current situation is hundreds of times better than what it used to be like in the past, and in no way similar to neighboring countries, mainly because many Omanis do blue collar jobs themselves nowadays and because less and less Omanis can afford housemaids and the like.

  3. The US dept report and that by UN, are the same ?

  4. Thanks Anon. BTW, You still could post using a nick name [like, Totally Anon, note how I'm named on this comment]. I can be contacted privately using undercover.dragon@gmail.com

    blue chi. I agree the press here are as lame as I've ever seen in my travels, and yes, they mainly just reprint press releases verbatim and take stuff off the wire services. The total lack of any attempt to actually do any journalism is pathetic. Thats one reason why I think the Omani blogosphere is so very important to improving the openness of debate in Omani sociopolital society.

    The report was seen as unfair in Oman because - I agree - there is not as huge a problem wrt trafficking compared to say UAE [did I hear someone say East European Prostitute?]. However the report never claimed to be based on the size of the problem, but on the processes and demonstrable efforts to combat the trafficking. In that regard, Tier 3 was exactly where Oman deserved to be, because nothing was really being done. Perhaps it also represents the downside of the Government doing things without publicising them.

    Balqis. No. The UN report is not the same. The US State Dept has a legal responsibility every year to send a comprehensive report of the status of Human Rights in all world countries to the US Congress. And they don't give a shit what the countries reported on think, because if the civil servants lie in that report it would be a pretty significant federal crime in the USA.

  5. In fact I discovered the UN report later but was issued in March April I think and it was slightly better than the one from the State dept
    When there was all the fuss about the American report, they might have said that they had already given their full collaboration to the UN lady who came here last year and bla bla
    They just jumped back defensive in all official interviews which made it worse
    One of the main problems here is that some of the government don't know how to communicate with the general public

  6. oooh I see what you mean!

    Thanks for the email, I'll drop you a line sometime soon...

    For the time being though, Eid Murbarak / Merry Christmas everyone :)

    WRT the topic, I agree that the UAE has more of a problem in terms of sheer numbers, but as Oman grows in popularity, and more and more development takes place here, we will see the same problem happening here too. Better to start to take steps now rather than be playing catch-up in the future.

  7. Glad you finally twigged Anon Lurker! Look forward to the email.

    Yes, you're right, the sooner the better. I'd like to see more done to actually provide and enforce the rights the NRIs and other 3rd world workers should be legally entitled to following His Majesty's clear decrees on the matter. They are just not being enforced at all.

    Balqis - again, I think Oman deserved Tier 3. There was nothing real being done. Just the usual 'see no evil, hear no evil' approach - by not looking for expoitation nor keeping statistics they thought they could get away with claiming there was no evidence taht there was any problem to deal with. LOL.

  8. True, no Omani Sayyid married a jordanian princess to get a passport to American heaven ...

  9. Errr, OK Balqis, I guess. I have no idea what that comment meant!

  10. Tier2 tier3 not big deal
    Is just politics

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  12. I think the most important difference between Tier3 and Tier2(apart from the company Oman keeps in Tier 3) is that the US Congress is empowered to impose financial and trade sanctions on Tier 3 countries 90 days after the report's release if that country has not taken action. For those interested, here is the link to the actual Country Report on Oman


If you wish to post anonymously, please pick a nickname by selecting the Name/URL option, or at least sign off your comment with one! I will delete comments I find objectionable or needlessly inflammatory. Sorry for the word verification.... OMG the spam has gotten BAD these past 12 months... trying to avoid making one log in...