Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

The Sultanate of Oman is a hereditary monarchy ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Sa'id, who acceded to the throne in 1970. He appoints and presides over the Council of Ministers, which is responsible for administering the country's governmental institutions. In 1996 the Sultan promulgated the Basic Law, which defines certain rights and privileges for all citizens and enshrines the role of the Majlis Oman, a two-chamber representative advisory institution. Members of the upper house of this body (the Majlis al-Dawla) are appointed by the Sultan; members of the lower house (the Majlis al-Shura) are directly elected by universal suffrage every four years. In October 2007 approximately 245,000 registered voters participated in generally free and fair elections for all 84 seats in the Majlis al-Shura. Political parties are not permitted, and the legislative powers of the Majlis Oman are significantly limited. The government restricted freedoms of privacy, speech, press, assembly, religion, and association. Despite legislated equality for women and significant improvements over the last few decades, discrimination against women and domestic violence persisted. There was insufficient 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.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The advancement of democratic principles, practices, and values is a top U.S. priority in the country. U.S. officials regularly discuss human rights and democracy-related topics with government officials, including at senior levels. In planning and implementing programs designed to increase public participation in governance and strengthen civil society, the U.S. Government consults regularly with NGOs and local activists. In the absence of political parties and opposition groups, the ambassador often invites local proponents of reform and human rights to embassy events to display U.S. support for their activities.

The United States remains particularly focused on the following key areas: developing the capacity of the Majlis al-Shura to help it prepare for expanded legislative functions; assisting the judiciary in its role to protect citizen rights and provide oversight of government; supporting the development of labor unions and their ability to promote democratic principles with civil society; working with women's groups, including the network of local women's associations, to help increase female participation in all aspects of society; and providing resources to NGOs to strengthen their role as public advocates. The U.S. Government also seeks to encourage and support the country's efforts to combat trafficking in persons.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

The U.S. Government uses a variety of programs, the full range of public diplomacy tools, and other resources to partner with local stakeholders as the country transitions toward greater public participation in governance and a more active civil society. Reflecting focus areas, U.S.-funded training programs are helping to improve the capabilities of the Majlis al-Shura (both members and staff), as well as imparting new skills and knowledge to judges, prosecutors, and lawyers to enhance the rule of law. The United States is also helping to teach democratic principles and student leadership skills in educational institutions. U.S. grants to local NGOs and professional associations assist in the development of civil society. These grants cover a wide range of activities, such as a workshop on women's legal rights and a project for public engagement with members of the Majlis al-Shura on environmental issues.

Public diplomacy assets, including exchanges and in-country programming, activities at the six American Corners (housed in universities), and cooperative projects with local partners, seek to complement program activities and the embassy's ongoing dialogue with the government on topics related to democracy and human rights. Special strengths include a growing and active program alumni network; solid relationships with local women's groups, as women make up at least 50 percent of most public diplomacy exchange programs; and close ties with private colleges and universities, which are active in developing student leadership. As print and electronic media in Oman are increasingly privately owned, the United States will engage more extensively in activities aimed at professionalizing the media and developing reporting capacity.

The U.S. Government actively is engaged in efforts to support the government to combat trafficking in persons. U.S. dialogue with government officials has raised the level of awareness of this subject within the government and, consequently, has led to greater actions by the government to address this global problem, including the passage of a comprehensive antitrafficking law in 2008. A U.S.-funded consultant provided expert advice and guidance on the drafting of the antitrafficking law. U.S. assistance also supported training for labor inspectors on how to detect signs of trafficking in the workplace and identify possible trafficking victims.

U.S.-funded programs assist the country's fledgling labor unions, which serve as grassroots examples of democracy while protecting citizen and migrant worker rights. One program component trains union leaders in international best practices for organizing and holding elections. U.S. assistance to women's groups and female leaders is longstanding. One ongoing U.S.-funded program has achieved notable success in expanding women's awareness of their rights, employment opportunities, and networking ability through technology training.