OMAN: Tier 2 Watch List
The Government of Oman does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period by prosecuting traffickers and conducting trainings for law enforcement and prosecutorial and judicial personnel. It identified more victims and provided them with basic care, and continued to fund and operate an all-purpose shelter. The government also hired a full-time consultant to liaise between relevant agencies to create a whole-of-government approach to countering trafficking in Oman. However, the government did not demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government conducted fewer investigations, and prosecutions and convictions remained disproportionately low compared to the known trafficking problem in Oman. The government generally continued to process potential labor trafficking cases through mediation in labor courts rather than criminally investigating and prosecuting them. Officials remained without standardized mechanisms for the proactive identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, and they relied on victims to self-identify. The government only referred victims to protective services if they filed cases with the public prosecutor. Therefore, Oman remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR OMAN
Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, especially for forced labor offenses; expand labor law protections to and enforce legal protections for domestic workers; amend the sponsorship-based employment scheme that renders expatriate workers vulnerable to exploitative labor; institute formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and people in prostitution; develop and institute a formal mechanism for cooperation between the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the public prosecutor to investigate and prosecute cases of labor trafficking, including those involving labor recruitment agencies; refer suspected trafficking victims to the government shelter, regardless of whether there is a corresponding prosecution of an alleged offender; repeal the restrictions on victim referrals to allow broader victim access to shelter care; offer shelter and specialized services to male victims and labor trafficking victims; cease penalization of trafficking victims for acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, such as immigration violations or prostitution; enable the development and support the operations of a holistic victim care network run by civil society stakeholders; impose dissuasive penalties on employers who withhold their employees’ passports; expand training for officials involved in criminal investigations and judicial proceedings; update and fully implement the national action plan; and broaden public awareness efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.
The government maintained limited anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Oman’s 2008 anti-trafficking law criminalizes all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of three to 15 years imprisonment, in addition to financial penalties; these punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The May 2014 Child’s Law prohibits holding a child in slavery. MOM circular No. 2/2006 prohibits employers from withholding migrant workers’ passports but does not specify penalties for noncompliance.
The government reported investigating one sex trafficking case and one forced labor case, compared to five and none, respectively, during the previous year. It prosecuted nine defendants—three for sex trafficking and six for forced labor—all of whom awaited a final verdict at the close of the reporting period; in 2015, the government initiated three prosecutions involving nine suspects and did not convict any traffickers. However, the government generally treated forced labor cases, including involving domestic workers, as labor law violations rather than criminal offenses. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking. The MOM received 332 cases of passport retention during the reporting year, in comparison to 432 cases in 2015; 44 were referred to the lower court, 12 referred for further investigation, eight remained pending at the close of the reporting period, and the other 268 were settled via mediation. The MOM did not refer any cases of passport retention for criminal investigation as potential labor trafficking offenses. The Royal Oman Police continued to train all incoming cadets on the legal framework for trafficking and related crimes, victim identification, and mechanisms for transferring potential cases to court. In 2016, the MOM and Ministry of Justice (MOJ) conducted various workshops on trafficking for judicial and prosecutorial personnel across the Sultanate on the intricacies of the anti-trafficking law and processing trafficking cases. Additionally, a cadre of Omani officials visited the United States for one month to study best practices in combating trafficking and victim service provisions. The MOJ included the anti-trafficking law as a mandatory course for all prospective lawyers, judges, and prosecutor generals in Oman.
The government demonstrated modest efforts to identify and protect victims. The government reported identifying 36 potential trafficking victims, 15 of whom it referred to the government-run shelter, an increase from five in the previous reporting period. The government repatriated the remaining 21 victims to their respective countries of origin. However, it largely relied on victims to self-identify and report abuses to authorities, and victims could only obtain government-provided services if the public prosecutor filed a case and issued a referral for them. Some source-country embassies in Oman operated shelter services for their nationals, including men. As the labor law does not cover domestic workers, authorities continued to treat potential domestic servitude cases as labor violations, and did not identify as victims, or provide protection services to, potential victims of domestic servitude. The government’s lack of formal identification and referral procedures left victims vulnerable to being incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking. The government reaffirmed its policy that foreign workers are required to adhere to the terms of employment contracts or leave the country for a minimum of two years before returning to Oman to work for a new employer. Without a legal mechanism by which potential trafficking victims can avoid deportation or seek employment outside existing contracts, this policy may compel workers to stay in exploitative situations in which they may be deterred from taking legal actions against traffickers.
During the reporting period, the government operated, and allocated 191,860 Omani rial ($498,350) to its permanent shelter, which could accommodate up to 50 women and child victims of forced labor or sex trafficking. The shelter provided lodging, psychological counseling, legal support, monetary stipends, rehabilitation activities, and medical care to victims. Victims in the shelter were only permitted to leave the premises with a chaperone, allegedly to deter reprisal from traffickers. The government did not provide shelter services for male victims. Victims were permitted to stay in Oman on a case-by-case basis but not permitted to work while awaiting court proceedings. The government provided foreign victims with legal alternatives to removal to countries in which they may face retribution or hardship; however, it did not report if any victims benefited from this policy.
The government continued efforts to prevent human trafficking. In October 2016, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hired an international expert on combating trafficking to assist the government in creating a taskforce focused on victim-centered investigations and to guide Omani interagency entities on training, legislative improvements, and enhanced information gathering techniques. The government has maintained an action plan since 2009. In conjunction with an international organization, the anti-trafficking committee organized two workshops for 80 officials on the front-lines of policymaking or implementation of the national action plan. In 2016, the MOM produced 625 individual awareness campaigns and 60 group outreaches; it also sent more than 140,000 anti-trafficking related text messages to unknown recipients and disseminated pamphlets in 14 languages documenting worker protections and grievance filing guidelines. The Ministry of Social Services maintained a hotline in Dar al Wifaq, operated by police and staffed with Arabic, English, Urdu, Hindi, French, and Swahili translators; the government did not report the number of calls received during the reporting period. The government required employers to post labor law regulations in the languages of their workers in prominent locations at worksites. Oman ceased the issuance of domestic worker visas from numerous African countries during the previous reporting year and extended the ban into the current year in an effort to curb recruiter malfeasance. The government reported having memoranda of understanding with Iran, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Morocco; some included articles prohibiting unlawful labor recruitment and trafficking. The government continued to monitor employment agencies through 21,946 labor inspections; 558 labor complaints were registered in 2016, of which 443 were settled through mediation, 91 were referred to the court system, and 24 cases remained pending at the close of the reporting period. Grieving workers filed the majority of these complaints through the MOM’s website or hotline. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts. It provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, Oman is a destination and transit country for men and women, primarily from South and East Asia and East and North Africa, subjected to forced labor and, to a lesser extent, sex trafficking. Expatriate workers migrate to Oman willingly and legally with the expectation of employment in domestic service or in the construction, agricultural, and service sectors; some are subjected to conditions of forced labor, including excessive work hours, passport confiscation, non-payment of wages, food deprivation, and psychological and sexual abuse. Oman’s migrant worker community hails primarily from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. Male laborers transit Oman en route to the United Arab Emirates, where some are subjected to forced labor. Oman is a destination and transit country for some women from South Asia, North Africa, and East Africa who are exploited in sex trafficking, often by nationals of their own countries. Unscrupulous labor recruitment agencies in Oman and their sub-agents in labor-sending countries, as well as labor brokers in neighboring countries, deceive some workers into accepting work that constitutes forced labor. Such dishonest agencies provide fraudulent employment contracts with fictitious wage rates and charge workers exorbitant recruitment fees with high interest rates. Employers sometimes compel the foreign worker to repay the hiring costs, such as recruitment fees, and are reluctant to release them until such costs are recouped. These practices can render workers vulnerable to trafficking. There have been anecdotal reports that female domestic workers from countries without a diplomatic presence in Oman are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking. Some Tanzanian women are susceptible to exploitative conditions working for Omani extended family members of Zanzibar-Tanzanian origin. Domestic workers who flee their employers are also vulnerable to forced prostitution.