OMAN: Tier 2
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 increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Oman was upgraded to Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by investigating, prosecuting, and convicting more suspected traffickers and standing up a specialized anti-trafficking prosecutorial unit, in addition to identifying more victims and providing them with robust care. The government also developed, funded, and began implementing a new five-year national action plan, which included funding a full-time liaison between relevant agencies to facilitate a whole-of-government effort. It also promulgated its first-ever national public awareness campaign. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government continued to process some 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, relying on victims to self-identify, and only referred victims to protective services if they filed cases with the public prosecutor.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR OMAN
Continue to 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; refer suspected trafficking victims to the government shelter, regardless of whether they file charges against, or there is a corresponding prosecution of, an alleged offender; repeal the restrictions on victim referrals to allow broader victim access to shelter care; impose dissuasive penalties on employers who withhold their employees’ passports; fully utilize the newly launched, specialized unit to prosecute trafficking crimes, and continue to expand trainings for officials involved in criminal investigations and judicial proceedings; fully implement the national action plan; continue to broaden public awareness campaigns.
The government increased its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. While the government increased investigations, prosecutions, and convictions, its efforts to criminally prosecute forced labor crimes remained weak. Oman’s 2008 anti-trafficking law criminalized labor and sex trafficking and prescribed punishments of three to seven years imprisonment and a fine between 5,000 and 100,000 Omani rial ($12,990-$259,740) for offenses involving adult victims and seven to 15 years imprisonment and a minimum fine of 10,000 Omani rial ($25,970) for offenses involving child victims. These punishments were sufficiently stringent and, with regards to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Ministry of Manpower (MoM) circular No.2/2006 prohibited employers from withholding migrant workers’ passports but did not specify penalties for noncompliance.
The government reported investigating nine alleged human trafficking cases—six sex trafficking and three for forced labor—as compared to only one sex trafficking case and one forced labor case investigated during the previous reporting period. It prosecuted three cases involving 12 defendants, all of whom reportedly faced trial; in 2016, the government prosecuted nine defendants whose verdicts were inconclusive at the close of the year. The government achieved 12 trafficking convictions—a marked increase from zero the previous two years. Officials sentenced three defendants to ten years imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 Omani rial ($25,970) for sex trafficking; the government convicted the remaining nine of labor trafficking, but all nine awaited sentencing at the end of the reporting period. In late 2017, the public prosecutor’s office created a specialized unit to handle all trafficking cases in order to expedite their processing and ensure the defendants were criminally prosecuted and sufficiently punished as traffickers; the government did not report whether this division led the prosecution of any cases. Although it made a notable improvement during the year, the government continued to treat some forced labor cases 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 roughly 4,500 cases of passport retention during the reporting year, in comparison to 332 cases in 2016; it did not investigate these cases as potential labor trafficking crimes but rather settled via dispute mediation.
During the reporting period, the government provided venues, catering, and in-kind support totaling approximately 25,000 Omani rial ($64,940) for numerous anti-trafficking training initiatives facilitated by an international organization and led by recognized trafficking experts, effectively reaching more than 420 government officials. The public prosecutor’s office provided analogous support totaling 5,000 Omani rial ($12,990) to offset the training costs supported by a foreign donor pertaining to trafficking prosecutions; this targeted training reached 51 prosecutors across three separate sessions during the reporting period. Justice officials added three courses to its curriculum related to trafficking and conducted one training during the year involving 25 judges and prosecutorial personnel, which cost roughly 1,000 Omani rial ($2,600). 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.
The government improved its efforts to identify and protect victims, although institutional constraints continued to impede robust victim protection services. The government reported identifying and referring to its shelter 24 trafficking victims—including 19 for forced labor—compared to 15 total in the previous reporting period. However, it continued to largely rely 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 offered victim services for their nationals. As the labor law does not adequately cover domestic workers, authorities continued to treat some potential domestic servitude cases as labor violations, and did not readily identify potential victims of domestic servitude. Although the government lacked formalized identification and referral procedures, it became more proficient at proactively screening—on an ad hoc basis—for potential sex trafficking victims, particularly among persons in prostitution, during the reporting period. Expatriate workers, whose legal status continued to be tied to employment, could be compelled to work for lower or no wages under the credible threat of deportation by their respective employers. Additionally, labor regulations continued to require an employer to provide a “no objection” certificate to an expatriate employee to seek a job with a new employer in Oman; employers who charged a month’s salary or more to administer this certificate continued to be a common, although illegal, practice across the Sultanate.
During the reporting period, the government operated, and allocated 191,860 Omani rial ($498,340) to its permanent shelter, and overarching victim care, which could accommodate up to 50 women and child victims of forced labor, sex trafficking, or other types of abuse. The shelter provided lodging, psychological counseling, legal support, monetary stipends, recreational opportunities, rehabilitation activities, resiliency training, 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 or child victims during the reporting period. Victims were permitted and encouraged to stay in Oman for the duration of court proceedings against traffickers; however, they were not permitted to work or integrate into society in the interim, and given protracted court cases coupled with prolonged unemployment they were thereby disincentivized from participating in trials. 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 significantly expanded its efforts to prevent human trafficking. During the reporting period, the government drafted, approved as official policy, funded the enumerated activities, and commenced implementation of various elements of a new 2018-2022 national action plan. For the first time in Oman’s history, officials launched a national awareness campaign that focused on trafficking issues relevant in the country; the campaign lasted six months with an operating budget of 20,000 Omani rial ($51,950). It involved large advertisements in six languages (English, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Bahasa, and Bangla) posted in 22 areas throughout the Muscat governorate, including the Muscat international airport, and also targeted embassies of prominent labor-sending countries such as India, the Philippines, Nepal, and Indonesia, in addition to hotels and high schools. Magazines and newspapers also featured the campaign. The government reported the significant increase in passport retention cases was linked to the success of the national awareness campaign, which sought to educate vulnerable workers about their rights. Throughout the year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to fund an international expert on combating trafficking to assist the government in standing up a task force focused on victim-centered investigations and to guide Omani interagency entities on training, legislative improvements, and enhanced information-gathering techniques. In 2017, the MoM held more than 650 trafficking-related outreach events targeting companies to educate them about worker rights; these events highlighted the anti-trafficking law’s harsh sentences in an effort to dissuade employers from engaging or being complicit in labor trafficking crimes. The police maintained the government’s main trafficking hotline, and its phone number was displayed on all promotional materials related to the new aforementioned awareness campaign. The MoM had a labor violation hotline, and the government shelter operated one that served as an all-purpose victim’s helpline. All hotlines were active year-round and staffed with Arabic and English interpreters, and Urdu, Hindi, and Bangla-speaking contractors were on-call; the government did not report the number of calls any line received during the reporting period. 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. During the reporting period, authorities inspected more than 4,800 establishments to ensure compliance with labor law provisions. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. It provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, Oman is a destination, and to a lesser extent, transit country for trafficking victims. Oman’s migrant worker community hails primarily from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. However, under Omanization during the reporting period, a series of labor-related policies designed to prioritize Omanis for employment over expatriates, the number of migrant workers in Oman in every sector declined for the first time in eight years. Male victims are generally from South Asia and more susceptible to forced labor. Female victims are predominantly from South, Southeast, and East Asia and East Africa and vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking. Expatriate workers seeking low-wage jobs continue to be at risk for trafficking under the visa-sponsorship employment system in Oman, which permits individuals’ recruitment agency and/or Omani visa sponsor significant unilateral control over their freedom of movement. Trafficking victims typically migrate to Oman willingly and legally, with men seeking employment in construction, agricultural, and service sectors, while women often seek domestic worker jobs. Some unscrupulous recruitment agencies in Oman and their sub-agents in labor-sending countries mislead migrant workers in their respective countries of origin to accept work that upon arrival actually constitutes forced labor; conditions of forced labor include excessive work hours, passport confiscation, non-payment of wages, food deprivation, and psychological and sexual abuse. Such dishonest agencies provide fraudulent employment contracts with fictitious wages 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. Oman is a destination and transit country for some women from Southeast and East Asia who are exploited in sex trafficking. Domestic workers who flee their employers are also vulnerable to forced prostitution.