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Albania

Executive Summary

The Republic of Albania is a parliamentary democracy. The constitution vests legislative authority in the unicameral parliament (the Assembly), which elects both the prime minister and the president. The prime minister heads the government, while the president has limited executive power. On April 25, the country held parliamentary elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found that the elections were generally well organized, voters had a choice of candidates who were able to campaign freely, and the Central Election Commission adequately managed its obligations. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe report, however, highlighted several deficiencies, including vote buying, leaking of sensitive personal data, and significant advantage gained by the ruling party due to incumbency.

The Ministry of Interior oversees the Guard of the Republic and the State Police, which includes the Border and Migration Police. The State Police are primarily responsible for internal security. The Guard of the Republic protects senior state officials, foreign dignitaries, and certain state properties. The Ministry of Defense oversees the armed forces. The State Intelligence Service is responsible to the prime minister, gathers information, and carries out foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were some allegations of abuses by members of the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: problems with the independence of the judiciary as it continued to undergo vetting; restrictions on free expression and the press; and pervasive corruption in all branches of government and municipal institutions.

Impunity remained a problem, although the Specialized Anticorruption Body and anticorruption courts made significant progress during the year in investigating, prosecuting, and convicting senior officials and organized criminals.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

In December 2020, State Police shot and killed a man in Tirana who was violating a COVID-19 curfew. The officer who shot him was arrested, tried, and convicted for the killing. The minister of internal affairs resigned following protests in response to the killing. There were no other reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Civilian law enforcement agencies such as the State Police investigated whether civilian security force killings were justifiable and pursued prosecutions for civilian agencies. Military law enforcement conducted investigations of killings by the armed forces.

The Office of the Ombudsman reported that the high number of persons taken into custody by police resulted in overcrowding of detention facilities. For example, on December 9 and 13, police temporarily detained 357 persons, 126 of them minors, during street protests following the December 20 police shooting death of the unarmed man in Tirana breaking COVID curfew.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

While the constitution and law prohibit such actions, there were allegations that police sometimes abused suspects and prisoners. For example, the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) reported a case of physical abuse of a minor while in police detention. Medical staff did not report the corroborating physical examination showing bruising to the head and arm to the prosecutor’s office. Responding to the incident, the general director of police mandated training focused on criminal procedural rights of juveniles.

Prisoners engaged in hunger strikes on several occasions in 2020 to protest COVID restrictions limiting contacts with outside visitors, new legislation tightening prisoner privileges in high-security regimes, and allegations of corruption related to the quality of food, and access to medicine.

The Ministry of Interior’s Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints (SIAC) received complaints of police abuse and corruption that led to investigations of police actions. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent, constitutional entity that serves as a watchdog over the government, reported that most cases of alleged physical or psychological abuse during the year occurred during arrest and interrogation, especially in cases of public protest.

The government made greater efforts to address police impunity, most notably in the single case of excessive use of deadly force. The SIAC recorded an increase in the number of investigations, prosecutions, and sanctions against officers for criminal and administrative violations. The December 2020 deadly police shooting of a COVID curfew violator who fled arrest led to widespread protests, some violent. The officer involved was arrested soon after the shooting and was convicted of homicide in July, receiving a 10-year prison sentence, reduced from 15 years due to his guilty plea.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Poor physical conditions in some prisons and a lack of medical care, particularly for mental-health conditions, were serious problems, as was corruption. Conditions remained substandard in some police detention facilities in remote locations.

The General Directorate of Prisons issued several decisions to manage the spread of COVID-19 within the penitentiary system. The AHC reported that in March through May 2020, authorities identified 21 cases of positive infection in prisons, while from July 2020 to February 2021, 140 cases were reported. Only five cases were treated in civil COVID medical treatment facilities, Covid 1 and Covid 2. Shen Koll prison in Lezhe and the Prisons’ Hospital in Tirana dedicated some of their facilities to treating COVID-19 patients only. Authorities continued to prohibit meetings with families. In October 2020, inmates at the Peqin and Shen Koll prisons and their families protested the restrictions on visits.

Physical Conditions: While overcrowding was not a problem in most facilities, the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) and the Office of the Ombudsman reported overcrowding in the Zaharia prison in Kruje, the Jordan Misja prison, and the Durres prison. The General Directorate of Prisons reported sporadic overcrowding in several other prisons as populations fluctuated. Prison facilities in Kruja, Durres, Rrogozhina, Saranda, Lezha, Kukes, Ali Demi and Tepelena were reported by the Office of the Ombudsman and the AHC to have urgent infrastructure problems.

The Office of the Ombudsman and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report that authorities held inmates with mental disabilities in regular prisons, where access to mental health care was inadequate. Since 2018 the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health have tried to accommodate Zaharia inmates and detainees in the prison in Lezha. The AHC and the ombudsman reported the government had not completed turning buildings in the Lezha prison into a special medical institution to which Zaharia inmates could be transferred, in part due to anti-COVID restrictions. In November 2020 the Ministry of Justice announced it was constructing a prison for inmates older than 60 with a capacity of 120 beds that was to be completed in 2022. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture visited the country on November 23-26 to assess progress on closing the Zaharia facility and transferring forensic psychiatric patients to a specialized forensic psychiatric facility. Following the visit, the minister of justice announced the government had closed the Zaharia prison, and the 319 inmates there were transferred to the reconstructed Shen Kolli prison blocks.

Except for regional facilities in Tirana (excluding its commissariats, which are smaller units falling under regional police directorates) Gjirokaster, Kukes, Fier, and Korca, conditions in facilities operated by the Ministry of Interior, such as police stations and temporary detention facilities, did not meet the required standards. Some detention facilities in remote areas were unheated during the winter and lacked basic hygienic amenities and sanitizers as measures against COVID-19. Facilities were cramped, provided limited access to toilets, and had little or no ventilation, natural light, or beds and benches. Camera monitoring systems were nonexistent or insufficient in most police stations. The ombudsman reported that detention facilities operated by the Interior Ministry were overcrowded due to the increased number of arrests during the year and because of delays in the admission of new inmates in the penitentiary system. The ombudsman reported a high percentage of prison inmates were pretrial detainees. Criminal proceedings were generally delayed by shortages of judges resulting from the high number of those who failed vetting and were not yet replaced.

Administration: The ombudsman reported that prison and police officials generally cooperated with investigations. The General Directorate of Prisons received 20,065 complaints and requests through August, mostly regarding employment decisions, health-care services, and COVID-related prohibitions on in-person inmate contact with family and visitors that continued to July. The ombudsman received 60 complaints from detainees and inmates through August but did not refer any cases for prosecution.

In 2020 the Berat prison director was suspended and later dismissed following charges of abuse of duty and corruption. Through August the General Directorate of Prisons reported that it had carried out disciplinary proceedings against 112 prison staff and had fired 26.

Through August four inmates remained under a legal regime adopted in July 2020 to minimize communications between organized crime and gang members in prison and their outside contacts, to prevent them from running criminal organizations while incarcerated.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed local and international human rights groups, media, and international bodies such as the Committee for the Prevention of Torture to monitor prisons and detention facilities.

Improvements: The ombudsman and the AHC confirmed an overall decrease during the year in prison overcrowding due to new infrastructure and amnesties. Nevertheless, some penitentiary facilities were still overcrowded.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law and constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these prohibitions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires that, except for arrests made during the commission of a crime, police arrest a suspect on criminal grounds with a warrant issued by a judge and based on sufficient evidence. There were no reports of secret arrests. The law provides that police must immediately inform a prosecutor of an arrest. The prosecutor may release the suspect or petition the court within 48 hours to hold the individual further. A court must also decide within 48 hours whether to place a suspect in detention, require bail, prohibit travel, or require the defendant to report regularly to police.

By law and based on a prosecutor’s request, the court has 72 hours to review pretrial detention status of a court-ordered arrest. Police may detain rather than formally arrest a suspect for a period not exceeding 10 hours. The ombudsman and the AHC found several procedural irregularities with the detention of individuals for longer than 10 hours, mainly following the December 2020 protests.

The constitution requires authorities to inform detainees immediately of their rights and the charges against them. The law provides for bail, and a system was operational; police frequently released detainees without bail, on the condition that they report regularly to the police station. Courts also often ordered suspects to report to police or prosecutors on a weekly basis. While the law gives detainees the right to prompt access to an attorney, at public expense if necessary, the ombudsman reported instances of interrogations taking place without the presence of legal counsel. The AHC and the ombudsman expressed concerns regarding the absence of family members during medical examinations and the absence of legal counsel and a psychologist during preliminary investigation processes involving minors.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. The government generally observed these prohibitions.

Pretrial Detention: While the law requires completion of most pretrial investigations within three months, a prosecutor may extend this period. The law provides that pretrial detention should not exceed three years. Extended pretrial detention often occurred due to delayed investigations, defense mistakes, or the intentional failure of defense counsel to appear. The law authorizes judges to hold offending attorneys in contempt of court. Limited material resources, lack of space, poor court-calendar management, insufficient staff (including judges who had failed vetting and had not yet been replaced), and the failure of attorneys and witnesses to appear prevented the court system from adjudicating cases in a timely fashion. As of July pretrial detainees accounted for just over 51 percent of the prison and detention center population.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political pressure, intimidation, corruption, and limited resources prevented the judiciary from functioning fully, independently, and efficiently. Court hearings were generally open to the public unless COVID-19 restrictions did not allow for journalists or the public to enter court premises. In such cases, media submitted complaints to the court, which reviewed them on a case-by-case basis and generally allowed journalists and the public to attend hearings if the case was of interest to the general public.

The government continued to implement an internationally monitored process to vet judges and prosecutors and dismiss those with unexplained wealth or ties to organized crime. As of September, 42 percent of the judges and prosecutors vetted had failed and been dismissed, 36 percent passed, and 22 percent resigned or retired. During the year the number of vetted Supreme Court judges grew to fill nine of the 19 seats on the court. Assignments of vetted judges were sufficient to establish administrative, civil, and penal colleges and allow courts to begin adjudicating cases. The Supreme Court, however, must have at least 10 judges to be able to elect the remaining three Constitutional Court judges. As of July 31, the Supreme Court had a backlog of 36,608 cases pending adjudication.

The politicization of past appointments to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court at times threatened to undermine the independence and integrity of these institutions.

The implementation of justice reform provisions led to a pause in normal disciplinary processes while the country established independent disciplinary bodies. From January through September 8, the country’s High Justice Inspectorate received 875 complaints that resulted in the issuance of 740 decisions on archiving and 120 decisions on the verifications of complaints. It also administered 24 disciplinary investigations, nine of which were carried over from the previous Inspectorate at the High Judicial Council. The High Justice Inspectorate also submitted nine requests for disciplinary proceedings against magistrates to the High Judicial Council and High Prosecutorial Council.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty. It provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult an attorney. If they cannot afford one, an attorney is to be provided at public expense. The law provides defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and access to interpretation free of charge. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. The government generally respected these rights, although trials were not always public and access to an attorney was at times problematic. To protect the rights of defendants and their access to the evidence against them, a prosecutor must petition a preliminary hearing judge and make a request to send the case to trial.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

While individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, instances of judicial corruption, inefficiency, intimidation, and political tempering were reported. Courts took steps to address the problem by using audio-recording equipment. Despite having a statutory right to free legal aid in civil cases, NGOs reported that very few individuals benefitted from such aid during the year. To address the problem, the Ministry of Justice established the Free Legal Aid Directorate, law clinics at state universities, an online platform during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a telephone line to request free legal aid. The ongoing vetting process and legal mechanisms put in place by the high justice inspector to regulate the disciplining of judges also aimed to mitigate such problems.

Claimants who had exhausted remedies in domestic courts could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In many cases, authorities did not enforce ECHR rulings. The Office of the Ombudsman expressed concern about the country’s low rate of compliance with judicial decisions and its failure to execute the final rulings of courts and the ECHR. The ombudsman cited the state attorney’s reporting that millions of euros in compensation had yet to be paid by the government to successful complainants.

Persons who were political prisoners under the former communist regime continued to petition the government for compensation. The government did not make progress on disbursing compensation during the year. The Institute for Activism and Social Change and the Authority for Information on Former State Security (Sigurimi) Files raised concerns regarding unresolved missing persons cases dating from the former communist regime.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The Office of the Ombudsman and NGOs reported that property rights remained problematic, particularly the prolonged compensation process and low levels of compensation for expropriated property. Thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era remained unresolved with the Agency for the Treatment of Property and were sent back to the claimants to pursue their cases in court. Claimants may appeal to the ECHR after exhausting domestic legal recourse, and many cases were pending ECHR review. The ombudsman reported that as of March, more than 66 cases against the state were before the ECHR, involving millions of euros in claims. The ombudsman reported that the government owed millions of euros for judgements since 2015. The ombudsman reported that because of the ECHR judgement in the 2018 case Sharxhi et al vs. Albania, among others, the government owed more than 13.4 million euros ($15.4 million) to plaintiffs. The ombudsman and the AHC alleged that the Cadaster Office was unresponsive to inquiries, hampering administrative investigations of property rights. In December the government announced a two-year project to digitize all property archives, enabling online access.

The country endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. It does not have any restitution or compensation laws relating to Holocaust-era confiscation of private property. Under the law, religious communities have the same restitution and compensation rights as natural or legal persons. The government reported no property claims had been submitted by victims of the Holocaust.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website at: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and laws prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but there were reports that the government failed to respect those prohibitions. During the year’s parliamentary election campaign, it emerged that a database with the personal information and contact details of approximately 900,000 citizens as well as their likely voter preferences, leaked into the public domain, potentially making voters vulnerable to pressure. A criminal investigation was launched by the Specialized Anticorruption Body (SPAK).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government usually respected these rights, although defamation is a criminal offense. There were reports that the government, businesses, and criminal groups sought to influence media in inappropriate ways.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: To receive government services, citizens changing place of residence within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many individuals could not provide documentation and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means or necessary information to register.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In August the government, in coordination with private organizations, began accepting Afghan evacuees seeking protection following the change of the Afghanistan government. Over 2,400 Afghans were subsequently granted temporary protection status by the Albanian government.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

In February a new law on asylum was adopted (Asylum Law no. 10/121) that extended the deadlines for granting or denying asylum requests from 51 days to six months from the date of application, with potential for three-month extensions up to 21 months, under certain circumstances.

As of August 31, five persons had applied for asylum with the Directorate for Asylum, Foreigners, and Citizenship. UNHCR supported the appeals of four rejected asylum applicants.

Police allowed UNHCR, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the NGO Caritas to monitor the access of arrivals to national procedures and return of persons to countries from which they arrived. Monitors reported prescreening procedures were often curtailed, raising concerns about access to asylum and identification of potential victims of trafficking. The ombudsman and Caritas were also allowed to monitor the detention of migrants.

UNHCR reported some cases of border police returning migrants to Greece despite indicating an intention to seek asylum. Authorities detained 6,521 irregular migrants who entered the country between January and August, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; most of those who did not request asylum were deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation.

Migrants who claimed asylum were housed at the Babrru National Reception Center for Asylum Seekers. Many of the irregular migrants placed in Babrru were later apprehended again attempting to cross into Montenegro and Kosovo rather than remaining in the country to pursue asylum requests. Karrec and Babrru centers faced funding constraints. In late 2020 UNHCR supported rehabilitation of a portion of Babrru capable of accommodating 30 asylum seekers and unaccompanied and separated children. In August the Ministry of Interior redistributed funds in the state budget, allocating approximately 56,500 euros ($65,000) for refurbishment and increasing reception capacity.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law limits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or being granted refugee status. UNHCR reported that one asylum request had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which included Greece.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: NGOs reported concerns regarding the unaccompanied foreign and separated children who faced increased risk of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation due to lack of strong protection system. The NGO Nisma ARSIS supported six cases of unaccompanied children who arrived in the country during the year through September.

NGOs considered the migrant detention facility in Karrec to be unsuitable for children and families. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, sending them instead to the open asylum-seekers facility in Babrru.

Employment: Under the new law on asylum, refugees may seek employment authorization. If no decision has been communicated within nine months, employment authorization is automatically granted.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance.

g. Stateless Persons

Police reported no stateless persons in the country as of August.

According to UNHCR statistics, approximately 700 persons at risk of statelessness were identified under the agency’s statelessness mandate as of November. Of these, approximately 380 were registered with the National Register of Civil Status. The government does not have data regarding the total number of stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country. The 2021 Law on Foreigners establishes a statelessness determination procedure. UNHCR and its partners provided technical support to the government with the implementation of the law.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national parliamentary elections were held on April 25. An International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) was formed as a common endeavor of the OSCE Office for Democracy and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In its final report on the elections, the IEOM reported the elections were generally well organized and noted the Central Election Commission (CEC) “managed to adequately fulfill most of its obligations, including complex new ones related to electronic voter identification. Overall, the election administration at all levels enjoyed the trust of stakeholders.” The IEOM reported, “the ruling party derived significant advantage from its incumbency, including through its control of local administrations, and from misuse of administrative resources. This was amplified by positive coverage of state institutions in the media.” The mission also highlighted several deficiencies, including credible allegations of pervasive vote buying by political parties and the leaking of sensitive personal data. The report found that journalists remained vulnerable to pressure and corruption.

Local elections took place in 2019. The main opposition party and others boycotted the elections, alleging government collusion with organized crime to commit electoral fraud. The OSCE election observation mission reported that, because of the boycott, “voters did not have a meaningful choice between political options” and “there were credible allegations of citizens being pressured by both sides.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Media outlets reported allegations of the use of public resources for partisan campaign purposes in the 2021 parliamentary elections, and there were reports of undue political influence on media. There were also reports of limited access to voting for persons with disabilities.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials and prohibits individuals with criminal convictions from serving as mayors, parliamentarians, or in government or state positions, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Corruption was pervasive in all branches of government, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Through September, the Special Prosecution Office against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) announced that it had opened investigations and brought charges against several public officials, including former ministers, mayors, sitting judges and prosecutors, former and sitting judges of the Constitutional Court’s Vetting Appeal’s Chamber, former judges of the Supreme Court, and officials in the executive branch. As of September, one judge, two prosecutors, one mayor, and the former procurement director at the Ministry of Interior were indicted on abuse of office or corruption charges.

The constitution requires judges and prosecutors to undergo vetting for unexplained wealth, ties to organized crime, and professional competence. The Independent Qualification Commission conducted vetting, and the Appeals Chamber reviewed contested decisions. The International Monitoring Operation, composed of international judicial experts, oversaw the process. As of November, 125 judges and prosecutors were dismissed, 103 confirmed, while 48 others had resigned rather than undergo vetting. As of July, 173 judges and prosecutors were dismissed, 148 confirmed, while 89 others had resigned or retired.

Several government agencies investigated corruption cases, but limited resources, investigative leaks, real and perceived political pressure, and a haphazard reassignment system hampered investigations.

Corruption: Between January and June, the Prosecutor General’s Office managed a total of 41 cases, including 25 cases carried over from 2020, nine new cases, five dismissed cases, and two cases on which court proceedings had not started.

From January to August, SPAK prosecuted 606 cases, of which 264 were newly registered (218 cases on corruption charges and 46 on organized crime), and 133 persons were charged (84 on corruption charges and 49 on organized crime). A total of 127 persons were convicted. The value of assets confiscated by court ruling was estimated at more than 70 million euros ($80.5 million). While prosecutors made significant progress in pursuing low- to mid-level public corruption cases, the prosecution rate for high-ranking officials remained low. The Supreme Court was reviewing cases against a former minister of interior (found guilty of abuse of office for facilitating international drug trafficking) and a vetting official (found guilty of forging documents). The appellate court was reviewing the case of a former prosecutor general found guilty by a trial court on charges of asset concealment. The case against a former minister of defense on corruption charges was also reopened.

The High Inspectorate for the Declaration of Assets and Conflict of Interest reported that through August, it had referred four new cases for prosecution, involving one member of parliament, one mayor, one general director of public administration, and one prosecutor. Charges included refusing to declare assets, hiding assets, or falsifying asset declarations; money laundering; and tax evasion.

Police corruption remained a problem. Through August the SIAC received 1,155 complaints which were within the jurisdiction of the service and entered them into the SIAC Case Management System. Most of the complaints alleged a failure to act, violation of standard operating procedures, abuse of office, arbitrary action, police bias, unfair fines, and passive corruption. SIAC referred to the prosecution 149 cases involving 215 officials. The Office of the Ombudsman also processed complaints against police officers, mainly concerning problems with arrests and detentions.

Police did not always enforce the law equitably. Personal associations, political or criminal connections, deficient infrastructure, lack of equipment, and inadequate supervision often influenced law enforcement. Authorities continued to address these problems by renovating police facilities, upgrading vehicles, and publicly highlighting anticorruption measures. The government established a system for vetting security officials and, as of November 2019, had completed vetting 32 high-level police and SIAC leaders.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is the main independent constitutional institution for promoting and enforcing human rights. It is authorized by law to monitor and report on prisons and detention centers and conduct administrative investigation of complaints from citizens. Although the Ombudsman’s Office lacked the power to enforce decisions, it acted as a monitor of alleged human rights abuses, and institutions made efforts to meet its recommendations.

The Assembly has committees on legal issues, public administration, and human rights that review the annual report of the Office of the Ombudsman. The committee was engaged and effective in legislative matters.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime; the law also includes provisions on sexual assault. Penalties for rape and sexual assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the penalty is three to 10 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Authorities did not disaggregate data on prosecutions for spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities often did not consider it a crime.

The law on domestic violence extends protection to victims in a relationship or civil union and provides for issuance of a protective order that automatically covers children as well. In November 2020 parliament amended the law to provide for ordering the abuser to leave the premises of the victim. Police operated an automated application issuance process within the police case management system that allowed for rapid issuance of protective orders and produced a record of orders issued. A National Strategy for Gender Equality 2021-2030 and its action plan were adopted in June and focused on the empowerment of women and the advancement of gender equality.

In April the Ministry of Health and Social Protection approved a protocol for operating shelters for victims of domestic violence and trafficking during the COVID-19 pandemic. The protocol provides services to victims of domestic violence and trafficking while following guidance on social distancing. The ministry posted a video message reminding citizens to report any case of suspected domestic violence and provided a hotline and police number on its web page.

As of August, police reported 33 cases of alleged sexual assault. NGOs reported high levels of domestic violence against women, and police reported 3,563 cases of domestic violence as of August. In 2,205 cases, a protection order was issued. As of August, 13 women had been killed by their partners.

State Social Services reported that 30 women and 33 children were accommodated in the national reception center for victims of domestic violence as of August. Social Services also reported there were 25 other centers around the country to deal with domestic violence cases with counseling and long-term services. State Social Services faced challenges in terms of employment and education because 75 percent of domestic violence survivors were from rural areas and did not have appropriate education. The government also operated a crisis management center for victims of sexual assault at the Tirana University Hospital Center.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but officials rarely enforced it. The commissioner for protection from discrimination generally handled cases of sexual harassment and could impose fines. Police reported 33 cases of sexual harassment as of August.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

While there are no legal barriers to access to contraceptives, which were provided free of charge to insured women, women and girls often did not use this right for a variety of reasons, including fear of stigma from health-care service providers and members of their community. Some women and girls, particularly those living in remote, rural areas, faced significant challenges in accessing essential sexual and reproductive health services. Women from disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as women with disabilities, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community, Roma, and Balkan-Egyptian women, were often unaware of their rights to reproductive health services.

The Ministry of Health and Social Protection operated the Lilium Center in Tirana with the support of the UN Development Program (UNDP) to provide integrated services to survivors of sexual violence. The center was in a hospital setting and provided health-care services, social services, and forensic examinations at a single location by professionals trained in cases of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was prescribed or offered within the first five days after abusive sexual intercourse or rape; the contraceptive was suggested to be given as soon as possible to maximize effect. From its creation in 2018 through July, the center provided services to 85 survivors. Survivors in remote areas of the country did not have many options for assistance and support in their areas. Unless they were identified by authorities and brought to Tirana, they could only be referred to shelters for victims of trafficking.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women were underrepresented in many fields at the highest levels. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, although many private employers did not fully implement this provision. In many communities, women experienced societal discrimination based on traditional social norms subordinating women to men.

There were reports of discrimination in employment. Through August the commissioner for protection from discrimination managed 94 cases of employment discrimination, 74 of which were against public entities and 21 against private entities. The complaints alleged discrimination based mainly on political affiliation, health conditions, or disability. The commissioner ruled in favor of the employee in 16 cases, 15 of which were against public entities and one against private entities. Through August the commissioner had received 17 complaints of discrimination based on gender and ruled in favor of the employee in two cases. Through August the commissioner found five cases of discrimination on grounds of disability.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to official figures, in 2020 the ratio of boys to girls at birth was 107 to 100. There were no government-supported efforts to address the imbalance.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

There were allegations of discrimination targeting members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, including in housing, employment, health care, and education. The antidiscrimination commissioner issued a monitoring report with a special focus on children in the education system in December 2020. It concluded that children with disabilities and from the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities continued to face discrimination in education.

As of August the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received 26 complaints of discrimination on grounds of race and ethnicity, ruling in favor of the complainant in four cases. In one case, the commissioner ruled against a Tirana bank and its contracted security company for discriminating against Romani bank customers. The bank appealed the commissioner’s discrimination decision to the court.

The government has a law on official minorities but has not passed all the regulations needed for its implementation. The law provides official minority status for nine national minorities without distinguishing between national and ethnolinguistic groups. The government defined Greeks, Macedonians, Aromanians (Vlachs), Roma, Balkan-Egyptians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Serbs, and Bulgarians as national minorities. The law provides for minority language education and dual official language use for the local administrative units in which minorities traditionally reside or in which a minority makes up 20 percent of the total population. The ethnic Greek minority complained regarding the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek communities outside communist-era “minority zones.”

Children

Anti-Semitism

Reports indicated there were 40 to 50 Jews resident in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Nevertheless, employers, schools, health-care providers, and providers of other state services at times engaged in discrimination. The law mandates that public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government only sporadically enforced the statutes. In May the government adopted the National Action Plan on Disability 2021-2025, with the accessibility component as one of the main priorities.

As of August the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received 33 complaints of alleged discrimination against individuals with disabilities and ruled in favor of the complainants in five cases. In one case the commissioner ruled against the local post office for lacking accessibility. There were no known reports of violence, harassment, or physical abuse against those with disabilities.

The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies lacked funding to implement their programs adequately. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were in facilities that lacked accessibility or other accommodations. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection (Ministry of Health) improved building accessibility in 28 health centers and to the newly restored post-earthquake schools with the support of the UNDP. A December 2020 report by the antidiscrimination commissioner concluded that only 60 percent of schools in the country were partially or fully accessible to children with disabilities.

The government provided targeted funding for social-care service projects to persons with disabilities in the municipalities of Librazhd, Lushnje, Lezha, Rrogozhina, Kavaja and Tirana, funding day-care centers, mobile services for children with disabilities, and integrated community services for children and young individuals with disabilities. During the year parliament adopted law 82/2021, On official translation and the profession of official translator, that defines the role of sign language interpreters and provides the right to interpretation for official business.

The Ministry of Health reported that 697 unemployed disabled individuals were registered with the employment offices as of April. Only 18 persons with disabilities were employed as of July, while 58 received vocational training.

The number of children with disabilities in public education increased in the 2020-21 academic year. During the year, 4,131 students with disabilities attended classes in nonspecialized public and private educational institutions starting from preschool. During the year approximately 11.5 percent of children with disabilities enrolled in preuniversity education attended special education institutions.

OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights reported that most polling stations for the April 25 elections visited by the monitoring team were not barrier free for persons with physical disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against individuals with HIV or AIDS. The Association of People Living with HIV or AIDS reported that stigma and discrimination caused individuals to avoid getting tested for HIV, leading to delayed diagnosis and consequently delayed access to care and support. Persons with HIV or AIDS faced employment discrimination and issues with professional reintegration, and children living with HIV faced discrimination in school. The Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS reported service delays and other problems after the Infectious Disease Clinic was converted into a COVID-response hospital.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Enforcement of the law was generally weak. The National Action Plan for LGBTI concluded in 2020, and a new one for 2021-27 was being drafted. As of August, the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received seven cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or both. Most cases were under review. In one case, the commissioner ruled against a Tirana taxi company that had refused services to transgender persons. The company had yet to respond to the commissioner. Reports indicated that LGBTQI+ persons continued seeking asylum in EU countries.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are among the classes protected by the country’s hate crime law. Despite the law and the government’s formal support for rights, public officials sometimes made homophobic statements. Some incidents of hate speech occurred online and in the media after an LGBTQI+ activist suggested changing the law to enable registering the children of LGBTQI+ couples. NGOs filed the case with the antidiscrimination commissioner and the ombudsperson. Government institutions did not react to the controversy.

Several persons were arrested for physically assaulting a transgendered person. As of August, the shelter service NGO Streha had assisted 72 LGBTQI+ youths facing violence or discrimination in their family and community. The Ministry of Health increased support to the shelters by covering the costs of shelter staff salaries. Other shelter costs, including food, medication, and shelter rent, remained covered by donors.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law and related regulations and statutes provide the right for most workers to form independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law prohibits members of the military and senior government officials from joining unions and requires that a trade union have at least 20 members to be registered. The law provides the right to strike for all workers except indispensable medical and hospital personnel, persons providing air traffic control or prison services, and fire brigades. Strike action is prohibited in “special cases,” such as a natural catastrophe, a state of war, extraordinary situations, and cases where the freedom of elections is at risk.

The law provides limited protection to domestic and migrant workers. Labor unions were generally weak and politicized. Workers who engage in illegal strikes may be compelled to pay for any damages due to the strike action.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources for conducting inspections and remedying violations were not adequate. The labor inspectorate inspected 8 percent of businesses in the country. Penalties were rarely enforced and were not commensurate with those under other laws related to the denial of civil rights. Of 45 fines that were imposed, only 17 were collected as of July. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Arbitration procedures allowed for significant delays that limited worker protections against antiunion activity.

Civilian workers in all fields have the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively, and the law establishes procedures for the protection of workers’ rights through collective bargaining agreements. Unions representing public-sector employees negotiated directly with the government. Effective collective bargaining remained difficult because employers often resisted union organizing and activities. In this environment, collective bargaining agreements, once reached, were difficult to enforce.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not always effectively enforce the law. Lack of coordination among ministries and the sporadic implementation of standard operating procedures hampered enforcement. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes but were seldom enforced. Some law enforcement organizations and the victim advocates at the prosecutors’ offices received training in a victim-centered approach to victims of human trafficking. The government continued to identify victims of forced labor and prosecuted and convicted a small number of traffickers.

The Labor Inspectorate reported no cases of forced labor in the formal sector during the year. (See section 7.c. for cases involving children in forced labor in the informal sector.) Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits most of the worst forms of child labor, but gaps exist in the legal framework, such as lack of prohibitions for using children in illicit activities. The law sets the minimum age of employment at 16 but allows children at the age of 15 to be employed in “light” work that does not interfere with school. Children younger than 18 may generally only work in jobs categorized as “light.” Children may work up to two hours per day and up to 10 hours per week when school is in session, and up to six hours per day and 30 hours per week when school is not in session. Children who are 16 or 17 may work up to six hours per day and up to 30 hours per week if the labor is part of their vocational education. By law the State Inspectorate for Labor and Social Services (SILSS) under the Ministry of Finance and Economy is responsible for enforcing minimum age requirements through the courts, but it did not adequately enforce the law. Penalties for violations were rarely assessed and were not commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Labor inspectors investigated the formal labor sector, whereas most child labor occurred in the informal sector. Children engaged in gathering recyclable metals and plastic, small-scale agricultural harvesting, selling small goods in the informal sector, serving drinks and food in bars and restaurants, the clothing industry, and mining. There were reports that children worked as shop vendors, vehicle washers, textile factory workers, or shoeshine boys. The number of children engaged in street-related activities (such as begging or selling items) increased during the summer, particularly around tourist areas. The NGO Nisma ARSIS reported an increasing number of children in street situations used for drug distribution.

Children were subjected to forced begging and criminal activity. Some children begging on the street were second- or third-generation beggars. Research suggested that begging started as early as the age of four or five. While the law prohibits the exploitation of children for begging, police generally did not enforce it, although they made greater efforts to do so during the year. In several cases, police detained parents of children found begging in the street and referred children for appropriate child services care. The State Agency on Children ’s Rights continued to identify and manage cases of street children identified by mobile identification units.

In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the government’s statistical agency and the International Labor Organization estimated that 54,000 children were engaged in forced labor domestically. An estimated 43,000 children worked in farms and fishing, 4,400 in the services sector, and 2,200 in hotels and restaurants. Nearly 5 percent of children were child laborers. The State Agency for Protection of Children Rights identified 166 children in street situations as of June.

SILSS did not carry out inspections for child labor unless there was a specific complaint. Most labor inspections occurred in shoe and textile factories, call centers, and retail enterprises; officials found some instances of child labor during their inspections. As of July, SILSS reported 91 children younger than 18 registered to work, of whom 40 were employed in manufacturing enterprises and 42 in the hotel, bar, and restaurant industry.

The NGO Terre des Hommes reported that the COVID-19 pandemic may have worsened child labor violations. Restriction of movement and other measures against COVID-19 produced new exploitation trends, such as door-to-door begging and afternoon and night street work.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws prohibit employment discrimination based on race, skin color, gender, age, physical or mental disability, political beliefs, language, nationality, religion, family, HIV or AIDS status, or social origin. The government did not enforce the law, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other laws related to denials of civil rights. The commissioner for protection from discrimination reported that most allegations of discrimination involved race, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability.

There are laws prohibiting women from engaging in work that requires lifting more than 44 pounds.

According to the labor force survey, women were less likely to participate in the labor market. The participation in the labor force of women between the ages of 15 and 64 decreased slightly, from 61.6 percent in 2019 to 61.2 percent in 2020. The most common reasons given for nonparticipation in the paid labor market included school attendance (20.9 percent) or unpaid housework (18.8 percent). For men not active in the paid labor market, 25.7 percent cited school attendance and 0.6 percent cited housework as the reason.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Oman

Executive Summary

The Sultanate of Oman is a hereditary monarchy ruled since January 2020 by Sultan Haitham bin Tarik Al Said. The sultan has sole authority to enact laws through royal decree, although ministries and the bicameral Majlis Oman (parliament) can draft laws on non-security-related matters, and citizens may provide input through their elected representatives. The Majlis Oman is composed of the Majlis al-Dawla (upper house or State Council), whose 85 members are appointed by the sultan, and the elected 86-member Majlis al-Shura (lower house or Consultative Council). In 2019 nearly 350,000 citizens participated in the Majlis al-Shura elections for the Consultative Council; there were no significant claims of improper government interference.

The Royal Office, Royal Oman Police Internal Security Service, and Ministry of Defense comprise the security apparatus. The Royal Office is responsible for matters of foreign intelligence and security. The Royal Oman Police, which includes Civil Defense, Immigration, Customs, and the Coast Guard, performs regular police duties as well as many administrative functions similar to a Ministry of Interior in other countries. An inspector general serves as the head of the Royal Oman Police, which is a ministerial-level position that reports directly to the sultan. An official with ministerial-level rank heads the Internal Security Service, which investigates matters related to domestic security. Sultan Haitham’s brother – Shihab bin Tarik Al Said – serves as deputy prime minister for defense affairs, although the sultan remains the supreme commander of the armed forces. The sultan, as well as the senior civilian and military authorities who reported to him, maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary arrest or detention; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship and criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on the internet, including site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious restrictions on political participation; criminalization of consensual lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex conduct; and labor exploitation of foreign migrants.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses, and authorities generally held security personnel and other government officials accountable for their actions.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices. The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), an organization based in Beirut that relies heavily on social media, reported Sultan Ambo Saeedi’s claims that the Internal Security Service (ISS) subjected him to nail removal, electric shocks, and tear gas exposure while he was in custody in 2017. During the year Saeedi also indicated that his torture complaint, filed in 2017, had not been addressed. Saeedi claimed he was forced to leave the country after successive summonses. On March 26, the government-funded Oman Human Rights Commission (OHRC) said that it would “coordinate with the competent authorities to find the truth and take the necessary actions in accordance with the law,” and the Royal Oman Police (ROP) said in a separate statement it would clarify the facts of this case and noted “all its procedures are in accordance with laws and regulations,” but no case updates were available by year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There was no current information available regarding prison or detention center conditions.

Physical Conditions: There have been no prison condition reports since a 2019 report from Amnesty International that described the conditions in Samail Central Prison as “poor.” During the COVID-19 outbreak, there were reports of infections among inmates in some of the country’s prisons. The OHRC reported that prison and detention center officials worked to protect inmates and prevent the spread of COVID-19 by isolating and monitoring new prisoners for 14 days in separate areas before transferring them to their cells. Inmates also received educational briefings on health and infection-prevention best practices.

Administration: There was no established prison authority to which prisoners could bring grievances concerning prison conditions. The OHRC conducted prison and detention center site visits and reviewed written complaints in conjunction with prison administrators. There was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees; this responsibility fell under the jurisdiction of the public prosecution, which maintained an office in Samail Central Prison. Prisoners and detainees did not always have regular access to visitors or legal representation.

Independent Monitoring: The law permits visits by international human rights observers. The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited the country in July; however, ICRC is not believed to have conducted any independent monitoring visits in the country during the year. The OHRC reported on human rights conditions to the sultan via the State Council. The OHRC investigated claims of abuse, conducted prison and detention center site visits, and published a summary of its activities in an annual report. Consular officers from some diplomatic missions reported difficulties in meeting with prisoners or delayed notification regarding detained citizens.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The government generally observed these requirements, but there were reports the government arbitrarily arrested several peaceful activists who publicly criticized the government. Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis of their detention although there were reports that those arrested were not always able to access legal representation in a timely manner.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law does not allow the ROP to arrest or detain a person “without an order to this effect from a concerned legal authority.” The law stipulates that police must either release the person or refer the matter to the public prosecution within 48 hours. For most crimes the public prosecution must then order the person’s “preventive detention” or release the person within 24 hours; preventive detention is warranted if “the incident is an offense or an act of misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment.” A preventive detention order shall not exceed 30 days, or 45 days in offenses involving public funds, narcotics, and psychoactive drugs. A prosecutor may request extensions – 15 days in special circumstances, but the request cannot exceed 60 days. The law requires those arrested be informed immediately of the charges against them. The government generally observed these requirements unless charges were related to peaceful activism challenging the government’s authority in which case the government prevented activists from promptly accessing legal representatives. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees generally had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice although there are reports individuals detained for political reasons were not always given prompt access to a lawyer. The state usually provided public attorneys to indigent detainees, as required by law. In cases involving foreign citizens, police sometimes failed to notify the detainee’s local sponsor or the citizen’s embassy.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The government generally observed these requirements.

According to GCHR on February 23, security authorities in Dhofar Governorate arrested environmental rights activist Ahmed Issa Qatan. On February 28, authorities arrested internet activists Salem Ali al-Maashani and Amer Muslim Bait Saeed (Amr al-Hkli) for acts relating to environmental activism online, according to human rights organizations and social media posts calling for their release. A court in Salalah acquitted one of the activists, and released the other two on bail, the same sources said in March.

On July 23, security forces arrested internet activist Ghaith al-Shibli at his home in Sohar, according to GCHR and social media. Al-Shibli’s arrest was followed by the arrest of several internet activists who participated in dialogues that al-Shibli organized on religious freedom and other topics. Other activists reportedly detained in the same crackdown included Maryam al-Nuaimi and Abdullah Hassan. Both of their Twitter accounts were suspended following their arrests. No further updates were available. On August 9, police arrested Talal bin Ahmed al-Salmani after he submitted a request to the director of Bousher Police Station in Muscat Governorate requesting permission to organize a peaceful rally on August 11 calling for liquor shops to be shut down, according to human rights observers based outside the country. He was released in October, according to the state-run Oman News Agency.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the sultan may act as a court of final appeal and exercise his power of pardon as chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, the country’s highest legal body, which is empowered to review all judicial decisions. The country has civil courts though principles of sharia (Islamic law) inform the civil, commercial, and criminal codes. There is no article in the law that prohibits or allows women to serve as judges, but no women are known to have served. Civilian or military courts try all cases. There were no reports judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys faced intimidation or engaged in corruption.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair trial and stipulates the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Citizens and legally resident noncitizens have the right to a public trial, except when the court decides to hold a session in private in the interest of public order or morals; the judiciary generally enforced this right. The government reserved the right to close sensitive cases to the public. The government did not uniformly provide language interpretation or document translation for non-Arabic speakers.

Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney; however, there were reports that some activists were denied prompt access to legal representation. The law provides defendants the right to be informed promptly of charges. There is no provision for adequate time for defense attorneys to prepare, but in practice most court dates provide ample time. The law states that an interpreter shall assist litigants and witnesses who do not know Arabic to submit their statements, but there is no provision for free interpretation. Courts provide public attorneys to indigent detainees and offer legal defense for defendants facing prison terms of three years or more. The prosecution and defense counsel direct questions to witnesses through the judge. Defendants have the right to be present, submit evidence, and confront witnesses at their trials. There is no known systemic use of forced confession or compulsion to self-incriminate during trial proceedings in the country. Those convicted in any court have one opportunity to appeal a jail sentence longer than three months and fines of more than 480 rials ($1,250) to the appellate courts. The judiciary enforced these rights for citizens, except in some cases involving activists; some foreign embassies claimed these rights were not always uniformly enforced for noncitizens, particularly migrant workers.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The number of political prisoners was unknown. Political prisoners are not denied any prisoner rights under the law, and they may ask to speak with representatives from the OHRC or the ICRC. Some activists were denied prompt access to legal representation, Freedom House reported.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Civil laws govern civil cases. Citizens and foreign residents could file cases, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations, but no known filings occurred during the year.

The Administrative Court reviews complaints regarding the misuse of governmental authority. It has the power to reverse decisions by government bodies and to award compensation. Appointments to this court are subject to the approval of the Administrative Affairs Council. The court’s president and deputy president are appointed by royal decree based on the council’s nomination. Citizens and foreign workers may file complaints regarding working conditions with the Ministry of Labor for alternative dispute resolution. The ministry may refer cases to the courts if it is unable to negotiate a solution.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law does not allow public officials to enter a private home without first obtaining a warrant from the public prosecution. The government monitored private communications, including cell phone, email, and social media exchanges. The government blocked most voice over internet protocol (VoIP) sites.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for limited freedom of expression for members of the press and other media, but authorities did not always respect these rights. Journalists, high profile figures, and writers reportedly exercised self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits criticism of the sultan in any form or medium, as well as any “provocative propaganda to undermine the prestige of the state,” electronic communication that “might prejudice the public order or religious values,” and “defamation of character.” It is illegal to insult any public official or private citizen. Authorities prosecuted individuals for writing on the sultan in a way the government perceived to be negative. International human rights organizations expressed concern that the penal code contains vaguely defined articles that the security services could use to target activists and further restrict freedom of expression, including online.

In February a court charged an individual with a misdemeanor and sentenced him to two months’ imprisonment and a fine of 300 rials ($780) for the “indecent act” of showing contempt for the national currency, local press reported. According to the report, the man posted a video to social media in which he was dancing while wearing a necklace of currency bills.

On August 13, security forces arrested internet activist Khamis al-Hatali after he published a video on his Twitter account where he addressed Sultan Haitham, saying, “We are the nation talking…You are an unjust person.” No update was available.

There were no updates available on the status of Musallam al-Ma’ashani’s indefinitely delayed trial related to his arrest in 2019 at the Sarfait border crossing for printing a book documenting tribal activities in Dhofar.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Media did not operate freely. Authorities tolerated limited criticism in privately owned newspapers and magazines; however, editorials generally were consistent with the government’s views. Although mainstream social debate occurred in traditional and social media (especially on Twitter), the government and privately owned radio and television stations did not generally broadcast political material criticizing the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain a license to work; freelance journalists were ineligible for a license.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists reported harassment by high-level government officials for printing stories perceived as critical of their ministries.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Headlines in both public and private media print outlets were subject to an official nontransparent review and approval process before publication. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship. The law permits the Ministry of Information to review all media products including books produced within or imported into the country. The ministry occasionally prohibited or censored material from domestic and imported publications viewed as politically, culturally, or sexually offensive. There was only one major publishing house in the country, and publication of books remained limited. The government required religious groups to notify the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs before importing any religious materials.

Authorities blocked the import without the necessary permit of certain publications, for example, religious texts. Importing pornography also was blocked. Shipping companies claimed customs officials sometimes confiscated these materials. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), authorities censored 51 literary works from the 2020 Muscat International Book Fair, which was cancelled in 2021 due to COVID-19.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense, which allows for up to one year’s imprisonment.

National Security: The government prohibited publication of any material that “undermines the prestige of the state.”

Internet Freedom

The law restricts free speech exercised via the internet, and the government enforced these restrictions. The law allows authorities to prosecute individuals for any message that “violates public order and morals” sent via any medium. The law details crimes that take place on the internet that “might prejudice public order or religious values” and specifies a penalty of between one month and a year in prison. Authorities could apply the law against bloggers and social media users who insult the sultan. Authorities placed individuals who abused social media in custody for up to two weeks and provided them with “advice and guidance,” according to the OHRC.

In March the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) blocked domestic access to the drop-in audio chat platform Clubhouse, according to social media and local press outlet that confirmed the block with TRA. Some social media users, media outlets, and human rights observers described the block as censorship and inconsistent with the principle of freedom of expression.

In March a court sentenced two citizens to one year in prison and a fine of 500 rials ($1,300) and confiscated their cell phones for using information technology to violate public morals, local press reported. According to the report, the men posted video clips to social media that contained indecent signs, phrases, and actions. No additional details were available.

On July 23, security forces arrested Internet activists Ghaith al-Shibli, Maryam al-Nuaimi, and Abdullah Hassan, according to GCHR and social media reports (see section 2.d.).

According to HRW and Amnesty International, activist and blogger Awadh al-Sawafi was arrested in June for tweets critical of government institutions. On June 16, he was sentenced to a suspended one-year prison sentence and banned from using social media for one year for violating the Cyber Crime Law by “publishing information harming public order.” On June 10, the Court of First Instance in Muscat sentenced former Shura Council member Salem al-Awfi and journalist Adel al-Kasbi each to one year in prison for “using information technology to spread harm to public order” under the Cyber Crime Law. Both of their charges relate to posts that criticized government figures and the Shura Council.

Some informal civil society and advocacy organizations also were targeted for social media posts, according to HRW. Notably, the women behind the “Nasawiyat Omaniyat” (Omani Feminists) Twitter account were reportedly summoned for questioning by authorities and forced to suspend their activity on the account, seemingly in retaliation for their work and public advocacy on women’s rights.

Authorities monitored the activities of telecommunications service providers and obliged them to block access to numerous websites considered pornographic, or culturally or politically sensitive. Authorities sometimes blocked blogs as well as most VoIP technologies.

Social media users exercised self-censorship and shared warnings exhorting users to follow local laws and regulations.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Academics largely practiced self-censorship. Colleges and universities were required to receive permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Higher Education before meeting with foreign diplomatic missions or accepting money for programs or speakers.

The government censored publicly shown films, primarily for sexual content and nudity, and placed restrictions on performances in public venues. The law also forbids dancing in restaurants and entertainment venues without a permit.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Human rights organizations expressed concern that overly broad provisions in the penal code could further restrict the work of human rights activists and limit freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. Gatherings of 10 or more persons in a public place are unlawful if they “endangered the public security or order” or “influenced the function of authorities.”

During a series of nationwide demonstrations against unemployment in May, the ROP reportedly arrested individuals engaged in peaceful protest, according to some social media users and human rights observers. The ROP arrested “dozens” of protesters, most of whom the authorities released after they signed pledges to refrain from participating in future demonstrations, GCHR said in June. According to this organization, authorities released five peaceful protestors in July after charging them with participating in a gathering of more than 10 persons without a permit and detaining them for several weeks. Human rights defender Ibrahim al-Balushi was among those reportedly arrested. He went on a hunger strike while in solitary confinement and was released on June 2, according to GCHR.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association for undefined “legitimate objectives and in a proper manner.” Examples of such associations include registered labor unions and social groups for foreign nationalities.

The government limited freedom of association by prohibiting associations whose activities it deemed “inimical to the social order” or otherwise inappropriate. Citizens joining groups deemed “harmful to national interests” could be subject to revocation of citizenship.

Associations must register with their corresponding ministries, which must approve all associations’ bylaws and have the power to determine whether a group serves the interest of the country. The time required to register an association ranged from two months to two years. Approval time varied based on the level of preparedness of the applying organization, the subject matter of the organization, its leadership, and the organization’s mission. The law limits formal registration of nationality-based associations to one association for each nationality and restricts activities of such associations. The government sometimes denied permission for associations to form.

The law forbids associations from conducting any kind of fundraising without government approval, including for charitable causes. Individuals convicted of accepting unlawful funding for an association may receive up to one year in jail. Foreign diplomatic missions are required to request meetings with nongovernmental associations through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by diplomatic note. Associations may not meet with foreign diplomatic missions and foreign organizations without prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The government enforced this law, and all foreign-funded educational and public diplomacy programs required prior government review.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Citizens could generally travel freely outside the country, although this right is not codified; however, there were reports that migrant workers were not always able to depart the country freely.

In-country Movement: There are no official government restrictions on internal travel for any citizen. The government must approve on a case-by-case basis official travel by foreign diplomats to the Dhofar and Musandam regions. There were reports many foreign domestic workers had their passports confiscated by employers, who sponsor the foreign workers, even though the law prohibited this practice.

Foreign Travel: The government reported that expatriate workers could depart the country without permission at any time, but a worker’s ability to do so was contingent on physically possessing a passport and not facing any charges, including “absconding” charges. Some potential human trafficking victims who experienced passport confiscation or were subject to spurious charges filed by their employers may have been unable to leave the country freely.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally did not allow asylum seekers to remain in the country. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) personnel occasionally visited the country but did not maintain an office locally. The Committee for International Humanitarian Law considers matters of refugees and displaced persons, according to the OHRC.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refuge for displaced persons, and the government has established a system for providing protection. The ROP’s system for granting asylum and resettlement was not transparent, and the law does not specify a timeframe in which the ROP must adjudicate an asylum application. It was policy not to recognize refugees from conflict zones such as Yemen, although Yemenis travel to Oman regularly, and the government provided temporary medical care to certain Yemeni citizens. In practice there were no substantive legal protections for asylum seekers in the country.

Refoulement: The government did not provide comprehensive protection to asylum seekers from involuntary returns to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened, subjecting them to the possibility of refoulement. Tight control over the entry of foreigners effectively limited access to protection for asylum seekers.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The country has many female migrant workers from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Uganda employed as domestic workers. Nongovernmental organizations based outside the country, international media reports, and embassies of labor-sending countries alleged that domestic workers faced maltreatment, to include physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. The law criminalizes slavery and trafficking, and the government has made efforts to combat trafficking. Labor violations are punishable under the labor law. Domestic workers are excluded, however, from the labor law’s protections and instead are covered by a 2004 Ministerial Decision, which does not provide effective rights protections or adequate complaint mechanisms for this population. In 2020 courts convicted two individuals for human trafficking crimes.

Temporary Protection: The government provided emergency medical care to certain Yemeni citizens who demonstrated they could not receive adequate care in Yemen. These Yemenis and one accompanying family member per patient were offered temporary resident status in Oman during the treatment period on an ad hoc basis.

g. Stateless Persons

Under the law citizenship is passed only through the father. Therefore, children born to foreign fathers and citizen mothers in Oman were at risk of statelessness.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. The sultan retains ultimate authority on all foreign and domestic matters. Except for the military and other security forces, all citizens who have reached 21 years of age have the right to vote for candidates for the Majlis al-Shura and the municipal councils.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 nearly 350,000 citizens participated in the Majlis al-Shura elections for the Consultative Council, or lower house of parliament. Electoral commissions reviewed potential candidates against a set of objective educational and character criteria (at least a high school education and no criminal history or mental illness) before they allowed candidates’ names on the ballot. The Ministry of Interior administered and closely monitored campaign materials and events. There were no notable or widespread allegations of fraud or improper government interference in the voting process. The government did not allow independent monitoring of the elections, but it invited some international journalists to the country to report on election day events. The OHRC said it was a member of the Main Elections Committee and a key partner in overseeing the electoral process.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in May 2020 the sultan postponed the quadrennial municipal council elections, last held in 2016. The government did not set a date for when these elections would take place.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law does not allow political parties, and citizens did not attempt to form them.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. During the Majlis al-Shura elections in 2019, voters elected two women as representatives. The sultan appointed 15 women to the Majlis al-Dawla in 2019. Three women serve as ministers, four as undersecretaries, and one as Chair of the Small and Medium Enterprise Authority.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. The Financial and Administrative State Audit Institution (FASAI) submitted an annual report to the sultan and the Majlis Oman. The Majlis al-Shura had the authority to summon and question ministers.

Corruption: There were reports of government corruption, including in the police, ministries, and state-owned companies. In September a citizen was reportedly arrested after he made accusations of corruption on social media. He alleged government officials sought bribes from him to approve an investment project. In October social media users accused the Minister of Education of corruption after a July 2020 court decision convicted 18 officials in the Ministry of Education. The minister remained in her post.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

No independent, officially sanctioned human rights organizations existed in the country. There were civil society groups that advocated for persons protected under human rights conventions, particularly women and persons with disabilities. These groups were required to register with the Ministry of Social Development.

The law permits domestic and international actors to request permission to engage in human rights work, but none did because they believed the government was not likely to grant permission.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The OHRC, a government-funded commission made up of members from the public, private, and academic sectors, reported on human rights to the sultan via the State Council. The OHRC also published an annual report summarizing the types of complaints it received and how it handled those complaints. OHRC functions semi-independently with moderate effectiveness in protecting human rights in the country, based on limited public information.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape with penalties of up to 15 years in prison. The law does not criminalize spousal rape explicitly, but it does criminalize all “sex without consent.” According to diplomatic observers, police investigations resulted in few rape convictions. Foreign nationals working as domestic employees occasionally reported that their sponsors had sexually assaulted them.

The law does not specifically address domestic violence, and judicial protection orders prohibiting domestic violence do not exist. Charges could be brought, however, under existing statutes outlawing assault, battery, and aggravated assault, which can carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Allegations of spousal abuse in civil courts handling family law cases reportedly were common. Victims of domestic violence may file a complaint with police, and reports suggested that police responded promptly and professionally. The government operated a hotline for reporting incidents of domestic violence and a shelter for victims.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits health practitioners from conducting “traditional practices,” including FGM/C, that are harmful to a child’s health. The 2019 Executive Regulations for the Child Law include “disfiguring female genital organs” as one of these harmful practices. There are no national statistics on the prevalence of FGM/C, although anecdotal reports indicated some ongoing practice of FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: Harassing a woman by word or conduct is punishable by imprisonment up to a year.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Married couples have access to family planning and information, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Health clinics disseminated information on family planning under the guidance of the Ministry of Health. Some forms of birth control, including condoms, were available at pharmacies and supermarkets, although medically prescribed contraceptives were generally not available for unmarried women. Menstrual healthcare was available for citizens and menstrual care products were readily available in pharmacies and grocery stores. The government provided free childbirth services to citizens within the framework of universal health care. Prenatal and postnatal care was readily available and used. While survivors of sexual violence could seek medical treatment at public healthcare facilities, the government did not provide emergency contraception or dedicated sexual and reproductive health services to survivors.

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based discrimination against citizens, but the government did not appear to enforce the law effectively. Local interpretations of Islamic law and practice of cultural traditions in social and legal institutions discriminated against women. In some personal status cases, such as divorce, a woman’s testimony is equal to half that of a man. The law favors male heirs in adjudicating inheritance.

The Ministry of Interior requires both male and female citizens to obtain permission to marry foreigners, except nationals of Gulf Cooperation Council countries, whom citizens may marry without restriction; authorities do not automatically grant permission, which is particularly difficult for women to obtain. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may result in denial of entry for the foreign spouse at the border and preclude children from claiming citizenship and residency rights. It also may result in a bar from government employment.

Despite legal protections for women from forced marriage, deeply embedded tribal practices ultimately compel most citizen women towards or away from a choice of spouse.

The law provides for transmission of citizenship at birth if the father is a citizen, if the mother is a citizen and the father is unknown, or if a child of unknown parents is found in the country. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children (who are thereby at risk of statelessness) and cannot sponsor their noncitizen husband’s or children’s presence in the country.

The law provides that any adult, male or female, may become a citizen by applying for citizenship and subsequently residing legally in the country for 20 years or 10 years for a woman if married to a male citizen. Women citizens cannot confer expedited citizenship to their foreign male spouses in the same manner. The approval or rejection of the citizenship application is subject to the Ministry of Interior’s final decision.

Government policy provided women with equal opportunities for education, and this policy effectively eliminated the gender gap in educational attainment. Although some educated women held positions of authority in government, business, and media, many women faced job discrimination based on cultural norms. The law entitles women to paid maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. The government, the largest employer of women, observed such regulations, as did many private sector employers.

The Ministry of Social Development is the umbrella organization for women’s concerns. The ministry provided support for women’s economic development through the Oman Women’s Association and local community development centers.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law states that all citizens are equal and prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, language, religion, sect, domicile, or social status. The law equally protects Omanis and foreigners present in Oman.

The country is an ethnically diverse society. There were no reports of racial or ethnic violence. The government’s “Omanization” policy favors Omani citizens over foreigners for employment in some sectors of the economy, and some expatriate workers reported that Omanis were favored in the workplace.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from the father. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children. Children of unknown parents are automatically eligible for citizenship. Government employees raised abandoned children in an orphanage. Such children receive free education through the university level and a job following graduation. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may preclude children from claiming citizenship rights.

Child Abuse: According to the law, any concerned citizen must report child abuse, and each governorate had an interagency committee that would meet to discuss the allegations and possibly take the child out of the parent’s custody until the allegations were investigated. The government operated a child abuse hotline.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The age of legal marriage for men and women is 18, although a judge may permit a person to marry younger when the judge or family deemed the marriage is in the minor’s interest. Child marriage occurred in rural communities as a traditional practice.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography are punishable by no fewer than five years’ imprisonment. The penal code stipulates a punishment of life imprisonment for rape of a child younger than 15 years. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. All sex outside of marriage is illegal, but sex with a minor younger than 15 carries a heavier penalty (up to 15 years’ imprisonment). Authorities do not charge minors. There were no known reports of children in commercial sex; soliciting a child for commercial sex is prohibited.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no indigenous Jewish population. One Arabic-language newspaper featured multiple cartoons critical of the Israeli government in which a man representing stereotypical anti-Semitic tropes of Jews along with wearing the Star of David represented the state of Israel.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law provides persons with disabilities the same rights as other citizens in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other state services. Persons with disabilities, however, continued to face discrimination. The law mandates access to public transportation and buildings for persons with disabilities, but many older buildings, including government buildings and schools, did not conform to the law.

The government provided alternative education opportunities for citizen children with disabilities, including overseas schooling when appropriate.

Additionally, the Ministry of Education supported schools and education programs for intellectually disabled students. These services accommodated students with motor, sight, hearing, and mental disabilities. The Ministry of Education operated a program to integrate students with disabilities into primary schools. The ministers of education and of health supervised a broad-based, prioritized strategy for various ministries to coordinate the problem of child autism in the country, including early autism diagnosis and intervention. The Ministry of Education also coordinated with UNICEF to improve its alternative education systems.

The Ministry of Social Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Directorate General of Disabled Affairs within the Ministry of Social Development creates and implements programs for persons with disabilities in coordination with relevant authorities. The directorate was authorized further to supervise the ministry’s rehabilitation and treatment centers for persons with disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Foreigners seeking residency in the country are tested for HIV/AIDS. If foreigners test positive, residency permission is denied, and foreigners must leave the country, but there were no known occurrences of this during the year.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct and consensual heterosexual sex outside of marriage with a jail term of six months to three years, but it requires a spouse or guardian complaint to initiate prosecution, independent of gender. The government did not actively enforce this provision, and there were no public records of potential prosecutions.

The law identifies “crossdressing” (defined as males dressing in female clothing) as a criminal act punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment, a fine of 100 to 300 rial (approximately $260 to $780), or both.

Public discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity remained a social taboo. There were no known lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) organizations active in the country, although regional human rights organizations focused on the human rights of LGBTQI+ citizens. Authorities took steps to block LGBTQI+-related internet content as well as international films that featured LGBTQI+ characters.

Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, as well as conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, but with significant restrictions. The law provides for one general federation, to which all unions must affiliate, and which represents unions in regional and international fora. The law requires a minimum of 25 workers to form a union, regardless of company size. The law requires an absolute majority of an enterprise’s employees to approve a strike, and notice must be given to employers three weeks in advance of the intended strike date. The law allows for collective bargaining; regulations require employers to engage in collective bargaining on the terms and conditions of employment, including wages and hours of work. Where there is no trade union, collective bargaining may take place between the employer and five representatives selected by workers. The employer may not reject any of the representatives selected. While negotiation is underway, the employer may not act on decisions related to problems under discussion. The law prohibits employers from firing or imposing other penalties on employees for union activity, although it does not require reinstatement for workers fired for union activity.

No independent organized labor unions existed. Worker rights continued to be administered and directed by the General Federation of Oman Workers (GFOW).

The GFOW responded to reports of labor rights violations, some precipitated by the COVID-19-related economic downturn. During the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, the GFOW received and adjudicated complaints that employers reduced or failed to pay wages, forced workers to take unpaid leave, and deducted time in quarantine from workers’ leave banks.

Government-approved unions are open to all legal workers regardless of nationality, though the law prohibits members of the armed forces, other public security institutions, government employees, domestic workers, as well as individuals convicted of criminal activity or acts against the security of the country or national unity from forming or joining such unions. In addition, labor laws apply only to workers who perform work under a formal employment agreement and excludes domestic workers.

The law prohibits unions from accepting grants or financial assistance from any source without the Ministry of Labor’s prior approval. All unions are subject to the regulations of the government federation and may be shut down or have their boards dismissed by the federation.

The government generally enforced applicable laws effectively and respected the rights to collectively bargain and conduct strikes, although strikes in the oil and gas industries are forbidden. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The government provided an alternative dispute resolution mechanism through the Ministry of Labor, which acted as mediator between the employer and employee for minor disputes such as disagreement over wages. If not resolved to the employee’s satisfaction, the employee could, and often did, resort to the courts for relief. The country lacked dedicated labor courts, and observers noted the mandatory grievance procedures were confusing to many workers, especially foreign workers. The Ministry of Labor had sufficient resources to act in dispute resolution.

Freedom of association in union matters and the right to collective bargaining existed, but the threat of a strike can prompt company action or government intervention. Strikes rarely occurred and were generally resolved quickly, sometimes through government mediation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forced or compulsory labor but explicitly excludes domestic workers. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

By law all expatriate workers, who constituted approximately 80 percent of the workforce, must be sponsored by a citizen employer or accredited diplomatic mission. Some migrant workers employed as domestic workers or as low-skilled workers in the construction, agriculture, and service sectors, faced working conditions indicative of forced labor, including withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, usurious recruitment fees, nonpayment of wages, long working hours without food or rest, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. These situations were generally considered civil or contract matters by authorities, who encouraged dispute resolution rather than criminal action. Authorities generally relied on victims to identify themselves and report abuses, rather than proactively investigating trafficking among vulnerable populations. In 2020 the government created and disseminated a formal screening questionnaire for officials to use in identifying potential trafficking victims among those arrested for alleged labor violations and fleeing their employer. Police officials underwent training on how to identify victims of trafficking and cases of forced or compulsory labor. Training was temporarily paused during the pandemic but resumed by the end of the year.

Employer-based, visa sponsorship known as kafala left foreign workers vulnerable to exploitative and abusive conditions and made it difficult for them to change employers (see section 2.d.). Some sponsors allow their employees to work for other employers, sometimes in return for a fee. This practice is illegal, but enforcement was weak, and such arrangements diminished workers’ agency and increased their vulnerability. Some employers of domestic workers, contrary to law, withheld passports and other documents, complicating workers’ release from unfavorable contracts and preventing workers’ departure after their work contracts expired. The ROP issued a decision in May 2020 that all expatriates will no longer require a “no objection certificate” (NOC) from their employers to secure new work upon completion or termination of their employment contracts, which went into effect January 1. The implementation of this decision is ambiguous. Before the ROP removed the NOC requirement, some employers exploited it to demand exorbitant release fees before permitting workers to change employers. There were reports that sponsors were reluctant to provide NOCs, which would result in loss of the foreign labor certificate for that position.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 16, or 18 for certain hazardous occupations. Employees younger than 18 may work only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and are prohibited from working for more than six hours per day, on weekends, or on holidays. The law allows exceptions to the age requirement in agricultural works, fishing, industrial works, handicrafts, sales, and administrative jobs, under the conditions that it is a one-family business and does not hinder the juvenile’s education or affect health or growth.

The Ministry of Labor and ROP are responsible for enforcing laws with respect to child labor. The law provides for fines for minor violations and imprisonment for repeat violations. Employers are given time to correct practices that may be deemed child labor. The government does not publish information on the enforcement of child labor laws; no information was available to determine whether penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

In 2020 the country made a moderate advance in eliminating the worst forms of child labor, and there is evidence that small numbers of children in the country engaged in child labor, including in fishing and selling items in kiosks.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/. 

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not address discrimination based on race, sex, gender, nationality, political views, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status. It is unclear, therefore, whether any penalties existed for violations that were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. While labor laws generally do not allow women to work in jobs deemed hazardous or arduous, there no industry-specific occupations were closed to women.

Discrimination occurred based on gender, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, and gender identity. Foreign workers were required to take HIV/AIDS tests and could only obtain or renew work visas if the results were negative. This practice was suspended during COVID-19, according to local sources.

Although some educated women held positions of authority in government, business, and media, many women faced job discrimination based on cultural norms. The law entitles women to paid maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. The government, the largest employer of women, observed such regulations, as did many private sector employers. The percentage of women working in the government sector increased from 41 percent of the total number of workers in 2014 to 59 percent in 2018, according to official government statistics.

The law provides persons with disabilities the same rights as other citizens in employment, and the provision of other state services. Persons with disabilities, however, continued to face discrimination. The law mandates access to public transportation and buildings for persons with disabilities, but many older buildings, including government buildings and schools, did not conform to the law. The law also requires government agencies and private enterprises employing more than 50 persons to reserve a certain percentage of positions for persons with disabilities. This percentage was 2 percent for the private sector; the Civil Service Council was responsible for determining the percentage for the public sector, which was set at 5 percent. Authorities did not systematically enforce this regulation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The country has a minimum monthly wage for citizens that does not apply to noncitizens in any occupation. Minimum wage regulations do not apply to a variety of occupations and businesses, including small businesses employing fewer than five persons, dependent family members working for a family firm, or some categories of manual laborers. Most citizens who lived in poverty were engaged in traditional subsistence agriculture, herding, or fishing, and generally did not benefit from the minimum wage. The private sector workweek is 45 hours and includes a two-day rest period following five consecutive days of work. Government workers have a 35-hour workweek. The law mandates paid overtime for hours of more than 45 per week.

The Ministry of Labor effectively enforced the minimum wage for citizens. In wage cases the Ministry of Labor processed complaints and acted as mediator. In most cases the plaintiff prevailed, gaining compensation, the opportunity to seek alternative employment, or return to their country of origin in the case of foreign laborers. The ministry was generally effective in cases regarding minor labor disputes. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets occupational health and safety standards. Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country. There were reports that the government did not enforce them for poor foreign workers according to an International Organization for Migration representative. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with OSH experts and not the worker based on hazards inherent to the nature of work. The law states an employee may leave dangerous work conditions without jeopardy to employment if the employer was aware of the danger and did not implement corrective measures. Employees covered under the labor law may receive compensation for job-related injury or illness through employer-provided medical insurance. Neither wage and hour nor occupational safety and health regulations apply to domestic workers.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws, and it employed inspectors in Muscat and around the country. It generally enforced the law effectively with respect to citizens; however, it did not always effectively enforce regulations regarding hours of employment and working conditions for foreign workers. Penalties for violations of occupational, safety, and health laws were commensurate with those for similar crimes like negligence.

Labor inspectors performed random checks of worksites to verify compliance with all labor laws. Inspectors from the Department of Health and Safety of the Labor Care Directorate are responsible for enforcement of health and safety codes. Limited inspections of private sector worksites are required by law to deter or redress unsafe working conditions in the most dangerous sectors.

Informal Sector: The law does not provide for occupational health and safety standards for workers in the informal economy. Foreign workers were vulnerable to poor, dangerous, or exploitative working conditions. There were reports that migrant laborers in some firms and households worked more than 12 hours a day without a day off for below-market wages. Employers often cancelled the employment contracts of seriously sick or injured foreign workers, forcing them to return to their countries of origin or remain in the country illegally. Some labor inspections focused on enforcing visa violations and deporting those in an irregular work visa status rather than verifying safe and adequate work conditions.

Employers have a great deal of control over these workers, particularly domestic workers who are not covered by existing labor laws. The country’s visa-sponsorship system (kafala) ties migrant workers to their employers, who can have a worker’s visa canceled arbitrarily. Workers who leave their jobs without the consent of their employer can be punished with fines, deportation, or reentry bans. As of January 1, expatriates were no longer required to obtain a “no-objection certificate” to secure new work upon completion or termination of their employment contracts. There are no maximum workhour limits for domestic workers nor any mandatory rest periods, although the contract between the employer and worker can specify such requirements. There were some reports that domestic workers were forced to work with inadequate rest periods. Separate domestic employment regulations obligate the employer to provide domestic workers with free local medical treatment throughout the contract period. Penalties for noncompliance with health regulations were insufficient to deter violations. Some domestic workers were subjected to abusive conditions.

There was no data available on workplace fatalities or safety.

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