US 'glosses over' critical Oman human rights report

US 'glosses over' critical Oman human rights report
Senior American figures overruled a damning state department human rights report, which criticised Oman for cases of human trafficking and forced labour.
3 min read
21 December, 2015
File Photo: Oman is one of the United States key regional allies [AFP]

Oman's human rights record was whitewashed by the United States' state department, according to a recent Reuters report.
A Trafficking in Persons report by state department officials showed signs of forced labour and human trafficking among Oman's migrant workers.

Intervention from the top levels of government led to the report being "glossed over" to save the sultanate embarrassment, Reuters said in its exclusive report.

Zakaria Muharrami, an Omani writer, said that the US report only touches on one part of human rights, which is the issue of workers' rights.

"This report focuses only on so-called human trafficking but gives no attention to freedom of speech or media transparancy.The issue of human trafficking in Oman is limited to the strict sponsorship system for expatriate labourers," he said.

"However, this system is favoured by many expats as it gives them liberty to start trading under the shadow of an Omani citizen with all the privilages from the government, tax free and sometimes financial support."

Many expatriates run small businesses, illegally, making monthly payments or giving a share of profits to their Omani sponsor.

Favour returned

High-ranking US officials stepped in to prevent Oman falling down to ranks of the human trafficking index has been interpreted as a favour for Oman's critical work in nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West.

A historic agreement agreed between Tehran, and European powers and the US, was largely down to the work of Oman's Minister of Foreign Affairs Yousef bin Alawi.

Muscat was said to have protested at the state department's critical review and the US government appears to overuled the report's researchers, according to Reuters.

It saved the embarrassment of Washington giving a public rebuke for its deteriorating human rights record of its important regional ally.

The study was conducted by the state department's Near Eastern Affairs bureau and experts in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

It suggested that Oman's status be downgraded from Tier 2 to the Tier 2 watch list.

If it fell one level lower - to Tier 3 - then the US would be forced to slap sanctions on its ally.

"[Kerry is] protecting Oman when it comes to this issue," one Western diplomat told Reuters.

"John Kerry has a good personal relationship with Yusuf bin Alawi and a good feeling towards Oman. So he doesn't want to see Oman downgraded," the diplomat added.

However, many Omanis felt that Washington had no right to criticise the sultanate for internal affairs, particularly as the sultanate follows a pragmatic and unintrusive foreign policy.

Others believe that the sultanate will eventually end the system in its own time, and will be linked to political developments in the country.

"There is a reforming motion in the legislative institutions and eventually the kafeel system will be changed," said Muharrami.

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