Letter to His Majesty Qaboos bin Said Al Said, Sultan of Oman


31 March 2003

His Majesty Qaboos bin Said Al Said
Sultan, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
P O Box 252, Muscat 113
Sultanate of Oman
C/O The Minister of the Diwan of the Royal Court

Your Majesty,

Human Rights Watch is writing to Your Majesty to recommend respectfully that the Sultanate of Oman commence the appropriate steps to consider and then ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. We have also written to the other member governments of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, requesting that they also begin the process of ratification or accession to this important new international treaty.

The Convention, which the United Nations General Assembly adopted on December 18, 1990, will enter into force on July 1, 2003. It establishes basic principles for the treatment of migrant workers and their families, and provides international standards to protect the rights of migrants in countries of origin, transit, and destination.

The Ministry of National Economy reported that the Sultanate's population in 2000 totaled 2.4 million people, of whom 624,000 – 25.9 percent – were expatriates. The ministry further stated that there were 495,000 expatriates employed in the Sultanate's private sector in 2000, an increase of 20,000 from the previous year.

It is in view of these statistics – and the large number of migrant workers in other Cooperation Council states – that Human Rights Watch urges Your Majesty and other leaders to consider becoming a party to the migrant rights treaty. Such a step would send an unmistakably positive signal that the six regional governments wish to take a lead role internationally to ensure the rights of often-vulnerable migrant men and women. Among other Arab states, Egypt and Morocco have acceded to and ratified the Convention, respectively, as of this writing.

The Convention guarantees the full range of internationally recognized human rights to all migrant workers and their families. These rights – enumerated in Part III of the treaty -- include the right to life, the right to not be subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment, the right to due-process of law, and the right to freedom of movement,

expression, and religion. With respect to freedom of association, the Convention provides for the right of migrants "to form associations and trade unions in the State of employment for the promotion and protection of their economic, social, cultural andother interests," in article 40(1). The right to join freely such groups and participate in their meetings and other activities is established in article 26.

The Convention prohibits private and public actions that target and harm migrants. Article 16(2) guarantees to migrants and their families "effective protection by the State against violence, physical injury, threats and intimidation, whether by public officials or by private individuals, groups or institutions." Article 21 prohibits the unauthorized confiscation of any migrant's documents: "It shall be unlawful for anyone, other than a public official duly authorized by law, to confiscate, destroy or attempt to destroy identity documents, documents authorizing entry to or stay, residence or establishment in the national territory or work permits. No authorized confiscation of such documents shall take place without delivery of a detailed receipt. In no case shall it be permitted to destroy the passport or equivalent document of a migrant worker or a member of his or her family."

Significantly, the Convention recognizes the serious worldwide problem of migrants without legal status whose situations are thus "irregular," and seeks to promote lawful conditions of employment. It stipulates
that migrant workers and members of their families may not "be held in slavery or servitude" or "required to perform forced or compulsory labor," pursuant to articles 11(1) and 11(2), respectively, and seeks to eliminate the inherent exploitation and unfair competition that trafficking in persons represents. Article 68(1) calls for cooperation among States parties to prevent and eliminate such "illegal or clandestine movements and employment," and requires states to undertake the following measures:

prevent the dissemination of misleading information relating to emigration and immigration;
detect and eradicate illegal or clandestine movements of migrant workers and members of their families;
impose effective sanctions on persons, groups or entities which organize, operate or assist in organizing or operating such movements;
impose effective sanctions on persons, groups or entities which use violence, threats or intimidation against migrant workers or members of their families in "irregular" situations; and
impose sanctions on employers of workers in "irregular" situations, whenever appropriate.

It is important to note that the protections of the Convention cover the entire migration process of each individual – from pre-departure preparations through eventual return to the state of origin -- and do not single out only those states that employ migrant workers. The Convention also grants broad latitude to states to maintain their own policies with respect to the use of migrant workers in their labor forces. For example, it explicitly recognizes "the right of each State Party to establish the criteria governing admission of migrant workers and members of their families" (article 79), and specifies that states may restrict the access of migrants "to limited categories of employment, functions, services or activities where this is necessary in the interests of this State and provided for by national legislation," pursuant to article 52(2)(a). In addition, article 34 of the Convention requires migrant workers and members of their families "to comply with the laws and regulations of any State of transit and the State of employment," and "to respect the cultural identity of the inhabitants of such States."

Human Rights Watch hopes Your Majesty will conclude that the guarantees and protections for migrant workers and their families, as set forth in the Convention, merit support and cooperation from all members of the international community. We look forward to timely initiatives in the Sultanate of Oman to become a party to this treaty.

We thank Your Majesty in advance for your attention to, and consideration of, this important matter. We would be pleased to discuss our proposal with relevant government officials in the near future.


Hanny Megally
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division

His Excellency Sayyid Ali bin Hamoud Al Busaidi, Minister of the Diwan of the Royal Court
His Excellency Amir bin Shuwayn al-Husni, Minister of Social Affairs, Labor and Vocational Training