Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Summary record of the 370th meeting
Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, on Wednesday, 21 February 2018, at 10 a.m.
Consideration of reports submitted by parties to the Convention under article 35 (continued)
Initial report of Oman (continued)
The meeting was called to order at 10 a.m.
Consideration of reports submitted by parties to the Convention under article 35 (continued)
Initial report of Oman (continued) (CRPD/C/OMN/1; CRPD/C/OMN/Q/1 and Add.1)
At the invitation of the Chair, the delegation of Oman took places at the Committee table.
Mr. Al Adawi (Oman), replying to questions posed at the previous meeting, said that persons who suffered discrimination on the basis of disability could bring a case before the competent courts and claim civil compensation proportionate to the harm done. Under the Children’s Act, children who were victims of violence, abuse, exploitation or another criminal offence were entitled to receive civil compensation. The new bill on the rights of persons with disabilities prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability.
With regard to the questions about honour crimes, Omani criminal law had been amended to ensure that the concept of honour could not be considered an extenuating circumstance in cases of unlawful killing. The aggravating circumstances applicable in cases of unlawful killing could lead to the imposition of penalties ranging from a prison sentence to capital punishment.
While the Care and Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2008 — whose promulgation had preceded the ratification of the Convention — did not refer specifically to the legal capacity of persons with disabilities, there were several legal safeguards that protected the right of persons with disabilities to exercise their legal capacity on an equal basis with others. For example, the Constitution provided for the equality of all citizens before the law and prohibited discrimination on grounds of gender, origin, colour, language, religion, confession, domicile or social status. The Civil Transactions Act of 2013 provided that any person who had attained the age of majority, which it set at 18 years, and was mentally competent enjoyed full and equal legal capacity. That right was also enshrined in the new bill on the rights of persons with disabilities. No distinction was drawn between the legal capacity of persons with disabilities and that of persons without disabilities in the exercise of civil rights or in the completion of commercial or financial transactions under the Trade Act. Consequently, any instructions or internal regulations that required the guardian of a person with a disability to be present in order to complete a commercial transaction were unlawful. Furthermore, there was no law limiting the legal capacity of persons with disabilities as defined in the Civil Transactions Act and in the Trade Act.
The Constitution also guaranteed all citizens the right to engage in the work of their choice, within the limits of the law. Accordingly, the Labour Code guaranteed persons with and without disabilities equal access to jobs and employment contracts. Under the Personal Status Act, persons with disabilities had the same right to marry as persons without disabilities, provided they had reached the age of majority. Similarly, persons both with and without disabilities who had reached the age of 21 years were entitled to stand for election to parliament. There was no contradiction between the Civil Code and the Constitution with regard to the guardianship regime, which applied equally to persons with and without disabilities.
Mr. Al Farsi (Oman) said that, whereas in the past mental health services had only been available in specialized hospitals and clinics, they had been expanded over time and were now provided as part of the standard package of primary care services. Mental health services were available to children as well as adults at all health centres in all governorates of Oman. The increased accessibility and availability of mental health services had served to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health conditions and to encourage more people, especially children and adolescents, to seek treatment.
Under the School Health Programme, students underwent a hearing and eye test, as well as a psychological examination and an assessment to identify learning disabilities, with a view to ensuring early treatment. The findings of two studies on the prevalence of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide among children and adolescents in Oman had served to raise government officials’ awareness of those problems and had paved the way for the expansion of psychological health services. Furthermore, a recently launched programme had helped to resolve some of the difficulties previously encountered in distinguishing between mental and neurological disorders, which, in the past, had led to neurological disorders being neglected. One of the challenges still facing the Government was how to create stronger links between health-care, rehabilitation and educational services.
Mr. Al Abri (Oman) said that the State provided more than 13,000 persons with disabilities with financial support in the form of a monthly allowance and had issued more than 36,000 persons with disabilities with a special card to enable them to claim benefits such as fee exemptions in health centres and hospitals Organizations of persons with disabilities and private sector associations complemented State efforts by offering persons with disabilities additional financial support and assistance in finding suitable housing. The Ministry of Housing granted assistance and fee exemptions to persons with disabilities wishing to purchase a plot of land or apply for a loan for the purpose of setting up a small or medium-sized enterprise.
The measures taken to facilitate the independent living and social integration of persons with disabilities included the introduction of discounted aeroplane tickets and reduced tariffs for calls made using audiovisual applications and for text messaging and Internet service. Persons with disabilities were also exempt from queuing at the premises of State authorities and could receive expedited service. They were also entitled to park in specially designated parking spaces. Schools buildings had ramps to facilitate wheelchair access. In addition, persons with disabilities were provided with training in information and communications technology. To the extent possible, health-care facilities were designed to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities.
Mr. Al Shabibi (Oman) said that early detection and intervention were the key to ensuring that children with disabilities received appropriate rehabilitative care. The provision of early rehabilitation services fell within the purview of the Ministry of Social Development, which issued licences to rehabilitation centres. There were currently 26 Wafa’ centres for the rehabilitation of children with disabilities located throughout the country. Those centres, along with centres run by NGOs and private centres, provided services for children from an early age. If children with disabilities were unable to attend a rehabilitation centre in person, home visits could be arranged.
The Ministry of Social Development, with the support of external experts, had organized a pilot training programme to accredit sign language interpreters. To date, six interpreters had been accredited. The Omani Association for Persons with Hearing Impairments assisted the Ministry in teaching sign language to interested parties and, in so doing, helped facilitate the expansion of sign language interpretation as a service for persons with disabilities. There were also plans to adopt a formal legal framework for the training and accreditation of interpreters in the near future. If sign language interpretation was required at a police station or in a judicial setting, the Ministry of Social Development, in coordination with the Omani Association for Persons with Hearing Impairments, would ensure that an interpreter was available at all stages of the proceedings.
In the event of a disaster, the emergency relief unit of the National Committee for Civil Defence was responsible for providing shelters that were adapted to the needs of persons with disabilities. Sign language interpreters were assigned the task of translating bulletins, weather forecasts and alerts to facilitate the transmission of essential information.
There were no residential institutions for persons with disabilities in Oman. There was a centre to accommodate persons travelling from outside the capital to undergo intensive short-term rehabilitation; however, the centre provided services during the day only. Persons receiving such services spent evenings and weekends with their families. After leaving the centre, they continued their treatment through home visits.
Mr. Al Shidhani (Omani Association for Persons with Hearing Impairments) said that information technology companies provided visual communication services for persons with disabilities. The possibility of some State authorities providing such services was currently under discussion. The services provided by associations for persons with hearing impairments had proved instrumental in enabling persons who were hard of hearing to secure employment. More hard-of-hearing persons were expected to join the labour force as a result of closer cooperation between State bodies.
Ms. Al Hadi (Oman) said that, according to the 2010 census, the illiteracy rate stood at 14.1 per cent for the whole population and at 56 per cent for persons with disabilities; the rates among men and women with disabilities were 46 and 68 per cent, respectively.
Mr. Al Shabibi (Oman) said that persons with disabilities were exempt from paying the fee associated with obtaining or renewing a driver’s licence and the fees associated with buying or renting a property.
Ms. Asadullah (Oman) said that the Omar bin al-Khattab Institute for the Blind organized workshops for persons wishing to learn Braille and cooperated with various government bodies on the production of Braille publications. Three classes of students at the Institute had tested electronic Braille devices, which could be used to access a variety of learning materials.
Mr. Al Adawi (Oman) said that the Constitution guaranteed access to justice for all citizens, including persons with disabilities. Legal assistance was available to persons with disabilities, and they were exempt from certain legal fees. Interpreting services were provided during court proceedings for persons with disabilities and persons who did not speak Arabic. The bill on the rights of persons with disabilities established that special assistance must be provided for persons with disabilities throughout judicial proceedings. Workshops on the provision of such assistance had been organized for the relevant professionals.
Mr. Al Amri (Omani Association for Persons with Disabilities) said that civil society organizations had legal personality and were entitled to conduct their affairs without interference, provided they did not commit financial or other infractions. With regard to marriage, persons with disabilities had the same rights as those without disabilities. Forced marriages were prohibited in all circumstances.
Mr. Al Shabibi (Oman) said that all victims of violence or ill-treatment were entitled to judicial protection. A hotline had been set up to receive complaints of violence against women or children with disabilities. Protection committees, composed of representatives of various government bodies, had been established in all governorates. Reconciliation committees had also been set up to help resolve family matters. In some cases, victims of violence or ill-treatment were removed from their families and placed in a shelter until a more appropriate solution could be found.
Mr. Alsaif asked whether there was any legislation ensuring that persons with disabilities who applied for a job or a promotion were, like other candidates, assessed on the basis of competence alone.
Mr. Lovászy, noting that there were segregated schools in Oman and that the integration programme mentioned in paragraph 89 of the State party’s replies to the list of issues (CRPD/C/OMN/Q/1/Add.1) appeared not to be fully in line with the Committee’s general comment No. 4 on the right to inclusive education, said that he would appreciate receiving data on the numbers of children enrolled in inclusive education programmes. He would also like to know whether the booklet on the philosophy of education mentioned in paragraph 87 of the State party’s replies contained specific references to inclusive education. In addition, he wondered whether the 200 teachers who had received sign language training worked in mainstream or specialized schools and what provision was made for hard-of-hearing students who did not use sign language.
Mr. You Liang said that he would like to know whether reasonable accommodation and necessary resources, such as textbooks in Braille, were provided for students with disabilities and how many persons with disabilities had graduated from tertiary education institutions in the previous five years. He would appreciate more information on the number of persons with disabilities who had been elected to parliament and on any legislation they had proposed that had been adopted and implemented. It would also be interesting to hear what activities had been organized to develop the artistic potential of persons with disabilities. He wondered what steps were being taken to transition from survey-based data collection to the creation of a database of specific information on the situation and needs of persons with disabilities. Lastly, he wished to know what measures had been taken to include disability issues in the national programme for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Mr. Buntan said that he would appreciate information on the legal status of Braille; steps taken to ensure that it was legally recognized as a script; and measures taken to oblige public broadcasters to use accessible modes, means and formats of communication, including audio description, captioning and Easy Read. He wondered whether the State party had taken any steps towards the ratification and effective implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. He would also like to know more about the Government’s understanding of inclusive education and about any plans it had to develop a more inclusive education system.
Mr. Martin asked whether public information, including information on health care, was available in accessible formats, such as Braille, sign language and Easy Read versions, and what training was provided for health professionals on the rights of persons with disabilities, including persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities. He also enquired whether an Easy Read version of the Government’s guidance on how to vote would be made available.
Mr. Kabue asked what support was provided for couples with disabilities, particularly those without employment or a stable income, to enable them to live independently; whether sign language interpreting for individual students was available in tertiary education establishments; what the Committee for Training and Employing Persons with Disabilities had achieved; and whether there was an independent mechanism, involving organizations of persons with disabilities, that was responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Convention.
Mr. Chaker enquired how many hours of television broadcasting were accompanied by sign language interpreting and whether information on government programmes and policies was available in sign language.
Mr. Basharu (Country Rapporteur) asked what measures had been taken to address the low level of employment among persons with disabilities, especially women, and to provide compensation and protection for migrant workers with disabilities, especially domestic workers subject to the kafalah system. Noting that the voting arrangements described in paragraph 228 of the report violated the principle of voting secrecy, he enquired what steps would be taken to address that shortcoming.
Mr. Rukhledev asked whether there were State-run programmes to enable persons with disabilities, especially children, to participate in sports and to ensure access to creative, cultural and tourist activities for such persons.
Mr. Ishikawa said that he would like to know whether children with disabilities had access to inclusive education in local mainstream schools; whether children with disabilities living in rural areas had access to primary and secondary education; and whether textbooks in accessible formats, including Braille, were available in schools for blind children. He also wondered whether voting materials were available in Braille.
Mr. Pyaneandee said that he would appreciate more information on the appointment of members to the Oman Human Rights Commission, the composition and powers of the Commission and the measures that would be taken to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities in its work. Commending the State party on its achievements thus far, he invited the delegation to identify three areas in which further progress could be made in ensuring respect for the rights of persons with disabilities.
Mr. Tatić said that he would like to know what measures would be taken to reduce the comparatively high rate of illiteracy among women and girls with disabilities. He also wondered how many persons with disabilities had set up their own businesses as a result of the incentives introduced by the Government. Lastly, he would be interested in learning more about the steps taken to ensure that cultural sites and tourist attractions were accessible to persons with disabilities.
The meeting was suspended at 11.20 a.m. and resumed at 11.40 a.m.
Mr. Al Farsi (Oman) said that the Government had made significant progress in recent years with regard to health services for persons with disabilities. Government programmes designed to identify visual and hearing impairments in children had been rolled out in schools, covering over 99 per cent of schoolchildren. A programme for the provision of free cochlear implants had been launched in 2016. Cataract screening and surgery services for adults were available free of charge throughout the country. Treatment for bone malformations detected in schools was available in four governorates and would soon be offered throughout the country. In partnership with a private company, the Government had been able to increase the availability of prostheses, and the number of doctors and other medical staff specializing in prosthetics had increased in recent years. The Government recognized the urgent need to ensure that health professionals had the skills required to meet the needs of persons with disabilities and was working with the private sector and civil society organizations to set up training programmes. The Omani Autism Association provided training for the parents of children with autism, including advice on how best to approach their children’s education. The Association had also launched an innovative initiative to develop the speech abilities of children with autism by teaching them to recite verses from the Qur’an.
With regard to disability-related research and statistics, universities associations and the Government had begun to conduct studies on the challenges faced by persons with disabilities. For example, in 2013 a study had been conducted on the extra living costs borne by the families of children with autism. The results of the study had been disseminated to all Government ministries to help guide the formulation of policies designed to mitigate the financial and social burden such families faced. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Development provided support for the integration of children with autism into society and financial assistance for their families.
Mr. Al Adawi (Oman) said that human rights agencies, Government ministries and intellectual property organizations in Oman were currently taking stock of what would be required to enable Oman to accede to the Marrakesh Treaty, the provisions of which the Government had begun implementing in the meantime.
Mr. Al Mutawa (Oman) said that persons with disabilities seeking employment were treated the same as candidates without disabilities and were recruited on the basis of competence. A study conducted by the Ministry of Labour had revealed that difficulty in performing certain tasks in the workplace was one of the main obstacles to employment in the private sector for persons with disabilities. The Government had therefore set up programmes designed to make those tasks more disability-friendly. In addition, private companies had begun collaborating in programmes designed to provide training and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, and the Ministry of Labour had begun providing employment counselling for persons with disabilities. Under article 17 of the Labour Code, employers were required to set aside 2 per cent of available positions within their workforce for persons with disabilities and to assist them in finding appropriate work. In addition, a certain proportion of places in vocational training centres were reserved for persons with disabilities. The Government had introduced a register of persons with disabilities seeking work and had set up a working group to assist them in their search. There had been a rise in the number of persons with disabilities in the workforce as a result of the efforts of the Committee for Training and Employing Persons with Disabilities, which had designed hiring incentives for the private sector.
Ms. Asadullah (Oman) said that the booklet published by the Council for Education on the philosophy of education in Oman was the point of reference for the formulation of all education policy. Principle No. 5 of the booklet focused on teaching human rights obligations and touched upon the specific rights of persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities could be fully or partially integrated into mainstream schools. Those who were fully integrated participated in all school activities; those who were partially integrated were taught in special classes for children with mental and intellectual impairments. A centre at the Omar bin al-Khattab Institute for the Blind published textbooks in Braille, which were reviewed on an annual basis. Surveys were carried out on the need for Braille among the population, and the results were used to determine the number of textbooks to be produced. Oman had joined the Arab Literacy Compact, and the Government was striving to achieve full literacy, including among persons with disabilities, by 2024.
All teachers received training in the specific needs of children with sensory, intellectual and mental impairments at the beginning of every school year. Additional training was planned as part of the Government’s ninth five-year plan. Furthermore, a joint programme between the Ministry of Education and the United Nations Children’s Fund was in place to provide training for teachers in how to address the educational needs of children with disabilities who had been fully or partially integrated into mainstream schools. Only the Gulf College currently admitted persons with hearing impairments. The College did not have any sign language interpreters on staff, but the Ministry of Education provided interpreters to accompany students.
Ms. Al Hadi (Oman) said that the National Centre for Statistics and Information carried out nationwide studies and trained its staff in the gathering of data and the generation of statistics. The Centre was preparing to conduct an electronic census in 2020 that would collect information on persons with disabilities, which would then be entered into the databases of the Ministry of Social Development.
Mr. Al Shabibi (Oman) said that the Ministry of Social Development planned to transform its database on persons with disabilities into a national register. The register would include information such as the date of birth, place of residence and record of education of persons with disabilities, as well as information regarding the services used by them. The Ministry would thus be able to draw up a map that displayed the way in which services were used in different parts of the country.
Persons with disabilities were automatically included in all government programmes, including those related to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Many of the questions put by the members of the Committee pertained to the promulgation of disability-specific legislation. However, as all treaties and conventions signed by Oman acquired the force of law in domestic affairs, it was not considered necessary to pass additional legislation on matters covered by those instruments, although, on occasion, laws and regulations were adopted to enshrine certain rights in domestic law.
The “Understand Me” Programme, launched in 2008 to teach and encourage the use of sign language, was open to all and had become very popular. The Government had expanded the programme in cooperation with the Omani Association for Persons with Hearing Impairments, selecting participants whose performance was outstanding to pass accreditation tests with a view to employing them as sign language interpreters. The main television news programme in Oman was broadcast in sign language.
Persons with disabilities were eligible to stand in all elections, including elections to the Consultative Council. Support was made available in polling places to help persons with disabilities to cast their votes independently and confidentially. The Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of the Interior had published guidelines on the services and information that election organizers must provide in polling places to facilitate voting by persons with disabilities.
Sporting activities for persons with disabilities were now coordinated under the newly established Ministry of Sports Affairs. The limited number of disability-friendly sports facilities remained an obstacle, but progress had been made in that regard. For example, sports clubs and cultural and social societies for hard-of-hearing persons had been established and provided with the necessary facilities to allow them to enjoy their activities fully. Many sporting programmes incorporated elements of rehabilitation, helping persons with disabilities to integrate into the community and enjoy recreational activities from an early age. The Ministry of Sports Affairs had set up a programme in the Governorate of Dakhiliyah in cooperation with the Omani Olympic Committee with a view to selecting persons with disabilities to compete in regional and international sporting competitions.
Ms. Asadullah (Oman) said that the Ministry of Education was running projects in collaboration with the private sector. One such initiative, the “My Finances, My Future” programme, set up in collaboration with the Injaz-Oman company, sought to imbue students, including those with disabilities, with the entrepreneurial and decision-making skills necessary to establish small-scale privately funded businesses. Other similar projects specifically targeted students who were hard of hearing, many of whom had found employment or established their own enterprises. In addition, Oman had been the first Arab country to launch an Outward Bound programme. Since 2009, “Outward Bound Oman” had been running camps for young people — including persons with hearing and mental disabilities — where they could learn self-reliance and were taught how to face challenges and overcome difficulties in a new environment.
Mr. Al Shidhani (Omani Association for Persons with Hearing Impairments) said that students with hearing disabilities had access to university education, both inside and outside Oman. For example, a number of students had been sent to Gallaudet University in the United States of America and an agreement had been reached for Sultan Qaboos University to integrate students with hearing impairments into its Faculty of Education. Sign language interpretation was provided not only for news broadcasts but also for other television programmes, including religious programming. Health service personnel whose duties brought them into contact with persons with disabilities received training in sign language.
Mr. Al Abri (Oman) said that the National Committee for the Care of Persons with Disabilities was made up of representatives of ministries, NGOs and organizations of persons with disabilities. A technical committee — which also included persons with disabilities and representatives of the Oman Human Rights Commission — monitored the implementation and outcome of the decisions made by the National Committee. The national media reported on all disability-related activities and programmes in Oman — whether run by government authorities, civil society groups or persons with disabilities themselves — as well as on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and the Arab Day for Persons with Disabilities.
Mr. Al Mutawa (Oman) said that domestic workers with disabilities were protected under article 20 of the Basic Law of the State, which prohibited all forms of ill-treatment. The kafalah system was not recognized under the Labour Code, and relations between workers and employers were regulated exclusively by contract. The Ministry of Manpower had set up hotlines for reporting violations. Efforts were made to resolve any disputes amicably. If that was not possible, they were referred to the competent courts.
Mr. Al Amri (Oman) said that the Oman Human Rights Commission had been established by royal decree in 2008 as a mechanism to monitor the implementation of human rights instruments and standards, for the benefit of Omani citizens. The Commission was headed by a Chair and a Vice-Chair appointed by royal decree and comprised members representing the State Council, the Consultative Council, the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the General Federation of Oman Trade Unions, the legal profession and various ministries and civil society groups, including organizations of persons with disabilities. A memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of Social Development and the Oman Human Rights Commission, signed on 2 March 2015, included detailed provisions about their respective roles and duties in the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities in Oman.
Mr. Al Shabibi (Oman) said that married couples with disabilities who had no income were covered by social security and received housing support. The fundamental disability-related challenges Oman was facing remained: detection and classification, information and data, and financial resources.
Mr. Al Farsi (Oman) said that Oman was a multilingual and multicultural country in which the State actively and enthusiastically promoted arts and music. Opportunities to participate in those activities were made available to persons with disabilities.
Mr. Al Kalbani (Oman) said that his delegation had endeavoured to provide a clear and comprehensive picture of the situation of persons with disabilities in Oman. In coming years, the authorities would continue to strive to offer the best possible services to persons with disabilities and to enact appropriate disability legislation that was fully in line with the Convention. He hoped that the next periodic report would show a qualitative improvement in the services provided by government and civil society stakeholders to persons with all types of disability.
Mr. Al Rahbi (Oman) said that he had been pleased to note that the Committee had avoided political issues in its questioning. The objective approach taken by members, and the technical questions they had raised, would help Oman to achieve what both sides were striving for: to enable persons with disabilities to fully exercise their human rights. The Government remained committed to protecting human rights, in keeping with the international instruments Oman had already adopted and those it would adopt in the future.
Mr. Al Hosni (Oman Human Rights Commission) said that he was pleased and reassured to see constant progress and improvement in the laws and services intended to benefit persons with disabilities in Oman. All Omani human rights bodies, including the Human Rights Commission, worked together to monitor progress and detect any human rights violations that might arise within government or society. The Commission had a department that could receive complaints 24 hours a day. Complaints could be submitted in person or by telephone. Outreach to the population was entrusted to working groups within the Commission and enjoyed strong support from the Ministry of Social Development. The Commission was free to intervene directly in certain cases, such as those involving the rights of children, women or persons with disabilities.
In its nine years of existence, the Commission had received only 17 complaints regarding disability. Of those, 11 had been related to health care, 1 to social security, 3 to suitable housing and 2 to education. All those complaints had been taken seriously and addressed promptly by the Commission’s working groups, in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Development and other government departments. The Commission worked with the media to educate the public, in the conviction that increased public awareness about the programmes and services available would greatly facilitate its work in support of persons with disabilities.
Mr. Basharu (Country Rapporteur) said that consultation, participation and inclusion were at the very heart of the Convention. It was important, then, that persons with disabilities, as rights holders and citizens, should be part of a constructive discussion on how to plan their own lives. It was clear that education remained a key concern of persons with disabilities in Oman. Many children with disabilities had no access to education, especially in rural areas where parents feared that their daughters with disabilities might suffer abuse. The Government should invest a sizable amount of its budget in promoting inclusive education at all levels for children with disabilities, including deaf persons, and in teacher training. In addition, the Government should take steps to ensure that the national budget was inclusive of disability matters across all ministries, departments and agencies in order to ensure that persons with disabilities were guaranteed full access to education, employment, health services and social protection.
The meeting rose at 1.05 p.m.