Oman issues law to fight human trafficking

Wed Dec 3, 2008 11:18am EST
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MUSCAT (Reuters) - Oman's sultan has created a law against human trafficking, an official at the royal court said on Wednesday, five months after a U.S. report said the Gulf Arab state was failing to stop "modern day slavery."

Under Sultan Qaboos bin Said's new law, people convicted of human trafficking can now face up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 rials ($260,000), the official told Reuters. There was previously no law against human trafficking.

Earlier this year, Oman formally protested against a U.S. State Department report that ranked the sultanate, along with fellow Gulf states Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, among the worst in failing to combat human trafficking.

Human rights groups say migrant laborers going to work in Gulf Arab states face serious abuses, such as having their passports confiscated by employers, or being recruited under false pretences.

Since the 1970s expatriate workers have formed the backbone of the economies of U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states such as Oman.

Foreigners comprise about a quarter of Oman's 2.8 million population. They make up about a third of Saudi Arabia's population, about two-thirds of that of Kuwait and more than 80 percent in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Last month, the United Arab Emirates uncovered a people smuggling ring involved in transporting people from Asia to Europe. In 2007, Dubai police cracked a prostitution network involving 170 women from East Asia.

In 2006, the UAE passed the Arab world's first law aimed at combating trade in people, with penalties ranging from five years to life in jail. In January, Bahrain, which has a free trade pact with Washington, issued its own law.

(Reporting by Saleh al-Shaibany; Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Catherine Bosley)