Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hot Topic: States of Emergency in Oman

The recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus commonly known as “swine flu” has caused massive disruption to many countries, including widespread school, business and government closings. Globally, many travelers have faced restrictions, heightened screening procedures and even quarantine. In Oman, passengers at Muscat International Airport are now being screened for increased body temperature which can be a sign of the virus. All of this leads to the question of what laws would apply if Oman were to experience a pandemic of H1N1 or another public health emergency.

Last year, the government issued the Law on State of Emergency, Royal Decree 75 of 2008, which would come into effect if a public health or other disaster happens in Oman. In particular, the law sets out the circumstances under which the government may declare a state of emergency, who makes the declaration and what additional authority the government may exercise in order to respond to the emergency.

First, the law provides that the state of emergency may be declared when the security and public order is subject to a dangerous situation. This may include any situation posing a threat to society or state security. Examples of such situations include:

  • • War or threat of war;
  • • Internal criminal disturbances;
  • • Public calamity; or
  • • The spread of an epidemic or plague.
The state of emergency declaration is made through a Royal Order specifying the emergency situation, the area covered and the date of effect.

Second, the law requires the National Security Council to issue orders to protect safety and public order. It also provides additional authority to the government to respond to the emergency. For example, during the state of emergency the National Security Council may issue orders to the Royal Oman Police to take the following emergency response measures:
  • • Restrict individual liberties and rights to move, reside, and pass through specific locations at certain times;
  • • Take into custody anyone threatening public order;
  • • Specify timings and require closure of public places;
  • • Monitor all kinds of correspondence and information, and seize, confiscate, or destroy the correspondence and information;
  • • Evacuate or isolate certain regions, including by closing roads;
  • • Temporarily acquire any property;
  • • Utilize services of any person, depending on the functions that are required in the situation; and
  • • Prohibit employees from leaving work.
The law provides that the government will give reasonable remuneration if it temporarily acquires property or utilizes the services of any person to respond to the emergency.

Lastly, the law states that the Royal Oman Police shall have the authority to implement the orders issued by the National Security Council. If circumstances warrant, the National Security Council may present recommendations to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said to use the services of the Sultan Armed Forces to execute the orders.

Oman has not been subject to any widespread outbreak of H1N1 virus, nor has a Royal Order declared a state of emergency since the law was issued in 2008.