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Angola

Executive Summary

Angola is a constitutional republic. In August 2017 the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola party won presidential and legislative elections with 61 percent of the vote. The ruling party’s presidential candidate Joao Lourenco took the oath of office for a five-year term in September 2017, and the party retained a supermajority in the National Assembly. Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. The Constitutional Court rejected opposition parties’ legal petitions alleging irregularities during the provincial-level vote count and a lack of transparent decision making by the National Electoral Commission.

The national police, controlled by the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for internal security and law enforcement. The Criminal Investigation Services, also under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for preventing and investigating domestic crimes. The Expatriate and Migration Services and the Border Guard Police within the Ministry of Interior are responsible for law enforcement relating to migration. The state intelligence and security service reports to the presidency and investigates state security matters. The Angolan Armed Forces are responsible for external security but also have domestic security responsibilities, including border security, expulsion of irregular migrants, and small-scale actions against groups such as the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda separatists in Cabinda. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government security forces; forced disappearance; cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence or unjustified arrests against journalists and criminal libel laws; interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.

The government took significant steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses as well as those who were involved in corruption. Nevertheless, accountability for human rights abuses was limited due to a lack of checks and balances, lack of institutional capacity, a culture of impunity, and government corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

The government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings and sometimes used excessive force in maintaining stability. The national police and Angolan Armed Forces have internal mechanisms to investigate security force abuses.

On January 30, the National Police reported that in the village of Cafunfo, a rich diamond area in Lunda Norte Province, 300 individuals armed with sticks, machetes, and firearms tried to forcibly enter a police station. This provoked local police to use deadly force resulting in six deaths, 20 injured, and more than two dozen arrests. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media sources framed the attack as a peaceful demonstration protesting the lack of access to water, education, and social services and reported much higher (unsubstantiated) death tolls. The group was organized by the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement, which seeks independence for the region. The government viewed the clash as an armed insurrection and justified the use of force in self-defense.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

On January 30, following clashes between protesters and security forces in Cafunfo, there were varying reports of missing persons. The opposition parties National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE), and Partido de Renovacao Social (Social Renewal Party) reported 10 persons missing. Amnesty International released unconfirmed reports alleging many missing activists were killed and their bodies thrown into the Cuango River. A respected journalist who visited Cafunfo between March and June reported that six persons involved in the clash were missing.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but the government did not always enforce these prohibitions.

Periodic reports continued of beatings and other abuses both on the way to and inside police stations during interrogations. The government acknowledged that at times members of the security forces used excessive force when apprehending individuals. Police authorities openly condemned some acts of violence or excessive force against individuals and asked that victims report abuses to the national police or the Office of the Public Defender.

On April 17, the Movement of Angolan Students (MEA) organized a protest against increased public university fees. According to the students, police dispersed demonstrators with tear gas and beatings. In a press note, MEA’s national secretary Laurindo Mande accused the police of violence against the students that resulted in 20 injuries and several detentions.

On July 1, a group of teachers in the city of Uige staged a protest demanding paid leave and back pay for examination subsidies they alleged had not been paid since 2019. Protest organizers reported that police used tear gas and violence to disperse the crowd, resulting in several injuries, three of which were serious; 12 teachers and one journalist were detained by police, and several demonstrators had their property seized or destroyed.

Security forces sometimes used excessive force when enforcing restrictions to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has held security forces accountable for these abuses in several cases and provided some training to reform the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, a lack of medical care, corruption, and violence.

Physical Conditions: Prisons had a total capacity for 21,000 inmates but held approximately 25,000 inmates, with approximately 10,000 of those inmates held in pretrial detention. The prison system held an excessive number of prisoners in pretrial detention due to a backlog of criminal cases in the court system.

Authorities frequently held pretrial detainees with sentenced inmates. Authorities also held short-term detainees with those serving long-term sentences for violent crimes, especially in provincial prisons. Inmates who were unable to pay court-ordered fines remained in prison after completing their sentence or while awaiting release warrants issued by higher courts. Many prisoners were held in pretrial detention longer than permitted under law, which ranges from four to 14 months depending on the severity and complexity of the alleged crime. Some offenders, including violent offenders, reported paying fines and bribes to secure their freedom, but it was unclear how prevalent this practice was.

On April 26, the director of the Nkiende penitentiary in Mbanza Congo, Zaire Province, said that the facility was overcrowded with more than double its capacity of 250 inmates and was housing 511 persons at the time.

Prison conditions varied widely between urban and rural areas. Prisons in rural areas were less crowded and had better rehabilitation, training, and reintegration services. There were no reports of deaths in prisons, but there were reports of inmates getting sick due to the poor conditions of the prisons, including with COVID-19. Prisons did not always provide adequate medical care, sanitation, potable water, or food, and it was customary for families to bring food to prisoners. Local NGOs stated prison services were insufficient.

In Caboxa jail, Bengo Province, there were reports from inmates and their relatives of episodes of violence against inmates that included beatings. There were also reports that jail officials forbade family members from bringing food and toiletries, relegating inmates to purchase provisions from a small shop inside the jail. Those without money faced illness and malnutrition. Bengo provincial officials disputed these claims, noting the jail had its own poultry and livestock farm.

On May 12, the Multisectorial Commission for Prevention and Combat of COVID-19 in Cuando Cubango Province reported that there were 284 positive cases in the jail in Menongue, the provincial capital. The jail was built to accommodate 500 inmates but held more than 800. The authorities isolated the site for institutional quarantine and released those who had already served their sentences.

Administration: The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prisons by independent local and international human rights observers and foreign diplomats. Nevertheless, civil society organizations faced difficulties in contacting detainees, and prison authorities undermined civil society work in the prisons by impeding their ability to enter the prisons.

Members of opposition parties visited prisons around the country on a regular basis and reported uneven improvements in living conditions and rehabilitation programs. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, ministry representatives made monthly visits to detention centers with representatives of the Office of the Public Defender, the Attorney General’s Office, and members of the National Assembly to assess prisoners’ living conditions. Members of the National Assembly conducted independent visits to prisons. On May 13, parliamentarians visited Luzia jail in Lunda Sul Province, where inmates complained about several cases of excessively long pretrial detention.

Improvements: The COVID-19 vaccination campaign covered facilities in Bengo, Lunda-Sul, and Huambo provinces. On August 24, approximately 900 inmates were vaccinated in Caboxa jail.

During the year seven videoconference rooms, called Virtual Parlors, were installed in three jails in Luanda and in one in Bengo allowing inmates to have virtual contact with their relatives and lawyers. The UN Development Program financed the project, implemented by the Human Rights Center of the Catholic University and the Penitentiary Services.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces did not always respect these prohibitions. The constitution provides the right of habeas corpus to citizens to challenge their detention before a court.

According to several NGO and civil society sources, police arbitrarily arrested individuals without due process and routinely detained persons who participated, or were about to participate, in antigovernment protests, although the constitution protects the right to protest. While they often released detainees after a few hours, police at times charged them with crimes.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires a magistrate or judge to issue a warrant before an arrest may be made, although a person caught committing an offense may be arrested immediately without a warrant. Authorities, however, did not always procure warrants before making an arrest.

By law prosecutors must inform detainees of the legal basis for their detention within 48 hours. NGO sources reported authorities often did not respect the law. If prosecutors are unable to determine whether there is a legal basis for the detention within 48 hours, prosecutors have the authority to release the person from detention. Depending on the seriousness of the case, prosecutors may require the detained person to submit to one or more pretrial procedures prescribed by law, such as posting bail, periodic appearance before authorities, or house arrest.

If prosecutors determine a legal basis exists for the detention, a detained person may be held in pretrial detention for up to four months without charge and up to 12 months before a judge is required to rule on the matter. Cases of special complexity regarding crimes for which conviction is punishable by eight or more years allow for pretrial detention without charge for up to six months, and up to 14 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. By law the period of pretrial detention counts as time served in fulfillment of a sentence of imprisonment.

The law states that all detainees have the right to a lawyer, either chosen by them or appointed by the government on a pro bono basis. The lack of lawyers in certain provinces at times impeded the right to a lawyer. There was an insufficient number to handle the volume of criminal cases, and the geographic distribution of lawyers was a problem, since most lawyers were concentrated in Luanda. Lawyers and NGOs noted that even in Luanda, most poor defendants did not have access to lawyers during their first appearance before a judicial authority or during their trial. When a lawyer is unavailable, a judge may appoint a clerk of the court to represent the defendant, but clerks of the court often lacked the necessary training to provide an adequate defense.

A functioning but ineffective bail system, widely used for minor crimes, existed. Prisoners and their families reported that prison officials demanded bribes to release prisoners.

The law allows family members prompt access to detainees, but prison officials occasionally ignored this right or made it conditional upon payment of a bribe. The law allows detainees to be held incommunicado for up to 48 hours until being presented to a public prosecutor, except they may communicate with their lawyer or a family member.

In March 2020 prison authorities suspended all visits to detainees and inmates due to the “state of emergency” for COVID-19. Prison officials allowed lawyers to visit clients and allowed relatives to receive information about family members in custody. The suspension of visits continued through May 2020 when the subsequent “state of calamity” entered into force. A presidential decree published in May 2020 provided that visits to inmates were allowed on three occasions over the following two months for separate classes of inmates. Subsequent updates to the “state of calamity” did not mention visits to prisons. During the year there were no additional provisions that allowed families to visit their relatives in prison.

Arbitrary Arrest: During the year there were instances in which security forces reacted violently to public demonstrations against the government and detained protesters. The visible presence of security forces was enough to deter significantly what the government deemed unlawful demonstrations.

On August 21, 17 protesters were detained in Luena, the capital of Moxico Province, during a protest against the high cost of living and lack of adequate schools in the region. They were released the same day.

On August 30, a group of approximately 20 activists were prevented from demonstrating in front of parliament against a bill under discussion regarding the electoral rules for the upcoming electoral processes. Several protesters were detained, including the youth leader of the Democratic Block party, Adilson Manuel.

Pretrial Detention: Excessively long pretrial detention continued to be a serious problem. An inadequate number of judges and poor communication among authorities contributed to the problem. In some cases authorities held inmates in prison for up to five years in pretrial detention. The government often did not release detainees confined beyond the legal time limit, claiming previous releases of pretrial detainees had resulted in an increase in crime.

The director general of the penitentiary service, Bernardo Gurgel, recognized during a visit to Malanje jails that there were several irregularities. Among them were excessive pretrial detentions; delays in release warrants; and delays in decisions for parole due to administrative difficulties faced by the Malanje court.

A deputy attorney general said the Caboxa jail, in Bengo Province, held 18 inmates beyond the period of pretrial detention. The jail also held several prisoners who had served their sentences and awaited a release warrant.

On April 26, the deputy attorney general in Zaire Province said the Nkiende jail in Mbanza Congo held more than 20 detainees beyond the pretrial detention period.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary. The judicial system was affected by institutional weaknesses, including political influence in the decision-making process. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the Attorney General’s Office worked to improve the independence of prosecutors and judges. The National Institute for Judicial Studies conducted capacity-building programs to foster the independence of the judicial system.

There were long trial delays at the Supreme Court, in part because the court remained the only appellate court in the country. A 2015 law established another level of appellate courts to reduce delays. Three of these courts were inaugurated in Luanda, Benguela, and Lubango, and judges and personnel were recruited but were not operating at year’s end. Criminal courts also had a large backlog of cases that resulted in major delays in hearings. In July a bill was approved to add 10 more judges to the Supreme Court, bringing the total to 31, to help address the backlog of more than 4,300 cases before the criminal, civil, and labor chambers of the court.

Informal courts remained the principal institutions through which citizens resolved civil conflicts in rural areas, such as disputes over a bartering deal. Each community in which informal courts were located established local rules, creating disparities in how similar cases were resolved from one community to the next. Traditional community leaders (known as sobas) also heard and decided local civil cases. Sobas do not have the authority to resolve criminal cases, which only courts may hear.

Both the national police and the Angolan Armed Forces have internal court systems that generally remained closed to outside scrutiny. Although members of these organizations may be tried under their internal regulations, cases that include violations of criminal or civil laws may also fall under the jurisdiction of provincial courts. Both the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights have civilian oversight responsibilities over military courts.

Trial Procedures

Although the law provides all citizens the right to a fair trial, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Authorities must inform defendants of the charges levied against them in detail within 48 hours of their detention. Defendants have the right to free language interpretation during all legal proceedings, from the moment of being charged through the close of all appeals.

In February the procedural penal code approved by the National Assembly in the previous year came into force. It clarifies the roles of each party in the judicial process, introduces rules to hasten judicial processes, and provides new procedural rules for both claimants and defendants.

By law trials are usually public, although each court has the right to close proceedings. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney, either chosen by them or appointed by the state, in a timely manner. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, all public defenders are licensed lawyers. Defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers. They may question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law protects defendants from providing self-incriminating testimony. Individuals have the right to appeal their convictions. Authorities did not always respect these trial procedure rights.

A separate juvenile court hears cases of minors between the ages of 12 and 16 accused of committing a criminal offense. Minors older than 16 accused of committing a criminal offense are tried in regular courts. In many rural municipalities, there is no provision for juvenile courts, so offenders as young as 12 may be tried as adults. In many cases traditional leaders have state authority to resolve disputes and determine punishments for civil offenses, including offenses committed by juveniles. The constitution defines traditional authorities as ad hoc units of the state.

The president appoints Supreme Court justices for life terms without confirmation by the National Assembly. The Supreme Court generally hears cases concerning alleged political and security crimes.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

On February 9, the Criminal Investigation Services arrested Jose Mateus Zecamutchima, leader of the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement, after being summoned in the aftermath of the January 30 protest in Cafunfo that led to clashes between members of the movement and security forces. The charges against Zecamutchima included instigating the events that led to the January 30 clash. He was held for seven months before being formally indicted for the crimes of outrage to national symbols and criminal association. Media reports viewed his detention as politically motivated, while the government claimed his separatist speeches led to the gathering and resulting violent clash on January 30.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Damages for human rights abuses may be sought in provincial courts and appealed to the Supreme Court. The new procedural penal code that entered into force in February allows victims of human rights abuses to seek compensation from the state. The rules provide that the state must compensate victims who are illegally detained or arrested, are under excessively long pretrial detention, are not released in due time against a legal provision or a court decision, or are victims of a gross judicial error. Public agents responsible for actions that abuse human rights should in turn compensate the state.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit the arbitrary or unlawful interference of privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. Civil organizations and politically active individuals, including government critics, members of opposition parties, and journalists, complained that the government monitored their activities and membership. These groups also frequently complained of threats and harassment based on their affiliations with groups that were purportedly or explicitly antigovernment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government did not always respect this right. State media continued to be the primary source for news and generally reflected a progovernment view. Individuals were increasingly able to use private media and social media platforms to openly criticize government policies and practices. Reporting on corruption was the primary reason for attacks against journalists, which occurred with impunity.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals reported practicing self-censorship but generally were able to criticize government policies without fear of direct reprisal. Social media was widely used in the larger cities and provided an open forum for discussion.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: In May the government ordered three television stations to cease broadcasting all content and accused the stations of failing to register properly. This further solidified government control of the country’s television stations, as several other private media outlets returned to state control in 2020 following a state corruption investigation conclusion that the outlets had been illegally funded with public funds through individuals with ties to former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Journalists and opposition parties said the seizure of the media outlets would limit independent journalism leading up to national elections in 2022. The government argued that the seized companies were in poor economic shape and needed to be restructured before offering them for sale to investors under the government’s privatization program.

Transmission licenses are granted by the minister of telecommunication, technology, and media. Journalists criticized the cost of licenses and said high costs impeded media pluralism and the emergence of new players. The base license to operate a television station was $1.4 million, while a radio license cost $136,000. Journalists also criticized the opacity of the process used by the government to grant transmission licenses.

Journalists routinely complained of lack of transparency and communication from government press offices and other government officials.

The president appoints the leadership of all major state-owned media outlets, and state control of these outlets often led to one-sided reporting. State news outlets, including Angolan Public Television (TPA), Radio Nacional, and the Jornal de Angola newspaper, favored the ruling party but increased their coverage of opposition political parties’ perspectives, as well as of social problems reflecting poor governance. TPA broadcast plenary sessions of the National Assembly live, including interventions by opposition parties. TPA also invited opposition politicians and civil society members to comment live on stories featured on nightly newscasts, but private stations were prohibited from filming parliament. Opposition parties received less overall coverage on state media than the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party, and it was often difficult to distinguish between communications of the government and those of the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported more incidents of violence or harassment compared with the previous year.

In March an editor of a weekly newspaper was held for questioning and a criminal case was opened against him after he published an article critical of President Lourenco. In April a reporter for Radio Despertar, an opposition-run media outlet, was arrested for covering antieviction protests. He was held for five days, and his equipment was retained by authorities.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Regulatory Entity for Social Communication (ERCA) is a body composed of 11 counselors designated by political parties represented in the parliament, the government, and journalists. ERCA’s responsibility is to safeguard press freedom and lawful media activity and to issue regulations and decisions on those issues. Journalists and opposition political parties criticized ERCA for being controlled by the ruling MPLA and for issuing regulations that favored the government.

The Ethics and Credentialing Commission (ECC) is a body exclusively composed of journalists that is authorized to license and delicense journalists. In July the Ministry of Telecommunications, Technology, and Social Communication opened an office to support ECC operations. As of October any media outlets allowing a journalist to work without the credential faced a fine of approximately 23,100 kwanza ($42 dollars), which was approximately a journalist’s monthly salary. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship for political and financial reasons.

The minister of social communication, the spokesperson of the presidency, and the national director of information maintained significant decision-making authority over media. It was commonly understood these individuals actively vetted news stories in the state-controlled print, television, and radio media and exercised considerable authority over some privately owned outlets. State-controlled media rarely published or broadcast stories critical of the ruling party, government officials, or government policies. Coverage critical of the previous government of Jose Eduardo dos Santos and of senior-level officials who had been dismissed on allegations of corruption increased significantly during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a crime punishable by imprisonment or a fine. Unlike cases in which defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, defendants in defamation cases have the burden of proving their innocence by providing evidence of the validity of the allegedly damaging material.

Several journalists in print media, radio, and political blogs faced libel and defamation lawsuits. Journalists complained the government used libel laws to limit their ability to report on corruption and nepotistic practices, while the government assessed that some journalists abused their positions and published inaccurate stories regarding government officials without verifying the facts or providing the accused with the right of reply.

In April defamation charges were brought against an editor and founder of a privately owned newspaper in Benguela. During the year criminal defamation charges were also brought against editors of several news outlets that had published articles on government corruption. In July government officials filed charges of defamation against two journalists after they reported on government corruption. An editor of an online news outlet was convicted of criminal defamation after he published articles on land appropriation and government corruption.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly and association, and the government sometimes respected these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law requires written notification to the local administrator and police three days before public assemblies are to be held. The law does not require government permission to hold public assemblies, but it permits authorities to restrict or stop assemblies in public spaces within 109 yards of public, military, detention, diplomatic, or consular buildings for security reasons. The law also requires public assemblies to start after 7 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

Several civil rights groups challenged the 1991 law on freedom of assembly by holding unannounced protests. The groups said the law restricts the fundamental right to assembly granted by the 2010 constitution and refused to inform the authorities in advance about the time and location of protests and public assemblies.

The government permitted demonstrations, including antigovernment protests, but at times prohibited events based on perceived or claimed security considerations. Police and administrators did not interfere with progovernment gatherings. Politically unaffiliated groups intending to criticize the government or government leaders often encountered the presence of police who prevented them from holding their event or limited their march route. In such cases authorities claimed the timing or venue requested was problematic, that proper authorities had not been notified, or that COVID-19 protocols could not accommodate the request.

Freedom of Association

Extensive delays in the NGO registration process continued to be a problem. NGOs that had not yet received registration were allowed to operate. At times the government arbitrarily restricted the activities of associations it considered subversive by refusing to grant permits for projects and other activities. Authorities generally permitted opposition parties to organize and hold meetings.

A 2012 law and a 2002 presidential decree regulate NGOs. Despite civil society complaints that requirements were vague, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights actively provided information on registration requirements.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government at times restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: Document checkpoints in domestic airports and on roads throughout the country were common. Reports by local NGOs suggested that, despite an incremental drop in cases, some police officers continued to extort money from civilians at checkpoints and during regular traffic stops. Reports from the diamond-mining provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul indicated some government agents restricted the movements of local communities.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

During the year, due to a severe, prolonged drought in the southern provinces, approximately 15,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) congregated around feeding centers in Cunene, Huila, and Namibe Provinces. As of late September the centers and camps were not organized or managed but consisted of organic congregations of persons numbering up to 2,000 in one location.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government had not fully implemented the law. The law provides specific procedures for the submission of an asylum application and guidance on the determination of refugee status. UNHCR and several NGOs, however, reported that asylum seekers did not have a mechanism to apply for or resolve their status. A 2015 law changed the role of the Committee for the Recognition of the Right to Asylum, the prior implementing mechanism to identify, verify, and legalize asylum seekers, to that of an advisory board. The government had not put into practice a mechanism to adjudicate asylum cases in the committee’s place. The law also authorized the creation of reception centers for refugees and asylum seekers where they were to receive assistance until the government decides on their cases, but the government had not yet established these centers.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: There were reports throughout the year that Lunda Norte provincial authorities exerted pressure on irregular migrants to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The International Organization for Migration recorded more than 8,000 irregular migrants returning from Angola to the DRC in August and September. Departing irregular migrants often did not have access to water or shelter during their journey on foot to the border and were at risk of human rights abuses, including gender-based violence. The government permitted two female refugees within the irregular migrant group to remain in Angola. The government failed to provide adequate protection for asylum seekers and urban refugees in this area.

In 2018 security forces launched Operation Rescue, a nationwide law enforcement campaign to address violent crime, illegal migration, unlicensed commercial and religious activity, and road accidents. The campaign affected both legal and undocumented migrants, refugees, and stateless persons who relied on the informal markets to make a living, as job opportunities were limited and the law prohibits refugees from operating businesses. One NGO said Operation Rescue had not ended and the problems associated with the operation continued.

Under the law authorities should issue refugee cards with a five-year validity. According to UNHCR the government had not issued or renewed refugee cards since 2015, and no refugee possessed an unexpired, government-issued refugee card during the year. The minister of interior told UN officials that the government would begin to fully implement the law when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. Refugees reported a general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge concerning the rights it was intended to safeguard.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees reported restrictions on freedom of movement in Lunda Norte Province. Police arbitrarily arrested or detained refugees and confiscated or destroyed their registration documents during periodic roundups, particularly in Dundo, the provincial capital. Refugees also reported periodic restrictions on freedom of movement from their resettlement site in Lovua, Lunda Norte Province, and cited such restrictions as a factor motivating them to return to the DRC.

Employment: The law does not allow refugees to work and restricted refugees from obtaining business licenses. A regulation restricted refugees from obtaining the business license required to own and operate a business. Refugees often faced difficulty obtaining employment due to their inability to obtain legal documents required to work in the formal sector. Authorities continued to harass asylum seekers and refugees working in the informal market.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with recognized refugee status could at times obtain public services. The government had not implemented key elements of the 2015 asylum law, such as refugee and asylum seekers’ access to basic services and issuance of documents, including new or renewed refugee cards and birth certificates for refugees’ children born in the country. UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees, however, reported that urban refugees were unable to obtain legal documents and at times faced difficulty accessing public services such as health care and education. Corruption by officials compounded these difficulties. Lack of documentation or expired documentation prevented refugees from owning land or vehicles in their name, purchasing cellular SIM cards, obtaining business licenses, and accessing education beyond primary school.

Durable Solutions: In 2020 the government cooperated with UNHCR and supported an organized voluntary repatriation of 2,912 refugees from Lunda Norte to the DRC. As of August 31, according to UNHCR, 6,801 refugees remained at its Lovua, Lunda Norte, resettlement camp. The government through the Migration and Foreigners Service and the Ministry of Social Action, Family, and Women’s Promotion (Ministry of Social Assistance) participated in the screening phase to ensure that those to be repatriated were refugees, processed the related repatriation documentation, facilitated family reunification for the purpose of returning, verified that those returning were on the Voluntary Repatriation (VolRep) manifest, and signed the VolRep manifest at the borders for handover to counterparts on the DRC side. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed further repatriation convoys.

g. Stateless Persons

The government estimated there were more than 12 million unregistered citizens in the country. Children of undocumented foreign parents born in the country may fall into a stateless status if the parents are unable to register them.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2017 the government held presidential and legislative elections, which the ruling MPLA won with 61 percent of the vote, and the country inaugurated MPLA party candidate Joao Lourenco as its third president since independence. The MPLA retained its 68 percent supermajority in the National Assembly in the 2017 elections; however, opposition parties increased their representation by winning 32 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 20 percent in the 2012 elections.

Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. Opposition parties complained to the Constitutional Court regarding aspects of the electoral process, including the National Electoral Commission’s lack of transparent decision making on key election procedures and perceived irregularities during the provincial-level vote count.

The central government appoints provincial governors. Local government elections, originally planned to take place in 2020, faced a series of delays from legislative processes, procedural debates, and the COVID-19 pandemic. During the year President Lourenco proposed a constitutional amendment providing for local government elections to be implemented across the nation. In September the National Assembly passed the law, but no date was set for the elections. Opposition parties and civil society criticized the government for failing to provide a prospective date for the municipal elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ruling MPLA party dominated all political institutions. Political power was concentrated in the presidency and the Council of Ministers, through which the president exercised executive power. The Council of Ministers largely determines which legislative proposals are submitted to the National Assembly for approval. The National Assembly consists of 220 deputies elected under a party list proportional representation system. The National Assembly has the authority to draft, debate, and pass legislation, but the executive branch often proposed and drafted legislation for the assembly’s approval.

Political parties must be represented in all 18 provinces, but only the MPLA, UNITA, and CASA-CE, to a lesser extent, had truly national constituencies. By law no political party may limit party membership based on ethnicity, race, or gender.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups, including persons with disabilities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; and indigenous persons, in the political process, and they did participate. Of the 220 deputies in the national assembly, 65, or 30 percent, were women, up from 27 percent for the last three years. Four of 18, or 22 percent, of provincial governors were women, which was double the number from both 2018 and 2019, and seven of 21, or 33 percent, of cabinet ministers were women, down from 38 percent in 2018 and 2019. The country has multiple linguistic groups, many of which were represented in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government implemented the law effectively. The government dismissed and prosecuted cabinet ministers, provincial governors, senior military officers, and other officials for corruption and financial crimes. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The Attorney General’s Office continued corruption investigations and brought criminal charges against several officials. Nonetheless, official impunity and the uniform application of anticorruption legislation remained a serious problem.

Corruption: In April authorities sentenced the minister of social communications under former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Manuel Rabelais, to 14 years and six months in prison for embezzlement and money laundering committed in a foreign exchange scheme between 2016 and 2017.

In late May President Lourenco dismissed his minister of state and seven other high-level military officials following the arrest of a military major attempting to leave the country with two suitcases full of money. In June 2020 other provincial government and military officials in Cuando Cubango were also detained as part of the same investigation.

In July Attorney General Helder Pitta Gros announced in a press conference that the government had been able to freeze more than 550 billion kwanza (one billion dollars) that had been stolen and deposited in foreign banks. He noted that the funds would be repatriated following legal proceedings.

Carlos Manuel de Sao Vicente, former head of the insurance company AAA Seguros, remained in custody after a September 2020 arrest for alleged money laundering.

On September 21, the former chairman of the board of directors of the Luanda Collective and Urban Transport Company, Abel Antonio Cosme, was extradited by Portugal to the country. Although he was released from custody on September 29 after paying more than nine million kwanza ($16,500) in bail, his extradition was the first of its type to the country for corruption charges.

Laws and regulations regarding conflict of interest exist, but they were not enforced. Petty corruption among police, teachers, and other government employees was widespread. Police extorted money from citizens and refugees, and prison officials extorted money from family members of inmates.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country. Some groups investigating government corruption and human rights abuses alleged government interference in their activities, particularly in provinces outside of Luanda. Civil society organizations faced fewer difficulties in contacting detainees than in previous years, and prison authorities permitted civil society work in the prisons, but COVID-19 preventive measures forced limited access by some civil society groups.

The law requires NGOs to specify their mandate and areas of activity. The government used this provision to prevent or discourage established NGOs from engaging in certain activities, especially those that the government deemed politically sensitive.

The government allowed local NGOs to carry out human rights-related work, but many NGOs reported they were forced to limit the scope of their work because they faced problems registering, were subjected to subtle forms of intimidation, and risked more serious forms of harassment and closure.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state-funded Interministerial Commission for the Writing of Human Rights Reports included representatives from various government ministries. Leading civil society members decided not to participate on the commission because they did not believe the commission was independent or effective.

The 10th Commission on Human Rights of the National Assembly is charged with investigating citizen complaints of alleged human rights violations and makes recommendations to the National Assembly.

An Office of the Ombudsman, with a national jurisdiction, existed to mediate between an aggrieved public, including prisoners, and an offending public office or institution. The office had representative offices open in the provinces of Cabinda, Kwanza-Sul, Cunene, Huambo, and Luanda. It had neither decision-making nor adjudicative powers but helped citizens obtain access to justice, advised government entities on citizen rights, and published reports. These reports are presented annually to the National Assembly. The ombudsman is elected by the National Assembly.

During the year the government began the implementation and training of local human rights committees at the provincial, municipal, and communal levels. These committees were composed of government representatives, civil society members, journalists, religious representatives, and traditional authorities. The committees are tasked with gathering information and reporting monthly on human rights issues within their area.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape and intimate partner rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years’ imprisonment if convicted, depending on aggravating situations. Limited investigative resources, poor forensic capabilities, and an ineffective judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights worked with the Ministry of Interior to increase the number of female police officers and to improve police response to rape allegations.

The law criminalizes domestic violence and penalizes offenders with prison sentences of up to eight years and monetary fines, depending on the severity of their crime. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights maintained a program with the Angolan Bar Association to give free legal assistance to abused women and established counseling centers to help families cope with domestic abuse.

According to the Ministry of Social Assistance, from January to August there were 639 reports of family-based violence, of which 588 victims were women. Reports decreased significantly from 2020, which reported more than 1,000 cases through May. Prosecutions were reportedly rare. In October the ministry joined an education campaign started by musician Sarissari called “Silencio Mata” (Silence Kills), which aimed to raise the awareness of domestic violence in the country.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were anecdotal reports that some communities abused women and children due to accusations the latter practiced witchcraft. The Ministry of Culture and the National Institute for Children (INAC) had educational initiatives and emergency programs to assist children accused of witchcraft.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common and not illegal. It may be prosecuted, however, under assault and battery and defamation statutes.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Persons living in rural areas faced more barriers to access of sexual and reproductive health services and postabortion emergency services than urban dwellers due to a lack of resources and health programs in those areas. According to 2015-16 World Health Organization (WHO) data, 62 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 made their own informed decisions regarding reproductive health care, contraceptive use, and sexual relations. Some cultural views, such as that women have a responsibility to bear children, and religious objections to using contraception limited access to reproductive health services. The WHO reported there were four nursing and midwifery personnel per 10,000 inhabitants in the country (2010-18 data). For survivors of sexual violence, the law on domestic violence provides for legal and medical assistance, access to shelter spaces, and priority care assistance to obtain legal evidence of the crime. Emergency contraception was available as clinical management of rape.

According to a 2017 WHO report, the country’s maternal mortality rate was 241 deaths per 100,000 live births, which was a significant reduction from 431 deaths in 2007 and 827 deaths in 2000. High maternal mortality was due to inadequate access to health facilities before, during, and after giving birth, a lack of skilled obstetric care, and early pregnancy. The WHO data reported a high adolescent birth rate of 163 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19. A UN Population Fund report found that six of 10 teenage girls who abandoned school did so due to pregnancy. According to 2010-19 data, 30 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. UNICEF reported in 2016 that 50 percent of births in the country were attended by skilled health personnel.

According to an official in the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor, and Social Security, lack of running water and sanitary facilities at some schools disproportionately affected teenage girls, causing them to not attend school for several days each month while they are having their period. The cumulative effect of lost class time was detrimental to their success in school, leading struggling students to drop out and enter the work force.

Discrimination: Under the constitution and law, women enjoy the same rights and legal status as men. The government, however, did not enforce the law effectively, and societal discrimination against women remained a problem, particularly in rural areas. Customary law prevailed over civil law, particularly in rural areas, and at times had a negative effect on a woman’s legal right to inherit property.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work, although women generally held low-level positions. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations and industries compared to men, including in jobs deemed hazardous, factory jobs, and those in the mining, agriculture, and energy sectors. The Ministry of Social Assistance led an interministerial information campaign on women’s rights and domestic abuse and hosted national, provincial, and municipal workshops and training sessions.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The penal code revision that took effect in February has several provisions that criminalize discrimination based on skin color, race, and ethnicity. The Human Rights National Plan 2020-2022 contains policies to mitigate racial discrimination. Reports of racial or ethnic violence were rare.

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution does not specifically refer to the rights of indigenous persons, and no specific law protects their rights and ecosystems. One NGO estimated that 14,000 members of the San indigenous group scattered among the southern provinces of Huila, Cunene, Cuando Cubango, and Moxico suffered discrimination and lacked adequate access to basic government services, including medical care, education, and identification cards.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from one’s parents. The government does not register all births immediately. According to the 2014 census, approximately 13.7 million citizens (46 percent of the population) lacked birth registration documents. Since 2019 the government’s birth registration and identity document campaign provided 1.9 million persons with their first identity documents. During the year the government continued programs to improve the rate of birth registration through on-site registries located in maternity hospitals in all 18 provinces with a campaign called “Born with Registration.” The government also trained midwives in rural areas to complete temporary registration documents for subsequent conversion into official birth certificates. The government permitted children to attend school without birth registration, but only through the sixth grade.

Education: Education is tuition-free and compulsory for documented children through the ninth grade. Students in public schools often faced significant additional expenses such as books or irregular fees paid directly to education officials to guarantee a place. When parents were unable to pay the fees, their children were often unable to attend school. The Ministry of Education estimated that one to two million children did not attend school because of a shortage of teachers and schools.

There were reports that parents, especially in more rural areas, were more likely to send boys to school rather than girls. According to UNESCO, enrollment rates were higher for boys than for girls, especially at the secondary level.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Reports of physical abuse within the family were commonplace, and local officials largely tolerated abuse due to lack of capacity within institutions to provide appropriate care. The Ministry of Social Assistance offers programs for child abuse victims and other vulnerable children. Nevertheless, nationwide implementation of such programs remained a problem.

In 2020 INAC launched a hotline called “SOS Child” to report violence against children. INAC reported that between June 2020 and June, the hotline received 4,274 reports of sexual violence against children.

According to the local UNICEF office, there were reports that more than 50,000 children suffered from some form of child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage with parental consent is 15 for girls and 16 for boys. The government did not enforce this restriction effectively, and the traditional age of marriage among lower income groups coincided with the onset of puberty. According to UNICEF, 6 percent of men between the ages of 20 and 24 were married or in union before the age of 18, 30 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married or in union by the age of 18, and 7 percent of women between the age of 20 and 24 were married or in union by the age of 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children is illegal. Police did not actively enforce laws against commercial sexual exploitation, and local NGOs expressed concern regarding the sexual exploitation of children. The law prohibits the use of children to produce pornography; however, it does not prohibit the procuring or offering of a child for the production of pornography, or the use, procuring, or offering of a child for pornographic performances.

Sexual relations between an adult and a child younger than 12 are considered rape, and conviction carries a potential penalty of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment. Sexual relations with a child between the ages of 12 and 17 are considered sexual abuse and convicted offenders may receive sentences from two to eight years in prison. The legal age for consensual sex is 18. Limited investigative resources and an inadequate judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. There were reports of prosecutions during the year.

Displaced Children: Extreme poverty and the economic decline during recent years led to an increase in the number of children living on the street, especially in urban areas of the capital. These children, estimated to number from the hundreds to several thousand, did not have access to health care or education, often resorted to begging or trash picking for survival, and lived in conditions placing them at great risk for exploitation. During the year INAC met with former street children to better understand the problem and to formulate a plan to address the growing issue.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is a Jewish community of approximately 350 persons, primarily resident Israelis. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. The constitution grants persons with disabilities full rights without restriction and calls on the government to adopt national policies to prevent disability; treat, rehabilitate, and integrate persons with disabilities; to support their families; remove obstacles to their mobility; educate society regarding disability; and encourage learning and training opportunities for persons with disabilities.

The law requires changes to public buildings, transportation, and communications to increase accessibility for persons with disabilities. The law also institutes a quota system to encourage the public and private sectors to employ more persons with disabilities, with the public-sector quota at 4 percent of total employees and the private-sector quota set at 2 percent. Civil society organizations and persons with disabilities, however, reported the government failed to enforce the law, and significant barriers to access remained.

The government official responsible for overseeing programs to promote inclusion for persons with disabilities acknowledged that both the private and public sectors failed to meet the quota system established by law. The Angolan Disabled Persons National Association, an NGO that promotes the rights of persons with disabilities, said in a March interview that discrimination, physical, and psychological barriers impeded persons with disabilities from having access to work, education, and public transportation.

Persons with disabilities included more than 80,000 survivors of land mines and other explosive remnants of war. According to the 2014 census, there were 656,258 persons with disabilities in the country. Because of limited government resources and uneven availability, only 30 percent of such persons were able to take advantage of state-provided services such as physical rehabilitation, schooling, training, or counseling.

Persons with disabilities found it difficult to access public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to find employment or participate in the education system. Women with disabilities were reported to be vulnerable to sexual abuse and abandonment when pregnant. The Ministry of Social Assistance sought to address problems facing persons with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, and several government entities supported programs to assist individuals disabled by landmine incidents.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against those with HIV or AIDS is illegal, but lack of enforcement allowed employers to discriminate against persons with HIV. There were no media reports of violence against persons with HIV. Reports from local and international health NGOs suggested discrimination against persons with HIV was common. The government’s National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS included sensitivity and antidiscrimination training for its employees when they test and counsel HIV patients.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination but does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity. On February 11, changes to the penal code took effect that decriminalize same-sex sexual relations and criminalize acts of violence or discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation. Transgender and intersex persons are not specifically covered in the new legislation, nor does it recognize same-sex marriage, leading to problems in adoption and family planning, accompanying family into health-care facilities, and obtaining appropriate identity documents.

Local NGOs reported that LGBTQI+ persons faced violence, discrimination, and harassment. The government, through its health agencies, instituted a series of initiatives to decrease discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons.

Discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons was rarely reported, and when reported, LGBTQI+ persons asserted that sometimes police refused to register their grievances. The Ministry of Health continued to collaborate with the National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS to improve access to health services and sexual education for the LGBTQI+ community.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except members of the armed forces, police, firefighters, members of sovereign bodies, and public prosecutors to form and join independent unions. To establish a trade union, at least 30 percent of workers in an economic sector in a province must follow a registration process and obtain authorization from government officials. The law provides for the right to collective bargaining except in the civil service. The law prohibits strikes by members of the armed forces, police, prosecutors and magistrates of the Attorney General’s Office, prison staff, fire fighters, public-sector employees providing “essential services,” and oil workers. Essential services are broadly defined, including the transport sector, communications, waste management and treatment, and fuel distribution. In exceptional circumstances involving national interests, authorities have the power to requisition workers in the essential services sector. The law does not explicitly prohibit employer interference with union activity.

While the law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference, it also places some restrictions on their ability to strike. Before engaging in a strike, workers must negotiate with their employer for at least 20 days prior to a work stoppage. Should they fail to negotiate, the government may deny the right to strike. The government may intervene in labor disputes that affect national security and energy sectors. Collective labor disputes are to be settled through compulsory arbitration by the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor, and Social Security (Ministry of Labor). The law prohibits employer retribution against strikers, but it does not contain effective measures to deter such retribution. The law permits the government to force workers back to work for “breaches of worker discipline” or participation in unauthorized strikes. Nonetheless, the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and stipulates that worker complaints should be adjudicated in the labor court. The Ministry of Labor had a hotline and two service centers in Luanda for workers who believed their rights had been violated. By law employers are required to reinstate workers who have been dismissed for union activities.

During the year there were several strikes in the public and private sector over disputes between employers and workers. There were also allegations of retribution against strikers during the year. On August 9, workers of the National Company of Electricity Distribution (ENDE) went on strike to demand better working conditions and for an increase in salary and benefits. Union delegates reported that ENDE threatened to fire workers if they joined the strike, in particular workers hired within the last two years.

The government generally did not effectively enforce labor laws. Labor courts functioned but were overburdened by a backlog of cases and inadequate resources. The law provides for penalties for violations of the law and labor contracts, which are commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, but the penalties were not an effective deterrent due to the inefficient functioning of the courts.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not generally respected. Government approval is required to form and join unions, which were hampered by membership and legalization issues. Labor unions, independent of those run by the government, worked to increase their influence, but the ruling MPLA party dominated the labor movement because of its historical close relationship with labor unions and from the strong financial base of the nation’s largest union, of which the MPLA is a part.

The government was the country’s largest employer, and the Ministry of Labor mandated government worker wages with no negotiation with the unions. In September 2020 President Joao Lourenco created an advisory body, the Economic and Social Council, with 45 members representing large sectors of the country’s society but did not include labor representatives. Public-sector labor unions used strikes and protests to advance labor rights. For example, in May a group of public-sector labor unions began a strike in four provinces to protest salaries that the unions said had remained too low for 10 years. In September the Angola Union of Justice Clerks announced a general strike over staff shortages, salary stagnation, and working conditions. After the government agreed to start negotiations with these groups, the unions called off the strikes.

On July 30, municipal and provincial judges and public prosecutors protested in Luanda and Malanje Provinces against the deterioration of working conditions and benefit cuts, including health insurance. The president of the National Union of Public Prosecutors said that although the law did not allow them to strike, they would use protests and other means to pressure the government to solve their problems.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and sets penalties commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law due in part to an insufficient number of inspectors and to systemic corruption.

Forced labor of men and women occurred in fisheries, agriculture, construction, domestic service, and artisanal diamond-mining sectors, particularly in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul Provinces. Migrant workers were subject to seizure of passports, threats, denial of food, and confinement. Forced child labor occurred (see section 7.c.).

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment (age 14), which applies to all sectors. To obtain an employment contract, the law requires youth to submit evidence they are 14 or older. Children may work from age 14 to age 18 with parental permission, or without parental consent if they are married, and the work does not interfere with schooling or harm the physical, mental, and moral development of the minor. Children ages 14 to 16 may work no more than six hours per day or 34 hours per week; children ages 16 to 18 may work up to seven hours per day or 39 hours per week. Children are also prohibited from working between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. and are prohibited from performing shift work. The law also allows orphan children who want to work to get official permission in the form of a letter from “an appropriate institution,” but it does not specify the type of institution. The Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Social Assistance, Ministry of Interior, INAC, and the national police are responsible for enforcement of child labor laws.

In August the Council of Ministers approved a redesigned National Action Plan for the Eradication of Child Labor for 2021-2025 with the goal of combatting and preventing child labor through social assistance, education, victim advocacy, and finance the enforcement and prosecution of child labor.

The government did not effectively monitor the large informal sector, where most child labor occurred. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The government did not consistently enforce the law, and child labor remained a problem, especially in the informal sector. Between January and March, INAC registered more than 3,000 cases of hazardous child labor on farms involving the handling of chemicals, stones, and bricks, as well as working as street vendors and beggars, and reported the cases to law enforcement but acknowledged that the real number was likely much higher. The Ministry of Labor has oversight of formal work sites in all 18 provinces, but it was unknown whether inspectors examined the age of workers or conditions of work sites. If the ministry determined a business was using child labor, it transferred the case to the Ministry of Interior to investigate and possibly press charges. It was not known whether the government fined any businesses for using child labor.

Child labor occurred in agriculture on family and commercial farms as well as in fishing, brick making, artisanal diamond mining, charcoal production, domestic labor, construction, and street vending. Exploitive labor practices included involvement in the sale, transport, and offloading of goods in ports and across border posts. Children were forced to work as couriers in the illegal cross-border trade with Namibia. Adult criminals sometimes used children for forced criminal activity, since the justice system prohibits minors younger than 12 from being tried in court.

Street work by children was common, especially in the provinces of Luanda, Benguela, Huambo, Huila, and Kwanza Sul. Investigators found children working in the streets of Luanda. Most of these children shined shoes, washed cars, carried water and other goods, or engaged in other informal labor, but some resorted to petty crime and begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred as well (see section 6).

The incidence of child labor increased in the southern provinces due to a severe drought. In Cunene Province, children were forced to leave school and work as herders or dig wells and fetch water. The drought and the accompanying economic devastation increased the risk of exploitation of vulnerable persons in the province; one NGO in Cunene said the drought led many boys to seek work in urban areas and led girls to engage in commercial sexual exploitation.

The government, through INAC, worked to create, train, and strengthen child protection networks at the provincial and municipal levels in all 18 provinces. No central mechanism existed to track cases or provide statistics. The government also dedicated resources to the expansion of educational and livelihood opportunities for children and their families.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, ethnic origin, country origin and social condition, religion, political opinion, union membership, disability, or language, and the government in general effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. The International Labor Organization, however, noted the law did not clearly define discrimination. The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination, although it does not specifically address HIV or AIDS status, sexual orientation, or gender identity (see section 6). The law provides for equal pay for equal work, but gender pay disparities in the country existed. The law provides that both employers and workers are treated with respect, but there were no provisions prohibiting harassment in the workplace. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations considered dangerous, in factories, and in industries such as mining, agriculture, and energy.

The law provides working mothers nine weeks of maternity leave and four weeks of prematernity leave before childbirth and one day of leave each month in the next 15 weeks after the birth, while working fathers receive leave on the day of the child’s birth.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, although penalties, when applied, were commensurate with those for other laws related to civil rights. There were no known prosecutions of official or private-sector gender-based discrimination in employment or occupation. Persons with disabilities found it difficult to gain access to public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to participate in the education system and thus find employment. In 2020 there were reports that persons with albinism experienced discrimination in employment and access to public services. In the past there were also complaints of discrimination against foreign workers. There were no known prosecutions for discrimination in employment. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: A minimum wage for the formal sector exists and varies by sector. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights raised concerns regarding the wide disparities of minimum wage by sector and the possibility this may undervalue work in female-dominated sectors. The lowest minimum wage was for agricultural work and was set below the UN Development Program’s official line of poverty. The minimum wage for the formal sector may be updated annually or when the government assesses economic conditions warrant. The minimum wage had not been updated since 2019. The minimum wage law does not cover workers in informal sectors, such as street vendors and subsistence farmers.

The standard workweek in the private sector is 44 hours, while in the public sector it is 37 hours. In both sectors the law mandates at least one unbroken period of 24 hours of rest per week. In the private sector, when employees engage in shift work or a variable weekly schedule, they may work up to 54 hours per week before the employer must pay overtime. In the formal sector, there is a prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, defined as more than two hours a day, 40 hours a month, or 200 hours a year. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. By law employers must provide, at a minimum, a bonus amounting to 50 percent of monthly salary to employees each year in December and an annual vacation. The law does not cover domestic workers, but a 2016 presidential decree extended some protections and enforcement standards to domestic workers. Workweek standards were not enforced unless employees filed a formal complaint with the Ministry of Labor. The law protects foreign workers with permanent legal status or a temporary work visa.

The government effectively enforced the minimum wage law within the formal labor sector, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar infractions. The Ministry of Labor is charged with implementing and enforcing the law. An insufficient number of adequately trained labor inspectors hampered enforcement efforts. Inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, but some companies received advance warning of impending labor inspections.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards are required for all sectors of the economy. Employees have the right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions without jeopardy to their employment. The government did not always proactively enforce occupational safety and health standards nor investigate private company operations unless complaints were made by NGOs and labor unions. Inspections were reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020 there were 1,151 labor accidents that caused the death or serious injury of workers.

Informal Sector: As much as 80 percent of the workforce was employed in the informal economy. The rate was higher in rural areas than urban areas (93 and 67 percent, respectively). Even in the country’s rapidly growing urban areas, self-employed informal workers provided essential services such as water, food, and transportation. Other common types of informal work included agriculture, commerce and trading, domestic work, security guards, and raising cattle. The government began job skills training programs to reduce informal employment, as well as efforts to reduce barriers to formalization and promote greater awareness of the advantages and protection that come with the formalization.

Government regulation and closure of market stalls during COVID-19 forced many informal workers to set up shop in the streets, apartment building entrances, or their own doorsteps to sell food, handcrafts such as leather sandals, furniture, and imported goods. Informal markets were the main source of food goods for most of the population. Informal money changers operated a parallel financial system to exchange weak local currency for dollars. This practice was not as widespread as years past due to the devaluation of the kwanza, which reduced the gap between the official and unofficial exchange rates. Some informal-sector workers joined unions, such as the National Federation of Unions of Food Industry, Commerce, and Hotels. Most workers in the informal sector were not covered by wage or occupational safety standards or social protections.

Brazil

Executive Summary

Brazil is a constitutional, multiparty republic governed by a democratically elected government. In 2018 voters chose the president, the vice president, and the bicameral national legislature in elections that international observers reported were free and fair.

The three national police forces – the Federal Police, Federal Highway Police, and Federal Railway Police – have domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (Ministry of Justice). There are two distinct units within the state police forces: the civil police, which performs an investigative role, and the military police, charged with maintaining law and order in the states and the Federal District. Despite the name, military police forces report to the Ministry of Justice, not the Ministry of Defense. The armed forces also have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; violence against journalists; widespread acts of corruption by officials; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of racial minorities, human rights and environmental activists, members of racial and indigenous groups and other traditional populations, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.

The government prosecuted officials who committed abuses; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces was a problem, and an inefficient judicial process at times delayed justice for perpetrators as well as for victims.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were numerous reports that state-level civil and military police committed unlawful killings. In some cases police employed indiscriminate force. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Brazilian Public Security Forum reported that police killed 6,416 persons nationwide in 2020, compared with 6,351 persons in 2019 – only a 0.3 percent increase but the highest number of deaths ever recorded. During the year 17 of the 26 states saw increases. Experts attributed the growth in police lethality in many communities to a multitude of factors, including worsened economic conditions and high unemployment, declines in mental health, prisoner releases, rises in gun ownership, police forces heavily impacted by COVID-19 illnesses, and an increase in confrontations with organized crime. Data for the first half of the year largely indicated that numbers declined 8 percent in violent deaths in the first six months of the year, compared with the same period in 2020. Those killed included criminal suspects, civilians, and narcotics traffickers who engaged in violence against police. Accordingly, the extent of unlawful police killings was difficult to determine. The Federal Public Ministry and Federal Prosecutor’s Office, as well as state-level public ministries, investigate whether security force killings are justifiable and pursue prosecutions.

According to some civil society organizations, victims of police violence throughout the country were overwhelmingly young Afro-Brazilian men. The Brazilian Public Security Forum reported that almost 79 percent of the persons killed by police in 2020 were Black, compared with 56 percent of the country’s population that is Black.

Notably, in 2020 Rio de Janeiro State experienced a 32 percent decline in killings by police due to a June 2020 Federal Supreme Court (STF) injunction on police operations in Rio de Janeiro’s poorer communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, except in rare cases with preauthorization. Although as of August the injunction remained in effect, Rio de Janeiro saw increases in uses of lethal force by police during the first half of the year compared with 2020. In the city of Rio de Janeiro, most deaths occurred while police were conducting operations against narcotics trafficking gangs wielding military-style weapons in the more than 1,000 informal housing settlements (favelas), where an estimated 1.4 million persons lived. NGOs in Rio de Janeiro questioned whether all the victims actually resisted arrest, as police had reported and alleged that police often employed unnecessary force.

According to the Public Institute of Public Security, 804 persons died in Rio de Janeiro State from police interventions in favela communities in the first six months of the year, a 3.3 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020 (778) and a 9 percent decrease compared with 2019 (885). An August study by the Center of Studies on Public Security and Citizenship revealed that Rio de Janeiro’s Civil and Military Police conducted a total of 507 operations in the first six months of the year, a 32 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020.

According to a survey carried out by researchers at Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF), at the request of the news outlet UOL, operations to combat drug trafficking (1,200), disputes between criminal groups (482), and retaliation for killing or attacking security agents (380) were the major motivators of police violence during the last 14 years. A second UFF survey assigned one of five ratings (disastrous, inefficient, slightly efficient, reasonably efficient, or efficient) by considering several factors such as the impacts of operations (e.g., dead, wounded, or imprisoned; the strategic and judicial motivations that justified them; and seizures, whether of weapons, drugs, cargo, or vehicles.) In the survey an “efficient” operation was one that took place through judicial and investigative procedures, complied with search or arrest warrants, resulted in a significant number of seizures (especially of weapons), and did not kill or injure persons. Analysis of the resulting data determined that only 1.7 percent of police operations in the slums of Rio de Janeiro from 2007 to 2020 met the criteria of “efficient,” and an additional 13 percent were rated “reasonably efficient.” Meanwhile, 40 percent were labeled “slightly efficient,” 32 percent were “inefficient,” and 12.5 percent were “disastrous.”

According to media reports and public officials, Rio de Janeiro experienced its deadliest police confrontation in the city’s history during a May 6 operation led by the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police’s Coordinator of Special Assets (CORE) and involving 200 police officers. CORE officers led an action against the criminal organization Comando Vermelho in the Jacarezinho neighborhood in the North Zone of the city when they encountered a blockade and heavy fire from armed groups. The operation resulted in the deaths of 28 individuals, including one police officer. Autopsy reports of the 27 civilians killed indicated that at least four victims were shot in the back at a distance of less than three feet, supporting local residents’ and public officials’ allegations that some of these killings were summary executions by CORE officers. Human rights advocates and some investigators assessed as credible reports that some of the criminal suspects, after being shot by police, were denied lifesaving first aid and medical care – a violation of Civil Police regulations and recognized human rights norms. The state’s Civil Police and Attorney General’s Offices were investigating the case. On October 18, a Rio de Janeiro judge accepted the criminal case against two CORE officers, Douglas de Lucena Peixoto Siquera and Anderson Silveira, for the death of Omar Pereira de Silva, who was already injured when he was killed. The officers were charged with murder and procedural fraud and fraud, respectively, after they allegedly planted weapons at the crime scene. The judge ordered the officers’ removal from CORE operations, prohibited them from carrying out police activities, and ordered that they have no contact with any witness in the case. Finally, the judge instructed that the Civil Police transfer their investigation to the state court.

The number of deaths resulting from military and civil police operations in the state of Sao Paulo from January to June decreased 33 percent, compared with the same period in 2020. According to the Sao Paulo state government, military and civil police reported 345 deaths from January to June – and 514 in the same period in 2020. Security authorities attributed the reduction in lethality in part to the use of bodycams by Military Police officers. This initiative started in the beginning of June when there were no killings reported among the battalions equipped with the technology (a total of 15 battalions of 134 plus three special units).

In March the Sao Paulo Committee for the Prevention of Homicide in Adolescence of the State Legislative Assembly, in partnership with UNICEF, released a report showing that from January 2015 to December 2020, 1,253 children and adolescents (age 19 years or younger) died as a result of police intervention in the State of Sao Paulo. Children and adolescents represented 24 percent of total victims’ deaths from police intervention.

A special report produced in April by the news agency G1 and based on the Monitor of Violence database, a collaboration between G1, the University of Sao Paulo’s Violence Study Nucleus, and the Brazilian Public Security Forum to study all types of violence in in the country, showed a 29 percent increase in the number of killings by Parana state police force operations between 2019 (289) and 2020 (373). Analysis of the first six months of 2021 showed a 14 percent increase, compared with the same period of 2020, with 210 deaths – a state record.

In the state of Santa Catarina, the number of persons killed by police forces increased 9 percent in 2020, compared with 2019, according to the Brazilian Public Security Forum data released in April.

In the state of Bahia, the use of lethal force by police increased by 47 percent in 2020 compared with 2019, but a July study by the Public Security Observatory Network showed a decline in deaths resulting from police intervention during the first five months of 2021. At the time of the study, Bahia counted 29 deaths from police intervention, a 36 percent decrease, compared with the same period in 2020.

In June, Rio de Janeiro’s Attorney General’s Office filed a criminal complaint against 13 police officers from the Battalion to Repress Conflicts (CHOQUE) on charges of altering a crime scene by removing the victims’ bodies. The charges stemmed from the investigation of a 2019 operation against drug trafficking by two military police battalions – the Police Special Operations Battalion and CHOQUE – in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro that resulted in 13 deaths. Military police reported that all the victims were criminals; however, human rights organizations claimed the victims offered no resistance and that many were shot in the back. An investigation by Rio de Janeiro’s military police concluded that evidence was insufficient to prove that any crimes were committed. In November 2019 the Civil Police Homicide Division recommended that the case be closed and that none of the investigated police officers be held accountable for killings. As of August the case remained open, but no suspects had been arrested and no trial date had been set.

In July the Sao Paulo State Military Police command asked for preventive detention of three police officers after images from a security camera contradicted their version of events concerning the death of a driver during an interaction in Sao Paulo. While the officers claimed the man was killed in a confrontation, the footage showed what appeared to be an execution, and the footage suggested police further tampered with the scene and falsely reported the location of the action. The case was pending trial as of October.

In June investigations into the killing of 14-year-old Joao Pedro Matos Pinto led to the indictment of three officers from Rio de Janeiro’s CORE. The teenager was killed in May 2020 after he sought shelter in his home in Rio de Janeiro State’s municipality of Sao Goncalo as a police helicopter circled above his neighborhood of Salgueiro searching for a suspect. According to the autopsy report and witness testimonies, police raided Joao Pedro’s home and shot him in the back dozens of times after authorities said they mistook the teenager for the suspect during the joint operation of the Federal Police and CORE. Two CORE officers were charged with manslaughter without intention to kill, and the third was charged with involuntary manslaughter, because although he fired, he did not strike the victim. As of August the defendants had not been suspended from their regular duties and were awaiting a trial date. In the same neighborhood of Sao Goncalo, on August 20, 17-year-old Joao Vitor Santiago was killed as he returned from a fishing trip with a friend in an alleged exchange of fire between Military Police from the Seventh Military Brigade in São Goncalo and drug dealers during an operation. The Homicide Police Station of Niteroi, Sao Goncalo, and Itaborai was investigating the case.

Regarding the investigation of the June 2020 Rio Grande do Sul State shooting that injured Angolan citizen Gilberto Almeida and killed his friend, Dorildes Laurindo, an internal investigation of the Military Brigade indicted the police officers for military crimes and violations of discipline under the military justice system in August 2020, and the officers were placed on administrative duty. In September 2020 the Public Ministry found no intent of killing by the police officers and transferred the case back to the military court for further investigation of a possible crime under the military justice system. As of May, however, the documentation had not been provided to the military prosecutor responsible for the investigation. The State Military Court cited limited personnel and pandemic-related delays to explain the slow progress.

On October 14, Rio de Janeiro’s Military Court of Justice sentenced eight army soldiers from Deodoro’s (a neighborhood located in the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro) First Infantry Motorized Battalion to approximately 30 years in prison for the homicide of Black musician Evaldo Rosa dos Santos and Luciano Macedo, a trash collector, in April 2019. Four other soldiers involved in the operation were acquitted.

Verbal and physical attacks on politicians and candidates, including those by militias and narcotics trafficking criminal organizations, were common. According to a survey by the Center for Security and Citizenship Studies, at least 84 candidates for mayor, deputy mayor, or councilor positions were killed during the 2020 municipal campaigns between January and November 2020. An additional 80 politicians survived attacks with firearms or bladed weapons. Most of these crimes remained unsolved and their motivations unknown.

In the state of Rio de Janeiro, three Duque de Caixas city councilmen were killed in a span of 10 months. As of November 15, investigators had not established that the cases were connected or politically motivated. The killings prompted the installation of security cameras and meetings with the state government to demand the safety of council members and thorough investigations.

In August, President Jair Bolsonaro approved a law to combat political violence against women. The new law defines political violence against women to be any action, conduct, or omission with the purpose of preventing, hindering, or restricting their political rights, not only during elections, but in the exercise of any political or public function.

In July, Rio de Janeiro’s Court of Justice sentenced former military police officer Ronnie Lessa and four other persons to four years in prison for obstructing justice by tossing guns into the ocean, including the suspected murder weapon used in the 2018 killing of gay, Black Rio councilwoman and human rights activist Marielle Franco. On July 10, the lead state investigators of the Marielle Task Force, public prosecutors Simone Sibilio and Leticia Emile, resigned for unconfirmed reasons during a reported dispute over a plea agreement related to the cooperation of a key witness. On July 26, the Rio de Janeiro Attorney General’s Office appointed eight new members to the task force. As of August, Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, both former military police officers with long-standing ties to the militia group Escritorio do Crime (Crime Bureau), were in a federal prison awaiting a trial date.

The NGO Global Witness reported that 20 social, human rights, and environmental activists were killed in 2020, down from 23 killings in 2019. Despite the risk to activists, the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights’ Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Communicators, and Environmentalists remained underfunded. In 2020 the program, which provided protection to more than 600 individuals under threat, received only 21 percent of its projected budget. Press reports described the decrease as a “dismantling” of the program and said that individuals under the protection of the government had once again began receiving threats.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, but there were reports government officials sometimes employed such practices. The law mandates that special police courts exercise jurisdiction over state military police except those charged with “willful crimes against life,” primarily homicide. Police personnel often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitations.

According to the National Council of the Public Ministry, in 2019 there were 2,676 cases of guards and other personnel inflicting bodily harm on prisoners compared with 3,261 cases in 2018.

In June the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) denounced the government for physical, verbal, and psychological aggressions committed against more than 150 adolescents at state-funded Fundacao Casa, a socioeducational center for adolescents in Sao Paulo, between 2015 and 2017. The Sao Paulo Public Defender’s Office made the complaint to the commission because the government “failed to ascertain responsibilities and compensate the victims,” according to a petition sent by the institution to the IACHR. The petition’s documentation, including testimonies and photographs of injuries, narrated recurrent aggressions and torture carried out by employees against the students during the period. The alleged abuses included beatings, intimidation by employees, and isolation without mattresses or personal belongings, with the participation and consent of unit authorities, such as directors and supervisors. The Public Defender’s Office insisted that the remedial actions taken by Fundacao Casa and the state of Sao Paulo, responsible for the guardianship of assisted minors, were not sufficient.

In the city of Rio de Janeiro, six men arrested during a police operation conducted in the Jacarezinho neighborhood on May 6 reported they suffered numerous aggressions and physical assaults following their arrest. The claims included having been tortured, beaten, hit in the head with a rifle, and forced to carry bodies to a police armored vehicle at the Jacarezinho crime scene immediately following the confrontation.

In June a military prosecutor denounced two police officers to the military court in Sao Paulo, Joao Paulo Servato and Ricardo de Morais Lopes, from the 50th Sao Paulo Metropolitan Military Police Battalion, who were filmed in May 2020 holding a Black woman to the ground by stepping on her neck. The woman sustained a fractured leg injury during the incident. The two officers were accused of abuse of authority, aggravated aggression, and ideological falsehood and remained on administrative duties. As of August 1, a trial date had not been set.

On July 29, the Sao Paulo First Criminal Court accepted the case of the Public Prosecutor’s Office against 12 military police officers on charges of intentional homicide of nine young persons during a street music event in the favela of Paraisopolis in 2019.

According to the Military Police Internal Affairs Unit, the inquiry had not been completed in the case of a Rio de Janeiro State military police officer accused of rape in August 2020. As of August the defendant was on administrative duty and awaiting trial.

On June 8, a military court convicted one military police officer of conducting a libidinous act in a military environment and acquitted a second police officer on 2019 charges of rape in Praia Grande, Sao Paulo. Judge Ronaldo Roth of the First Military Audit judged the act was consensual because the victim did not resist. The judge suspended the convicted police officer’s sentence, up to one year in prison. As of September, however, the Public Ministry of Sao Paulo opened an investigation into the friendship between Judge Roth and one of the defendant’s lawyers, Jose Miguel da Silva Junior.

In March 2020 the Military Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation into the 2018 accusations of torture of seven male residents of Rio de Janeiro by federal military officers from Vila Militar’s First Army Division, detained during a 2018 drug-trafficking operation. By March 2020 all seven men had been released after one year and four months in detention. In November 2020 the Military Justice Court in Rio reinstated its ruling to detain the seven men following an appeal by the Military Public Prosecutor’s Office. In response to the claims of torture, the court affirmed there was not sufficient evidence to prove that the military officials had tortured the seven men. According to the Rio de Janeiro Public Defender’s Office, as of October none of the military officers involved in the alleged torture of the seven men had been charged or indicted.

Cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners continued. At the request of the Federal District and Territories Public Prosecutor’s Office, three prison police officers stationed in Brasilia’s Papuda Penitentiary Complex were preventively removed by the Criminal Execution Court on charges of beating two prisoners incarcerated in the Federal District I Prison. The officers also shot detainees inside a cell using a shotgun loaded with rubber bullets. The two events, recorded by security cameras, occurred on April 16. The case was being investigated by the Center for Control and Inspection of the Prison System of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

In July the Military Police carried out Operation Bronze Bull in Belo Horizonte and four other cities to execute 26 search and seizure warrants against 14 police officers to assist in the Public Ministry of Minas Gerais’ investigation into crimes of torture against prisoners at the Nelson Hungary Penitentiary in Minas Gerais in July 2020. The investigation was classified as secret, so few details were publicly available.

The state of Paraiba was ordered to pay 50,000 reais (R$) ($8,950) in compensation for moral damages in the death of an inmate inside the state prison, a victim of violence by other inmates in 2008. The conviction also provided for a monthly pension in the amount of two-thirds of the minimum wage for material damages until the date the deceased would have turned 65 years old and until the date each immediate descendant turned 21.

Impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces at all levels, but especially at the local level, was a problem, and an inefficient judicial process at times delayed justice for perpetrators as well as for victims. Examples of impunity were found in the armed forces and Federal police forces but were most common in the Military Police and Civil Police. Low pay, and the resulting endemic corruption, established an environment where individuals were not consistently held accountable. Furthermore, the overburdened judicial system limited the application of justice and encouraged corruption. The federal and state public ministries, as well as ombudsmen and ethics centers, investigated accusations of impunity. Human rights are included in security forces’ training curricula.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening, mainly due to overcrowding. Abuse by prison guards continued, and poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.

Physical Conditions: According to the National Penitentiary Department, as of 2020 there were 213,022 more prisoners than the system had space to hold, causing overcrowding across the country. Although some states were more overburdened than others, during the year nationally the system was 54.9 percent over capacity, a decrease from the 67.5 percent recorded in 2020. The states of Amazonas and Mato Grosso do Sul experienced the worst overcrowding at 196 and 166 percent, respectively. During 2020, 17,141 additional places were added to increase inmate capacity. Much of the overcrowding was due to the imprisonment of pretrial detainees. According to the news portal G1 in January, 217,687 inmates, or 31.9 percent of detainees, were awaiting trial, a small increase from 31.2 percent in 2020.

In July, as a protest against overcrowding in prisons, the Santa Catarina Union of Penitentiary System Public Agents refused to receive new prisoners. For example, the Vale do Itajai Penitentiary complex, which had a designed total capacity for 1,160 inmates, held 1,523 men, and the prison, designed for 696 inmates, held 1,129. Soon afterward, a state court ordered the Prison Administration Secretariat to require the union to receive new prisoners or pay substantial fines.

Reports of abuse by prison guards continued (see Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment above). Pastoral Carceraria, a prison-monitoring NGO connected to the Catholic Church, reported that torture and prison conditions worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic when prisons closed their doors to visitors to curb the spread of the virus. Between March 15 and October 31, 2020, the organization received 90 allegations of torture within the prison system across the country, compared with 53 cases in the same period in 2019. Complaints of physical torture appeared in 53 of the 90 allegations.

General prison conditions were poor. There was a lack of potable water, inadequate nutrition, food contamination, rat and cockroach infestations, damp and dark cells, a lack of clothing and hygiene items, and poor sanitation. Prisoners also complained of poor access to personal care products and clothing. Prisoners made complaints regarding the right to health and failure to provide adequate medical assistance. General poor prison conditions were further stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but some systems attempted to provide extra support. For example, the state government of Minas Gerais hired additional doctors, nurses, and nursing technicians; by May, 237 prison employees and 200 prisoners in the state had died from COVID-19 and 20,000 employees and 57,000 inmates had been infected. These rates were lower than the general population estimates. As of August, Sao Paulo’s penitentiary system, with a population of 205,000, had experienced 78 inmate deaths from COVID-19.

Prisoners convicted of petty crimes frequently were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required placing convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. In many prisons, including those in the Federal District, officials attempted to separate violent offenders from other inmates and keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population. Multiple sources reported adolescents were held with adults in poor and crowded conditions.

Prisons suffered from insufficient staffing and lack of control over inmates. Violence was rampant in prison facilities. According to the National Penitentiary Department, 209 prisoners were killed while in custody in 2020. In addition to poor administration of the prison system, overcrowding, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence. Media reports indicated that incarcerated leaders of major criminal gangs continued to control their expanding transnational criminal enterprises from inside prisons.

Prison riots were common occurrences. On July 2, inmates rioted in the Romeiro Neto penitentiary in Mage, Baixada Fluminense, in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Led by members of a criminal group called Povo de Israel, the inmates set fire to mattresses and vandalized the prison facility, resulting in injuries to five prisoners. The same group instigated a second prison riot the same day in the Nelson Hungria penitentiary in Bangu, in western part of the city of Rio de Janeiro, but no injuries occurred. As of August the motivation for the two prison riots was unknown.

Administration: State-level ombudsman offices; the National Council of Justice; the National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combat of Torture in the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights; and the National Penitentiary Department in the Ministry of Justice monitored prison and detention center conditions and conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams. The Pastoral Carceraria reported that all religious services remained suspended in the Sao Paulo penitentiary system due to COVID-19 restrictions, which impeded their independent monitoring of sanitary and health conditions and reporting of abuses and physical violence against inmates.

Improvements: Nationally, overcrowding decreased from 68 percent in 2020 to 55 percent, according to the Violence Monitor. Overcrowding declined in 21 states compared with 2020, and 12 states saw decreases two years in a row. Experts suggested that the decrease in the overcrowding rate could be explained by the increase in alternative sentences, noncompliance with prison terms, the increase in open prison sentences, and the opening of new prison spaces.

In July the government of Rio Grande do Sul State established a partnership with the University of Santa Cruz do Sul to offer free distance learning courses to inmates in the Santa Cruz do Sul Regional Prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits arrests to those caught in the act of committing a crime or called for by order of a judicial authority; however, police at times did not respect this prohibition. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed this provision.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Officials must advise persons of their rights at the time of arrest or before taking them into custody for interrogation. The law prohibits use of force during an arrest unless the suspect attempts to escape or resists arrest. According to human rights observers, some detainees complained of physical abuse while being taken into police custody.

Authorities generally respected the constitutional right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. The law permits provisional detention for up to five days under specified conditions during an investigation, but a judge may extend this period. A judge may also order temporary detention for an additional five days for processing. Preventive detention for an initial period of 15 days is permitted if police suspect a detainee may flee the area. Defendants arrested in the act of committing a crime must be charged within 30 days of arrest. Other defendants must be charged within 45 days, although this period may be extended. In cases involving heinous crimes, torture, drug trafficking, and terrorism, pretrial detention could last 30 days with the option to extend for an additional 30 days. Often the period for charging defendants had to be extended because of court backlogs. The law does not provide for a maximum period of pretrial detention, which is decided on a case-by-case basis. Bail was available for most crimes, and defendants facing charges for all, but the most serious crimes have the right to a bail hearing. Prison authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer. Indigent detainees have the right to a lawyer provided by the state. Detainees had prompt access to family members. If detainees are convicted, time in detention before trial is subtracted from their sentences.

Arbitrary Arrest: On June 9, the Niteroi Court of Justice acquitted Luiz Carlos da Costa Justino of all charges brought against him for a 2017 car theft. In September 2020 civil police officers from the Rio de Janeiro 76th Police Station arrested the adolescent after, according to police, the robbery victim identified Justino from a photograph lineup in the police station. According to media outlets, Justino, who was an adolescent at the time of the robbery, did not have a criminal record and therefore police should not have had access to any photographs of him. Video evidence showed that at the time of the crime, Justino, an Afro-Brazilian musician with the Grota String Orchestra in Niteroi, was performing in an event at a bakery located four miles from the crime scene.

Pretrial Detention: According to the Ministry of Justice’s National Penitentiary Department, 32 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial detention. A study conducted by the National Penitentiary Department in 2018 found more than one-half of pretrial detainees in 17 states had been held in pretrial detention for more than 90 days. The study found that 100 percent of pretrial detainees in the states of Sergipe, 91 percent in Alagoas, 84 percent in Parana, and 74 percent in Amazonas had been held for more than 90 days.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Local NGOs, however, argued that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, prevented fair trials.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although NGOs reported that in some rural regions – especially in cases involving land-rights activists – police, prosecutors, and the judiciary were perceived to be more susceptible to external influences, including fear of reprisals. Investigations, prosecutions, and trials in these cases often were delayed.

After an arrest a judge reviews the case, determines whether it should proceed, and assigns the case to a state prosecutor, who decides whether to issue an indictment. Juries hear cases involving capital crimes; judges try those accused of lesser crimes. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be present at their trial, to be promptly informed of charges, not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, to confront and question adverse witnesses, to present their own witnesses and evidence, and to appeal verdicts. Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense but do not have the right to free assistance of an interpreter.

Although the law requires trials be held within a set time, there were millions of backlogged cases at state, federal, and appellate courts, and cases often took many years to be concluded. To reduce the backlog, state and federal courts frequently dismissed old cases without a hearing. While the law provides for the right to counsel, the Ministry of Public Security stated many prisoners could not afford an attorney. The court must furnish a public defender or private attorney at public expense in such cases, but staffing deficits persisted in all states.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens may submit lawsuits before the courts for human rights violations. While the justice system provides for an independent civil judiciary, courts were burdened with backlogs and sometimes subject to corruption, political influence, and indirect intimidation. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Property Seizure and Restitution

Authorities at times evicted persons from their places of residences or seized their property without due process or adequate restitution, although this happened most frequently at the state level and with traditional communities such as quilombolas (maroons). In October the Public Ministry called on a municipal court in Barcarena, Para, to immediately reverse the eviction of a quilombola community from a territory in the municipality as well as moral and material damages and to send the process to the federal courts. The Public Ministry stated the disputed territory, of which the federal state-owned company Development Company of Barcarena claims ownership, is in a recognized quilombola area and was in the process of being titled by the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform.

The government has no laws or mechanisms in place for Holocaust restitution, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported the government had not made progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. The country endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. Persons in the federal government, the Israeli diplomatic mission to Brazil, civil society organizations, and synagogues were unaware of any laws codifying the return of Holocaust-era property to victims. Representatives of the Uniao Brasileiro-Israelita do Bem Estar Social, a nonprofit organization operating in Sao Paulo for more than 95 years, worked with survivors based in the country pursuing claims, but usually those claims were done privately without advocacy or assistance from the government. Representatives of the organization said governmental assistance was primarily of a consular nature, provided to survivors pursuing claims while in Europe.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the law and constitution prohibit warrantless searches, NGOs reported that police occasionally conducted searches without warrants. Human rights groups, other NGOs, and media reported incidents of excessive police searches in poor neighborhoods. During these operations police stopped and questioned persons and searched cars and residences without warrants.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right.

The press maintained a confrontational relationship with the Bolsonaro administration. The press regularly published highly critical reporting on the government’s actions, and President Bolsonaro and members of his administration frequently criticized the press. According to Reporters Without Borders, President Bolsonaro criticized the press 87 times in the first half of the year, verbally or via social media – a 74 percent increase compared with the second half of 2020. Reporters Without Borders included the president in its 37-member “predators of the press freedom” gallery. The organization described the president’s tactics as “predatory methods” that used insults, humiliation, and vulgar threats against primarily women journalists, political analysts, and media networks. Despite these concerns, in general the press continued to operate freely.

In March media reported that police had subpoenaed more than 200 persons to provide depositions and, in some cases, arrested individuals after criticizing the president (including some who called for his assassination) using the 1983 National Security Law that was enacted during the military dictatorship. In February, STF minister Alexandre de Moraes used the same law to order the arrest of Federal Deputy Daniel Silveira for a video Silveira released defending the closing of the STF and expressing support for Institutional Act Number 5, the harshest instrument of repression during the military dictatorship, which removed mandates of antimilitary parliamentarians and suspended constitutional guarantees that eventually resulted in the institutionalization of torture. In September the president approved with five line-item vetoes a bill revoking the National Security Law and adding a series of crimes against democracy to the penal code – criminalizing attacks on national sovereignty, executing a coup d’etat, and spreading fake news during elections.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes killed or subjected to harassment, physical attacks, and threats as a result of their reporting.

On April 4, a man riding a motorcycle fatally shot radio broadcaster Weverton Rabelo Froes in the Fazenda Guaribagion region of Planaltino, Bahia. On April 9, an unknown individual fatally shot television producer Jose Bonfim Pitangueiras in the Engenho Velho da Federacao district in Salvador, Bahia. As of October the Civil Police were investigating both crimes but had not identified a motive or suspect in either killing.

In August a journalist and a blogger were attacked in separate incidents less than one month apart in the municipality of Mage in Rio de Janeiro’s metropolitan area. In early August unidentified men set fire to blogger Eduardo César’s vehicle. Separately, on August 17, unidentified men opened fire on journalist Vinicius Lourenco’s vehicle. Neither victim was injured. Both were known for having previously exposed problems within the administration of Mage mayor Renato Cozolino.

In October the Public Ministry of Roraima State denounced state deputy Jalser Renier for eight crimes in the kidnapping of journalist Romano dos Anjos in October 2020. Renier, who was president of the Roraima state legislative assembly at the time, was charged as the mastermind of the kidnapping, for attempting to hinder the investigation, and for using his position to threaten the Roraima state governor. Eight additional military police officers and a former employee of the political party were also charged.

In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during mass demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: National laws prohibit politically motivated judicial censorship, but there were reports of judicial censorship. In 2019, drawing on previous court precedent and in coordination with the National Police, the STF began using a law against defaming institutions to investigate cases of individuals or press criticizing the court’s members. These investigations expanded to numerous cases of investigating “fake news,” and on August 4, the STF added President Jair Bolsonaro to its investigation for spreading false statements related to the electoral process and the security of electronic voting machines.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental criminal elements at times subjected journalists to violence due to their professional activities.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government generally respected the right of freedom of peaceful assembly, but police occasionally intervened in citizen protests that turned violent.

Several news media reported a clash between protesters and military police officers during a march against President Jair Bolsonaro’s government in Sao Paulo on July 24. Six demonstrators accused of carrying dangerous objects were temporarily detained and released afterwards. Protesters accused police of using excessive force in a peaceful movement, while police accused them of vandalizing public properties.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. By law refugees are provided official documentation, access to legal protection, and access to public services. The law codifies protections for asylum claimants and provides for a humanitarian visa and residency status that serves as an alternative to refugee claims for some categories of regional migrants, particularly from Venezuela.

As of October there were almost 273,000 Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the country who were highly vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor, many of whom arrived in the northern state of Roraima. The country had already officially recognized more than 61,000 refugees, of whom 48,800 were Venezuelans. The government continued the process of “interiorization” of Venezuelan refugees and asylum seekers, voluntarily relocating them from the border to other states to relieve pressure on the resource-strapped state of Roraima and provide increased opportunities for education and work.

In March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government closed its borders, including the border with Venezuela. During the border closure, migrants who arrived irregularly were unable to receive residency paperwork, limiting their ability to access social services and find work. On June 25, the government issued an ordinance permitting Venezuelan nationals to enter Brazil and to regularize their status through applications for asylum and residence permits, including the regularization of status for those who entered irregularly in the prior 15 months. As of October 15, the government had issued 22,033 entry permits pursuant to the ordinance.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: NGOs reported that refugees were susceptible to human trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution and forced labor.

Employment: The interiorization program provided economic opportunities for voluntarily resettled Venezuelans by placing them in economic hubs in larger cities. As of October more than 60,000 Venezuelans had been relocated to cities away from the border. Resettled Venezuelans seeking employment reported difficulty obtaining Brazilian accreditation for foreign academic degrees and professional licenses, restricting their ability to work. Civil society organizations raised concerns that business closures due to COVID-19 disproportionately affected migrants and refugees, many of whom depended on informal jobs or work in the service sector.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In national elections held in 2018, citizens chose former federal deputy Jair Bolsonaro as president and elected 54 senators and 513 federal deputies to the national legislature and 27 governors and state legislators to state governments. National observers and media considered the elections free and fair. Municipal elections in November 2020 saw record numbers of indigenous and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) candidates run and win positions across the country while women made modest gains.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

In August 2020 the Superior Electoral Court decided that publicly provided funds for campaign financing and advertising time on radio and television must be divided proportionally between Black and white candidates in elections. The decision, scheduled to take effect in 2022, was made in response to calls from Afro-Brazilian activists.

The law requires parties and coalitions to have a minimum quota of 30 percent women on the list of candidates for congressional representatives (state and national), mayors, and city council members. By law 20 percent of the political television and radio advertising must be used to encourage female participation in politics. Parties that do not comply with this requirement may be found ineligible to contest elections. In the 2018 elections, some parties fielded the minimum number of female candidates but reportedly did not provide sufficient support for them to campaign effectively. In 2018 the Superior Electoral Court ruled parties must provide a minimum of 30 percent of campaign funds to support the election of female candidates. Women remained underrepresented in elected positions, representing only 15 percent of federal deputies and 13 percent of federal senators.

Using data from Electoral Justice, CNN reported that more than 43,400 politicians, approximately 25 percent, changed their “color/race” declaration on candidacy forms in 2020. More than 17,300 candidates changed their declaration from white to Black or brown, while approximately 14,500 changed from Black or brown to white. Political parties were pressured to include more persons of color, including the establishment of a new electoral rule to provide additional funding and awareness to campaigns of Black and brown candidates. The candidates interviewed cited different reasons for their decisions, such as to correct a previous error or to acknowledge a racial identity they now believed they were empowered to recognize.

Observers reported that militias and drug trafficking organizations interfered in electoral processes by using violence and intimidation to “corral” votes, influence candidate lists, and limit rival candidates’ ability to access and campaign in some highly populated neighborhoods. This interference was particularly significant in municipal and state elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for convictions of corruption by officials and stipulates civil penalties for corruption committed by Brazilian citizens or entities overseas. There were numerous reports of corruption during the year at various levels of government, and delays in judicial proceedings against persons accused of corruption were common, often due to constitutional protections from prosecution for elected officials. This often resulted in de facto impunity for those responsible.

Corruption: The investigation of the Petrobras state oil company embezzlement scandal (Operation Carwash or Lava Jato), which began in 2014, officially ended in February. Despite the operation’s continued popularity with the public, the investigating task force was dissolved after widespread concerns regarding the process and fairness of the prosecutions. Some prosecutors were transferred to the organized crime unit of the Federal Public Ministry to continue their work. During its seven years of existence, Operation Carwash was responsible for 295 arrests and 278 convictions and saw R$ 4.3 billion ($769.6 million) in recovered funds returned to the government.

On April 30, a Rio de Janeiro Special Tribunal voted unanimously to impeach Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel for involvement in the embezzlement scheme related to contracts for COVID-19 response, permanently removing him from office and making him ineligible for public office for five years. The impeachment followed an August 2020 decision by STF Minister Benedito Goncalves to remove Witzel from office for an initial period of 180 days on charges of corruption, money laundering, and obstruction of justice related to his role in a criminal organization that oversaw fraudulent expenditures and contracting in the state’s COVID-19 response.

On April 29, police arrested Marcus Vinicius Rebello Gomes, municipal secretary of health in Itatiaia, Rio de Janeiro State, and four other suspects for their participation in a criminal organization that oversaw fraudulent expenditures and contracting in the city’s COVID-19 response. On June 8, the state’s Court of Justice ruled that Itatiaia Mayor Imbere Moreira Alves, his chief of staff, and three municipal secretaries should be removed from office on corruption charges in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic response in the municipality

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Many domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views. Federal and state officials in many cases sought the aid and cooperation of domestic and international NGOs in addressing human rights problems.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Some local human rights organizations were critical of the Ministry of Human Rights, stating that many positions were either unfilled or filled by individuals who did not support human rights and that the role of civil society in policy discussions had been severely reduced.

The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate had human rights committees and subcommittees that operated without interference and participated in several activities nationwide in coordination with domestic and international human rights organizations. Most states had police ombudsmen, but their accomplishments varied, depending on such factors as funding and outside political pressure.

The government operated several interministerial councils linking civil society to decision makers in the government on a range of human rights topics. Many of their activities were interrupted by the pandemic.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. In addition, the law criminalizes physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women, as well as defamation and damage to property or finances by someone with whom the victim has a marriage, family, or intimate relationship. The law defines femicide as homicide of a woman due to her gender, including but not limited to, homicide that escalated from other forms of domestic violence, discrimination, or contempt for women. The law stipulates a sentence of 12 to 30 years. According to NGOs and official data, there were 1,350 femicides in 2020, compared with 1,326 in 2019. According to the National Council of Justice, the number of new cases involving the killing of a woman rose 39 percent in 2020 to 2,788 cases, and courts imposed sentences in 2,016 cases of femicide in 2020 – a 24 percent decrease from the 2,657 sentences in 2019, due to process difficulties in light of the pandemic. According to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, in cases of femicide, the killer was a partner or former partner of the victim 81.5 percent of the time.

The state of Rio de Janeiro had a total of 42 victims of femicide in the first five months of the year according to the Institute of Public Security. The state of Bahia had 64 cases of femicide in the first six months, according to the Bahian Public Security Secretariat. The Espirito Santo Public Security Secretariat recorded 13 victims in the first five months of the year. The state of Minas Gerais recorded 67 victims of femicide from January to June and 70,450 victims of domestic violence during the same period.

On April 2, justice prosecutor Andre Luiz Garcia de Pinho killed his wife, Lorenza Maria Silva de Pinho. In July the Minas Gerais Court of Justice decided that de Pinho would be brought to trial for aggravated homicide. He remained in pretrial detention after a request for habeas corpus was denied.

NGO and public security representatives reported that, culturally, domestic violence was often viewed as a private matter and that survivors and bystanders often did not report cases of violence. On July 14, police arrested Iverson de Souza Araujo (also known as DJ Ivis), in Fortaleza after videos of assaults against his former wife, Pamella Holanda, were posted by her on her social media account. The public release of the video led to widespread public condemnation, and distribution contracts and music collaborations were cancelled.

According to NGOs and public security data, gender-based violence was widespread. According to the 15th Public Safety Yearbook released annually by the Brazilian Public Security Forum, there were 60,460 cases of rape in 2020. Due to underreporting, the actual number of cases was likely much higher. The state of Sao Paulo recorded an average of 34 cases of rape per day in the first quarter of the year, 7 percent higher than the same period of 2020, according to a survey conducted by the NGO Instituto Sou da Paz. Data showed that 75 percent of the victims were girls younger than age 14.

Each state secretariat for public security operated police stations dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women. State and local governments also operated reference centers and temporary women’s shelters, and many states maintained domestic violence hotlines. In January, Rio de Janeiro State’s Civil Police announced a new hotline for victims of gender-based violence in an effort to reduce instances of feminicide. During the pandemic the court of justice in the state of Piaui invested in campaigns and online assistance to facilitate access for victims of violence. There were several ways to denounce domestic violence: through the Salve Maria application or calling the Francisca Trindade Center, Maria da Penha Patrol, Esperanca Garcia Institute, Ombudsman of the Public Ministry of Piaui, or Public Defender’s Office. In April in the state of Piaui, requests for protective measures for women victims of domestic violence increased more than 30 percent, compared with the same period in 2020.

During the first quarter of the year, the state of Rio Grande do Sul saw a 375 percent increase in preventive arrests for domestic violence, compared with the same period of 2020. A key factor contributing to this increase was the rise of information sharing with the government through electronic means, such as WhatsApp and Online Police. The state also inaugurated an additional 17 salas das margaridas, a dedicated space within police stations to receive women at risk, bringing the total in Rio Grande do Sul to 40.

In July 2020 Rio de Janeiro’s then governor Witzel signed a bill that temporarily authorized gun permit suspensions and weapons seizures in cases of domestic violence and femicide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities cited concerns that quarantine could lead to increases in domestic violence cases involving weapons. According to Rio de Janeiro’s Public Security Institute, as of June 2020 domestic violence calls to the military police aid hotline had increased by 12 percent, in comparison with the same period the previous year. In August 2020 a police operation resulted in the arrest of 57 suspects accused of domestic violence.

The law recommends health facilities contact police regarding cases in which a woman was harmed physically, sexually, or psychologically and instructs police to collect evidence and statements should the victim decide to prosecute. Despite these protections, allegations of domestic violence were not always treated as credible by police.

Sexual assault and rape of minors was widespread. In 2020, 44,400 cases of rape and rape of vulnerable minors were registered, representing 60.6 percent of the total number of rape cases. A “vulnerable” victim is defined as a person younger than age 14, or who is considered physically, mentally, and therefore legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse. According to the 15th Brazilian Yearbook of Public Security, 54 percent of these victims were 11 years old or younger.

In Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul, a group of five men (two adults and three adolescents) raped and killed an 11-year-old Kaiowa indigenous girl in August. Police arrested the perpetrators, who confessed the crimes, and indicted them on charges of rape of a vulnerable person, femicide, and aggravated homicide. One of them, the girl’s uncle, died in prison three days later, and police were investigating the case as a possible suicide.

On March 12, the STF unanimously decided to invalidate the use of the “legitimate defense of honor thesis” in cases of femicide. The 11 STF justices assessed this thesis contradicts constitutional principles of human dignity, protection of life, and gender equality and, therefore, cannot be applied in jury trials as a defense argument in cases of femicide. The legitimate defense of honor thesis was used in jury courts to largely absolve men who killed women to “protect their own honor,” for example in cases of betrayal in romantic relationships.

On July 28, the federal government approved a law that includes the crime of psychological violence against women in the penal code, assigning a punishment of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment and a fine. The text approved by Congress defines the crime as: “Causing emotional damage to women that can harm and disturb them, or their full development, or that aims to degrade or control their actions, behaviors, beliefs and decisions, through threat, embarrassment, humiliation, manipulation, isolation, blackmail, ridicule, limitation of the right to come and go, or any other means that harm their psychological health and self-determination.”

On May 10, the government of the state of Alagoas inaugurated A Casa da Mulher Alagoana. The center serves women victims of domestic violence and provides professional psychology, advocacy, and social care services. Victims may file a police report and request protective measures in-person at the facility, as well as receive temporary shelter.

In the state of Ceara, the Women’s Reference Center, which offers a psychologist, lawyer, and social worker service and partnership with the Maria da Penha Patrol, received 240 requests for assistance in 2020, but within the first four months of 2021 it responded to 142 requests. According to the center’s director, most victims were financially dependent on their partner, which deepened during the COVID pandemic.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense, punishable by up to two years in prison. The law includes actions performed outside the workplace. NGOs reported sexual harassment was a serious concern, and perpetrators were infrequently held accountable. A 2019 study conducted by research institutes Patricia Galvao and Locomotiva with support from Uber found that 97 percent of women had experienced sexual harassment on public transportation, in taxis, or while using a rideshare application.

On June 15, the National Council of Justice ruled that Judge Glicerio de Angiolis Silva from Rio de Janeiro’s Court of Justice should be removed from the bench for two years for morally and sexually harassing public workers and interns at the court of Miracema, in the northwestern part of the city of Rio de Janeiro, in 2015. The victims reported that the judge asked them to send him photographs of them in bikinis, asked them out, and requested them to work late with no reasonable purpose. By law the judge was still entitled to receive his salary while away from his regular duties.

In June the Rio Grande do Sul Civil Police opened an investigation into plastic surgeon Klaus Wietzke Brodbeck on suspicion of sexually abusing more than 95 women patients, including one sedated patient he allegedly raped after surgery.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraceptives and termination of pregnancy as provided for by law. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), persons in remote regions experienced difficulty accessing reproductive health services.

According to UNFPA, in 2020, 89 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods, and skilled health personnel attended to 99 percent of births from 2014 to 2019. UNFPA also reported that adolescent birth rate per 1,000 girls for those between the ages of 15 to 19 averaged 53 births for the period of 2003 to 2018. The Ministry of Health reported that the maternal mortality ratio averaged 59 deaths per 100,000 live births as of 2018 and was higher among Black women than among white women. Data published in May by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation found that the risk of death of pregnant brown and Black women from COVID-19 was almost twice that of white women and noted that Black women were less likely to have gynecological and prenatal care and travelled farthest to reach a maternity ward.

In May, UNICEF and UNFPA published a report on menstrual poverty experienced by Brazilian girls who lived in conditions of poverty and vulnerability, sometimes without access to basic sanitation services, hygiene resources, and minimal knowledge about the body. More than 700,000 girls had no access to a bathroom or shower in their homes. More than four million girls experienced at least one deprivation of hygiene in schools, including lack of access to feminine care products and basic facilities such as toilets and soap. Nearly 200,000 of these students were completely deprived of the minimum conditions to handle menstruation at school. A study from Girl Up Brazil, a network to end menstrual poverty in the country, found that one in four girls had missed school because they lacked access to feminine products.

In October, President Bolsonaro signed a law to create the Program for the Protection and Promotion of Menstrual Health, a strategy to promote health and attention to feminine hygiene and aims to combat lack of access to hygiene products related to menstruation. The president vetoed a provision contained in the measure to provide free basic hygiene products to low-income students, persons living on the streets, and prisoners because he said the legislation did not establish a funding source. In November the Foreign Trade Chamber reduced the import tax rate from 12 to 10 percent on sanitary pads and baby diapers to make the products more affordable to consumers.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all circumstances. The law does not require equal pay for equal work. According to the International Labor Organization, women not only earned less than men but also had difficulties entering the workplace: 78 percent of men held paid jobs, compared with 56 percent of women. Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal, but the law was not effectively enforced.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits racial discrimination, specifically the denial of public or private facilities, employment, or housing to anyone based on race. The law also prohibits the incitement of racial discrimination or prejudice and the dissemination of racially offensive symbols and epithets, and it stipulates prison terms for such acts.

Approximately 57 percent of the population self-identified as belonging to categories other than white. Despite this high representation within the general population, darker-skinned citizens, particularly Afro-Brazilians, encountered discrimination. They experienced a higher rate of unemployment and earned average wages below those of whites in similar positions. There was also a sizeable education gap. Afro-Brazilians were disproportionately affected by crime and violence.

In November 2020 a Black man was beaten to death by security guards outside a Carrefour supermarket in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul. The two guards, including an off-duty Military Police officer, were arrested for assaulting and killing Joao Alberto Silveira Freitas. The attack was filmed by witnesses and generated outcry nationally, mobilizing a series of protests across the country. Carrefour condemned the act, terminated its contract with the company that hired the guards, and promised to take measures promoting diversity and inclusion, including the creation of an “antiracist plan” to provide training and protocol for employees with an emphasis on welcoming clients, guidance for valuing human rights and diversity, and combating racism. Carrefour also committed to diversifying hiring practices and setting a requirement to hire at least 30,000 Black workers in three years. In June, Carrefour signed an agreement with the prosecutor’s offices, the public defender’s offices, Educafro, and the Santo Dias Human Rights Center and agreed to invest R$115 million ($20.6 million) in human rights organizations in payment for collective moral damages. The funds were to support undergraduate and graduate scholarships for Afrodescendant students; scholarships for language and technology courses; social inclusion and Black entrepreneurship projects; the establishment of a museum at the Valongo Wharf in Rio de Janeiro, the main gateway for enslaved Africans who arrived in the country; and public funding for justice institutions and entities.

In February, Sao Paulo Military Police Lieutenant Colonel Evanilson Correa de Souza suffered racist verbal abuse while speaking at an online international conference organized by the University of Sao Paulo. The police officer, who is Black, was speaking about the program to combat racism within police forces in Sao Paulo when one of the participants started writing insults on the shared screen. The aggressor also used pornographic images to cover the colonel’s presentation.

The law provides for quota-based affirmative action policies in higher education, government employment, and the military. Nevertheless, Afro-Brazilians were underrepresented in the government, professional positions, and middle and upper socioeconomic classes.

Many government offices created internal committees to validate the self-declared ethnicity claims of public-service job applicants by using phenotypic criteria, assessing “Blackness” to reduce abuse of affirmative action policies and related laws. University administrators regularly conducted investigations and expelled students for fraudulently claiming to be Black or brown to claim racial quota spots in universities. Statistics showed university racial-quota policies were beginning to have a positive impact on educational outcomes for Afro-Brazilians. For example, data analysis from the National Household Sample Survey showed that in 2019 Black women (28 percent of the population) made up 27 percent of students in public higher education, an increase of 8 percent since 2001.

Indigenous Peoples

According to data from the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) and the 2010 census, there were approximately 896,000 indigenous persons, representing 305 distinct indigenous ethnic groups that spoke 274 distinct languages.

The constitution grants the indigenous population broad protection of their cultural patrimony and use of their territory; however, indigenous lands and all aboveground and underground minerals as well as hydroelectric power potential belong to the government. Approximately 14 percent of the country’s land area is designated as indigenous territory.

Indigenous peoples have the exclusive possession and land use rights in their traditional lands. Requests to exploit mineral and water resources, including ones with energy potential, on indigenous lands must be approved by Congress, in consultation with the indigenous communities. Despite several proposals, Congress had not approved legislation that rules and regulates these activities. The exploitation of natural resources on indigenous territory by nonindigenous persons is illegal.

Beginning in 2019, tension and provocative rhetoric increased between the Bolsonaro administration and many indigenous leaders regarding the extent of indigenous protections and rights. On June 28, in a report presented at the 47th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, special adviser for the prevention of genocide, cited Brazil as a genocide risk.

On August 9, indigenous leaders accused President Bolsonaro of genocide at the International Criminal Court in the Hague in response to the deaths of 1,162 indigenous individuals from 163 communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The leaders also argued that the dismantling of government institutions charged with social and environmental protection had triggered invasions of indigenous lands, deforestation, and fires in the biomes.

Through a series of decisions by the Ministry of Health and the STF, beginning in January, indigenous persons were prioritized for COVID-19 immunizations. The government initially focused on vaccines for indigenous persons in officially demarcated territories and later expanded preferential access to indigenous persons living in cities or other areas. By June, according to the Ministry of Health, 72 percent of the eligible indigenous population residing in indigenous areas was fully vaccinated, compared with a 39 percent fully vaccinated rate for the overall population as of September 3.

NGOs claimed the lack of regulation and attempts to create new legislation or change existing legislation to promote economic development, along with impunity in cases of illegal land invasions, resulted in the illegal exploitation of natural resources. The NGO Instituto Socioambiental reported more than 20,000 miners were illegally extracting gold from the Yanomami indigenous lands in Roraima State. According to a report during the year released by the indigenous NGO Missionary Council, there were 263 cases of illegal invasions and exploitation of natural resources on 253 indigenous territories in 19 states in 2020. A MapBiomas study released in August showed that the area of illegal mining in indigenous lands and conservation areas expanded 495 percent from 2010 to 2020. In March the Federal Police led an operation to shut down a large illegal mining camp in Yanomami lands in Roraima. Officials compared the illegal camp on Yanomami lands to a small city capable of housing more than 2,000 persons, with markets, restaurants, and a dental office.

Illegal land invasions often resulted in violence and even death. According to reporting by the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic NGO that represents rural workers on land rights, there were 1,083 cases of violence related to land disputes in 2020, impacting more than 130,000 families, compared with 1,254 incidents that affected 144,741 families in 2019. There were 178 invasions into territories in 2020, in comparison with only nine in 2019. Most of the victims of these invasions were indigenous persons (54.5 percent), while 11.8 percent of the invasions took place in quilombola communities. Among the conflicts noted in the report, there were 18 killings of indigenous persons (39 percent of the victims), and 12 of 35 victims of attempted homicide were indigenous.

In May the Hutukara Yanomami Association reported a series of attacks against the Palimiu community in Roraima by illegal miners, and media reports indicated that one indigenous person and four miners were shot and wounded. Yanomami leaders reported that two children, ages one and five, drowned during the attack. A federal court ruled on May 13 that the government should keep permanent troops in place to prevent conflict. The Federal Police and the army visited the site, conducted operations to halt mining operations, and seized equipment.

According to the Missionary Council report, there were 182 killings of indigenous persons in 2019 – a 61 percent increase, compared with 113 cases in 2018. In May 2020 the Federal Public Ministry accused two indigenous men, Nilson Carneiro Sousa Guajajara and Eduardo dos Santos Guajajara, of killing indigenous leader and environmental and human rights defender Zezico Rodrigues Guajajara in March in Arame, Maranhao State. The victim was the fifth such killing of an indigenous Guajajara in as many months. Rodrigues worked as director of the Indigenous School Education Center and fought environmental crimes. According to indigenous leaders in the region, he reportedly received death threats and formally complained to FUNAI and the Federal Police.

On February 12, state troopers shot indigenous leader Isaac Tembe in Alto Rio Guama, Para State. According to media reports, Tembe, a leader of the Tenetehara people, was hunting with community members in an area near the Alto Rio Guama when military police officers shot at them. Tembe was killed as the group tried to escape into the woods. According to the Para State Department of Public Security, police were called to investigate cattle theft in the region and, upon arrival at the scene, they heard shots and returned fire in self-defense. According to the local indigenous population, Tembe did not have a gun. The Federal Public Ministry and an internal affairs office from the military police were investigating, but the indigenous group requested the case be federalized due to potential bias by local police and courts.

As of August there were 568 areas of land claimed by indigenous peoples in different stages of the demarcation process: 441 were fully approved and officially recognized and 127 remained under review. Various indigenous groups protested the slow pace of land demarcations. As of October no indigenous lands had been approved under the Bolsonaro administration, aligning with his pledge when he entered office to not increase indigenous land designations.

Throughout the year indigenous groups protested in Brasilia and in state capitals to protect their ancestral lands. In June an estimated 500 to 850 members of indigenous groups protested in Brasilia to demand that Congress cease consideration of a bill that proposes additional requirements and barriers for demarcation of indigenous lands. Protesters broke down security barriers placed to prevent entry into the federal Chamber of Deputies due the pandemic, and chamber security forces responded with tear and pepper gas, while the protesters allegedly shot arrows at the security guards. According to the indigenous groups, security forces also fired rubber bullets, an accusation the chamber denied. Three officers and at least three protesters were wounded and referred to local hospitals. The chamber’s vote on the bill in its Constitution and Justice Committee was postponed until June 23, when it was approved. The bill requires approval in the chamber before moving on to the Senate.

As of November the STF continued to review a case that analyzes the “cutoff date for land claims” thesis, which holds that indigenous peoples can only claim lands on which they were present on October 5, 1988, the day the constitution was promulgated. The decision will set precedent, impacting already completed, ongoing, and future land demarcation processes. On August 22, 6,000 indigenous leaders and supporters camped on Brasilia’s main mall for several days to bring attention to the case and call on the STF to rule against the case. Members of Congress said they would continue with their bill seeking similar timebound requirements irrespective of the STF decision.

The quilombola population – descendants of escaped African slaves – was estimated to include 6,000 communities and five million individuals, although the government had no official statistics. The constitution recognizes quilombola land ownership rights. Nearly 3,000 communities were registered, but fewer than 140 had been granted land titles by the government.

Quilombola representatives and partner organizations reported that members of these communities suffered higher mortality rates due to COVID-19 than the rest of the country’s population. According to a partnership between the NGOs ISA and National Coordination for the Articulation of Quilombola Communities (CONAQ), the case mortality rate due to COVID-19 in quilombola communities as of August 18 was 5.3 percent. In comparison, as of August the Ministry of Health reported case mortality rates due to COVID-19 in the entire country averaging 2.8 percent and in the northern region, where most indigenous peoples lived, 2.5 percent. As of September 3, the Ministry of Health estimated that 36 percent of quilombolas had been fully vaccinated. Although the government provided quilombola individuals with priority status, in some cases local municipalities did not recognize their priority status or local vaccination sites were not certified, according to research by CONAQ.

Quilombola communities faced systemic challenges such as endemic poverty, racism, violence, threats against women, and threats against community leaders, as well as limited access to essential resources and public policies. According to CONAQ, Black populations had a higher rate of diseases that further aggravated the effects of COVID-19, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The precarious access to water in many territories was a cause for concern, as it also hindered hygiene practices. Civil society leaders also cited concerns about food insecurity in quilombola communities. The communities claimed that health officials did not conduct sufficient contact tracing or testing there, compared with the general population.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth in the country or from birth to a Brazilian citizen parent. Parents are required to register their newborns within 15 days of the birth or within three months if they live more than approximately 20 miles from the nearest notary. Nevertheless, many children did not have birth certificates.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and negligence, but enforcement was often ineffective, and abuse was widespread. According to data from the National Human Rights Ombudsman, in the first six months of the year, the country registered 47,416 reports of crimes against children and adolescents, compared with 53,525 in the first half of 2020. Of these, 121 were from mistreatment, and 52 were from sexual abuse, such as rape or harassment. The total number of reports in 2020 was 124,839 – a 47 percent increase over 2019 – and experts suspected that pandemic closures resulted in significant underreporting.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 (or 16 with parental or legal representative consent). The practice of early marriage was common. A study of child marriage in the northeastern states of Bahia and Maranhao found that pregnancy was the main motivation for child marriage in 15 of 44 cases. According to a 2020 UNICEF report, 26 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married by age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children, adolescents, and other vulnerable persons is punishable by four to 10 years in prison. The law defines sexual exploitation as child sex trafficking, sexual activity, production of child pornography, and public or private sex shows. The government enforced the law unevenly. The law sets a minimum age of 14 for consensual sex, with the penalty for statutory rape ranging from eight to 15 years in prison.

The Alagoas state government invested in campaigns to raise public awareness of the increase of sexual abuse of children and adolescents, largely within the same family, during the pandemic. From January to March, 211 cases of child sexual abuse were registered in the state, an increase from 186 during the same period in 2020.

In Maranhao State, the Department of Health Care for Children and Adolescents carried out a campaign with the theme “You report it, we take care of it” to improve assistance for victims of child sexual abuse. The state registered 99 cases of pregnant children younger than age 14 in 2019 and again in 2020.

The country was a destination for child sex tourism. While no specific laws address child sex tourism, it is punishable under other criminal offenses. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. In addition girls from other South American nations were exploited in sex trafficking in the country.

The law criminalizes child pornography. The creation of child pornography carries a prison sentence of up to eight years and a fine. The penalty for possession of child pornography is up to four years in prison and a fine. In June the Ministry of Justice coordinated Brazil’s participation, carried out by state civil police forces, in an international operation to combat crimes of child sexual abuse and exploitation on the internet. The operation carried out 176 search and seizure warrants in 18 states and five countries and resulted in the arrests of 39 individuals in Brazil.

Displaced Children: According to UNICEF, in 2020 refugee support organizations identified more than 1,577 unaccompanied Venezuelan children and adolescents in Pacaraima, Roraima State, and in the first three months of the year the number reached 1,071. According to civil society contacts, some of these minors were at risk of being trafficked or sexually exploited. Local child protection services offices act as legal guardians so unaccompanied adolescents can go to school and obtain identification papers to access the public health system. In some areas, however, they could not accommodate the influx of children. State shelters in Roraima, the state where most migrants entered the country, could house a maximum of 15 adolescent boys and 13 adolescent girls. According to a 2019 Human Rights Watch report, some unaccompanied children ended up living on the streets, where they may be particularly vulnerable to abuse or recruitment by criminal gangs.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to the Brazilian Israelite Federation, there were approximately 120,000 Jewish citizens in the country, of whom approximately 65,000 lived in the state of Sao Paulo and 34,000 in the state of Rio de Janeiro. By law it is a crime to manufacture, sell, distribute, or broadcast symbols, emblems, ornaments, badges, or advertising that use the swastika for purposes of publicizing Nazism, and it provides for a penalty of two to five years of imprisonment.

In 2020 the number of inquiries opened by the Federal Police to investigate pro-Nazi activity increased, with the highest growth in the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. According to press reports, in 2019 there were 69 investigations opened for the crime and 110 in 2020. In the first five months of 2021, 36 cases were opened. Federal Police data did not include the states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Rondonia, and Tocantins.

A global survey released in June 2020 by the Anti-Defamation League indicated that the percentage of Brazilians who harbored some anti-Jewish sentiment had grown from 19 percent in 2019 to 26 percent in 2020.

In June, after a six-year process, a federal court in Sao Paulo indicted a man for pro-Nazi and pro-Hitler propaganda on a Russian social network. The defendant was already serving community service sentences for two earlier crimes similar in nature.

In March the Jewish community filed a complaint against Roberto Jefferson, leader of the Brazilian Labor Party, for a social media post in which Jefferson claimed Jews sacrificed children. From 2020 to May 2021, neo-Nazi cells grew from 349 to 530, according to anthropologist Adriana Magalhaes Dias at the Sao Paulo State University of Campinas. The groups were most prevalent in the south and southeast regions of the country, with 301 and 193 groups identified, respectively. Cells were also mapped in the Midwest (18) and Northeast (13) regions.

Neo-Nazi groups maintained an active presence online. The Safernet Brasil platform, an NGO that promotes human rights on social networks and monitors radical websites, recorded an increase of complaints about content in support of Nazism on the networks. The year 2020 marked a record for new pages (1,659) of neo-Nazi content and also for the largest number of pages removed from the internet because of illegal pro-Nazi content.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, and the federal government generally enforced these provisions. While federal and state laws mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities, states did not enforce them effectively. The law requires private companies with more than 100 employees to hire 2 to 5 percent of their workforce from persons with disabilities. According to the 2010 census, only 1 percent of those with disabilities were employed.

The Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities Act, a legal framework on the rights of persons with disabilities, seeks to promote greater accessibility through expanded federal oversight of the City Statute (a law intended to foster the safety and well-being of urban citizens, among other objectives). The act also includes harsher criminal penalties for conviction of discrimination based on disability and inclusive health services with provision of services near residences and rural areas.

The National Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the National Council for the Rights of the Elderly have primary responsibility for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. The lack of accessible infrastructure and school resources significantly limited the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce. Data released by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics in August revealed that individuals with a disability were less likely to complete education at all levels. More than half of individuals with a disability, 67 percent, had no education or incomplete primary education, compared with 31 percent of those with no disability. Similarly, only 16 percent of persons with disabilities completed high school, compared with 37 percent of persons without disabilities. Five percent of the disabled population older than age 18 had a complete higher education, while 17 percent of those without disabilities did.

Civil society organizations acknowledged monitoring and enforcement of disability policies remained weak and criticized a lack of accessibility to public transportation, weak application of employment quotas, and a limited medical-based definition of disability that often excludes learning disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS is punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine. Civil society organizations and the press reported discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. According to one LGBTQI+ activist, although the government provided affordable HIV treatment through the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, many HIV-positive persons did not access the service because they were unaware of its existence or did not understand the bureaucracy required to participate in the program.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Violence against LGBTQI+ individuals was a serious concern. While violence against LGBTQI+ individuals generally had declined yearly since 2017, violence specifically targeting transgender individuals increased. The Federal Public Ministry is responsible for registering reports of crimes committed based on gender or sexual orientation but reportedly was slow to respond. Transgender individuals were particularly at risk of being the victims of crime or committing suicide.

According to a July report by the National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals, based on reports from LGBTQI+ organizations across the country, 80 transgender individuals were killed in the first six months of the year. The largest number of cases occurred in the states of Bahia, Ceara, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. Victims were mostly Afro-Brazilians younger than age 35. In 2019 and 2020, there were 124 and 175 killings of transgender persons, respectively. According to some civil society leaders, underreporting of crimes was likely because many LGBTQI+ persons were afraid they might experience discrimination or violence while seeking services from law enforcement authorities.

On June 24, a 17-year-old youth killed Roberta Nascimento da Silva, a homeless transgender woman, in Recife – the fourth transgender woman killed in Pernambuco State within one month. The teenager threw alcohol on the woman while she slept on the street and set her on fire. Police apprehended the assailant and charged him with an “infractional act” (because the act was committed by a minor) analogous to attempted aggravated homicide. The teenager was being provisionally held in juvenile detention awaiting sentencing. Authorities did not confirm if the case would be registered as a homophobic or transphobic crime, but Recife Mayor Joao Campos expressed regret at the transgender woman’s death and stated the city would seek to expand services to the LGBTQI+ population with a new shelter to be named in Roberta’s honor.

In July, four men convicted of the murder of Emanuelle Muniz, a transgender woman, were issued prison sentences of up to 35 years for rape, murder, and robbery. The assailants, who remained in prison following their apprehensions in 2017, received substantial prison sentences, ranging from 26 to 35 years.

No specific law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in essential goods and services such as health care. In 2019, however, the STF criminalized discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Offenders face sentences of one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine, or two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine if the offender disseminates the incident via social media thereby exposing the victim. In October the Regional Federal Court of Rio de Janeiro instructed the armed forces to recognize the social name of transgender military personnel and prohibited compulsory removal of service members for “transsexualism.”

In the Northeast there was an effort to raise civil society awareness against homophobia; to train civil and military police to provide more humanized care to the victims of violence; and to implement reference centers for legal, psychological, and social assistance to the LGBTQI+ community. The Recife Municipal Reference Center offered specialized services with a qualified team of psychologists, social workers, and lawyers for LGBTQI+ individuals.

NGOs cited lack of economic opportunity for LGBTQI+ persons as a concern. According to the NGO Grupo Gay da Bahia, 33 percent of companies avoided hiring LGBTQI+ employees, and 90 percent of transgender women engaged in prostitution because they could find no employment alternative. Transgender women often paid human traffickers for protection and daily housing fees. When they were unable to pay, they were beaten, starved, and forced into commercial sex. Traffickers exploited transgender women, luring them with offers of gender reassignment surgery and later exploiting them in sex trafficking when they were unable to repay the cost of the procedure.

According to some LGBTQI+ leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic severely limited the LGBTQI+ population’s access to public health and mental health resources, and many were in abusive domestic situations with families that did not support them. According to some civil society sources, LGBTQI+ workers, who were more likely to work in the informal economy, lost their jobs at a much higher rate than the general population during the pandemic. In the states of Pernambuco, Paraiba, and Ceara, several donation campaigns were carried out to assist vulnerable LGBTQI+ populations, including donation of food baskets, hygiene kits, and clothes.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for freedom of association for all workers (except members of the military, military police, and firefighters); the right to bargain collectively with some restrictions; and the right to strike. The law limits organizing at the enterprise level. By law the armed forces, military police, and firefighters may not strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, including the dismissal of employees who are candidates for, or holders of, union leadership positions, and it requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activity.

New unions must register with the Ministry of Economy, which accepts the registration unless objections are filed by other unions. The law stipulates certain restrictions, such as unicidade (in essence, one union per occupational category per city), which limits freedom of association by prohibiting multiple, competing unions of the same professional category in a single geographical area. Unions that represent workers in the same geographical area and professional category may contest registration.

The law stipulates that a strike may be ruled “disruptive” by the labor court, and the union may be subjected to legal penalties if the strike violates certain conditions, such as if the union fails to maintain essential services during a strike, notify employers at least 48 hours before the beginning of a walkout, or end a strike after a labor court decision. Employers may not hire substitute workers during a legal strike or fire workers for strike-related activity, provided the strike is not ruled abusive.

The law obliges a union to negotiate on behalf of all registered workers in the professional category and geographical area it represents, regardless of whether an employee pays voluntary membership dues. The law permits the government to reject clauses of collective bargaining agreements that conflict with government policy, and it includes collective bargaining rights, such as the ability to negotiate a flexible hourly schedule and work remotely.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Collective bargaining was widespread in establishments in the private sector. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. In the view of expert NGOs working in this field, the government usually effectively enforced applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits “slave labor,” defined as “reducing someone to a condition analogous to slavery,” including subjecting someone to forced labor, debt bondage, exhausting work hours, and labor performed in degrading working conditions.

Many individuals in slave labor, as defined by the country’s law, were victims of human trafficking for the purpose of forced labor. The government took actions to enforce the law, although forced labor occurred in a number of states. Violations of forced labor laws are punishable by up to eight years in prison, but this was often not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides penalties for various crimes related to forced labor, such as illegal recruiting or transporting workers or imposing onerous debt burdens as a condition of employment. Every six months the Ministry of Economy publishes a “dirty list” of companies found to have employed forced labor. Although fewer names were included during the year due to COVID-related processing delays, in April the updated list included 19 new companies and owners from a range of sectors such as cattle ranching and livestock, agriculture, mining, and construction; in October an additional 13 entities were added, including a retired attorney, a former mayor, and a construction service company. Public and private banks use the list to conduct risk assessments, and inclusion on the list prevents companies from receiving loans from state-owned financial institutions. The Labor Prosecutor’s Office, in partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO), maintained an online platform that identified hotspots for forced labor. The Ministry of Economy’s Mobile Labor Inspection Unit teams conducted impromptu inspections of properties where forced labor was suspected or reported, using teams composed of labor inspectors, labor prosecutors from the Federal Labor Prosecutor’s Office, and Federal Police officers. Mobile teams levied fines on landowners who used forced labor and required employers to provide back pay and benefits to workers before returning the workers to their municipalities of origin. Labor inspectors and prosecutors, however, could apply only civil penalties; consequently, many cases were not criminally prosecuted.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, was reported in jobs such as clearing forests to provide cattle pastureland, logging, producing charcoal, salt industries, mining, raising livestock, and other agricultural activities. Forced labor often involved young men, notably Afro-Brazilian men, drawn from the less-developed northeastern states – Maranhao, Piaui, Tocantins, and Ceara – and the central state of Goias to work in the northern and central-western regions of the country. In addition there were reports of forced labor in the construction industry. News outlets reported cases that amounted to forced labor in production of carnauba wax. Cases of forced labor were also reported in the garment industry in the city of Sao Paulo; the victims were often from neighboring countries, such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Paraguay, while others came from Haiti, South Korea, and China.

Media also reported cases of forced labor of domestic workers in wealthy urban households. In November 2020 the Public Ministry rescued 48-year-old Madalena Gordiano from domestic servitude 38 years after she began working for a Minas Gerais family as a child. The victim was exploited by a university professor and his family, working from 2 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily without a salary, benefits, or days off. Later, in her twenties, she was forced to marry an elderly relative of the employer with a pension, which was taken by her employers after his death. Although the total amount due to the victim was calculated to be R$2.2 million ($394,000), at a July virtual regional labor court hearing, she accepted an offer of R$690,100 ($124,000) to be fulfilled by the transfer of the family’s apartment to her, the purchase of a new car, and an additional R$20,000 ($3,600). The victim was also to receive the monthly pension to which she is entitled through the marriage, worth R$8,400 ($1,500) per month. The agreement was the largest individual agreement made to a person rescued from slave labor. The victim filed administrative and criminal proceedings against other family members, which the Federal Public Ministry was investigating.

During the first six months of the year, labor inspectors rescued 772 victims of slave labor – 80 percent of the previous year’s total. In 2020 authorities conducted 266 labor inspections and identified 942 victims of labor exploitation, compared with 280 labor inspections and the identification of 1,130 victims of labor exploitation in 2019. According to expert NGOs working in this field, penalties for slave labor were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. A study published in 2020 by the Slave Labor and Trafficking in Persons Clinic of the Federal University of Minas Gerais showed that only 4.2 percent of those accused were held criminally responsible for the crime of subjecting workers to contemporary slavery.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The definitions of crimes involving child sex trafficking require the use of threats, violence, coercion, fraud, or abuse, which does not meet international standards. The minimum working age is 16, but apprenticeships may begin at age 14. The law bars all minors younger than 18 from work that constitutes a physical strain or occurs in unhealthy, dangerous, or morally harmful conditions. Hazardous work includes an extensive list of activities within 13 occupational categories, including domestic service, garbage scavenging, and fertilizer production. The law requires parental permission for minors to work as apprentices. The Ministry of Economy’s Special Mobile Inspection Group is responsible for inspecting worksites to enforce child labor laws. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Most inspections of children in the workplace were driven by complaints brought by workers, teachers, unions, NGOs, and media. Due to legal restrictions, labor inspectors remained unable to enter private homes and farms, where much of the child labor allegedly occurred. The government did not always effectively enforce the law.

In 2020 labor inspectors found situations of child labor during 279 investigations, involving 810 children. According to data collected by UNICEF in Sao Paulo among vulnerable families, child labor worsened during the pandemic. UNICEF conducted a survey of data on the income and work situation of 52,744 vulnerable families from different regions of Sao Paulo who received donations from the organization and its partners. The data collected from April to July 2020 identified a 26 percent increase in child labor when comparing May and July.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, natural origin or citizenship, age, language, and sexual orientation or gender identity. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Discrimination against individuals who are HIV positive or suffer from other communicable diseases is also prohibited. The government generally enforced the laws and regulations, although discrimination in employment occurred with respect to Afro-Brazilians, women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and transgender individuals. The Ministry of Economy implemented rules to integrate promotion of racial equality in its programs, including requiring race be included in data for programs financed by the ministry. According to the ILO, women not only earned less than men but also had difficulties entering the workplace: 78 percent of men held paid jobs, compared with 56 percent of women. Although the law prohibits gender discrimination in pay, professional training, working hours, occupations, tasks, and career advancement, according to NGO representatives, the law was rarely enforced, and discrimination existed.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a minimum wage. The minimum wage was greater than the official poverty income level. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, however, in 2019 approximately 60 percent of workers had incomes below the minimum wage. The Ministry of Economy verified enforcement of minimum wage laws as part of regular labor inspections. Penalties alone were not sufficient to deter violations.

The law limits the workweek to 44 hours and specifies a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours, preferably on Sundays. The law also provides for paid annual vacation, prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to two hours per workday, and stipulates that hours worked above the monthly limit must be compensated with at least time-and-a-half pay; these provisions generally were enforced for all groups of workers in the formal sector. The constitution also provides for the right of domestic employees to work a maximum of eight hours per day and 44 hours per week, a minimum wage, a lunch break, social security, and severance pay.

In July a labor inspection at a coffee farm in Minas Gerais State found that farm owners were illegally deducting nearly one-third of workers’ wages to cover the cost of the machinery workers use to harvest coffee beans, which should have been provided to workers for free under the law. The farm owners signed an agreement with the Labor Prosecution Service and the Public Defender’s Office agreeing to pay the deductions back to the 19 affected workers, along with an additional R$2,000 ($350) payment to each worker for moral damages.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Economy sets occupational, health, and safety (OSH) standards that are consistent with internationally recognized norms, although unsafe working conditions were prevalent throughout the country, especially in construction. The law requires employers to establish internal committees for accident prevention in workplaces. It also provides for the protection of employees from being fired for their committee activities. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although those in forced labor situations without access to transportation were particularly vulnerable to situations that endangered their health and safety. In the view of expert NGOs working in this field, officials enforced OSH laws. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for crimes, such as negligence. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The Ministry of Economy addressed problems related to acceptable conditions of work such as long workdays and unsafe or unhygienic work conditions. Penalties for violations include fines that vary widely depending on the nature of the violation. Fines were generally enforced and were sometimes sufficient to deter violations. The National Labor Inspection School held various virtual training sessions for labor inspectors throughout the year. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to deter violations. During the year the Ministry of Economy launched an online database to monitor workplace accidents nationwide.

Informal Sector: According to data collected by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics as a part of its August Continuous National Household Survey, 37 million Brazilians participated in the informal sector, representing 41 percent of the employed population. Although workers in the informal sector enjoyed some labor protections, including minimum wage, hour limitations, and OSH laws and workplace inspections, they lacked access to unemployment insurance and social safety nets.

Canada

Executive Summary

Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a federal parliamentary government. In a free and fair multiparty federal election held in September, the Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, won a plurality of seats in the federal parliament and formed a minority government.

Federal, provincial, municipal, and indigenous police forces maintain internal security. The armed forces are responsible for external security but in exceptional cases may exercise some domestic security responsibility at the formal request of civilian provincial authorities. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police reports to the Department of Public Safety, and the armed forces report to the Department of National Defense. Provincial and municipal police report to their respective provincial authorities. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses during the year.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings; crimes involving violence against indigenous women and girls; and crimes involving violence or threats targeting Black, Asian, Jewish, and Muslim minorities.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses and corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were isolated reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Some family members of individuals killed by police said police may have committed unlawful killings during mental wellness checks or in response to calls to police by them for assistance when their relative was in mental distress and at risk of self-harm or harm to others. For example on August 1, Montreal police in Quebec fatally shot Jean-Rene Junior Olivier after his family called police to report Olivier was confused, mentally unstable, and armed with a knife. Olivier’s family said police responded inappropriately to a mental-health crisis and racially profiled Olivier, who was Black. Quebec’s police investigation office opened an investigation into the death that remained in progress as of October.

In the 2020 cases regarding police-involved deaths of New Brunswick residents Rodney Levi and Chantal Moore, on January 26, New Brunswick’s Public Prosecutions Service determined police acted lawfully and in self-defense in the death of Rodney Levi. On June 7, it found police acted lawfully and in self-defense in the death of Chantal Moore. Officials stated no criminal charges would be filed against officers in the cases.

Charges of negligence causing death filed in December 2020 against prison guards at the St. John’s penitentiary in Newfoundland and Labrador in the 2019 death of Jonathan Henoche, an indigenous inmate at the facility, remained pending as of November. The province dropped charges against one of the nine guards in August on the basis there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction. Media reports indicated Henoche may have had a violent altercation with correctional officers prior to his death. Provincial police opened a homicide investigation that remained in progress as of November.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Correctional Services Canada (CSC) stated it would review a February 23 report by federally commissioned researchers that concluded the government continued to use solitary confinement in federal prisons. The Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that solitary confinement for longer than 15 days constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and the government passed legislation the same year prohibiting the measure. The February report stated that in practice isolation placements continued to regularly exceed the 15-day threshold and broke guidelines permitting inmates a minimum of four hours per day outside their cells.

In April the family of Edward Snowshoe, an indigenous man who killed himself in federal prison in 2010 after 162 days in solitary confinement, filed suit against CSC alleging racial discrimination, neglect, and failure to fulfill its duty of care in the man’s death. The family sought 12.5 million Canadian dollars (C$) ($10 million) in damages. The case remained pending as of November.

There were no known developments in a suit filed by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 2020 against the province of Ontario in which the commission alleged the province failed to respect its commitments to end use of solitary confinement in the provincial correctional system for persons with mental disabilities.

As of July 23, at least nine women in Newfoundland and Labrador reported incidents of sexual assault involving six former and one serving police officer of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC). The nine women stated that on-duty police officers drove them home at night after the women had been drinking at bars in St. John’s and sexually assaulted them; at least three other women said on-duty officers sexually propositioned them after driving them home from bars. The RNC opened an independent civilian investigation into the reports. The RNC disclosed it had conducted four separate investigations over the previous five years into similar reports but had filed no charges. The latest complaints followed the separate conviction in July of RNC officer Douglas Snelgrove in his third criminal trial on charges of sexually assaulting a woman in her home after driving her home from a bar in 2014. The third trial followed a successful appeal and a declared mistrial. Snelgrove was held in custody pending a sentencing hearing in November.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were some reports of sexual assault and harassment of female inmates by male prison staff, and of prison and detention center measures designed to control the spread of COVID-19 that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: There were reports of abuse in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions and inmate abuse. In February the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies called for a public inquiry into reports of sexual coercion and violence against inmates by staff in women’s federal prisons across the country. In March a former female federal inmate filed a class-action suit against CSC alleging a culture of sexual harassment and sexual assault by male staff against inmates. CSC stated it did not track complaints of sexual assault or criminal charges by staff. In 2020 police in Truro, Nova Scotia, charged a male guard at the Nova Institution for Women with six counts of sexual assault, six counts of breach of trust, and one count of communication for the purpose of obtaining sexual services in incidents between 2013 and 2018 involving four female inmates. The guard was no longer employed at the prison, and his trial was scheduled for January 2022. In 2020 a former correctional officer was charged in connection with sexual assault of a female inmate at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario. Adults and juveniles were held separately, although minors were held with their parents in immigration detention centers as an alternative to separating families.

On February 23, the federal correctional investigator reported a COVID-19 infection rate in excess of 10 percent of the total inmate population in federal facilities since March 2020, significantly higher than in the general population, and called for alternatives to incarceration. In April the John Howard Society of Canada and seven federal inmates filed a civil suit against CSC, claiming “unpredictable and indefinite” medical and administrative lockdowns in federal penitentiaries in British Columbia due to COVID-19 constituted solitary confinement. The suit also asserted CSC failed to provide adequate health care and protective equipment against the virus and withheld visitation, religious services, and programs and services required to qualify for parole eligibility.

In June Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reported persons held in immigration detention were often held in solitary confinement. They called for the abolition of the practice and of the use of provincial jails to detain undocumented immigrants and persons inadmissible to the country.

Administration: Independent authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment and documented the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent nongovernmental human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Authorities generally relied upon warrants in the apprehension of persons. A judge may issue a warrant if satisfied a criminal offense might have been committed. A person arrested for a criminal offense has the right to a prompt, independent judicial determination of the legality of the detention. Authorities provided detainees with timely information on the reason for their arrest and provided prompt access to a lawyer of the detainee’s choice, or, if the detainee was indigent, a lawyer was provided by the state. Bail was generally available. Authorities may hold persons under preventive detention for up to seven days, subject to periodic judicial review.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials occur before a judge alone or, in more serious cases, before a judge and jury. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence; be informed promptly of the charges; have a fair, timely, and public trial; be present at their trial; communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters and access to a domestic court to bring a suit seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Remedies can be monetary, declaratory, or injunctive. Federal or provincial human rights commissions may also hear alleged human rights violations. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Federal Court of Canada for judicial review. The court may uphold, amend, or return the decision to provincial or federal human rights tribunals for review or a new hearing. Individuals may also bring human rights complaints to the United Nations or Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Property Seizure and Restitution

Canada helped draft the Terezin Declaration and endorsed it in 2009. It also endorsed the Terezin Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. Experts stated that Canada did not enact immovable property restitution laws because no such property was seized in the country during the Holocaust. According to the government, “the issue of displaced cultural property primarily affects those art museums and private collectors that acquired European fine and decorative art of unknown provenance from the period of 1933-1945.” The government’s Canadian Heritage Information Network hosts an online database known as Artefacts Canada, which contains five million object records and one million images from Canadian museums. Both museum professionals and the general public can access the database, which may assist museum professionals and Holocaust survivors and their heirs in identifying confiscated or looted movable property.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

On August 6, British Columbia’s information and privacy commissioner launched an investigation at the request of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) into the federal Liberal Party’s use of facial recognition technology to screen candidates to run for the party in the 2021 federal election. The technology verifies the identity of members eligible to vote in nomination meetings. Nomination meetings are normally held in person, but the party moved them online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CCLA asserted the Liberal Party’s use of such software “sends the wrong message to municipal, provincial, and federal election officials that this technology is ready for prime time.” The review was to determine whether the party complied with British Columbia’s Personal Information Protection Act; it was the only province that had privacy laws subjecting activities of political parties to independent oversight, including the use of identity technology and of third-party automated identification verification service providers. The outcome of the review remained pending as of November.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Freedom of Expression: According to Supreme Court rulings, the government may limit speech to counter discrimination, foster social harmony, or promote gender equality. The court ruled that the benefits of limiting hate speech and promoting equality are sufficient to outweigh the freedom of speech clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the country’s constitutional bill of rights.

The criminal code prohibits public incitement and willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group in any medium. Inciting hatred (in certain cases) or genocide is a criminal offense, but the Supreme Court sets a high threshold for such cases, specifying that these acts must be proven to be willful and public. Provincial-level film censorship, broadcast-licensing procedures, broadcasters’ voluntary codes curbing graphic violence, and laws against hate literature and pornography impose some restrictions on media.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamatory libel with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, but courts seldom imposed such a punishment.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights prior to the start of the global pandemic. Some provinces implemented measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 that restricted internal movement.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and facilitated local integration (including naturalization), particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (in the form of temporary residence permits) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, by the end of 2020 (latest available figures), there were 3,790 persons in the country who fell under the UN statelessness mandate; a total of 4,139 stateless persons were in the country, including forcibly displaced stateless persons. The law provides for access to citizenship for stateless persons who have a birth parent who was a citizen of the country at the time of the birth, meets age and physical presence requirements, and has not been convicted of specified criminal offenses. The minister of immigration has the discretion to grant citizenship to any person to alleviate cases of statelessness or of special and unusual hardship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Following a free and fair federal election on September 20, the Liberal Party won a plurality of seats in the federal parliament and secured a mandate to form a minority national government.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In the September federal election, 44 percent of 338 House of Commons candidates were women, up from a previous record high of 42 percent of female candidates in the 2019 election. Women won 30 percent of the seats in the House of Commons. The government of New Brunswick provided financial incentives to political parties to field female candidates in provincial elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On May 13, the federal ethics commissioner reported his findings in investigations into former federal finance minister Bill Morneau’s failure to recuse himself from the proposed award of a sole source C$900 million ($692 million) federal pandemic-relief contract in 2020 to the nonprofit WE Charity, and into the prime minister’s relations with the charity. The contract was never issued. The commissioner found Morneau had a prior personal and professional relationship with the charity’s directors and broke federal ethics law by failing to recuse himself, by allowing his staff to “disproportionately assist” WE, and by “improperly furthering” WE’s private interests. The breaches did not carry criminal or financial penalties. In a related investigation, the commissioner cleared Morneau of improperly accepting approximately C$41,000 ($32,000) in personal travel from WE Charity. Separately, the commissioner found the prime minister did not breach the act.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were largely cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Federal and provincial human rights commissions enjoyed government cooperation, operated without government or party interference, and had adequate resources. Observers considered the commissions effective. Parliamentary human rights committees operated in the House of Commons and the Senate. The committees acted independently of government, conducted public hearings, and issued reports and recommendations to which the government provided written, public, and timely responses. Most federal departments and some federal agencies employed ombudsperson. Nine provinces and one territory also employed an ombudsperson.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, as sexual assault, and the government enforced the law effectively. Penalties for sexual assault carry prison sentences of up to 10 years, up to 14 years for sexual assault with a restricted or prohibited firearm, and between four years and life for aggravated sexual assault with a firearm or committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organization. Most victims of sexual assault were women.

The law provides protections against domestic violence for both men and women, although most victims were women. Although the law does not define specific domestic violence offenses, assault, aggravated assault, intimidation, mischief, or sexual assault charges apply to acts of domestic violence. Persons convicted of assault receive up to five years in prison. Assaults involving weapons, threats, or injuries carry terms of up to 10 years. Aggravated assault or endangerment of life carry prison sentences of up to 14 years. The government generally enforced the law effectively. Police received training in interacting with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and agencies provided hotlines to report abuse.

The law was appropriately enforced, but a study prepared for federal, provincial, and territorial ministers of justice and released to the public in 2018 acknowledged challenges in reporting, investigating, and prosecuting sexual assault cases. Crimes of sexual assault were self-reported, and the majority of incidents were not reported to police. According to studies in 2014 by the federal department of justice, 83 percent of survivors of sexual assault did not report their assaults to police in that year. Of all sexual assaults reported to and substantiated by police from 2009 to 2014, 43 percent resulted in police laying a charge, 21 percent proceeded to court, and 12 percent resulted in a criminal conviction over the six-year period. Indigenous women and girls were disproportionately victims of sexual abuse. In 2014 indigenous women reported a sexual assault rate of 115 incidents per 1,000 population, significantly higher than the rate of 35 per 1,000 reported by nonindigenous women.

Approximately 1,180 indigenous women disappeared or were killed from 1980 to 2012, according to a 2014 report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Indigenous advocates and a report issued in 2019 by the government-commissioned National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (NIMMIWG) stated the number was probably far higher, since many deaths had gone unreported. Indigenous women and girls made up an estimated 5 percent of the country’s women but represented 16 percent of the women killed, according to government statistics. Indigenous women and children were also at high risk of human trafficking.

The NIMMIWG concluded in 2019 that the government’s treatment of indigenous peoples amounted to “deliberate race, identity, and gender-based genocide,” that the harm continued, and that it required immediate remedy. On June 1, two years after the NIMMIWG report and one year later than the government had originally promised an official response, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) said it had “lost confidence” in the government and released its own NIMMIWG action plan without waiting for government action. NWAC is a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that had originally spurred creation of the NIMMIWG. On June 3, the government released its National Action Plan in response to the NIMMIWG inquiry’s 231 recommendations. The government attributed the delay to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan committed C$2.2 billion ($1.7 billion) over five years and C$160.9 million ($127 million) for data collection, counseling and support services, culture, health, justice, safety, and security, and to combat human trafficking. It committed to no timeline for action.

The government’s Family Violence Initiative involved 15 federal departments, agencies, and crown corporations, including Status of Women Canada, Health Canada, and Justice Canada. These entities worked with civil society organizations to eliminate violence against women and to advance women’s human rights. The government continued a national strategy begun in 2017 to prevent and address gender-based violence, budgeting C$101 million ($77.8 million) over five years and C$20.7 million ($16.6 million) annually thereafter to create a center of excellence within Status of Women Canada for research, data collection, and programming, and to provide support for prevention, victim and family support, public education, justice, training, and programming. The 2018 federal budget allocated an additional C$86 million ($66 million) over five years, starting in 2018-19, and C$20 million ($15.4 million) per year thereafter, to expand the strategy with a focus on preventing teen-dating violence, bullying, and cyberbullying; health care for victims; investigative policing; police training; research; funding for rape crisis and sexual assault centers; and programs to prevent gender-based violence in postsecondary educational institutions. Provincial and municipal governments also sought to address violence against women, often in partnership with civil society.

In July preliminary findings from the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability’s (CFOJA) midyear report found 92 women and girls were killed between January and June, 79 of whom were killed by men. Indigenous women accounted for 12 percent of femicide victims, despite comprising 5 percent of the country’s population. The CFOJA reported 60 women and girls were victims of femicide in 2020. NGOs reported higher demand for services during the COVID-19 pandemic and attributed increases in domestic partner fatalities in part to the stress of societal lockdowns. The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses reported an increase of domestic violence fatalities in Ontario of more than 84 percent, from 19 to 35 in the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2020.

On April 23, the Quebec government allocated C$223 million ($173.4 million) over five years to combat gender-based violence, including C$90 million ($70 million) for women’s shelters. The new money, combined with allocations in the provincial budget in March and previous commitments, totaled C$425 million ($330.5 million) over five years. According to the Quebec public security minister, as of October, 16 women had been killed by their male partners in Quebec, a significant increase from an average of 12 deaths in the province attributed to domestic violence in a calendar year.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls and prosecutes the offense, including parents of minors, as aggravated assault with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. FGM/C occurred on occasion, predominantly in diaspora communities. While internal government reports leaked to media asserted that FGM/C practitioners and victims often traveled to the country of the practitioners’ origin for the illegal procedure, officials also sought to prevent the entry of FGM/C practitioners into the country.

Sexual Harassment: The law offers protections from sexual harassment at the workplace but does not articulate a specific offense of “sexual harassment” outside of work; instead, it criminalizes harassment (defined as stalking), punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, and sexual assault, with penalties ranging from 10 years for nonaggravated sexual assault to life imprisonment for aggravated sexual assault. Federal, provincial, and territorial human rights commissions have responsibility for investigating and resolving harassment complaints. Employers, companies, unions, educational facilities, professional bodies, and other institutions had internal policies against sexual harassment, and federal and provincial governments provided public education and guidance.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of the government. A class action suit filed in 2017 against the province of Saskatchewan by at least 60 indigenous women who claimed physicians in the provincial health system subjected them to coerced sterilization or sterilization without proper or informed consent between 1972 and 2017 remained in progress as of November.

No significant legal, social, or cultural barriers or government policies adversely affected access to contraception; cost was cited as the most important barrier to contraception access in the country, particularly for young and low-income women and indigenous women in northern or remote communities where menstrual products and other imported consumer goods cost significantly more than in southern and urban communities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence in hospitals and through dedicated sexual assault care centers, including emergency contraception as part of clinical management of rape.

Women had access to emergency health care, including services for the management of complications arising from abortion. Skilled health attendants were available during pregnancy and childbirth and were publicly funded; however, women in rural, remote, and Arctic areas had more difficulty accessing care. Although the country’s maternal mortality rate in 2018 was low at 8.5 per 100,000 live births, a 2016 medical study reported indigenous women had a two times higher risk of maternal mortality than the national average and a higher risk of adverse outcomes, including stillbirth, perinatal death, low-birth weight infants, prematurity, and infant deaths. The country’s birth rate among females 15 to 19 years of age was 6.3 per 1,000 in 2019, the latest available figure, and varied widely by province. In Ontario, the most populous province that includes multiple urban centers, the birth rate was 4.3 per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19. In the rural northern territory of Nunavut – 86 percent of the population of which was indigenous – the rate was 97.3 per 1,000. The country’s national statistical agency cited low income, overcrowded or inadequate housing, lack of a high school diploma, and lack of access to sexual health education and contraception as social determinants of higher birth rates among indigenous adolescents.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, religious, personal status and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property. The government enforced these rights effectively.

In May the government released 2020 data regarding female representation and diversity on the corporate boards of approximately 669 publicly traded companies in the country required by law to disclose annual diversity data. Women held 25 percent of all senior management positions in the identified companies and 50 percent had at least one woman on their board of directors. Fourteen percent had set targets for the representation of women on their boards and 32 percent had written policies relating to the identification and nomination of women for board seats. Seven provinces and two territories require private-sector companies to report annually on their efforts to increase the number of women appointed to executive corporate boards. The government’s statistical agency reported that hourly wages for women were, on average, lower than for men but that the wage gap had narrowed to 87 cents for women for every dollar earned by men in 2018 (latest available figures), except at the top of corporate structures. The agency attributed the change to women’s higher rates of public-sector work, unionization, and higher educational attainment and cited factors such as differences in the industries where men and women work, and the higher likelihood for women to work part-time, for the continuing gap.

An April 20 ruling by Quebec’s Superior Court upheld most of a provincial law that bans specific public employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work. The Superior Court judge acknowledged the law violated the rights of Muslim women and had “cruel” and “dehumanizing” consequences for those who wore religious symbols but concluded it did not violate the country’s constitution. The province had shielded the law by invoking a constitutional override provision that allows a province to suspend protected rights for a period of five years. The judge, however, struck down the application of the law for two worker categories: members of the provincial National Assembly and those working for Anglophone school boards. Under the law judges, lawyers, police officers, and teachers in the majority Francophone public school system continued to be prohibited from wearing visible religious symbols at work. The two-tiered ruling was seen by minority rights groups as a major setback that they said would perpetuate violation of religious freedom and permit the continuation of legal discrimination in the province – especially against Muslim women. The judge remarked in his ruling that persons who “fall into this category can no longer seek out new jobs in the public service without compromising their beliefs.”

In June the Quebec government appealed the Superior Court ruling, which remained pending as of November. The government’s appeal paused the exemption from the law for Anglophone school boards; the English Montreal School Board asked the Quebec Court of Appeal for a temporary exemption to allow them to hire staff before the appeal was decided. A judicial decision on the temporary exemption also remained pending as of November. Separately, Muslim and civil rights organizations in Quebec in May said they would appeal the Superior Court ruling. Their appeal remained pending as of November.

First Nations women living on reservations (where land is held communally) have matrimonial property rights. First Nations may choose to follow federal law or may enact their own rules related to matrimonial real property rights and interests that respect their customs.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution, the law, and federal and provincial human rights laws provide for equal rights, protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination, and provide redress. The federal Canadian Race Relations Foundation coordinates and facilitates public education and research and develops recommendations to eliminate racism and promote harmonious race relations. The government enforced the law effectively.

There were reports of discrimination and violence against ethnic minority groups and racial profiling by police. In July the government’s national statistical agency reported 2,669 hate crimes, up from 1,951 in 2019, a 37 percent increase and the highest number since comparable data became available in 2009. The increase was largely the result of hate incidents targeting the Black population (up 318 incidents and 92 percent from 2019) and the East or Southeast Asian population (up 202 incidents and 301 percent as of 2019).

On January 28, Montreal police arrested a Black man, charged him with attempted murder, assaulting a police officer, and disarming a police officer, and detained him for six nights after an officer was attacked at a separate location following a traffic stop. The man was exonerated and cleared of all charges on February 5, and Montreal’s police chief apologized to him. Police denied the man had been racially profiled, and a public inquiry led by a Quebec Superior Court justice concurred on September 3. The judge found that both police and the prosecutor who authorized the charges acted lawfully and reasonably. The judge reported investigators made technical errors that delayed the man’s release and recommended improvements in police training and procedures. Lawyers for the man described the judicial report as “one-sided” and confirmed the man would continue with a suit seeking redress for the wrongful arrest and detention that he had filed in July against the city and the province. The suit remained in progress as of October.

Police forces in major cities, including Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa, reported an increase in incidents of harassment, violence, and graffiti based on race, ethnicity, or skin color against Asians between 2019 and 2020, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Verbal harassment, targeted coughing and spitting, and physical aggression reportedly accounted for the majority of the incidents. According to the Vancouver Police Department, anti-Asian hate crimes in the city increased seven-fold in 2020. A June 8 poll by the Angus Reid Institute found 58 percent of Asian respondents to the survey said they had experienced at least one incident of anti-Asian discrimination in the previous year; 86 percent of those polled said the discrimination was societal, not institutional. On June 17, police charged two individuals with mischief after they allegedly threw a hot beverage at an Asian staff member and uttered racist slurs at a coffee shop in Richmond, British Columbia, on March 29 after the employee asked them to maintain social distance between customers. A British Columbia court scheduled a hearing for the case in November. On August 18, the British Columbia Human Rights Commission launched a year-long public inquiry to investigate the increase in hate crime incidents in the province during the pandemic. The commission will not hold public hearings but will solicit expert and public written testimony and report in 2022.

The prime minister and government ministers condemned anti-Asian racism and “scapegoating” for the COVID-19 pandemic. In April the federal budget allocated C$11 million ($8.6 million) over two years to the Canadian Race Relations Foundation to combat racism during the pandemic and to establish a national coalition to support Asian-Canadian communities. In 2019 the government announced a C$45 million ($35.7 million) Anti-Racism Strategy over three years to combat racism and discrimination, including creation of an Anti-Racism Secretariat to coordinate initiatives across government, conduct outreach and public education, and engage indigenous people and community groups. On August 4, the government allocated C$96 million ($76 million) to Black community groups to support capacity and workspace development in addition to C$25 million ($20 million) in 2019 and C$350 million ($277.5 million) in 2020 to support Black entrepreneurs and address barriers to access to credit and systemic racism.

The government held a national emergency summit on anti-Semitism on July 21 and a separate summit on Islamophobia on July 22 to raise awareness, conduct public education, engage communities, and identify best practices to combat discrimination. The prime minister addressed both summits, and elected officials were invited to attend. The country’s special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating anti-Semitism participated in the summit on July 21. In October the prime minister confirmed the government had made the role of special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating anti-Semitism a permanent office with dedicated funding.

Indigenous Peoples

According to the government’s national statistical agency, indigenous peoples constituted approximately 5 percent of the national population and much higher percentages in the country’s three territories: Yukon, 23 percent; Northwest Territories, 51 percent; and Nunavut, 86 percent. Disputes over land claims, self-government, treaty rights, taxation, duty-free imports, fishing and hunting rights, and alleged police brutality and harassment were sources of tension. Indigenous peoples remained underrepresented in the workforce, leadership positions, and politics; more susceptible than other groups to suicide, poverty, chronic health conditions, sexual violence, human trafficking, and other violent crime; and overrepresented on welfare rolls and in prison populations.

On June 9, the provincial government of British Columbia agreed to a request by the indigenous Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, and Huu-ay-aht First Nations to defer commercial logging for two years on the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island, which included their territories. The logging company also agreed to the moratorium. Activists, including nonindigenous persons, had blocked roads to the site to stop commercial harvesting of old-growth trees since August 2020, resulting in more than 180 arrests after police enforced an injunction in May. Chiefs of the impacted First Nations asked activists to leave their territories and allow indigenous peoples to make decisions on how to use the land.

The law recognizes individuals registered under the Indian Act based on indigenous lineage and members of a recognized First Nation as Status Indians and eligible for a range of federal services and programs. Status and services are withheld from unregistered or nonstatus indigenous persons who do not meet eligibility criteria for official recognition.

The law recognizes and specifically protects indigenous rights, including rights established by historical land claims settlements. Treaties with indigenous groups form the basis for the government’s policies in the eastern part of the country, but there were legal challenges to the government’s interpretation and implementation of treaty rights. Indigenous groups in the western part of the country that had never signed treaties continued to claim land and resources, and many continued to seek legal resolution of outstanding issues. As a result the evolution of the government’s policy toward indigenous rights, particularly land claims, depended on negotiation or legal challenges.

The law imposes statutory, contractual, and common-law obligations to consult with indigenous peoples on the development and exploitation of natural resources on land covered by treaty or subject to indigenous land claims. According to a Supreme Court ruling, the federal government has the constitutional duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate indigenous peoples when the government contemplates actions that may adversely affect potential or established indigenous and treaty rights, and indigenous title.

Supreme Court decisions affirmed that indigenous title extends to territory used by indigenous peoples for hunting, fishing, and other activities prior to contact with Europeans, as well as to settlement sites. Provincial and federal governments may develop natural resources on land subject to indigenous title but are obliged to obtain consent of the indigenous titleholders in addition to existing constitutional duties to consult, and where necessary, accommodate indigenous peoples in matters that affect their rights. If governments cannot obtain consent, they may proceed with resource development only based on a “compelling and substantial objective” in the public interest, in which the public interest is proportionate to any adverse effect on indigenous interests. The court has established that indigenous titles are collective in nature.

On April 23, the Supreme Court affirmed the country’s constitutional obligations towards indigenous peoples extended to noncitizen indigenous persons with historical territory in Canada. The court determined indigenous rights stemmed from precolonial territorial control, even if that area was now outside the country’s borders.

Indigenous minors were overrepresented in foster care and in the custody of provincial child welfare systems. In 2020 the law changed to affirm and recognize First Nations, Inuit, and Metis jurisdiction over child and family services with the goal of keeping indigenous children and youth connected to their families, communities, and culture. On July 7, the government signed an agreement with the Cowessess First Nation, the first indigenous group under the law to take control of child welfare in its community. Indigenous groups must sign these agreements with the federal government on a case-by-case basis. They may develop their own child welfare laws or use traditional practices, either of which take precedence over federal or provincial law.

In September the Federal Court upheld two 2019 rulings by the federal Human Rights Tribunal that awarded financial compensation to indigenous children in the child welfare system after 2006. The tribunal had concluded the government discriminated against indigenous children by willfully underfunding child welfare services on reserves that resulted in their removal from their families, and by failing to provide services as the result of a jurisdictional dispute between federal and provincial governments over which government should pay for care off reserves. The federal government acknowledged the discrimination but claimed the tribunal lacked jurisdiction and asserted the government wanted to resolve the issue as part of separate but related class-action lawsuits with a more generous financial settlement. On October 29, it announced that it would appeal the part of the tribunal’s ruling that related to financial compensation, but not the section that mandated the government provide public services to First Nations children on the same basis as nonindigenous children. The government stated the parties had agreed to pause litigation until December to allow time to negotiate financial compensation as part of a comprehensive settlement package.

On September 24, the Federal Court approved a financial settlement reached in June by the federal government with indigenous former students who attended indigenous residential schools on a day basis but did not reside at the schools. Court approval was required to verify the agreement was “fair and reasonable.” The agreement was the third relating to compensation for abuse experienced by students compelled to attend the schools. In 2019 the Federal Court approved a financial settlement between the government and indigenous former students to compensate students who suffered physical, sexual, and psychological abuse and loss of culture and language while attending federal and provincial government-funded day schools. The claims period was scheduled to remain open until July 2022. The government and churches that operated indigenous residential schools on the former’s behalf reached a settlement with indigenous former students in 2006, the largest class action settlement in the country’s history. As of March when the claims period closed, the government had disbursed more than C$ three billion ($2.3 billion) to claimants.

In May the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia announced the discovery of 251 unmarked graves on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School that they believed included the remains of indigenous children who attended the school. The prime minister said the discovery served as a “painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history.” Indigenous communities in British Columbia and other provinces subsequently identified undocumented grave sites on or near the locations of former residential schools totaling more than 1,200 graves. More than 130 indigenous residential schools operated across the country between the 1870s and 1996. As of August the federal government had received more than 100 applications from indigenous nations or groups for funding to locate, identify, and commemorate the remains and had committed C$27 million ($21.4 million). Provincial governments in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario also pledged funding for a combined federal and provincial total of approximately C$62 million ($50 million) as of October.

Contaminated drinking water was a problem in many indigenous communities. On July 30, the government announced an out-of-court settlement of C$ eight billion ($6.3 billion) to compensate 258 First Nations and to fix water quality systems on reserves. The settlement was subject to approval by the Federal Court to determine whether it was fair. The government had committed to end all drinking water advisories on indigenous lands by March 2021 but missed the deadline. In March it recommitted to end the advisories but did not provide a timeline. As of September the government stated 117 long-term water advisories had been lifted since November 2015 and 45 long-term water advisories remained in effect in 32 indigenous communities.

On October 1, a Quebec coroner concluded that racism contributed to the death of Joyce Echaquan, an indigenous woman who died in a Quebec hospital in 2020 and recorded racist abuse on her cell phone directed toward her by nursing staff. The coroner found Echaquan did not receive the medical care to which she was entitled and that the care provided by the hospital was “imprinted with prejudice and biases” that prompted staff to neglect, minimize or misdiagnose her symptoms because she was indigenous. The coroner issued several recommendations, including that the provincial government recognize the existence of systemic racism within its institutions. The premier of Quebec stated Echaquan experienced discrimination and Quebec would continue to combat racism, but he denied the existence of systemic racism in the province. The prime minister recognized Echaquan’s death as an example of systemic racism. In October Echaquan family members said they would file suit against the hospital where she died.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Births are registered immediately and are neither denied nor provided on a discriminatory basis.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 16 years as the legal minimum age of marriage with parental consent. Early marriages were not known to be a major problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, sale, grooming, offering, or procuring children for commercial sex, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities enforced the law effectively. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16 years. Persons convicted of living from the proceeds of child sex trafficking face between two and 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons who aid, counsel, compel, use, or threaten to use violence, intimidation, or coercion in relation to child sex trafficking face between five and 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons who solicit or obtain the sexual services of a child younger than age 18 face between six months’ and 10 years’ imprisonment. Children, principally teenage girls, were exploited in sex trafficking. The country was a destination for child sex tourism, and Canadian tourists committed child sex tourism crimes abroad. Children from indigenous communities; at-risk youth; runaway youth; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) children; and youth in the child welfare system were at high risk for trafficking.

The law prohibits accessing, producing, distributing, and possessing child pornography. Maximum penalties range from 18 months’ imprisonment for summary offenses to 10 years’ imprisonment for indictable offenses.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

Approximately 1 percent of the population is Jewish. The government enforced laws against discrimination effectively.

The B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights received 2,610 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2020, the latest available data, representing an 18 percent increase from 2019. Of this total, there were 2,483 incidents of anti-Semitic harassment in 2020, up 23 percent from 2019. B’nai Brith also reported there were nine cases of anti-Semitic violence, of which approximately 44 percent were related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 118 reports of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2020.

In May the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies filed a complaint with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regarding the flying of a Hitler Youth flag on private property in Breton, Alberta. Police officers spoke to the property owner, who refused to take down the flag. The center also filed a separate police complaint the same month regarding the flying of a Hitler Youth flag at a property in Boyle, Alberta. The property owner removed the flag after police spoke to him.

In July Toronto police charged a man with assault and municipal by-law infractions for antisocial behavior in two separate anti-Semitic incidents. On July 6, a man with a swastika drawn on his bare chest yelled anti-Semitic slurs and threw an object at a Jewish person in a public park, and on July 10, the same man, again with the swastika drawn on his chest, yelled anti-Semitic slurs at three Jewish women walking in a public park with a baby. When a Jewish man intervened, the assailant punched the man several times. Police investigated whether to file hate-crime charges in both incidents. In September the same assailant was arrested and charged with one count of assault and one count of failure to comply with a release order in a third anti-Semitic incident in Toronto. The man approached a woman at a subway station, asked her multiple times whether she was Jewish, performed a Nazi salute, and attacked her when she ignored his questions. The woman was not Jewish.

In August unknown vandals defaced election signs of two Jewish candidates in Montreal, Quebec, with swastikas. On August 17, the prime minister tweeted the graffiti was “completely unacceptable” and that he stood “in solidarity” with the two candidates and with “the entire Jewish community against this type of hatred.”

On July 21, the government hosted an emergency national summit on anti-Semitism and announced C$ six million ($4.7 million) in funding for 150 projects to support communities at risk of hate crime. On July 5, the Ontario government gave C$327,000 ($258,500) to the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center to develop anti-Semitism courses for teachers and students in the province’s schools.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and persons with disabilities could access education, employment, health services, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services on an equal basis with others. Children with disabilities attended school with peers without disabilities. Federal and provincial governments effectively implemented laws and programs mandating access to public buildings, information, and communications in accessible formats for persons with disabilities, but regulation varies by jurisdiction. The government enforced these provisions effectively. The law requires employers and service providers to “identify, remove, and prevent” accessibility barriers in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction.

Disability rights NGOs reported that persons with disabilities experienced higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, lower rates of job retention, and higher rates of poverty and economic marginalization than others. Persons with disabilities were at increased risk of human trafficking. Mental-disability advocates asserted the prison system was not sufficiently equipped or staffed to provide the care necessary for those in the criminal justice system, resulting in cases of segregation and self-harm.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination by state and nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services, including health care, and the government enforced the law. Conversion therapy designed to change a person’s sexual orientation is lawful. A 2020 study by the British Columbia-based nonprofit Community-Based Research Centre that promotes the health of individuals of diverse sexualities and genders found 20 percent of sexual-minority men surveyed reported experiencing sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression change efforts, and, of them, almost 40 percent (or 47,000 men) reported having experienced conversion therapy. LGBTQI+ individuals were at increased risk of human trafficking.

In January the Quebec Superior Court invalidated provisions in the province’s civil legal code that prevented individuals from changing their birth gender designation to reflect their gender identity, required parents to identify as a mother or father rather than parent on a declaration of birth, and required individuals ages 14 to 17 years to obtain approval from a physician or health professional to change their gender designation on official documents. The court ruled the code deprived transgender and nonbinary persons of dignity and equality and gave the province until December 31 to amend it. In April the Quebec government appealed the decision that struck down the requirement for minors to obtain permission from a physician or health professional to change their gender designation; the case remained in progress as of November.

On June 15, Egale Canada, a LGBTQI+ NGO, filed an application at the Ontario Superior Court to challenge the constitutionality of exemptions in the law that permit nonconsensual aesthetic surgeries on the genitalia of intersex infants and children. The application remained pending as of November.

On March 21, unknown vandals painted a homophobic slur on the road outside the home of Ottawa’s mayor, an openly gay man. In a tweet the prime minister condemned “ignorance and inexcusable hate” and expressed his support for the mayor. The city removed the graffiti.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Federal and some provincial laws, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provide for the right of workers in both the public and the private sectors to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Bargaining units had access to mediation at any time and the choice of binding arbitration or conciliation to resolve disputes with employers. Workers in the public sector who provide essential services, including police and armed forces, do not have the right to strike but have mechanisms to provide for due process and to protect workers’ rights. Workers in essential services had recourse to mediation and binding arbitration if labor negotiations fail. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union functions.

Federal labor law applies in federally regulated sectors, which include industries of extra provincial or international character, transportation and transportation infrastructure that cross provincial and international borders, marine shipping, port and ferry services, air transportation and airports, pipelines, telecommunications, banks, grain elevators, uranium mining and processing, works designated by the federal parliament affecting two or more provinces, protection of fisheries as a natural resource, many First Nation activities, and most state-owned corporations. These industries employed approximately 10 percent of workers.

The law requires the government and a bargaining unit in a federal or federally regulated industry to negotiate an essential services agreement defining an essential service and identifying the number and type of employees and the specific positions within the bargaining unit necessary to provide such essential service and, consequently, do not have the right to strike. If the parties are unable to agree, either party can apply to the independent Federal Public Sector Labor Relations and Employment Board for a resolution.

Provincial and territorial governments regulate and are responsible for enforcing their own labor laws in all occupations and workplaces that are not federally regulated, leaving categories of workers excluded from statutory protection of freedom of association in several provinces. Some provinces restrict the right to organize. For example, agricultural workers in Ontario and Quebec do not have the right to organize or bargain collectively or experience restrictions on such rights, under provincial law. Migrant workers in specific occupations, such as agriculture or caregiving, may also be exempt from minimum wage, overtime, and other labor standards protections in specific provinces.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right of collective bargaining. The government effectively enforced applicable laws and regulations, including with remedies and penalties such as corrective workplace practices and criminal prosecution for noncompliance and willful violations. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government enforced the law, although NGOs said enforcement lacked resources. The law prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The government investigated and prosecuted cases of forced labor, including domestic servitude, and penalties were commensurate with penalties for other analogous serious crimes. The government’s efforts to identify victims and address forced labor, through both law enforcement and victim identification and protection measures, remained inadequate.

The federal government held employers of foreign workers accountable by verifying employers’ ability to pay wages and provide accommodation and, through periodic inspections and mandatory compliance reviews, ensuring that employers provided the same wages, living conditions, and occupation specified in the employers’ original job offer. The government can deny noncompliant employers the permits required to recruit foreign workers for two years and impose fines of up to C$100,000 ($77,000) per violation of the program. Some provincial governments imposed licensing and registration requirements on recruiters or employers of foreign workers and prohibited the charging of recruitment fees to workers. Forced labor, fraud, coercion, and the withholding of identity and travel documents from workers was a criminal offense with penalties that include imprisonment. The government’s national strategy to combat human trafficking committed to prevent human trafficking in federal procurement supply chains. In August the government’s procurement agency, Public Services and Procurement Canada, updated its code of conduct for procurement for vendors supplying products and services to the government that included new provisions relating to human and labor rights, and to mitigate risks in supply chains. The government amended its Customs Tariff Act in 2020 to prohibit the importation of all goods produced, in whole or in part, by forced or compulsory labor, irrespective of their country of origin. There were reports that employers subjected employees with temporary or no legal status to forced labor in the agricultural sector, food processing, cleaning services, hospitality, construction industries, and domestic service. During the pandemic there were also reports that some employers barred migrant workers from leaving the work location, hired private security to prevent workers from leaving, and deducted inflated food and supply costs from their wages. NGOs reported bonded labor, particularly in the construction industry, and domestic servitude constituted the majority of identified cases of forced labor and that some victims had participated in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

In July the government announced amended regulations to improve protections for migrant workers, including mandating that employers inform workers of their rights, prohibiting reprisals for workers who file complaints, requiring employers to provide access to health care and health insurance, strengthening employment assessments of applications from employers, and increasing the frequency and scope of enforcement inspections. NGOs cited lack of oversight and enforcement of quarantine and isolation for outbreaks of the virus among migrant agricultural workers.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. In federally regulated sectors, children younger than age 17 may work only when they are not required to attend school under provincial legislation, provided the work does not fall under excluded categories (such as work underground in a mine, on a vessel, or in the vicinity of explosives) and the work does not endanger health and safety. Children may not work in any federally regulated sector between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The provinces and territories have primary responsibility for regulation of child labor, and minimum age restrictions vary by province. Enforcement occurs through a range of laws covering employment standards, occupational health and safety, education laws, and in regulations for vocational training, child welfare, and licensing of establishments for the sale of alcohol. Most provinces restrict the number of hours of work to two or three hours on a school day and eight hours on a nonschool day and prohibit children ages 12 to 16 from working without parental consent, after 11 p.m., or in any hazardous employment.

Authorities effectively enforced child labor laws and policies, and federal and provincial labor ministries carried out child labor inspections either proactively or in response to formal complaints. There were reports that limited resources hampered inspection and enforcement efforts. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

There were reports child labor occurred, particularly in the agricultural sector. There were also reports children, principally teenage girls, were subjected to sex trafficking – including child sex tourism – and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, color, sex (including pregnancy), religion, national origin or citizenship, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, and refugee status. Refugees and statelessness NGOs reported stateless persons may have difficulty in obtaining legal employment. The law does not include restrictions on women’s employment concerning working hour limits, occupations, or tasks. In 2019 Quebec used a legal exemption to override constitutional protections of freedom of religion for a period of five years to pass a law that restricts the wearing of visible religious symbols – including hijabs, kippahs, turbans, and crosses – by certain public-sector employees in the province to enforce a policy of religious neutrality in the delivery of provincial public services. Some provinces, including Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Northwest Territories, prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of social origin or “social condition.” Some provinces list political opinion as a prohibited ground of discrimination, but the federal Human Rights Act does not extend this protection to federally regulated workers. The government enforced the law effectively, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were generally commensurate with laws related to civil rights.

Federal law requires equal pay for equal work for four designated groups in federally regulated industries enforced through the Canadian Human Rights Commission: women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and visible minorities. Ontario and Quebec have pay equity laws that cover both the public and private sectors, and other provinces require pay equity only in the public sector.

Authorities encouraged individuals to resolve employment-related discrimination complaints through internal workplace dispute resolution processes as a first recourse, but federal and provincial human rights commissions investigated and mediated complaints and enforced the law and regulations. Some critics complained the process was complex and failed to issue rulings in a timely manner. Foreign migrant workers generally have the same labor rights as citizens and permanent residents, although workers in specific sectors such as agriculture or caregiving were exempt from minimum wage, overtime, and other labor standards protections in specific provinces. NGOs alleged discrimination occurred against migrant workers and that some refugee claimants faced language and other nonlegal barriers that made it difficult to enter the workforce.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There is no national minimum wage. Employees are subject to the minimum wage of the province or territory in which they are employed. In June the government amended the law to apply a federal minimum wage of C$15 ($11.87) per hour, effective December 29, for workers across the country in federally regulated sectors. If the minimum wage of a province or territory is higher than the federal minimum wage, the law requires employers to pay federally regulated workers the higher minimum wage in that jurisdiction. In 2018 the government adopted the Market Basket Measure (MBM) as its first official poverty line. The income level varies based on family size and province; for example, the threshold for a family of four in the national capital, Ottawa, was C$48,391 ($38,300) in 2019, the most recent date for which data was available. The minimum wage was less than the MBM for a family of four, notably in urban centers. The government effectively enforced wage rates, and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Standard work hours vary by province, but the limit is 40 or 48 hours per week, with at least 24 hours of rest. The law requires payment of a premium for work above the standard workweek. There is no specific prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, which is regulated by means of the required rest periods in the labor code that differ by industry. Some categories of workers have specific employment rights that differ from the standard, including commercial fishermen, oil-field workers, loggers, home caregivers, professionals, managers, and some sales staff. Employment and Social Development Canada is responsible for regulation and enforcement of wage and hour standards in federally regulated sectors across the country, and departments of labor, training, and employment in each province and territory regulate labor standards in all other employment sectors in their respective jurisdictions. Some trade unions claimed that limited resources and number of inspectors hampered the government’s enforcement efforts, including delays in addressing complaints.

Occupational Safety and Health: Federal law provides safety and health standards for employees under federal jurisdiction. Provincial and territorial legislation provides for all other employees, including foreign and migrant workers. Standards were current and appropriate for the industries they covered. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations resides with authorities, employers, and supervisors, not the worker. Inspectors conducted proactive workplace visits to raise awareness of hazards, advise parties of their rights, duties, and obligations, and to promote and assist with compliance, and reactively in response to fatalities, injuries, and complaints. Federal, provincial, and territorial laws protect the right of workers with “reasonable cause” to refuse dangerous work and to remove themselves from hazardous work conditions, and authorities effectively enforced this right. The government also promoted safe working practices and provided training, education, and resources through the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, a federal agency composed of representatives of government, employers, and labor.

Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards were enforced by the same authorities. Standards were effectively enforced, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. Federal and provincial labor departments monitored and effectively enforced labor standards by conducting inspections through scheduled and unscheduled visits, in direct response to reported complaints, and at random. Inspectors had authority to require remedies and initiate sanctions, including fines, suspensions, or closures. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

NGOs reported migrants, especially agricultural migrant workers, new immigrants, young workers, and the unskilled were vulnerable to violations of the law on minimum wage, overtime pay, unpaid wages, and excessive hours of work. NGOs also alleged that restrictions on the types of labor complaints accepted for investigation and delays in processing cases discouraged the filing of complaints. Federal and federally regulated workers could file complaints related to unpaid wages and health and safety, and grievances for unjust dismissal and genetic testing. Restrictions varied between provinces in provincially regulated industries, and time limits existed to file complaints.

According to the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada, during 2019, the most recent year for which data were available, there were 925 fatalities related to the workplace, including from traumatic injuries and work-related exposure to chemicals or disease-causing substances.

Informal Sector: In 2020 the government’s national statistical agency estimated GDP at market prices for activity in the informal sector in the country in 2018 at C$61.2 billion ($49.2 billion), or 2.7 percent of total GDP. Residential construction, retail trade, finance, insurance, real estate, rental services, and accommodation and food services were the largest sectors of informal activity, and wages and tips accounted for the largest share of unreported income. The federal government has authority to enforce standards over federal workers and in federally regulated industries and provincial governments in all other sectors, but standards were not enforced in practice because work in the informal economy was not reported. Similarly, workers in the informal economy were not subject to federal or provincial wage, hour, and occupational health and safety laws and inspection in practice because the work was not reported. Employers or businesses often classified workers in the gig economy as self-employed independent contractors and not employees, which left them without protections afforded under labor statutes, including the right to unionize or bargain collectively; to occupational health and safety protections, minimum wage, and sick leave provisions; and access to employment insurance.

Colombia

Executive Summary

Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. Presidential and legislative elections were held in 2018. Voters elected Ivan Duque Marquez president in a second round of elections that observers considered free and fair and the most peaceful in decades.

The Colombian National Police force is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The Migration Directorate, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the immigration authority. The Colombian National Police shares law enforcement investigatory duties with the Attorney General’s Corps of Technical Investigators. In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings; torture and arbitrary detention by government security forces and armed groups; rape and abuse of women and children, as well as unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by armed groups; criminalization of libel; widespread government corruption; violence against and forced displacement of Afro-Colombian and indigenous persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; killings and other violence against trade unionists; and child labor.

The government generally took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, although some cases continued to experience long delays. The government generally implemented effectively laws criminalizing official corruption. The government was implementing police reforms focused on enhancing community-police relations, accountability, and human rights.

Armed groups, including dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, National Liberation Army, and drug-trafficking gangs, continued to operate. Armed groups, as well as narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of human rights abuses and violent crimes and committed acts of extrajudicial and unlawful killings, extortion, and other abuses, such as kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, bombings, restriction on freedom of movement, sexual violence, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and threats of violence against journalists, women, and human rights defenders. The government investigated these actions and prosecuted those responsible to the extent possible.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP), from January 1 through August 26, there were 28 cases of “intentional deaths of civilians committed by state agents.”

According to government and NGO reports, police officers killed multiple civilians during nationwide protests that began on April 28. The NGO Human Rights Watch collected information linking 25 civilian deaths during the protests to police, including 18 deaths committed with live ammunition. For example, according to Human Rights Watch and press reports, protester Nicolas Guerrero died from a gunshot wound to the head on May 3 in Cali. Witness accounts indicated a police shooter may have been responsible for Guerrero’s death. As of July 15, the Attorney General’s Office opened investigations into 28 members of the police for alleged homicides committed during the protests, and two police officers were formally charged with homicide. Police authorities and the Attorney General’s Office opened investigations into all allegations of police violence and excessive use of force.

Armed groups, including the National Liberation Army (ELN), committed numerous unlawful killings, in some cases politically motivated, usually in areas without a strong government presence (see section 1.g.).

Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly due to COVID-19 pandemic and the national quarantine. From January 1 through July 31, the Attorney General’s Office registered six new cases of alleged aggravated homicide by state agents. During the same period, authorities formally charged four members of the security forces with aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian.

Efforts continued to hold officials accountable in “false positive” extrajudicial killings, in which thousands of civilians were killed and falsely presented as guerrilla combatants in the late 1990s to early 2000s. As of June the Attorney General’s Office reported the government had convicted 1,437 members of the security forces in cases related to false positive cases since 2008. Many of those convicted in the ordinary and military justice systems were granted conditional release from prisons and military detention centers upon transfer of their cases to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). The military justice system developed a protocol to monitor the whereabouts of prisoners granted conditional release and was responsible for reporting any anomalies to the JEP’s Definition of Juridical Situation Chamber to take appropriate action.

The Attorney General’s Office reported there were open investigations of five retired and active-duty generals related to false positive killings as of July 31. The Attorney General’s Office also reported there were 2,535 open investigations related to false positive killings or other extrajudicial killings as of July 31.

In addition the JEP, the justice component of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Nonrepetition provided for in the 2016 peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continued to take effective steps to hold perpetrators of gross violations of human rights accountable in a manner consistent with international law. This included activities to advance Case 003, focused on extrajudicial killings or “false positives” largely committed by the First, Second, Fourth, and Seventh Army Divisions. In a February 18 ruling, the JEP concluded that, from 2002 to 2008, the army killed at least 6,402 civilians and falsely presented them as enemy combatants in a “systematic crime” to claim rewards in exchange for increased numbers of for combat “enemy” casualties. Several former soldiers and army officers, including colonels and lieutenant colonels convicted in the ordinary justice system, admitted at the JEP to additional killings that had not previously been investigated nor identified as false positives.

On July 6, the JEP issued charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes against a retired brigadier general, nine other army officers, and one civilian in a case concerning the alleged extrajudicial killing and disappearance of at least 120 civilians in Norte de Santander in 2007 and 2008. The killings were allegedly perpetrated by members of Brigade 30, Mobile Brigade 15, and Infantry Battalion 15 “General Francisco de Paula Santander.” On July 15, the JEP issued a second set of war crimes and crimes against humanity indictments against 15 members of the Artillery Battalion 2 “La Popa” for killings and disappearances that took place in the Caribbean Coast region between 2002 and 2005.

In 2019 there were allegations that military orders instructing army commanders to double the results of their missions against guerillas, criminal organizations, and armed groups could heighten the risk of civilian casualties. An independent commission established by President Duque to review the facts regarding these alleged military orders submitted a preliminary report in July 2019 concluding that the orders did not permit, suggest, or result in abuses or criminal conduct and that the armed forces’ operational rules and doctrine were aligned with human rights and international humanitarian law principles. As of September a final report had not been issued.

Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized-crime gangs, which included some former paramilitary members. According to the Attorney General’s Office, between January and July 31, 15 police officials were formally accused of having ties with armed groups.

According to a February 22 report from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 133 human rights defenders were killed in 2020, but the OHCHR was only able to document 53 of those cases, due to COVID-19 pandemic-related movement restrictions. According to the Attorney General’s Office, in the cases of more than 400 killings of human rights defenders from January 2016 to August 2021, the government had obtained 76 convictions. According to the OHCHR, 77 percent of the 2020 human rights defender killings occurred in rural areas, and 96 percent occurred in areas where illicit economies flourished. The motives for the killings varied, and it was often difficult to determine the primary or precise motive in individual cases. For example, on August 21, two armed men entered the motorcycle shop of Eliecer Sanchez Caceres in Cucuta and shot him multiple times, killing him. Sanchez was the vice president of a community action board and had previously complained to authorities about receiving threats from armed groups. Police officials immediately opened an investigation into the killing, which was underway as of October 31.

The Commission of the Timely Action Plan for Prevention and Protection for Human Rights Defenders, Social and Communal Leaders, and Journalists, created in 2018, strengthened efforts to investigate and prevent attacks against social leaders and human rights defenders. The Inspector General’s Office and the human rights ombudsman continued to raise awareness regarding human rights defenders through the Lead Life campaign, in partnership with civil society, media, and international organizations. Additionally, there was an elite Colombian National Police (CNP) corps, a specialized subdirectorate of the National Protection Unit (NPU), a special investigation unit of the Attorney General’s Office responsible for dismantling criminal organizations and enterprises, and a unified command post, which shared responsibility for protecting human rights defenders from attacks and investigating and prosecuting these cases.

By law the Attorney General’s Office is the primary entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by security forces, except for conflict-related crimes, which are within the jurisdiction of the JEP (see section 1.c. for additional information regarding investigations and impunity).

b. Disappearance

According to the Attorney General’s Office, there were six formal complaints of forced disappearance from January 1 through July. As of December 2020, the National Institute of Forensic and Legal Medicine registered 32,027 cases of forced disappearance since the beginning of the country’s armed conflict. Of those, 923 persons were found alive and 1,975 confirmed dead. According to the Attorney General’s Office, as of July there were no convictions in connection with forced disappearances.

The Special Unit for the Search for Disappeared Persons, launched in 2018, continued to investigate disappearances that occurred during the conflict.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports government officials employed them. CINEP reported that through August, security forces were allegedly involved in 19 cases of torture, including 40 victims. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts. NGOs including Human Rights Watch reported that police beat and sexually assaulted demonstrators during the nationwide April-June protests. Human Rights Watch documented 17 cases of beatings, including one that resulted in death. The human rights Ombudsman’s Office and multiple NGOs reported at least 14 cases of alleged sexual assault by police officers during the protests. Police launched internal investigations of all allegations of excessive use of force.

The Attorney General’s Office reported it convicted six members of the military or police force of torture between January and July 31. In addition the Attorney General’s Office reported 50 continuing investigations into alleged acts of torture committed by police or the armed forces through July.

CINEP reported organized-crime gangs and armed groups were responsible for four documented cases of torture including seven victims through August. CINEP reported another 19 cases of torture in which it was unable to identify the alleged perpetrators. According to government and NGO reports, protesters kidnapped 12 police officials during the nationwide protests, torturing some.

According to NGOs monitoring prison conditions, there were numerous allegations of sexual and physical violence committed by guards and other inmates.

The Attorney General’s Office is the primary entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by security forces, except for conflict-related crimes, which are within the jurisdiction of the JEP. The JEP continued investigations in its seven prioritized macro cases with the objective of identifying patterns and establishing links between perpetrators, with the goal of identifying those most responsible for the most serious abuses during the conflict.

Some NGOs complained that military investigators, not members of the Attorney General’s Office, were sometimes the first responders in cases of deaths resulting from actions of security forces and might make decisions about possible illegal actions. The government made improvements in investigating and trying cases of abuses, but claims of impunity for security force members continued. This was due in some cases to obstruction of justice and opacity in the process by which cases were investigated and prosecuted in the military justice system. Inadequate protection of witnesses and investigators, delay tactics by defense attorneys, the judiciary’s failure to exert appropriate controls over dockets and case progress, and inadequate coordination among government entities that sometimes allowed statutes of limitations to expire, resulting in a defendant’s release from jail before trial, were also significant obstacles.

President Duque signed three decrees in March to modernize the military justice system. The decrees transfer the court system from the Ministry of Defense to a separate jurisdiction with independent investigators, prosecutors, and magistrates. This was a step toward transitioning the military justice system from the old inquisitorial to a newer accusatory justice system. Transition to the new system continued slowly, and the military had not developed an interinstitutional strategy for recruiting, hiring, or training investigators, crime scene technicians, or forensic specialists, which is required under the accusatory system. As such, the military justice system did not exercise criminal investigative authority; all new criminal investigation duties were conducted by judicial police investigators from the CNP and the Attorney General’s Corps of Technical Investigators.

In June, President Duque announced police reform plans focused on enhancing community-police relations, accountability, and human rights. Since the announcement, the CNP established a human rights directorate that responds directly to the director general of police and hired a civilian to oversee it. In partnership with a local university, the CNP also developed a human rights certification course for the entire police force and began training 100 trainers to replicate this 200-hour academic and practical course throughout the country. The CNP also enhanced police uniforms with clear and visible identifiable information to help citizens identify police officers who utilize excessive force or violate human rights protocols.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Apart from some new facilities, prisons and detention centers were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, poor health care, and lack of other basic services. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding existed in men’s and in women’s prisons. The National Prison Institute (INPEC), which operated the national prisons and oversaw the jails, estimated there were 99,196 persons incarcerated in 132 prisons at a rate of approximately 17 percent over capacity. The government made efforts to decrease the prison population in the context of COVID-19.

The law prohibits holding pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although this frequently occurred. Juvenile detainees were held in separate juvenile detention centers. The Superior Judiciary Council stated the maximum time a person may remain in judicial detention facilities is three days. The same rules apply to jails located inside police stations. These regulations were often violated.

The practice of preventive detention, in combination with inefficiencies in the judicial system, continued to result in overcrowding. The government continued to implement procedures introduced in 2016 that provide for the immediate release of some pretrial detainees, including many accused of serious crimes such as aggravated robbery and sexual assault.

Physical abuse by prison guards, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and authorities’ failure to maintain control were problems. INPEC’s office of disciplinary control continued to investigate allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally. As of July 31, INPEC reported 14 disciplinary investigations against prison guards for such actions as physical abuse and personal injuries. The Inspector General’s Office reported 46 disciplinary investigations of INPEC officials from January through August 5.

INPEC reported 159 deaths in prisons, jails, pretrial detention, or other detention centers through July 31, including four attributed to internal fights.

Many prisoners continued to face difficulties receiving adequate medical care. Nutrition and water quality were deficient and contributed to the overall poor health of many inmates. Inmates stated authorities routinely rationed water in many facilities, which officials attributed to city water shortages.

INPEC’s physical structures were generally in poor repair. The Inspector General’s Office noted some facilities had poor ventilation and overtaxed sanitary systems. Prisoners in some high-altitude facilities complained of inadequate blankets and clothing, while prisoners in tropical facilities complained that overcrowding and insufficient ventilation contributed to high temperatures in prison cells. Some prisoners slept on floors without mattresses, while others shared cots in overcrowded cells.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible prisoner complaints of mistreatment and inhuman conditions, including complaints of prison guards soliciting bribes from inmates, but some prisoners asserted the investigations were slow.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups. INPEC required a three-day notice before granting consular access. Some NGOs complained that authorities, without adequate explanation, denied them access to visit prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. There were allegations, however, that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. CINEP reported 85 cases of arbitrary detention involving 394 victims committed by state security forces through August 1. Other NGOs provided higher estimates of arbitrary detention, reporting more than 2,000 cases of arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, or illegal deprivations of liberty committed in the context of the national protests.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Authorities must bring detained persons before a judge within 36 hours to determine the validity of the detention, bring formal charges within 30 days, and start a trial within 90 days of the initial detention. Public defenders contracted by the Office of the Ombudsman assisted indigent defendants but were overloaded with cases. Detainees received prompt access to legal counsel and family members as provided for by law. Bail was generally available except for serious crimes such as murder, rebellion, or narcotics trafficking. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, this requirement was not always respected. NGOs characterized some arrests as arbitrary detention, including arrests allegedly based on tips from informants about persons linked to guerrilla activities, detentions by members of the security forces without a judicial order, detentions based on administrative authority, detentions during military operations or at roadblocks, large-scale detentions, and detentions of persons while they were “exercising their fundamental rights.” Multiple NGOs alleged that police abused a temporary protection mechanism during the national protests to detain protesters arbitrarily. For example, NGOs and press reported that police in Cali arbitrarily detained protester Sebastian Mejia Belalcazar on May 28 for more than 24 hours. Mejia alleged police beat and threatened him before releasing him. According to NGOs, there was no official record of the arrest.

Pretrial Detention: The judicial process moved slowly, and the civilian judicial system suffered from a significant backlog of cases, which led to large numbers of pretrial detainees. Of the 99,196 prison detainees, 26,651 were in pretrial detention. The failure of many jail supervisors to keep mandatory detention records or follow notification procedures made accounting for all detainees difficult. In some cases detainees were released without a trial because they had already served more than one-third of the maximum sentence for their charges. Civil society groups complained authorities subjected some community leaders to extended pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Much of the judicial system was overburdened and inefficient, and subornation, corruption, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered judicial functioning.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. While the government began implementing an accusatory system of justice in 2005, the use of delay tactics by defense lawyers to slow or impede proceedings, prosecutors’ heavy caseloads, and other factors, diminished the anticipated increased efficiencies and other benefits of adopting the adversarial model. Under the criminal procedure code, the prosecutor presents an accusation and evidence before an impartial judge at an oral, public trial. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and have the right to confront the trial evidence and witnesses against them, present their own evidence, and communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense. Defendants had adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal their proceedings. Although defendants have the right to an interpreter, the court system lacked interpreters for less commonly encountered languages. Crimes committed before 2005 are processed under the prior written inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor investigates, determines evidence, and makes a finding of guilt or innocence. In those cases the trial consists of the presentation of evidence and finding of guilt or innocence to a judge for ratification or rejection.

In the military justice system, military judges preside over courts-martial. Counsel may represent the accused and call witnesses, but most fact finding takes place during the investigative stage. Military trial judges are required to issue rulings within eight days of a court-martial hearing. Representatives of the civilian Inspector General’s Office are required to be present at a court-martial.

Criminal procedure within the military justice system includes elements of the inquisitorial and accusatory systems. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to timely consultation with counsel.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government declared it did not hold political prisoners; nevertheless, authorities held some members of human rights advocacy groups on charges of conspiracy, rebellion, or terrorism, which the groups described as government harassment against human rights advocates. According to INPEC, the government held 107 persons on charges of rebellion or of aiding and promoting insurgency and had convicted 34. The government provided the International Committee of the Red Cross regular access to these prisoners.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens may sue a government agent or entity in the Administrative Court of Litigation for damages resulting from a human rights violation. Although critics complained of delays in the process, the court generally was considered impartial and effective. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law continued to provide a legal basis for assistance and reparations to victims of the conflict, including victims of government abuses, but the government acknowledged that the pace of restitution was slow. From January through July, the Inspector General’s Office, an independent and autonomous public institution, assisted in 1,425 cases related to land reclamation, i.e., requests for restitution.

The Land Restitution Unit, a semiautonomous entity in the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for returning land to displaced victims of conflict. The unit reported that as of July 15, it had received 1,845 requests, 68 of them for collective restitution of territories of ethnic communities. From January through July 15, courts issued 212 rulings ordering restitution of 229 land titles.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, but there were allegations the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Government authorities generally need a judicial order to intercept mail or email or to monitor telephone conversations, including in prisons. Government intelligence agencies investigating terrorist organizations sometimes monitored telephone conversations without judicial authorization; the law bars evidence obtained in this manner from being used in court.

NGOs continued to accuse domestic intelligence or security entities of spying on lawyers and human rights defenders.

The Attorney General’s Office reported that as of July 31, there were no active criminal investigations underway in connection with illegal communications monitoring. The Inspector General’s Office reported that as of August 5, there were 40 disciplinary investigations against 38 state agents in connection with illegal surveillance and illegal monitoring of communications.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The government and the FARC, formerly the country’s largest guerrilla insurgency group, continued to implement the 2016 peace accord. In 2017 the FARC completed its disarmament, and as of July nearly 13,000 former members were engaged in reincorporation activities, including the formation of a political party. An estimated 800 to 1,500 FARC dissident members did not participate in the peace process from the outset. As of October, NGOs estimated FARC dissident numbers had grown to approximately 5,200 due to new recruitment and some former combatants who returned to arms. A significant percentage of FARC dissidents were unarmed members of support networks that facilitated illicit economies. Some members of the FARC who participated in the peace process alleged the government had not fully complied with its commitments, including ensuring the security of demobilized former combatants or facilitating their reintegration, while the government alleged the FARC had not met its full commitments to cooperate on counternarcotics efforts and other peace accord commitments. Following the signing of the 2016 peace accord, three transitional justice mechanisms were established and were operational throughout the year: the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence, and Nonrepetition; the Special Unit for the Search for Disappeared Persons; and the JEP.

The ELN, a leftist guerilla force that NGOs estimated at 2,400 members, continued to commit crimes and acts of terror throughout the country, including bombings, violence against civilian populations, and violent attacks against military and police facilities. Armed groups and drug gangs, such as the Gulf Clan, also continued to operate. For example, on June 15, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated at a military base housing the army’s 30th brigade in Cucuta, Norte de Santander. At least 44 persons were injured in the explosion, including military officials. President Duque’s helicopter was hit with gunfire in the same region on June 25. The Attorney General’s Office announced the arrest of 10 alleged members of a FARC dissident group in connection with both attacks. On August 30, an improvised explosive device detonated at a police station in Cucuta, injuring at least 13 persons. The ELN took credit for the attack. The Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination Group and other NGOs considered some of these armed groups to be composed of former paramilitary groups. The government acknowledged that some former paramilitary members were active in armed groups but noted these illegal groups lacked the national, unified command structure and explicit ideological agenda that defined past paramilitary groups, including the disbanded United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

Killings: The military was accused of some killings, some of which military officials stated were “military mistakes” (see section 1.a.). In other cases military officials stated they believed an individual was fighting on behalf of an armed group, while community members stated the victim was not a combatant. On March 2, the army bombed a FARC dissident site in Guaviare and reported killing 13 FARC dissidents. According to press reports, some of those killed may have been children. Officials acknowledged minors were present at the site, describing them as young combatants recruited by the FARC dissident group, and claimed the attack on the site fell within the bounds of international law.

Armed groups, notably the ELN, FARC dissidents, and the Gulf Clan, committed unlawful killings, primarily in areas with illicit economic activities and without a strong government presence. The government reported that between January and July 28, there were 109 killings of state security force members, including 53 police officers, allegedly committed by armed groups. Government officials assessed that most of the violence was related to narcotics trafficking enterprises.

Independent observers raised concerns that inadequate security guarantees facilitated the killing of former FARC militants. According to the UN Verification Mission, as of September 24, a total of 291 FARC former combatants had been killed since the signing of the 2016 peace accord. The Attorney General’s Office reported 34 homicide cases with convictions, 37 in the trial stage, 17 under investigation, and 42 with pending arrest warrants. The United Nations also reported the government began to implement additional steps to strengthen security guarantees for former FARC combatants, including deploying additional judicial police officers and attorneys to prioritized departments, promoting initiatives for prevention of stigmatization against former combatants, and establishing a roadmap for the protection of political candidates, including the FARC political party.

Abductions: Organized-crime gangs, FARC dissidents, the ELN, and common criminals continued to kidnap persons. According to the Ministry of Defense, from January 1 to June 30, there were 81 kidnappings, six attributed to the ELN and the remainder attributed to other organized armed groups. On April 18 in Arauca, FARC dissidents kidnapped army lieutenant colonel Pedro Enrique Perez. According to press reports, the FARC dissidents were holding the military officer in Venezuela and released a proof-of-life video in September.

Between January and June, the Ministry of Defense reported five civilians and one member of the military remained in captivity. The Attorney General’s Office reported two convictions as of July 31 for the crime of kidnapping.

The Special Unit for the Search for Disappeared Persons provided for in the peace accord is mandated to account for those who disappeared in the context of the armed conflict and, when possible, locate and return remains to families. According to the Observatory of Memory and Conflict, more than 80,000 persons were reported missing because of the armed conflict, including 1,214 military and police personnel who were kidnapped by the FARC and ELN.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: From January through August, CINEP reported ELN and organized-crime gangs were responsible for four documented cases of serious abuse that included seven victims.

The ELN, FARC dissidents, and other groups continued to lay land mines. According to the High Commissioner for Peace, 10 persons were killed and 104 wounded as the result of improvised explosive devices and land mines between January 1 and September 12.

Child Soldiers: There were reports the ELN, FARC dissident groups, the Gulf Clan, and other armed groups recruited persons younger than age 18. According to the Child and Family Welfare Department, 7,023 children separated from armed groups between November 16, 1999, and June 30. Government and NGO officials confirmed rates of child recruitment increased with the appearance of COVID-19 and related confinement measures. The government continued efforts to combat child recruitment via the Intersectoral Committee for the Prevention of Recruitment and Utilization of Children and the “Join Me” program, which focused on high-risk areas.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Reports of other human rights abuses occurred in the context of the conflict and narcotics trafficking. Drug traffickers and armed groups continued to displace predominantly poor and rural populations (see section 2.e., Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons). Armed groups, particularly in the departments of Cauca, Choco, Cordoba, Narino, and Norte de Santander, forcibly recruited children, including Venezuelan, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian youth, to serve as combatants and informants, harvest illicit crops, and be exploited in sex trafficking.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. NGOs and journalists alleged increased harassment and threats from state officials, including police officers, during coverage of the nationwide protests. Violence and harassment, as well as the criminalization of libel, inhibited freedom of the press, and the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: According to the domestic NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), through September 6, there were 99 threats against journalists, some involving more than one target, for a total of 117 journalists affected by threats. FLIP reported 129 incidents of violence or harassment, affecting 158 journalists. According to multiple NGOs, including Amnesty International, journalists Jose Alberto Tejada and Jhonatan Buitrago began receiving death threats, and Tejada was the subject of a plot to kill him. NGOs alleged the threats against both journalists, which began with the onset of national protests in April, were connected to their coverage of the demonstrations. FLIP also reported that between January and August, 17 journalists were illegally detained. The Attorney General’s Office reported that from January through July, it had obtained no convictions in cases of homicides of journalists but had 21 open investigations involving alleged threats against journalists.

As of June 30, the NPU provided protection services to 187 journalists. Some NGOs raised concerns about perceived shortcomings in the NPU, such as delays in granting protection and the appropriateness of measures for addressing specific threats.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: FLIP alleged some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of being sued under libel laws or of being physically attacked, mostly by nongovernment actors. FLIP asserted the high degree of impunity for those who committed aggressions against journalists was also a factor.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law slander and libel are crimes. The government did not use prosecution to prevent media outlets from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, publicly threatened to sue journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported that through September 6, there were five cases of judicial harassment affecting journalists.

Nongovernmental Impact: Members of armed groups inhibited freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups.

Internet Freedom

The government reported it did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, including during the national protests. Civil society organizations reported interruption of internet and cell service during protests, which government officials attributed to acts of vandalism during the protests. Due to the general climate of impunity and violence in some areas, self-censorship occurred both online and offline, particularly within rural communities.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights. During mostly peaceful nationwide protests that began on April 28, protesters and NGOs alleged that members of the police force used excessive force to curb demonstrations, including killing protesters. Some of the protests were violent, including attacks on police officers, police stations, looting, and burning of government buildings and public transportation. Protesters also erected thousands of roadblocks, impeding the delivery of food, supplies, and emergency services.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. NGOs alleged that police, including riot police, used excessive force to break up demonstrations during nationwide protests. The protests began on April 28, initially in response to a since-canceled tax reform, but also as a continuation of a protest movement that began in November 2019, which then stalled with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and a six-month national quarantine. Protests occurred in more than 860 of the country’s 1,103 municipalities and were mostly peaceful, with most violence occurring in the southwestern city of Cali. Human Rights Watch collected information, with support from the Attorney General’s Office, linking 25 civilian deaths during the protests to police, including 18 deaths committed with live ammunition. The NGO Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz (INDEPAZ) reported as many as 80 deaths occurring in the context of the protests. The Attorney General’s Office reported 57 deaths during the protests, with 29 of those deaths related to the demonstrations. The Ministry of Defense reported three police officers killed during the protests. The Ministry of Defense also reported 1,140 civilians and 1,738 police officers injured, although NGOs reported civilians often did not report their injuries for fear of retaliation. While most protests were peaceful, demonstrators committed acts of violence, including looting hundreds of commercial buildings, burning police stations, and attacking and largely disrupting the public transportation system in Cali. On May 28, President Duque deployed the military to the regions most affected by violence. The military largely worked to dismantle more than 3,000 roadblocks erected by protesters.

The Attorney General’s Office reported that from April 28 through July 15, there were 312 investigations of police for illegal use of force during the protests. As of July 15, 28 members of the police were under active investigation for alleged homicide in the context of the protests. The Inspector General’s Office reported 312 disciplinary investigations of police for misconduct during the protests.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Freedom of association was limited, however, by threats and acts of violence committed by armed groups against NGOs, indigenous groups, and labor unions.

Although the government does not prohibit membership in most political organizations, membership in organizations that engaged in rebellion against the government, espoused violence, or carried out acts of violence, such as FARC dissidents, the ELN, and other armed groups, was against the law.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although there were exceptions. Military operations and insecurity in certain rural areas restricted freedom of movement.

In-country Movement: The government required asylum seekers and individuals without regularized migration status to have a salvoconducto (safe passage document) to travel throughout the country. Armed groups continued to establish checkpoints on rural roads to establish their own curfews and movement restrictions to expand their territorial control.

International and civil society organizations also reported that armed groups confined rural communities through roadblocks, curfews, car bombs at egress routes, and improvised explosive devices in areas where illicit crop cultivation and narcotics trafficking persisted. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), by September, 40,000 persons lived in communities that suffered from confinement, limiting their access to essential goods and services due to armed incidents and geographical factors.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

There were approximately eight million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country, largely a result of the armed conflict and continuing violence in rural areas. Threats posed by armed groups drove internal displacement in remote areas as well as urban settings. After the 2016 peace accord, FARC withdrawal resulted in a struggle for control by other armed groups, causing violence and internal displacement. The government, international organizations, and civil society groups identified various factors causing displacement, including threats, extortion, and physical, psychological, and sexual violence by armed groups against civilian populations, particularly women and girls. Other causes of displacement included competition and armed confrontation among and within armed groups for resources and territorial control; confrontations between security forces, guerrillas, and organized-crime gangs; and forced recruitment of children or threats of forced recruitment. Drug trafficking, illegal mining, and large-scale commercial ventures in rural areas also contributed to displacement. Local institutions often lacked the capacity in many areas to protect the rights of, and provide public services to, IDPs and communities at risk of displacement. Consequently, the government continued to struggle to provide adequate protection or humanitarian assistance to newly displaced populations.

OCHA reported that 25,366 persons were affected in 94 displacement events in 2020 and that 48,597 persons were affected in 98 displacement events between January and July. Departments with the highest rate of mass displacements included Antioquia, Cauca, Choco, Narino, and Norte de Santander.

The Victims’ Unit maintained the Single Victims Registry as mandated by law. Despite improvements in the government registration system, IDPs experienced delays in receiving responses to their displacement claims due to a large backlog of claims built up during several months, lack of the unit’s presence in rural areas, and other constraints. Government policy provides for an appeals process in the case of refusals.

The ELN and other armed groups continued to use force, intimidation, and disinformation to discourage IDPs from registering with the government. International organizations and civil society expressed concern regarding urban displacement caused by violence stemming from territorial disputes between criminal gangs, some of which had links to larger criminal and narcotics trafficking groups.

The Victims’ Unit cited extortion, forced recruitment by armed groups, killings, and physical and sexual violence as the primary causes of intraurban displacement. The Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that displacement disproportionately affected indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups.

As of June the government registered 483,260 IDPs who identified as indigenous, and 1,127,913 who identified as Afro-Colombian. Indigenous persons constituted approximately 6 percent and Afro-Colombians approximately 14 percent of new IDPs registered by the government.

The NGO National Association of Displaced Afrodescendants (AFRODES) stated that threats and violence against Afro-Colombian leaders and communities continued to cause high levels of forced displacement, especially in the Pacific Coast region. AFRODES and other local NGOs expressed concern that large-scale economic projects, such as agriculture and mining, contributed to displacement in their communities.

By law, 52 government agencies are responsible for assisting registered IDPs. In addition dozens of international organizations; international NGOs; domestic nonprofit groups; and multilateral organizations, including the International Organization for Migration, World Food Program, International Committee of the Red Cross, UNHCR, and Colombian Red Cross, coordinated with the government to provide emergency relief and long-term assistance to displaced populations.

International organizations and NGOs remained concerned regarding the slow and insufficient institutional response to displacement. As a result, NGOs took responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to recently displaced individuals. International organizations and civil society reported that a lack of local capacity to accept registrations in high-displacement areas often delayed assistance to persons displaced individually or in smaller groups. Humanitarian organizations attributed the delays to a variety of factors, including the lack of personnel, funding, declaration forms, and training. Insecurity in communities affected by the conflict, including areas in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Choco, Narino, and Norte de Santander, often delayed national and international aid organizations from reaching newly displaced populations.

Despite several government initiatives to enhance IDP access to services and awareness of their rights, municipalities in many parts of the country did not have the resources or capacity to respond to new displacements and provide humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Many IDPs continued to live in poverty in unhygienic conditions and with limited access to health care, education, shelter, and employment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some humanitarian organizations increased health promotion education and the distribution of hygiene supplies.

The government estimated that 400,000 to 500,000 Colombians, many of whom had been displaced by the conflict in Colombia and registered as refugees in Venezuela, prior to the signing of the 2016 peace accord, had returned from Venezuela as of August.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Of the approximately 37,000 applications received, the government reported it had approved 753 requests for recognition of refugee status from January 2017 through June. Venezuelans represented approximately 95 percent of applications during the year.

According to migration officials, as of August the country hosted more than 1.7 million Venezuelans. While the government generally provided access to the asylum process for persons who requested international protection, many opted for alternative migration status. The government continued to grant Colombian citizenship to Venezuelan children born in Colombia on or after August 19, 2015, and by August approximately 46,000 children born to Venezuelan parents in Colombia had received citizenship.

Temporary Protection: On February 8, the government announced the granting of a 10-year Temporary Protective Status (TPS) providing an immediate pathway to legal residence for nearly one million Venezuelans and extending legal protections to all 1.7 million Venezuelans in Colombia. TPS allows authorities to identify irregular Venezuelans in a biometric registry; grant Venezuelans formal access to work, health, and education; and facilitate participation in the national COVID-19 vaccination plan. As of October the government had preregistered nearly 1.4 million Venezuelans in TPS.

According to UNHCR, there were more than nine million persons of concern (including refugees, asylum seekers, IDPs, returned IDPs, returned refugees, stateless persons, and others of concern) residing in the country in 2018, compared with 7.7 million in 2017.

According to Colombia Migration, the national border control agency, in 2020 there were nearly 4,000 cases of irregular migrants, mostly Haitians, transiting Colombia en route to Central and North American countries. By August approximately 71,000 migrants had crossed from Colombia to Panama, and a large group of migrants on the northern Colombian coast numbered more than 20,000 persons. The flow consisted of Brazilians of Haitian descent, Chileans, Cubans, Haitians, and Venezuelans, in addition to a small number of migrants from other countries.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal suffrage. Active-duty members of the armed forces and police may neither vote nor participate in the political process. Civilian public employees are eligible to vote, although they may participate in partisan politics only during the four months immediately preceding a national election.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Legislative and presidential elections were held in March and May 2018, respectively. Because no presidential candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the election, as required for a victory in the first round, in June a second election was held, in which voters elected Ivan Duque Marquez president. Observers considered the elections free and fair and the most peaceful in decades. There were no reports of election-related violence during the June 2018 presidential runoff, in which the candidate of the Democratic Center party, Ivan Duque Marquez, defeated the candidate of Humane Colombia, Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego. The then minister of defense, Luis Carlos Villegas Echeverri, described it as the most peaceful election in decades. The leading domestic elections NGO, Electoral Observation Mission, deployed more than 3,500 nonpartisan volunteers to monitor the elections. International observers included an electoral observation mission of the Organization of American States. The first local and regional elections since the signing of the 2016 peace accord took place in October 2019 and were largely peaceful and the most inclusive in the country’s history. Observers reported some indications of electoral fraud, including vote buying.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Organized-crime gangs, FARC dissidents, and the ELN threatened and killed government officials (see section 1.g.). As of June 30, the NPU, under the Ministry of Interior, was providing protection to 255 mayors, 16 governors, and 435 other persons, including members of departmental assemblies, council members, judges, municipal human rights officers, and other officials related to national human rights policies. By decree the CNP’s protection program and the NPU assume shared responsibility for protecting municipal and district mayors.

As part of the 2016 peace accord, the FARC registered a political party in 2017 under the name People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force, maintaining the same acronym. The accord guaranteed the FARC political party, now known as the Commons party, 10 seats in Congress – five each in the Senate and in the House of Representatives – in the 2018 and 2022 elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices without punishment. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, particularly at the local level. Revenues from transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking, exacerbated corruption.

Corruption: Through July 31, the Attorney General’s Office registered 8,414 allegations related to corruption and 51 active investigations. In August press reports alleged government contractors embezzled a $17 million advance from the Ministry of Technology and Communications in connection with a project to connect rural schools to the internet. The contractors allegedly failed to comply with the commitments in the contract, and the Inspector General’s Office opened an investigation.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were typically cooperative and willing to listen to local human rights groups’ concerns.

Several NGOs reported receiving threats in the form of email, mail, telephone calls, false obituaries, and objects related to death, such as coffins and funeral bouquets. The government condemned the threats and called on the Attorney General’s Office to investigate them. Some activists claimed the government did not take the threats seriously.

The government announced advances in the investigations into attacks and killings of human rights defenders and assigned priority resources to these cases. The Attorney General’s Office reported that as of August 10, it had convicted and sentenced 89 persons for the homicides of human rights defenders.

Through July the Attorney General’s Office reported 961 active investigations into threats against human rights defenders. There were three convictions in cases of threats against human rights defenders during the year.

As of July the NPU’s protection program provided protection to more than 8,000 individuals. Among the protected persons were 4,000 human rights defenders and social leaders.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman is independent, submits an annual report to the House of Representatives, and has responsibility for providing for the promotion and exercise of human rights. According to human rights groups, underfunding of the Ombudsman’s Office limited its ability to monitor violations effectively. The ombudsman, as well as members of his regional offices, reported threats from armed groups issued through pamphlets, email, and violent actions.

The National System for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law – led by a commission of 21 senior government officials, including the vice president – designs, implements, and evaluates the government’s policies on human rights and international humanitarian law. The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights coordinates national human rights policy and actions taken by government entities to promote or protect human rights.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives have human rights committees that served as forums for discussion of human rights problems.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape of men or women, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. The law provides for sentences ranging from eight to 30 years’ imprisonment for violent sexual assault. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates prison sentences of six months to two years. By law femicide is punishable with penalties of 21 to 50 years in prison, longer than the minimum sentence of 13 years for homicide.

Violence against women, as well as impunity for perpetrators, continued to be a problem. Members of armed groups continued to rape and abuse women and children sexually.

The government continued to employ the elite Sexual Assault Investigative Unit interagency unit in Bogota, which was dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases. From January through July, the Attorney General’s Office opened 63,000 investigations into domestic violence, with women identified as the victim in 50,000 of those investigations.

The law requires the government to provide victims of domestic violence immediate protection from further physical or psychological abuse.

The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its protocol for managing cases of sexual violence and harassment involving members of the military. The District Secretariat of Women in Bogota and the Ombudsman’s Office offered free legal aid for victims of gender violence and organized courses to teach officials how to treat survivors of gender violence respectfully.

The law augments both imprisonment and fines if a crime causes “transitory or permanent physical disfigurement,” such as acid attacks, which have a penalty of up to 50 years in prison.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but isolated incidents were reported in several indigenous communities in different parts of the country. Two-thirds of women from the Embera community had undergone FGM/C, according to the UN Population Fund.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides measures to deter and punish harassment in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse or derision, aggression, and discrimination, which carries a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual harassment remained a pervasive and underreported problem in workplaces and in public.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The law, however, allows the involuntary surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases.

Contraception was widely available. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive services and emergency contraception was available for survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

Discrimination: Although women have the same legal rights as men, discrimination against women persisted. There is no law prohibiting access to credit based on gender. The Office of the Advisor for the Equality of Women has primary responsibility for combating discrimination against women, but advocacy groups reported that the office remained seriously underfunded. The government continued its national public policy for gender equity.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

According to the 2018 national census, approximately 9.3 percent of the country’s population described themselves as being of African descent. A 2011 UN report estimated Afro-Colombians made up 15 to 20 percent of the population, while human rights groups and Afro-Colombian organizations estimated the proportion to be 20 to 25 percent.

Afro-Colombians are entitled to all constitutional rights and protections, but they faced significant economic and social discrimination. According to a 2016 UN report, 32 percent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, but in Choco, the department with the highest percentage of Afro-Colombian residents, 79 percent of residents lived below the poverty line. NGOs and the OHCHR reported that Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities continued to be disproportionately affected by illicit economic activities in rural territories that lacked sufficient state presence.

The government continued a policy to promote equal opportunity for Black, Afro-Colombian, Palenquera, and Raizal populations. (Palenquera populations inhabit some parts of the Caribbean coast, Raizal populations live in the San Andres Archipelago, and Blacks and Afro-Colombians are Colombians of African descent who self-identify slightly differently based on their unique linguistic and cultural heritages.) The Ministry of Interior provided technical advice and funding for social projects presented by Afro-Colombian communities.

The National Autonomous Congress of Afro-Colombian Community Councils and Ethnic Organizations for Blacks, Afro-Colombians, Raizals, and Palenqueras, consisting of 108 representatives, met with government representatives on problems that affected their communities.

Indigenous Peoples

The law gives special recognition to the fundamental rights of indigenous persons, who make up approximately 4.4 percent of the population, and requires the government to consult beforehand with indigenous groups regarding governmental actions that could affect them.

The law accords indigenous groups perpetual rights to their ancestral lands, but indigenous groups, neighboring landowners, and the government often disputed the demarcation of those lands. Traditional indigenous groups operated 842 reservations, accounting for approximately 28 percent of the country’s territory. Armed groups often violently contested indigenous land ownership and recruited indigenous children to join their ranks.

The law provides for special criminal and civil jurisdictions within indigenous territories based on traditional community laws. Legal proceedings in these jurisdictions were subject to manipulation and often rendered punishments more lenient than those imposed by civilian state courts.

Some indigenous groups continued to assert they were not able to participate adequately in decisions affecting their lands. The constitution provides for a “prior consultation” mechanism for indigenous communities, but it does not require the government to obtain the consent of those communities in all cases. Indigenous communities participated in the April-June nationwide protest to draw attention to violence in rural territories and to press for increased government attention to the 2016 peace accord implementation.

The government stated that for security reasons, it could not provide advance notice of most military operations, especially when in pursuit of enemy combatants, and added that it consulted with indigenous leaders when possible before entering land held by their communities.

Despite special legal protections and government assistance programs, indigenous persons continued to suffer discrimination and often lived on the margins of society. They belonged to the country’s poorest population and had the highest age-specific mortality rates.

Killings of members and leaders of indigenous groups continued. According to INDEPAZ, since the signing of the peace accord, 343 indigenous leaders had been killed. In April unidentified armed men kidnapped and killed Governor Sandra Liliana Pena Chocue, an indigenous person. In her role as governor, Pena worked to clear the indigenous reserve of illicit crops.

Despite precautionary measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, ethnic Wayuu children continued to die of malnutrition. According to a 2015 government survey, 77 percent of indigenous households in the department of La Guajira, where the largest number of Wayuu lived, were food insecure. The OHCHR’s February report noted disproportionately high COVID-19 mortality rates among rural indigenous communities that lacked access to health-care facilities.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory in most cases. Most births were registered immediately. If a birth is not registered within one month, parents may be fined and denied public services.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem. The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) reported that between January and July 31, there were approximately 8,500 cases of sexual abuse of a minor. The ICBF provided psychosocial, legal, and medical care to victims.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Marriage is legal at the age of 18. Boys older than 14 and girls older than 12 may marry with the consent of their parents. According to UNICEF, 5 percent of girls were married before age 15 and 23 percent before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children remained a problem. The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor or facilitating the sexual exploitation of a minor and stipulates a penalty of 14 to 25 years in prison, with aggravated penalties for perpetrators who are family members of the victim and for cases of sexual tourism, forced marriage, or sexual exploitation by armed groups. The law prohibits pornography using children younger than 18 and stipulates a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine for violations. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for sexual activity with a child younger than 14 ranges from nine to 13 years in prison. The government generally enforced the law.

On July 30, police dismantled a sex-trafficking ring operating in three cities, arresting five persons. The criminal organization behind the sex-trafficking ring deceived women with false job advertisements to lure them to China for sexual exploitation. Human traffickers recruited vulnerable women and girls in dire economic circumstances, mostly Colombians and displaced Venezuelans, into “webcam modeling.” In some cases traffickers drugged victims using fear and coercion through debt and extortion to force them to perform live-streaming sex acts. Government officials and civil society organizations expressed concern regarding the burgeoning webcam industry and its ties to sex trafficking. According to media reports, the economic fallout from COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an increase in “webcam modeling.”

Displaced Children: The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement estimated in 2016 that 31 percent of persons registered as displaced since 1985 were minors at the time they were displaced (see also section 2.e.).

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community, with an estimated 5,000 members, continued to report instances of anti-Israeli rhetoric connected to events in the Middle East, accompanied by anti-Semitic graffiti near synagogues, as well as demonstrations in front of the Israeli embassy that were sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic comments on social media. The Colombian Confederation of Jewish Communities expressed concern over the presence of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Colombia, which promotes the boycott of Israeli products and travel.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law punishes those who arbitrarily restrict the full exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities or harass persons with disabilities, but enforcement was rare. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities but does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities. No law mandates access to information and telecommunications for persons with disabilities. Law 1996, adopted in 2019, recognizes that persons with disabilities older than 18 have full legal capacity.

The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights under the high counselor for postconflict, public security, and human rights, along with the Human Rights Directorate at the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to Somos Defensores and other NGOs, the law was seldom enforced.

Although children with disabilities attended school at all levels, advocates noted most teachers and schools were neither trained nor equipped to educate children with disabilities successfully. Advocacy groups also stated children with disabilities entered the education system later than children without disabilities and dropped out at higher rates. Persons with disabilities were unemployed at a much higher rate than the general population.

In 2013 the State Council ordered all public offices to make facilities accessible to persons with disabilities and asked public officials to include requirements for accessibility when granting licenses for construction and occupancy. The State Council also asked every municipality to enforce rules that would make all public offices accessible to persons with disabilities “in a short amount of time.” The government reported progress during the year at both the national and municipal level, including accessibility adaptations at ports, airports, and other mass transport terminals.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were confirmed reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS. In its most recent demographic and health survey (2015), the government reported the responses of 78 percent of those surveyed indicated discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV and AIDS, reflecting low levels of social acceptance throughout the country.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There were allegations of police violence based on sexual orientation. There were no reports of official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education; however, there were reports of discrimination with respect to access to health care. The government’s national action plan guarantees lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) rights for the 2019-22 period. In August 2020 the constitutional court determined that medical insurance companies must bear the costs of gender affirmation and reassignment surgeries.

Despite government measures to increase the rights and protection of LGBTQI+ persons, there were reports of societal abuse and discrimination as well as sexual assault. NGOs claimed transgender individuals, particularly transgender men, were often sexually assaulted in so-called corrective rape. The NGO Colombia Diversa reported between January 1 and August 18, there were 39 homicides of LGBTQI+ persons, including 26 transgender individuals. The primary forms of abuse were physical, sexual, and psychological aggression, in addition to economic discrimination.

The Attorney General’s Office reported investigating 185 killings of LGBTQI+ persons from 2008 through July 31. Most of the victims were transgender women. In June, Luciana Moscoso Moreno, a transgender woman and member of the Trans Community Network, was killed in her apartment after receiving threats and hate messages. As of August the Attorney General’s Office reported five open investigations into excessive use of force by military or police against LGBTQI+ persons.

Transgender individuals cited barriers to public services when health-care providers or police officers refused to accept their government-issued identification. Some transgender individuals stated it was difficult to change their gender designation on national identity documents and that transgender individuals whose identity cards listed them as male were required to show proof they had performed mandatory military service or obtained the necessary waivers from that service.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and it prohibits antiunion discrimination. Members of associated workers’ cooperatives are not allowed to form unions, since the law recognizes members of a cooperative as owners. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police from forming or joining unions. The law provides for automatic recognition of unions that obtain 25 signatures from potential members and that comply with a registration process. Public-sector employees have the right to bargain collectively. The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining in practice.

The law permits associated workers’ cooperatives (CTAs), collective pacts, and union contracts. Under collective pacts employers may negotiate accords on pay and labor conditions with workers in workplaces where no union is present or where a union represents less than one-third of employees. Law and regulations prohibit the use of CTAs and collective pacts to undermine the right to organize and bargain collectively, including by extending better conditions to nonunion workers through such pacts. Through a union contract, a company may contract a union, at times formed explicitly for this purpose, for a specific job or work; the union then in essence serves as an employer for its members. Workers who belong to a union that has a union contract with a company do not have a direct employment relationship with either the company or the union. Labor disputes for workers under a union contract may be decided through an arbitration panel versus labor courts if both parties agree.

The law does not permit members of the armed forces, police, and persons performing “essential public services” to strike. Before conducting a strike, unions must follow prescribed legal procedures, including entering a conversation period with the employer, presenting a list of demands, and gaining majority approval in the union for a strike. The law limits strikes to periods of contract negotiations or collective bargaining and allows employers to fire trade unionists who participate in strikes or work stoppages ruled illegal by the courts.

The government has the authority to fine labor rights violators. The law stipulates that offenders repeatedly misusing CTAs or other labor relationships shall receive the maximum penalty and may be subject to losing their legal status to operate. Employers who engage in antiunion practices may also be imprisoned for up to five years, although government officials acknowledged a fine was more likely than imprisonment. Prohibited practices include impeding workers’ right to strike, meet, or otherwise associate, and extending better conditions to members of collective pacts than to union members. The penalties under the law, which are commensurate with those prescribed for other violations regarding denials of civil rights, such as discrimination, would be sufficient to deter violations but were not levied consistently.

Government enforcement of applicable laws was inconsistent. Despite steps by the Ministry of Labor to strengthen its labor law inspection system, the government did not establish a consistent, robust national strategy to protect the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The government did not fully implement, but continued to pilot test, a new system to replace traditional fine collection to ensure timely and regular collection of fines related to these protections. Structural challenges adversely affected prosecutions, which resulted in a continued high rate of impunity for violators of these rights, including in cases of threats and violence against unionists.

The Ministry of Labor’s Special Investigations Unit, which is part of the labor inspectorate, has the authority to investigate and impose sanctions in any jurisdiction. Under normal circumstances the vice minister of labor relations and inspections decides on a case-by-case basis whether to assign the unit or the regional inspectors to investigate a particular worksite or review a particular case. The unit was reportedly overburdened with cases, resulting in delays in union requests for review.

As part of its commitments under the 2011 labor action plan, the government continued to take steps to protect internationally recognized labor rights. Inspections by the Ministry of Labor for abusive subcontracting in the five priority sectors of palm oil, sugar, ports, mines, and cut flowers were, however, infrequent. Critics claimed inspections lacked necessary rigor, assessed fines were not collected, and abusive subcontracting continued. It was unclear whether there were any new fines assessed for abusive subcontracting or for abuse of freedom of association in any of the five priority sectors. The government continued to engage in regular meetings with unions and civil society groups on these and related issues.

The Ministry of Labor, in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO), continued to train labor inspectors through a virtual training campus to prepare labor inspectors to identify abusive subcontracting and antiunion conduct, among other violations. It also implemented methods, including contract and process maps, as strategic planning tools to prioritize interventions. The ministry continued to employ a telephone- and internet-based complaint mechanism to report alleged labor violations. Union members complained that the systems did not allow citizens to register anonymous complaints and noted that complaints registered through the telephone and internet systems did not result in action.

The Ministry of Labor leads a tripartite Interinstitutional Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Workers, with participation by the government, organized labor groups, and the business community. As of July the commission met once during the year in a virtual session.

Judicial police, the Technical Investigation Body, and prosecutors investigating criminal cases of threats and killings are required to determine during the initial phase of an investigation whether a victim is an active or retired union member or is actively engaged in union formation and organization, but it was unclear whether they did so. It could take several months to transfer cases from regional field offices of the Attorney General’s Office to the Attorney General’s Human Rights Directorate, and cases are transferred only with the approval of the attorney general in response to direct requests, instead of automatically.

The government continued to include in its protection program labor activists engaged in efforts to form a union, as well as former unionists under threat because of their past activities. As of July the NPU was providing protection to 290 trade union leaders or members. The NPU reported it did not maintain information on the budget dedicated to unionist protections. Between January 1 and June 30, the NPU processed 174 risk assessments of union leaders or members; 91 of those individuals were assessed as facing an “extraordinary threat,” and the NPU provided them protection measures. The NPU reported that the average time needed to implement protection measures upon completion of a risk analysis was 60 days in regular cases or five days for emergency cases. NGOs complained that this length of time left threatened unionists in jeopardy.

The protection and relocation of teachers falls under the Ministry of National Education and the departmental education secretaries, but the NPU retains some responsibilities for the risk analysis and protection of family members. According to the Attorney General’s Office, through July 31, four teachers were registered as victims of homicide.

In cases of unionist killings from previous years, the pace of investigations and convictions remained slow, and high rates of impunity continued, although progress was made in the rate of case resolution. The Attorney General’s Office reported receiving 232 cases of homicides of unionists between January 2011 and January 2021. The Attorney General’s Office reported advancements in 43 percent of these cases: 65 sentences against defendants had been handed down in 43 cases; 38 cases had reached the trial phase; seven cases had charges filed; and nine cases had warrants for arrest, while 116 cases remained under preliminary investigation. Labor groups stated more needed to be done to address impunity for perpetrators of violence against trade unionists and the large number of threat cases.

The Attorney General’s Office reported the killing of five trade unionists through July. In 2020 the Attorney General’s Office reported 14 trade unionists killed, down from 19 in 2019. The National Union School (ENS), a labor rights NGO and think tank, reported six trade unionists were killed through August. The ENS and other labor groups stated that focusing on killings alone masked the true nature and scope of the violence against labor activists. Labor groups noted that in some regions, nonlethal violations continued to increase. Through August the ENS reported 51 death threats, three nonlethal attacks, two cases of forced displacement, and 25 cases of harassment.

Violence, threats, harassment, and other practices against trade unionists continued to affect the exercise of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Unions cited multiple instances in which companies fired employees who formed or sought to form new unions. Some employers continued to use temporary contracts, service agencies, and other forms of subcontracting, including cooperatives, to limit worker rights and protections. Fines assessed by the government did little to dissuade violators because fines were often not collected. The government continued to reach formalization agreements with firms engaged in abusive subcontracting or that had labor conflict during the year. Through June 30, the Vice Ministry of Labor Relations and Inspections reported 130 workers benefited from eight formalization agreements that the Ministry of Labor reached with employers in key sectors, including commerce, agriculture, health, and transport. During this time, however, there was only one formalization agreement reached in the labor action plan’s five priority sectors. Labor rights groups expressed concern that previously signed formalization agreements were not sufficiently monitored by the ministry.

Labor confederations and NGOs reported that business owners in several sectors used “simplified stock corporations” (SAS), union contracts, foundations, or temporary-service agencies in attempts to circumvent legal restrictions on cooperatives. While in theory SAS workers may exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively with SAS management, it appeared that in some cases the SAS had little or no control over the conditions of employment. The Ministry of Labor stated that a SAS, like any corporate structure, may be fined for labor violations. Labor confederations and NGOs reported these enforcement actions did not address the scope of abusive subcontracting and illegal labor intermediation in the country.

The port workers’ labor union reported Buenaventura port operators engaged in abusive subcontracting through SAS and that Ministry of Labor inspections and adjudication of cases at the Buenaventura port were ineffective in safeguarding the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases, and there were reports that such practices occurred. The law prescribes punishments sufficient to deter violations. The ILO noted the law permits military conscripts to be compelled to undertake work beyond that of a military nature, such as activities designed to protect the environment or natural resources.

There were reports ELN guerrillas, FARC dissidents, and organized-crime gangs used forced labor, including forced child labor, in coca cultivation and illegal mining in areas outside government control as well as forced criminality, such as extortion, in urban areas. The ICBF indicated that between November 16, 1999, and June 30, 2021, a total of 7,023 children and adolescents had demobilized from armed groups, of whom 12 percent were indigenous and 8 percent Afro-Colombian.

Forced labor in other sectors, including organized panhandling, mining, agriculture (especially near the coffee belt), cattle herding, crop harvesting, forced recruitment by armed actors, and domestic service, remained a serious problem. Afro-Colombians, indigenous persons, Venezuelan migrants, and inhabitants of marginalized urban areas were at the highest risk of forced labor, domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced recruitment. Authorities did not make efforts to investigate cases or increase inspections of forced labor. In July the Ministry of Labor and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime published a manual and protocol to help labor inspectors identify and refer possible cases of labor trafficking in the formal economy to judicial authorities for criminal investigation and prosecution. Impunity nevertheless remained for forced labor, and unidentified victims remained without protection in critical sectors, such as floriculture, coffee production, and extractive industries.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 and for hazardous work at 18. Children ages 15 and 16 years may work no more than 30 hours per week, and children age 17 may work no more than 40 hours per week. Children younger than 15 may work in arts, sports, or recreational or cultural activities for a maximum of 14 hours per week. In all these cases, working children and adolescents must have signed documentation filed by their parents and be approved by a labor inspector or other local authority.

The law prohibits child workers from working at night or where there is a risk of bodily harm or exposure to excessive heat, cold, or noise. The law authorizes inspectors to issue fines that would be sufficient to deter violations, but the government did not enforce the law effectively in all cases. A violation deemed to endanger a child’s life or threaten moral values may be punished by temporary or permanent closure of the establishment. Nationwide, labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing child labor laws and supervising the formal sector through periodic inspections. An estimated 80 percent of all child labor, however, occurred in the informal sector of the economy. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively.

Government agencies carried out several activities to eradicate and prevent exploitative child labor. Through June 30, the Ministry of Labor conducted 86 worksite inspections to ensure that adolescent workers were employed with proper authorization and received proper protections. Through these inspections, 10 authorizations were revoked for noncompliance. During this time the ministry granted 179 permits for adolescent work. With ILO assistance the government continued to improve cooperation among national, regional, and municipal governments on child labor problems. It also updated an information system to register working children that permits public and private entities to provide information. The government also sought to reduce demand for child labor through public awareness and training efforts, often working with international and civil society organizations.

The government, through the Ministry of Labor, followed the National Policy to Prevent and Eliminate Child Labor and Protect the Young Worker. It also continued its roundtable discussion group, which included government representatives, members of the three largest labor confederations, and civil society.

The government, including through a cooperative agreement between the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the ICBF, continued to combat illegal mining and formalize artisanal mining production, with goals including the elimination of child labor and forced labor. Regional ICBF offices led efforts to combat child labor in mining at the local level, working with the Ministry of Labor and other government agencies to coordinate responses. The Department for Social Prosperity continued to implement the More Families in Action Program to combat poverty through conditional cash transfers, which included a specific focus on addressing child labor. In interagency child labor meetings, the Ministry of Labor reported that whichever government presence was available in the area – whether police, the ICBF, teachers, or the Administrative Department for Social Prosperity – attended to children found working in illegal mining operations. While all agencies had directives on how to handle and report child labor cases, it was unclear whether all cases were referred to the ICBF.

The ICBF continued to implement several initiatives aimed at preventing child labor, including producing an extensive section of its website designed specifically for young audiences to educate children on child labor, their rights, and how to report child labor. The Ministry of Labor continued its work with the Network against Child Labor in which the ministry operated alongside member businesses that pledged to work within the network to prevent and eradicate child labor.

Child labor remained a problem in the informal and illicit sectors. The National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) collected and published information on the economic activities of children between the ages of five and 17 through a module in its Comprehensive Household Economic Survey during the fourth quarter of each calendar year. According to DANE’s survey published in April, 4.9 percent of children were working, with 44 percent of those engaged in agriculture, livestock raising, fishing, and hunting, and 32 percent in commerce, hotels, and restaurant work. To a lesser extent, children were engaged in the manufacturing and transport sectors. Children also routinely performed domestic work, where they cared for children, prepared meals, tended gardens, and carried out shopping duties. DANE reported that 45 percent of children who were engaged in an employment relationship did not receive remuneration.

Significant rates of child labor occurred in the production of clay bricks, coal, coffee, emeralds, gold, grapes, coca, pome and stone fruits, pornography, and sugarcane. Forced child labor was prevalent in the production of coca. Children were also engaged in street vending, domestic work, begging, and garbage scavenging. There were reports that children engaged in child labor in agriculture, including coffee production and small family production centers in the unrefined brown sugar market. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). Penalties for crimes related to the worst forms of child labor were commensurate with penalties in law for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Prohibitions against children working in mining and construction were reportedly largely ignored. Some educational institutions modify schedules during harvest seasons so that children may help on the family farm. Children worked in the artisanal mining of coal, clay, emeralds, and gold under dangerous conditions and in many instances with the approval or insistence of their parents. The government’s efforts to assist children working in illegal mining focused on the departments of Amazonas, Antioquia, Bolivar, Boyaca, Caldas, Cauca, Cesar, Choco, Cordoba, Cundinamarca, La Guajira, Narino, Norte de Santander, and Valle del Cauca.

There continued to be instances of child trafficking with the purpose of forced labor in informal mines and quarries, and in private homes. According to government officials and international organizations, illegal drug traders and other illicit actors recruited children, sometimes forcibly, to work in their illegal activities. The ELN and organized crime gangs forced children into sexual servitude or criminality to serve as combatants or to harvest coca (see section 1.g.). Children working in the informal sector, including as street vendors, were also vulnerable to forced labor. The ICBF identified children and adolescents who qualified for and received social services.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, ethnicity, sex, religion, political preference, national origin or citizenship, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or infection with other communicable diseases, or social status. Complaints of quid pro quo sexual harassment are filed not with the Ministry of Labor but with the criminal courts. There are legal restrictions against women being in employed in the construction sector. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases. Penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Unemployment disproportionately affected women, who faced hiring discrimination and received salaries that generally were not commensurate with their education and experience. Media reported that on average women earned 12 percent less than men for the same work. In a previous year, a senior government official estimated that 85 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed. Afro-Colombian labor unions reported discrimination in the port sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The legal minimum monthly wage is approximately twice the amount of the poverty line; however, almost one-half of the total workforce earned less than the minimum wage.

The law provides for a regular workweek of 48 hours and a minimum rest period of eight hours within the week. Exceptions to this may be granted by the Ministry of Labor and were frequently granted in the mining sector. The law stipulates that workers receive premium compensation for nighttime work, hours worked in excess of 48 per week, and work performed on Sundays. The law permits compulsory overtime only in exceptional cases where the work is considered essential for the company’s functioning.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law provides for workers’ occupational safety and health (OSH) in the formal sector. The legal standards were generally up to date and appropriate for the main formal industries. The government did not effectively enforce OSH laws in all cases. The law does not cover informal-sector workers, including many mining and agricultural workers. In general the law protects workers’ rights to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although some violations of this right were reported during the year. In cases of formal grievances, authorities generally protected employees in this situation.

The Ministry of Labor is required to enforce labor laws in the formal sector, including OSH regulations, through periodic inspections by labor inspectors. Inspectors have the authority to perform unannounced inspections and may also initiate sanction procedures, including after opening investigations. The number of inspectors during the year was approximately the same as in 2020 and was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. The Ministry of Labor reported that as of March, more than one-fourth (227) of the inspectors were in provisional status. Individual labor violations can result in penalties insufficient to deter violations. Unionists stated that more fines needed to be collected to impact occupational safety and health problems.

Nonunion workers, particularly those in the agricultural and port sectors, reportedly worked under hazardous conditions because they feared losing their jobs through subcontracting mechanisms or informal arrangements if they reported abuses. Some unionized workers who alleged they suffered on-the-job injuries complained that companies illegally fired them in retaliation for filing workers compensation claims. Only the courts may order reinstatement, and workers complained the courts were backlogged, slow, and corrupt. The Ministry of Labor may sanction a company found to have broken the law in this way, but it may offer no other guarantees to workers.

According to the National Mining Agency, through July 16, a total of 87 workers died as a result of accidents in the mines, the majority due to explosions, poisoned atmosphere, cave-ins, and floods. The National Mining Agency reported this number was on par with deaths as of this date in 2020.

Security forces reported that armed actors, including FARC dissidents, the ELN, and organized-crime groups, engaged in illegal mining of gold, coal, coltan, nickel, copper, and other minerals. Illegal mines, which lacked safety precautions, were particularly common in the departments of Antioquia, Boyaca, Choco, Cundinamarca, and Valle del Cauca.

Informal Sector: While the government’s labor inspectors undertook administrative actions to enforce the minimum wage in the formal sector, the government did not effectively enforce the law in the informal sector. The government continued to promote formal employment generation. Eligibility to enroll and pay into the traditional social security system, which includes health and pension plans, is conditioned on earning the legal minimum monthly wage. The government developed plans to implement National Development Plan provisions that allow those who earn less than the legal minimum monthly wage, often because of part-time, informal, or own-account work, to contribute to a new, parallel “social protection floor” system that includes a subsidized health plan and retirement savings plan. As of August these provisions were under legal review by the Constitutional Court. While employer abuse of this new system is prohibited, labor unions complained it opens the door for employers to move full-time workers into part-time positions to take advantage of the new system.

DANE reported that for the second trimester, 50.3 percent of workers employed in 13 principal cities and metropolitan areas were paying into the pension system. The proportion of informal workers in 23 cities and metropolitan areas surveyed was 48.5 percent, according to DANE. In June, DANE reported the national unemployment rate was 14.4 percent, down from 21.4 percent at the height of the economic impact from COVID-19 in May 2019. The government continued to support complementary social security programs to increase the employability of extremely poor individuals, displaced persons, and the elderly.

The Ministry of Labor reported continued problems addressing high numbers of labor complaints related to the labor and employment impacts of COVID-19. Labor unions, NGOs, and workers’ organizations alleged a range of labor abuses related to the fulfillment of labor contracts during the pandemic, including employers forcing workers to sign unpaid leaves of absence in lieu of authorized furloughs, dismissals without severance pay, salary reductions under threats of dismissal, and the imposition of part-time, temporary, or hourly work with negative consequences for workers’ entitlement to social security benefits.

India

Executive Summary

India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. The constitution gives the country’s 28 states and nine union territories a high degree of autonomy and primary responsibility for law and order. Electors chose President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 to serve a five-year term, and Narendra Modi became prime minister for the second time following the victory of the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 general election. Observers considered the parliamentary elections, which included more than 600 million voters, to be free and fair, but there were reports of isolated instances of violence.

The states and union territories have primary responsibility for maintaining law and order, with policy oversight from the central government. Police are within state jurisdiction. The Ministry of Home Affairs controls most paramilitary forces, the internal intelligence bureaus, and national law enforcement agencies, and provides training for senior officials from state police forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech; restrictions on internet freedom; overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operations of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; refoulement of refugees; serious government corruption; government harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence and discrimination targeting members of minority groups based on religious affiliation, social status or sexual orientation or gender identity; and forced and compulsory labor, including child labor and bonded labor.

Despite government efforts to address abuses and corruption, a lack of accountability for official misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity. Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, a shortage of trained police officers, and an overburdened and underresourced court system contributed to a low number of convictions.

Terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist terrorism-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and civilians, kidnapping, and recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and terrorists.

Military courts are primarily responsible for investigating killings by security forces and paramilitary forces.

Reports of prisoners or detainees who were killed or died in police and judicial custody continued. In March the National Campaign Against Torture reported the deaths of 111 persons in police custody in 2020. The report stated 82 of the deaths were due to alleged torture or foul play. Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat reported the highest number of custodial deaths at 11 each, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 10 deaths. A separate Prison Statistics of India (PSI) report from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) documented 1,887 inmate deaths in judicial custody in 2020. The report attributed most prison deaths to natural causes and stated the highest number of custodial deaths occurred in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

In September the National Human Rights Commission required Assam’s director general of police to compile a report in connection with a complaint alleging that police committed extrajudicial killings of more than 20 petty criminals.

On June 18, a Dalit woman collapsed and died while in police custody for suspected theft. The Telangana High Court ordered an investigation into allegations the victim was beaten to death. The Telangana government fired three police officers for their involvement in the custodial death and provided compensation to family members.

On July 22, Ravi Jadav and Sunil Pawar, two members of a tribal community accused of involvement in a bicycle theft case, were found hanging inside a police station in the Navsari District of Gujarat. Three police officials were arrested in connection with the custodial deaths, and on September 18, Navsari police provided compensation to family members of the victims.

In September 2020 the Central Bureau of Investigation filed charges against nine police officials in connection with the custodial deaths of Ponraj and Beniks Jeyaraj in Tamil Nadu. The two men were arrested in June 2020 for violating COVID-19 regulations; police allegedly beat them while in custody, and they subsequently died. The Tamil Nadu government arrested and held without bail 10 police officials alleged to be involved in the deaths, but one official has since died from COVID-19. The trial of the remaining nine was underway.

Killings by government and nongovernment forces were reported in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist-affected areas of the country (see section 1.g.). The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported the deaths of 23 civilians throughout the country as a result of terrorism as of November 27.

In July police arrested five persons in connection with the 2018 killing of Rising Kashmir editor in chief Shujaat Bukhari and his two police bodyguards. A police investigation alleged that terrorists belonging to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba targeted Bukhari in retaliation for his support of a government-backed peace effort.

Terrorists committed numerous killings. Maoist terrorists in Jharkhand and Bihar continued to attack security forces and infrastructure facilities, including roads, railways, and communication towers.

Terrorists killed 10 political party leaders in Jammu and Kashmir. On August 9, terrorists fatally shot Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Gulam Rasool Dar and his wife in Anantnag District. Apni Party leader Ghulam Hassan Lone was killed by terrorists on August 19 in Kulgam District.

b. Disappearance

There were allegations police failed to file required arrest reports for detained persons, resulting in unresolved disappearances. Police and government officials denied these claims. The central government reported state government screening committees informed families regarding the status of detainees. There were reports that prison guards sometimes required bribes from families to confirm the detention of their relatives.

Disappearances attributed to government forces, paramilitary forces, and terrorists occurred in areas of conflict during the year (see section 1.g.).

On March 31, UN special rapporteurs asked the central government to provide details regarding allegations of arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir, including the status of Naseer Ahmad Wani, who disappeared in 2019 after being questioned by army soldiers.

The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, Kashmir (APDP) reported two cases of disappearances during the year, one in Bandipora District of North Kashmir in July and another in Baramullah in June. Both persons remained missing, and the APDP claimed the National Human Rights Commission declined to investigate the cases.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits torture, but there were reports that police forces employed such practices.

Police beatings of prisoners resulted in custodial deaths (see section 1.a.).

The law does not permit authorities to admit coerced confessions into evidence, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged authorities used torture to coerce confessions. Authorities allegedly also used torture to extort money or as summary punishment.

There were reports of abuse in prisons at the hands of guards and inmates, as well as reports that police raped female and male detainees.

On May 23, Karnataka police suspended Subinspector Arjun Honkera after Punith K.L, a Dalit man, filed a complaint against Honkera for forcing him to lick the urine of another inmate while he was in police custody. The complainant also alleged police beat him for hours. The Criminal Investigation Department of the Karnataka police arrested Honkera on September 2.

The government authorized the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate rape cases involving police officers. By law the NHRC may also request information regarding cases involving the army and paramilitary forces, but it has no mandate to investigate those cases. NGOs claimed NHRC statistics undercounted the number of rapes committed in police custody. Some rape victims were unwilling to report crimes due to social stigma and fear of retribution if the perpetrator was a police officer or official. There were reports police officials refused to register rape cases.

Victims of crime were sometimes subjected to intimidation, threats, and attacks.

There were reports of security forces acting with impunity, but members were also held accountable for illegal actions. In December 2020 the army indicted an officer and two others for extrajudicial killings in Jammu and Kashmir; a court trial was underway. Jammu and Kashmir police also filed local charges against the accused.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were frequently life threatening, most notably due to inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of medical care, and extreme overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: Prisons were often severely overcrowded, and food, medical care, sanitation, and environmental conditions frequently were inadequate. Potable water was not universally available. Prisons and detention centers remained underfunded and understaffed and lacked sufficient infrastructure. Prisoners were sometimes physically mistreated.

According to the PSI 2020 report released in December, there were 1,306 prisons in the country with a total authorized capacity of 414,033 persons. The actual incarcerated population was 488,511. Persons awaiting trial accounted for approximately 76 percent of the prison population. The law requires detention of juveniles in rehabilitative facilities, but at times authorities detained juveniles in adult prisons, especially in rural areas. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. The PSI 2020 report acknowledged overcrowding as “one of the biggest problems faced by prison inmates.”

According to the India Justice Report 2020, in Uttar Pradesh each correctional officer is responsible for more than 25,000 inmates. In 21 states and union territories, the occupancy rate for prisons was more than 100 percent. The most crowded prisons were Delhi (at 175 percent of capacity), Uttar Pradesh (at 168 percent), and Uttarakhand (at 159 percent).

In May the Odisha Directorate of Prisons set up an exclusive ward in Bhubaneswar to house up to 10 transgender persons. The ward had beds, separate washroom blocks, a hall, and a reading room. State officials announced that similar exclusive wards for transgender persons will be opened in all other prisons in a phased manner. A representative of the transgender community welcomed the move, pointing out that there were previous reports of sexual harassment of transgender inmates held in the regular wards.

On May 7, the Supreme Court ordered state law enforcement agencies to reduce arrests and decongest prisons. The Supreme Court issued a similar ruling in March 2020, which ordered states and union territories to release certain prisoners on parole or interim bail. The state governments of Goa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra independently ordered their prison systems to parole or furlough inmates to reduce prison overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners to register complaints with state and national human rights commissions, but the authority of the commissions extended only to making recommendations. Government officials reportedly often failed to comply with a Supreme Court order instructing the central government and local authorities to conduct regular checks on police stations to monitor custodial violence.

Authorities permitted visitors limited access to prisoners, but some family members claimed authorities denied access to relatives, particularly in areas experiencing high levels of violence, including Jammu and Kashmir.

Independent Monitoring: The NHRC received and investigated prisoner complaints of human rights violations throughout the year. Civil society representatives believed few prisoners filed complaints due to fear of retribution from prison guards or officials.

The NHRC made unannounced visits to monitor state prisons in multiple states. NHRC special rapporteurs visited state prisons on a regular basis throughout the year to verify that authorities provided medical care to all inmates. The NHRC has not publicly released reports on their findings. NHRC jurisdiction does not extend to military detention centers.

Courts sometimes ordered prisoners released on bail to receive medical treatment.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both occurred during the year. Police also used special security laws to postpone judicial reviews of arrests. Pretrial detention was arbitrary and lengthy, sometimes exceeding the duration of the sentence given to those convicted.

According to human rights NGOs, police used torture, mistreatment, and arbitrary detention to obtain forced or false confessions. In some cases police reportedly held suspects without registering their arrests and denied detainees sufficient food and water.

Following the 2019 abrogation of autonomous status for Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used a public safety law to detain local politicians without trial, but most were subsequently released. Media reports indicated some of those released were asked to sign bonds agreeing not to engage in political activity after release. A few prominent politicians declined to sign and were still released. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who was released in October 2020, alleged that she was frequently subjected to periods of house arrest.

On February 13, New Delhi police arrested climate activist Disha Ravi in Bengaluru on sedition charges. The authorities accused Ravi of creating and sharing a document that included instructions on fomenting violence. After Ravi spent 10 days in jail, a New Delhi court granted her bail on February 23, noting a citizen’s right to dissent from the government.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

In cases other than those involving security risks, terrorism, or insurgency, police may detain an individual without charge for up to 30 days, but an arrested person must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. Lengthy arbitrary detention remained a significant problem due to overburdened and underresourced court systems and a lack of legal safeguards.

Arraignment of detainees must occur within 24 hours unless authorities hold the suspect under a preventive detention law. The law allows police to summon individuals for questioning, but it does not grant police prearrest investigative detention authority. There were incidents in which authorities allegedly detained suspects beyond legal limits. By law authorities must allow family member access to detainees, but this law was not always observed.

Due to delays in completing repatriation procedures, foreign nationals often remained incarcerated beyond the expiration of their sentences, including those charged under the immigration act for irregular entry or stay. The PSI 2020 noted a category of 765 “other” prisoners pending release; experts analyzing the previous editions of the PSI report stated this category most likely represented those who had completed sentences but had not yet been released. This included approximately 270 Rohingya arrested for illegal entry, of whom 147 had reportedly completed their sentences.

The law requires every arrested person to be produced before a judicial magistrate within 24 hours of arrest. Other than in Jammu and Kashmir, the National Security Act allows police to detain persons considered security risks without charge or trial for as long as one year. The law allows family members and lawyers to visit national security detainees and requires authorities to inform a detainee of the grounds for detention within five days, or 10 to 15 days in exceptional circumstances. Nonetheless, rights activists noted instances where these provisions were not followed in Odisha, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the central government may designate a state or union territory as a “disturbed area,” authorizing security forces in the state to use deadly force to “maintain law and order” and to arrest any person “against whom reasonable suspicion exists” without informing the detainee of the grounds for arrest. The law also provides security forces immunity from civilian prosecution for acts committed in regions under the AFSPA.

The designation as a disturbed area under the AFSPA remained in effect in Nagaland, parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Assam, and a version of the law was in effect in Jammu and Kashmir. The AFSPA was renewed through January, and again in June in Nagaland, which has been under the AFSPA for nearly six decades. It was also extended in Assam, Manipur, and in three districts of Arunachal Pradesh. On December 27, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the creation of a committee to review the continuation of the AFSPA in Nagaland.

Human rights organizations asserted the law is in violation of Article 21 of the constitution and continued to call for its repeal, citing numerous alleged human rights violations.

The Public Safety Act (PSA), which applies only in Jammu and Kashmir, permits authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for up to two years without visitation from family members. The press reported that the number of PSA detentions rose to 331 from 134 in 2020.

Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir allowed detainees access to a lawyer during interrogation, but human rights groups documented that police routinely employed arbitrary detention and denied detainees access to lawyers and medical attention.

Authorities must promptly inform persons detained on criminal charges of the charges against them and of their right to legal counsel. By law a magistrate may authorize the detention of an accused person for a period of no more than 90 days prior to filing charges. Under standard criminal procedure, authorities must release the accused on bail after 90 days if charges are not filed.

NCRB data from January 2020 showed that most individuals awaiting trial spent more than three months in jail before they could secure bail, and more than 63 percent spent between three months and five years before being released on bail. According to the India Justice Report 2020, one in four court cases have been pending for more than five years.

The law also permits authorities to hold a detainee in judicial custody without charge for up to 180 days (including the 30 days in police custody). The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which gives authorities the ability to detain persons for up to 180 days without charge in cases related to insurgency or terrorism, makes no bail provisions for foreign nationals, and it allows courts to deny bail in the case of detained citizens. The UAPA presumes the accused to be guilty if the prosecution can produce evidence of the possession of firearms or explosives or the presence of fingerprints at a crime scene, regardless of whether authorities demonstrate criminal intent. State governments also reportedly held persons without bail for extended periods before filing formal charges under the UAPA. The NCRB Crime in India 2020 report released in September revealed that 796 new UAPA cases were registered in 2020.

In 2019 parliament passed an amendment to the UAPA that allows the government to designate individuals as terrorists and provides new authorities to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to seize properties acquired from proceeds of terrorism.

States and union territories with terrorist activity, including Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir, also saw an increase in the application of the UAPA. Media reported that since 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir administration had booked more than 2,300 persons in approximately 1,200 cases under the UAPA. Of those, 46 percent remained in jail as of August, according to government figures.

On November 23, Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez was arrested by the NIA for “terror funding” and “conspiracy”; both his home and office were raided. His arrest was immediately criticized by domestic and international civil society. UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor and other UN experts called for his immediate release in a joint statement on December 22.

In September 2020 former Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid was arrested under the UAPA for making a speech during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA). He remained in jail and claimed prosecutors were delaying the start of his trial. In a related case, the Delhi High Court ordered the release of student leaders Asif Iqbal Tanha, Natasha Narwal, and Devangana Kalita in June. The three had been charged under the UAPA for allegedly conspiring to incite the 2020 Delhi riots.

Multiple courts have denied bail to the majority of 15 activists incarcerated on conspiracy charges related to the Elgaar Parishad Bhima Koregaon protests that resulted in several deaths. The accused claimed the charges were politically motivated. On February 21, the Bombay High Court granted conditional bail on medical grounds for six months to Varvara Rao, an 81-year-old human rights activist, following his hospitalization for COVID-19 in June 2020. The NIA petitioned for Rao’s return to prison following several bail extensions despite his health’s improvement; in December the Bombay High Court ordered the matter be discussed during a further hearing early in 2022.

On July 5, 84-year-old human rights activist and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy died in a private hospital after contracting COVID-19 in prison. A NIA Special Court had rejected multiple bail pleas submitted on medical grounds, including Swamy’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, other age-related illnesses, and multiple falling incidents in prison, in the months following Father Swamy’s arrest in October 2020. Activist Sudha Bharadwaj was released on bail in December.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but in some cases, police reportedly continued to arrest persons arbitrarily. There were reports of police detaining individuals for custodial interrogation without identifying themselves or providing arrest warrants.

On March 9, paramilitary personnel and local police of the Dantewada District in Chhattisgarh detained human rights activist Hidme Markam without a warrant during an event to recognize International Women’s Day and Adivasi rights. She remained in jail after charges were filed under the UAPA.

On June 15, police in Jammu and Kashmir detained political activist Sajad Sofi after he criticized government officers who were posted in Jammu and Kashmir from other parts of the country. Sofi was released four days later.

Pretrial Detention: NCRB data reported 371,848 prisoners were awaiting trial at the end of 2020, totaling 76 percent of the country’s prison population. Media reported the high numbers of pretrial detainees contributed to prison overcrowding.

The Telangana Prisons Department stated that since 2019 a total of 429 persons facing trial remained in prisons despite securing bail. The report noted the accused belonged to low-income families that did not have sufficient money to pay for bail. Telangana officials said COVID-19 had hampered the activities of the NGOs that visit prisons and pay bail money.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary and the government generally respected judicial independence, but the judicial system experienced delays, capacity challenges, and corruption.

The judicial system remained seriously overburdened and lacked modern case management systems, often delaying or denying justice. According to Department of Justice statistics released in January, there were 402 judicial vacancies out of 1,098 positions on the country’s 25 high courts.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, except in proceedings that involve official secrets or state security. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence, except as described under UAPA conditions, and may choose their counsel. The constitution specifies the state should provide free legal counsel to defendants who cannot afford it to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen, but circumstances often limited access to competent counsel. An overburdened justice system resulted in lengthy delays in court cases, with disposition sometimes taking more than a decade.

There were reported cases in which police denied suspects the right to meet with legal counsel as well as cases in which police unlawfully monitored suspects’ conversations and violated their confidentiality rights.

While defendants have the right to confront accusers and present their own witnesses and evidence, defendants sometimes did not exercise this right due to lack of proper legal representation. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt. Courts must announce sentences publicly, and there are effective channels for appeal at most levels of the judicial system.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners and detainees. NGOs reported the central government held political prisoners and temporarily detained individuals in Jammu and Kashmir under the PSA. In August the lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, announced the formation of a committee to investigate the cases of political prisoners detained under the PSA. Sinha stated no politician remained in detention under the PSA in Jammu and Kashmir.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or NGOs on behalf of individuals or groups may file public-interest litigation petitions in any high court or directly to the Supreme Court to seek judicial redress of public injury. Grievances may include a breach of public duty by a government agent or a violation of a constitutional provision. NGOs credited public-interest litigation petitions with making government officials accountable to civil society organizations in cases involving allegations of corruption and partiality.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

While the constitution does not contain an explicit right to privacy, the Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that privacy is a “fundamental right.”

The law, with some exceptions, prohibits arbitrary interference. The government generally respected this provision; at times authorities infringed upon the privacy rights of citizens. The law requires police to obtain warrants to conduct searches and seizures, except for cases in which such actions would cause undue delay. Police must justify warrantless searches in writing to the nearest magistrate with jurisdiction over the offense.

Both the central and state governments legally intercepted communications. A Group of Experts on Privacy convened in 2018 by the central government noted the country lacked a comprehensive consumer data-protection framework.

The UAPA also allows use of evidence obtained from intercepted communications in terrorism cases. In Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and Manipur, security officials have special authorities to search and arrest without a warrant.

There were reports that government authorities accessed, collected, or used private communication arbitrarily or unlawfully or without appropriate legal authority and developed practices that allow for the arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, including the use of technology to arbitrarily or unlawfully surveil or interfere with the privacy of individuals.

Privacy concerns were raised by The Wire, an online media outlet, that published a series of stories alleging dozens of journalists were potential targets for surveillance by Pegasus malware developed by NSO Group Technologies. The Wire cited forensic analysis conducted by Amnesty International on phone numbers that showed signs of either attempted or successful infiltration. In October the Supreme Court ordered an independent probe on these allegations.

The government denied conducting surveillance activities that violated laws or formally established procedures. Laws permit the government to intercept calls to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the country, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, for public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offense.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The country’s armed forces, the security forces of individual states, and paramilitary forces engaged with terrorist groups in several northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir, and with Maoist terrorists in the northern, central, and eastern parts of the country. The intensity of these conflicts continued to decline. The army and security forces remained stationed in conflict areas in the northeastern states, Jharkhand, and Bihar. The armed forces and police also engaged with terrorist groups in Jammu and Kashmir.

The use of force by all parties resulted in deaths and injuries to both conflict participants and civilians. There were reports government security forces committed extrajudicial killings. Human rights groups claimed police sometimes refused to release bodies. Authorities did not require the armed forces to report custodial deaths to the NHRC.

There were few investigations and prosecutions of human rights violations or abuses arising from internal conflicts.

Killings: Terrorists used violence against the state, including killings, while government security forces conducted operations against these groups sometimes leading to the deaths of intended targets or nonparticipants.

On October 8, Parvez Ahmad Bokda died when members of the Central Reserve Police Force opened fire in what they claimed was self-defense at a checkpoint in Jammu and Kashmir. Local observers said the death was the result of “disproportionate force” and pressed for action against the security personnel involved. On October 24, Shahid Ajaz was killed in crossfire between security forces and terrorists, according to initial police reports. Media reported 12 civilian deaths in Jammu and Kashmir by terrorist or security forces in October.

On April 3, Maoist terrorists killed 22 members of security forces in Chhattisgarh. The ambush marked the largest death toll for security forces battling the guerrillas since 2017.

Maoist insurgents allegedly killed former colleagues on suspicion of acting as informants for law enforcement. Korra Pilku of Andhra Pradesh and Santosh Dandasena of Odisha were allegedly killed for working with police officials.

Abductions: Human rights groups maintained that insurgent groups abducted persons in Chhattisgarh, Manipur, Jharkhand, and Jammu and Kashmir.

Maoist groups in Chhattisgarh used abduction to intimidate law enforcement and the local population. Media reports alleged Maoists killed Constable Sannu Punem after abducting him in Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh. Additionally, Maoist rebels were suspected of kidnapping 11 persons who attended a police recruitment event.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were reports government security forces tortured and mistreated insurgents in custody and injured demonstrators. Human rights activists alleged some prisoners were tortured or killed during detention.

The postmortem report on A Velmurugan, a member of a Maoist terrorist group killed by anti-insurgency forces in Kerala in November 2020, showed he “sustained 44 lacerated penetrative and nonpenetrative wounds on all sides of his body,” leading human rights activists to allege torture.

Waheed-Ur-Rehman Parra, a Kashmiri politician detained by the National Intelligence Agency on alleged terrorist charges, was granted bail in January. On March 31, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer cosigned a report raising concerns of Parra’s alleged torture in custody. The government denied these allegations, and soon after the report was made public, Parra was re-arrested. Parra was still in custody at year’s end.

Child Soldiers: In May the United Nations released the Children and Armed Conflict report, which identified the recruitment of two minors by unidentified perpetrators. The United Nations also stated it was investigating reports that security forces used three minors for less than 24 hours.

Insurgent groups reportedly recruited teenagers for support roles. There were reports terrorist groups recruited children from schools in Chhattisgarh.

On July 27, the federal minister of state for home affairs informed parliament that Maoist terrorists in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand states were recruiting children and providing them military training.

Speaking at the UN Security Council’s Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict on July 28, the foreign secretary called for an end to impunity for all those involved in recruiting child soldiers. He called for greater accountability and sincere efforts in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: In 2020 the Ministry of Home Affairs informed parliament’s lower house there were approximately 65,000 registered Kashmiri migrant families across the country. Tens of thousands of Hindus, known as Kashmiri Pandits, fled the Kashmir Valley after 1990 because of violent intimidation that included murders, destruction of temples, and rapes by Kashmiri Muslim residents.

In March the Ministry of Home Affairs informed parliament that 3,800 Kashmiri Pandit migrants had returned to Jammu and Kashmir since the 1990s, 520 of whom had returned after August 2019. In July the Ministry of Home Affairs reported to parliament that 1,997 candidates from the Kashmiri Pandit community had been selected for jobs in Jammu and Kashmir.

In the central and eastern areas, armed conflicts between Maoist insurgents and government security forces over land and mineral resources in tribal forest areas continued. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal’s existing-conflict map, Maoist-affected states included Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Assam. Human rights advocates alleged the security operations sought not only to suppress terrorism but also to force tribal populations from their land.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, but it does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. The government generally respected this right, but there were instances in which the government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including through online trolling. There were also reports of terrorists and extremists perpetrating killings, violence, and intimidation against journalists critical of the government.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals routinely criticized the government publicly and privately via online platforms, television, radio, or in print media. According to the HRW World Report 2021, the government “increasingly harassed, arrested, and prosecuted rights defenders, activists, journalists, students, academics, and others critical of the government or its policies.” Harassment and detainment of journalists critical of the government in their reporting or social media messaging continued.

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021 report downgraded the country’s ranking from “Free” to “Partly Free,” due in part to “a crackdown on expressions of dissent by media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.” The Freedom House report stated authorities used security, defamation, sedition, and hate speech laws, as well as contempt-of-court charges, to curb critical voices. Media contacts said that some media outlets practiced self-censorship in response to the government reportedly withholding public-sector advertising from some outlets critical of the government.

On January 1, Madhya Pradesh police arrested stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui and four other persons for offending religious sentiments with jokes he allegedly planned to perform. The Supreme Court granted Faruqui bail in February, stating the allegations against him were vague.

On February 1, the government ordered Twitter to block accounts belonging to journalists covering the protests against agricultural reform laws, stating the order was to prevent a potential escalation of violence. Twitter initially complied with the government’s request, but subsequently restored access to the accounts after conducting an internal review.

On May 13, Manipur police arrested social activist Erendro Leichombam for a Facebook post critical of a BJP leader who advocated cow dung and cow urine as cures for COVID-19. On July 19, the Supreme Court granted bail to Leichombam, who was previously kept in preventive detention under the National Security Act after being granted bail by a lower court.

On July 24, Tamil Nadu police arrested Father George Ponnaiah, a Catholic priest, for alleged hate speech against the prime minister and home minister. The priest was attending a July 18 meeting honoring deceased tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy. The court remanded Ponnaiah to judicial custody for 15 days, and the Madras High Court granted conditional bail on August 10.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. The law prohibits content that could harm religious sentiments or provoke enmity among groups, and authorities invoked these provisions to restrict print media; broadcast media; digital media platforms, including streaming services; and publication or distribution of books.

There were reports from journalists and NGOs that government officials at both the local and national levels were involved in intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment and attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, encouraging frivolous lawsuits, and in some areas blocking communication services, such as mobile telephones and the internet, and constraining freedom of movement.

NGOs alleged criminal prosecutions and investigations were used to intimidate journalists critical of the government.

The Reporters without Borders 2021 World Press Freedom Index described the country as very dangerous for journalists, with press freedom violations by police, political activists, criminal groups, and local officials. The report also identified “coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks,” encouraging threats against journalists as a major area of concern. Harassment and violence were particularly acute for female journalists. Journalists working in Jammu and Kashmir continued to face barriers to free reporting through communications and movement restrictions.

In Jammu and Kashmir at least six journalists were assaulted, detained, or questioned by police through August according to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. In 2020 the government introduced a new media regulation in Jammu and Kashmir empowering local administration to determine “fake and antinational news” and to initiate criminal charges against journalists. The Kashmir Press Club protested the policy and alleged that the government was institutionalizing intimidation by exploiting the policy against media platforms critical of the government.

In January, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka, and New Delhi police filed charges against India Today anchor Rajdeep Sardesai; National Herald senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande; Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha; the Caravan founder Paresh Nath, editor Anant Nath, and executive editor Vinod K. Jose; and Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor. The charges included sedition, intent to cause riot, and other charges through their coverage of a violent January 26 protest. The Supreme Court granted the individuals a stay of arrest on February 9.

On March 5, journalists Shafat Farooq and Saqib Majeed said they were beaten by police during a protest in Srinagar. On July 17, Kashmiri journalist Aakash Hassan was allegedly assaulted by police. In August, Jammu and Kashmir police detained and questioned journalist Irfan Malik concerning tweets critical of the Jammu Kashmir government’s film promotion policy.

On April 7, Jammu and Kashmir Police inspector general Vijay Kumar issued a warning that police would file criminal charges against journalists who approached ongoing police counterterrorism operations, on the grounds that such reporting was “likely to incite violence” or promote “antinational sentiment.” The Editors Guild of India criticized the prohibitions as “draconian and undemocratic.”

Media reported criminal charges were filed against individuals who posted requests for oxygen supplies via social media during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 28, police in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, filed charges against 26-year-old Shashank Yadav for tweeting a plea for oxygen for his grandfather. On April 30, the Supreme Court warned that states should protect citizens’ right to communicate their grievances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic on social media.

On June 15, Uttar Pradesh police filed charges against Twitter; online news platform The Wire; journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi, and Mohammad Zubair; and Congress leaders Salman Nizami, Masqoor Usmani, and Sama Mohammad for “stoking communal unrest” by posting video footage of the assault of an elderly Muslim man.

On July 22, the Income Tax Department searched 32 office and residential locations affiliated with the Dainik Bhaskar Group, publisher of Dainik Bhaskar, the country’s second-most-read Hindi language newspaper. The Income Tax Department also raided the offices of Hindi language television station Bharat Samachar. Government sources asserted the raids were a result of alleged tax evasion by the media groups. The media groups claimed the raids were conducted as retaliation for investigative reporting during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February the Kashmir Press Club stated security agencies had routinely deployed intimidation tactics such as threats, summonses, and physical attacks on journalists in Jammu and Kashmir. On February 8, police summoned journalists Naseer Ganai and Haroon Nabi to the police facility, where they were questioned for reporting on a statement by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front.

In June the Jammu and Kashmir government released Media Policy 2020, a policy which authorizes the Directorate of Information and Publication Relations to “examine” the content of print, electronic, and other forms of media for “fake news, plagiarism, and unethical or antinational activities” in the name of law and order. Under the new media policy, government action could range from legal proceedings against journalists for “indulging in fake news, unethical or antinational activities, or plagiarism” to withholding advertisements from any media that “incite or tends to incite violence, question sovereignty and the integrity of India, or violate the accepted norms of public decency and behavior.”

On June 13, Uttar Pradesh authorities charged Scroll.in executive editor Supriya Sharma for a news report critical of the COVID-19 lockdown; she was charged with violating the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and sections of the penal code regarding printing defamatory matter and negligent acts likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life. Police also charged the Mumbai-based editor in chief of Scroll.in. On August 26, the Allahabad High Court granted Sharma protection from immediate arrest in the case but allowed the investigation to continue.

On July 1, UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay called for authorities to end “gunpoint censorship” and prosecute those responsible for the killing of Shubham Mani Tripathi, a journalist for the newspaper Kampu Mail. Tripathi died on June 19 when he was shot six times by two gunmen in Uttar Pradesh. His killing was allegedly in retaliation for his investigative reports into connections between illegal sand mining and corruption allegations. The two assailants, along with a third individual, were arrested.

The government maintained a monopoly on AM radio stations, limiting broadcasting to the state-owned All India Radio, and restricted FM radio licenses to entertainment and educational content. Widely distributed private satellite television provided competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network. There were accusations of political interference in the state-owned broadcasters. State governments banned the import or sale of selected books that contained material government officials deemed could be inflammatory or provoke communal or religious tensions.

On May 14, Andhra Pradesh police filed sedition charges against Telugu news channels TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi for broadcasting the speeches and statements of Member of Parliament K. Raghu Ramakrishna Raju that allegedly “promoted enmity and hatred among different communities.” Police arrested Raju and filed sedition charges against him. On May 21, the Supreme Court granted bail to the lawmaker; on May 31, the Supreme Court blocked Andhra Pradesh police from acting against the two channels.

Violence and Harassment: The Committee to Protect Journalists reported five journalists were killed during the year. Journalists were threatened online with violence and, in the case of female journalists, rape.

On March 24, Syandan Patrika journalist Bikash Das was assaulted in Tripura while covering a story on corruption. A group of assailants attacked Das, inflicting serious injuries before he was able to escape.

On June 13, Uttar Pradesh journalist Sulabh Srivastava was found dead under mysterious circumstances. On the day before his death, Sulabh wrote to seek protection from Uttar Pradesh police, claiming he faced danger after reporting on organized crime in the city. Police reported the cause of Srivastava’s death as a motorcycle accident.

In July photojournalist Masrat Zahra, who relocated to Germany after UAPA charges were filed against her, alleged her parents were beaten by Jammu and Kashmir police because of her work.

On August 8, journalist Chennakeshavalu was stabbed to death by two suspects allegedly for his reporting on illegal gambling activities in Andhra Pradesh. Police arrested Venkata Subbaiah, a police officer, and his brother Nani for suspected murder.

Online and mobile harassment was prevalent, and reports of internet “trolling,” continued to rise. In some instances police used information provided by anonymous social media users as a pretext to initiate criminal proceedings against journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Citizens generally enjoyed freedom of speech, but the government continued to censor and restrict content based on broad public and national interest provisions in Article 19 of the constitution.

On February 25, the government published new regulations to govern social media platforms, messaging services, and streaming service that delivers content directly to the consumer over the internet. Human rights advocates and journalists expressed concerns that these rules would curtail freedom of speech and expression, and several media organizations filed legal actions against the regulations. They contended that parts of IT Rules 2021 are unconstitutional and contrary to the necessity and proportionality standard laid down by the Supreme Court in the 2018 Puttaswamy v. India decision guaranteeing the right to privacy in the constitution. In response to one such challenge on August 14, the Mumbai High Court ordered a stay on implementation of Rules 9(1) and 9(3) of the IT Rules 2021, which require digital news media and online publishers to adhere to a prescribed code of ethics and establish a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism.

Libel/Slander Laws: Individuals continued to face legal action for posting offensive or derogatory material on social media. In January the Delhi High Court dismissed a criminal defamation case filed by a former senior official against Priya Ramani, accusing Ramani of sexual harassment. The court noted, “a woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse.”

National Security: In some cases government authorities cited laws protecting national interest to restrict media content. The government banned more than 200 Chinese mobile apps because they were “prejudicial” to the sovereignty and security of the country.

Internet Freedom

There were government restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, censorship of online content, and there were reports the government occasionally monitored users of digital media, such as chat rooms and person-to-person communications. The law permits the government to block internet sites and content and criminalizes sending messages the government deems inflammatory or offensive. Both central and state governments have the power to issue directives for blocking, intercepting, monitoring, or decrypting computer information. The government temporarily blocked telecommunications and internet connections in certain regions during periods of political unrest.

In January 2020 the Supreme Court declared access to the internet a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. In 2015 the Supreme Court overturned some provisions of the information technology law that restricted content published on social media but upheld the government’s authority to block online content “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the state, and friendly relations with foreign states or public order” without court approval. The government may shut telephone and internet services temporarily during a “public emergency” or for “public safety.” A suspension order can be issued by a “competent authority” at either the federal or the state level.

NGO Software Freedom Law Center reported the central and state governments conducted localized internet shutdowns 36 times as of October. For example, according to Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, Jammu and Kashmir experienced 19 instances of internet shutdown as of August.

Press outlets reported instances in which individuals and journalists were arrested or detained for online activity. Police continued to arrest individuals based on the Information Technology Act for legitimate online activity, despite a 2015 Supreme Court ruling striking down the statute as unconstitutional; experts claimed the arrests were an abuse of legal processes.

The Central Monitoring System continued to allow government agencies to monitor electronic communications in real time without informing the subject or a judge. The monitoring system is an indigenous mass electronic surveillance data mining program installed by the Center for Development of Telematics, a government-owned telecommunications technology development center.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Contacts reported a few Kashmiri academics attempting to travel internationally to attend academic conferences or pursue professional assignments were prohibited from leaving the country.

In January the Ministry of Education issued guidelines for holding virtual conferences and seminars that required local universities to seek government approval for any virtual discussions, including approval of the names of all participants, and prohibited virtual events related to security matters. The academic community, including the country’s two largest science academies representing 1,500 scientists, protested and requested the elimination of these regulations. In February the government withdrew the guidelines and left in place a 2008 rule that only concerned in-person conferences.

In July, Madhya Pradesh police warned the administration of Dr. Harisingh Gour University of possible action based on the national penal code “if religious and caste sentiments are hurt” during an international webinar titled Culture and Linguistic Hurdles in the Achievement of Scientific Temper. The police warning was prompted by a complaint from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which objected to the topic as well as past statements and “antinational mentality” of the academic participants.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly. Authorities often required permits and notification before parades or demonstrations, and local governments generally respected the right to protest peacefully. Jammu and Kashmir was an exception, where the state government sometimes denied permits to separatist political parties for public gatherings, and security forces reportedly detained and assaulted members of political groups engaged in peaceful protest (see section 1.g.). During periods of civil unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used the law to ban public assemblies and impose curfews.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected this right, the government’s increased monitoring and regulation of NGOs that received foreign funding caused concern. In certain cases the government suspended foreign banking licenses or froze accounts of NGOs that allegedly received foreign funding without authorization or that unlawfully mixed foreign and domestic funding. In other instances the government canceled or declined to renew Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registrations.

In September 2020 parliament passed amendments to the FCRA that placed additional limitations on the international funding of nongovernmental organizations. Financial consultants and NGO leaders believed the new legislation would severely restrict the ability of smaller, regional organizations to raise funds and diminish collaboration between the government and civil society.

Some NGOs reported an increase in random FCRA compliance inspections by Ministry of Home Affairs officials. FCRA licenses were also reportedly canceled periodically based on confidential investigations by the Intelligence Bureau.

Some NGOs stated they were targeted as a reprisal for their work on “politically sensitive” topics such as human rights or environmental activism. In September 2020 Amnesty International India (AII) closed its offices after a two-year FCRA investigation charged the organization with financial irregularities resulting in the suspension of its local bank accounts. In February the Enforcement Directorate froze access to AII assets worth more than 170 million rupees ($2.3 million) as part of a money-laundering investigation.

On March 31, the National Investigation Agency conducted searches of suspected terrorist organizations at 31 locations across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The Human Rights Forum described the searches as intimidation intended to stifle lawful protest, while a representative of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties alleged that human rights activists were being deliberately targeted and silenced by this law enforcement action.

On June 7, the government temporarily suspended the FCRA license of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) for alleged violations. CHRI lawyers believe the enforcement action was taken as retribution for CHRI’s human rights work. Subsequently, the Delhi High Court allowed the human rights organization access up to 25 percent of the impounded funds to pay staff salaries.

On September 16, Enforcement Directorate officials raided the home and office of human rights activist Harsh Mander. Authorities alleged Mander violated provisions of the FCRA. Human Rights Watch claimed authorities repeatedly targeted Mander, who has criticized the government’s “discriminatory policies against religious minorities.” On September 29, more than 30 activists and intellectuals released a statement condemning the raids as a tactic to harass and intimidate Mander.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: The central government relaxed restrictions on travel by foreigners to Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, and parts of Jammu and Kashmir, excluding foreign nationals from Pakistan, China, and Burma. The Ministry of Home Affairs and state governments required citizens to obtain special permits when traveling to certain states. Inner Line Permits are required in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur.

Foreign Travel: The government may legally deny a passport to any applicant for engaging in activities outside the country “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.”

The government delayed issuance and renewal of passports to citizens from Jammu and Kashmir, sometimes for up to two years. The government reportedly subjected applicants born in Jammu and Kashmir, including children born to military officers deployed there, to additional scrutiny and police clearances before issuing them passports.

Citizenship: In 2019 parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which provides an expedited path to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The act does not include Muslims from those countries and does not apply to the tribal areas of Assam and Tripura, most of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, or Tripura. Following passage of the act, widespread protests against its passage and the exclusion of Muslims from the statute occurred throughout the country, leading to arrests, targeted communications shutdowns, bans on assembly, and deaths in a few instances.

On July 27, the minister of state for home affairs notified parliament that the government required additional time to further develop and notify the rules for the CAA, effectively meaning that the law was not in effect during the year.

Approximately 1.9 million residents of the state of Assam, which borders Bangladesh, were left off the Supreme Court-mandated National Register of Citizens (NRC) register in Assam. The government established procedures for appeals. The nationality status of those excluded remained unclear, pending the adjudication of appeals. On May 13, Assam’s NRC authorities requested Supreme Court permission for a reverification of the NRC list.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Settlements of internally displaced persons (IDPs) existed throughout the country. In 2020 approximately 3,900 persons were displaced because of conflicts and violence, while natural disasters displaced almost four million persons.

Precise numbers of those displaced by conflict or violence were difficult to obtain because the government does not monitor the movements of displaced persons, and humanitarian and human rights agencies had limited access to camps and affected regions. While authorities registered residents of IDP camps, an unknown number of displaced persons resided outside the camps. Many IDPs lacked sufficient food, clean water, shelter, and health care (see section 1.g., Other Conflict-related Abuse).

National policy or legislation did not address the matter of internal displacement resulting from armed conflict or from ethnic or communal violence. The welfare of IDPs was generally the purview of state governments and local authorities, allowing for gaps in services and poor accountability. The central government provided limited assistance to IDPs but allowed NGOs and human rights organizations access to IDPs; neither access nor assistance was standard for all IDPs or all situations.

On April 20, nearly 400 families of Mizoram’s Bru tribe left a temporary camp and relocated to permanent homes. Since 1997, nearly 37,000 Brus have lived in six relief camps after they fled Mizoram’s Mamit, Kolasib, and Lunglei Districts. In 2020 the central government, along with the state governments of Tripura and Mizoram, signed an agreement with the leaders of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum that allowed Brus to settle permanently in Tripura.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing minimal protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. While UNHCR does not have an official agreement with the government, it is able to assist asylum seekers and refugees from noncontiguous countries. UNHCR did not have direct access to newly arriving refugees on the country’s border with Burma or protracted Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu.

The country hosted a large refugee population, including more than 73,404 Tibetan refugees, per the latest census conducted by Central Tibetan Relief Committee. More than 92,000 refugees from Sri Lanka lived in the country as of July 1. In February, Burmese nationals fleeing violence in Burma began arriving in Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland states. The estimated number of Burmese refugees varied widely from approximately 5,000 to 20,000. A protection working group consisting of civil society and humanitarian organizations provides basic humanitarian assistance to this population.

UNHCR reported 736 Afghans registered for protection between August 1 and September 30, and it established a telephone helpline to answer queries from this population. The Ministry of Home Affairs announced an emergency e-visa for Afghan nationals seeking emergency entry into India on August 17 after the collapse of the previous Afghan government. On September 5, a Ministry of Home Affairs official stated that no Afghan national would be required to leave the country without prior approval of the Home Ministry.

The courts protected refugees and asylum seekers in accordance with the constitution. The Supreme Court, however, issued an order allowing the deportation of a group of Rohingya on April 8. The group of more than 150 Rohingya were detained on March 6 for illegally residing in Jammu and Kashmir. The government argued Rohingya were illegal migrants who had crossed the border. They enjoyed equal protection of law, but their right to movement was restricted.

In many cases refugees and asylum seekers under UNHCR’s mandate reported increased obstacles to regularizing their status through long-term visas and residence permits.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Absent a legal framework, the government sometimes granted asylum on a situational basis on humanitarian grounds in accordance with international law. This approach resulted in varying standards of protection for different refugee and asylum-seeker groups. The government recognized refugees from Tibet and Sri Lanka and generally honored UNHCR decisions on refugee status determination for individuals from other countries.

UNHCR maintained an office in New Delhi, where it registered refugees and asylum seekers, made refugee status determinations, and provided some services. The government permitted UNHCR and its partner staff access to refugees in other urban centers and allowed it to operate in Tamil Nadu to assist with Sri Lankan refugee repatriation. Access to some refugees or asylum seekers in detention was granted.

The government generally permitted NGOs, international humanitarian organizations, and foreign governments access to Sri Lankan refugee camps and Tibetan settlements, but it generally denied access to asylum seekers in Mizoram, Manipur, and Jammu and Kashmir. The government denied requests for some foreigners to visit Tibetan settlements in Ladakh.

After the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, the government ceased registering Sri Lankans as refugees. The Tamil Nadu government cooperated with UNHCR by providing exit permission for Sri Lankan refugees to repatriate voluntarily; however, UNHCR did not have access to Sri Lankan refugees who remained in Tamil Nadu.

Excluding Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees, 43,157 persons of concern were registered by UNHCR as of the end of August.

Refoulement: The government advocated for the return of refugees to Burma. According to UNHCR, at least 26 non-Rohingya refugees (of an estimated 40,000) have been deported since late 2016.

On April 2, Assam police took a 14-year-old Rohingya girl from a shelter home to the international border in Manipur for deportation to Burma. Burmese immigration officials reportedly refused to accept the girl, and police returned the girl to the shelter home.

On May 3, the High Court of Manipur granted seven Burmese nationals who illegally entered the country permission to approach the UNHCR office in New Delhi. The High Court interpreted Article 21 of the constitution as protecting the principle of nonrefoulement.

On August 9, the minister of state for defense informed parliament that 8,486 Burmese refugees entered the country after the military coup in February. The minister noted that 5,796 refugees were “pushed back” into Burma while 2,690 remained in the country.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The law does not contain the term “refugee,” treating refugees as any other foreigner. Undocumented physical presence in the country is a criminal offense. Persons without documentation were vulnerable to detention, forced returns, and abuse. The country historically treated persons as refugees based on the merits and circumstances of the cases.

Refugees reported exploitation by nongovernment actors, including assaults, gender-based violence, fraud, and labor and sex trafficking. Most urban refugees worked in the informal sector or in occupations such as street vending, where they suffered from police extortion, nonpayment of wages, and exploitation.

NGOs claimed law enforcement officials harassed and intimidated Rohingya refugees, including by confiscating UNHCR-issued refugee cards and government identification documents. NGOs also alleged Delhi police handcuffed, physically abused, and covered refugees’ heads with hoods while detaining them for routine questioning.

UNHCR continued to advocate for the release of detained refugees, for asylum seekers to freely move within the country and have their claims assessed, and for refugees to benefit from protection in the state where they arrived, and which has jurisdiction over them.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR registered 43,157 refugees and asylum seekers as of August 31. This included 23,518 persons from Burma. On August 10, the minister of state for home affairs told the lower house of parliament the government did not have accurate data on the number of illegal migrants in the country and responded to questions from parliamentarians that there were reports of Rohingya migrants committing illegal activities.

The country hosted more than 92,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. In August, 29 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees attempted suicide in two separate incidents at a detention camp in Tamil Nadu. Media reports stated nearly 80 Sri Lankan Tamils conducted a protest for weeks demanding their release and alleging false detention. The refugees were reportedly dissatisfied after meeting Tamil Nadu government officials in May who determined that their release would be delayed. Tamil Nadu has 107 refugee camps across the state, including one detention camp for refugees with criminal records.

Employment: Most UNHCR-registered refugees found employment in the informal sector. Some refugees reported discrimination by employers and landlords. According to UNHCR, obtaining formal employment was difficult for refugees because they did not possess government-issued documents such as long-term visas, which the government stopped issuing to refugees in 2017.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers had access to housing, primary and secondary education, and health care. In cases where refugees were denied access, it was often due to a lack of knowledge of refugee rights by the service provider. In many cases UNHCR or its partners were able to intervene successfully and advocate for refugee access.

For asylum seekers UNHCR provided a letter upon registration indicating the person was being considered for UNHCR refugee status.

Sri Lankan refugees were permitted to work in Tamil Nadu. Police, however, reportedly summoned refugees back into the camps on short notice, particularly during elections and required refugees or asylum seekers to remain in the camps for several days.

On August 27, Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin announced a special welfare package of 3.17 billion rupees ($42 million) for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu. The assistance will support refugee housing, cooking gas subsidies, and education allowances for refugee children. This allocation followed the disbursement of 4,000 rupees ($53) per Sri Lankan refugee family earlier in the year.

Government services, such as mother and child health programs, were available. According to a factsheet published by UNHCR in June, 6,561 refugees and asylum seekers were vaccinated against COVID-19 across the country during the year.

Refugees were able to request protection from police and courts as needed.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries.

According to UNHCR an April 2020 moratorium on the repatriation of Sri Lankans remained in effect since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of commercial flight operations. A ferry project jointly proposed by the government and the government of Sri Lanka for the repatriation of refugees remained on hold. Departures for voluntary repatriation, third country resettlement, and complementary pathways continued.

g. Stateless Persons

By law parents confer citizenship, and birth in the country does not automatically result in citizenship. Any person born in the country on or after January 26, 1950, but before July 1, 1987, obtained citizenship by birth. A child born in the country on or after July 1, 1987, obtained citizenship if either parent was a citizen at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities consider those born in the country on or after December 3, 2004, citizens only if at least one parent was a citizen and the other was not illegally present in the country at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities considered persons born outside the country on or after December 10, 1992, citizens if either parent was a citizen at the time of birth, but authorities do not consider those born outside the country after December 3, 2004, citizens unless their birth was registered at a consulate within one year of the date of birth. Authorities may also confer citizenship through registration in specific categories and via naturalization after residing in the country for 12 years.

Children born in Sri Lankan refugee camps received birth certificates. While these certificates alone do not entitle refugees to citizenship, refugees may present birth certificates to the Sri Lankan High Commission to obtain a consular birth certificate, which entitles them to pursue Sri Lankan citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Election Commission is an independent constitutional body responsible for administering all elections at the central and state level throughout the country. In May 2019 voters re-elected the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the country’s general elections, which involved more than 600 million eligible voters. During the year state assembly elections took place in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, West Bengal, and Assam. Observers considered these elections free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for universal voting rights for all citizens 18 and older. There are no restrictions placed on the formation of political parties or on individuals of any community from participating in the election process. The election law bans the use of government resources for political campaigning, and the Election Commission effectively enforced the law. The commission’s guidelines ban opinion polls 48 hours prior to an election and exit poll results may not be released until completion of the last phase (in a multiphase election).

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they freely participated. The law reserves one-third of the seats in local councils for women. Religious, cultural, and traditional practices prevented women from proportional participation in political office. Nonetheless, women held many high-level political offices, including two positions as cabinet ministers. This represented a decline from the first Modi government when nine women served in the cabinet. The 2019 general election resulted in 78 women elected to the lower house of parliament, compared with 66 in the 2014 general election. The sole female chief minister leads West Bengal.

The constitution stipulates that, to protect historically marginalized groups and provide for representation in the lower house of parliament, each state must reserve seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the state. Only candidates belonging to these groups may contest elections in reserved constituencies. Members of minority populations had previously served or currently served as prime minister, president, vice president, cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, members of parliament, and state chief ministers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials at all levels of government. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption was present at multiple levels of government. In June the country’s anticorruption ombudsman reported it had received 110 corruption complaints, including four against members of parliament, during the year.

NGOs reported the payment of bribes to expedite services, such as police protection, school admission, water supply, and government assistance. Civil society organizations drew public attention to corruption throughout the year, including through demonstrations and websites that featured stories of corruption.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Most domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. In some circumstances groups faced restrictions (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). There were reportedly more than three million NGOs in the country, but definitive numbers were not available. The government generally met with domestic NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and acted in response to their reports or recommendations.

The NHRC worked cooperatively with numerous NGOs, and several NHRC committees had NGO representation. Some human rights monitors in Jammu and Kashmir were able to document human rights violations, but periodically security forces, police, and other law enforcement authorities reportedly restrained or harassed them. Representatives of certain international human rights NGOs sometimes faced difficulties obtaining visas and reported that occasional official harassment and restrictions limited their public distribution of materials.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The United Nations had limited access to Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states. In September UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet raised concerns regarding restrictions on public assembly, internet shutdowns, and the use of UAPA charges in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC is an independent and impartial investigatory and advisory body established by the central government, with a dual mandate to investigate and remedy instances of human rights violations and to promote public awareness of human rights. It is directly accountable to parliament but works in close coordination with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law and Justice. It has a mandate to address official violations of human rights or negligence in the prevention of violations, intervene in judicial proceedings involving allegations of human rights violations, and review any factors (including acts of terrorism) that infringe on human rights. The law authorizes the NHRC to issue summonses and compel testimony, produce documentation, and requisition public records. The NHRC also recommends appropriate remedies for abuses in the form of compensation to the victims of government killings or their families.

The NHRC has neither the authority to enforce the implementation of its recommendations nor the power to address allegations against military and paramilitary personnel. Human rights groups claimed these limitations hampered the work of the NHRC. Some human rights NGOs criticized the NHRC dependence on the government funding and its policy of not conducting investigations that last more than one year. Some claimed the NHRC did not register all complaints, dismissed cases arbitrarily, rerouted complaints back to the alleged violator, and did not adequately protect complainants.

Of 28 states, 24 have human rights commissions, which operated independently under the auspices of the NHRC. Some human rights groups alleged local politics influenced state committees, which they claimed were less likely to offer fair judgments than the NHRC. The Human Rights Law Network observed most state committees had few or no minority, civil society, or female representatives. The group claimed the committees were ineffective and at times hostile toward victims, hampered by political appointments, understaffed, and underfunded.

The government closed the Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Commission in 2019 and ordered the NHRC to oversee human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. The NHRC has jurisdiction over all human rights violations, except in certain cases involving the military. The NHRC has authority to investigate cases of human rights violations committed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and paramilitary forces operating under the AFSPA in the northeast states.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in most cases, but marital rape is not illegal when the woman is older than 15. According to legal experts, the law does not criminalize rape of adult men. Rape of minors is covered by the gender-neutral Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO). Official statistics reported rape as one of the country’s fastest-growing crimes, prompted at least in part by the increasing willingness of survivors to report rapes, but observers believed the number of rapes remained vastly underreported.

Law enforcement and legal recourse for rape survivors were inadequate, and the judicial system was unable to address the problem effectively.  Police sometimes worked to reconcile rape survivors and their attackers.  In some cases they encouraged female rape survivors to marry their attackers.

The NGO International Center for Research on Women noted low conviction rates in rape cases was one of the main reasons sexual violence continued unabated and at times unreported. NGOs observed the length of trials, lack of victim support, and inadequate protection of witnesses and survivors remained major concerns and were more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government sought to expedite cases involving women by setting up more than a thousand fast-track special courts to handle pending rape cases. In addition, several high courts have also directed state governments to establish more fast-track courts to promptly dispose of pending rape cases.

Civil society organizations provided awareness and survivor-centered, nonstigmatizing, confidential and free care to victims of violence and facilitate referrals to tertiary care, social welfare, and legal services. Some also provided short-term shelter for women and child survivors of rape. These services were intended to encourage women and children to come forward and report cases.

Additionally, the central government implemented interventions to improve the safety and security of women while reporting violence. This includes centers for reporting and accessing health support, women help desks at police stations to facilitate reporting, emergency response support system via a mobile application for reporting emergencies, and training programs for police, prosecutors, medical officers, and the judiciary to respond to victims in compassionate and respectful ways.

Rape continued to be a persistent problem, including gang rape, rape of minors, rape against lower-caste women or women from religious and nonreligious minority communities by upper-caste men, and rape by government officials.

The minimum mandatory punishment for rape is 10 years’ imprisonment. The minimum sentence for the rape of a girl younger than age 16 is between 20 years’ and life imprisonment; the minimum sentence of gang rape of a girl younger than 12 is either life imprisonment or the death penalty. The Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offenses monitors sexual assault investigations. According to latest government data, 77 cases of rape per day were reported across the country in 2020.

On April 7, a 24-year-old Delhi woman was gang raped by five men in Gurugram, Haryana. The woman was raped repeatedly and left near Farrukhnagar, Haryana. To date, no suspects have been arrested.

On June 11, two minor tribal girls in Assam’s Kokrajhar District were found hanging from a tree after they were raped and killed. Police arrested seven suspects.

On August 1, a nine-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped, suffocated to death, and her body cremated in New Delhi. Police arrested and charged four suspects, two of whom admitted to raping her because she was a Dalit.

Women in areas such as in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, as well as vulnerable Dalit or tribal women, were often victims of rape or threats of rape. National crime statistics indicated Dalit women were disproportionately victimized. Domestic violence continued to be a problem. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown led to increased instances of domestic violence. Women and children were more vulnerable due to loss of livelihood of the perpetrator and the family being forced to remain indoors, where victims were locked in with their abusers with limited means to escape or access to resources.

Local authorities made efforts to address the safety of women. The NCRB’s 2021 Crime in India report revealed that overall crime against women fell by 8 percent from 405,326 cases in 2019 to 371,503 cases in 2020. West Bengal and Odisha reported the highest increase in crimes against women while Uttar Pradesh recorded a 17 percent decline in registered cases. Madhya Pradesh reported the largest number of domestic violence cases while Rajasthan reported the highest number of rapes.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No national law addresses the practice of FGM/C. According to human rights groups and media reports, between 70 and 90 percent of Dawoodi Bohras, a population of approximately one million persons concentrated in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi, practiced FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law forbids the acceptance of marriage dowries, but many families continued to offer and accept dowries, and dowry disputes remained a serious problem. NCRB data showed a total of 7,045 dowry-related deaths in 2020 as compared with 7,141 in 2019. The highest number of cases were registered in Uttar Pradesh with 2,302 victims. Most states employed dowry prohibition officers. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling mandates all trial courts to charge defendants in dowry death cases with murder.

Acid attacks against men and women continued to cause death and permanent disfigurement. On April 16, a man from Patiala threw acid on his wife for not giving birth to a son. The woman sustained burns on nearly 58 percent of her body in the acid attack. Police charged the man with attempted murder and voluntarily causing grievous hurt.

On May 21, a woman contracted to have acid thrown on her boyfriend after he rejected her marriage proposal. Police arrested the perpetrator.

So-called honor killings remained a problem, especially in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana; they were usually attributable to the victim marrying against his or her family’s wishes.

In August, Gwalior police in Madhya Pradesh arrested the father and brother of a 22-year-old woman found hanging at her home after a reported “honor killing.” Police also charged the woman’s uncle and two cousins with murder, as the family had opposed her choice to marry outside of her community.

Andhra Pradesh police registered a case of suspicious death as murder in response to a complaint that the parents of an 18-year-old girl allegedly killed and cremated her when she refused to end her relationship with a man of another caste.

The Telangana High Court questioned police statistics that reported only four “honor killings” and three cases of assault on individuals who married outside of their caste in the preceding four years in the state. A social activist filed a petition alleging 36 “honor killings” took place in the state in recent years.

There were reports women and girls in the devadasi system of symbolic marriages to Hindu deities (a form of so-called ritual prostitution) were victims of rape or sexual abuse at the hands of priests and temple patrons, including sex trafficking. This practice was found in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, and almost always targeted girls from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. NGOs suggested families exploited some girls from lower castes to mitigate household financial burdens and the prospect of marriage dowries. The practice deprived girls of their education and reproductive rights and subjected them to stigma and discrimination.

Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra have legislation that prohibits the devadasi system and provides rehabilitation services to women and girls affected by the practice. Enforcement of these laws remained lax.

In February police rescued a 19-year-old girl from Karnataka after she alerted them to her parents’ plan to force her into the devadasi system. Officials noted the victim’s mother was a former devadasi and insisted her daughter join the practice.

No federal law addresses accusations of witchcraft; however, authorities may use other legal provisions as an alternative for an individual accused of witchcraft. The NCRB reported 88 deaths with witchcraft listed as the motive in 2020. Madhya Pradesh registered 17 cases of murder against those accused of witchcraft. Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Assam, and Jharkhand have laws criminalizing accusing others of witchcraft.

On March 9, a woman’s dismembered body was found buried in Jharkhand. According to police, villagers suspected the woman of practicing witchcraft.

On May 25, a group of villagers in Assam’s Baksa District beat a 50-year-old tribal man to death. Police suspected a case of witch hunting and detained five persons.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. Authorities required all state departments and institutions with more than 50 employees to operate committees to prevent and address sexual harassment, often referred to as “eve teasing.” By law sexual harassment includes one or more unwelcome acts or behavior, such as physical contact, a request for sexual favors, making sexually suggestive remarks, or showing pornography.

Reproductive Rights: There were reports of coerced and involuntary sterilization. The government promoted female sterilization as a form of family planning for decades. Some women, especially poor and lower-caste women, reportedly were pressured by their husbands and families to have tubal ligations or hysterectomies. The government provided monetary compensation for the wage loss, transportation costs, drugs and dressing, and follow-up visits to women accepting contraceptive methods, including voluntary sterilization. There were no formal restrictions on access to other forms of family planning; however, despite recent efforts to expand the range of contraceptive choices, voluntary sterilization remained the preferred method due to the costs and limited availability of alternative contraceptive choices.

Policies and guidelines that penalized families with more than two children were not widely enforced but remained in place in various states. Certain states continued to maintain quotas for government jobs and subsidies for adults with no more than two children. For example, Assam linked a two-child norm to accessing state government benefits and running for certain offices.

Many states promoted female sterilization as a family planning method, which resulted in risky, substandard procedures and limited access to nonpermanent methods. The central government does not have the authority to regulate state public health policies. Some women, particularly poor and lower-caste women, were reportedly pressured to have tubal ligations, hysterectomies, or other forms of sterilization.

The government recognized the role of health-care professionals in treating survivors of sexual violence and implemented protocols that meet international standards for such medical care. Government directives instruct health facilities to ensure survivors of all forms of sexual violence receive immediate access to health care services, including emergency contraception, police protection, emergency shelter, forensic services, and referrals for legal aid and other services. Implementation of the guidelines was uneven, however, due to limited resources and social stigma.

In February the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released the Sample Registration Report for Maternal Mortality Rates between 2016 and 2018, which estimated that the maternal mortality ratio declined to 113 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016-18, compared with 130 such deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014-16. The report indicated Assam’s maternal mortality rate, at 215 per 100,000 live births, was the highest in the country, while Kerala recorded the lowest maternal mortality ratio at 43 per 100,000 live births.

Care received by women, especially those from marginalized and low-income groups, at public health facilities was often inadequate, contributing to a reluctance to seek treatment. Government initiatives resulted in a significant increase in institutional births, but there were reports that health facilities continued to be overburdened, underequipped, and undersupplied.

Policies penalizing families with more than two children remained in place in seven states, but some authorities did not enforce them. There were reports these policies created pressure on women with more than two children to use contraception, including permanent methods such as sterilization, or even termination of subsequent pregnancies.

To counter sex selection, almost all states introduced “girl child promotion” plans to promote the education and well-being of girls; some plans required a certificate of sterilization for the parents to collect benefits.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires equal pay for equal work, but employers reportedly often paid women less than men for the same job, discriminated against women in employment and credit applications, and promoted women less frequently than men. The government did not effectively enforce discrimination laws.

Many tribal land systems, including in Bihar, deny tribal women the right to own land. Other laws or customs relating to the ownership of assets and land accord women little control over land use, retention, or sale.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The law bans sex determination tests, the use of all technologies for the purpose of selecting a fetus’s gender, and sex-based abortions; however, NGOs claimed the practice of abortion based on sex was widely practiced across the country despite government efforts to enforce the legislation. This resulted in a sex ratio of 889 females per 1,000 males (or 112 males per 100 females) per the 2011 census.

States implement “girl child promotion” programs to counter prenatal sex selection. In 2015 the national government launched the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao program to arrest the decline in the child sex ratio. According to government data, the sex ratio at birth improved from 918 girls per 1,000 boys in 2014-15 (109 boys per 100 girls) to 934 girls per 1,000 boys in 2019-20 (107 boys per 100 girls).

According to media reports, fear of giving birth to a girl child drove some women toward sex-selective abortion or attempts to sell baby girls.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, or place of birth. The registration of castes and tribes continued for the purpose of affirmative action programs, as the federal and state governments continued to implement programs for members of lower-caste groups to provide better quality housing, quotas in schools, government jobs, and access to subsidized foods. Critics claimed many of the programs to assist the lower castes suffered from poor implementation, corruption, or both.

The term Dalit, derived from Sanskrit for “oppressed” or “crushed,” refers to members of what society regarded as the lowest of the Scheduled Castes. According to the 2011 census, Scheduled Caste members constituted 17 percent of the population (approximately 200 million persons). The NCRB reported 50,291 crimes against Scheduled Castes in 2020 – an increase of 9.4 percent from 2019. Crimes committed against Dalits reportedly often went unpunished, either because authorities failed to prosecute perpetrators or because victims did not report crimes due to fear of retaliation.

Discrimination based on caste remained prevalent, particularly in rural areas. In August Haridwar police arrested two suspects for using caste-based slurs against Indian hockey player Vandana Katariya. The suspects were charged with insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace and violation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act.

The law protects Dalits, but there were numerous reports of violence and significant discrimination in access to services, such as health care, education, access to justice, freedom of movement, access to institutions (such as temples), and marriage. Many Dalits were malnourished. Most bonded laborers were Dalits, and those who asserted their rights were often victims of attacks, especially in rural areas. As agricultural laborers for higher-caste landowners, Dalits reportedly often worked without pay.

NGOs reported Dalit students were sometimes denied admission to certain schools because of their caste, required to present caste certification prior to admission, barred from morning prayers, asked to sit in the back of the class, or forced to clean school toilets while being denied access to the same facilities. There were also reports some teachers refused to correct the homework of Dalit children, refused to provide midday meals to Dalit children, and asked Dalit children to sit separately from children of upper-caste families.

In September an Uttar Pradesh school principal was suspended and a police report filed for using caste-based slurs and discriminating against Dalit children.

On February 2, the minister for social justice and empowerment told parliament that Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of deaths of persons who died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks, work often performed by Dalits, between 2016 to December 2020. While Uttar Pradesh recorded 52 deaths, Tamil Nadu registered 43 deaths. Most manual-scavenging accidents occurred due to asphyxiation and exposure to poisonous gases when workers were inside the sewer systems and septic tanks. NGOs estimated the number of deaths was underreported.

On September 8, the Madras High Court directed the heads of corporations and municipalities in Tamil Nadu to submit a written report that no manual-scavenging work would be permitted in their jurisdiction. The court had previously indicated the heads of corporations and municipalities would be held personally liable for any manual-scavenging activity or mishap occurring in their jurisdiction. The court also recommended the state government obtain appropriate machinery and improve sewer lines to eliminate manual scavenging in the state.

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution provides for the social, economic, and political rights of disadvantaged groups of indigenous persons. The law provides special status for indigenous individuals, but authorities often denied their rights in practice.

In most of the northeastern states, where indigenous groups constituted most of the states’ populations, the law provides for tribal rights, but some local authorities disregarded these provisions. The law prohibits any nontribal person, including citizens from other states, from crossing a government-established inner boundary without a valid permit. No one may remove rubber, wax, ivory, or other forest products from protected areas without authorization. Tribal authorities must also approve the sale of land to nontribal persons.

Tribal leaders in Telangana accused the state government of impinging on the forest rights of tribal communities. Farmers contended the state forest department destroyed their crops without prior notice and attempted to forcibly remove them from their land. On August 6, police arrested 23 tribal farmers for attempted murder when tribal members “forcefully tried to recover farmland that the villagers have been cultivating for decades.” Tribal leaders criticized the arrests as “persecution” for defending their rights.

On August 26, a tribal man from Madhya Pradesh died after several persons tied him to a van and dragged him on the road following a minor traffic dispute. Madhya Pradesh police identified and arrested five of the eight accused after a video of the incident was disseminated widely on social media.

Children

According to a Lancet report, more than 100,000 children lost either one or both parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) filed a Supreme Court affidavit reporting 8,161 children were orphaned, 92,475 children lost one parent, and 396 were abandoned between April 2020 and August.

After the NCPCR raised concerns regarding complaints of illegal adoption of children orphaned by COVID-19, the Supreme Court directed states to take stringent measures against illegal adoptions and to increase publicity of the laws and regulations.

Birth Registration: The law establishes state government procedures for birth registration. Analysis of government data from 2015-16 noted approximately 62 percent of children younger than five had their births registered and their parent or parents received a birth certificate.

Children lacking citizenship or registration may not be able to access public services, enroll in school, or obtain identification documents later in life.

Education: The constitution provides for free education for all children from ages six to 14, with a compulsory education age through age 15, but the government did not always comply with this requirement. Since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, children may be encouraged to leave school before the completion of compulsory education.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected children’s right to education and nutrition. A UNICEF India report found that during the pandemic 1.5 million schools were closed, which affected 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. Socioeconomic inequality and lack of resources, including internet and technological devices as well as limited access to electricity, resulted in less educational opportunities for some children. The report projected that 8 percent of all children may not return to school. To reduce the risk of children dropping out, the Supreme Court ordered private schools to waive fees and for the state to pay fees to ensure children remain enrolled.

According to UNICEF, more than 60 percent of secondary school-age children with disabilities did not attend school. Additionally, children with disabilities faced additional challenges with online education.

Since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, children may be encouraged to leave school before the completion of compulsory education.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, but it does not recognize physical abuse by caregivers, neglect, or psychological abuse as punishable offenses.

The India Child Protection Fund reported increased incidences of cyber or sexual abuse involving children. With children spending more time indoors and online during the COVID-19 pandemic, often without supervision, the report expressed concern that children were more vulnerable to online sexual predators.

A Karnataka Commission for the Protection of Child Rights study, released in July, concluded that physical, online, and mental abuse against children sharply increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal age of marriage for women at 18 and men at 21, and it empowers courts to annul early and forced marriages. The law does not characterize a marriage between a girl younger than 18 and a boy younger than 21 as illegal but recognizes such unions as voidable. The law also sets penalties for persons who perform, arrange, or participate in child marriages. Authorities did not consistently enforce the law nor address the practice of rape survivors being forced into marriage.

In 2020 the government constituted a task force to review the increase of the minimum permissible age for marriage of girls from 18 to 21 years. Critics believed the proposal did not address the core concerns regarding child marriage, such as extreme poverty and lack of education.

The law establishes a full-time child marriage prohibition officer in every state to prevent child marriage. These individuals have the power to intervene when a child marriage is taking place, document violations of the law, file charges against parents, remove children from dangerous situations, and deliver them to local child protection authorities.

Financial distress, parental deaths, and school closures have put more girls at risk of child marriage. According to media reports, more than 500 cases of child marriage took place in West Bengal between March and June 2020 during the COVID-19 national lockdown. The NCRB reported 785 cases of child marriages were registered throughout the country in 2020, an increase of 50 percent from the previous year. Officials reported that in most cases underage girls were forced to marry because of their family’s loss of earnings and financial distress caused by the lockdown. According to a recent study, 65 percent of the child marriage cases were related to so-called romantic marriages, another 30 percent were arranged, and 5 percent were forced.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography and sets the legal age of consent at 18. It is illegal to pay for sex with a minor, to induce a minor into commercial sexual or any form of “illicit sexual intercourse,” or to sell or buy a minor for the purposes of commercial sex exploitation or child sex trafficking.  Violators are subject to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

The law provides for at least one special court dedicated to sexual offenses against children (POCSO court) to be set up in each district, but implementation of this provision lagged.

NCRB data showed that the number of 16- to 18-year-old victims under the POCSO Act was higher than the number of child victims from all the other age groups. Some NGOs noted several adolescent boys entered the juvenile justice system having been charged with rape because of the changes in the law.

Media reports indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a rise in cases filed under the POCSO Act. Data from Child Welfare Committees showed a 36.5 percent increase in the number of POCSO cases registered from January to July when compared with the number recorded for the same period in 2020. The rise in POCSO cases was attributed to increased time spent online which increased exposure to online traffickers.

On March 13, the Ministry of Women and Child Development published new rules to protect children from sexual offenses. The rules provide for immediate compensation, increased public awareness regarding services from the CHILDLINE India Foundation, and legal aid assistance. The rules advise state governments to enact a child protection policy to re-enforce the prohibition of violence against children. A new provision also directs immediate financial help to victims of child sexual abuse by the Child Welfare Committees. NGOs noted the procedure was not being implemented in a standardized fashion across jurisdictions.

In January the Bombay High Court ruled that groping a child is not considered sexual assault if there is no “skin-to-skin contact” or “sexual intent.” The National Commission for Women criticized the ruling and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the Bombay’s High Court’s decision.

In a June 2020 ruling the Delhi High Court mandated notice to complainants in child assault cases to ensure their presence in every bail application filed by the accused in their case. This ensured the complainant is informed of the proceedings and has an opportunity to argue against bail. Other high courts were expected to follow suit. For instance, the Orissa High Court issued similar directions to the POCSO courts operating under its jurisdiction.

In June 2020 the Delhi High Court held that the POCSO Act does not prevent a victim from applying for monetary compensation more than once if their circumstances required. Court cases typically last for years, and a victim’s financial needs may grow as time passes.

There was a continued focus on providing speedy justice to victims of sexual abuse. A 2016 study by the NGO Counsel to Secure Justice highlighted many child sexual abuse cases were pending trial or delayed in trial. The government stated 49,000 pending cases related to rape and sexual offenses against children were addressed during the COVID-19 pandemic with the use of 1,023 fast-track courts. Critics alleged fast-track courts established for POCSO cases were often unable to function on a timely basis because of pandemic restrictions. As a remedy, the Supreme Court directed the states of Assam, West Bengal, and Rajasthan to initiate a pilot project to test videoconferencing facilities for recording testimony.

Displaced Children: Displaced children, including refugees, IDPs, and street children, faced restrictions on access to government services (see also section 2.d.).

Institutionalized Children: Lax law enforcement and a lack of safeguards encouraged an atmosphere of impunity in several group homes and orphanages.

A National Commission for Protection for Child Rights audit found that out of 7,163 childcare institutions in the country, as many as 2,039 or 28.5 percent were not registered with state governments as mandated by the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. In several cases government-funded shelter homes continued to operate despite significant gaps in mandatory reporting and allegations of abuse.

In 2020 the Supreme Court directed state governments to improve the handling of the COVID-19 crisis among institutionalized children. States were asked to file detailed reports, and various guidelines were issued to different childcare institutions on how to deal with the pandemic-induced crisis. NCPCR stated more than 720 children in childcare institutions in 11 states and union territories contracted COVID-19 as of August, but no fatalities were reported.

In January 2020 the Supreme Court revised the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, to prevent children from being tried as adults. The Supreme Court ruled that children can be tried as an adult only for “heinous” crimes that have a minimum punishment of seven years. In view of this judgment, the Juvenile Justice Board may conduct a preliminary assessment into a child’s mental and physical capacity to decide whether the child should be tried as an adult.

Many children continued to stay in institutions. Children accused of committing crimes often did not appear before juvenile justice boards for up to a year, and in many cases, children were required to stay in institutions for extended periods of time.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html

Anti-Semitism

Jewish groups from the 4,650-member Jewish community cited no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.

Organ Harvesting

Buying and selling of human organs are prohibited by the Transplantation of Human Organs Act. Organs can be donated to close relatives as well as others in need of transplantation for medical reasons after proper authorization.

In July, Assam police arrested three persons for trading in human organs – mainly kidneys harvested from approximately 12 victims. Other reports indicated almost 30 individuals may have been victims. Reports suggested that pandemic-induced financial hardship led villagers to fall prey to those involved in the organ trade.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution does not explicitly mention disability. The law provides equal rights for persons with a variety of disabilities, and a 2016 law increased the number of recognized disabilities, including persons with Parkinson’s disease and victims of acid attacks. The law requires the government to provide persons with disabilities with unrestricted free access to physical infrastructure and public transportation systems.

The law states the government should take necessary measures for persons with disabilities to provide barrier-free access in government, private hospitals, and healthcare institutions.

The law further states the government shall take measures to provide: (1) facilities for persons with disabilities at bus stops, railway stations, and airports conforming to the accessibility standards relating to parking spaces, toilets, ticketing counters, and ticketing machines; (2) access to all modes of transport that conform with design standards including retrofitting old modes of transport, wherever technically feasible and safe for persons with disabilities, economically viable and without entailing major structural changes in design; and (3) accessible roads to address mobility necessary for persons with disabilities.

According to the National Center for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), only 494 state government buildings in 15 states were accessible by persons with disabilities. The Central Public Works Department has made 1,030 central government buildings accessible, while 603 railway stations and 44,153 buses were partially accessible by persons with disabilities.

The law establishes quotas of 3 percent of all educational seats and 4 percent of government jobs for persons with disabilities. The government allocated funds to programs and NGOs to increase the number of jobs filled. In 2017 a government panel decided that private news networks must accompany public broadcasts with sign language interpretations and closed captions to accommodate persons with disabilities.

Access to education continued to be a challenge for students with disabilities. During the pandemic the closure of schools led to an increase in the number of students with disabilities dropping out. According to NGOs the digital divide has led to increased exclusion of persons with disabilities due to lack of access to technology.

The law states that the appropriate government and local authorities shall endeavor that all educational institutions provide inclusive education to children with disabilities. Toward that end, they should: (1) admit them without discrimination and provide education and opportunities for sports and recreation activities equally with others; (2) make buildings, campuses, and facilities accessible; and (3) provide reasonable accommodation according to the individual’s requirement. According to the law, the government shall take measures to promote, protect, and ensure participation of persons with disabilities in adult education and continuing education programs equally with others.

Private-sector employment of persons with disabilities remained low, despite governmental incentives. Discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care was more pervasive in rural areas, and 45 percent of the country’s population of persons with disabilities were illiterate.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare estimated 25 percent of individuals with mental disabilities were homeless. Mainstream schools remained inadequately equipped with teachers trained in inclusive education, resource material, and appropriate curricula. Patients in some mental-health institutions faced food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of adequate medical care.

The NCPEDP reported the government allowed persons with disability to access COVID-19 vaccination services using the Unique Disability ID cards.

In May the NCPCR reported a total of 99 sexual abuse cases relating to children with disabilities had been registered from 2017 to 2020.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The estimated HIV prevalence has been declining since the epidemic’s peak in 2000 and has stabilized in recent years. According to the National AIDS Control Organization, there were approximately 70,000 newly diagnosed HIV infections in 2019. The epidemic persisted among the most vulnerable and high-risk populations that include female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender persons, and persons who inject drugs. UNAIDS 2018 data indicated new HIV infections were declining among sex workers and men who have sex with men, but stigma related to key populations continued to limit their access to HIV testing and treatment. The data showed 79 percent of individuals were aware of their HIV status and that 71 percent of individuals with HIV were receiving treatment.

According to the National AIDS Control Organization 2019 report, Maharashtra was estimated to have the highest number of new HIV infections, followed by Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat, and Delhi.

The National AIDS Control Program prioritized HIV prevention, care, and treatment interventions for high-risk groups and advocated for the rights of persons with HIV. The National AIDS Control Organization worked actively with NGOs to train women’s HIV and AIDS self-help groups. Police engaged in programs to strengthen their role in protecting communities vulnerable to HIV.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

NGO activists reported heightened discrimination and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community in the eastern area of the country during the COVID-19 lockdown.

LGBTQI+ persons faced physical attacks, and rape. LGBTQI+ groups reported they experienced widespread societal discrimination and violence, particularly in rural areas. Activists reported that transgender persons continued to face difficulty obtaining medical treatment. Some police officers committed crimes against LGBTQI+ persons and used the threat of arrest to coerce victims not to report the incidents. With the aid of NGOs, several states offered education and sensitivity training to police.

In June the Madras High Court ordered the state and union governments to draw up plans for reforms that protect sexual orientation and gender identity rights. The High Court recommended awareness training for government officials and police, separate housing for gender-nonconforming and transgender persons in prison, revocation of licenses from doctors who claim “cures” for homosexuality, and gender-neutral bathrooms at school and colleges.

On June 13, the Odisha state government began recruitment for police positions of candidates who self-identified as transgender. A Bhubaneswar-based transgender activist welcomed the move as one of the several protransgender policy decisions taken by the Odisha government in recent years.

On July 6, the Karnataka state government amended its civil services rules to enable a 1 percent quota of government jobs for transgender individuals to be filled through direct recruitment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join unions and to bargain collectively, but there is no legal obligation for employers to recognize a union or engage in collective bargaining. In Sikkim, trade union registration was subject to prior permission from the state government. The law limits the organizing rights of federal and state government employees.

The law provides for the right to strike but places restrictions on this right for some workers. As an example, in export-processing zones (EPZs), a 45-day notice is required because of the EPZs’ designation as a “public utility.” The law also allows the government to ban strikes in government-owned enterprises and requires arbitration in specified “essential industries.” Definitions of essential industries vary from state to state. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retribution for involvement in legal strikes and provides for reinstatement of employees fired for union activity. Union leaders generally operated free from threats and violence from government and employers. Employers rarely refused to bargain with worker led unions.

On February 3, industrial workers across the country observed a day of protest against the government’s plans to privatize state-owned companies and to press for the repeal of labor codes passed by parliament in September 2020. In September approximately 25 million workers across the country went on a day-long strike in support of the farmers’ protest demanding the repeal of farm reform legislation.

Enforcement of the law varied from state to state and from sector to sector. Enforcement was generally better in the larger, organized-sector industries. Authorities generally prosecuted and punished individuals responsible for intimidation or suppression of legitimate trade union activities in the industrial sector. Civil judicial procedures addressed abuses because the Trade Union Act does not specify penalties for such abuses. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Specialized labor courts adjudicate labor disputes, but there were long delays and a backlog of unresolved cases.

Employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively in the formal industrial sector but not in the larger, informal economy. Most union members worked in the formal sector, and trade unions represented a small number of agricultural and informal-sector workers. Membership-based organizations such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association successfully organized informal-sector workers and helped them to gain higher payment for their work or products.

An estimated 80 percent of unionized workers were affiliated with one of the five major trade union federations. Unions were independent of the government, but four of the five major federations were associated with major political parties.

State and local authorities sometimes impeded registration of unions, repressed independent union activity, and used their power to declare strikes illegal and force adjudication. Labor groups reported that some employers continued to refuse to recognize established unions, and some instead established “workers’ committees” and employer-controlled unions to prevent independent unions from organizing. EPZs often employed workers on temporary contracts. Additionally, employee-only restrictions on entry to the EPZs limited union organizers’ access.

In November 2020 a nationwide general strike took place. More than 250 million public- and private-sector workers participated in the strike, called by 10 central trade unions and hundreds of worker associations and federations. Trade union leaders demanded that the government repeal certain labor codes and three recently passed farm laws. In November parliament passed a law to repeal three agricultural reform laws after farmers largely concentrated in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh protested for their repeal. The Indian National Trade Union Congress congratulated the farmers’ union for their protests.

In January labor and Dalit activists Shiv Kumar and Nodeep Kaur were arrested after their protest against the alleged harassment of factory workers in the Kundli Industrial Area in the state of Haryana, which turned violent on January 12. While in police custody, the families of both activists alleged they were subject to physical abuse. Nodeep Kaur was granted bail on February 26, and on March 4, a judge granted bail to Shiv Kumar.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced labor, including bonded labor for both adults and children (see section 7.c.), remained widespread. Internal forced labor constituted the country’s largest labor-trafficking problem; traffickers use debt-based coercion (bonded labor) to compel men, women, and children to work in agriculture, brick kilns, rice mills, embroidery and textile factories, and stone quarries. Women and children from the Dalit and tribal communities were vulnerable to forced labor, as were children of migrant laborers. The increase in economic insecurity and unemployment due to the pandemic further increased vulnerability to forced labor.

Enforcement and compensation for victims is the responsibility of state and local governments and varied in effectiveness. Some local governments did not effectively enforce laws related to bonded labor or labor trafficking laws, such as the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act. When inspectors referred violations for prosecution, court backlogs, inadequate preparation, and a lack of prioritization of the cases by prosecuting authorities sometimes resulted in acquittals. In addition, when authorities reported violations, they sometimes reported them to civil courts to assess fines and did not refer them to police for criminal investigation of labor trafficking. Legal penalties varied based on the type of forced labor and included fines and prison terms; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. For example, bonded labor is specifically criminalized by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties, and the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, which prescribes penalties that were not sufficiently stringent.

Investigations, prosecutions, and case convictions of traffickers decreased in 2020. NGOs estimated at least eight million trafficking victims in the country, mostly in bonded labor, and reported that police often did not file reports. Authorities penalized some adult and child victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit.

On July 22, officials in Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar District rescued 14 adolescent bonded laborers from two plastics factories; three had been trafficked from Bihar.

On August 26, Thane District officials in Maharashtra rescued 43 individuals belonging to a traditional tribal group who were kept in bondage at a stone quarry. Police also opened an investigation after two of the rescued women accused the quarry owners of sexual abuse.

Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe members lived and worked under traditional arrangements of servitude in many areas of the country. The central government had long abolished forced labor servitude, but these social groups remained impoverished and vulnerable to forced exploitation.

In May the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued three advisories to states and union territories, recommending measures to address the mental health of vulnerable populations, release and rehabilitation of bonded laborers, and safeguarding rights of informal workers. The NHRC noted that all levels of government must ensure that medical resources are provided to bonded laborers.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

All the worst forms of child labor were prohibited. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 14. The law also bans the employment of children between 14 and 18 in hazardous work. Children are barred from using flammable substances, explosives, or other hazardous material, as defined by the law. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor and Employment added 16 industries and 59 processes to the list of hazardous industries where employment of children younger than 18 is prohibited and where children younger than 14 are precluded from helping, including family enterprises.

Despite evidence that children worked in unsafe and unhealthy environments for long periods of time in spinning mills, garment production, carpet making, and domestic work, not all children younger than 18 are prohibited from working in occupations related to these sectors. The law permits employment of children in family-owned enterprises involving nonhazardous activities after school hours. Nevertheless, child labor remained common.

Law enforcement agencies took actions to combat child labor. State governments enforced labor laws and employed labor inspectors, while the Ministry of Labor and Employment provided oversight and coordination. Nonetheless, gaps existed within the operations of the state government labor inspectorate that hindered adequate labor law enforcement. Violations remained common. The law establishes penalties that are not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, and authorities sporadically enforced them. The fines collected are deposited in a welfare fund for formerly employed children.

The International Labor Organization estimated there were 10 million child workers between ages five and 14 in the country. Most of the child labor occurred in agriculture and the informal economy, particularly in stone quarries, in the rolling of cigarettes, and in informal food-service establishments. Children were also exploited in domestic service and in the sugarcane, construction, textile, cotton, and glass-bangle industries in addition to begging.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).

Forced child labor, including bonded labor, also remained a serious problem. Employers engaged children in forced or indentured labor as domestic servants and beggars, as well as in quarrying, brick kilns, rice mills, silk-thread production, and textile embroidery. Children typically entered debt bondage along with their entire family, and trafficked children were also employed in cotton farms, home-based embroidery businesses, and roadside restaurants.

In July, Telangana police rescued 172 child workers as part of a campaign to detect child labor and locate missing children. Police arrested 37 persons for employing children and filed 18 cases against employers.

In June, UNICEF reported it expected that COVID-19 and subsequent economic distress would have increased the risk of child labor. The closure of 1.5 million schools due to the pandemic and lockdowns increased the risk of child labor and unsafe migration for children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods 

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. A separate law bans discrimination against individuals suffering from HIV or AIDs. The law does not forbid employment discrimination against individuals with communicable diseases or based on color, religion, political opinion, national origin, or citizenship.

The law prohibits women from working in jobs that are physically or morally harmful.

The government effectively enforced the law and regulations within the formal sector; however, penalties were not sufficient to defer violations. The law and regulations do not protect informal-sector workers (industries and establishments that do not fall within the purview of the Factories Act), who made up an estimated 90 percent of the workforce.

Discrimination occurred in the informal sector with respect to Dalits, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities. The American Bar Association report, Challenges for Dalits in South Asia, noted, “Dalits have been provided with reservations (or quotas) for government jobs; however, reservations do not apply to private sector jobs.” Gender discrimination with respect to wages was prevalent. Foreign migrant workers were largely undocumented and typically did not enjoy the legal protections available to workers who are nationals of the country.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: State government laws set minimum wages and hours of work. The daily minimum wage varied but was more than the official estimate of poverty level income. State governments set a separate minimum wage for agricultural workers. Laws on wages, hours, and occupational health and safety do not apply to the large informal sector.

The law mandates a maximum eight-hour workday and 48-hour workweek as well as safe working conditions, which include provisions for restrooms, cafeterias, medical facilities, and ventilation. The law mandates a minimum rest period of 30 minutes after every four hours of work and premium pay for overtime, but it does not mandate paid holidays. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and limits the amount of overtime a worker may perform. Occupational safety and health standards set by the government were generally up to date and covered the main industries in the country.

State governments are responsible for enforcing minimum wages and hours of work. The number of inspectors generally was insufficient to enforce labor law. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. State governments often did not effectively enforce the minimum wage law for agricultural workers.

To boost the economy following the COVID-19-induced lockdown, many state governments relaxed labor laws to permit overtime work beyond legislated limits. The state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat passed executive orders to suspend enforcement of most labor laws for a period of up to three years to promote industrial production.

Occupational Safety and Health: Federal law sets safety and health standards. State governments enforced additional state-specific regulations. Enforcement of safety and health standards was poor, especially in the informal sector, but also in some formal-sector industries. Penalties for violation of occupational safety and health standards were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

Small, low-technology factories frequently exposed workers to hazardous working conditions. Undocumented foreign workers did not receive basic occupational health and safety protections. In many instances workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

On February 23, two workers were killed, and 26 others injured in a blast at the United Phosphorous Limited plant in Jhagadia, Gujarat. State authorities shut down the plant following the blast.

On June 7, a fire at the SVS Aqua Technologies chemical plant near Pune in Maharashtra killed 18 persons. Preliminary investigations revealed that flammable materials had been stored in the plant without following prescribed safety norms. On June 8, police arrested the factory director on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and subsequently released him on bail. In March, Geneva-based IndustriALL noted high accident rates continued in factories, chemical plants, and mines. According to IndustriALL, the 14 accidents reported during the year resulted in 42 workers’ deaths and approximately 100 workers being injured.

Informal Sector: Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector. The World Bank reported most of the labor force is employed in the informal sector. A report issued by the State Bank of India in October estimated the size of the informal sector was more than 52 percent of the total labor sector, but other estimates placed the percentage much higher. On August 26, the Ministry of Labor and Employment launched the e-Shram portal to develop a national database of unorganized workers including migrant workers, construction workers, and gig and platform workers. The portal will facilitate the extension of social-sector benefits to workers in the unorganized sector. More than 30 million unorganized workers registered on the portal as of October 8, nearly half of them women.

According to the World Bank’s Shifting Gears: Digitization and Services-Led Development report, low-skilled and urban workers faced the brunt of employment shocks due to the second wave of COVID-19, and their earnings have yet to return to 2019 levels. In December 2020 a World Bank economist for South Asia and other experts noted more than 44 percent of the country’s informal workers were unemployed in April 2020. In 2020 the International Labor Organization connected the high rate of informal work to a low level of education and skill levels of the overall workforce. Within the informal sector, casual or temporary wage workers were more likely to lose employment than self-employed workers, regardless of industry, location, education, or caste.

Mexico

Executive Summary

Mexico is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the MORENA party coalition won the presidential election in generally free and fair multiparty elections in 2018. In the June midterm elections, citizens voted for all members of the Chamber of Deputies, 15 governors, state legislators, and mayors across the country. The elections were generally free and fair.

The National Guard and state and municipal police are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order. The National Guard, which began operations in 2019, is a civilian institution reporting to the Secretariat of Public Security and Civil Protection. In 2019 the Federal Police was disbanded, and in May 2020 all remaining assets and personnel transferred to the National Guard. A 2019 constitutional amendment grants the president the authority to use the armed forces to protect internal and national security through 2024. Most National Guard personnel are seconded from the army and navy and have the option to return to their services after five years. State preventive police report to state governors, while municipal police report to mayors. The Secretariat of National Defense and Secretariat of the Navy also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combating organized criminal groups. The National Migration Institute, under the authority of the Interior Secretariat, is responsible for enforcing migration law. Although authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, there were instances in which security force elements acted independently of civilian control. There were credible reports that members of security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police, military, and other governmental officials; forced disappearance by government agents; torture and degrading treatment by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence against journalists; acts of corruption; insufficient investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.

Impunity and extremely low rates of prosecution remained a problem for all crimes, including human rights abuses and corruption. There were reports some government agents were complicit with international organized criminal gangs, and prosecution and conviction rates were low for these abuses.

Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs, and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of homicide, torture, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, bribery, intimidation, and other threats, resulting in high levels of violence and exploitation, particularly targeting vulnerable groups. The government investigated and prosecuted some of these crimes, but the vast majority remained uninvestigated and unprosecuted.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were several reports that government entities or their agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) is responsible for independently investigating security force abuses, including killings, and can issue nonbinding recommendations for prosecution. State human rights commissions investigate state and municipal police forces and can issue similar recommendations. State and federal prosecutors are independent of the executive branch and have the final authority to investigate and prosecute security force abuses.

In February authorities arrested 12 state police officers in Camargo, Tamaulipas, on homicide charges in connection with the massacre and burning of the bodies of three smugglers and 16 Guatemalan migrants en route to the United States. As of August 16, the suspects remained in detention awaiting trial. In March police officers broke the neck of Salvadoran refugee Victoria Salazar. The Quintana Roo prosecutor general confirmed police officers used disproportionate force during the arrest. Authorities arrested four police officers and charged them with femicide (killing a woman because of her gender). As of August 27, the suspects were awaiting trial.

Human rights and environmental activists, many from indigenous communities, continued to be targets of violence. The CNDH reported that assailants killed 12 human rights defenders from January to July.

As of September 13, three municipal police officers from Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, remained in pretrial detention for the killing of Giovanni Lopez. The Jalisco government disarmed the municipal police force of Ixtlahuacan and turned over public security duties to the National Guard and the Jalisco Secretariat for Public Security.

In July the army provided reparations to two of the three families of persons killed in July 2020 by soldiers in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, during an encounter with suspected cartel members. On October 7, the army relieved Colonel Miguel Angel Ramirez Canchola, accused of ordering the killings, of his posting, but as of October prosecutors had not taken action against the soldiers.

On October 1, a judge sentenced Fidel Figueroa, mayor of Zacualpan, state of Mexico, to 236 years in prison for murder. Figueroa collaborated with criminal organizations to kidnap the prosecutor general of Ixtapan de la Sal, state of Mexico, and others in 2019, resulting in the death of one of the prosecutor general’s bodyguards.

Organized criminal groups were implicated in numerous killings, acting with impunity and at times in collusion with corrupt federal, state, local, and security officials. On June 19, a dispute between factions of the Gulf cartel killed 15 persons in the state of Tamaulipas. Security forces responded by killing four suspects and arresting 25.

b. Disappearance

Disappearances remained a persistent problem throughout the country, especially in areas with high levels of cartel or gang-related violence. There were reports of numerous forced disappearances by organized crime groups, sometimes with allegations of state collusion with authorities. Investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for the crime of forced disappearance were rare.

Federal and state databases were incomplete and had data-crossing problems; forensic systems were highly fragmented between the local, state, and federal levels; and the sheer volume of unsolved cases was far greater than the forensic systems were capable of handling. In its data collection, the government often merged statistics on forcibly disappeared persons with missing persons not suspected of being victims of forced disappearance, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.

As of December 2020 the Prosecutor General’s Office reported a total of 2,041 federal investigations underway into disappearances involving approximately 3,400 persons. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and family members of disappeared persons alleged the prosecutors undercounted the actual number of cases.

Through a nationwide assessment process, the National Search Commission (CNB) revised the government’s official number of missing or disappeared persons repeatedly as additional data became available. As of July the CNB reported that there were 89,572 missing or disappeared persons in the country. Some cases dated back to the 1960s, but the vast majority occurred since 2006. The year 2020 had the second-highest number of cases on record, with 8,626 reported missing or disappeared, down from 9,185 cases reported in 2019. The states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Mexico, Michoacan, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas, plus Mexico City, accounted for 76 percent of reported disappearances from 2018 to June 30.

The federal government and states continued to implement the law on forced disappearances. On August 30, the Extraordinary Mechanism for Forensic Identification became fully operational. It was created in 2019 to bring together national and international forensic experts to help identify 37,000 unidentified remains held in government facilities, coordinate implementation of the general law on forced disappearances, and allocate resources to state search commissions. In July 2020 the CNB launched a public version of the National Registry of Disappeared and Missing Persons. Between January 1 and August 4, it received 4,119 reports of missing persons and located 3,805 alive and 277 deceased.

In July the CNB reported it had recovered more than 1,100 pounds of charred human remains from La Bartolina, Tamaulipas, a clandestine cremation site found in 2017. Nationwide the CNB reported the exhumation of the remains of at least 3,025 persons in 1,749 clandestine graves between December 1, 2018, and June 30. The CNB reported that during that period, of the 3,025 bodies exhumed, authorities identified 1,153 and returned 822 to their families.

The government increased the CNB budget 8 percent over the 2020 budget. According to NGOs, however, the state search committees often lacked the capacity to fulfill their mandate. Civil society and families of the disappeared stated the government’s actions to prevent and respond to disappearances were largely inadequate to address the scale of the problem.

The federal government created a National System for the Search of Missing Persons as required by law, but as of August it had not established the required National Forensic Data Bank. The Prosecutor General’s Office owned a previous genetics database, which consisted of 63,000 profiles, and was responsible for the new database. The previous platform lacked interconnectivity between states and failed to connect family members effectively to the remains of their missing relatives.

In July the Supreme Court ruled that authorities at all levels must investigate enforced disappearances, search for disappeared persons, and inform victims of the process.

The government made efforts to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of disappearance involving government agents. From January to June, the CNDH received nine complaints accusing government agents of forced disappearances, including five against the army and four against the National Guard. In April authorities arrested 30 members of the navy and charged them with forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, in 2018. As of October the accused were in a military prison awaiting trial. In July the secretary of the navy publicly apologized to families of the victims, marking the first time the armed forces apologized for committing forced disappearances.

Investigations continued into the 2014 disappearances of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Iguala, Guerrero. Victims’ relatives and civil society continued to criticize handling of the original investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, noting there had been no convictions related to the disappearances of the 43 students. In June President Lopez Obrador announced that forensic scientists at the University of Innsbruck conclusively identified the remains of Jhosivani Guerrero, marking the third body identified of the 43 disappeared students.

As of October the Special Unit for the Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa case had arrested more than 80 suspects, including army captain Jose Martinez Crespo, an Iguala municipal police officer, and the Iguala municipal police chief. The government continued to pursue the extradition of Tomas Zeron from Israel. Zeron led the investigation of the case by the former criminal investigations unit in the Attorney General’s Office at the time of the students’ disappearances. In March 2020 a federal judge issued an arrest warrant for Zeron on charges related to his conduct of the investigation, including torturing alleged perpetrators to force confessions, conducting forced disappearances, altering the crime scene, manipulating evidence, and failing to perform his duties. He fled to Israel, and the government requested that the Israeli government issue an arrest warrant and extradite him.

In addition to the outstanding Zeron arrest warrant, the Special Unit for the Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa case issued 12 warrants and made 10 arrests for investigative irregularities, such as torture and obstruction of justice. As of September no alleged perpetrators of the disappearances had been convicted, and 78 of those initially accused were released due to lack of evidence, generally due to irregularities in their detention, including confessions obtained through torture. As of October the special unit had reissued arrest warrants for 11 of the 78 released detainees, including municipal police officers, but made no arrests.

State search collectives reported being victims, at times fatal, of attacks, threats, and other acts of harassment. In June unknown assailants killed Javier Barajas Pina in the state of Guanajuato. He was a member of a search collective and the state search commission. The state search commission paused all search efforts between May and June due to increased levels of insecurity for family search collectives, according to civil society groups. As of August 16, authorities had not arrested any suspects.

In July unknown assailants abducted and killed Aranza Ramos in the state of Sonora. Ramos had been searching for her missing husband for the previous seven months as a member of two search collectives. As of August 16, authorities had not arrested any suspects. Following Ramos’ killing, Cecilia Flores, the leader of one of the search collectives in which Ramos participated, received death threats. Flores received temporary protection from the Interior Secretariat protection mechanism.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Federal law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as the admission of confessions obtained through illicit means as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports of security forces torturing suspects.

Between January and August, the CNDH registered 26 complaints of torture and 123 for arbitrary detention. Most of these complaints were against authorities in the Prosecutor General’s Office, National Guard, Interior Secretariat, and the armed forces. As of August, 25 of 32 states had specialized prosecutor’s offices for investigating torture, or specialized investigative units within the state attorney general’s office as called for by law. Between January and May there were an additional 20 complaints of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment against the National Guard, 20 against the army, and 11 against the National Migration Institute. The CNDH did not report on the merits of the complaints.

In February the Attorney General’s Office arrested former Puebla governor Mario Marin and charged him with torturing journalist Lydia Cacho, who exposed Marin and several business leaders’ involvement in a child sex trafficking ring in 2005. As of August 23, Marin was awaiting trial. In June authorities sentenced Quintana Roo police officer Miguel Mora Olvera to five years in prison for his role in torturing Cacho.

Impunity for torture was prevalent among the security forces. NGOs stated authorities failed to investigate torture allegations adequately. As of December 2020 the Prosecutor General’s Office was investigating 3,703 torture-related inquiries under the previous inquisitorial legal system (initiated prior to the 2016 transition to an accusatorial system) and 565 investigations under the accusatorial system. According to the Mexican Commission for the Promotion of Human Rights, from 2006 to 2020, federal authorities issued 27 sentences for torture. There were accusations of sexual abuse against authorities during arrest and detention. There is no single independent oversight mechanism to review police actions, but many federal and state security and justice sector institutions have internal affairs units providing internal supervision and promoting best practices for transparency and accountability. The government’s National Council of Norms and Labor Competencies certified law enforcement internal affairs investigators and created standard internal affairs training to promote transparency and accountability. Most internal affairs units, however, were insufficiently staffed and funded. The army and the navy have human rights units to create protocols and training. The armed forces operated a military justice system to hold human rights abusers accountable.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers were often harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions: According to the Federal Prison System, as of June there were 220,393 inmates in 288 state and federal facilities with a designed capacity for 217,064. Some prisons were undersubscribed, while others were overcrowded. The CNDH’s 2020 National Diagnostic of Penitentiary Supervision reported that state prisons were understaffed and suffered from poor sanitary conditions as well as a lack of separation between those sentenced and those awaiting trial. The report noted 40 state prisons experienced overcrowding. The report singled out Hidalgo, Nayarit, Puebla, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Tamaulipas as the states with the worst prison conditions. The CNDH noted significant understaffing at all levels in federal prisons, which affected access to programs, activities, medical services, and opportunities to report possible human rights abuses.

Organized criminal groups reportedly continued to oversee illicit activities from within penitentiary walls, and rival drug cartel members often fought in prison. In June media outlets reported that a fight between two rival groups of inmates left six inmates dead and nine wounded at a prison in Villahermosa, Tabasco.

According to civil society groups, migrants at some detention centers faced abuse when commingled with gang members and other criminals.

As of July 13, a total of 3,501 prisoners had contracted COVID-19 and 75,162 had received vaccines, according to the CNDH. In response to a 2020 civil society organization lawsuit, a Mexico City court ruled authorities must implement COVID-19 detection and preventive health protocols for detainees and their families in prisons in Mexico City and psychiatric wards nationwide.

The CNDH in its report on COVID-19 measures in holding facilities found most detention facilities could not comply with social distancing measures or several other health recommendations due to lack of space, personnel, or equipment.

Administration: Authorities did not always conduct investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, CNDH, and state human rights commissions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Federal law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court; however, the government sometimes failed to observe these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution allows any person to arrest another if the crime is committed in his or her presence. A warrant for arrest is not required if an official has direct evidence regarding a person’s involvement in a crime, such as having witnessed the commission of a crime; in a 2018 report, the domestic think tank Mexico Evalua determined that 90 percent of all arrests fell under this category. Bail is available for most crimes, except for those involving organized crime and a limited number of other offenses. In most cases the law requires detainees to appear before a judge for a custody hearing within 48 hours of arrest, during which authorities must produce sufficient evidence to justify continued detention. This requirement was not followed in all cases, particularly in remote areas of the country. In cases involving organized crime, the law allows authorities to hold suspects up to 96 hours before requiring them to seek judicial review.

The procedure known in Spanish as arraigo (a constitutionally permitted form of pretrial detention employed during the investigative phase of a criminal case before probable cause is fully established) allows, with a judge’s approval, for certain suspects to be detained prior to filing formal charges. Following the introduction of the accusatorial justice system, however, there was a significant reduction in the number of persons detained in this manner, falling from more than 1,900 in 2011 to 21 in 2018.

Some detainees complained of a lack of access to family members and to counsel after police held persons incommunicado for several days and made arrests arbitrarily without a warrant. Police occasionally failed to provide impoverished detainees access to counsel during arrests and investigations as provided for by law, although the right to public defense during trial was generally respected. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the potential for it to lead to other human rights abuses. Between January and August the CNDH recorded 123 complaints of arbitrary detention.

On July 21, Merida, Yucatan, municipal police detained Jose Eduardo Ravelo Echeverria. According to the victim’s mother, police detained and interrogated him without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Media outlets reported authorities tortured and sexually abused Ravelo. A forensic doctor at the Yucatan Prosecutor General’s Office confirmed that he had suffered sexual abuse. On August 3, Ravelo died from his injuries. On August 7, Yucatan governor Mauricio Villa announced the arrest of four police officers, but on August 14, a judge set them free due to a lack of evidence.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, and authorities did not always promptly release those detained unlawfully. The law provides time limits and conditions on pretrial detention, but federal authorities sometimes failed to comply with them since caseloads far exceeded the capacity of the federal judicial system. Abuses of time limits on pretrial detention were endemic in state judicial systems. The UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented cases in the states of Mexico and Chiapas in which detainees remained in pretrial detention for more than 12 years. A 2019 constitutional reform increased the number of crimes for which pretrial detention is mandatory and bail is not available, including armed robbery, electoral crimes, fuel theft, and weapons possession. An additional February reform mandated pretrial detention for femicides, sexual violence against minors, forced disappearances, and corruption. As a result the number of pretrial detainees increased 25 percent since 2018, and pretrial detainees comprised 40 percent of all prisoners, according to government figures.

Reports indicated that women suffered disproportionately from pretrial detention. As of June, 58 percent of women in federal prison and 51 percent in municipal and state prisons were in pretrial detention, while 42 percent of men in the federal and local judicial system were in pretrial detention, according to a report from the Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection. In October 2020 authorities announced they would release Brenda Quevedo Cruz, who had been in prison without trial since 2007. Nonetheless, Quevedo Cruz remained in detention as of September 11.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, court decisions were susceptible to improper influence by both private and public entities, particularly at the state and local level, as well as by transnational criminal organizations. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders, and arrest warrants were sometimes ignored. Across the criminal justice system, many actors lacked the necessary training and capacity to carry out their duties fairly and consistently in line with the principle of equal justice.

Trial Procedures

In 2016 all civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatorial trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. In most states alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.

Under the accusatorial system, judges conduct all hearings and trials and follow the principles of public access and cross-examination. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to attend the hearings and to challenge the evidence or testimony presented. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law also provides for the rights of appeal and of bail in most categories of crimes. Defendants have the right to an attorney of their choice at all stages of criminal proceedings. By law attorneys are required to meet professional qualifications to represent a defendant. Not all public defenders were qualified, however, and often the state public defender system was understaffed. According to the Center for Economic Research and Teaching, most criminal suspects did not receive representation until after their first custody hearing, thus making individuals vulnerable to coercion to sign false statements prior to appearing before a judge.

Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter, if needed, although interpretation and translation services for indigenous languages were not always available. Indigenous defendants who did not speak Spanish sometimes were unaware of the status of their cases and were convicted without fully understanding the documents they were instructed to sign.

In July 2020 legislators approved a law making all judicial sentences public.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens have access to an independent judiciary in civil matters to seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. For a plaintiff to secure damages against a defendant, authorities first must find the defendant guilty in a criminal case, a significant barrier due to the relatively low number of criminal convictions.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property. By law the government collected biometric data from migrants.

According to the NGO Freedom House, “Researchers continued to document cases of journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures targeted with Pegasus spy software. After denying they existed, in 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office provided evidence of Pegasus licensing contracts in 2016 and 2017.” In July Public Safety Secretary Rosa Isela Rodriguez revealed that the Felipe Calderon and Enrique Pena Nieto administrations signed 31 contracts for $61 million to buy Pegasus spy software. In July a joint investigation by media outlets reported a leaked Pegasus list of more than 15,000 individuals as possible targets for surveillance in 2016 and 2017. The list named at least 50 persons linked to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, politicians from every party, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, prosecutors, diplomats, judges, and academics.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations were privately owned. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained a significant source of advertising revenue for many media organizations, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, at times constrained freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction but often self-censored due to fear of reprisal. Journalists could criticize the government and discuss matters of general interest with no restrictions. Politicians publicly discredited and criticized such journalists, however.

On August 7, several journalist organizations, including the Puebla Network of Journalists, National Network of Journalists, Communication, and Information on Women, and International Network of Journalists with a Gender Vision, issued a statement denouncing increased levels of violence against female journalists in Puebla from security forces and criminal organizations. The group reported 16 acts of aggression against female journalists between January and July and called on the Puebla governor to guarantee the adoption of public policies to respect, protect, and guarantee the exercise of journalism.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were killed or subjected to physical and cyberattacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) in response to their reporting. This limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. High levels of impunity, including for killings or attacks on journalists, resulted in self-censorship and reduced freedom of expression and the press.

According to NGO Article 19, lethal attacks occurred against journalists in Sonora, including the killings of Benjamin Morales on May 3 and Ricardo Lopez Dominguez on July 22 and the disappearance of Jorge Molontzin on March 16.

The Interior Secretariat registered 224 verbal and physical attacks against journalists in 2020 and a total of 1,052 between 2015 and 2020, 41 percent of which the secretariat attributed to public servants. The most common aggressions were intimidation and harassment, followed by threats and physical attacks, according to civil society groups. In the first six months of the year, Article 19 registered 362 attacks against journalists and accused public officials of committing 134 of them.

Between 2017 and August the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists, a unit in the Prosecutor General’s Office, charged 136 public servants for crimes against journalists. For example, the office issued three arrest warrants in the case of the August 2020 killing of Juan Nelcio Espinosa, an independent journalist in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, who died while in police custody. The investigation continued as of August 30.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported that some state and local governments censored media. Journalists reported altering their coverage due to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of media and newsrooms, and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship due to threats from criminal groups and government officials.

Freedom of expression advocacy groups reported the government, despite reductions in its advertising budgets, continued to have a strong financial impact and influence on the largest media companies. According to advocacy groups, no information was available concerning the criteria through which the government chooses media outlets for public advertising.

Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal criminal laws against defamation, libel, or slander; however, eight states have criminal laws on these acts. In Baja California Sur, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, and Yucatan, the crimes of defamation and libel are prosecuted, with penalties ranging from three days to five years in prison and fines for committing defamation or slander, both considered “crimes against honor.” Slander is punishable under the criminal laws of the states of Campeche, Nuevo Leon, Sonora, Yucatan, and Zacatecas, with sentences ranging from three months to six years in prison and fines. Five states have laws that restrict the publishing of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.

In addition to criminal libel and defamation laws, civil law defines “moral damage” as similar to defamation concerning harm to a person’s “feelings, affections, beliefs, dignity, honor, reputation, and privacy,” according to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists. A 2016 ruling by the Supreme Court removed the cap on fines for moral damages, leaving journalists vulnerable to exorbitant fines. In 2019 a Mexico City court ordered academic Sergio Aguayo, a columnist of the daily newspaper Reforma, to pay a fine of 10 million pesos ($530,000) in moral damages to former Coahuila governor Humberto Moreira. In July 2020 the Supreme Court agreed to analyze the case but as of August 23 had not issued a ruling.

According to civil society, libel and defamation proceedings tripled from 11 cases in 2019 to 33 cases in 2020. The Puebla state government sued the news outlet E-Consulta seven times due to its reporting.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted regarding organized criminal groups’ use of physical violence in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence faced by traditional journalists. For example, journalists in Nogales, Sonora, said they were aware of unspoken red lines in covering organized crime and that crossing lines, such as mentioning the name of an alleged assailant, could result in personal harm.

The government’s National Protection Mechanism to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Defenders provided panic buttons, bodyguards, and temporary relocation to journalists and human rights defenders. According to the Interior Secretariat, between 2018 and July assailants killed seven journalists and two defenders under protection of the mechanism.

On June 17, while journalist Gustavo Sanchez Cabrera was riding his motorcycle, two unidentified individuals in a car crashed into him, exited the car, and fatally shot him. Sanchez was a reporter for Facebook-based Panorama Pacifico and was in the protection mechanism after suffering an attempt on his life in July 2020. According to civil society, the protections the mechanism provided after the attempt to his life were lacking. As of August 27, there were no updates in this investigation.

On August 8, self-proclaimed members of Cartel Jalisco New Generation released a video showing a group of armed men threatening to kill journalist Azucena Uresti for reporting on self-defense groups fighting the cartel in Michoacan. As of August 18, authorities had not confirmed whether the threatening video was genuine. President Lopez Obrador condemned the threats, and the Interior Secretariat confirmed that authorities would grant Uresti protection measures.

The threat against journalists by organized crime was particularly high in the state of Guerrero. Journalists in Iguala, Guerrero, received anonymous messages through social networks, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, threatening them and their families, according to civil society. Following the August 2020 killing of Pablo Morrugares, El Diario de Iguala newspaper published a note blaming organized crime and Governor Hector Astudillo Flores’ administration for violence against journalists and impunity. In August 2020 attackers fired multiple shots at the building housing the printing facilities of El Diario de Iguala.

In June a federal judge sentenced Juan Francisco Picos Barrueto to 32 years in prison for the 2017 murder of journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas. Also in June a federal judge sentenced the former mayor of Chinipas, Chihuahua, Hugo Amed Schultz Alcaraz, to eight years in prison for his role in the 2017 murder of Miroslava Breach, a prominent La Jornada newspaper correspondent who reported on organized crime and corruption. In August 2020 a federal judge sentenced Juan Carlos “El Larry” Moreno Ochoa to 50 years in prison for killing Breach.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. Freedom House’s 2021 Freedom on the Net report categorized the country’s internet as partly free, noting concerns regarding online manipulation tactics, potential for politicized content removals, high levels of violence against digital reporters, and investigations surrounding abusive surveillance practices.

In June the Federal Telecommunications Institute, an autonomous agency created to increase the transparency of media regulation, released internet neutrality guidelines for internet service providers. The guidelines allow internet service providers to deny access to certain applications, content, and services based on commercial criteria, in breach of their obligations to protect neutrality. Some public officials blocked critical journalists and media from following their social media accounts.

According to Google Report, Google received 24 requests from authorities in 2020 to remove content – 13 from police, eight from government officials, and three from unspecified sources. The most common reason to remove content was defamation, followed by privacy and security. Google received more removal requests from government agents in 2020 than in any other year except 2014. Digital media journalists covering stories such as crime, corruption, and human rights violations experienced physical violence and online abuse. Online discrimination, harassment, and threats were problems particularly for women journalists and politicians, as well as any individuals and organizations advocating for women’s rights.

NGOs alleged that provisions in laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing authorities to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. While the Supreme Court upheld the provisions, it noted the need for authorities to obtain a judicial warrant to access user metadata.

Twitter users posted threats against journalists. Journalists who asked difficult questions of government officials during press engagements received attacks via Twitter. Tweets disseminated their identities and their media outlets and also made veiled threats.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. There were reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators. Twelve states have laws restricting public demonstrations. Government failures to investigate and prosecute attacks on protesters and human rights defenders resulted in impunity for these crimes, consistent with high impunity rates for all crimes. NGOs reported that acts of excessive use of force and arbitrary detention occurred against female protesters, especially those protesting gender-based violence.

In May in Chicoloapan, state of Mexico, municipal police beat and detained supporters of feminist groups as they led a protest against gender-based violence and political parties. Municipal police arrested eight women and one man, later releasing all detainees.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

Federal law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by threats and acts of kidnapping, extortion, and homicide. Organized criminal groups dominated migrant smuggling operations and often kidnapped, threatened, and extorted migrants to pay a fee for facilitating northbound travel.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The NGO Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights identified 15 incidents between January and July of mass forced internal displacement (defined as the displacement of at least 10 families or 50 individuals) due to violence. Violence by organized criminal groups often prompted the incidents, which took place in 10 states and displaced 11,560 persons as of August. Land conflicts, social and ethnic violence, or local political disputes caused other incidents. Forced internal displacement disproportionally affected indigenous communities. There was a lack of comprehensive data on internally displaced persons (IDPs). The COVID-19 pandemic generated additional risks and exacerbated vulnerabilities for IDPs, including overcrowding in shelters and difficulty accessing food, basic health care, and education. The government, in conjunction with international organizations, made efforts to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs.

According to civil society organizations, up to 3,250 persons, mostly women and children from indigenous communities, were forcibly displaced in July in Chenalho and Pantelho, Chiapas, due to territorial disputes between armed groups. This mass displacement elevated the group’s risk of malnutrition and health maladies. Three states have state-level IDP laws, but the country does not have a federal internal displacement law, which created challenges in resource allocation and interagency governmental coordination.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: Federal law provides for granting asylum, refugee status, or complementary protection to those fleeing persecution or facing possible threats to their life, security, or liberty in their country of origin; this right was generally respected. The government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protections. The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to refugee status and the procedure to determine refugee status, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and refugee applicants, and integration in local communities (including access to school, work, and other social services) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The press, international organizations, and NGOs reported targeting and victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police, immigration officers, and customs officials, including at land borders and airports. There were numerous instances of criminal armed groups extorting, threatening, or kidnapping asylum seekers and other migrants. In many parts of the country, human smuggling organizations wielded significant power, and media alleged frequent collusion among local authorities. There were credible reports of sexual assaults against migrants, particularly women, while migrating in and through the country.

On January 11, the government ended migratory detention for children. The government generally exempted accompanying adults from detention to preserve family unity. Children constituted 19 percent of irregular migrant flows identified by authorities; 30 percent of them were unaccompanied. Child protection authorities lacked sufficient capacity to shelter and process migrant children and families, and the government made modest headway to increase that capacity.

In a June International Organization for Migration survey, 20 percent of citizens and 35 percent of third-country migrants reported using a smuggler to arrive to the U.S.-Mexico border. The government increased efforts to target human smuggling organizations. In July the Prosecutor General’s Office arrested seven members, including the leader, of the Tamayo human smuggling organization. Authorities accused the suspects of smuggling 20 to 80 migrants per day through Baja California into the United States for more than a decade.

Obstacles to accessing international protection related most closely to capacity limitations and lack of coordination between the relevant agencies, as opposed to government policy. The Interior Secretariat reaffirmed its commitment to protect refugee applicants even as the country experienced an unprecedented number of applicants. From January to August the Mexican Commission to Assist Refugees (COMAR) received 77,559 applications for refugee status, a 41 percent increase from the same period in 2019, and anticipated that it would receive up to 120,000 applications in total by the end of the year. Between January and July COMAR processed approximately 25,000 cases. COMAR’s budget increased modestly in recent years but was not commensurate with the growth in refugee claims in the country.

Between August 23 and August 27, hundreds of migrants from Haiti, Cuba, and Central America protested in front of the National Migration Institute offices in Tapachula, Chiapas, to demand expedited refugee proceedings that would allow them to move freely throughout the country. Unprecedented numbers of migrants arriving at the country’s southern border and requesting refugee status stretched the refugee agency’s capacity to process requests.

On August 28, approximately 500 migrants, the majority from Haiti, started a caravan from Tapachula to Mexico City to obtain expedited asylum processing. The government deployed hundreds of security forces to contain the caravan. Various news outlets showed a video of two National Migration Institute agents with riot gear and shields grabbing one migrant, knocking him to the ground, and kicking him. On August 31, the government suspended the two agents for inappropriate conduct.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Federal law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: International observers considered the midterm elections (legislative, gubernatorial, and local) to be generally free and fair, with only minor reports of irregularities. Local commentators pointed to the electoral authorities’ quick and transparent publishing of results as increasing citizen trust in the electoral and democratic system. The midterm elections, the largest in the country’s history due to the record number of more than 20,000 offices up for election, had a 52 percent turnout, a record for a nonpresidential election.

In May voting in prisons occurred for the first time in the country’s modern history after the Federal Electoral Tribunal ruled prisoners in pretrial detention had the right to vote.

Political Parties and Political Participation: For the electoral process, the National Electoral Institute (INE) established the Three Out of Three Against Violence initiative, which required candidates to declare any history of domestic violence, sexual offenses, or failure to pay alimony. The INE requested information from all 32 states, reviewed a sample of 1,177 of the 6,962 federal deputy candidates, and canceled the registration of three candidates for filing false reports. In October 2020 the Electoral Tribunal granted registration to three new political parties: Solidary Encounter Party, Progressive Social Networks, and Social Force for Mexico. The same tribunal rejected registration challenges from four other parties, including former president Felipe Calderon’s Free Mexico Party, which the INE argued did not produce sufficient evidence of the origin of some funding it received. Authorities declared 10 political parties eligible to participate in the midterm elections.

During the electoral season (September 2020 to June), assailants killed 36 candidates and 64 politicians. The rate of aggression against political figures during the election cycle was on par with the 2018 election, one of the most violent political periods in recent history. The states where the most political violence occurred were Veracruz, followed by Guerrero and Guanajuato. Municipal candidates and challengers seeking to oust incumbents were the most common victims of political violence, with victims spread across the political spectrum. Security experts said government candidate protection programs, which did not cover all those eligible, had a negligible impact on curbing political violence.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides for the right of indigenous persons to elect representatives to local office according to “uses and customs” law (see section 6, Indigenous Peoples) rather than federal and state electoral law.

The law establishes a requirement to observe parity in the designation of public officials at every level (federal, state, local) in all three branches of government. The law states that the principle of gender parity should be observed in the designation of cabinet members, selection of candidates for public office by every political party, and designation of members of the judiciary. The presidential cabinet had 19 secretariats, and as of August women headed seven.

Political parties nominated more female candidates for public office in the midterm elections than ever before, including half of their candidates for governor in the 15 races up for election. The midterms marked a large increase in female candidates. There were 46 female candidates for governor; from 2012 to 2018, there cumulatively only 42. From 1979 to 2020 only eight women had become governors. Six female candidates became governors, the largest number in the history of the country. Of the 500 legislators in the Chamber of Deputies, 250 were women, 1 percent more than after the 2018 elections.

Additionally, the INE introduced quotas to promote minority representation, requiring political parties to nominate a certain number of candidates belonging to minority groups, including from indigenous, Afro-Mexican, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) communities, as well as persons with disabilities. As a result the new Chamber of Deputies had 37 indigenous deputies, six Afro-Mexican deputies, four LGBTQI+ deputies (including two transgender deputies), and eight deputies with disabilities.

Between January and April the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Electoral Crimes in the Attorney General’s Office initiated 14 investigations related to gender-based political violence against women. During the electoral process the INE received 147 complaints of gender-based political violence, a significant increase from the 47 complaints it received during the 2017-2018 electoral process. The INE sanctioned 107 persons for gender-based political violence. Penalties ranged from monetary fines to the cancellation of candidacies.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to increase its legal authority to pursue these crimes. On February 19, a constitutional reform eliminated presidential immunity for corruption and other crimes. On March 11, an anticorruption and antinepotism constitutional reform granted the Federal Judiciary Council – the administrative organ of the federal court system – more oversight over district and appeals courts and limited hiring authorities of individual judges.

Corruption: There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. On June 6, authorities arrested former Nayarit governor Roberto Sandoval and his daughter Lidy Alejandra Sandoval Lopez for corruption and money laundering. Sandoval remained in pretrial detention as of August.

As of August 25, former governor of Chihuahua Cesar Duarte was awaiting an extradition decision. In July 2020 he was arrested in another country pursuant to a Mexican extradition request on charges that he diverted millions of dollars in public funds.

As of November authorities held Emilio Lozoya in pretrial detention. In July 2020 authorities extradited Lozoya, former director of PEMEX, the state-owned petroleum company, from Spain. In 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a corruption investigation against Lozoya for receiving up to $10 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. The Prosecutor General’s Office also obtained an arrest warrant against Lozoya’s mother for money laundering, and in 2019 Interpol agents arrested her in Germany. Lozoya accused high-level politicians representing multiple parties of complicity in his corrupt acts and was acting as a state’s witness in trials against them.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were mostly cooperative and responsive, with the president and cabinet officials meeting with human rights organizations, such as OHCHR, IACHR, and CNDH. Some NGOs alleged individuals who organized campaigns to discredit human rights defenders at times acted with tacit support from government officials.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is a semiautonomous federal agency created by the government and funded by the legislature to monitor and act on human rights abuses.

The CNDH may call on government authorities to impose administrative sanctions or pursue criminal charges against officials, but it is not authorized to impose penalties or legal sanctions. If the relevant authority accepts a CNDH recommendation, the CNDH is required to follow up with the authority to verify that it is carrying out the recommendation. The CNDH sends a request to the authority asking for evidence of its compliance and includes this follow-up information in its annual report. When authorities fail to accept a recommendation, the CNDH makes that known publicly. It may exercise its power to call before the Senate government authorities who refuse to accept or enforce its recommendations.

All states have their own human rights commissions. The state commissions are funded by state legislatures and are semiautonomous. Some civil society groups, however, asserted that state commissions were subservient to the state executive branch. State commissions do not have uniform reporting requirements, making it difficult to compare state data and therefore compile nationwide statistics. The CNDH may take on cases from state-level commissions if it receives a complaint that the state commission has not adequately investigated the case.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law criminalizes the rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and conviction carries penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is criminalized in 26 of the 32 states. Between January and June, state authorities opened 10,458 new rape investigations. There were high rates of impunity for these crimes, consistent with high impunity rates for all crimes.

Federal law prohibits domestic violence and stipulates penalties for conviction of between six months’ and four years’ imprisonment. Of the 32 states, 29 stipulate similar penalties, although sentences were often more lenient. Federal law criminalizes spousal abuse. State and municipal laws addressing domestic violence largely failed to meet the required federal standards and often were unenforced. In June the government amended the General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence to include media and digital violence as a form of violence against women.

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) 2016 survey, 18 percent of women ages 15 and older reported having experienced physical violence at the hands of their current or most recent partner, and 6.5 percent reported having experienced sexual violence. The increase in domestic violence cases that began during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic continued. The Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System reported 23,907 domestic violence cases in May, an all-time monthly record. Between January and June, state authorities opened 129,020 new domestic violence investigations.

In March authorities in Mexico City opened an investigation based on allegations of rape against Andres Roemer, a prominent writer, producer, consular officer, and former UNESCO goodwill ambassador. Since 2019 more than 60 women accused Roemer of sexual abuse, assault, and rape. In July the Mexico City Prosecutor General’s Office issued the fourth arrest warrant for Roemer. Authorities were attempting to extradite Roemer from Israel.

The Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System reported more than 1,889 killings of women, including 672 femicides, from January to September. September had the highest incident rate, with an average of 84 women killed in each month. The 911 hotline received 139,554 calls reporting incidents of violence against women from January to June, an increase of 6 percent over the same months in 2020. The 27,751 calls to the hotline in May were the most since the creation of the hotline. Calls included reports of relationship aggression, sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape, and intrafamily violence. The National Shelter Network reported that the network assisted 12,000 women and children between January and August.

Femicide is a federal offense punishable by 40 to 70 years in prison. It is also a criminal offense in all states. The law describes femicide as a gender-based murder under any of the following seven circumstances: signs of sexual violence, previous violence, emotional connection to the perpetrator, previous threats, harassment history, victim held incommunicado prior to deprivation of life, or victim’s body exposure in a public place. According to National Security Secretariat statistics, between January and June, state-level prosecutors and attorneys general opened 495 femicide investigations throughout the country, exceeding the 477 state-level femicide investigations opened in the first half of 2020 (statistics from state-level reports often conflated femicides with all killings of women).

The National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women is responsible for leading government programs to combat domestic violence. Reforms to the Prosecutor General’s Office split the Office for Combating Violence Against Women and the Trafficking in Persons offices in an effort to elevate these issues by giving each its own special prosecutor general. Between January and June, the commission registered that 115,534 women received attention in Justice Centers for Women throughout the country, a 19 percent increase over the same period in 2020.

In addition to shelters, women’s justice centers provided services including legal, psychological, and protective; however, the number of cases far surpassed institutional capacity. According to multiple NGOs, due to COVID-19’s impact on the economy, funding sources for women’s shelters, including for indigenous women, were insufficient. Federal government funding for women’s shelters for the year was the same as in 2020. Federal funding assisted the operation of more than 69 shelters, external attention centers, emergency houses, and transition houses. NGOs operated 85 percent of the facilities, and government organizations operated the remaining 15 percent.

Sexual Harassment: Federal law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for fines from 250 to 5,000 times the minimum daily wage, but the law was not effectively enforced. Of the 32 states, 24 criminalize sexual harassment, and all states have provisions for punishment when the perpetrator is in a position of power. According to the National Women’s Institute, the federal institution charged with directing national policy on equal opportunity for men and women, sexual harassment in the workplace was a significant problem.

On February 6, the federal Law Against Digital Harassment took effect. The law criminalizes sharing, distributing, and publishing intimate sexual content (including photographs, audio, and videos) featuring individuals who have not explicitly given their consent, with penalties of up to six years in prison. Women’s rights activists supported the law as critical to combat the increasingly prevalent problem of online sexual harassment. In April authorities arrested and prosecuted Alexis Rafael Valadez Vazquez under the new law for publishing intimate photographs of women online, without their consent, to extort them.

Reproductive Rights: There were no confirmed reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Federal authorities supported access to contraceptive methods, but states’ efforts varied widely. Barriers to accessing contraceptives stemmed from lack of knowledge, poverty, lack of access to health services, and sexual violence from family members, strangers, or friends. An Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation study on the use of contraceptives in Chiapas (the poorest state) found that older women were less likely to use family planning methods (13 percent of women ages 35 and older, versus 18 percent of women ages 20-34), while 23 percent of indigenous women opposed birth control for religious, cultural, or social reasons. The National Population Council estimated that in 2020 and 2021, a total of 1,172,000 women had limited access to contraceptives due to COVID-19. The National Population Council reported that in 2020 there were 373,661 pregnancies in women younger than age 19 (30 percent above 2019), of which 8,876 were in girls ages 14 or younger. The states with the most teenage pregnancies were Chiapas, Coahuila, and Guerrero, and Tabasco. Sometimes family members arranged marriages for girls younger than 18. INEGI found that 53 percent of women of reproductive age used modern contraception in 2018 (the most recent study).

By law government health providers are obliged to offer sexual and reproductive emergency health services for survivors of sexual violence within 120 hours of the sexual assault. Emergency contraception was available, including for survivors of sexual assault. Nevertheless, women nationwide faced obstacles to accessing emergency services due to health providers’ personal objections to emergency contraception or misunderstanding of their legal obligations to provide services.

Factors associated with maternal deaths included parents with lower levels of education, poor hospital infrastructure and human capacity, and lack of access to maternity care, especially for pregnant women living in rural areas. Southern states reported the lowest access to skilled health care during pregnancy due to geographic, financial, and cultural barriers. In rural areas in 2019, the cause of most maternal deaths was obstetric hemorrhage.

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men and “equal pay for equal work performed in equal jobs, hours of work, and conditions of efficiency.” The law establishes penalties for discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, color, religion, language, pregnancy, political belief, or any other nature that violates human dignity. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Women tended to earn substantially less than men did for the same work. Women were more likely to experience discrimination in wages, working hours, and benefits.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the median salary for full-time female employees was 19 percent less than that of full-time male employees. Only 7.5 percent of the members of the executive boards of publicly traded domestic companies were female, and men held 64 percent of managerial positions throughout the country. According to INEGI’s 2016 National Survey on the Dynamics of Household Relationships, 22 percent of working women reported experiencing labor discrimination within the previous 12 months.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity, and a federal law prohibits all forms of discrimination. Nonetheless, discrimination was common against racial and ethnic minorities, including Black, Afro-Mexican, and indigenous groups. All states have additional laws against discrimination. In 2019 legislators passed a constitutional reform recognizing Afro-Mexicans as an ethnic group.

INEGI reported that 2 percent of the population (2.5 million) self-identified as Afro-Mexican. The National Council to Prevent Discrimination’s 2017 national survey on discrimination found 58 percent of Afro-Mexicans and 65 percent of indigenous persons considered their rights were respected “little or not at all.” The survey also reported 22 percent of persons said they would not share a household with an Afro-Mexican. The survey also reported that persons with darker skin completed 6.5 years of schooling, while those with white skin completed 10 years. A report from the Black Alliance for Just Immigration found black migrants faced widespread racial discrimination from individuals and authorities, particularly in accessing employment and services. Black migrants reported migration authorities detained Black migrants for longer periods than other migrants.

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution provides indigenous persons the right to self-determination, autonomy, and education. Most indigenous persons lived in marginalized communities, and the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally affected these communities, according to the OHCHR. Conflicts arose from the interpretation of indigenous communities’ self-governing “normative systems.” Uses and customs laws apply traditional practices to resolve disputes, choose local officials, and collect taxes, with limited federal or state government involvement. Communities and NGOs representing indigenous groups criticized the government for failing to consult indigenous communities adequately when making decisions regarding extractive industry and natural resource development projects on indigenous lands. The CNDH maintained a human rights program to inform and assist members of indigenous communities.

The CNDH reported indigenous women were among the most vulnerable groups in society. They often experienced racism and discrimination and were frequently victims of violence. Indigenous persons generally had limited access to health care and education services.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, indigenous persons faced additional hardships in accessing educational services. Due to low internet penetration and television ownership in indigenous communities, distance learning was often inaccessible. Additionally, some indigenous students did not receive the breakfasts and lunches normally included in the full-time school meal program, according to a UNESCO study.

Several indigenous communities denounced the government’s plan to build the Mayan Train, an estimated $7.5 billion dual cargo-passenger railroad to cross the Yucatan Peninsula through indigenous lands. Several indigenous communities brought legal actions to oppose the construction, many of which were dismissed or denied. As in 2020, NGOs in Campeche and Yucatan submitted multiple civil injunctions against the project citing a lack of transparency regarding environmental impact assessments and adverse effects on indigenous cultural heritage. Members of the Mayan community in Campeche reported the National Tourism Board pressured them to cease protesting and agree to leave their lands. The board identified 3,286 homes in five states for relocation before completion of the construction project.

On July 14, 10 indigenous men from the Yaqui tribe living in Sonora disappeared while transporting cattle in Bacum. Their abduction followed the killings of two Yaqui activists and leaders: Thomas Rojo in May and Luis Urbano in June. In July the Sonora State Prosecutor General’s Office detained Rojo’s alleged killer.

In Chiapas in July an unidentified perpetrator killed Simon Pedro Perez Lopez, a human rights activist and member of the Las Abejas de Acteal civil society organization. Lopez had filed a complaint with the Interior Secretariat asking for greater government intervention in the indigenous Tsotsil regions following increased drug trafficking-related violence.

As of September authorities made no arrests regarding the 2020 killing of prominent indigenous and environmental rights defender Homero Gomez. Gomez had advocated against illegal logging and the destruction of the Michoacan monarch butterfly habitat.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship both by birth within the country’s territory and from their parents. Citizens generally registered the births of newborns with local authorities. Failure to register births could result in the denial of public services such as education or health care.

Child Abuse: There were numerous reports of child abuse. The National Program for the Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents, mandated by law, is responsible for coordinating the protection of children’s rights at all levels of government.

As of August there were no developments in the case regarding the abduction and killing of seven-year-old Fatima Aldrighetti Anton. Authorities arrested Mario Reyes and Gladis Cruz in connection with the killing. In November 2020 a judge suspended five officials from the Mexico City Prosecutor General’s Office for failing to search for Fatima within 72 hours after she went missing.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum marriage age is 18. Enforcement, however, was inconsistent across the states. All states prohibit marriage of persons younger than age 18. With a judge’s consent, children may marry at younger ages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the law. Nonetheless, NGOs and media reported on sexual exploitation of minors, as well as child sex tourism in resort towns and northern border areas. Government authorities also reported an increase of 73 percent in online child pornography distribution during the pandemic. In April the government passed a penal code reform eliminating the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against minors, including child pornography distribution, child sex tourism, corruption of minors, pederasty, sexual abuse, and rape.

Institutionalized Children: Civil society groups expressed concern regarding abuse of children with mental and physical disabilities in orphanages, migrant centers, and care facilities. The NGO Disability Rights International reported various instances of abuse, including the use of prolonged restraints and isolation rooms for children with disabilities in both public and private institutions. According to the NGO, institutional staff in Baja California reported that four children with disabilities died within days of each other with no known investigations. The NGO also reported the existence of multiple unregistered private institutions without licenses operating as orphanages.

In May 2020 the CNDH reported that children were subjected to abuses such as torture, sexual violence, and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment at Ciudad de los Ninos, a private institution in Salamanca, Guanajuato. Despite a 2017 injunction issued by a state district judge to prevent further grave abuses at the institution, the CNDH reported state authorities failed to supervise the conditions at Ciudad de los Ninos.

International Child Abductions: The country is party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.

Anti-Semitism

The 45,000-person Jewish community experienced low levels of anti-Semitism. On May 18, an exhibit in Mexico City on Israeli innovation was vandalized with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel messages. Jewish community representatives reported good cooperation with the government and other religious and civil society organizations in addressing rare instances of such acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

Federal law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law requires the Secretariat of Health to promote the creation of long-term institutions for persons with disabilities in distress, and the Secretariat of Social Development must establish specialized institutions to care for, protect, and house poor, neglected, or marginalized persons with disabilities. NGOs reported authorities had not implemented programs for community integration. Public buildings and facilities often did not comply with the law requiring access for persons with disabilities.

In 2019 the federal government introduced pensions for persons with disabilities in a state of poverty. In May 2020 a constitutional amendment established the disability pension as a constitutional right, prioritizing children, indigenous, and Afro-Mexican persons with disabilities younger than age 64 who lived in poverty. The pension was 2,550 pesos ($125) every two months. In August the federal government signed a public-private partnership agreement with the Teleton Institute for it to provide rehabilitation services to 20,000 pension-receiving children.

The education system provided education for students with disabilities nationwide. Nevertheless, only 2 percent of schoolteachers in the country were trained to teach children with disabilities, according to the civil society organization Yo Tambien. with disabilities attended school at a lower rate than those without disabilities. Enrollment of children with disabilities decreased by 40 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Yo Tambien.

Abuses occurred in institutions and care facilities housing persons with mental disabilities, including those for children. Abuses of persons with disabilities included the use of physical and chemical restraints; physical and sexual abuse; human trafficking, including forced labor; disappearance; and the illegal adoption of institutionalized children. They were vulnerable to abuse from staff members, other patients, or guests at facilities where there was inadequate supervision. Documentation supporting a person’s identity and origin was lacking. Access to justice was limited. NGOs reported no changes in the mental health system to create community services or any efforts by authorities to have independent experts monitor human rights abuses in psychiatric institutions.

Institutionalized persons with disabilities often lacked adequate medical care and rehabilitation services, privacy, and clothing; they often ate, slept, and bathed in unhygienic conditions. For example, Felipe Orozco, hospitalized multiple times for mental disabilities, reported that mental health professionals from a psychiatric hospital in Puebla shackled him naked with a padlock during the nights for two and one-half weeks. As a result he was forced to urinate and defecate in his bed, according to Human Rights Watch.

Voting centers for federal elections were generally accessible for persons with disabilities, and ballots were available with a braille overlay for federal elections in Mexico City, but these services were inconsistently available for local elections elsewhere in the country.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There were reports the government did not always investigate and punish those complicit in abuses against LGBTQI+ persons, especially outside Mexico City. Civil society groups claimed police routinely subjected LGBTQI+ persons to mistreatment while in custody.

There were 50 hate-crime homicides and four forced disappearances committed against the LGBTQI+ community in the first eight months, according to the National Observatory of Crimes Against LGBTQI persons. A 2019 CNDH poll found six of every 10 members of the LGBTQI+ community reported experiencing discrimination in the past 12 months, and more than half suffered hate speech and physical aggression.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals. A Mexico City municipal law provides increased penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In July the Mexico City congress passed a law to provide, promote, and protect LGBTQI+ human rights. In August the Mexico City congress approved a reform allowing LGBTQI+ children ages 12 years and older to legally change their gender on their birth certificate. In August Yucatan passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, increasing the number of states making it legal to 22 of the country’s 32 states. In August Baja California and Yucatan passed laws banning LGBTQI+ conversion therapy.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The government continued its efforts to strengthen freedom of association protections, promote union democracy, and improve the ability of workers to bargain collectively. Efforts focused on implementation of the 2019 labor law reform that transformed the labor justice system. The reforms provide workers with the right to freely elect union representatives and approve or reject collective bargaining agreements through a secret ballot process before they are registered. The reforms prevent the registration of collective bargaining agreements known as “protection contracts,” which nonrepresentative unions often negotiated and signed without the knowledge of workers and undermined genuine collective bargaining. The reforms call for the creation of independent labor courts to replace the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs) that favored corporatist unions in the resolution of disputes and facilitated the registration of protection contracts. The reforms also establish an expedited and more transparent judicial process for unions to obtain collective bargaining rights.

In addition to a more impartial and streamlined judicial process for labor disputes, the reforms transfer the registration of unions and collective bargaining agreements from the CABs to a new independent Federal Conciliation and Labor Registration Center. The Federal Center also carries out mandatory pre-judicial conciliations at the federal level, with local conciliation centers carrying out the same function at the state level. The reforms establish a four-year timeline for implementation designed to end May 1, 2023, but the government established an accelerated timeline to complete implementation by May 2022 and remained on track to meet that goal.

The government continued implementing the labor reforms in a phased manner, with the reform coming online in eight states in November 2020, and phase two started on November 3 with 13 states, and phase three to be concluded on May 1, 2022, for the remaining states. As of July, 39 percent of active unions under local jurisdiction had registered required amendments to their amended statutes to incorporate new secret ballot and gender equity requirements with the CABs. As of July, 94 percent of active unions under federal jurisdiction had registered their amended statutes with the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS), but only 39 percent of active unions under local jurisdiction had registered their amendments with the CABs. The deadline for unions to amend and register their statutes, originally set to expire in May 2020, was suspended due to COVID-19, reestablished in late 2020, and continued as of November.

Responsibility for registration of unions and collective bargaining agreements, including amendments to their statutes, shifted to the Federal Conciliation and Labor Registration Center in November 2020 for the eight phase-one states. The Federal Center took over registration functions nationwide on November 3 and was preparing to launch a national union registry to contain all files related to union registration and statutes, collective bargaining agreements, and union financial statements.

On May 1, the role of verifying the process for unions to organize a secret ballot vote for workers to approve or reject existing collective bargaining agreements within the four-year period established by the reforms (legitimization process) transitioned from the STPS to the Federal Center. As part of that process, the Federal Center published a new legitimization protocol to include a mechanism that allows for submission of complaints regarding alleged irregularities that may happen prior to, during, and after the vote. The Federal Center, however, estimated that only 10 to 15 percent of those collective bargaining agreements would undergo a legitimization vote because the worksite where the agreement was valid had closed, the work for which the agreement was negotiated had concluded, or the contract was a protection contract held by a nonrepresentative union. As of September workers had reviewed and voted on 1,790 collective bargaining agreements, less than 1 percent of the total number of agreements.

Federal labor law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive government recognition, unions and their leaders must file for registration with the Federal Center. The Federal Center and the new federal labor courts are designed to handle all matters related to collective bargaining agreements, but until the Federal Center establishes its offices in all the states, labor disputes in states without a Federal Center presence are to be handled by the CABs. The CABs operate under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives, with worker representation on the CABs selected based on majority representation, which was held by entrenched nondemocratic unions that sign “protection” contracts with complicit employers to secure low wages.

By law a union may call for a strike or bargain collectively in accordance with its own statutes. Under the labor reform, to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, the union must first obtain a certificate of representativeness from the Federal Center demonstrating it has support from at least 30 percent of workers to be covered by the agreement. Before a strike may take place, a union must file a “notice to strike” with the appropriate CAB, or the appropriate labor court once they are operational. Workers, the employer, or an interested third party may request the CAB or court rule on the legality of the strike, which may find the strike is “nonexistent” and therefore illegal. In June the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision confirming that the exercise of the right to strike suspends the processing of collective conflicts of an economic nature that may be pending before the court and the topics that they present, unless the workers express in writing their agreement to submit the conflict to the decision of the court. This decision prevented a protection union from attempting to stop the strike by filing a challenge to the Mineros Union’s control of the existing collective bargaining agreement at the San Martin mine in Sombrerete, Zacatecas.

The law prohibits employers from intervening in union affairs or interfering with union activities, including through implicit or explicit reprisals against workers. The law allows for the reinstatement of workers if the CAB finds the employer fired the worker without just cause and the worker requests reinstatement; however, the law also exempts broad categories of employees from this protection, including so-called employees of confidence and workers in the job for less than one year.

The government’s failure to enforce labor laws left workers with little recourse for violations of freedom of association, poor working conditions, and other labor provisions in states that had not yet implemented the new labor justice model. The CABs’ continued failures to administer and oversee procedures related to union activity impartially and transparently, such as union elections, registrations, and strikes, undermined worker efforts to exercise their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

According to several NGOs and unions, many workers faced violence and intimidation perpetrated by protection union leaders and employers supporting them, as well as other workers, union leaders, and vigilantes hired by a company to suppress opposition to an existing union in bargaining-rights elections. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of temporary or fake employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union. The CABs were widely alleged to administer these elections with a bias against new, independent unions.

In April the STPS suspended a legitimization vote at the General Motors plant in Silao, Guanajuato, due to serious irregularities during the vote. Workers argued that the protectionist union holding the collective bargaining agreement pressured workers to legitimize the agreement, offered bribes, and tampered with ballots. After the STPS canceled the vote, in May the rapid response mechanism under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement commenced, and the government agreed to review a denial of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights at the plant, confirming the denial of rights. In July an arrangement was reached on a course of remediation, which included a new collective bargaining agreement legitimization vote under the supervision of the STPS, with observers from the National Electoral Institute and the International Labor Organization. The new vote took place on August 17-18, and a majority of workers rejected the collective bargaining agreement. As a result other unions, including a new union formed by workers after the vote, gained the right to seek representation rights and negotiate a new agreement. The STPS certification of the new election set November 3 as the date for termination of the existing agreement, thus establishing that representation rights would be determined under the new labor reform rules and institutions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. While penalties for conviction of forced labor were commensurate with those for similar crimes, very few cases were successfully prosecuted. State governments reported investigating 12 suspected forced labor cases in 2020. Federal and state labor inspectorates conducted nearly 30,000 labor inspections in formally registered businesses in 2020 but did not conduct inspections in the informal sector.

Forced labor persisted in the domestic service and in child-care, manufacturing, mining, food-processing, construction, tourism, begging, street-vending, leather-goods-production, and agriculture sectors, especially in the production of chili peppers and tomatoes. Women and children were subjected to domestic servitude. Women, children, indigenous persons, persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ persons, and migrants (including men, women, and children) were the most vulnerable to forced labor (see section 7.c.). Many workers were compelled into forced labor through debt bondage, threats of violence, and nonpayment of wages by recruiters and employers.

Day laborers and their children were the primary victims of forced and child labor in the agricultural sector, particularly in the production of chili peppers and tomatoes. In 2016, the most recent data available, INEGI reported that 44 percent of persons working in agriculture were day laborers. Of the day laborers, 33 percent received no financial compensation for their work, and only 3 percent had a formal written contract.

Indigenous persons in isolated regions reported incidents of forced labor in which cartel members forced them to perform illicit activities or face death. Minors were recruited or forced by cartels to traffic persons, drugs, or other goods across the border with the United States. Migrants were also recruited by criminal organizations to conduct illicit activities.

Criminal groups became increasingly involved in the illegal timber trade in Chihuahua, which accounted for 70 percent of the wood consumed in the country. Drug traffickers involved in illegal logging recruited and kidnapped indigenous persons and children in isolated or displaced communities, withheld their wages, forced them to conduct illicit activities, and often threatened death if they tried to leave.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits children younger than age 15 from working and allows those ages 15 to 17 to work no more than six daytime hours in nonhazardous conditions daily, and only with parental permission and permission from the labor authority. The law requires children younger than 18 to complete compulsory basic education and to have a medical certificate to work. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18, including all work in the agricultural sector. The law prohibits minors from working in a broad list of hazardous and unhealthy occupations. The pandemic severely impacted the economy, resulting in a significant increase in the number of children engaging in child labor. Despite a government program to transmit public education classes via internet, television, and radio during the pandemic, reports suggested that at least 2.5 million children did not continue their basic education.

At the federal level, the Secretariat of Social Development, Prosecutor General’s Office, and National System for Integral Family Development share responsibility for inspections to enforce child labor laws and to intervene in cases in which employers violate such laws. The STPS is responsible for carrying out child labor inspections and refers cases of child labor to the Prosecutor General’s Office for sanctions. Penalties were commensurate with other similar laws but were rarely enforced. In 2020 the STPS Federal Labor Inspectorate conducted almost 30,000 labor inspections nationwide but reported finding only one case of child labor. State labor inspectors, however, reported finding evidence of child labor, particularly in agricultural establishments.

State-level prosecutors reported investigating at least 199 cases involving child trafficking victims in 2020. The government was reasonably effective in enforcing child labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially in the export-oriented factory (maquiladora) sector and other industries under federal jurisdiction.

Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies, in agriculture, and in construction, and nearly absent in the informal sector in which most child laborers worked. Inspectors generally were permitted to examine the informal sector only in response to complaints. Social programs to combat child labor did not address all sectors where child labor occurred. Children performed dangerous tasks in agriculture in the production of beans, chili peppers, coffee, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, onions, tomatoes, and tobacco. Children also produced garments, leather goods, and illicit crops such as opium poppies; engaged in illicit activities such as the production and trafficking of drugs; and experienced sexual exploitation, often as a result of human trafficking.

Underage children in urban areas earned money by begging, washing windshields, selling small items, or performing in public places.

According to a 2019 National Child Labor Survey, the number of children ages five to 17 in child labor, including in hazardous household work, was 3.3 million, or approximately 11.5 percent of children in the country. This represented an increase of 11 percent of children from the 2017 INEGI survey. Of all children, 7.1 percent, or two million, were younger than the minimum age of work or worked under conditions that violated federal labor law, such as performing hazardous work.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/  as well as the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation. Federal law specifically proscribes discrimination based on ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, disability, social status, health, religion, immigration status, political opinion, sexual preference, marital status, or pregnancy. The government did not effectively enforce the law or regulations. The law mandates that all discrimination cases, including sexual harassment, bypass formerly mandatory conciliation and proceed directly to the labor courts.

Penalties for violations of the law were commensurate with those for other similar laws. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred against women, indigenous groups, persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ individuals, and migrant workers. According to a 2017 INEGI survey, the most recent information available, 12 percent of women were illegally asked to take a pregnancy test as a prerequisite to being hired. Job announcements specifying desired gender, age, marital status, and parental status were common. INEGI reported in 2017 that 23 percent of working women experienced violence in the workplace within the past 12 months and that 6 percent experienced sexual violence. The government approved the National Work and Employment Program for People with Disabilities 2021-2024, aimed at strengthening labor inclusion of persons with disabilities and supporting the employment of persons with disabilities in decent work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission is responsible for establishing minimum salaries. In January 2020 the government raised the minimum wage. The new wage applied to all sectors and allowed an earner to reach or exceed the poverty line. In March the government amended federal labor law to define the minimum wage as the lowest cash amount a worker receives for services rendered during a workday and stipulated it should never be below the inflation rate. Most formal-sector workers (70 percent) received between one and three times the minimum wage.

Federal law sets six eight-hour days and 48 hours per week as the legal workweek. Any work in excess of eight hours in a day is considered overtime, for which a worker is to receive double pay. After accumulating nine hours of overtime in a week, a worker earns triple the hourly wage. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for eight paid public holidays and one week of paid annual leave after completing one year of work.

Between September 2020 and June, the STPS reported conducting labor inspections in 22,350 work centers nationwide benefiting more than three million workers. Civil society organizations, however, reported that the number of labor inspections was not sufficient to secure compliance. There were 600 federal labor inspectors to cover the entire country; 60 percent of state level labor authorities had fewer than 10 inspectors. Criminal cases related to such violations were rarely carried out. Penalties for law violations regarding hours and minimum wage were commensurate with those for other similar laws but were rarely enforced.

According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach – requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting down hours when it is light – to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This was a common practice in the maquiladora sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and obliged them to work in peak seasons, including the Christmas holiday period, without the corresponding triple pay mandated by law for voluntary overtime on national holidays.

Many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers through subcontracting regimes or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. On April 24, congress approved a reform to the labor law aimed at banning subcontracting of personnel for core or main economic activities in the public and private sectors. Subcontracting is allowed if it is used to perform specialized services unrelated to the main economic activity of businesses or public institutions. The law mandates the creation of a public registry of companies supplying specialized services to verify only registered companies fulfilling tax and administrative requirements may supply those services. According to the Mexican Social Security Institute, as a result of the law 2.7 million workers of the 4.6 million subcontractors moved from formal subcontracting status to a formal direct employment status. Approximately 23 percent of informal workers (6.8 million persons) were employed by formal businesses or organizations but paid in cash off the books to evade taxes and social security payments.

Observers from grassroots labor rights groups, international NGOs, and multinational apparel brands reported that employers in export-oriented supply chains increasingly used hiring methods that lessened job security. For example, manufacturers commonly hired workers on one- to three-month contracts and then waited a period of days before rehiring them on new short-term contracts to avoid paying severance and to prevent workers from accruing seniority. This practice violated federal law and restricted workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Observers noted that it also increased the likelihood of work-related illness and injury. Outsourcing practices made it difficult for workers to identify their legally registered employer, thus limiting their ability to seek redress of labor grievances.

Citizens hoping to obtain temporary, legal employment in the United States and other countries frequently paid recruiters hundreds or thousands of dollars in prohibitive fees to secure jobs, and many prospective workers were promised jobs that did not exist. The government rarely investigated cases of alleged abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices. Although the law requires entities recruiting for overseas employment to register with the STPS, there is no enforcement mechanism, and only a handful of recruiters complied.

The situation of agricultural workers remained particularly precarious, with similar patterns of exploitation throughout the sector. Labor recruiters enticed families to work during harvests with verbal promises of decent wages and a good standard of living. Rather than receiving daily wages once a week, as mandated by law, day laborers had to meet certain harvest quotas to receive the promised wage. Wages were illegally withheld until the end of the harvest to ensure that the workers did not leave. Civil society organizations alleged that workers were prohibited from leaving by threats of violence or by nonpayment of wages. Workers had to buy food and other items at the company store at high markups, at times leaving them with no money at the end of the harvest after settling debts. Civil society groups reported families living in inhuman conditions, with inadequate and cramped housing, no access to clean water or bathrooms, insufficient food, and without medical care. With no access to schools or child care, many workers took their children to work in the fields.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health regulations, issued jointly by the STPS and Institute for Social Security. Legally mandated joint management and labor committees set standards and are responsible for overseeing workplace standards in plants and offices. Individual employees or unions may complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The STPS has the authority to order labor inspections at any time in the event of labor law violations, imminent risk to employees, or workplace accidents. Penalties for law violations regarding occupational safety and health regulations were commensurate with those for other similar laws but were rarely enforced.

News reports indicated poor working conditions in some factories. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, a lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and no freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse.

According to data from the Mexican Social Security Institute, in 2020 there were approximately 278,000 workplace accidents, resulting in 666 deaths.

Hundreds of thousands of workers continued to work in foreign-owned factories, mainly in northern border states, producing electronics, medical equipment, and auto parts. Several outbreaks of COVID-19 resulted in multiple deaths. Some companies reportedly did not implement effective protective measures for employees, and one factory, owned by Eaton Corporation in Baja California, was operating illegally and was closed after it placed chains on its doors to prevent 800 workers from leaving.

Informal Sector: According to INEGI informal workers represented 56 percent of total workers in the country as of the second quarter of the year. Labor inspections focused on the formal sector, leaving informal workers with no labor law protection. Informal workers were in every sector of the economy, with agriculture as the sector with the greatest number of informal workers. While on average informal workers earned less than the minimum wage, in some areas, such as near the northern border, informal employment could pay more than formal employment in the manufacturing sector. Informal workers lacked access to social protection mechanisms such as health care and retirement benefits.

Namibia

Executive Summary

Namibia is a constitutional multiparty democracy. In the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019, President Hage Geingob won a second five-year term, and the South West African People’s Organization retained its parliamentary majority, winning 63 of 96 National Assembly seats. International observers characterized the 2019 election as generally free and fair.

The national police maintain internal security. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The Namibian Police Force reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety, and Security. The Namibian Defense Force reports to the Ministry of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces allegedly committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of serious government corruption.

The government took steps to prosecute or administratively punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were two reports the government or its agents may have committed arbitrary or unlawful killings; both were under investigation at year’s end. The Namibian Police Force (NamPol) conducts internal investigations of police misconduct and presents its findings to the Office of the Prosecutor-General, which determines whether to pursue charges.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but the law does not define “torture” or separately classify it as a crime. Torture is prosecuted as a crime under legal provisions such as assault or homicide. The Office of the Ombudsman received one report of police mistreatment of detainees during the year. The report stated the denial of visitation rights during the COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency constituted mistreatment. In 2020 there were two reports of Namibian Defense Force (NDF) members beating suspects. Additionally, investigation continued of images from 2020 released online showing NamPol officers beating detained irregular migrants.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces; however, delays in investigation of allegations of misconduct and in the filing of charges and adjudication of cases meriting prosecution contributed to a perception of impunity. Most cases cited by civil society advocates were pending trial at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The Office of the Ombudsman documented incidents of gross overcrowding and poor hygienic conditions as human rights violations in its annual report. Overcrowding was primarily due to an increase in the number of pretrial detainees attributable to COVID-19 pandemic related delays in the judicial processing of inmates.

Physical Conditions: Conditions in detention centers and police holding cells remained poor. Conditions were often worse in pretrial holding cells than in prisons. Human rights bodies and government officials reported overcrowding in holding cells. Prisons, however, were not overcrowded.

In pretrial holding cells, sanitation and medical assistance were inadequate. Tuberculosis continued to be prevalent.

Prison and holding-cell conditions for women were generally better than for men. Authorities permitted female prisoners to keep their infants with them until age two and provided them with food and clothing for their infants.

There were programs to prevent HIV transmission in prisons.

The law does not permit holding juvenile offenders with adults. Prison authorities reported they generally confined juvenile offenders separately, but police occasionally held juveniles with adults in rural detention facilities due to a lack of separate facilities for juveniles. The Office of the Ombudsman conducted an investigation of juvenile detention facilities that revealed 30 instances of improper detention of juveniles. It filed a complaint at the High Court against the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare alleging it failed to effectively implement Child Care and Protection Act statutes.

Administration: The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent authority, investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, and the office reported cooperation with police in resolving complaints and responding to inquiries.

Independent Monitoring: The government granted local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) access to prisons and prisoners. Representatives from the Office of the Ombudsman visited prisons and pretrial detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of that person’s arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Arrest warrants are not required in all cases, including when authorities apprehend a suspect while committing a crime. Authorities must inform detained persons of the reason for their arrest, and police generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. Authorities must arraign arrested persons within 48 hours of their detention. The government does not always meet this requirement, especially in rural areas far from courts.

The constitution permits detention without trial during a state of emergency but requires publication of the names of detainees in the government’s gazette within 14 days of their apprehension. An advisory board appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission (the constitutional body that recommends judges to the president for appointment) must review cases within one month of detention and every three months thereafter. The advisory board has the power to order the release of anyone detained without trial during an emergency.

There is a functioning bail system. The constitution stipulates accused persons are entitled to defense by legal counsel of their choice or one provided by the state, and authorities respected this right. Detainees are allowed prompt access to a lawyer of their choice, or one provided by the state.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. According to the Namibian Correctional Service, in 2020 approximately 3 percent of the inmate population was in pretrial detention, and the average length of time inmates were held before trial was four years. A shortage of qualified magistrates and other court officials, the inability of many defendants to afford bail, the lack of a plea-bargaining system, slow or incomplete police investigations, the frequency of appeals, and procedural postponements resulted in a large backlog in prosecuting criminal cases. Delays between arrest and trial could last for years in some cases. There were lengthy delays in criminal appeals as well. According to the Office of the Prosecutor General, however, pretrial detention did not exceed the maximum sentence for conviction of an alleged crime. Defendants convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment are credited with time served in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Authorities respected and enforced court orders.

The law delineates the offenses the customary system may handle. Customary courts may hear many civil and petty criminal cases in rural areas. Customary courts deal with infractions of local customary law by members of the same ethnic group. The law defines the role, duties, and powers of traditional leaders and states customary law inconsistent with the constitution is invalid. Cases resolved in customary courts were sometimes tried a second time in civil or criminal courts.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Nevertheless, long delays in courts hearing cases and the uneven application of constitutional protections in the customary system compromised this right. Defendants are presumed innocent. The law provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, in a language they understand, and of their right to a fair, timely, and public trial.

Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney of choice. Defendants receive free interpretation as necessary starting with their first court appearance through all appeals. Indigent defendants are entitled to a lawyer provided by the state in criminal and civil cases; however, this sometimes does not occur due to an insufficient number of public defenders, insufficient state funds to pay private lawyers to represent indigent defendants, or because the state-funded Legal Aid Directorate did not accept the application for representation from a defendant. The Legal Aid Directorate provides free legal assistance to indigent defendants in criminal cases and, depending on resource availability, in civil matters.

Defendants may confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law extends these rights to all citizens. The courts provide defendants with adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right not to testify against themselves or be forced to confess guilt. Convicted individuals have the right to appeal adverse decisions.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for access to a court for lawsuits seeking damages for or cessation of human rights violations. The constitution provides for administrative procedures and judicial remedies to redress wrongs. Civil and criminal court orders were mostly well enforced.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports journalists working for state-owned media practiced self-censorship in favor of the government or the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO). SWAPO led Namibia’s independence movement and transformed into a political party when the country won its independence in 1990. SWAPO candidates have won both the presidency and a parliamentary majority in every election since independence.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense. There were several defamation cases tried at the High Court involving prominent public figures and politicians during the year. There were no reports authorities used libel or slander laws to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no confirmed reports the government monitored private online communication without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Nevertheless, in October 2020 there were confrontations between police and protesters during “shut in movement” demonstrations against sexual- and gender-based violence throughout the country. The protests began following the discovery of the remains of a 22-year-old woman who had been missing for six months. In Windhoek police and Special Reserve Force members hit peaceful demonstrators with batons and fired rubber bullets and teargas. According to authorities, protesters were “disrupting commercial businesses” and “increasingly aggressive in actions towards the officers responsible for crowd control.” Police arrested 25 youths and three journalists covering a confrontation with protesters. The arrested protesters were charged and released on bail. They decried police treatment on social media.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees.

Freedom of Movement: The government did not permit refugees to move freely within the country. Refugees were required to live at the government’s Osire refugee settlement. The government maintained strict control over public access to the settlement but provided regular, unrestricted access to UNHCR, and UNHCR’s NGO partners. The government cooperated with UNHCR to provide food, shelter, health care, water, and sanitation at the settlement. The government issued identification cards and exit permits allowing refugees to leave the settlement to travel to specified locations for defined periods.

g. Stateless Persons

Persons unregistered by the government living in tribal and traditional communities were de facto stateless. The government has citizenship policies in place and provides opportunities for these persons to register to confirm their citizenship and was taking measures to improve this process.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential and parliamentary elections take place every five years. In 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections were conducted. SWAPO candidate Hage Geingob was re-elected president with 56 percent of the vote. SWAPO candidates won 63 of the 96 elected seats – there are also eight appointed nonvoting seats – in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. Opposition parties increased their share from 19 to 33 seats. Voting proceeded in an orderly and effective manner with no reports of politically motivated violence or voter intimidation. International observers characterized the 2019 election as generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Virtually all the country’s ethnic minorities had representatives in parliament. The president is from the minority Damara ethnic group. Historic, economic, and educational disadvantages often limited participation in politics by the San and OvaHimba ethnic groups.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: There were several reported abuses similar to the following examples. On April 7, media reported that the prime minister stated the government would audit the NDF-owned August 26 Holding Company Ltd. regarding allegations of misappropriation of public funds and concealing corruption under the guise of national security. During the year the prosecutor general continued a criminal investigation into former minister of defense and veteran affairs Peter Vilho’s offshore bank account in Hong Kong. Vilho’s 12-year-old Hong Kong account coincides with an arms-deal corruption investigation into allegations a Chinese state-owned weapons company bribed him. The investigation has reportedly been stalled because of a lack of cooperation from Chinese government and Hong Kong authorities. The online newspaper The Namibian reported that Vilho called for a forensic audit of allegations of corruption “pertaining to the Ministry of Defense and Veterans Affairs/Namibian Defense Force/August 26 Holdings for the purposes of clearing my name.”

In late 2019 and early 2020, national media unearthed the “Fishrot” scandal with alleged involvement by former minister of justice Sacky Shanghala, former minister of fisheries and marine resources Bernhardt Esau, former chief executive officer of the public National Fishing Corporation of Namibia Mike Nghipunya, and seven coconspirators. They were arrested and charged with corruption, fraud, and money laundering for their alleged roles in a scheme that involved bribery in exchange for fishing rights granted to the Icelandic fishing company Samherji. Prosecutors indicted the 10 men on 42 criminal charges. Seven of the accused were in pretrial bail hearings at the High Court at year’s end.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Several domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views and were tolerant of NGO reports provided to the United Nations highlighting matters not raised by the government or pointing out misleading government statements. The Office of the Ombudsman, local human rights NGOs, and the Anti-Corruption Commission reported NamPol cooperated and assisted in human rights investigations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an autonomous ombudsman with whom government agencies cooperated. Observers considered the ombudsman effective in identifying human rights abuses but stated the office lacked an enforcement mandate or the means to correct problems.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape. The law defines rape as the commission of any sexual act under coercive circumstances. The courts tried numerous cases of rape during the year. The government generally enforced court sentences of those convicted, which ranged between five and 45 years’ imprisonment. Factors hampering rape prosecutions included limited police capacity and the withdrawal of allegations by survivors after filing charges. Survivors often withdrew charges because they received compensation from the accused; succumbed to family pressure, shame, or threats; or became discouraged by the length of time involved in prosecuting a case.

Traditional authorities may adjudicate civil claims for compensation in cases of rape, but criminal trials for rape are held in courts.

Gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence, was a widespread problem. The government and media focused national attention on gender-based violence. The president and first lady spoke out publicly against gender-based violence; the Office of the First Lady actively promoted awareness of gender-based violence and remedies in every region. In October activists protested government inaction to prevent gender-based violence. Protesters submitted a petition to the government demanding establishment of a register of convicted sexual offenders, a review of sentencing laws for conviction of sexual offenses and other gender-based violence (including murder), hastening the investigation of all reported sexual offense and gender-based violence cases, institution of armed neighborhood patrols, and an evaluation of school practices that promote survivor blaming.

The law prohibits domestic violence. Penalties for conviction of domestic violence, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, economic abuse, intimidation, harassment, and serious emotional, verbal, or psychological abuse, range from a token monetary fine for simple offenses to sentences of 10 years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both for assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

The law provides for procedural safeguards such as protection orders to protect gender-based violence survivors. When authorities received reports of domestic violence, gender-based violence protection units intervened. The gender-based violence units were staffed with police officers, social workers, legal advisors, and medical personnel trained to assist survivors of sexual assault. Some magistrates’ courts provided special courtrooms with a cubicle constructed of one-way glass and child-friendly waiting rooms to protect vulnerable witnesses from open testimony. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare operated shelters; however, due to staffing and funding shortfalls, the shelters operated only on an as-needed basis with social workers coordinating with volunteers to place survivors and provide them with food and other services.

Sexual Harassment: The law explicitly prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. By law employers must formulate a workplace sexual harassment policy, including defined remedies. Employees who leave their jobs due to sexual harassment may be entitled to legal “remedies available to an employee who has been unfairly dismissed.”

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Supply chain challenges limited access to contraceptives through the public sector. gender-based violence investigation units present at most state hospitals provided forensic examinations to survivors of sexual violence, including prompt access to medication to prevent HIV, hepatitis B, and other diseases. Emergency contraception was not available. Access to postabortion care was very limited because by law abortion may only be performed under strict medical supervision in cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in danger.

gender-based violence investigation units present at most state hospitals provided forensic examinations to survivors of sexual violence, including prompt access to medication to prevent HIV, hepatitis B, and other diseases. Emergency contraception was not available. Access to postabortion care was very limited because by law abortion may only be performed under strict medical supervision in cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in danger.

According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate was 195 per 100,000 live births. A general lack of access to effective health care, including the treatment of eclampsia, resulted in prolonged labor complications and contributed to the high rate of maternal mortality. HIV/AIDS was the leading indirect cause of maternal mortality, linked to more than 4 percent of maternal deaths. According to the UN Population Fund, the adolescent birth rate was 62 per 1,000 girls. The Ministry of Education reported that the number of schoolgirl pregnancies in 2020 increased sharply compared with the previous year.

Discrimination: Civil law prohibits gender-based discrimination, including discrimination regarding employment, divorce, education, housing, and business and property ownership. The government generally enforced the law effectively. Women experienced persistent discrimination in access to credit, salary level, owning and managing businesses, education, and housing. Some elements of customary family law provide for different treatment of women. Civil law grants maternity leave to mothers but not paternity leave to fathers. The law bases marital property solely on the domicile of the husband at the time of the marriage and sets grounds for divorce and divorce procedures differently for men and women. The law protects a widow’s right to remain on the land of her deceased husband, even if she remarries. Traditional practices in certain northern regions, however, permitted family members to confiscate the property of deceased men from their widows and children.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

By law all traditional communities participate without discrimination in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and allocation of natural resources. Nevertheless, due to their nomadic lifestyle, the San, the country’s earliest known inhabitants, were unable to exercise these rights effectively because of minimal access to education, limited economic opportunities, and their relative isolation. Some San had difficulty obtaining a government identification card because they lacked birth certificates or other identification. Without a government-issued identification card, the San could not access government social programs or register to vote. A lack of access to police, prosecutors, and courts prevented San women from reporting and seeking protection from gender-based violence.

Indigenous lands were effectively demarcated but poorly managed. Many San community members lived on conservancy (communal) lands but were unable to prevent members of larger ethnic groups from using and exploiting those lands. Some San claimed regional officials failed to remove members of other ethnic groups from San lands. An October Amnesty International report stated unequal access to health care left the San community vulnerable to tuberculosis. The government responded that the problem was not discrimination but a lack of San-speaking health-care providers.

Children

Birth Registration: The constitution provides for citizenship by birth within the country to a citizen parent or a foreign parent ordinarily resident in the country, or to those born outside the country to citizen parents; however, many persons born in the country lacked birth registration and were therefore unable to prove their citizenship. During the year single mothers registering a birth were no longer required to identify the child’s father.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem, and authorities prosecuted crimes against children, particularly rape and incest. According to the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare 2019 Violence Against Children Survey, police statistics from 2003 to 2011 revealed that 10 percent of reported homicide victims were children and approximately 32 percent of reported rape and attempted rapes were committed against both boys and girls. By law the penalties for conviction of child abuse include a substantial monetary fine, up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. There were reports of severe corporal punishment. A 2007/2008 survey found that 36 percent of children were subjected to excessive physical discipline.

Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare employed social workers throughout the country to address cases of child abuse. It conducted public-awareness campaigns aimed at preventing child abuse and publicizing services available to survivors.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits civil marriage for both boys and girls younger than age 18. There were reports of child or early marriages in rural areas.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes child pornography, trafficking of children, and the actions of both sex buyers and traffickers in cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than age 18. NGOs reported HIV/AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children engaged in commercial sex without third-party involvement due to economic hardship and lack of supportive services.

The government enforced the law; perpetrators accused of sexual exploitation of children were routinely charged and prosecuted. The penalties for con