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Chad

Executive Summary

Chad was by year’s end controlled by a 15-member transitional military council. On April 19, the National Independent Electoral Commission announced Idriss Deby won a sixth presidential term. Observers considered the April election neither free nor fair due to bans of public gatherings, abuses by security forces against the opposition, disqualification of opposition candidates, and numerous irregularities on election day.

The National Army of Chad, National Gendarmerie, Chadian National Police, Chadian National Nomadic Guard, and National Security Agency are responsible for internal security. The armed forces report to the minister delegate to the president in charge of armed forces, veterans, and war victims. The National Police, National Nomadic Guard, and a specialized gendarmerie unit (the Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees) report to the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration. The National Security Agency reports directly to the president of the Transitional Military Council. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control of the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

On April 20, President Idriss Deby died on the battlefield while confronting Libya-based rebels. Since Chad had not constituted a Senate, according to the constitution, the powers of the Senate should have devolved to the National Assembly, whose president and first vice president declined to take power. The newly established Transitional Military Council chose the former president’s son, Army General Mahamat Idriss Deby, as its president. Deby then appointed a civilian transitional government.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings; extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of the government; forced disappearance by or on behalf of the government ;torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early, and forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

There were reports that authorities sought to combat widespread impunity by prosecuting or punishing some government officials who committed human rights abuses or participated in corruption.

Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa killed numerous civilians and military personnel. At least one incident in Litri was investigated, but no prosecution had resulted as of year’s end. The political-military group Front for Change and Concord in Chad engaged in armed hostilities with armed forces in April, leading to the death of at least five troops and then president Idriss Deby.

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 the government, or its agents, committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Human rights groups credibly accused security forces of killing with impunity. The Ministry of Justice and the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) investigate allegations of security force killings.

On February 28, a standoff with government forces at the home of presidential candidate Yaya Dillo resulted in the deaths of four members of Dillo’s family (see section 1.f.).

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that at least seven individuals were killed nationwide when security forces used lethal force on demonstrators during protests against Transitional Military Council (CMT) rule on April 27 and 28 (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly). CMT President Deby said on June 27 that authorities had opened an investigation. As of December no substantive progress had become public.

In May, Mahamat Nour Ibedou, the leader of the civil society organization Chadian Convention for the Defense of Human Rights (CTDDH), said that 27 prisoners from the Libya-based Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) group had reportedly died after experiencing torture.

Boko Haram, the Nigerian militant terrorist group, and ISIS-West Africa killed numerous civilians and military personnel. In August, Reuters reported that suspected Boko Haram fighters killed 26 soldiers in a raid on Lake Chad’s Tchoukou Telia island. In September, Voice of America reported that Boko Haram killed nine persons and set fire to the village of Kadjigoroum.

In 2020, 44 suspected Boko Haram prisoners died in a gendarmerie prison cell. The CNDH assessed they died from heat, overcrowding, and lack of adequate food and water (see section 1.c., Prison Conditions). As of December the government had yet to provide a substantive update related to investigations into these deaths or make public charges against the 14 remaining detainees.

Interethnic violence resulted in deaths (see section 6).

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, and punish such acts.

The Libya-based FACT group accused government security forces of killing of its rebels, Ali Ibrahim and Wongoto Ngarial Modeste, while they were in custody. The government had not reported any investigation into the allegations at year’s end.

The family of Tom Erdimi, coleader of the Union of Resistance Forces rebel group, accused the government of being involved in his disappearance in 2020 in Egypt (see section 1.e., Bilateral Pressure).

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

The 2020 constitution and subsequent transitional charter prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishments, but human rights groups, the Les Transformateurs opposition party, and a group of lawyers led by Midaye Guerimbaye and Kemneloum Delphine credibly accused security forces of engaging in torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

On April 4, Niger’s National Human Rights Commission and the G5 Sahel Joint Force affirmed that Chadian soldiers engaged in the fight against jihadists in the Sahel were responsible for the rape of several women in Tera in the Tillaberi Region. One was allegedly a girl age 11. Authorities arrested two soldiers suspected of the crime and sent the two individuals to N’Djamena for further investigation.

In late April and May, HRW reported that security forces arrested more than 700 opposition protesters, several of whom reported mistreatment, including torture, in detention. HRW detailed police beatings of numerous protesters and other forms of mistreatment, including pouring urine into the cell of a detainee. Any steps to hold the perpetrators accountable remained unknown at year’s end.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces due to corruption, poor discipline, and general impunity for wrongdoers able to leverage basic political connections. Institutions that investigated abuses included the Ministry of Justice and the CNDH. Authorities offered training in human rights to its security forces through international partners, such as the United Nations and individual countries. The International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) stated in its 2020 annual report, the latest available, that the national army took steps to strengthen the integration of international humanitarian law principles into its doctrine, training, and operations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 41 prisons were harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Such conditions presented major problems for juveniles or persons with disabilities. In addition to official prisons, there were reports that the National Security Agency held prisoners in unofficial detention centers.

Physical Conditions: Regional prisons were in states of disrepair, overcrowded, and without adequate protection for women and juveniles. While the government constructed some new facilities in the past decade, major increases in the prison population meant that overcrowding continued to be a problem. Authorities did not separate juveniles from adult male prisoners and sometimes held children with their inmate mothers. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners and did not always separate male and female prisoners. Prison guards, who were not regularly paid, sometimes released prisoners if bribed.

No estimate of deaths in prisons or detention centers was available. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the ICRC reported potable water, food, sanitation, and health care were inadequate. Provisions for heating, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate or nonexistent. Inmates were vulnerable to diseases such as tuberculosis, COVID-19, and malaria. The law stipulates a doctor must visit each prison three times a week, but authorities did not permit this level of access. In some cases authorities denied detainees visits from doctors. The few prisons that had doctors lacked medical supplies. Detainees frequently relied upon family members for food, soap, medicine, and other supplies.

In its Freedom in the World 2021 report, Freedom House stated, “Opposition activists risk arrest and severe mistreatment while in detention.”

Administration: Authorities did not investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. There was no mechanism for prisoners to submit complaints. There was no data available on prisoner access to the requirements of religious observance or practice. In April and May local human rights organizations reported that authorities sometimes did not allow prisoners and detainees access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted the ICRC to visit prisons, and the ICRC conducted such visits. In the first half of the year, the ICRC visited detainees in five places of detention – collectively holding approximately 4,195 persons – to check on their treatment and living conditions. According to its 2020 annual report, the latest available, the ICRC reported that at least four detention facilities lacked budgetary and human resources and experienced “systemic issues” in prison administration. The CNDH also conducted visits to detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The law does not provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Although the law requires a judge to sign and issue arrest warrants before arrests may take place, this did not always occur. By law detainees must be charged within 48 hours or released, unless the procureur (investigating magistrate) authorizes an extension of detention for investigative purposes. Nevertheless, authorities often did not make judicial determinations promptly. The law allows for bail and access to counsel, but there were cases in which authorities provided neither. While the law provides for legal counsel for indigent defendants and prompt access to family members, this rarely occurred, according to legal observers. Authorities occasionally held detainees incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to local media, security forces arbitrarily arrested journalists, demonstrators, critics of the government, and other individuals. Freedom House reported, “Security forces routinely ignore constitutional protections regarding search, seizure, and detention. Detained persons may be denied access to lawyers, notably those detained in connection with their involvement in antigovernment protests or activities. Many people suspected of committing crimes are held for lengthy periods without charge.”

Following demonstrations in N’Djamena in February and March, HRW reported that security forces arbitrarily arrested at least 112 opposition party members and supporters and civil society activists.

The ICRC followed up on allegations of arrest; through its efforts, 17 individuals were in prisons, and their families were informed of their detention. The group also helped authorities in some prisons to maintain registries and reminded them of their responsibility to notify families of their detained relative’s arrest, transfer, release, or death.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, despite the minister of justice having visited prisons generally suspected of long pretrial detention occurrences early in the year and requested that they speed up justice. According to justice activists, in 2018 at least 20 to 25 percent of inmates were in long-term pretrial detention. According to a Ministry of Justice official, authorities sometimes held detainees without charge for years, particularly for felonies allegedly committed in the provinces, because the court system only had the capacity to try criminal cases in the capital. The length of detention sometimes equaled or exceeded the possible sentence for the alleged crime. Lengthy pretrial detention was exacerbated by an overworked judiciary susceptible to corruption. There were reports officials held detainees in police cells or in secret detention facilities.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law does not provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, or to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was overburdened, corrupt, and subject to executive interference. According to representatives of the bar association, members of the judiciary were not always impartial in civil matters, sometimes received death threats, or were demoted for not acquiescing to pressure from officials or otherwise coerced into manipulating decisions. Government personnel, particularly members of the military, often were able to avoid prosecution. Courts were generally weak and in some areas, nonexistent. Authorities did not always respect court orders. According to local media and civil society organizations, members of the Judicial Police, an office within the Ministry of Justice with arrest authority, did not always enforce domestic court orders against military personnel or members of their own ethnic groups.

A judicial oversight commission known as Inspection Generale du Ministere de la Justice (Inspector General of the Ministry of Justice) has the power to investigate judicial decisions and address suspected injustices. The CMT president appointed 11 members to the body in December, increasing executive control of the judiciary.

The constitution provides for a military court system composed of the Military Court and the High Military Court, which acts as an appellate court. There were no reports the government utilized the military court system for anyone other than members of defense and security forces. A military judicial authority also investigates some crimes.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not always enforce this right.

The law provides for a presumption of innocence, and for fair, timely, and public trials. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and to be provided free interpretation. According to local media, however, these rights were seldom respected. Only criminal trials used juries, but not in politically sensitive cases. While defendants have the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner, this did not always occur. By law indigent persons have the right to legal counsel at public expense in all cases, although according to legal experts this seldom occurred. Human rights groups sometimes provided free counsel to indigent clients. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and to be present at their trial. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but the government did not always respect these rights, according to lawyers. Defendants have the right to appeal court decisions.

The constitution recognizes local customary law in places where it is long established, provided it does not interfere with public order or constitutional provisions for equality of citizens. Courts tended to blend the French legal code with traditional practices. Local customs often superseded the law. Residents of rural areas and refugee and internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps often lacked access to formal judicial institutions, and legal reference texts were unavailable outside the capital or in Arabic. In minor civil cases, the population often relied on traditional courts presided over by village chiefs, canton chiefs, or sultans. Penalties in traditional courts sometimes depended on the clan affiliations of the victim and perpetrator. Decisions of traditional courts may be appealed to a formal court.

In some areas growing Islamic legal tradition influenced local practice and sometimes influenced legal interpretation. For example, local leaders may apply the Islamic concept of diya, which involves a payment to the family of a crime victim by the perpetrator or the perpetrator’s family, a common practice in Muslim areas. Non-Muslim groups challenged the practice, asserting it was unconstitutional. In 2019 the government issued an interministerial order regulating the practice of diya, with the criminal code taking precedence in any conflict with diya practices. On October 15, religious leaders and traditional chiefs signed an agreement establishing the practice in the Christian-majority southern province of Mandoul, defining suggested compensation amounts, including for accidental and intentional deaths. The governor’s attendance at the accord’s signing lent tacit local government acceptance to the change. On October 22, the central government annulled this agreement, following criticism from the legal community.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The most recent estimate of the number of political prisoners was from 2018; at that time the NGO Citizen Action for the Integral Application of Amnesty in Chad assessed there were at least 72 political detainees. Citizen Action was unable to conduct a more recent study. Human rights organizations were not allowed access to these detainees.

On February 18, the criminal court sentenced human rights defender and president of the Chadian Organization for Human Rights, Baradine Berdei Targuio, to a fine and three years in prison for “breach of the constitutional order.” This followed seven months in incommunicado detention by the National Security Agency after being charged in August 2020 with breach of national security, illegal possession of weapons, assault, and battery. Media reported that two days prior to his arrest, Targuio made Facebook posts regarding the health of the president. Targuio was reportedly released from prison on June 10.

Media suggested the September 2020 arrest of former oil minister Djerassem Le Bemadjiel was politically motivated because of his ties to an opposition party (see section 4). On March 9, the Supreme Court released Le Bemadjiel but did not dismiss the charges. According to his lawyer, “After this provisional release by the Supreme Court, the case will be transferred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for the final indictments.” There were no updates to his case at year’s end.

Amnesty: On November 29, the CMT announced an amnesty for 296 rebels and political dissidents, including 39 individuals convicted of “harming state integrity or crimes of opinion,” according to international press reports.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Bilateral Pressure: There were credible reports the government attempted to exert politically motivated pressure on Egypt in 2020. The International Crisis Group reported that the family of Tom Erdimi, coleader of the Union of Resistance Forces rebel group, accused Egyptian authorities of having arrested Erdimi in 2020 at the request of the Chadian government. The Chadian government, in response to the case, maintained that citizens arrested abroad are not the direct responsibility of the government.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Lawsuits for human rights abuses may be brought before a criminal court, but compensation is addressed by a civil court. Administrative and judicial remedies, such as mediation, are available. Individuals may also submit cases to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

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

Although the constitution provides for the right to privacy and inviolability of the home, the government did not always respect these rights. It was common practice for authorities to enter homes without judicial authorization and seize private property without due process. There were reports authorities blocked or filtered websites and social media platforms. There were also reports authorities punished family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives.

On February 28, a standoff between government forces and opposition politician and former rebel Yaya Dillo at his residence in N’Djamena resulted in several deaths. The day before, one day after Dillo presented his candidacy for president to the Supreme Court, the government sent judicial police to arrest Dillo pursuant to two charges: defamation against First Lady Hinda Deby and appropriation of three government vehicles issued during his tenure as Central African Economic and Monetary Community resident representative in the country. Dillo allegedly resisted arrest, prompting security forces to return at dawn on February 28. Dillo told Radio France International that members of the presidential guard, led by President Deby’s son Mahamat Deby, attempted forced entry, resulting in a shootout that allegedly killed five members of his family, including his mother. On March 1, Foreign Minister Amine Abba Siddick and international media asserted that Dillo fled his residence the afternoon of February 28. Following President Deby’s death on April 20, the government allowed Dillo to return to the country without further threat of arrest.

A government decree prohibits possession and use of satellite telephones. During politically sensitive times, the government routinely blocked popular messaging applications, such as WhatsApp.

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, but the government severely restricted this right. According to Freedom House, authorities used threats and prosecutions to curb freedom of expression for members of the press and other media.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines. Space for open and free private discussion existed but tended to be self-censored due to fear of reprisal from the state.

During an October search of the opposition Les Transformateurs party headquarters, security forces seized a Chadian national flag flying within the premises, despite no law prohibiting flying of the flag.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and attempted to express a variety of views; however, authorities placed severe restrictions on them. The government subsidized Le Progres – the only daily newspaper – and owned the biweekly newspaper L’Info. Government and opposition newspapers had limited readership outside the capital due to low literacy rates and lack of distribution in rural areas.

Radio remained a critical source of information throughout the country. The government owned the Chadian National Radio station. Private stations faced high licensing fees. The number of community radio stations that operated outside of government control continued to grow, and radio call-in programs broadcast views of callers that included criticism of the government.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities reportedly harassed, threatened, arrested, and assaulted journalists for critical reporting regarding the government. Local media reported that journalists regularly faced arrest after publication of such reporting. Most were released quickly, but others were held in detention for weeks or months, and some severely mistreated, particularly when articles alleged government officials acted with impunity or criticized former president Deby or his associates. Journalists, as well as human rights defenders, reported being the victims of threats, harassment, and intimidation by anonymous individuals.

Local print and online news reported that on October 6, the governor of Tibesti Province physically assaulted a news cameraman, alleging that the cameraman lacked appropriate documentation required for access to Tibesti. The status of any investigation or accountability measures remained unclear.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published reports counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets. According to Freedom House, private radio stations faced threat of closure for coverage critical of the government. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship due to concerns regarding intimidation and arrest.

A member of the Union of Chadian Journalists said several newspapers suspended in 2020 were reauthorized in mid-January, but details regarding the number and names of these newspapers could not be obtained.

In February 2020 as it typically does in each election, the High Authority for Media and Broadcasting released a decree suspending all political programming on public and private networks until the April 2021 election. As rationale, officials cited a desire to maintain stability, noting networks lacked the technical and human resources to assure equitable network coverage for all political parties during a “sensitive” electoral period. Nevertheless, throughout the electoral period, state-owned radio and television outlets continued regularly broadcasting content in support of the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) party.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are misdemeanors punishable by fines. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of authorities having arrested or detained persons on charges of defamation. During the year there were no reports of government or individual public figures using libel or slander laws to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet in many ways. It directly censored online content, such as Facebook; occasionally blocked sites and popular messaging applications, such as WhatsApp; and arrested activists for postings on social media. There was widespread speculation that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The government cut internet service on both national mobile providers, Airtel and Moov (formerly Tigo), on a few occasions during the year. Service was restored after a brief suspension following the raid on presidential candidate Yaya Dillo’s home in February (see section 1.f.). In contrast to previous years, the government did not restrict network access during the electoral period.

Breaking from previous practices, the government did not restrict social media and internet access during demonstrations occurring in August and September but did restrict access during two demonstrations in early October.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

While no government restrictions on academic freedom are known to exist, self-censorship frequently curtailed genuine expression in academic environments. The government banned large gatherings, including cultural events, during a COVID-19 curfew, which was in effect from May 2020 to January.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution and transitional charter provides for freedom of peaceful assembly “under conditions fixed by the law,” the government did not always respect this right.

The government regularly dictated the locations of opposition protests and civil society gatherings to limit their base of popular support. Authorities routinely banned gatherings and arrested organizers, and security forces used excessive force against demonstrators. The law requires organizers to notify the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration five days in advance of demonstrations, although groups that provided advance notice did not always receive permission to assemble. The law also requires opposition political parties to meet complicated registration requirements for party gatherings.

Despite a blanket ban on all demonstrations from 2016 until July, a significant protest against CMT rule occurred on April 27, one week after the public announcement of President Idriss Deby’s death. Protests against CMT rule and deviation from the constitution occurred in N’Djamena and several southern provincial capitals. Protesters in N’Djamena burned tires in multiple neighborhoods. Amnesty International reported that the protests “resulted in the deaths of at least five people, according to authorities. Many other people were also injured and arrested.” There were allegations security forces used lethal force against demonstrators. Prosecutor General Youssouf Tom announced that 711 protesters were arrested. Security forces held many in police custody for up to a week without a judicial hearing (see section 1.c.). Several local attorneys, a human rights organization, and a radio station reported that the demonstrators were all detained beyond the legal period of custody and did not have access to their lawyers or to doctors. Several national and international journalists were arrested during the protests, some of whom suffered intimidation while others had their images and videos deleted and their devices confiscated.

Beginning in July the government lifted the ban and authorized several protests and peaceful demonstrations, including those opposed to the ruling CMT.

On October 2, security forces dispersed a planned demonstration by the opposition coalition Wakit Tama before it began, due to the group planning to use a different route than was authorized by the government. HRW reported that state security forces injured 40 to 45 demonstrators, arrested several others, and used teargas canisters and rubber bullets against protesters. On October 4, Communications Minister Abdraman Khoulamallah said on state television that 12 members of the security forces were injured and 12 of their vehicles damaged by stones thrown by protesters. Police leadership, including police spokesperson, Paul Manga, denied claims that lethal weapons were used.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government on occasion did not respect this right. While the law requires the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration to provide prior authorization before an association, including a labor union, may be formed, there were no reports of the state enforcing the law. The law also allows for the immediate administrative dissolution of an association and permits authorities to monitor association funds. In 2018 authorities modified the regulation on NGOs to exert greater control over development and humanitarian activities, requiring and enforcing a provision that each NGO contribute 1 percent of its budget to the “functioning of the structures of the Ministry of Planning.” Following pushback from NGOs, the government discontinued enforcement of this provision.

Authorities denied recognition to some opposition political groups (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation).

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

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government occasionally limited these rights.

In-country Movement: Lack of security in the east, primarily due to armed banditry, occasionally hindered the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide services to refugees. In Lake Chad Province, government military operations and attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa constrained the ability of humanitarian organizations to aid IDPs.

Citing security reasons, authorities enacted a daily curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. from April 20, 2021 to April 21, 2021, and from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. from April 21 until May 2, 2021. The government also implemented a COVID-19-based curfew, which it renewed every two weeks, from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. starting on April 2, 2020, and ending on March 10.

Foreign Travel: Citing COVID-19 considerations, the government closed the country’s only international airport, Hassan Djamous International Airport, from March 18, 2020, to August 1, 2020. It also closed the airport, along with the borders with Cameroon, Nigeria, Sudan, and Libya for one day following the death of then president Idriss Deby in April.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

According to the International Organization for Migration, in September more than 457,000 persons were internally displaced in Lake Chad Province in the west. Attacks by armed nonstate groups, including Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, were responsible for most internal displacement in the province. There were also approximately 90,000 displaced citizens who returned from the Central African Republic (CAR) in the south as of September due to attacks by nonstate armed groups in intercommunal tensions in CAR.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with 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.

UNHCR confirmed reports that on August 15, violent intercommunal clashes in Cameroon between Shuwa Arab herders and Mousgoum fishermen concerning agricultural, fisheries, and pastoral resources resulted in the death of 45 individuals and a significant displacement of civilian population into the country. UNHCR estimated 11,000 persons fled from Cameroon to the country, with women and children accounting for more than 90 percent of the incoming refugees. UNHCR reported that communal clashes in December led to an estimated 50,000 additional refugees crossing over the border from Cameroon.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum or refugee status. In December 2020 the country adopted its first-ever asylum law to provide refugees and asylum seekers freedom of movement, the right to work, and access to health care, education, and justice. Implementation of the law was underway, but refugees were reportedly able to access identification documents and work permits.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Within refugee camps, like much of the country, authorities rarely prosecuted perpetrators of sexual violence. survivors often chose not to report sexual crimes. The judicial system did not provide consistent and predictable recourse or legal protection. To overcome these problems, UNHCR enlisted a local NGO to support refugees through the judicial process. The Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees was unable to provide humanitarian escorts consistently but was generally effective in providing protection inside refugee camps.

Durable Solutions: COVID-19 continued to affect the ability of authorities to resettle refugees. As durable solutions became more difficult to achieve, UNHCR explored helping refugees secure protection by receiving admission to third countries.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens with the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government limited this right. The executive branch dominated the other branches of government.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The March 11-April 9 presidential election campaign culminated in elections on April 11. The political opposition had a highly limited space to operate in both before and during the election. Amnesty International reported pretrial detentions, systematic bans on gatherings, and attempts to prevent the free exchange of information leading up to the election.

In the leadup to the election, the government disallowed the candidacies of two major opposition figures, Yaya Dillo, citing an improper birth certificate, and Succes Masra, for his not having met the required minimum candidate age of 40 and the lack of government recognition of his political party. Other candidates, citing unfair government behavior in favor of President Deby, voluntarily announced their withdrawal from the electoral process prior to the March 9 deadline for the publication of the final presidential candidate list by the Supreme Court. These voluntary withdrawals included Brice Mbaimon Guedmabye, Ngarledjy Yorongar, Mahamat Yosko, and Saleh Kebzabo. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court retained three of these candidates on the election day ballot, which some perceived as an effort to disperse the accumulation of votes behind any single opposition candidate.

Analysts viewed many of the remaining candidates as tacit supporters of Deby. Election observers reported low voter turnout and an overwhelming presence of ruling MPS party observers on election day. Election observers reported multiple irregularities, including improperly secured ballot boxes, polling sites in private spaces in violation of the law, voting authorities improperly accompanying some voters, poor staffing coverage by the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), campaigning within or near polling stations, police and military giving voters instructions on voting, missing voter registration lists, duplicate voting, underage voting, and improper transport of ballot boxes.

On April 19, the CENI announced Idriss Deby won the election with 79 percent of the vote. The sitting transitional government Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke finished second with 10 percent of the vote. The CENI announced high turnout of 65 percent, although opposition figure Saleh Kebzabo took credit in media reports for his part in suppressing turnout by encouraging a boycott.

On the next day, President Idriss Deby died on the battlefield while commanding an army unit against Libya-based rebels advancing toward N’Djamena. Shortly after Deby’s death, a 15-member CMT established itself, dissolved the country’s constitution, and issued a transitional charter that outlined an 18-month mandate and transition back to a democratically elected civilian-led government.

Under the 2020 constitution, the Senate president stood to take charge of the country, with the Senate vice president standing next in line. The Senate, however, had not yet been constituted when Deby died. In this scenario, the constitution provided that the powers of the Senate should have devolved to the National Assembly. The CMT offered the presidency to the president of the National Assembly, who declined. The first vice president also declined. The CMT thus named Deby’s son, army general Mahamat Idriss Deby as CMT president and the de facto leader of the country.

On April 26, CMT President Deby appointed a civilian transitional government led by Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke and a cabinet of ministers, but the transitional charter grants the CMT president the authority to dissolve the transitional government, which exists to “guide and execute the nation’s policy defined by the CMT.”

The transitional charter as of year’s end guided the country’s transition toward elections of a civilian leader in late 2022. In September, CMT President Deby appointed by presidential decree a transitional parliament, the National Transitional Council, composed of a majority loyal to the powerful MPS, to replace the National Assembly. The government began planning for a national dialogue, new constitution, and elections in 2022.

The most recent legislative elections took place in 2011, during which the ruling MPS won 118 of the National Assembly’s 188 seats. Subsequent legislative elections were repeatedly postponed for lack of financing or planning.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were 138 registered political parties, of which more than 100 were associated with the dominant MPS party. Changes to the law in 2018 complicated and increased the cost of party registration, outreach, and participation procedures. Opposition leaders attributed the changes to the government’s attempt to limit dissent. The government severely restricted opposition protests and suspended all political programming on public and private networks until the April elections (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).

Numerous laws disadvantage full political participation by citizens holding political views or allegiances out of alignment with the dominant MPS party. For example, opposition parties are legally barred from ownership of media outlets. The government enacted age limits on leadership of political parties, which many viewed as an effort to disqualify certain key opposition leaders. The dominant MPS party owned and enjoyed state-funded political programming on state-owned television and radio stations, which many saw as granting it an unfair political advantage in a country where television and radio comprised the most effective public outreach tools. Others criticized the MPS party as leading the unfair drawing of voter districts in ways that directly benefitted the MPS. Officials affiliated with the MPS often used official vehicles for political campaigning, and there were reports that government employees were pressured to close their offices during campaign season to support MPS campaigning. Active membership in the MPS often conferred advantages for those wishing to hold high-level government positions. In addition, the MPS-led central government faced accusations of having appointed local and traditional chiefs in a way that rewarded allegiance to the MPS rather than respecting the traditional transmission of power via birth.

After previously refusing registration on administrative grounds, on June 8, the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization signed the decree granting the opposition party Les Transformateurs the permission to operate.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Political disenfranchisement in the country is typically de facto, rather than de jure.

The law mandates that leadership of all political parties must be at least 30 percent women. Women’s political participation, however, was limited by many factors, including lack of access to economic resources and cultural norms that discourage their participation in public and professional life. The law also requires a minimum of 30 percent women in government institutions and elective offices. In April, Beassemda Lydie was the first woman to run for president, placing third. Women also received appointments to the transitional parliament and the National Transitional Council, although observers noted that many were relatives of powerful men, casting doubt on their autonomy. While women comprised 33 percent of the council, there were no female members, despite several high-ranking potential women candidates in security institutions.

Government authorities often awarded political positions and formed alliances based largely on tribal and ethnic affiliations. Political parties and groups generally had readily identifiable regional or ethnic bases. Northerners, particularly members of the CMT president’s Zaghawa ethnic group, were overrepresented in key institutions, including the military officer corps, elite military units, and presidential staff.

Widespread social discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals resulted in all but a tiny percentage choosing to live closeted for personal safety and to enjoy fuller social and political rights. Those choosing to live openly, at great personal risk, were often denied the opportunity to register to vote, which observers noted appeared to contravene the constitution, which affirms that suffrage is universal.

Persons with disabilities, while generally able to vote, faced major hurdles in achieving full political participation. Likewise, some laws prohibited persons with disabilities from serving in elected office. Observers noted these laws appeared in contravention of the constitutional right of all persons to work. In addition, the constitution mandates “good physical and mental health” for presidential candidacy, a provision many observers believed disallowed persons with disabilities from serving as president.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but authorities did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

According to Freedom House’s Freedom in The World 2021 report, corruption, bribery, and nepotism were “endemic” in the country, and prominent journalists, labor leaders, and religious figures faced harsh reprisals for speaking out concerning corruption, including arrest, prosecution, and exile.

Corruption: Freedom House reported that selective prosecutions of high-level officials were widely viewed as efforts to discredit those posing a threat to the former president or his allies. Judicial corruption hindered effective law enforcement and rule of law. Security forces routinely stopped citizens on pretexts of minor traffic violations to extort money or confiscate goods.

While widespread, corruption was most pervasive in government procurement, the awarding of licenses or concessions, dispute settlement, regulation enforcement, customs, and taxation. While the investigation by international journalists continued in December, the October publication of the leaked “Pandora Papers” tax documents implicated Zakaria Deby Itno, a son of former president Idriss Deby and ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, in having owned shares in a Seychelles-based company along with a known arms dealer.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were sometimes cooperative and responsive to their views.

In August 2020 a court approved a request by a former member of the CTDDH to suspend Mahamat Nour Ibedou from his position as head of the organization. In December 2020 a new CTDDH general assembly was installed despite protests by sitting members of procedural violations. Observers believed the former member lacked standing to bring any legal action, the new general assembly lacked legitimacy, and authorities supported these actions to lessen the stature and capability of the CTDDH to investigate human rights problems. In May the Court of Appeals cancelled the order that suspended Ibedou from his post.

In late April and early May the headquarters of the Chadian League of Human Rights was encircled by police and military forces, preventing staff from entering their offices. These acts were denounced by the Observatory of International Federation of Human Rights.

Government Human Rights Bodies: To show solidarity with the human rights community, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights cosponsored, made remarks at, and attended conferences, training sessions, and launches of campaigns officially hosted by local and international NGOs aimed at protecting human rights. Local NGOs reported the ministry functioned independently yet was of limited effectiveness, due partially to conflicts of interest with state security forces.

In February 2020 the CNDH became operational. The commission’s mandate is to advise the government on human rights, conduct investigations, assess prison conditions, verify adequate protection against abuse and torture of prisoners, and provide recommendations to the government following investigations. Observers considered the CNDH to be substantially independent of the government and relatively effective.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is punishable by eight to 30 years in prison. Nevertheless, rape – including rape of female refugees – was a problem. The law does not specifically address spousal rape, the gender of victims, or domestic violence. Police often detained alleged perpetrators, but rape cases were rarely tried. Authorities fined and released most rape suspects, according to local media. Communities sometimes compelled rape survivors to marry their attackers.

Although the law prohibits violence against women, gender-based violence was widespread. Police rarely intervened, and women had limited legal recourse. On June 21, the Chadian League for Women’s Rights and other women’s associations demonstrated in N’Djamena against rape and all forms of violence faced by women.

During the year the Ministry of Women, Family, and Childhood Protection worked to address gender-based violence. The ministry helped organize events against gender-based violence at universities and seminars throughout the country, and on November 25, it launched a 16-day campaign against the abuse. In December the ministry also inaugurated two hospital-based centers to address the psychosocial, medical, and social reintegration needs of survivors of gender-based violence. The ministry also took an active role in advocating for an update to the National Gender Strategy and held an event in December in support of this effort. The ministry had a leadership role in advocating for women’s rights via the G5 Sahel.

During the year local newspapers began reporting what many perceived as an increase in cases of gender-based violence. For example, on September 27, a man killed his former wife in southeastern Sila Province. In response, on September 29, CMT President Mahamat Deby responded to the wave of gender-based violence, assuring that “these abject acts, contrary to our habits and customs, will not go unpunished.” The government did not provide further information on investigations or prosecutions following the September 29 announcement.

On April 4, Niger’s National Human Rights Commission and the G5 Sahel Joint Force affirmed that Chadian soldiers engaged in the fight against jihadists in the Sahel were responsible for the rapes of several women (see section 1.c.).

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for girls and women, but the practice remained widespread, particularly in rural areas. According to 2019 data from UNICEF, the latest available, approximately 29 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 were survivors of FGM/C. The Ministry of Women and Early Childhood Protection is responsible for coordinating activities to combat FGM/C. By law FGM/C may be prosecuted as a form of assault, and charges may be brought against the parents of survivors, medical practitioners, or others involved. Nevertheless, lack of specific penalties hindered prosecution, and authorities prosecuted no cases during the year.

NGOs cited enduring local social norms and limited federal authority in rural areas as major impediments to progress. Observers denounced ineffective local officers and ministry officials, saying that despite local NGO efforts, such initiatives would not gain traction without government action. Observers reported that FGM/C continued to have the tacit support of local leaders and had become increasingly common over the past year, with impunity and political influence hindering its eradication.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment, both verbal and physical, was widespread at all levels of society and typically targeted women. The law provides penalties for sexual harassment ranging from six months to three years in prison and fines. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

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

Many persons lacked access to reproductive information or care, particularly in rural areas. Obstacles to contraception use included the lack of education, the limited supply of contraceptive products, and cultural paradigms. The government provided some contraception products for free to the public through NGOs. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated only 24 percent of live births were attended by skilled health personnel between 2014 and 2019. The country had a severe shortage of health-care providers, including nurses, midwives, hospital staff, and specialists, such as obstetricians. Prenatal care remained limited, particularly in rural areas. The government provided limited access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence due to capacity constraints. Emergency contraception was officially unavailable, including as part of the clinical management of rape.

UNFPA estimated that in 2017, the latest data available, the maternal mortality rate was 1,140 deaths per 100,000 live births. Factors contributing to maternal mortality included adolescent pregnancies, multiple closely spaced births, and lack of access to medical care.

UNICEF reported in 2013, the latest available, the adolescent birth rate was 179 per 1,000 adolescent women ages 15 to 19. The country’s high adolescent birth rate was partially attributed to conservative cultural practices, traditional gender norms in both urban and rural areas, lack of birth control, and lack of access to family planning services.

Adolescent women reported barriers to access education due to menstruation or childbirth (see the Discrimination subsection for additional information). Peers and community members often shamed female students who become pregnant while studying, and some schools did not permit their attendance.

Discrimination: Although property and inheritance laws provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, the government did not enforce the laws effectively. Inheritance, property, and housing practices frequently discriminated against women due to cultural and religious elements present in many communities. Women often could not inherit property from their father or husband. Additionally, local leaders settled most inheritance disputes in favor of men, according to traditional practice. Women seeking to rent a house often had to prove they were married, while men were able often to rent without a similar burden. Women requesting divorce from men often faced a process that took three times as long as men asking for the same. While access to financial resources typically benefited men in child custody cases, some courts granted child custody to economically disadvantaged women who demonstrated a better ability to care for children over better-resourced men.

Women who did not enjoy access to the same resources as men often struggled to qualify for credit based on one’s resources. Female entrepreneurs reported perceptions of slowness of administrative paperwork approval relative to male peers. Female entrepreneurs also pointed to a lack of understanding of their needs, since longstanding gender norms had also filled the ranks of local administrators with a male-heavy decision chain. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations deemed dangerous, including mining, construction, and factories.

In some ethnic groups, when a woman menstruated she was not permitted to prepare food for men to eat because she was considered “unclean.” Some religious groups prohibited a woman from praying during her menstrual period.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Both the constitution and transitional charter provide for the protection of “fundamental rights and freedoms” for all citizens and for legal equality regardless of race, origin, or religion. Members of the Zaghawa, the former president’s ethnic group, occupied a disproportionate share of civilian and military posts, creating imbalances in access to opportunity and enforcement of laws guaranteeing equal protection for all.

Indigenous Peoples

The Mbororo, a subgroup of the pastoral Fulani (Peul) people, are pastoralists who inhabit the central and southern part of the country but lacked official government recognition as an indigenous ethnic group. They constituted approximately 10 percent of the population, according to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. A 2014 pastoral law limits access to transhumance (seasonal livestock grazing movements) and water resources on which Mbororo pastoralists depended, contributing to their social marginalization.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth within the country’s territory or from at least one parent. The registration process for male and female individuals was the same. Failure to register a birth via official channels, common in rural areas with low government presence, often resulted in later complications accessing government services and, sometimes, fines upon registration.

Education: Although primary education is tuition free, universal, and compulsory between ages six and 16, parents were required to pay for textbooks, except in some rural areas. Parents often were required to pay tuition for public secondary education. According to a UNESCO Institute for Statistics 2019 report, approximately 65 percent of girls enrolled in primary school, compared with 82 percent of boys. Similar gender disparities persisted through secondary school, where approximately 13 percent of girls enrolled, compared with 23 percent of boys.

An obstacle to education cited by human rights organizations was the problem of the mouhadjirin, migrant children who attended certain Islamic schools and whose teachers forced them to beg for food and money. There was no reliable estimate of the number of mouhadjirin.

Individuals with family and kinship ties to ruling elites from the Zaghawa ethnic group enjoyed disproportionate access to educational opportunities.

Medical Care: All children enjoy equal access to medical care before the law, but stigmatization of young pregnancies often dissuaded young women from seeking prenatal and other related care.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 for men and women. According to UNICEF’s 2019 data, approximately 24 percent of women ages 20 to 24 were married or in a union before age 15 and nearly 61 percent were married or in a union before age 18. The law precludes invoking the consent of the minor spouse to justify child marriage and prescribes sentences of five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines for persons convicted of perpetrating child marriage. The practice, however, was widespread, especially in northern areas where there were minimal government efforts to enforce the law and resistance from local religious leaders who condoned the practice. According to the Chadian Women Lawyers’ Association, girls sold or forced into child marriages were often forced by their husbands into domestic servitude and agricultural labor.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law specifically addresses the sale, offering, or use of children for commercial sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking. The law prohibits sexual relations with children younger than age 14, even if married, but authorities rarely enforced the ban. The law criminalizes the use or offering of a child for the production of pornography; no cases of child pornography were reported during the year. Refugee children from CAR were particularly vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation.

In May, three men were jailed on suspicion of raping a girl age 15 and leaving her on the street semiconscious. The alleged perpetrators, who were believed to the sons of military generals, filmed the assault and posted the video on social media. Between 2019 and 2020, medical professionals in N’Djamena reported a sixfold upsurge in sexual assault on girls younger than age 18 toward the end of the rainy season, attributed to rising insecurity. UNICEF confirmed this increase in incidents of gender-based violence from 2019 to 2020, including physical assault, psychological violence, and denial of resources.

Displaced Children: Insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin limited the ability of humanitarian actors to understand this population more precisely. While exact figures were not available, there was no indication that the age distribution of IDPs differed systematically from the broader population distribution and therefore contained a substantial youthful portion.

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 was no known Jewish community in the country, and 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

Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings and transportation on an equal basis with others. There are no specific laws that provide for equal access to public buildings, education, health services, the judicial system, or other state services. Schools, transportation, and other public buildings were overwhelmingly inaccessible to persons with disabilities. The government did not provide government information and communication in accessible formats.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, although it does not define disability. The government did not effectively enforce the law, according to the Chadian Disability Organization. Disability rights activists reported facing discrimination in access to transportation and participation in economic activity. In November persons with disabilities protested the government prohibition on tricycles, which are more popular in the country than wheelchairs, because many persons with disabilities had relied on them to cross the land border to Cameroon and to transport goods to generate income. Government officials claimed they had sought to address smuggling with this prohibition.

Despite legal protections against discrimination in employment for persons with disabilities, laws were not enforced, and employers discriminated against applicants. In the telecommunications sector, one applicant with a physical disability advanced through a multistep hiring process but was told during the in-person interview that the company would be unable to accommodate him and was subsequently not offered the position. Additionally, some government schools or positions required certificates of physical aptitude, often refusing employment to anyone whose certificate noted any physical disability.

Children with physical disabilities may attend primary, secondary, and higher education institutions, but most schools lacked accommodations for students with physical disabilities. As a result, children with disabilities often dropped out after primary school, leading to much lower attendance at secondary and higher education institutions, compared with other children. The government supported separate schools for children with vision or mental disabilities, but such schools inadequate (see also section 3, Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups).

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law provides individuals with HIV and AIDS the same rights as other persons and requires the government to provide information, education, and access to tests and treatment for HIV and AIDS, but authorities rarely complied with the law. According to the Chadian Women Lawyers’ Association, women sometimes were accused of passing HIV to their husbands and were threatened by family members with judicial action or banishment. HIV-positive persons also faced social and employment discrimination. Due to the country’s relatively low HIV prevalence rate of 1 percent, there were no reports of specific instances of HIV and AIDS-related employment discrimination during the year. Data from UNAIDS, however, suggested stigma against HIV and AIDS was prevalent within the population, with 47 percent of adults saying they would not buy fresh vegetables from a vendor known to have HIV or AIDS.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, with punishments ranging from three months’ to two years’ imprisonment and fines. The government did not actively enforce the law, but there were reports of police harassment against LGBTQI+ persons.

The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services.

LGBTQI+ persons faced steep cultural, social, and legal barriers to equal treatment and public acceptance. Many viewed same-sex sexual conduct as a sin, antithetical to local customs and African values. Acceptance of LGBTQI+ persons was minimal; many individuals hid their identity for self-protection, especially those living outside the capital. LGBTQI+ persons reported that the environment in the country was so intolerant that many of them only believed themselves comfortable publicly engaging on the topic after having made the decision to live outside of the country (see also section 3, Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of all workers, except members of the armed forces, to form and join independent unions of their choice. All unions must be authorized by the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration, which may order the dissolution of a union that does not comply with the law as determined by the ministry. The law provides for the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. While there are no restrictions on collective bargaining, the law authorizes the government to intervene under certain circumstances. The law recognizes the right to strike but restricts the right of civil servants and employees of state enterprises to do so. The law requires a 72-hour notification before a strike. By law civil servants and employees of state enterprises must complete a mediation process before initiating a strike, but there is no specified timeline for this process. Civil servants who engage in strikes or resign in protest may be subjected to imprisonment and forced labor. Employees of several public entities classified as essential services, including postal workers, abattoir employees, and nine more categories, must continue to provide a certain level of services and may be “requisitioned” at the government’s discretion during a strike. The law permits imprisonment with hard labor for participation in an illegal strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and explicitly covers all workers, including foreign and irregular workers. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Union members reported these protections were not always respected.

The government effectively allowed for limited freedom of association in labor relations and collective bargaining, although both were subject to delays, primarily due to administrative difficulties in convening key officials for negotiations. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

There were no reports of restrictions on collective bargaining or punishment of workers for participating in illegal strikes. More than 90 percent of employees in the formal sector belonged to unions. In the informal sector, which employed the vast majority of workers, most workers were self-employed and nonunionized, working as farmers or herders. State-owned enterprises dominated many sectors of the formal economy, and the government remained the largest employer. Unions were officially independent of both the government and political parties, although some unions were unofficially linked through members’ affiliation with political parties.

Following the June announcement that ExxonMobil would sell its assets in the country, approximately 300 employees went on strike for six weeks to demand better terms of separation upon Exxon’s departure.

Beginning in summer, the national teacher’s union went on strike, demanding unpaid compensation and calling for an improved learning environment at different universities throughout the country, including the southern city of Moundou, the eastern city of Abeche, and in the capital, N’Djamena. They also called for payment of salaries, bonuses, and overtime owed teachers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law criminalizes labor trafficking offenses, including forced labor. The Ministry of Justice’s Action Plan for 2019 Ordinance on Trafficking in Persons focused on training members of the courts, local authorities, traditional and religious leaders, members of civil society, and members of enforcement agencies.

The law criminalizes “involuntary labor” or servitude using force, fraud, or coercion, although observers noted there are gaps in the law. These penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The government engaged in forced prison labor and may legally compel political prisoners to engage in forced labor. Prison officials subjected prisoners to forced labor on private projects, separate from the penalties provided for by the legal sentence imposed on the prisoners. Human rights NGOs reported that the use of forced prison labor was common.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government did not conduct adequate inspections. There were no reports of prosecutions. Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred in the informal sector (see section 7.c.). Children and some adults in rural areas were exploited in forced labor in agriculture, industry, and services.

In coordination with the International Organization for Migration, in September the Ministry of Justice launched an interim interministerial committee to combat trafficking in persons, a problem closely related to compulsory child labor in areas where children are forced to look after livestock holdings. The committee issued standard operating procedures for the identification and referral of trafficking victims to medical care and in September conducted training sessions for security services, law enforcement, and civil society to implement the procedures. The committee began training law enforcement and judicial sector personnel immediately following the committee’s launch.

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 does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The law allows children age 16 and older to engage in some forms of hazardous work, and existing prohibitions on hazardous work do not apply to children in the informal sector. The labor code stipulates the minimum age for employment is 14. The law provides exceptions for light work in agriculture and domestic service at age 12. The legal minimum age for employment, a lack of schooling opportunities in some areas, and tribal initiation practices contributed to a general acceptance of working children if they were 14 or older, some of whom might have engaged in hazardous work. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18, but the law allows for children age 16 or older to engage in certain forms of hazardous work. The prohibition on children doing hazardous work does not apply to children in the informal sector. The minimum age for military recruitment is 18, and the minimum age for conscription is 20. The law prohibits the use of child soldiers.

The Child Protection Brigade of the National Police is responsible for enforcing criminal laws against child forced labor, commercial sexual exploitation, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and use of children in illicit activities. The brigade coordinated with the Ministry of Women, Childhood Protection, and National Solidarity; the Ministry of Public Service, Employment, and Social Dialogue; and the Ministry of Justice to enforce criminal laws against child labor and hosted detachments from all three organizations to facilitate collaboration. Child labor remained widespread, but authorities did not prosecute any cases, according to officials at the Ministry of Labor. Labor laws apply to work only in formal enterprises; there are no legal protections for children working in the informal sector. Penalties for violating child labor laws were not commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The law does not impose penalties “if the breach was the result of an error as to a child’s age, if the error was not the employer’s fault.” Police sometimes took extrajudicial action, such as arresting and detaining persons without a court warrant, against child labor offenders. Traditional leaders also sometimes meted out traditional punishments for offenses, such as ostracism, according to local human rights organizations.

While the government did not have a comprehensive plan to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, it worked with UNICEF and NGOs to increase public awareness of child labor. Efforts continued to educate parents and civil society on the dangers of child labor, particularly for child herders.

Children provided labor, often forced, in various sectors: agriculture (cultivating and harvesting crops, production of charcoal, herding livestock, fishing), industry (brick making, carpentry, gold mining), and services (domestic work, street vending, work in restaurants as servers and barmaids, garbage scavenging, begging, tailoring, auto repair). Local children were also found in forced cattle herding in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and Nigeria. Child herders often lived in substandard conditions without access to school or proper nutrition. Their parents and herders generally agreed on an informal contract for the child’s labor that included a small monthly salary and a goat after six months or a cow at the end of a year. Local NGOs reported that compensation often was not paid. According to the Chadian Women Lawyers’ Association, girls sold or forced into child marriages were often forced by their husbands into domestic servitude and agricultural labor.

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 and labor regulations prohibit employment or wage discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), age, refugee status, national origin or citizenship, or membership in a union. There are no laws preventing employment discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, or social origin. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations deemed hazardous, arduous, or “morally inappropriate” and in industries such as mining, construction, and factories. Women generally were not permitted to work at night, more than 12 hours a day, or in jobs that could present “moral or physical danger,” which is not defined.

Workers may file discrimination complaints with the Directorate of Labor Inspection, which investigates and subsequently may mediate between workers and employers. If mediation fails, the case is forwarded to the labor court for a public hearing. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. The penalties by the labor court for discrimination were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. Persons with disabilities frequently experienced employment discrimination. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on citizenship, foreign citizens often had difficulty obtaining work permits, earned lower wages, and had poor working conditions. LGBTQI+ persons and HIV-positive persons reported facing social and employment discrimination in all industries and avoided revealing their sexual orientation or status.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy, and the minimum wage was greater than the World Bank poverty rate. The law limits most employment to 39 hours per week, with overtime paid for additional hours. Agricultural work is limited to 2,400 hours per year, an average of 46 hours per week. All workers are entitled to uninterrupted rest periods of between 24 and 48 hours per week and paid annual holidays.

The Directorate of Labor Inspection of the Ministry of Labor has responsibility for the enforcement of the minimum wage and work hours, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Many persons were paid less than the minimum wage, especially in the informal sector. The Ministry of Public Works employed an insufficient number of labor inspectors to enforce the law, especially in the large artisanal gold mining sector in the north. Labor inspectors may refer cases to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights for prosecution and have the authority to make unannounced inspections. The government did not provide adequate staffing or training, which, together with corruption, impeded effective enforcement. Authorities did not always respect legal protections for foreign and irregular workers. Penalties were not commensurate with violations.

Salary arrears remained a problem for some employees, most often in the education and health-care sectors that saw multiple strikes throughout the year. Workers did not always avail themselves of their rights concerning workhour limits, largely because they preferred the additional pay. Pursuant to International Monetary Fund recommendations, the government paid some wage arrears to private-sector contractors.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law mandates occupational safety and health (OSH) standards that are up to date and appropriate for main industries, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Despite penalties existing for violation of OSH laws, enforcement often depended on the personal connections and financial resources of parties involved. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardy to their employment, but they generally did not do so. The law gives inspectors the authority to enforce the law and explicitly covers all workers, including foreign and informal workers.

The Directorate of Labor Inspection of the Ministry of Labor also has responsibility for the enforcement of the OSH standards. Multinational companies generally met the government’s acceptable OSH standards. The civil service and local private companies occasionally disregarded OSH standards, while artisanal mining in the north remained a sector with scant enforcement of labor protections for juveniles and other vulnerable workers drawn to the region by the prospect of financial gain. In June the tunnel of an informal gold mine in the country’s northern Miski region collapsed, killing 11 workers. A similar incident occurred in 2019, killing 52 workers, and accidents of smaller magnitude typically occurred several times per year. Governors and relevant ministries sent delegations in the wake of such incidents to encourage compliance with OSH regulations but failed to spur meaningful institutional reform. Local private companies and public offices often had substandard conditions, including a lack of ventilation, fire protection, and OSH protection.

Informal Sector: The World Bank reported that almost 96 percent of workers were in the informal sector, and approximately 46 percent of total workers were self-employed with no social security insurance. According to the Household Consumption and Informal Sector survey conducted by the government every five years, most male informal workers were engaged in agriculture, and more than 85 percent of the rural population engaged in crop and livestock production. Informal workers in urban areas engaged in household manufacturing, services, or trade. The country’s low population density limited market opportunities in both agriculture and nonagriculture sectors. Security conflicts in the Lake Chad region harmed informal sector livelihoods sustained by fishing and cross-border trade.

Informal workers who obtain work contracts from their employers are protected by the labor code, minimum wage law, and social security. The vast majority, however, who were self-employed and thus worked without a contract, did not benefit from wage, hour, and OSH laws and inspections. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Labor, through its Directorate of Labor Inspection, investigated claims of possible legal violations in both the formal and informal sectors. While they cannot prosecute, they can refer cases for prosecution to the labor division of the Ministry of Justice.

South Sudan

Executive Summary

The Republic of South Sudan is a republic operating under a transitional government formed according to the terms of peace agreements signed in August 2015 and September 2018. President Salva Kiir Mayardit, whose authority derives from his 2010 election as president of what was then the semiautonomous region of Southern Sudan within the Republic of Sudan, is chief of state and head of government. International observers considered the 2011 referendum on South Sudanese self-determination, in which 98 percent of voters chose to separate from Sudan, to be free and fair. Since then all government positions have been appointed rather than elected.

The South Sudan National Police Service, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The South Sudanese People’s Defense Forces are responsible for providing security throughout the country and ostensibly operate under the Ministry of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs. The Internal Security Bureau of the National Security Service, under the Ministry of National Security, has arrest authority for cases connected to national security but operated beyond its legal authority. Numerous irregular forces, including militias operated by the National Security Service and proxy forces, operated in the country with official knowledge. Civilian authorities routinely failed to maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment by security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, and ethnically based groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisal against individuals in other countries, including killings, kidnappings, or violence; serious problems with judicial independence; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including unlawful killing of civilians, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, mass forced displacement, widespread sexual and gender-based violence, and use of food as a weapon of war; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence against and intimidation and detention of journalists, closure of media houses, censorship, and site blocking; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Security force abuses occurred throughout the country. Despite isolated examples of prosecution for these crimes, impunity remained widespread. The government also failed to take steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who engaged in corruption.

Nongovernment armed groups, including the forces of peace agreement signatories and other opposition armed groups alike, perpetrated serious human rights abuses, which, according to the United Nations, included unlawful killings, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and forced recruitment of children and adults into combat and noncombat roles.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

The United Nations, international cease-fire monitors, human rights organizations, and media reported the government, or its agents, committed numerous arbitrary or unlawful killings. Security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, and ethnically based groups were responsible for widespread extrajudicial killings. The term “unknown gunmen” was often used to describe groups affiliated with the National Security Service (NSS) or other security services. The security services investigated alleged abuses by members of their respective forces, although impunity remained a problem and prosecutions infrequent.

On March 22, the EU imposed sanctions on Major General Moses Lokujo for the abduction and execution of three opposition officers and for attacking opposition forces at a training center in Central Equatoria. The UN Panel of Experts verified forces under Lokujo’s command committed serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, including extrajudicial killings, rape, and other types of gender-based violence.

There were reports of deaths from torture at NSS facilities (see section 1.c.).

On March 27, armed gunmen believed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) to be Padang Dinka militia linked to the deputy governor of Upper Nile State, fired upon a group of largely Nuer and Shilluk civilians waiting to greet the governor in Malakal. At least 12 persons died in the attack.

In July, Human Rights Watch documented summary executions of at least eight suspected criminals, including two children, as part of an anticrime campaign led by the governor of Warrap State. Between April and June, on the governor’s orders, security forces executed at least 21 persons accused of murder, theft, and other offenses. None of the victims was formally charged or brought before a court.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Human Rights Division reported 14 incidents of extrajudicial killings in Warrap State, resulting in the execution of 29 men, including boys and elderly men. State officials in Cueibet and Rumbek East counties in Lakes State ordered the arbitrary execution of 13 persons in June and July. Local officials continued to defend extrajudicial executions as a form of deterrence in the absence of rule-of-law institutions.

In February the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported government disarmament forces, consisting of several security agencies, used heavy weaponry (machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades) against civilians, killing 85, during a dispute in Tonj East County, Warrap State, in August 2020.

b. Disappearance

Security and opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government or the opposition, and ethnically based groups abducted an unknown number of persons, including women and children (see section 1.g.).

The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Remembering the Ones We Lost documented the names of 13,000 persons missing since the conflict began in 2013, many of whom were abducted or detained by security forces. In 2020 the International Committee of the Red Cross reported 5,000 persons were missing and their whereabouts unknown since the conflict began.

The government did not comply with measures to ensure accountability for disappearances.

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

Although prohibited under law, security forces mutilated, tortured, beat, and harassed political opponents, journalists, and human rights workers (see sections 2.a. and 5). Government and opposition forces, armed militia groups affiliated with both, and warring ethnic groups committed torture and abuses in conflict zones (see section 1.g.).

According to the UN Security Council Panel of Experts and several independent human rights advocates, the NSS Operations Division maintained at least three facilities where it detained, interrogated, and sometimes tortured civilians. Several detainees died because of torture or from other conditions at NSS facilities. Most NSS facilities were not publicly known. There were numerous reported abuses at NSS-run sites, including gender-based violence, beating and torture of detainees, and harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and humanitarian workers. Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and other organizations documented cases of torture and other mistreatment during arrest and while in NSS custody. Detainees described being beaten with sticks, whips, pipes, and wires; subjected to electric shocks; burned with melted plastic; raped; and subjected to other forms of sexual violence. The Panel of Experts also alleged the existence of secret, unofficial detention centers operated by the NSS. The Panel of Experts reported allegations of torture, including electrical shocks, and beatings in these sites.

Impunity within the security services remained a serious problem. Although the NSS created an internal disciplinary tribunal to conduct internal investigations of alleged abuses by its members, the results of such investigations and any disciplinary actions taken were not made public. Members of the army and police were investigated for misconduct. Civilian courts in Warrap and Western Bahr el-Ghazal States convicted two South Sudan National Police Service (SSNPS) personnel and one South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) member of conflict-related sexual violence against minors (see section 1.g.).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening. Overcrowding and inadequate medical care at times resulted in illness and death. There were reports of abuse by prison guards.

Physical Conditions: Men and women were generally held in separate areas, but male and female inmates at times mixed freely during the day due to space constraints. Due to overcrowding and a lack of facilities and staff, authorities did not always hold juveniles separately from adults and rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. Children, especially infants, often lived with their mothers in prison.

Nonviolent offenders were kept with violent offenders due to spatial constraints. There were no psychiatric treatment facilities in the country. Persons with mental disabilities, following referral by the court, family, or the community, were incarcerated and remained in detention without treatment for undetermined periods. In November local media reported one prisoner hacked two other prisoners to death.

Health care and sanitation were inadequate. Basic medical supplies and equipment were lacking. According to NGOs, prisoners received one meal per day of low nutritional value and relied on family or friends for additional food. Potable water was limited. In some locations prisoners slept in overcrowded open hallways and buildings lined with bunk beds. In August the national prison administration reported it held more than 8,400 detainees. There were no data on the capacity of prison facilities, although during the year Juba Central Prison held more than 1,900 detainees in a facility constructed for 400 persons. Ventilation and lighting were inadequate.

Malnutrition decreased in comparison with previous years, although access to adequate nutrition remained a concern. Prison authorities took remedial actions but did not implement sustainable solutions.

Local traditional or state authorities controlled some detention centers, and conditions in those centers were uniformly harsh and life threatening. Many facilities in rural areas consisted of uncovered spaces where authorities chained detainees to a wall, fence, or tree, often unsheltered from the sun. As with state-run prisons, sanitary and medical facilities were poor or nonexistent, and potable water was limited. Detainees usually spent days outdoors but slept inside in areas that lacked adequate ventilation and lighting. On November 1, an inmate serving a three-year jail term for murder in Twic County, Warrap State, killed two prisoners using an axe; prison guards subsequently shot and killed the inmate.

Conditions in SSPDF-run detention facilities were similar, and in some cases worse, with many detainees held outdoors with poor access to sanitary or medical facilities.

UNMISS maintained facilities at the Malakal Protection of Civilian (POC) site to hold internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were criminal suspects. Authorities did not intend the holding facilities to house IDPs for more than 72 hours, but they sometimes held IDP suspects longer due to delays in determining how to treat individual cases, due to the inability to reintroduce offenders into POC sites because of threats from their alleged victims, or due to the alleged threat the offender posed to the greater community. UNMISS observed prisoners daily and offered access to medical treatment. Prisoners received food twice a day. Some prisoners detained by UNMISS were subsequently turned over to the custody of the government following an individual risk assessment. UNMISS reported the number of admissions to the Malakal holding facility decreased during the year due to efforts to expedite the referral of serious security incidents to national authorities or community-based resolution mechanisms.

The NSS operated a detention facility in Juba that held civilian prisoners (see section 1.d.).

Administration: The SSNPS allowed prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of allegations of inhuman conditions. Prison authorities sometimes investigated such allegations, although they seldom acted on complaints. The SSNPS allowed prisoners access to visitors and permitted them to take part in religious observances, but NSS and SSPDF authorities were less likely to do so; prisoners in SSNPS custody, but originally arrested by the NSS or SSPDF, had limited access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: The SSNPS and National Prison Service of South Sudan permitted visits to police and prison detention facilities by independent human rights observers, including UNMISS Rule of Law and human rights officers, nongovernmental observers, international organizations, and journalists. Authorities sometimes permitted monitors to visit military detention facilities operated by the SSPDF. International monitors were denied permission to visit facilities operated by the NSS, which held both military prisoners and civilians without legal authority.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The transitional constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention without charge. The government, however, arrested and detained individuals arbitrarily. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but there were no known cases where an appellant successfully sought compensation for wrongful detention.

On September 30, the NSS detained Oxfam International’s country director Adil al-Mahi, a Sudanese national, without charges. While detained, he was without legal counsel or consular visitation. The NSS provided him with medical care, food, and water. Several days later they released and deported him without charges or explanations for the detention. From the beginning of the civil war in 2013, there were regular reports that security forces conducted arbitrary arrests, including of journalists, civil society actors, and supposed political opponents. While not legally vested with the authority, the SSPDF often arrested or detained civilians. The NSS routinely detained civilians without warrants or court orders and held detainees for long periods without charge or access to legal counsel or visitors. Security services rarely reported such arrests to police, other civilian authorities, or, in the case of foreigners arrested, diplomatic missions. NSS detainees were rarely brought before a court to be charged. Police routinely arrested civilians based on little or no evidence prior to conducting investigations and often held them for weeks or months without charge or trial.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

While the law requires police to present arrested persons before a public prosecutor, magistrate, or court within 24 hours, judges assigned to statutory courts were not always present and poor coordination with other justice actors contributed to case backlogs. Court dockets often were overwhelmed, and cases faced long delays before coming before a judge. Police may detain individuals for 24 hours without charge. A public prosecutor may authorize an extension of up to one week, and a magistrate may authorize extensions of up to two weeks. Authorities did not always inform detainees of charges against them and regularly held them past the statutory limit without explanation. Police sometimes ignored court orders to take arrested persons before the court. Police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges were often unaware of the statutory requirement that detainees appear before a judge as quickly as possible. UNMISS reported cases taking months or even years to be brought to court. In Jonglei State, UNMISS estimated more than 3,000 civil and criminal cases were pending in courts.

Police commonly conducted arrests without warrants, and warrants were often irregular, handwritten documents. Warrants were commonly drafted in the absence of investigation or evidence. There were multiple reports of arrests, including of foreigners, in civil cases, where a complainant exerted influence upon police to arrest someone as a negotiation tactic. The government routinely failed to notify embassies when detaining citizens of other countries, even when the detainee requested a consular visit.

According to Human Rights Watch, the NSS effectively operated outside the law and without proper legal authority. Detainees were held at sites not designated as detention facilities under the law. They did not conduct arrests based on warrants or court orders and routinely held detainees for long periods without charge and without access to lawyers or visitors. Detention periods lasted from hours to years.

The law allows bail, but this provision was widely unknown or ignored by authorities, and they rarely informed detainees of this possibility. Because pretrial appearances before judges often were delayed far past statutory limits, authorities rarely had the opportunity to adjudicate bail requests before trial. Those arrested had a right to an attorney, but the country had few lawyers, and detainees were rarely informed of this right. The transitional constitution mandates access to legal representation without charge for the indigent, but defendants rarely received legal assistance if they did not pay for it. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested opposition leaders, civil society activists, businesspersons, journalists, and other civilians due to possible affiliation with opposition forces. The SSPDF and NSS often abused political opponents and others they detained without charge. Ignorance of the law and proper procedures led to many arbitrary detentions. Many justice-sector actors, including police and judges, operated under a victim-centric approach that prioritized restitution and satisfaction for victims of crime, rather than following legal procedure. This approach led to many arbitrary arrests of citizens who were simply in the vicinity when crimes occurred, were of a certain ethnicity, or were relatives of suspects. For example, there were numerous reports women were detained when their husbands, accused of having unpaid debts, could not be located.

There were numerous reported arbitrary arrests or detentions. On May 5, the NSS detained civil society leader David Garang Goch after he accused Jonglei State authorities of selling food donated to flood victims. Garang was charged with defamation and released on bail.

On August 2, Kuel Aguer Kuel, the former governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, was arrested after signing a People’s Coalition for Civil Action declaration. The group’s declaration called for protests leading to a transfer of power. As of mid-November, Kuel had not been charged and remained in NSS detention, reportedly in poor health.

Also on August 2, the NSS detained two employees of the think tank the Sudd Institute in response to the People’s Coalition for Civil Action declaration. The NSS interrogated the staff concerning the institute’s managing director who signed the declaration and went into hiding. The NSS locked the offices, although the staff were released the same day. On November 19, the government reopened the institute.

In August military intelligence arrested four men, including a local bishop, in Yei, Central Equatoria. The men were accused of treason and detained without charge until late October when they were released. Reportedly after being released, one of the four wrote a Facebook post complaining about their detention. Subsequently, military intelligence summoned him, ordered him not to leave Yei, and informed him that he would be subject to surveillance for three months. Media reported that the bishop retired from his official duties in early November.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, due largely to the lack of lawyers and judges; the difficulty of locating witnesses; misunderstanding of constitutional and legal requirements by police, prosecutors, and judges; and the absence of a strong mechanism to compel witness attendance in court. The length of pretrial detention commonly equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Estimates of the number of pretrial detainees ranged from one-third to two-thirds of the prison population. The chronic lack of access to law enforcement officers and the judicial system became even more severe as armed conflict displaced officials (see section 1.g.).

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees had very little ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or magistrate, despite having the right to do so under the law.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The transitional constitution provides for an independent judiciary and recognizes customary law. The government did not generally respect judicial independence and impartiality. While the law requires the government to maintain courts at federal, state, and county levels, lack of infrastructure and trained personnel made this impossible, and few statutory courts existed below the state level. The formal justice sector remained weak and concentrated in a few urban centers.

In many communities, customary courts remained the principal providers of judicial services. Customary courts maintained primary authority to adjudicate most criminal cases other than murder. Customary courts may deal with certain aspects of murder cases if judges remit the cases to them to process under traditional procedures and determine compensation according to the customs of the persons concerned. If this happens, the judge may sentence an individual convicted of murder to no more than 10 years’ imprisonment. Government courts heard cases of violent crime and acted as appellate courts for verdicts issued by customary bodies. Legal systems employed by customary courts varied, with most emphasizing restorative dispute resolution and some borrowing elements of sharia (Islamic law). Government sources estimated customary courts handled 80 percent of all cases due to the capacity limitations of statutory courts.

Between February and July, the United Nations supported joint special mobile courts with South Sudanese personnel to adjudicate serious crimes and mitigate cattle migration-related violence in Western Bahr el-Ghazal and Warrap States, and localized courts in Warrap and Lakes States. These courts often included traditional leaders and addressed compensation claims according to local customs. During the year the United Nations continued to support mobile courts, trying rape, robbery, and assault cases among others. Mobile courts deployed across the greater Equatoria and greater Upper Nile regions. Separately, UNMISS worked with the SSPDF Military Justice Directorate to deploy courts-martial and enhance the capacity of judge advocates in adjudicating cases of gender-based violence.

Political pressure, corruption, discrimination toward women, and the lack of a competent investigative police service undermined both statutory and customary courts. Patronage priorities or political allegiances of traditional elders or chiefs commonly influenced verdicts in customary courts. Despite numerous pressures, some judges appeared to operate independently on low-profile cases.

Trial Procedures

The transitional constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the government frequently did not enforce this right.

Under the transitional constitution defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary), tried fairly and publicly without undue delay, be present at any criminal trial against them, seek appeal, confront witnesses against them, present witnesses and evidence, not be compelled to incriminate themselves, and to legal counsel.

Despite these protections law enforcement officers and statutory and customary court authorities commonly presumed suspects’ guilt, and suspects faced serious infringements of their rights. Free interpretation was rarely offered, and when it was, it was of low quality. Most detainees were not promptly informed of the charges against them. Prolonged detentions often occurred, and defendants generally did not have adequate access to facilities to prepare a defense. While court dates were set without regard for providing adequate time to prepare a defense, long remands often meant detainees with access to a lawyer had sufficient time to prepare. Magistrates frequently compelled defendants to testify, and the absence of lawyers at many judicial proceedings often left defendants without recourse.

Public trials were the norm both in customary courts, which usually took place outdoors, and in statutory courts. Some high-level court officials opposed media access to courts and asserted media should not comment on pending cases. The right to be present at trial and to confront witnesses was sometimes respected, but in statutory courts, the difficulty of summoning witnesses often precluded exercise of these rights. No government legal aid structure existed.

Defendants did not necessarily have access to counsel or the right of appeal, and discrimination against women was common.

Defendants accused of crimes against the state were usually denied these rights.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners and detainees held by authorities from a few hours to a few days or weeks prior to release, usually without charge. The number of political prisoners was unknown. One notable case was that of Kuel Aguer Kuel, detained by security forces on August 1 for having signed a letter calling for peaceful protests to force President Kiir to leave office. Kuel remained in detention as of year’s end.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: There were credible reports in recent years of killed, kidnapped, and forcibly returned persons in other countries for purposes of politically motivated reprisal, and individuals continued to receive threats of violence during the year. Civil society reported that South Sudanese intelligence officials were active in neighboring countries and harassed critics there.

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: There were credible reports the government continued to target specific individuals for politically motivated reprisal outside the country, including in Kenya and Uganda. In March the NGO Frontline Defenders documented 14 cases of South Sudanese human rights defenders in exile subject to harassment, surveillance, and intimidation, most often from the NSS.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Statutory and customary courts provided the only options for those seeking to submit civil claims to address human rights abuses, and these claims were subject to the same limitations that affected the justice sector in general.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The government rarely provided proportionate and timely restitution for the government’s confiscation of property. Human rights organizations documented instances of government forces systematically looting abandoned property in conflict areas where the population was perceived to be antigovernment.

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

The transitional constitution prohibits interference with private life, family, home, and correspondence, but the law does not provide for the right to privacy. Authorities, however, reportedly violated these prohibitions. To induce suspects to surrender, officials at times held family members in detention centers. The law gives the NSS sweeping powers outside the constitutional mandate of arrest, detention, surveillance, search, and seizure. The NSS utilized surveillance tools, at times requiring telecommunications companies to hand over user data that could be used to tap telephone numbers or make arrests. The NSS monitored social media posts. Widespread surveillance led many human rights defenders to avoid discussing sensitive topics over the telephone. A February report by Amnesty International quoted one activist saying, “In South Sudan, they know if you are a human rights person, they might not follow you today, not arrest you now, but they can be following your phone conversation, can be checking on your phone every now and then and one day they will turn against you.” The NSS carried out physical surveillance and embedded agents in organizations and media houses and at events. Some individuals were subject to physical and telephonic surveillance prior to arrest and detention without warrants, with such surveillance continuing after detainees were released.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

According to the United Nations and international NGOs, security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, nonsignatories to the peace agreement, and civilians were responsible for a significant range of conflict-related abuses around the country. Government and opposition forces harassed civilians and looted and destroyed property during military operations against the National Salvation Front. Government soldiers reportedly engaged in acts of collective punishment and revenge killings against civilians assumed to be opposition supporters, often based on their ethnicity. For example, in March unknown Nuer gunmen killed two government soldiers, triggering revenge attacks in which the SSPDF attacked at least three Nuer villages and overran an opposition military base. In February 2020 the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported on a pattern of deliberately targeting civilians based on their ethnic identity, including obstruction of humanitarian aid, and concluded government forces were responsible for acts that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. This pattern continued during the year, most noticeably in Tambura, Western Equatoria State. Atrocities included unlawful killings, rape and gang rape employed as a weapon of war, arbitrary detention, torture, forced disappearances, explosive remnants of war causing further harm, forced displacement, the mass destruction of homes and personal property, widespread looting, and use of child soldiers. The UNMISS Human Rights Division documented more than 1,200 incidents of killing, injury, abduction, and conflict-related sexual violence in 2020 (see also sections 2.e., Internally Displaced Persons, and section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

Killings: Government forces and armed militias affiliated with the government, frequently prompted by opposition ambushes of government soldiers, engaged in a pattern of collective punishment of civilians perceived to be opposition supporters, often based on ethnicity. According to the UNMISS Human Rights Division, more than 2,420 civilians were killed in 2020, usually by community militias and civilian defense groups, but in some cases by organized forces. Between December 2020 and January, fighting in Maban County, Upper Nile, between government and opposition forces (involving local civilian militias) resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians and the displacement of thousands, some of whom fled across the border to Ethiopia. In February, 3,000 Jikany Nuer militiamen with ties to the SPLM-IO attacked communities in Akoka County, Upper Nile, killed dozens of civilians, burned and looted villages, and displaced thousands.

UN agencies and international NGOs that interviewed victims reported widespread killings, mutilations, and sexual violence, disproportionately committed by government forces but also by the National Salvation Front.

Remnants of war led to the killing and maiming of civilians. Military items such as grenades were often left behind in schools used by government and opposition forces and by armed actors affiliated with both.

Abductions: The United Nations and international NGOs reported multiple accounts of government soldiers or other security service members arbitrarily detaining or arresting civilians, sometimes leading to unlawful killings. The UNMISS Human Rights Division reported an increase in abductions for the purpose of forced military recruitment or forced labor. As of mid-September, a project led by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights resulted in the release of 100 abductees.

In August and September, the United Nations and NGOs reported forced recruitment by both government and opposition forces in Rubkona and Bentiu towns in Unity State and in the Bentiu Internally Displaced Persons camp.

Armed groups and militias committed abductions for ransom, particularly in the Greater Equatoria region. In February armed men stopped a truck on the Juba-Yei Road, abducted five men and four women, and demanded a ransom of 13 million South Sudanese Pounds ($47,100).

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Government forces, opposition forces, other armed groups and armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition tortured, raped, and otherwise abused civilians in conflict areas. Gender-based violence, including rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriage, was a common tactic of conflict employed by all parties.

Child Soldiers: The cease-fire largely held during the year and reduced the forced or voluntary recruitment of soldiers, including child soldiers. Nevertheless, there were reports government and nongovernment forces continued to recruit forcibly and use child soldiers. During 2020 the South Sudan Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting verified violations affecting 154 children. Girls younger than age 18 were recruited to wash, cook, and clean for government and opposition forces. Sudanese refugee women and girls were also forced to wash, cook, and clean for armed Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) elements who were present in refugee camps in Maban, Upper Nile State. The government, which has responsibility for the safety and security of refugee camps in its territory, failed to stop the SPLM-N’s forced conscription in Maban-based refugee camps.

In February the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported that county commissioners and local chiefs in Warrap systematically organized the recruitment and use of children for the NSS and the SSPDF through recruitment drives. In some cases commissioners extorted cattle from families who were unable to provide a fighting-age man. The commission noted a similar pattern in which SSPDF commanders and local chiefs recruited families to provide at least one family member. If no men were available, boys were sought instead.

During the year UNICEF worked with the SSPDF and opposition forces to organize the demobilization of child soldiers in several instances across the country. According to UNMISS, more than 250 child soldiers were released by armed groups in 2019. The National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Commission and its constituent members reported the release of 54 children from armed groups during the first six months of 2020.

The 2018 peace agreement mandated specialized international agencies work with all warring parties to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers from the SSPDF, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army In-Opposition (SPLA-IO), elements of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance, the Nuer White Army, and other groups, usually those involved in community defense. There were reports of child-soldier recruitment associated with the cantonment, registration, and screening process under the peace agreement.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Throughout the year the environment for humanitarian operations remained difficult and dangerous, although the cease-fire contributed to improved access and safety in most areas. Armed actors, including government, opposition forces, and other armed groups continued to restrict the ability of the United Nations, other international organizations, and NGOs to deliver humanitarian assistance safely and effectively to populations in need. Access was impeded by direct denials, bureaucratic barriers, occupation of humanitarian spaces including education centers, and renewed fighting in areas of the country where humanitarian needs were highest. Despite repeated safety assurances, armed elements harassed and killed relief workers, looted, and destroyed humanitarian assets and facilities, and government and rebel authorities imposed bureaucratic and economic impediments on relief organizations. Government, SPLA-IO, National Salvation Front and, in areas close to the Sudanese border, SPLM-N elements continued to occupy civilian structures.

On multiple occasions fighting between government and opposition forces and subnational violence put the safety and security of humanitarian workers at risk, prevented travel, forced the evacuation of relief workers, and jeopardized humanitarian operations, including forcing organizations to suspend life-saving operations entirely in areas of active conflict. Delayed flight safety assurances, insecurity, and movement restrictions often prevented relief workers from traveling to conflict and nonconflict areas. Humanitarian personnel, independently or through the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs access working group, negotiated with government and SPLA-IO forces as well as other armed groups to address access problems; however, these negotiations were often protracted and caused significant delays in the delivery of assistance.

The humanitarian operating environment remained volatile despite improvements in some areas of the country, and the country remained very dangerous for aid workers. The most common forms of violence against humanitarian workers included robbery and looting, harassment, armed attacks, commandeering of vehicles, and physical detention. On multiple occasions insecurity prevented travel and jeopardized relief operations. In almost all cases, investigations were limited, and perpetrators were not held accountable. In June the United Nations reported that since the start of the conflict in 2013, a total of 128 humanitarian workers had been killed in the country, primarily South Sudanese nationals.

In May a South Sudanese doctor working for an international NGO was killed while on duty inside a health facility in Unity State’s Panyjiar County. As of mid-September, local authorities had made little progress in investigating and no one had been held accountable.

On June 7, gunmen ambushed a humanitarian convoy in Yirol County, Lakes State, killing two humanitarian workers. Despite public statements by Governor Rin Tueny Mabior condemning the attack, there had been no progress towards identifying or apprehending the perpetrators.

Looting of humanitarian compounds and other assets was common. According to humanitarian agencies, looting of food commodities was four times higher than in 2020. For example, in May clashes between armed Gawaar Nuer, Dinka, and Murle in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA) led to the looting and burning of a food storage unit in Gumuruk. A primary health-care unit in Gumuruk was also looted, with thousands of dollars of vital medical supplies lost.

In October the GPAA Youth Union threatened violence against humanitarian workers if NGOs operating in the GPAA did not remove all nonlocal South Sudanese staff from the area. On October 5, the United Nations and 14 NGOs complied with their demands, fearing for the safety of their South Sudanese staff who were not from the GPAA. As of November all humanitarian assistance efforts except life-saving aid remained suspended in the GPAA.

Restrictions on humanitarian operations took other forms as well. Authorities operating at Juba International Airport arbitrarily denied humanitarian workers travel permission for a variety of constantly changing reasons, including a lack of work permits, permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, travel approval from the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, or at least six blank pages in their passports. At least one international humanitarian worker was denied entry into South Sudan because the person’s COVID-19 test results did not have a stamp. These restrictions were implemented inconsistently, without notice or consultation, prompting confusion regarding the required travel procedures.

Humanitarian organizations experienced delays (some up to six months or more) and denials of tax exemptions and were forced to purchase relief supplies on the local market, raising quality concerns. Government authorities required international NGO staff to pay income taxes and threatened national staff into paying income tax at the state level.

Continuing conflict and access denial to humanitarian actors contributed to households facing acute food insecurity. It was difficult to accurately gather information and assess some conflict-affected areas due to insecurity and lack of access.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. The government and its agents frequently violated these rights in the name of national security, however, and the downward trend in respect for these freedoms continued.

Freedom of Expression: The government regularly attempted to impede criticism by monitoring, intimidating, harassing, arresting, or detaining members of civil society who criticized the government.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government maintained strict control of media, both print and electronic. The government suppressed dissenting voices, forcing some civil society organizations and media houses to shut down or flee the country. Government officials or individuals close to the government regularly interfered in the publication of articles and broadcasting of programs, and high-level government officials stated press freedom should not extend to criticism of the government or soliciting views of opposition leaders.

On July 3, the NSS detained Alfred Angasi, a news anchor from the state-owned South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation, for allegedly refusing to read presidential decrees announcing the appointment of some holders of constitutional posts. The journalist was released on July 4, rearrested the following day, and held for two weeks without charge.

Although approval is not required under the 2014 Media Authority Act, the Media Authority instituted a requirement for organizers to obtain a letter of clearance prior to any media-related event, including press conferences. The accepted practice was for organizers to obtain a letter of clearance and NSS stamp prior to a media event. On August 4, the NSS interrupted and shut down a media stakeholders conference on the permanent constitution drafting process, citing the organizers’ failure to obtain a letter of approval from the Media Authority.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces commonly intimidated or detained journalists whose reporting they perceived was unfavorable to the military or government. Security forces confiscated or damaged journalists’ equipment and restricted their movements. During the year security forces interrogated, harassed, detained, and imprisoned journalists, and some went into hiding. NSS representatives frequently harassed journalists by detaining them at NSS headquarters or local police stations without formal charges. Journalists and media agencies that reported on news of the opposition could expect questioning, arrest, and possible closure. Journalists in Juba frequently experienced threats and intimidation and routinely practiced self-censorship. On several occasions high-level officials used intimidating language directed toward media outlets and representatives.

There were multiple reports of such abuses. For example, on June 19, police in Rumbek, Lakes State, detained and beat the station manager and three reporters from a local radio station after they went to the police station to cover the story of a local artist accused of defamation. Police also seized their equipment, including cameras and recording devices.

On August 27, the NSS arrested and detained three staff of Radio Jonglei in Bor. The radio station was shut down and staff members’ personal communication devices confiscated. Local sources attributed the incident to the radio station’s announcement of the People’s Coalition for Civil Action planned August 30 “Day of Awakening” demonstrations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most organizations practiced self-censorship to ensure their safety, and authorities regularly censored newspapers, directly reprimanded publishers, and removed articles deemed critical of the government. Many print media outlets reported NSS officers forced the removal of articles at the printing company (where all newspapers are printed), often leaving a blank spot where the article was originally meant to appear.

The Media Authority continued to advise international journalists not to describe conflict in the country in tribal terms and deemed such references as “hate speech.” The NSS regularly harassed, intimidated, and summoned journalists for questioning. The environment for media workers remained precarious throughout the year.

In August the editor of the newspaper The Dawn alleged security services removed articles and a cartoon critical of the president before the newspaper went to press.

Internet Freedom

The government’s South Sudan National Communication Authority frequently blocked access to certain websites, such as two popular news websites, Radio Tamazuj and Sudan Tribune, and two blogs, Paanluel Wel and Nyamilepedia, accused of disseminating “nonpeace” messages considered not to be “in the best interest of peace building in this country.” There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government also targeted and intimidated individuals, especially those outside of Juba, who were critical of the government in open online forums and social media.

The internet monitoring body Netblocks reported significant disruption to cellular and some fixed-line internet services in the country on August 29 and 30. The incident coincided with the People’s Coalition for Civil Action planned protests calling for regime change. Netblocks assessed the disruption was consistent with an internet shutdown intended to limit the free flow of information and news coverage.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted cultural activities and academic workshops. NSS authorization is required for public events, including academic workshops, which particularly affected NGOs and other civic organizations. To obtain permission, the NSS sometimes requested a list of national and international staff members employed by the organizations and names of participants. Permission was often predicated upon the expectation the NSS would be able to monitor the events.

On July 17, the NSS ordered the cancellation of a civil society event on the country’s constitutional history held at a private venue. To justify the cancellation, the NSS stated that only parliament was authorized to speak regarding the constitution.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government during the year increasingly restricted freedom of peaceful assembly and restricted freedom of association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government in many cases did not respect this right during the year. Many citizens did not gather for planned demonstrations due to fear of targeted violence. Security officials lacked nonviolent crowd control capabilities and at times fired live ammunition into the air to disperse crowds.

In March police detained 22 persons during protests for better health care and justice after the death of a local musician in Juba. Although all were released without charge within 24 hours, at least three reported being injured by police during their arrest.

Between August 2 and August 30, authorities arrested 14 persons in relation to planned peaceful protests by the People’s Coalition for Civil Action, increased surveillance of suspected protesters and organizers, and deployed security forces to obstruct planned protests, according to a statement by Amnesty International.

Freedom of Association

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect this right for those suspected of associating with or having sympathies for opposition figures. Some civil society leaders interpreted a 2012 law as an attempt to suppress opposition to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) (see section 3).

The NSS and other security actors widely enforced a 2016 law strictly regulating the activity and operations of civil society throughout the year. The law focused particularly on NGOs working in the governance, anticorruption, and human rights fields, and it imposed a range of legal barriers, including limitations on the types of activities in which organizations may engage, onerous registration requirements, and heavy fines for noncompliance. Human rights groups and civil society representatives reported NSS officials continued surveillance and threats against civil society organizations. Civil society organizations reported extensive NSS scrutiny of proposed public events; the NSS reviewed every proposed event and sometimes denied permission, rejected proposed speakers, or disrupted events.

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 transitional constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, and repatriation. The transitional constitution does not address emigration.

During the year there were sporadic reports of county commissioners from one party being detained by persons from another political party despite the lack of provision in law for this. Despite multiple pledges from the government to dismantle checkpoints, they remained a common problem. Security forces manning these checkpoints routinely used them as opportunities to charge illegal fees and discriminate against minorities.

In-country Movement: IDPs remained in IDP camps and the remaining UNMISS POC site in Malakal due to fear of retaliatory or ethnically targeted violence by armed groups, both government- and opposition-affiliated. The government often obstructed travel of members of humanitarian organizations seeking to provide protection and assistance to IDPs and refugees. Continuing conflict between government and opposition forces and subnational violence restricted the movement of UN personnel and the delivery of humanitarian aid (see section 1.g.), as did restrictions due to COVID-19.

Foreign Travel: Individuals, due to arbitrary restrictions, were sometimes prevented from leaving the country.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Significant levels of subnational violence continued, particularly in Lakes, Warrap, and the Greater Equatoria region. The result was sustained mass population displacement, both within the country and into neighboring countries, and high levels of humanitarian and protection needs, which strained the ability of UN and international humanitarian personnel to provide protection and assistance. According to UNMISS, in addition to the 1.7 million persons previously displaced, more than 700,000 individuals were internally displaced because of localized violence and flooding as of November. The increased violence, historic flooding, and food insecurity forced relief actors to delay plans for the safe return and relocation of some IDP populations.

UNMISS continued to provide physical protection to IDPs in the Protection of Civilians site in Malakal. As of September, UN police units recorded 53 incidents of physical violence against individuals in IDP camps in Juba, Wau, Bor, and Bentiu.

According to the UNMISS Human Rights Division and other organizations, violence and simmering ethnic conflict in areas such as Western Equatoria, Jonglei, and Warrap continued to result in dire humanitarian consequences, including significant displacement and serious and systematic human rights abuses, such as the killing of civilians, arbitrary arrests, detentions, looting and destruction of civilian property, torture, forced recruitment, and sexual and gender-based violence.

The government promoted the return and resettlement of IDPs but did not provide a safe environment for returns and often denied humanitarian NGOs or international organizations access to IDPs.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with 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. Overall, coordination with the government continued across all sectors, including with the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, and Relief and Rehabilitation Commission. The COVID-19 pandemic further deepened the plight of persons fleeing war, conflict, and repression of vulnerable South Sudanese. According to UNHCR, there were more than 326,000 registered refugees in South Sudan as of November, mostly from neighboring Sudan.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for protection of refugees as well as the granting of asylum and refugee status. The government allowed individuals to access asylum processes, allowed refugees from neighboring countries to settle, and generally did not treat refugees differently from other foreigners. While most refugees in the country were from Sudan, the government also granted asylum to refugees from Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, Burundi, and Somalia.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR, refugees sometimes suffered killings and abuse, such as armed attacks, gender-based violence, forced recruitment, including of children, and forced labor. From January to August, UNCHR recorded 53 incidents of rape, assault, and other abuses against refugees in Maban, of which 40 were perpetrated by SPLM-N elements.

Access to Basic Services: While refugees sometimes lacked basic services, this generally reflected a lack of capacity in the country to manage refugee problems rather than government practices that discriminated against refugees. Refugee children had access to elementary education in refugee camps through programs managed by international NGOs and the United Nations. Some schools were shared with children from the host community. In principle, refugees had access to judiciary services, although a lack of infrastructure and staff meant these resources were often unavailable.

Due to continuing conflict and scarcity of resources, tension existed between refugees and host communities in some areas regarding access to resources.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees and returnees for reintegration. No national procedures were in place to facilitate the provision of identity documents for returnees or the naturalization of refugees beyond procedures that were in place for all citizens and other applicants.

g. Stateless Persons

Citizenship is derived through the right of blood (jus sanguinis) if a person has a South Sudanese parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent on either the mother’s or the father’s side, or if a person is a member of one of the country’s indigenous ethnic communities. Individuals also may derive citizenship through naturalization. Birth in the country is not sufficient to claim citizenship. While the country had a Nationality Act in place since independence, less than 10 percent of South Sudanese were believed to have obtained national identity documents. There were no official statistics or estimates on statelessness; however, a survey by UNCHR estimated half a million persons were at risk of statelessness. The Nationality Act does not include any specific provisions for stateless persons, children whose parents are without nationality, or children born in the country who otherwise would be stateless.

According to a 2018 report from the National Dialogue, a government-sponsored initiative, it was more difficult for those from the southern region of Equatoria to rightfully claim citizenship due to discrimination from other tribes, which suspected them of being Ugandans or Congolese. According to UNHCR, certain nomadic pastoralist groups had difficulty accessing application procedures for nationality certification and experienced discrimination according to ethnic group or appearance that required UNHCR’s intervention to address matters with the Directorate of Nationality, Passports, and Immigration.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The transitional constitution provides that every citizen has the right to participate in elections in accordance with the constitution and the law. Since the 2011 referendum on South Sudanese self-determination, no elections have been held. Elected officials were arbitrarily removed and others appointed to take their places.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Due to intense violence and insecurity starting in 2013, the government postponed elections several times. Since independence, the president fired and appointed local government officials and parliamentarians by decree. In 2015 and again in 2018, the legislature passed amendments to the transitional constitution extending the terms of the president, national legislature, and state assemblies for three years. The peace agreement signed in 2018 allowed for the extension of all terms for a three-year transitional period; by year’s end the cabinet approved the drafting of a law on the establishment of the National Constitutional Amendment Committee, which should draft a permanent constitution. The bill had not yet gone to the legislature, nor had the government made the draft public by year’s end.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The SPLM enjoyed a near monopoly of power in the government and continued to be the most broadly recognized political entity since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. SPLM membership conferred political and financial advantages, and there was great reluctance by opposition parties to shed the SPLM name. For example, the main opposition party was referred to as the SPLM-IO (in opposition), and most other political parties either were offshoots of the SPLM or affiliated with it. In December 2020, after its integration into the transitional government, the SPLM-IO conducted a widely attended party conference in Juba without restrictions.

The peace agreement signed in 2018 allocated to the government and opposition a certain number of seats in parliament, leadership of ministries, and leadership of local governments. Members of the reconstituted parliament were appointed by presidential decree, and the parliament opened on August 30.

Opposition parties complained the government periodically harassed party members. A 2012 law mandates specific requirements for political parties that existed in a unified Sudan prior to South Sudan’s 2011 independence. Representatives of the Political Parties Council (an independent body created by law in 2018 to manage political party matters) estimated the requirements affected approximately 25 parties.

An unfavorable environment for media and citizen expression hampered participation in political processes.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Women remained poorly represented in the judiciary, local governments, and among traditional leaders. Representation was particularly poor at the local level, where there was little to no implementation of the law’s provisions. The system also devolved substantial candidate-selection power to political party leaders, very few of whom were women.

Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors limited women’s participation in government. An entrenched culture of discrimination presented a major obstacle to their political participation. Women tended to be discouraged from assuming leadership positions because of the belief that such activities conflicted with their domestic duties. Basic safety and security concerns also limited women’s ability to participate in government.

Several ethnic groups remained underrepresented or unrepresented in government. Intercommunal and political violence exacerbated ethnic tensions and the imbalance in national- and state-level political institutions.

The absence of translations of the constitution in Arabic or local languages limited the ability of minority populations to engage meaningfully in political dialogue.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The transitional constitution provides for criminal penalties for acts of corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law. Poor recordkeeping, lax accounting procedures, absence of adherence to procurement laws, and a lack of accountability and corrective legislation compounded the problem. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption was endemic in all branches of government. The UN Panel of Experts reported government security forces, including the Internal Security Bureau, gained control of public and natural resources to generate off-budget sources of revenue.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published information on human rights cases and intercommunal and political violence, often while facing considerable government resistance. Government officials were rarely cooperative and responsive to their views and were often actively hostile. Reports outlining atrocities exacerbated tensions between the government and international organizations and NGOs. Government and opposition forces often blamed each other or pointed toward militia groups or “criminal” actors.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government sometimes cooperated with representatives of the United Nations and other international organizations. A lack of security guarantees from the government and opposition on many occasions, as well as frequent government violations of the status of forces agreement, including the restriction of movement of UNMISS personnel, constrained UNMISS’s ability to carry out its mandate, which included human rights monitoring and investigations. Security forces generally regarded international organizations with suspicion.

UNMISS and its staff faced harassment and intimidation by the government, threats against UNMISS premises and POC sites, unlawful arrest and detention, abduction, and restrictions on the importation of goods and equipment. The SSPDF regularly prevented UNMISS from accessing areas of suspected human rights abuses in violation of the status of forces agreement that allows UNMISS access to the entire country. The government did not formally inform UNMISS regarding arrest and detention incidents as required under the status of forces agreement.

There were credible reports during the year that the government harassed and intimidated civil society members cooperating with UN bodies, as well as those who sought to lobby foreign missions to pressure the government to respect civil liberties.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The president appoints members of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission, whose mandate includes education, research, monitoring, and investigation of human rights abuses, either on its own initiative or upon request by victims. International organizations and civil society organizations considered the commission’s operations to be generally independent of government influence. The commission cooperated with international human rights advocates and submitted reports and recommendations to the government.

While observers generally regarded the commission to have committed and competent leadership, severe resource constraints prevented it from effectively fulfilling its human rights protection mandate. Salaries and office management accounted for the bulk of its funding, leaving little for monitoring or investigation. The commission has not produced any substantive reporting since 2015.

The National Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide remained largely inactive.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Conviction of rape is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and rape was widespread. The law defines sexual intercourse within marriage as “not rape.” No information was available on the number of persons prosecuted, convicted, or punished for rape, and convictions of rape seldom were publicized. According to observers, sentences for persons convicted of rape were often less than the maximum. Rape and other forms of sexual violence remained widespread. Women and girls also faced the threat of rape while living in UN POC sites and IDP camps.

In March a court in Bor sentenced a man to seven years in prison for raping a minor in a rare example of a rape conviction. The perpetrator was also ordered to pay five cows to the victim’s family as compensation under customary law.

In April a mobile court in Malakal convicted an SSPDF soldier for raping a girl and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment and ordered him to pay damages of $1,100 to the survivor.

The law does not prohibit domestic violence. Intimate partner violence against women, including spousal abuse, was common, although there were no reliable statistics on its prevalence. According to NGOs, some women reported that police tried to charge them when they attempted to file criminal complaints of rape or abuse. While not mandatory, police often told women they needed to complete an official report prior to receiving medical treatment. Families of rape survivors encouraged marriage to the rapist to avoid public shaming.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is a criminal offense under the law, but few data existed to determine its prevalence, and enforcement was largely nonexistent. The law prohibits subjecting children to negative and harmful practices that affect their health, welfare, and dignity. UNICEF estimated the prevalence of FGM/C at 1 percent among girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49. FGM/C was practiced in both Christian and Muslim communities in the northern regions of the country, including Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile. Several NGOs worked to end FGM/C, and the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Welfare raised awareness of the dangers of FGM/C through local radio broadcasts.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The practice of girl compensation – compensating the family of a crime victim with a girl from the perpetrator’s family – occurred. Survivors were generally between ages 11 and 15, did not attend school, and often were physically and sexually abused and used as servants by their captors. Local officials complained the absence of security and rule of law in many areas impeded efforts to curb the practice. Harmful dowry practices were also common. NGOs reported fathers often forced daughters, generally minors, to marry older men in exchange for cattle or money.

Sexual Harassment: Conviction of sexual harassment is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. The government rarely enforced the law, and NGOs reported most women were unaware it was a punishable offense or feared retribution for reporting it, since women were often blamed for its occurrence. Observers noted sexual harassment, particularly by military and police, was a serious problem throughout the country.

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

Women continued to suffer unprecedented levels of sexual violence, including abduction, rape, and forced marriage. More than half of all girls were married before the age of 18. Data collection continued to be inadequate to provide accurate estimates on most indicators.

According to the UN Population Fund, the country had a modern contraceptive prevalence rate of 1.7 percent among women of reproductive age. Teenage pregnancy was 30 percent among girls between the ages of 15 and 19.

The maternal mortality rate was estimated to be between 789 and 1,150 deaths per 100,000 live births. The high maternal mortality rate was largely due to limited and low-quality medical care, as well as an extremely low rate of skilled birth attendance. More than 80 percent of women delivered at home, assisted by untrained attendants. The lack of access to skilled medical care during pregnancy and childbirth also resulted in maternal death and disability from treatable conditions, such as infection, hemorrhage, and obstructed birth.

Cultural practices and economic barriers further limited reproductive choices. Men who paid dowries often believed they had the right to make reproductive health decisions for their wives and daughters. High illiteracy rates among women limited their access to accurate information concerning the right to control their fertility. Many individuals did not have access to accurate information, modern contraceptive methods, or family planning services. For persons younger than age 18, permission from family was not required to access nonsurgical reproductive health services, including for contraception. Cultural practices and social stigma, however, often prevented minors from exercising their rights. Women needed to obtain their husbands’ consent to access sexual and reproductive health services, such as antenatal care, facility delivery, and family planning.

The country’s national health policy and related strategic documents favored sexual and reproductive health, including promotion of access to family planning information and services. Lack of resources, however, hindered implementation. The health sector remained underfunded at less than 2 percent of the national budget. An acute shortage of skilled professionals and nonpayment of staff salaries were the biggest deficiencies in the provision of quality health care. The country faced severe shortages in all categories of trained health professionals, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, and maternal health services were often provided by less-skilled health workers. On average, there was only one health facility per 10,000 inhabitants, and an estimated 72 percent of the population lived more than three miles from the closest clinic. Many of these facilities were not capable of providing specialized care, and there were not enough qualified doctors, nurses, or midwives to treat survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: While the transitional constitution provides for gender equality and equal rights for women, including in labor markets and property inheritance, deep cultural prejudices resulted in widespread discrimination against women. High illiteracy rates also impeded women’s ability to understand and defend their rights. Communities often followed customary laws and traditional practices that discriminated against women. For example, authorities arrested and detained women for adultery.

Despite statutory law to the contrary, under customary law a divorce is not final until the wife and her family return the full dowry to the husband’s family. As a result families often dissuaded women from divorce. Traditional courts usually ruled in favor of the husband’s family in most cases of child custody unless children were between ages three and seven.

Women also experienced discrimination in employment, pay, credit, education, inheritance, housing, and ownership and management of businesses or land. Although women have the right to own property and land under the transitional constitution, community elders often sought to prevent women from exercising these rights because they contravened customary practice.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Interethnic fighting and violence by government, opposition forces, and armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition targeting specific ethnic groups resulted in human rights abuses (see section 1.g.). The country has at least 60 ethnic groups and a long history of interethnic conflict. Ethnic groups were broadly categorized into the Nilotic (Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk ethnic groups), Nilo-Hamitic, and Southwestern Sudanic groups. For some ethnic groups, cattle represented wealth and status. Competition for resources to maintain large cattle herds often resulted in conflict. Long-standing grievances regarding perceived or actual inequitable treatment and distribution of resources and political exclusion contributed to conflict.

Discrimination in employment based on ethnic groups was widespread (see section 7.d.).

Interethnic clashes occurred throughout the year. Insecurity, inflammatory rhetoric, including hate speech, and discriminatory government policies led to a heightened sense of tribal identity, exacerbating interethnic differences. In June violence broke out in Tambura County, Western Equatoria State, between Balanda and Zande armed youth groups. Between June and November, more than 80,000 persons were displaced and at least 200 killed in ethnically targeted violence between members of Balanda and Zande communities and associated armed groups. Reports included incidents of extrajudicial killings by armed groups, indiscriminate killing of civilians using machetes and small arms, forcible recruitment of men and boys to join militias, ethnically targeted violence, gender-based violence including the killing of at least three pregnant women, and hundreds of buildings burned. There were credible reports that some homes were burned with civilians inside. On June 19, the government launched an action plan for the armed forces on addressing conflict-related sexual violence. On November 2, leaders of the two ethnic groups and government security forces representatives signed a ceasefire document. By mid-November some of the armed groups were moved outside of the conflict area.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through birth if a person has any South Sudanese parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent on either the mother’s or the father’s side, or if a person is a member of one of the country’s indigenous ethnic communities. Individuals may also derive citizenship through naturalization. Birth in the country is not sufficient to claim citizenship. The government did not register all births immediately.

Education: The transitional constitution and the 2012 Education Act provide for tuition-free, compulsory, basic education through grade eight. Armed conflict and violence, however, were key factors preventing children from attending school. UNICEF estimated nearly 2.8 million of the country’s children were not attending school, in addition to two million students out of school due to COVID-19. The expansion of conflict across the country resulted in the displacement of many households making it difficult for children to attend school and for schools to remain in operation. Government, SPLA-IO forces, and militias associated with both looted and occupied schools. Teachers also routinely went months without payment. Girls often did not have equal access to education. Many girls did not attend school or dropped out of school due to early and forced child marriage, domestic duties, and fear of gender-based violence at school.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children included physical violence, abduction, and harmful traditional practices such as “girl compensation” (see section 6, Women, Other Harmful Traditional Practices). Child abuse, including sexual abuse, was reportedly widespread. Child rape occurred frequently in the context of child, early, and forced marriage, and armed groups also perpetrated it. Authorities seldom prosecuted child rape due to fear among victims and their families of stigmatization and retaliation. Child abduction also was a problem. Rural communities often abducted women and children during cattle raids (see section 1.g., Abductions).

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law provides that every child has the right to protection from early marriage but does not explicitly prohibit marriage before age 18. Child marriage remained common. According to the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Welfare, nearly half of all girls and young women between ages 15 and 19 were married, and some brides were as young as 12. According to UNICEF, 9 percent of girls were married by age 15 and 52 percent by age 18. Early marriage sometimes reflected efforts by men to avoid rape charges, which a married woman may not file against her husband. In other cases families of rape victims encouraged marriage to the rapist to avoid public shaming. Many abducted girls were often repeatedly subjected to rape (see section 1.g.) or forced into marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law designates 18 as the minimum age for consensual sex, although commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred. The law criminalizes buying or selling a child for the purpose of prostitution and prescribed a punishment of up to 14 years’ imprisonment and a fine. The law also criminalizes the procurement of a child for prostitution and the facilitation of the prostitution of a child by the child’s parent or guardian and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Child sex trafficking occurred, particularly in urban areas.

Displaced Children: During the year intercommunal and political violence displaced numerous children, both as refugees and IDPs (see sections 1.g., 2.e., and 2.f.).

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 are no official figures regarding the number of Jewish persons in the country. 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 does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. NGOs reported community and family members routinely subjected persons with disabilities to discrimination. The government did not enact or implement programs to provide access to buildings, information, or communications public services. The transitional constitution and the law stipulate that primary education be provided to children with disabilities without discrimination. Very few teachers, however, were trained to address the needs of children with disabilities, and very few schools were able to provide a safe, accessible learning environment for children with disabilities. There were no legal restrictions on the right of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs, although lack of physical accessibility constituted a barrier to effective participation. There were no mental-health hospitals or institutions, and persons with mental disabilities were often held in prisons. Limited mental-health services were available at Juba Teaching Hospital. There were no official statistics on the number of persons with physical or mental disabilities.

There were no reports of police or other government officials inciting, perpetuating, or condoning violence against persons with disabilities, or of official action taken to investigate or punish those responsible for violence against persons with disabilities. Awareness of disability matters was low, negative social attitudes prevailed, and persons with disabilities had limited access to services and employment.

Persons with disabilities also faced disproportional hardship under conditions of crisis-level food insecurity and continuing violence. Human Rights Watch reported persons with disabilities were often victimized by both government and opposition forces. Persons with disabilities faced difficulty fleeing areas under attack and accessing humanitarian assistance in displacement camps. Since 2013 an unknown number of civilians experienced maiming, amputation, sight and hearing impairment, and trauma.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While there were no reports filed regarding discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS, discrimination was widely believed to be both pervasive and socially acceptable. Key groups especially vulnerable to stigma and discrimination included commercial sex workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons. This stigma often presented a barrier to seeking and receiving services for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of HIV and AIDS.

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

The law criminalizes same-sex sexual conduct. The law prohibits “unnatural offenses,” defined as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” which are punishable if convicted by up to 10 years’ imprisonment if consensual and up to 14 years if nonconsensual. There were no reports authorities enforced the law. The law also criminalizes “any male person who dresses or is attired in the fashion of a woman” in public, with a punishment of up to three months’ imprisonment if convicted.

There were reports of incidents of discrimination and abuse. LGBTQI+ persons reported security forces routinely harassed and sometimes arrested, detained, tortured, and beat them. Because of actively hostile government rhetoric and actions, most openly LGBTQI+ citizens fled the country.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of every employee to form and join unions, bargain collectively, and strike with restrictions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. The law excludes from these protections military and police but also includes a broader list of civil service occupations, including prison service, fire service and wildlife forces, than the international standard. While labor courts adjudicate labor disputes, the minister of labor may refer them to compulsory arbitration.

The law provides a regulatory framework to govern worker trade unions. The largest union, the South Sudan Workers’ Trade Union Federation, had approximately 65,000 members, working mainly in the public sector. Unions were nominally independent of the governing political party, but there were reports of government interference in labor union activities.

The government has failed to disseminate and enforce labor laws. Hyperinflation and devaluation of the South Sudanese pound led to a series of strikes because workers reported they could no longer live off their salaries. In June oil workers went on strike to demand wage increases and other protections. South Sudanese employees at foreign companies and airport workers also went on strike, demanding better pay or demanding to be paid in U.S. dollars rather than local currency.

In August truck driver associations whose members operated along the Juba-Nimule Road announced a strike due to increased insecurity and armed assaults resulting in driver deaths. Neither the government nor nongovernment militias accepted responsibility for the deaths. The truck drivers ended their two-week strike after the government increased security forces patrolling along the road.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, with exceptions for compulsory military or community service, or because of a criminal conviction. Although penalties exist, they were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, and lack of enforcement rendered them ineffective at deterring violations. The government did not investigate or prosecute any trafficking or forced-labor offenses. Forced labor occurred in domestic work, in agricultural labor on family farms, and at cattle camps. Most of those in situations of forced labor in cattle camps and agricultural activities were victimized by their own family members. Employers subjected women, migrants, and children (see section 7.c.) to forced labor in mines, restaurants, street begging, criminal activities, and sexual exploitation.

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 minimum age for paid employment is 12 for “light work” and 18 for “hazardous work.” The law defines light work as work that does not harm the health or development of a child and does not affect the child’s school attendance or capacity to benefit from such. The law provides that the government may issue regulations prescribing limitations on working hours and occupational safety and health restrictions for children, but the government has never issued these regulations.

The government did not enforce child labor laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The National Steering Committee on Child Labor, led by the Ministry of Labor, was charged with coordinating efforts across government ministries to combat child labor; it did not convene during the year. In addition to the Ministry of Labor, the committee included representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture and Forestry; Health; Gender; General Education; Culture, Youth, and Sports; Animal Resources and Fisheries; and Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, as well as the International Labor Organization (ILO), and union representatives.

None of the Ministry of Labor’s 14 labor investigators was specifically trained to address child labor. Although charged with removing children engaged in work, the investigators did not have the necessary resources and did not conduct proper investigations. Of children between ages 10 and 14, more than 45 percent were engaged in some form of child labor, largely in cattle herding, firewood gathering, or subsistence farming with family members. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the prevalence of child labor. Forced child labor occurred in brickmaking, cattle herding, gold mining, and market vending. Child labor was also prevalent in construction, domestic work, street work, and commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children). Girls removed from brothels in Juba reported that police provided security for the brothels, and SSPDF soldiers and government officials frequently exploited girls in sex trafficking. State and nonstate armed groups forcibly recruited and used children in armed conflict (see section 1.g.).

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 with respect to employment or occupation based on race, tribe or place of origin, national extraction, color, sex (including pregnancy), marital status, family responsibilities, religion, political opinion, disability, age, HIV/AIDS status, or membership or participation in a trade union. It does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Discrimination occurred on all the bases listed above. Discrimination in employment and occupation led to less hiring of ethnic groups such as the Murle, who were underrepresented in both the public and private sectors. Dinka and Nuer occupied most leadership positions within the national government. Due to Juba’s location, Equatorians were historically overrepresented in the national civil service at lower ranks. Across the country local authorities often manipulated the hiring practices of NGOs to favor fellow tribesmen and fire rivals. Youth groups demanded that humanitarian organizations reassign jobs from existing national staff to local persons. When demands were not met, the youth insisted activities be suspended, threatened violence, or attacked aid workers and assets. For example, on April 24, a group of armed youth attacked a humanitarian compound in Jamjang in Ruweng Administrative Area after they demanded the termination of four nonlocal staff and their relocation back to Juba. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to work sites.

Women had fewer economic opportunities due to employer discrimination and traditional practices. The law prohibits women’s employment in underground, underwater, or extremely hot conditions as well as any other occupations “hazardous, arduous, or harmful to their health.” Women were sometimes fired from work once they became pregnant. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties, when applied, were not commensurate with other laws related to civil rights.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour: The law specifies the Ministry of Labor may establish and publish a minimum wage, or wages, for different categories of employees. There was no public information that this occurred. The law specifies normal working hours should not exceed eight hours per day and 40 hours per week and should provide premium pay for overtime.

The government neither investigated nor prosecuted wage and hour violations commensurate with those for similar crimes. Eight employees served as both labor inspectors and adjudicators of work permits, which was not sufficient to enforce compliance. From January to March 2020, inspectors conducted approximately three inspections per week but stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Occupational Safety and Health: There are no occupational safety and health standards. Workers cannot remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The Ministry of Labor has an Occupational Safety Branch, which consists of an office director and no staff.

A civil service provisional order applies to the public sector and outlines the rights and obligations of public-sector workers, including benefits, salaries, and overtime. The law provides the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Human Resources with authority to issue the schedule of salary rates, according to which all civil servants, officials, and employees are to be paid. This pay scale had not been adjusted for several years, and due to rapid depreciation of the South Sudanese pound, most civil servants did not receive enough income to support themselves, even when their salaries were delivered on time and in full, which was infrequent. Under the law only unskilled workers are eligible for overtime pay for work more than 40 hours per week. Civil servants, officials, and employees working at higher pay grades were expected to work necessary hours beyond the standard workweek without overtime pay. When exceptional additional hours were demanded, the department head could grant time off in lieu of reimbursement.

The government did not enforce the law. In January 2020 the government acknowledged the problem of pollution in oil-producing areas but made little effort to mitigate the serious health risks to affected populations. Accidents were most prevalent in artisanal mining and construction. Widespread oil spillage and other chemical pollution, including arsenic and lead, near oil production facilities negatively affected the health of workers and others who lived nearby.

In April local media reported the death of a 35-year-old woman after delivering a stillborn child with severe birth defects in the oil-producing Ruweng Administrative Area.

Informal Sector: According to the 2008 census, the latest data on working conditions available, 84 percent of those employed were in nonwage work. Most small businesses operated in the informal economy and widely ignored labor laws and regulations. According to the ILO, less than 12 percent of workers were in the formal sector. Most workers in the country were agricultural workers, of whom approximately 70 percent were agropastoralists and 30 percent farmers. Of agricultural workers, 53 percent engaged in unpaid subsistence family farming.

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