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Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic is a presidential republic. Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected president for a second five-year term in the first round during December 2020 presidential and legislative elections marred by widespread violence. In December 2020 six armed groups formerly in the peace process combined to form a new alliance, the Coalition of Patriots for Change, led by former president Francois Bozize, and called for a suspension of the electoral process and the establishment of national consultations. These groups significantly disrupted the presidential and legislative elections. More than half of the country’s polling stations were unable to return results primarily due to insecurity, and only an estimated 37 percent of all registered voters were able to cast votes for the presidential elections. As a result of election-related insecurity, President Touadera requested support from the Russian Federation government, which facilitated the deployment of a Russian private military company, Wagner Group, and Rwandan forces. Several opposition leaders denounced irregularities in the elections. International observers found the elections not to be free and fair due to an increased level of violence and intimidation by armed groups. On June 11, President Touadera appointed Henri Marie Dondra as prime minister

Police and gendarmes are responsible for enforcing law and maintaining order. The Central African Armed Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and have the primary role of maintaining internal security. The president is commander in chief of the armed forces. Police and the gendarmerie report to the Ministry of Interior and Public Security. Civilian authorities’ control over security forces continued to improve but remained weak. There were credible reports that members of the security forces, along with Russian private military company elements from the Wagner Group, engaged in active combat and committed human rights abuses at a rate comparable to armed groups.

State authority beyond the capital improved with the increased deployment of prefects and troops in provincial capitals. Armed groups, however, still controlled some portions of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing bodies in those areas, taxing local populations and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious abuses in the context of an internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances, torture and physical abuse or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, and other conflict-related abuses by armed groups; restrictions on free expression and media, including the existence of criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and laws criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct between adults.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute government officials for alleged human rights abuses and corruption, including in the security forces. Nevertheless, a climate of impunity and a lack of access to legal services remained obstacles to citizens’ ability to obtain formal justice.

Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups continued. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during these internal conflicts. Ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property. The government stated it was investigating several high-profile cases of intercommunal violence during the year and considering charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes against perpetrators. (Note: This report refers to the “ex-Seleka” for all abuses attributed to the armed factions associated with Seleka, including the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic and the Union for Peace, which were formed after Seleka was dissolved in 2013. The armed group known as “Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation” also committed serious human rights abuses during the year.)

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. The Ministry of Justice investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and pursues prosecutions. In an August joint report by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), covering the electoral period of July 2020 through June, the UN agencies cited 59 instances of extrajudicial killings committed by state security forces, along with “other security forces,” including Russian private military company (PMC) elements from the Wagner Group who have been engaged in active combat. Many of these killings occurred when security forces and Russian elements suspected civilians of being affiliated with armed groups. On April 30, MINUSCA shared with authorities a list of human rights abuses allegedly committed by the national defense forces and “bilaterally deployed and other” security personnel. Subsequently, in May the government announced the creation of a special commission of inquiry to shed light on alleged abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law from December 2020 to April. Government authorities investigated these incidents and released preliminary findings in an October 2 report synopsis, although as of year’s end, the official report had not been released to the public. The government report synopsis accused armed rebel groups of war crimes and crimes against humanity; additionally, it acknowledged that extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and disappearances, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, occupation of public buildings, and hindrances to humanitarian access were also committed by the Central African Army (FACA), internal security forces, and Russian “instructors.” As of year’s end there was no indication authorities had taken action to hold responsible officials accountable.

The United Nations reported that in the Ombella M’Poko Prefecture, from December 30, 2020, to January 20, 10 civilians were victims of summary and extrajudicial killings by the country’s armed forces and “other security forces,” a term that includes Russian PMC elements affiliated with the sanctioned Wagner Group. Killings by PMC elements of the Wagner Group were reported in local and international press by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies. According to local official sources, on June 12, Wagner Group elements summoned the sultan mayor of the town of Koui, Lamido Souleymane Daouda, his deputy, and his bodyguard to accompany them to seize weapons from a rebel group. Hours later the Wagner elements returned to Koui to inform Daouda’s family that he, his deputy, and his bodyguard were killed in a landmine explosion. After discussions with his family, the Wagner elements handed over the remains of all three deceased, which observers noted showed bullet wounds and no trace of explosives. The UN’s report corroborated allegations that Daouda and his entourage were killed by Wagner Group elements.

The report also stated that Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) rebels were responsible for approximately 61 killings targeting civilians for party affiliation or participation in the elections. On July 31, Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) rebels attacked the northwestern village of Mann near the borders of Chad and Cameroon, killing at least six civilians, according to MINUSCA sources.

b. Disappearance

There were some reports of disappearances committed by or on behalf of government authorities. According to a local news report, in December 2020 members of a government-sponsored militia commonly known as the Sharks, while disguised as presidential guards, broke into Ngaragba Prison in Bangui and abducted three individuals: army officer Bombole; Staff Sergeant Amazoude; and Corporal Ringui, alias Badboy. There has been no sign of the three since that time. On February 1, Saint Claire Danmboy Balekouzou, a FACA soldier known as “Sadam,” was also allegedly kidnapped by the Sharks. His body was later found in the bordering Bimbo district of Bangui.

In a July 7 letter to President Touadera, members of the Goula ethnic community in the central town of Bria alleged 12 Goula community members were detained by government forces during the unrest that followed December 2020 polling. The letter states there had been no further contact with the individuals after their arrest. Although a government investigation acknowledged UN reports that other disappearances were committed by government or Wagner Group elements, as of year’s end there was no indication that authorities had taken action regarding those disappearances, or those abuses cited earlier (see section 1.a.).

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

Although the law defines and specifies punishment for torture and other cruel and inhuman treatments, authorities and armed groups continued to commit abuses against the civilian population. Although sentences for such crimes range from 20 years to life in prison and forced labor, impunity persisted. In August FACA soldiers stationed at the Boing neighborhood police station reportedly extorted 146,000 Central African Francs (CFA) ($254) from timber seller Alfred Doualengue and severely beat him. The online newspaper Le Tsunami published Doualengue’s photograph, which showed scars across his buttocks. Although a government investigation acknowledged UN reports that other instances of torture were committed by government or Wagner Group elements, as of year’s end there was no indication that authorities had acted regarding those abuses (see section 1.a). Impunity for human rights abuses continued to be a significant problem throughout the country’s security forces, including the army, gendarmerie, and police. According to human rights advocates, factors that contributed to impunity included judicial backlogs and fear of retaliation. The government worked with the EU and MINUSCA to provide training on human rights for FACA and gendarme units.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to the National Commission for Human Rights and local NGOs, prison conditions did not generally meet international norms and were often harsh, life-threatening, and inhuman due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, and inadequate sanitation.

Physical Conditions: According to MINUSCA, at the start of the year, the imprisoned population included 1,226 men and 65 women, three of whom were caring for infants.

The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and a women’s prison at Bimbo. In other locations, including Bossembele, Sibut, and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody at police stations and gendarmerie brigades. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded the facilities.

Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities such as food, clothing, and medicine were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors’ unofficial fees.

COVID-19 highlighted shortcomings that endangered the health and lives of detainees and prison staff. Poor hygienic detention conditions linked to overcrowding and inadequate health care increased the likelihood of infection. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, mixed juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender, as well as in smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, M’Baiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa. Detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors. There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders.

Administration: Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by international donors, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent experts on human rights in the country. In addition, state organs like the National Commission for Human Rights and the General Inspectorate of Justice were also authorized independently to visit detention centers.

In July and August the National Commission for Human Rights visited Ngaragba Prison in Bangui and M’Baiki Prison in Lobaye Prefecture and found that both had substandard roofing and lacked sufficient food for inmates. Inmates in both lived in overcrowded cells, lacked access to health care, and experienced recurrent health problems. During remarks at the opening of the judicial year in July, President Touadera noted the state only allocated 3,330,000 CFA francs ($6,060) weekly for inmates’ food at all facilities, an average of 299 CFA francs ($0.54) per inmate per day. Touadera admitted during the speech that the amount was unacceptably low.

Improvements: Forty-seven detainees, including seven women from Ngaragba and the Bimbo-based women’s detention center received training certificates in carpentry, plumbing and manufacturing solar cookers on July 21, after three months of training sponsored by MINUSCA.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detentions and lengthy pretrial detentions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides that persons under arrest be informed immediately of the allegations against them. Detainees must be presented before a judge within 72 hours and cannot be held longer than 144 hours without appearing before a judge. There are exceptions for those detained under national security laws and those in remote areas where there are no courts. In both cases detentions can be extended up to eight days, renewable once. Poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and an insufficient number of judges meant these requirements were not always observed. Provisional release was available for those awaiting trial, but not consistently enforced. There was a functioning bail system. Suspects were often detained incommunicado.

The law requires that defendants in felony cases involving sentences of 10 years or more be provided a lawyer. The law does not require defendants in nonfelony cases be provided a lawyer. Many felony and nonfelony defendants could not afford counsel. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 50,000 CFA francs ($91) per case, a sum low enough that it deterred many lawyers from accepting indigent defendants.

Arbitrary Arrest: Both security forces and armed groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals. Many arbitrary arrests occurred during the January counteroffensive by security forces and Wagner Group elements, according to reports in the local press and by NGOs. Security forces arbitrarily arrested at least 35 citizens during the counteroffensive, according to the August joint report by MINUSCA and the OHCHR. Thierry Savonarole Maleyombo was arrested in January in Bangui, accused of complicity in former president Francois Bozize’s attempted takeover by force. He was first detained in Ngaragba Prison, then transferred to the annex prison of Camp de Roux. At year’s end he remained in preventive detention, and no date had been given for his trial. In August the prosecutor of the Bambari Appeal Court (Ouaka Prefecture) reportedly fled the town to escape retribution by the Wagner Group, which he claimed accused him of collaborating with rebels, because he spoke out in favor of due process. According to the prosecutor, Russians in Ouaka often made arbitrary arrests to question detainees. Reports by Amnesty International, UN experts, and MINUSCA documented arbitrary arrests, looting of properties, and other abuses committed by FACA, Wagner Group elements, and rebels from the CPC.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was a serious problem, as was associated overcrowding in prisons and prolongation of trial dates. During a July speech, President Touadera estimated that as many as 75 percent of prisoners in the country were in pretrial detention. Touadera added that this rate placed the country at odds with domestic requirements and international commitments. Lengthy pretrial detentions occurred in part because of a lack of affordable legal representation and low capacity of judiciary bodies.

The law provides that preventive detention is possible if the penalty incurred exceeds one year’s imprisonment and if, for the needs of the investigation, it is essential to preserve evidence and separate parties involved. In August the National Human Rights Commission visited M’Baiki Prison in Lobaye Prefecture and noted only eight of 40 detainees had been convicted and that the remaining inmates were in preventive detention.

Although record keeping of arrests and detentions was poor, slow investigation and processing of cases was the primary cause of lengthy pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained and understaffed, resulting in very slow case-processing times. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. Judges resisted holding sessions due to security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of quality, affordable legal services, and a poorly functioning justice system. According to UN legal experts, detainees met difficulty finding adequate legal representation, since court-appointed lawyers were often less than enthusiastic about defending detainees due to being perceived as “difficult” by magistrates. Court-appointed attorneys also believed they were not paid sufficiently for defending detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political actors exerted undue influence on it. The country’s judicial system had not recovered from 2013 attacks by Seleka rebels who destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country. Despite slight improvements in the number of judges deployed outside Bangui, the overall inadequate number of justices still hindered court operations nationwide. Many judges were unwilling to conduct proceedings outside Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office space and housing. UN legal experts explained that while some “security concerns” were legitimate, others were used to avoid deployment to underdeveloped areas outside Bangui that lacked social services, housing, and other infrastructure. For judges based in Bangui, legal advocacy organizations noted performance problems and impunity for underperformance, particularly for judges in “investigative chambers.” At the end of January, 55.2 percent of judicial staff were present at their posts across the country, according to records from MINUSCA’s Justice and Corrections Division. By the end of September, this figure increased to 70.6 percent. National criminal courts of appeal operated in two (Bouar and Bangui) of the country’s three appellate districts (Bouar, Bambari, and Bangui). The Bangui military tribunal held its second hearing in July, hearing 14 cases. In late September the Court Martial held its first criminal session in Bangui. The Military Tribunal hears cases punishable by less than 10 years, whilst the Court Martial hears cases punishable by 10 years or more.

Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, shortages of trained personnel, and salary arrears. Authorities at all levels did not always respect court orders.

The Special Criminal Court (SCC) established in 2015 operates with both domestic and international participation and support. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. With the arrival of four international judges and one prosecutor between January and June, and two appellate judges from France and Germany set to arrive by the end of November, the court had its full complement of national and international judges.

In May the SCC accepted nine cases involving members of the armed group Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) who were arrested for crimes committed in the towns of Obo, Zemio, and Bambouti in the southeastern portion of the country. As of September the SCC received 122 complaints; 24 of those were in various stages of investigation. Pursuant to an SCC warrant, 15 persons were also detained and were awaiting trial at Ngaragba Prison and its annex at Camp de Roux. In September the SCC announced war crimes charges against Anti-balaka leader Eugene Barret Ngaikosset.

The country’s Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRRC), is a transitional justice body charged with establishing truth, determining nonjudicial responsibility for violations, creating a reparations fund, and promoting reconciliation. In April 2020 the National Assembly passed legislation creating the TJRRC, giving it a mandate of four years (with possible extension to five). The law charged the commission with “investigating, determining the truth, and assigning responsibly for the grave events that have marked the nation starting with the March 29, 1959, disappearance of President Barthelemy Boganda until December 31, 2019.” In July the TJRRC’s 11 commissioners, including five women, were sworn in by national authorities. Edith Douzima presided over the TJRRC. The UN Development Program and MINUSCA provided support to the TJRRC through strategic planning and training retreats in August and September.

On February 16, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened the trial of Alfred Yekatoum and Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The prosecution began the presentation of evidence against Yekatoum and Ngaissona, both former Anti-balaka leaders. Government authorities surrendered Mahamat Said Abdelkani, a former Seleka commander, to the ICC on January 24, and his initial appearance before the court to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity took place on January 28 and 29. From October 12-14, the ICC held a hearing to confirm the charges against Abdelkani. The government referred the situation in the country to the ICC in 2014, and investigations continued during the year.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but this right was not always enforced. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty, requires trials to be public, and states that indigent felony defendants facing sentences of 10 years or more have the right to consult a court-appointed attorney. Criminal trials use professional judges and juries selected from lists generated by magistrates in courts of appeal. Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, question witnesses, and file appeals. They also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them (with free interpretation as needed) throughout all stages of the legal process, receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. All defendants who do not speak the country’s main languages, French and Sango, are entitled to an interpreter. If this right is not respected, defendants have the right to appeal the decision of the court. Authorities did not always respect these rights.

There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity in the criminal and civil court systems, except for a new victims’ protection program in the SCC. Witness protection was a major issue in the criminal setting. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no assurance of their safety and a credible judicial process.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in which to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. Civil courts, which are collocated with correctional courts, held regular sessions.

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

The law prohibits home searches without a warrant during preliminary investigations, except for provisions in the law that permit searches with the defendant’s consent. Once the case is under investigation by an investigating magistrate, the presence of the defendant or witnesses is sufficient. The government did not always follow this requirement. For instance, in early January former minister Thierry Savonarole Maleyombo, also a senior executive of former president Francois Bozize’s Kwa na Kwa Party, was arrested in Bangui following a search of his home. According to his lawyer, Me Crepin Mboli Goumba, Maleyombo was arrested on suspicion of sheltering pro-Bozize armed individuals in his hotel, which was being used as a rear base. According to Mboli Goumba, authorities did not present Maleyombo a warrant.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

There were numerous reports of serious human rights and international humanitarian law abuses countrywide by FACA, Wagner Group elements, and armed groups. Reports of abuses included unlawful killings, torture, disappearances, rape, forced marriage, looting, destruction of property, recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups, and disruption of humanitarian access.

Between July 2020 and June, a joint report by the UN Human Rights Office and MINUSCA recorded 526 cases of violations and abuses of human rights and of international humanitarian law across the country, impacting 1,221 victims, including 144 civilians. Armed groups affiliated with the CPC were responsible for 286 (54 percent) of the incidents, and the FACA, internal security forces, and other security personnel, including Russian elements from the Wagner Group, were responsible for 240 incidents (46 percent). Violations included summary and extrajudicial executions, acts of torture and ill treatment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, conflict-related sexual violence, and serious violations of children’s rights. The report attributed kidnappings, attacks on peacekeepers, and looting of humanitarian organizations’ premises to CPC rebels.

Killings: In June, 14 persons were killed and two badly wounded during intercommunal clashes between Peuhl herders and local farmers in the Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. The 3R rebels, Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC), UPC, Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic (FPRC), and Anti-balaka armed groups participated in killings of civilians related to armed conflict. Additionally, reports indicated that after forming the CPC in late 2020, these armed groups committed a series of attacks that resulted in civilian deaths and the looting of homes and private properties.

On September 4, the SCC confirmed the arrest of Eugene Ngaikosset, a former captain in the presidential guard accused of multiple killings of civilians from 2005 to 2007. According to Human Rights Watch, his unit was accused of burning thousands of homes in the northeast and northwest of the country in the same period, as well as other crimes as a leader of the Anti-balaka in 2015. The SCC charged him with crimes against humanity.

Abductions: On August 24, three teenagers, ages 12 to 14, were kidnapped, allegedly by 3R rebels and CPC members, in the outskirts of Bozoum, capital of the Ouham-Pende Prefecture in the northwestern part of the country. Local authorities stated the three hostages were safely released by their captors early the next morning after carrying the rebels’ luggage into the bush. They were referred to the local gendarmerie commander for investigation.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were numerous reports throughout the year that all parties to the conflict, including FACA, Wagner Group elements, and rebel armed groups mistreated, assaulted, and raped civilians with impunity.

The United Nations reported a significant increase in conflict-related sexual violence linked with the deterioration of the security situation following the elections. Between June and October, MINUSCA received allegations concerning 118 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence, most of which involved rape. Eighty percent of incidents were attributed to armed groups, while 5 percent were attributed to national defense forces, and 7 percent to “bilaterally deployed and other security personnel.” In Bangui, MINUSCA supported a safe house operated by a local NGO to provide temporary protection to survivors of sexual violence and worked with the UN Country Team to establish a working group to assist survivors in the areas of health, justice, and psychosocial and socioeconomic support. In October President Touadera named Minister Counselor of Child Protection Josiane Bemaka Soui as the country’s new focal point for sexual violence in conflict.

Military tribunals, courts martial, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. After a decade of inactivity, military courts resumed work in July. Several officers, noncommissioned officers, and soldiers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to seven years in prison. Most were found guilty of abandoning their posts during the CPC offensive from December 2020 to January. Additionally, Arsene Laki, a divisional police commissioner, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine by the Permanent Military Tribunal for beating a woman while on duty.

MINUSCA announced in September that it would withdraw Gabon’s 450-strong peacekeeping contingent in the wake of sexual exploitation and abuse allegations against some members. The Gabonese government stated it would open its own investigation into the charges and dispatched an investigation team to the country.

Child Soldiers: Armed militias associated with Anti-balaka, ex-Seleka, the CPC, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and other armed groups forcibly recruited and used child soldiers; however, there were no verified cases of the government supporting units recruiting or using child soldiers during the year. Armed groups recruited children and used them as combatants, messengers, informants, and cooks. Girls were often forced to marry combatants or were used as sex slaves. The United Nations also documented the presence of children operating checkpoints and barricades.

Despite signing the United Nation’s Standard Operation Procedures proscribing the use of child soldiers, the MPC, FPRC, and UPC continued to use child soldiers. The FPRC and UPC issued orders barring the recruitment of children; however, NGOs reported the continued presence of children within these groups.

The country is party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibit the involvement of children in armed conflicts. In addition, on June 15, President Touadera signed the decree enacting the Child Protection Law. The law prohibits and criminalizes the recruitment and the use of children into armed groups and their exploitation for sexual purposes; perpetrators may be sentenced up to 10 years of imprisonment to hard labor. In addition, the law establishes that a child who has served in an armed force or group is a victim and should not be subject to criminal prosecution or that service, and mandates social reintegration mechanisms for victims.

During the year the government, UNICEF, and various NGOs worked with armed groups to combat the exploitation of child soldiers. The focal point for children’s affairs in the unit in charge of the national Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation program, confirmed in August that there were still former child soldiers detained in Ngaragba Prison, because the government was unable to find alternative centers to hold and rehabilitate them.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that humanitarian organizations’ ability to access remote areas worsened because of insecurity. Beginning in December 2020, insecurity forced the closure of the country’s main road, leading to severe shortages of relief commodities. The government continued to impose restrictions on humanitarian travel due to insecurity, and operations by FACA and affiliated forces led to temporary suspensions of assistance in affected areas. Humanitarian organizations suspended activities in areas with high levels of armed group activity as a preventive measure. Additionally, the increase in the use of explosive devices along roads during the year, as well as attacks on key infrastructure such as bridges, limited relief actors’ ability to travel by road. The United Nations recorded 314 security incidents affecting humanitarian staff between January and September, leading to three deaths and 23 injuries. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also reported “a rise in the number of reports of attacks on humanitarian workers and medical services” during the year, and in its most recent appeal, the ICRC noted that health facilities were closed, operating at limited capacity, or were damaged or looted during fighting.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press, the government did not always respect these rights. The law allows criminal prosecutions for defamation of public officials (see Libel/Slander Laws below).

Freedom of Expression: Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. Public political debates known as patara were broadcast on private radio stations in Bangui and in most provincial capitals. In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, with some restrictions. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were alternatives to state-owned radio stations. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka militias, the CPC, and Wagner Group elements. International media broadcast within the country. The High Commission for Communication is the regulatory body in charge of controlling the content of information broadcast or published in media. Opposition political candidates alleged that state-owned media favored the administration during the presidential election campaign. The government monopolized domestic television and national radio station broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government opinion.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: After the January 21 decree establishing the state of emergency, on February 16, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications blocked access to two online newspapers, corbeaunews-centrafrique.com and letsunami.net. Both were accused of disseminating hate speech, disinformation, and fake news on social media. According to Reporters Without Borders, although the ministry did not cite specific reporting in its ban, both Corbeau News publisher Alain Nzilo and Le Tsunami publisher Edouard Yamalet claimed that their online publications were banned because of their coverage of abuses by Russian Wagner Group elements.

Libel/Slander Laws: On May 25, the Court of Justice of Bangui sentenced Jean Serge Wafio in absentia to four years’ imprisonment on allegations of defamation, outrage, and public insults against then prime minister Firmin Ngrebada. In addition, the Court ordered Wafio to pay five million CFA francs ($9,090) in damages to Ngrebada and 300,000 CFA francs ($545) in court costs. Wafio is president of the Central African Democratic Party and resided in France. In an April 9 statement on social media, Wafio accused then prime minister Ngrebada of attempting to kill political opponents, including Simplice Mathieu Sarandji of the United Hearts Movement (MCU), by poisoning. Sarandji was former prime minister Ngrebada’s predecessor. According to Maitre Zoumalde, Ngrebada’s lawyer, the court also issued an arrest warrant against Wafio, prohibiting him from exercising his civil and political rights, including eligibility to serve in public office for the next 10 years. Wafio is subject to enforcement of this warrant at any point he reenters the country. Many observers considered the ruling politically motivated. In another case journalist Landry Ulrich Nguema Ngokpele was arrested in June, pursuant to a complaint filed by local NGO president Harouna Douamba. The complaint cites a 2018 article by Ngokpele’s publication, Le Quotidien de Bangui, alleging that Douamba had swindled government authorities. Ngokpele was released in June after an outcry from civil society but later arrested again on national security charges for alleged connections to the CPC armed group.

Nongovernmental Impact: In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Internet Freedom

In one case the government restricted online content (see above Censorship and Content Restrictions). There were no credible reports that the government otherwise monitored or restricted private online communications.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports that the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

During the year the government denied several requests to protest from civil society groups, including E Zingo Biani, citing insecurity in Bangui, and subsequently dispersed demonstrators. The government tolerated demonstrations by groups closer to the regime. For instance, in May several thousand persons, mostly from groups associated with President Touadera’s MCU party, marched across Bangui to denounce Special Representative of the Secretary General Mankeur Ndiaye’s statements regarding the solution to the country’s crisis being primarily diplomatic, and not military, during an interview with Radio France International. Security forces did not stop them.

Freedom of Association

A law prohibiting unregistered organizations from organizing for purposes of political advocacy remained in place. All political organizations in the country must register with the Ministry of Administration.

The constitution grants the rights to freedom of association to nationals and foreigners, including the rights to establish NGOs, political parties, or religious groups. The law defines NGOs as associations having nondiscriminatory, apolitical, and nonprofit purposes, which aim to carry out activities of public interest that contribute to the achievement of development objectives. Political parties are organizations that prepare candidates to compete in elections.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not always respect these rights.

In-country Movement: Armed groups, criminals, and Russian elements from the Wagner Group made in-country movement extremely dangerous. Government forces, Wagner Group elements, armed groups, and criminals frequently used illegal checkpoints to extort funds. Additionally, due to the significant number of police, gendarme, customs, FACA, and armed group checkpoints, it was difficult to move freely between Bangui and provincial cities. There were reports that members of the Peuhl ethnic group were singled out for particularly abusive treatment and heightened scrutiny at many checkpoints.

Foreign Travel: Between March and May, the Bangui prosecutor issued travel bans on opposition leaders, Anicet-Georges Dologuele, Martin Ziguele, Karim Meckassoua, and Aurelien Simplice Zingas. Border police executed the decision, preventing three from boarding flights at Bangui International Airport between March and June. Zingas challenged the decision before the Bangui Administrative Court. On May 25, in its ruling at first instance, the court ordered the lifting of the measures and restitution of his travel documents.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

As of October OCHA noted there were 722,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country due to the armed conflict. Humanitarian actors aided IDPs and returnees and promoted the safe voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of refugees. The government worked with the United Nations and the broader humanitarian community on safe, voluntary return of the country’s IDPs and refugees through a durable solutions working group. The government adopted and followed humanitarian principles for returnees. While there were no reports of forced returns, there were reports of forced evictions, such as a June eviction in Bambari (see below). There were multiple reports of instances in which government forces and Wagner Group elements also obstructed humanitarian organizations from providing services to civilians, including the displaced. Since April security incidents involving explosive devices in the western part of the country resulted in deaths of civilians and humanitarian workers and disrupted humanitarian access, prompting UN agencies and humanitarian actors to restrict movements. Even after reaching safe locations, IDPs frequently risked assault by criminals, including those associated with armed groups, when venturing outside of camps. Women and girls were often at risk of sexual violence in and outside IDP sites. In many affected areas, poor access and insecurity limited humanitarian assistance. From June to August humanitarian international NGOs had limited access to populations south of the town of Alindao due to military operations. When operations subsided in September, international NGOs were able to serve the affected populations. The presence of armed groups also delayed or obstructed humanitarian activities. OCHA reported that more than 8,500 individuals residing in an IDP site in the central town of Bambari, most of them ethnic Peuhl, were forcefully displaced by armed elements on June 4. MINUSCA’s human rights division reported that FACA and Wagner Group elements were responsible. Two days later the site was set afire in circumstances that remained to be clarified. With extremely limited capacity, the government relied on MINUSCA to provide protection and humanitarian actors to provide multisector services to IDPs. Humanitarian organizations remained concerned that armed group members continued to hide in IDP sites, carrying out recruitment activities and putting IDPs and humanitarian staff at risk. Violence increased humanitarian needs, which exceeded existing capacities. OCHA estimated that 2.8 million of the country’s approximately five million inhabitants required humanitarian assistance and protection. Security concerns related to criminality, as well as armed group, FACA, and Russian Wagner Group activity prevented aid organizations from operating in some areas, particularly in the northwest.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: Internal conflicts made it difficult for the country to routinely provide security and protection for persons within its borders. The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Individuals who had fled their countries of origin and had prior criminal records, however, were immediately repatriated.

Durable Solutions: UNHCR restarted voluntary repatriations of refugees from the country living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, many of whom fled across the Oubangui River during violence in 2013. An initial group of 250 was welcomed back at Bangui’s Port Amont during an October 22 ceremony presided over by Prime Minister Henri Dondra.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Refugees who returned to the country after voter registration was closed and the estimated 200,000 potential voters still outside the country were denied the right to participate in the December 2020 presidential and legislative elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In many areas of the country, before and during late December 2020 presidential and legislative elections, armed groups interfered with voter registration and the distribution of election materials. On election day threats and violence by armed groups prevented citizens from voting in 26 of 68 voting districts and interrupted voting in six others. It was unclear precisely how many registered voters were prevented from voting because of armed group interference with electoral processes. Most of the violence committed around the elections was committed by CPC-affiliated armed groups. There were no reports of government security actors attempting to interfere with the election or prevent individuals from voting. The government did not attempt to restrict eligible voters from registering, but armed groups interfered with registration.

International and NGO observers reported high voter turnout in Bangui. Some media reported that threats of violence suppressed turnout in many other areas. NGO observers reported some irregularities in polling places that were able to open, particularly a lack of indelible ink and legislative ballots at certain sites. They also reported that some voters who did not have voter identification cards were allowed to vote with a certificate from the National Elections Authority. Some candidates and opposition leaders, including Anicet Georges Dologuele, Martin Ziguele, and Mahamat Kamoun, alleged there were cases of election fraud. A local elections NGO, the National Observatory of Elections, concluded that observed irregularities did not undermine the overall credibility of the elections. The African Union observation mission reported that voting in Bangui conformed to the country’s electoral code and international standards. Election results were announced in early January.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. UN Women, however, assessed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited women’s ability to participate in political life on an equal basis with men. Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons prevented them from effectively advocating for their interests in the political sphere (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). The law requires that in all public and private institutions, 35 percent of seats should be reserved for women. This provision was not observed. Seven of 32 ministers in President Touadera’s cabinet were women, a 5 percent increase over his previous cabinet, but still short of the law’s requirements. Political parties likewise did not reach 35 percent gender parity in their slates of candidates during the 2020 parliamentary elections. There were 17 women among the 133 members of the National Assembly, a 5 percent increase over the previous legislature. The law prohibits gender discrimination and provides for an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance. As of year’s end the National Observatory had not been established.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not effectively implement the law, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government. Weak government capacity further limited attempts to address fully the problem of public-sector corruption. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption and bribery remained widespread. In April, President Touadera signed a decree dismissing Regis Lionel Privat Dounda, minister of youth and sports. Dounda was allegedly implicated, according to a report by the State’s General Inspectorate, in a corruption affair with a Cameroonian oil company.

Laws and procedures for awarding natural resource extraction contracts and ensuring that information on those processes remain transparent were not followed. The Constitutional Court also asked that the government disclose mining concessions terms. The government did not respond. The government’s oversight body, the High Authority for Good Governance, is not authorized to proceed with investigations without prior authorization from the president and the prime minister.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights abuses and violations of law. Government officials were typically cooperative and responsive.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country’s independent National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties has the authority to investigate complaints, including the power to call witnesses and subpoena documents. In March the commission investigated living conditions in Ngaragba Prison and the M’Baiki Prison. The commission publicized its findings in the local press.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of physical and sexual violence, as well as sexual exploitation. The law prohibits rape of all persons regardless of gender, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic abuse, rape, and sexual slavery of women and girls by several armed rebel groups continued to threaten security, as did the use of sexual violence as a deliberate tactic of conflict. Attackers enjoyed broad impunity.

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison and prohibits all forms of violence against women. Domestic violence against women was common, including physical and verbal abuse and spousal rape. There were no reports of prosecutions during the year for domestic violence, although many courts did not operate for much of the year due to instability throughout the country. According to UNICEF’s 2006 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), nearly 45 percent of women suffered physical violence from their husbands or relatives; 52 percent suffered verbal abuse, and 32 percent were raped.

Women and girls were particularly affected by high rates of conflict-related sexual violence. Decades of unrest and harmful traditions and cultural practices in the country exacerbated gender-based violence, in particular rape, forced marriage, and domestic violence. Survivors of sexual violence were discriminated against, and the government was unable to provide adequate care, including health and social services, to survivors. Sexual violence committed by armed actors increased the risk of spreading HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. In Bangui, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) observed a significant increase in cases of conflict-related sexual violence; the number of consultations linked to such attacks in its Bangui-based Tongolo center rose from 173 in December 2020 to 421 in February. Local NGOs like the National Association for the Support of Free Women and Girls Victims of Sexual Violence in Situations of Distress, the Flamboyants, and the Nengo (“Dignity” in the country’s predominant Sango language) Project assisted victims of sexual violence.

Increased instances of sexual violence corresponded to rising armed group activity and clashes between CPC rebels and the FACA after December 2020. Between January and June, MINUSCA’s human rights office documented 131 incidents of sexual violence connected to the conflict, including 115 rapes. Of these, 19 cases involved government security forces and Wagner Group elements, while 112 involved CPC rebels. For example during the electoral period, 3R and Anti-balaka rebels seized control of Bouar town in Nana-Mambere Prefecture. MINUSCA recorded 21 cases of rape pursuant to this single incident.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls and establishes penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine. When FGM/C results in the death of the victim, sentences can reach life terms with hard labor and a substantial monetary fine.

Nearly one-quarter of girls and women were subjected to FGM/C, with variations according to ethnicity and region. One percent of girls ages 10 to 14 were mutilated. Both the prevalence of FGM/C and support for the practice appeared to be decreasing, according to 2018 data, the most recent available. Information on what may be causing this trend was unavailable.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government did not effectively enforce the law, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime. In August the National Assembly passed a law on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The most recent available data on reproductive health is based on 2019 surveys. According to UNICEF’s 2018-2019 MICS Findings Report, 82 percent of women, and 89 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 years did not use contraception. Individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children. The law authorizes abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape. The MICS 2010 survey indicated that the abortion rate was 7 percent among women ages 15 to 45.

The maternal mortality rate was 829 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. The major factor contributing to the high maternal death rate was the lack of access to adequate health care. According to 2019 data from the Ministry of Health, the most recent available, there were 873 health-care establishments in the country, of which approximately 52 were hospitals. Of these, 50 percent were small, often rural doctor’s offices, and 44 percent were clinics. Most health-care establishments received medicine, supplies, and other support from humanitarian organizations including UN organizations, the ICRC, and Doctors Without Borders.

Only 19 percent of women reported receiving prenatal care for their last pregnancy (MICS 2018-2019). The birth rate was high at 6.4 per woman (MICS 2018-2019) and 43 percent of women reported having a child before age 18 (MICS 2018-2019). Lacking sexual and reproductive education contributed to early pregnancy among girls, which was more prevalent in rural than in urban areas (MICS 2010). Only 53 percent of births in 2006 were attended by qualified health personnel (83 percent in urban areas, 35 percent in rural areas). Data from the 2018-2019 MICS survey indicated that the infant mortality rate was 100 per 1,000 live births, and 53 percent of deliveries were assisted.

The government worked closely with the International Organization for Migration and MINUSCA to train and deploy the Mixed Unit for Rapid Intervention and Repression of Sexual Violence to Women and Children (UMIRR). UMIRR opened a new office in Bouar in September to reach victims of sexual violence in the country’s northwestern region. Emergency contraception was not widely available to women as a part of the country’s clinical management of rape. (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.)

Menstrual health and hygiene issues severely impacted girls’ ability to attend school. Socioeconomic barriers, rather than explicit policies, often prevented pregnant girls from attending school.

Discrimination: The formal law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but the government did not enforce the formal law effectively, and discriminatory customary laws often prevailed. Women’s statutory inheritance rights often were not respected, particularly in rural areas. Women experienced economic and social discrimination. Customary law does not consider single, divorced, or widowed women, including those with children, to be heads of households. By law men and women are entitled to family subsidies from the government, but several women’s groups complained of lack of access to these payments for women.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Nomadic Peuhl pastoralists were often the victims of violence. Their cattle wealth made them frequent targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the northern and northwestern parts of the country. Peuhl were often perceived as foreign because of their transnational migratory patterns. They were also associated with CPC-affiliated armed groups that claimed to represent Peuhl interests. Ethnic killings often occurred in relation to transhumance movements, a major source of livelihood for Peuhl. In recent years some Peuhl pastoralists armed themselves against attacks from farmers objecting to the presence of their grazing cattle. Transhumance movements brought Muslim Fulani/Peuhl herders, Muslim, and Christian farming communities into conflict, which waned during the rainy season and increased as cattle movements resume during the dry season.

Intercommunal clashes also took place in June between Peul herders and local farmers in the Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture, in the village of Tiri, near N’dele. The government took no action to prosecute or investigate these killings and many others, in view of the ongoing conflict in the country.

Peuhl community leaders reported that FACA and Wagner Group elements indiscriminately targeted Peuhl civilians during military operations against the 3R rebels in the western part of the country. International community sources assessed that the government’s moving 8,000 majority-Peuhl IDPs from a site in Bambari in June was a case of forced displacement (see also section 1.e., Internally Displaced Persons).

Armed group conflict at times devolved into ethnic violence, such as the Goula/Rounga conflict in Birao. Throughout the year acts of violence were recorded between the Rounga and the Goula ethnic groups. Violence between the groups continued in Birao and spread to N’dele.

The government had no programs to address factors behind racial or ethnic biases.

Indigenous Peoples

Traditionally, forest dwelling Ba’Aka, including children, were often coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They were used as slaves by members of other local ethnic groups. Even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far less than those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups. Some NGOs described the Ba’Aka as “second-class citizens.”

The vast majority of Ba’Aka did not have birth certificates and consequently could not register to be political candidates and vote. They often also had trouble registering for school. Ba’Aka, and Ba’Aka women in particular, frequently were exploited and coerced into servitude or working long hours for “in-kind” salaries of fabric or other household goods. Access to health care, particularly prenatal healthcare, was poor and many Ba’Aka women gave birth in the forest instead of in clinics and other medical facilities. A local Human Rights Center, cosponsored by the World Wildlife Fund employed one lawyer who assisted the Ba’Aka with legal cases. To date, three persons were found guilty of exploiting Ba’Aka labor.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration was less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately for many reasons including a registration deadline of one month, registration costs, or distances to government facilities. Many citizens’ birth certificates and civil status documents were lost during the conflict. Unregistered children were at times unable to access education and other social services. During the year NGOs assisted with documentation activities. In July the Norwegian Refugee Council held mobile hearings with courts in the town of Alindao to issue birth certificates to children in need. The initiative provided more than 3,000 children between the ages of six and 13 with identity documents.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six to 15. Tuition is free, but students pay for books, supplies, and transportation. Few indigenous Ba’Aka children attended primary school. There was no significant government assistance for efforts to increase Ba’Aka enrollment.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children younger than 15. UMIRR is the government’s entity charged with investigating abuses against women and children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. A 2018 UNICEF report indicated that 68 percent of girls in the country married before age 18 and more than one-quarter before age 15. Early marriage was more common in Muslim communities. There were reports of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka members during the year. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: In June the government enacted the Child Protection Act, which provides a lifetime sentence and significant monetary fines for trafficking in persons involving minors. The age of consent for sexual activity is 18. Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see section 1.g.). From January to June, MINUSCA documented 84 cases of conflict-related child rape. In June the deputy headmaster of the Castors Girls School in Bangui was arrested and imprisoned for having raped a girl, age 12.

Displaced Children: Conflict-related forced displacement disproportionately affected children. UNICEF estimated 168,000 children were internally displaced within the country; and approximately 70,000 of them were not able to return home. The situation of children already displaced remained extremely worrying, because many were separated from their families and were at greater risk of child rights violations, such as being abducted, threatened, or forced to join armed groups.

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.htm.

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant 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 faced unique challenges in accessing education, health services, public buildings, and transportation. The government did not enact programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. There are no legislated or mandated accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities. The government did not provide government information and communication in accessible formats.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with both mental and physical disabilities but does not specify other forms of disabilities. It requires that in any company employing 25 or more persons, at least 5 percent of staff consist of sufficiently qualified persons with disabilities presuming that they were represented in the applicant pool. The law states that at least 10 percent of newly recruited civil service personnel should be persons with disabilities. Statistics covering implementation of these provisions were unavailable.

According to an August World Food Program report, there was a lack of data on persons with disabilities, their needs, and the barriers they face. This lack of data impacted the ability of humanitarian responders to plan, deliver, and evaluate inclusive activities. Data from 2020 collected by Humanity & Inclusion showed that 87 percent of persons with disabilities reported difficulties accessing nonfood item distributions, food, and cash. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Protection’s (Ministry of Labor) Labor Inspectorate was responsible for protecting children with disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV and AIDS were subjected to discrimination and stigma, and as a result, many individuals with HIV and AIDS did not disclose their status. Many persons living with HIV and AIDS had difficulty accessing appropriate treatment. According to a 2019 survey, HIV prevalence was 3.5 percent among adults. An August UNAIDS assessment of the gender dimensions of HIV prevalence in the country stated 56 percent of new HIV infections in the country were among women, and 60 percent of all persons living with HIV in the country were women. The prevalence of HIV among persons ages 15 to 49 years was 4.9 percent according to the 2010 MICS report; contacts at the Institute Pasteur reported the infection rate in Bangui was approximately 18 percent. MINUSCA sources assessed that the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV was the result of protracted insecurity, humanitarian crises, and retrograde social norms. The same study identified disproportionately high HIV and AIDS prevalence rates amongst other socially stigmatized populations like sex workers (15 percent) and men who have sex with men (6.5 percent).

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The penalty for conviction of “public expression of love” between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years and a substantial monetary fine. During the year there were no reports police arrested or detained persons under these provisions.

While official discrimination based on sexual orientation occurred, there were no reports the government targeted LGBTQI+ persons. Societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons was entrenched due to a high degree of cultural stigmatization. One openly LGBTQI+ organization based in Bangui, Central African Alternative, carried out health-based advocacy for LGBTQI+ persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except for senior-level state employees, security-force members, and foreign workers in residence for less than two years, to form or join independent unions without prior authorization. The law provides for the right of workers to organize and administer trade unions without employer interference and grants trade unions full legal status. The law requires union officials be full-time, wage-earning employees in their occupation and allows them to conduct union business during working hours if the employer is informed 48 hours in advance and provides authorization. The labor code provides that unions may bargain collectively in the public and private sectors.

Workers have the right to strike in both the public and private sectors, but the law prohibits security forces, including the armed forces and gendarmes, from striking. Strikes are limited to work-related matters. Requirements for conducting a legal strike are lengthy and cumbersome. For a strike to be legal, the union must first present its demands, the employer must respond to these demands, labor and management must attend a conciliation meeting, and an arbitration council must find that the union and the employer failed to reach agreement on valid demands. The union must provide eight days’ advance written notification of a planned strike. The law states that if employers initiate a lockout that is not in accordance with the code, the employer is required to pay workers for all days of the lockout. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to establish a list of enterprises that are required by law to maintain a “compulsory minimum service” in the event of a strike. The government has the power of requisition or the authority to end strikes by invoking the public interest. The code makes no other provisions regarding sanctions on employers for acting against strikers.

The law expressly forbids antiunion discrimination. Employees may have their cases heard in labor court. The law does not state whether employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities, although the law requires employers found guilty of such discrimination to pay damages, including back pay and lost wages.

The government generally enforced applicable laws and respected laws concerning freedom of association in the formal sector. Penalties were commensurate with other violations of civil rights, but enforcement was inconsistent. Workers exercised some of these rights, but only a relatively small part of the workforce, primarily civil servants, exercised the right to join a union. While worker organizations are officially outside government or political parties, the government exerted some influence over the leadership of some organizations.

Labor unions did not report any underlying patterns of discrimination or abuse. The labor court did not hear any cases involving antiunion discrimination during the year.

Collective bargaining occurred in the private sector during the year, although the total number of collective agreements concluded was unknown. The government was not generally involved if the two parties were able to reach an agreement. Information was unavailable on the effectiveness of collective bargaining in the private sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The labor code specifically prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties for these crimes were commensurate with the penalties for similar crimes. The labor code’s prohibition of forced or compulsory labor also applies to children, although the code does not mention them specifically. The penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations because the government did not enforce the prohibition effectively. There were reports forced labor occurred, especially in armed conflict zones.

Employers subjected men, women, and children to forced domestic labor, agricultural work, mining, market or street vending, and restaurant labor, as well as sexual exploitation. Criminal courts sentenced convicted persons to imprisonment and forced labor, and prisoners often worked on public projects without compensation. This practice largely took place in rural areas. Ba’Aka, including children, often were coerced into labor as day laborers, farm hands, or other unskilled labor and often treated as slaves (see section 6, Children).

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 labor code forbids some of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing “hazardous work,” but the term is not clearly defined and does not specify if it includes all the worst forms of child labor. The mining code specifically prohibits child or underage labor. The employment of children younger than 14 is prohibited under the law without specific authorization from the Ministry of Labor. The law, however, also provides that the minimum age for employment may be as young as 12 for some types of light work in traditional agricultural activities or home services. Additionally, since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, some children may be encouraged to leave school to pursue work before completion of compulsory education.

The government did not enforce child labor laws. The government trained police, military, and civilians on child rights and protection, but trainees lacked resources to conduct investigations. In previous years the government announced numerous policies related to child labor, including those to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, but there was no evidence of ongoing programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including its worst forms. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes but were not sufficient to enforce compliance. Government officials allegedly subjected minors to military-related labor at two checkpoints.

Child labor was common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas. Local and displaced children as young as age seven frequently performed agricultural work including harvesting peanuts and cassava and helping gather items sold at markets such as mushrooms, hay, firewood, and caterpillars. In Bangui many of the city’s street children worked as street vendors. Children often worked as domestic workers, fishermen, and in mines, frequently in dangerous conditions. For example, children were forced to work without proper protection or were forced to work long hours (i.e., 10 hours per day or longer). Children also engaged in the worst forms of child labor in diamond fields, transporting and washing gravel as well as mining gold, digging holes, and carrying heavy loads. Despite the law’s prohibition on child labor in mining, observers saw many children working in and around diamond mining fields. There were reports of one indigenous Ba’Aka minor being removed from a situation of forced domestic labor in Bangui.

Children continued to be engaged as child soldiers. There were reports of ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups recruiting child soldiers and using them as porters and assistants at illegal checkpoints during the year (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

It is illegal to discriminate in hiring or employment based on race, national or social origin, gender, opinions, or beliefs. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and discrimination occurred with respect to gender, minority status, and national origin. Penalties were commensurate with the penalties for other civil rights violations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on disability, age, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases.

Discrimination against women in employment and occupation occurred in all sectors of the economy and in rural areas, where traditional practices that favor men remained widespread. There were legal restrictions against women in employment, including limiting or prohibiting the employment of women in some tasks, jobs, and industries. Furthermore, carrying, dragging, or pushing any load is prohibited during pregnancy and within three weeks of returning to work after giving birth. Women are not allowed on the premises of businesses where employees work with certain dangerous chemicals, and women are restricted in the work they may do in other trades, including working on the manufacture of sulfuric acid, application of rubber coatings, and pickling or galvanizing of iron.

Migrant workers experienced discrimination in employment and pay.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wages and Hour Laws: The labor code states the Ministry of Labor sets minimum wages in the public sector by decree. The government, the country’s largest employer, set wages after consultation, but not negotiation, with government employee trade unions. The minimum wages in the private sector were established based on sector-specific collective conventions resulting from negotiations between employers and workers’ representatives in each sector.

The minimum wage in the private sector varied by sector and type of work. The minimum wage in all sectors was less than the World Bank standard for extreme poverty.

The law sets a standard workweek of 40 hours for government employees and most private-sector employees. Household employees may work up to 52 hours per week. The law also requires a minimum rest period of 48 hours per week for citizen, foreign, and migrant workers. Overtime policy varied according to the workplace. Violations of overtime policy may be referred to the Ministry of Labor, although it was unknown whether this occurred during the year. There is no legal prohibition on excessive or compulsory overtime. The labor code, however, states that employers must provide for the health and security of employees who are engaged in overtime work. Penalties were commensurate with other analogous crimes.

Occupational Safety and Health: There are general laws on health and safety standards in the workplace, but the Ministry of Labor did not precisely define them. The labor code states that a labor inspector may compel an employer to correct unsafe or unhealthy work conditions.

The law provides that workers may remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardy to their employment. In such instances the labor inspector notifies the employer and requires that conditions be addressed within four working days. The high unemployment and poverty rates deterred workers from exercising this right.

The government did not effectively enforce labor standards, and violations were common in all sectors of the economy. The Ministry of Labor has primary responsibility for managing labor standards, while enforcement falls under the Ministry of Interior and Public Safety and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The government did not have an adequate number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance with labor laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations but were seldom applied and insufficient to enforce compliance. The law applies to foreign and migrant workers as well, although foreign workers must meet residency requirements to join a union. Employers commonly violated safety and health standards in agriculture and mining.

Diamond mines, which employed an estimated 400,000 persons, were subject to standards imposed by the mining code and inspection by the Miners’ Brigade. Nevertheless, monitoring efforts were underfunded and insufficient. Despite the law requiring those working in mines to be at least 18, observers frequently saw underage diggers. Diggers often worked in open pits susceptible to collapse, working seven days a week during the peak season. Diggers were employed by larger mine operators, worked in dangerous conditions at the bottom of open pits, and lacked safety equipment.

Miners, by contrast, had a share in ownership and participated in the proceeds of diamond sales. Miners often supplemented these earnings with either illegal diamond sales or wages from other sectors of the economy.

The government did not release information on workplace injury and deaths or other occupational safety and health statistics, and officials failed to respond to direct requests for information from the International Labor Organization in previous years.

Informal Sector: A 2020 World Bank Group report stated that most economic activity in the country was informal, conducted by micro, small-, and medium-sized enterprises representing 40 to 60 percent of GDP. The minimum wage applied only to the formal sector, leaving most of the labor force of the country in the informal sector without a minimum wage. Most labor was performed outside the wage and social security system, especially by farmers in the large subsistence agricultural sector and laborers in the artisanal mining sector. While most labor protection laws applied to the informal sector, they were not enforced, and violations of wage, hour, and safety regulations were common.

Crimea

Read A Section: Crimea

Ukraine

In February 2014 Russian forces entered Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and occupied it militarily. In March 2014 Russia announced the peninsula had become part of the Russian Federation following a sham referendum that violated Ukraine’s constitution. The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 on the Territorial Integrity of Ukraine of March 27, 2014; Resolution 76/179 on the Situation of Human Rights in the Temporarily Occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, Ukraine, of December 16, 2021; and Resolution 76/70 on the Problem of the militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov of December 9, 2021, called on states and international organizations not to recognize any change in Crimea’s status and affirmed the commitment of the United Nations to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. In 2014 Ukraine’s parliament (Verkhovna Rada) adopted a law attributing responsibility for human rights violations in Crimea to the Russian Federation as the occupying state. The United States does not recognize the attempted annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Russian law has been applied in Crimea since the Russian occupation and purported “annexation” of the peninsula. For detailed information on the laws and practices of the Russian Federation, see the Country Report on Human Rights for Russia.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

A local occupation authority installed by the Russian government and led by Sergey Aksyonov as “prime minister” of the “state council of the Republic of Crimea” administers occupied Crimea. The “state council” is responsible for day-to-day administration and other functions of governing. Russia’s September 17-19 nationwide Duma elections included seats allocated for purportedly annexed Crimea, a move widely condemned by the international community and that contravened the Ukrainian constitution.

Russian government agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Federal Security Service, Federal Investigative Committee, and Office of the Prosecutor General, applied and enforced Russian law in Crimea as if it were a part of the Russian Federation. The Federal Security Service also conducted security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism activities and combatted organized crime and corruption. A “national police force” operated under the aegis of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Russian authorities maintained control over Russian military and security forces deployed in Crimea. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by Russia or Russia-led “authorities”; forced disappearances by Russia or Russia-led “authorities”; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Russia or Russia-led “authorities,” including punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and transfer of prisoners to Russia; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the occupation 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 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; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation, including unelected governments and elections that were not genuine, free, or fair; serious acts of corruption; serious restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups or indigenous people, including Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There was one new report of occupation authorities committing arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to human rights groups, on May 11, Russian security forces fatally shot 51-year-old Uzbek citizen Nabi Rakhimov during a raid and search of his residence in the village of Dubki near Simferopol. Russia’s Federal Investigative Service (FSB) claimed Rakhimov was a suspected terrorist and was shot during a gun battle with officers. Lawyers of Rakhimov’s family characterized the FSB’s account as a cover-up and claimed FSB officers likely tortured Rakhimov before shooting him. Occupation authorities refused to turn Rakhimov’s body over to the family. On August 9, a Simferopol “court” rejected an appeal of Rakhimov’s widow for the body to be returned. As of September her lawyer planned to appeal the decision to the “supreme court.”

Impunity for past killings remained a serious problem. The Russian government tasked the Russian Investigative Committee with investigating whether security force killings in occupied Crimea were justifiable and whether to pursue prosecutions. The HRMMU reported the Investigative Committee failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. The Office of the Prosecutor of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea also investigated security force killings from its headquarters in Kyiv, but de facto restrictions on access to occupied Crimea limited its effectiveness.

There were still no reported investigations for the four Crimean Tatars found dead in 2019. Occupation authorities did not adequately investigate killings of Crimean residents from 2014 and 2015. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 Crimean residents who had disappeared during the occupation were later found dead. Human rights groups reported occupation authorities did not investigate other suspicious deaths and disappearances, occasionally categorizing them as suicide. Human rights observers reported that families frequently did not challenge findings in such cases due to fear of retaliation.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of abductions and disappearances by occupation authorities. OHCHR reported that 43 individuals had gone missing since Russian forces occupied Crimea in 2014, and the fate of 11 of these individuals remained unknown. OHCHR reported occupation authorities had not prosecuted anyone in relation to the forced disappearances. NGO and press reports indicated occupation authorities were responsible for the disappearances. For example, in 2014 Revolution of Dignity activists Ivan Bondarets and Valeriy Vashchuk telephoned relatives to report police in Simferopol had detained them at a railway station for displaying a Ukrainian flag. Relatives had no communication with them since, and the whereabouts of the two men remained unknown.

According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, two Crimean Tatars reported missing during the year were found dead. Nineteen-year-old Crimean Tatar Osman Adzhyosmanov went missing on July 2; his body was found on August 8. Twenty-three-year-old Crimean Tatar Aider Dzhemalyadynov went missing on July 26 and was found dead on August 5. As of mid-September, occupation authorities were reportedly investigating the circumstances of the deaths. Occupation authorities denied international monitors, including OHCHR and the OSCE, access to Crimea, which made it impossible for monitors to investigate forced disappearances there properly.

Occupation authorities did not adequately investigate the deaths and disappearances, according to human rights groups. Human rights groups reported that police often refused to register reports of disappearances and intimidated and threatened with detention those who tried to report disappearances. The Ukrainian government and human rights groups believed Russian security forces kidnapped the individuals for opposing Russia’s occupation to instill fear in the population and prevent dissent.

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

There were widespread reports that occupation authorities in Crimea tortured and otherwise abused residents who opposed the occupation. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, “The use of torture by the FSB and the Russia-led police against Ukrainian citizens became a systematic and unpunished phenomenon after Russia’s occupation of Crimea.” Human rights monitors reported that Russian occupation authorities subjected Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in particular to physical abuse. For example on March 10, the FSB detained freelance RFE/RL journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko in Crimea on charges of “illegal production, repair, or modifying of firearms.” After his initial arrest, OHCHR reported that Yesypenko was tortured by FSB officers for several hours to obtain a forced confession on cooperating with Ukrainian intelligence agencies. According to the HRMMU, occupation authorities reportedly denied Yesypenko access to a lawyer during his first 28 days in detention and tortured him with electric shocks, beatings, and sexual violence in order to obtain a confession.

Occupation authorities reportedly demonstrated a pattern of using punitive psychiatric incarceration as a means of pressuring detained individuals. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on March 5, occupation authorities transferred Ernest Ibrahimov to the Crimean Clinical Psychiatric Hospital for forced psychiatric evaluation. Ibrahimov was one of seven Muslims arrested on February 17 and charged with having attended a mosque allegedly belonging to the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia as a “terrorist” group but is legal in Ukraine. Human right defenders viewed the authorities’ move as an attempt to break his client’s will and intimidate him.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, as of September 1, approximately 16 Crimean Tatar defendants had been subjected to psychiatric evaluation and confinement against their will without apparent medical need since the beginning of the occupation (see section 1.d.).

Human rights monitors reported that occupation authorities also threatened individuals with violence or imprisonment if they did not testify in court against individuals whom authorities believed were opposed to the occupation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions reportedly remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and poor conditions.

Physical Conditions: The Crimean Human Rights Group reported inhuman conditions in official places of detention in Crimea. According to an August report by the UN secretary-general, inadequate conditions in detention centers in Crimea could amount to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture.” According to the report, prisons in Crimea were overcrowded, medical assistance for prisoners was inadequate, and detainees complained of systematic beatings and humiliating strip searches by prison guards.

Overcrowding forced prisoners to sleep in shifts and to share beds. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, detainees held in the Simferopol pretrial detention center complained of poor sanitary conditions, broken toilets, and insufficient heating. Detainees diagnosed with HIV as well as with tuberculosis and other communicable diseases were kept in a single cell. On April 15, the Kharkiv Human Right Protection Group reported that Ivan Yatskin, a Ukrainian detained by occupation authorities in 2019 on charges of treason, had been held in a basement cell infested with bedbugs, mold, and rats since April 9 after being transferred from a prison in Moscow to Simferopol. Yatskin’s lawyer claimed Yatskin’s cellmates repeatedly threatened to harm him and his family members. According to the Crimea Human Rights Group, occupation authorities withheld medicine Yatskin needed to treat a leg ulcer and chest injury. On May 21, occupation authorities sentenced Yatskin to 11 years in prison. Human rights groups called the ruling politically motivated and considered Yatskin a political prisoner.

There were reports detainees were denied medical treatment, even for serious health conditions. According to the June UN secretary-general’s special report, detainees often had to rely on relatives to provide medicine, since the medical assistance provided at detention centers was inadequate. For example, Kostiantyn Shyrinh, a 61-year-old Ukrainian detained by occupation authorities in May 2020 on charges of espionage and suffering from cardiovascular disease, was consistently denied medical treatment by occupation authorities at the Simferopol pretrial detention facility despite numerous requests for medical assistance. During an August 12 court appearance, Shyrinh required emergency medical treatment, and an ambulance was called at the request of his lawyer. Prison authorities reportedly retaliated against detainees who refused Russian Federation citizenship by placing them in smaller cells or in solitary confinement.

Administration: Authorities generally did not investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment. Authorities sometimes did not allow prisoners and detainees access to visitors or religious observance. According to defense lawyers, prisoners considered Russian citizens by the Russian Federation were denied Ukrainian consular visits, and some Crimean residents were transferred to prison facilities in Russia without Ukrainian passports.

Independent Monitoring: Occupation authorities did not permit monitoring of prison or detention center conditions by independent nongovernmental observers or international organizations. Occupation authorities permitted the “human rights ombudsperson,” Lyudmila Lubina, to visit prisoners, but human rights activists regarded Lubina as representing the interests of occupation authorities and did not view her as an independent actor.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests continued to occur, which observers believed were a means of instilling fear, stifling opposition, and inflicting punishment on those who opposed the occupation. Security forces conducted regular raids on Crimean Tatar villages and the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses, accompanied by detentions, interrogations, and often criminal charges. The Crimean Resource Center recorded 156 detentions and 41 interrogations that were politically motivated during the first six months of the year.

On September 3-4, the FSB conducted a series of night raids on homes of Crimean Tatars in Sevastopol and detained five Crimean Tatars, including First Deputy Chairman of the Crimean Mejlis (the executive representative body of Crimean Tatars) Nariman Dzhelyal, on charges of involvement in the alleged sabotage of a gas pipeline in Crimea. Human rights groups reported occupation authorities prevented the detainees and their family members from calling lawyers during the raids, failed to properly identify themselves, and refused to inform the family members where the men were being taken. Occupation authorities reportedly held Dzhelyal in handcuffs and with a bag over his head in a basement cell for the first 24 hours of detention and tortured at least three of the detainees, including Dzhelyal, to force confessions. On October 28, an occupation court extended Dzhelyal’s detention to January 23, 2022. Ukrainian government officials dismissed the charges against the men as politically motivated fabrications.

Immediately following the arrests, dozens of Crimeans peacefully protested outside the FSB building in Simferopol, demanding information regarding the five Crimean Tatars who were being held incommunicado. FSB officers subsequently detained more than 50 Crimean Tatars and reportedly forced them into buses, beat them, and held them in different police precincts where they were questioned without lawyers present, according to Ukraine’s human rights ombudsperson.

The HRMMU noted that justifications underpinning the arrests of alleged members of “terrorist” or “extremist” groups often provided little to no evidence that the suspect posed an actual threat to society by planning or undertaking concrete actions.

The HRMMU noted the prevalence of members of the Crimean Tatar community among those apprehended during police raids. According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, of the 156 individuals arrested between January and June, 126 were Crimean Tatars. The HRMMU noted raids were often carried out on the pretext of purported need to seize materials linking suspects to groups that were banned in the Russian Federation, but lawful in Ukraine.

For example, according to press reports, on August 17, the FSB raided houses of Crimean Tatars in various parts of the peninsula. Five individuals were arrested during the raids, including four Crimean Tatar activists and a Crimean Tatar religious leader. According to human rights groups, security forces planted incriminating “evidence” during the raids and denied detained individuals access to lawyers. Of the five men arrested during the raid, two were charged with organizing the activities of a “terrorist” organization (Hizb ut-Tahrir, a legal organization in Ukraine), which carries a sentence of up to life in prison. The rest were charged with participating in the activities of a terrorist organization, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses were also targeted for raids and arbitrary arrests. For example on March 11, Russian security forces in Yalta conducted searches of nine homes belonging to members of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As part of the searches, occupation authorities arrested 42-year-old Taras Kuzio on charges of financing an “extremist” organization and seized electronic equipment and financial assets from his home. Jehovah’s Witnesses is banned in Russia, and this religious group is deemed an “extremist” organization under Russian law, but it is legal in Ukraine. As of late October, Kuzio was under house arrest. On March 29, a Sevastopol court sentenced member of Jehovah’s Witnesses Viktor Stashevskyy to six and one-half years’ imprisonment on “extremism” charges. According to local media, prosecutors relied on testimony from a secret witness to cast Stashevskyy’s private discussions of the Bible as illegal “organizational activities” on behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Failure to submit to conscription into the Russian military was also used as a basis for arbitrary arrests. Since 2015 Russia conducted annual spring and fall conscriptions in Crimea, and failure to comply is punishable by criminal penalty. As of September 30, NGOs estimated nearly 31,000 persons had been conscripted since the beginning of the occupation. As of September 1, the Crimean Human Rights Group documented 244 criminal cases brought against Crimean residents for evading military service in the Russian Armed Forces.

Detainees were often denied access to a lawyer during interrogation. For example, occupation authorities reportedly denied RFE/RL journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko access to a lawyer for 28 days following his March 10 detention, during which he was reportedly tortured (see section 1.c).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Under Russian occupation authorities, the judicial system was neither independent nor impartial. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were subject to political directives, and the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by occupation authorities. The HRMMU noted that lawyers defending individuals accused of extremism or terrorism risked facing harassment or similar charges themselves. For example, human rights lawyer Lilya Hemedzhi reported that on May 11, occupation authorities delivering a notice of arrest to her client threatened to take actions to have her disbarred from Russia-controlled courts. Human rights groups reported Hemedzhi faced long-standing pressure for her involvement in defending Crimean Tatar activists, including in August 2020, when a Russia-controlled court in Crimea privately ruled that Hemedzhi violated court procedures by speaking out of turn during a video conference hearing. Such rulings could place a lawyer’s standing with the bar in jeopardy.

Trial Procedures

Defendants in politically motivated cases were increasingly transferred to the Russian Federation for trial. (See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea).

Occupation authorities limited the ability to have a public hearing. According to the HRMMU, occupation authorities banned family members and media from the courtroom for hearings related to charges of Hizb ut-Tahrir membership and other activities deemed subversive under Russian law. The courts justified the closed hearings by citing vague concerns regarding the “safety of the participants.” The courts failed to publish judgments in these cases.

Occupation authorities interfered with defendants’ ability to access an attorney. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, defendants facing terrorism or extremism-related charges were often pressured into dismissing their privately hired lawyers in exchange for promised leniency.

Occupation authorities intimidated witnesses to influence their testimony. On September 7, Russian security forces detained former member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Edlar Mensytov at his home near Simferopol. Occupation authorities reportedly interrogated Mensytov as a possible suspect in the case of the alleged August 23 sabotage of a gas pipeline (see section 1.d.). Mensytov was denied access to a lawyer during the interrogation and released after one day of detention. Human rights groups expressed concerns that occupation authorities had detained Mensytov in retaliation for his participation as a defense witness at a June 18 trial of prominent exiled Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, whom occupation authorities charged in absentia with attempting to illegally cross into occupied Crimea.

The HRMMU reported that occupation authorities retroactively applied Russia’s laws to actions that took place before the occupation of the peninsula began.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, as of late October, 124 Crimeans were being deprived of freedom in occupied Crimea or in Russia on political or religious charges, 89 of whom were Crimean Tatar Muslims prosecuted on terrorism charges.

Charges of extremism, terrorism, or violation of territorial integrity were particularly applied to opponents of the occupation, such as Crimean Tatars, Jehovah’s Witnesses, independent journalists, and individuals expressing dissent on social media.

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

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities and others engaged in electronic surveillance, entered residences and other premises without warrants, and harassed relatives and neighbors of perceived opposition figures.

Occupation authorities routinely conducted raids on homes to intimidate the local population, particularly Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, ostensibly on the grounds of searching for weapons, drugs, or “extremist literature.” According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, occupation authorities conducted 32 raids between January and June; 13 were in the households of Crimean Tatars.

Human rights groups reported that Russian authorities exercised widespread authority to tap telephones and read electronic communications and had established a network of informants to report on suspicious activities. Occupation authorities reportedly encouraged state employees to inform on their colleagues who might oppose the occupation. According to human rights activists, eavesdropping and visits by security personnel created an environment in which persons were afraid to express any opinion contrary to the occupation authorities, even in private.

Occupation authorities regularly used recorded audio of discussions regarding religion and politics, obtained through illegal wiretapping of private homes and testimonies from unidentified witnesses, as evidence in court. For example, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on September 27, prosecutors in a hearing involving five Crimean Tatar activists charged with allegedly organizing the activities of a “terrorist” organization presented as evidence illegal wiretaps of purported conversations between the defendants and a secret witness. The five men were arrested in 2019 by occupation authorities during mass raids on Crimean Tatar homes in and around Simferopol. The prosecution’s purported “expert” witnesses claimed the recordings, which human rights groups characterized as innocuous discussions of politics and religion, were evidence of terrorist activity. The defense questioned whether the recordings had been edited. On July 6, in a separate case involving five other Crimean Tatar activists detained in the same 2019 raids on terrorism-related charges, prosecutors reportedly introduced testimony to the court from an unidentified witness. According to the accused men’s lawyers, the unidentified witness was an FSB agent who had provided similar testimony in several other cases. The lawyers claimed the court rejected their petition to reveal the identity of the witness. As of September the men were being held at a detention facility in Rostov-on-Don in Russia as the trial proceeded.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of expression and subjected dissenting voices, including the press and other media, to harassment and prosecution. Occupation authorities’ reported failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the exercise of freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Expression: The HRMMU noted occupation authorities placed “excessive limitations on the freedoms of opinion and expression.” In July 2020 occupation authorities began enforcing a law that prohibits the unauthorized dissemination of information damaging to the FSB’s reputation without the FSB’s approval. Enforcement of this law in Crimea further deprived residents of the ability to exercise freedom of expression, by preventing them from publicly criticizing and disseminating information concerning reportedly unlawful actions of FSB officers and alleged violations or abuses of human rights.

Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported the FSB engaged in widespread surveillance of social media, telephones, and electronic communication and routinely summoned individuals for “discussions” for speaking or posting opposition to the occupation. These unlawfully obtained recordings were often used against those who were arbitrarily arrested in closed trials.

Occupation authorities often deemed expressions of dissent “extremism” and prosecuted individuals for them. For example, according to press reports, on March 22, the Russia-controlled prosecutor’s office for the Nizhnegorsk district in Crimea formally warned Crimean Tatar Akhmadzhon Kadyrov that his recent public statements could constitute “extremism.” The written warning referenced a video posted to social media on March 7 in which Kadyrov denied that Crimean Tatars were terrorists and spoke about the suffering and injustices Crimean Tatars experienced under Russia’s occupation. The “prosecutor’s” warning claimed Kadyrov’s criticisms of Russia’s judicial proceedings and calls of support for Crimean Tatar political prisoners indicated a “negative attitude towards law enforcement and judicial officials.”

Occupation authorities continued to ban the display of Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar symbols as “extremist.” Human rights groups claimed violations of this law were rare during the year because of fewer residents displaying such symbols than in previous years, reportedly to avoid prosecution.

Occupation authorities deemed expressions of support for Ukrainian sovereignty over the peninsula to be equivalent to undermining Russian territorial integrity. For example on June 1, the Russia-controlled “supreme court” in occupied Crimea found Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Refat Chubarov guilty of publicly calling for the violation of Russia’s territorial integrity and organizing “mass riots.” The court sentenced him in absentia to six years in prison. The charges were linked to Chubarov’s role in organizing a 2014 peaceful demonstration in front of the Crimean parliament in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

There were multiple reports that occupation authorities detained and prosecuted individuals seeking to film raids on homes or court proceedings. For example, according to press reports, on October 25, Russian occupation authorities arrested 21 men, including two Crimean Solidarity journalists, who had gathered outside of a court in Simferopol to observe a hearing for three Crimean Tatar political prisoners. Crimean Solidarity journalists Ruslan Paralamov and Dlyaver Ibragimov, who were reporting on and filming the gathering, were charged with administrative offenses related to the violation of public order.

During the year occupation authorities prosecuted individuals for the content of social media posts. For example on July 22, occupation authorities arrested 27-year-old Crimean Tatar Abdulla Ibrahimov after conducting a search of his father’s home and the family’s store in Evpatoria. Occupation authorities reportedly filed administrative charges against Abdulla for publicly displaying the symbols of “extremist” organizations, in connection to his alleged posting of a symbol for Hizb ut-Tahrir on social media in 2013 (before Russia’s occupation of Crimea). Abdulla was released on July 25.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent print and broadcast media could not operate freely. Most independent media outlets were forced to close in 2015 after occupation authorities refused to register them. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, after the occupation began, many local journalists left Crimea or abandoned their profession. With no independent media outlets left in Crimea and professional journalists facing serious risks for reporting from the peninsula, civic activists were a major source of information on developments in Crimea.

On April 20, occupation authorities fined Bekir Mamutov, the editor in chief of Crimean Tatar newspaper Qirim and member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, for his newspaper’s publishing of the 2020 UN secretary-general’s report on the human rights situation in Crimea, according to the HRMMU. Occupation authorities reportedly claimed the newspaper violated a Russian law that prohibits the press from publishing information regarding the Mejlis without noting that its activities are prohibited in Russia. Mamutov paid a fine of 4,000 rubles ($55).

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of security forces or police harassing activists and detaining journalists in connection with their civic or professional activities. For example on May 19, the FSB searched the home of Crimean Solidarity journalist Zydan Adzhykelyamov. According to Adzhykelyamov, police inspected his Quran and notes from recent trials he had covered. Police reportedly also searched the adjacent home of his parents. Adzhykelyamov claimed police asked him to sign an administrative document related to the search, but he refused to do so without a lawyer present. Adzhykelyamov claimed police conducted the search in retaliation for his reporting on the May 11 killing of Nabi Rakhimov, who was fatally shot by FSB officers during a raid of his home (see section 1.a.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting.

There were reports occupation authorities sought to restrict access to or remove internet content concerning Crimea they disliked. As of August 12, occupation authorities had blocked 27 Ukrainian websites in Crimea, including the websites of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Ministry of Integration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, and several independent Ukrainian news outlets, among others. Censorship of independent internet sites was widespread (see Internet Freedom).

Occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcasts, replacing the content with Russian programming. The Crimean Human Rights Group reported that occupation authorities continued to block Ukrainian FM radio stations in northern Crimea by broadcasting their stations on the same wavelength. The signal of Ukrainian FM radio stations was heard in only eight of the area’s 19 settlements.

Human rights groups reported occupation authorities continued to forbid songs by Ukrainian singers from playing on Crimean radio stations.

National Security: Occupation authorities cited laws protecting national security to justify retaliation against opponents of Russia’s occupation.

The Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service included prominent critics of the occupation on its list of extremists and terrorists. Inclusion on the list prevented individuals from holding bank accounts, using notary services, and conducting other financial transactions.

Authorities frequently used the threat of “extremism,” “terrorism,” or other purported national security grounds to justify harassment or prosecution of individuals in retaliation for expressing opposition to the occupation. For example, in 2019 occupation authorities arrested Ukrainian citizen Oleh Prykhodko on charges of terrorism and possession of explosives after they purportedly found explosives in his garage, which human rights defenders maintained were planted there. Human rights groups claimed the charges were retaliation for Prykhodko’s displaying of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags on his car, for which he was fined in 2019. On March 3, a Russian court sentenced the 62-year-old Prykhoko to five years’ imprisonment in a maximum-security penal colony.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

According to the June 2020 UN secretary-general’s special report, “public events initiated by perceived supporters of Ukrainian territorial integrity or critics of policies of the Russian Federation in Crimea were reportedly prevented or prohibited by occupation authorities.”

Human rights monitors reported that occupation authorities routinely denied permission to hold assemblies based on political beliefs, notably to opponents of the occupation, or those seeking to protest the actions of the occupation authorities. Those who gathered without permission were regularly charged with administrative offenses. Expansive rules regarding types of gatherings that required permits and selective enforcement of the rules made it difficult for protesters to avoid such offenses. For example, according to media accounts, on January 23, police shut down a silent rally in downtown Simferopol of approximately 100 persons in support of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Security forces reportedly cordoned off the area, demanded participants produce identification documents, and took photographs of the participants. Media outlets reported that police detained approximately 15 participants for three hours and forced them to sign documents describing their participation in the event, which security forces claimed was an illegal rally. Activists noted police failed to demonstrate why the gathering required a permit, given that the participants did not shout slogans, carry banners, or organize the event in advance.

Occupation authorities brought charges for “unauthorized assemblies” against single-person protests, even though preauthorization is not required for individual protests. For example, according to Crimean Solidarity, on May 21, the Krasnohvardiyskyy “district court” ruled that Zelyha Abhayrova’s October 2020 one-person protest the prosecution of her son constituted an unauthorized assembly. The “court” announced similar decisions against Emina Abdulhanieva and Zura Emyruseynova on May 22, ruling that the women had illegally coordinated the actions in support of their sons to occur simultaneously. All three women were fined 10,000 rubles ($137).

There were reports that authorities used a ban on “unauthorized missionary activity” to restrict public gatherings of members of religious minority groups. For example on June 1, a Russia-controlled court in Crimea fined the Light to the World Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith 30,000 rubles ($411) for unlawful missionary activity, citing its failure to affix a religious organization label to booklets on display inside the church lobby.

A “regulation” limits the places where public events may be held to 366 listed locations, which, as the HRMMU noted, restricted the ability to assemble to a shrinking number of “specially designated spaces,” a move that appeared “designed to dissuade” peaceful assembly.

There were reports occupation authorities charged and fined individuals for allegedly violating public assembly rules in retaliation for gathering to witness security force raids on homes.

Freedom of Association

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities broadly restricted the exercise of freedom of association for individuals who opposed the occupation. For example, there were numerous reports of authorities taking steps to harass, intimidate, arrest, and imprison members of Crimean Solidarity, an unregistered movement of friends and family of victims of repression by occupation authorities that opposes Russia’s occupation of Crimea. During the year the Crimean Human Rights Group documented multiple cases in which police visited the homes of Crimean Solidarity activists to threaten them or warn them not to engage in “extremist” activities. For example on May 14, Crimean Tatar activist Seytosman Karaliyev received a letter from police in Sudak warning him against participating in gatherings related to the May 18 Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Crimean Tatar Genocide, as they might constitute “extremist” activities. At least five other Crimean Tatar activists and journalists received similar “preventive warnings” in advance of the May 18 day of remembrance.

According to human rights groups, Russian security services routinely monitored prayers at mosques for any mention that Crimea remained part of Ukraine. Russian security forces also monitored mosques for anti-Russia sentiment and as a means of recruiting police informants, whose secret testimony was used in trials of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members.

The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People remained banned for purported “extremism” despite a decision by the International Court of Justice holding that occupation authorities must “refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis.” Following the 2016 ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as an “extremist organization,” occupation authorities banned gatherings by Mejlis members and prosecuted individuals for discussing the Mejlis on social media.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Approximately 50,000 residents of Crimea were registered as IDPs by the Ukrainian government on the mainland, according to the Ministry of Social Policy. The Mejlis and local NGOs, such as Crimea SOS, believed the actual number could be as high as 100,000, as most IDPs remained unregistered. Many individuals fled due to fear that occupation authorities would target them for abuse because of their work as political activists or journalists. Muslims, Greek Catholics, and Evangelical Christians who left Crimea said they feared discrimination due to their religious beliefs.

Crimean Tatars, who made up the largest number of IDPs, said they left because of pressure on their community, including an increasing number of arbitrary searches of their homes, surveillance, and discrimination. In addition, many professionals left Crimea because Russian occupation authorities required them to apply for Russian professional licenses and adopt Russian procedures in their work.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Recent Elections: Russian occupation authorities prevented residents from voting in Ukrainian national and local elections since Crimea’s occupation began in 2014. Nonetheless, Russian occupation authorities conducted voting in Crimea for the September 19 Russia State Duma elections. Occupation authorities claimed a voter turnout rate of 49.75 percent. Independent observers and elections experts alleged massive electoral fraud, including coerced voting by state employees and ballot stuffing, among other irregularities. Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned Russia’s elections in Crimea as illegal and stated it would hold responsible those who organized and conducted the illegal voting there.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Corruption: There were multiple reports of systemic rampant corruption among Crimean “officeholders,” including through embezzlement of Russian state funds allocated to support the occupation. For example on April 6, occupation authorities detained the head of the investigation department of the “Ministry of Internal Affairs” in Simferopol on suspicion of accepting a bribe of 7.5 million rubles ($103,000). He allegedly agreed to accept the bribe in exchange for ending an investigation of a suspect in a criminal case.

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

Most independent human rights organizations ceased activities in Crimea following Russia’s occupation. Occupation authorities refused to cooperate with independent human rights NGOs, ignored their views, and harassed human rights monitors and threatened them with fines and imprisonment.

Russia continued to deny access to the peninsula to international human rights monitors from the OSCE and the United Nations.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Domestic violence remained a serious problem in occupied Crimea; however, occupation authorities’ restrictions on human rights organizations made it difficult to assess its prevalence.

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

Women in Crimea accessed reproductive health care through services funded by the Russian occupation authorities, private insurance, and NGO programs; however, no Ukrainian or international monitors had access to Crimea, making it difficult to assess the state of reproductive health care there.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Since the beginning of the occupation, authorities singled out Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians for discrimination, abuse, deprivation of civil liberties and religious and economic rights, and violence, including killings and abductions (also see sections 1.a.-1.d., 1.f., 2.a., 2.b., and 2.d.). The August UN secretary-general’s report noted, “The activities of the Mejlis remained prohibited in Crimea.”

There were reports that Russian occupation authorities openly advocated discrimination against Crimean Tatars. Occupation authorities harassed Crimean Tatars for speaking their language in public and forbade speaking it in the workplace. There were reports teachers prohibited schoolchildren from speaking Crimean Tatar to one another. Crimean Tatar was the sole instruction language for 119 classes. Crimean Tatars were prohibited from celebrating their national holidays and commemorating victims of previous abuses (see section 2.b.).

Occupation authorities also restricted the use of Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian flags and symbols (see section 2.a.).

Russian occupation authorities prohibited Crimean Tatars affiliated with the Mejlis from registering businesses or properties as a matter of policy.

Ethnic Ukrainians also faced discrimination by occupation authorities. Ukrainian as a language of instruction was removed from university-level education in Crimea. According to the Crimean Resource Center, schools in Crimea no longer provided instruction in Ukrainian. In 2017 the International Court of Justice ruled on provisional measures in proceedings brought by Ukraine against the Russian Federation, concluding unanimously that the Russian Federation must “ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language.”

Occupation authorities did not permit churches linked to ethnic Ukrainians, in particular the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to register under Russian law. Occupation authorities harassed and intimidated members of these churches and used court proceedings to force the OCU to leave properties it had rented for years. On August 8, occupation authorities forcibly entered an OCU church in Balky while a religious service was underway and forced the priest to end the service. Occupation authorities filed administrative charges against the priest for allegedly conducting unlawful missionary activities.

The largest OCU congregation in Crimea closed in 2019 following a ruling by occupation authorities that its cathedral located in Simferopol must be “returned to the state.” The church was shut down after repeated refusals by authorities to allow it to register.

Children

Birth Registration: Under both Ukrainian law and laws imposed by Russian occupation authorities, either birthplace or parentage determines citizenship. Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea complicated the question of citizenship for children born after February 2014, since it was difficult for parents to register a child as a citizen with Ukrainian authorities. Registration in the country requires a hospital certificate, which is retained when a birth certificate is issued. Under the occupation regime, new parents could only obtain a Russian birth certificate and did not have access to a hospital certificate. The Ukrainian government instituted a process whereby births in Crimea could be recognized with documents issued by occupation authorities.

Anti-Semitism

According to Jewish groups, the Jewish population in Crimea was approximately 10,000 to 15,000, with most living in Simferopol. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts; however, Russian occupation authorities’ restrictions on human rights groups limited their ability to properly monitor anti-Semitic acts on the peninsula.

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

Human rights groups and LGBTQI+ activists reported that most LGBTQI+ individuals fled Crimea after Russia’s occupation began. Those who remained lived in fear of abuse due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert received reports of increased violence and discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community in Crimea as well as the use of homophobic propaganda employed by the occupation authorities. LGBTQI+ persons reportedly were frequently subjected to beatings in public spaces and entrapped by organized groups through social networks. The council’s report noted, “This environment created an atmosphere of fear and terror for members of the community, with related adverse impacts on their mental health and well-being.”

According to the HRMMU, NGOs working on access to health care among vulnerable groups found it impossible to advocate for better access to health care for LGBTQI+ persons due to fear of retaliation by occupation authorities.

Occupation authorities prohibited any LGBTQI+ group from holding public events in Crimea. LGBTQI+ individuals faced increasing restrictions on their exercise of free expression and peaceful assembly, because occupation authorities enforced a Russian law that criminalizes the so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors (see section 6 of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia).

Section 7. Worker Rights

Occupation authorities announced the labor laws of Ukraine would not be in effect after 2016 and that only the laws of the Russian Federation would apply.

Occupation authorities imposed the labor laws and regulations of the Russian Federation on Crimean workers, limited worker rights, and created barriers to the exercise of freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the ability to strike. Trade unions are formally protected under Russian law but limited in practice. As in both Ukraine and Russia, employers were often able to engage in antiunion discrimination and violate collective bargaining rights. Pro-Russian authorities threatened to nationalize property owned by Ukrainian labor unions in Crimea. Ukrainians who did not accept Russian passports faced job discrimination in all sectors of the economy. Only holders of Russian national identification cards were allowed to work in “government” and municipal positions. Labor activists believed that unions were threatened in Crimea to accept “government” policy without question and faced considerable restrictions on advocating for their members.

Although no official data were available, experts estimated there was growing participation in the underground economy in Crimea. Child labor in amber and coal mining remained a problem in Crimea.

Libya

Executive Summary

Libya’s interim Government of National Unity was selected by the 75-member UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in November 2020 and subsequently endorsed by the Libyan House of Representatives. Libya was emerging from a state of civil conflict. The government controlled limited territory. Parallel, unrecognized institutions in the eastern part of the country, especially those aligned with the nonstate actor known as the Libyan National Army, led by General Khalifa Haftar, challenged its authority.

The government had limited control over security forces, which consisted of a mix of semiregular units, tribal armed groups, and civilian volunteers. The national police force under the Ministry of Interior oversaw internal security, supported by the armed forces under the Ministry of Defense. Security-related police work generally fell to informal armed groups, which received government salaries but lacked formal training, supervision, or consistent accountability. There were credible reports that members of security forces committed numerous abuses.

The Government of National Unity and nonstate actors largely upheld the 2020 cease-fire agreement, although both sides continued receiving support from foreign military forces, foreign fighters, and mercenaries. Informal nonstate armed groups filled security vacuums across the country. ISIS-Libya attempted to maintain a limited presence in the southwestern desert. The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum and House of Representatives each convened to establish a framework for national elections as called for by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum roadmap. Elections did not take place as scheduled on December 24.

Significant human rights problems included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by various armed groups; forced disappearances by various armed groups; torture perpetrated by armed groups on all sides; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prison and detention facilities; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in internal conflict, including killing of civilians and the recruitment or use of children in conflict; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence against journalists and the existence of libel and slander laws; substantial interference with freedom of association; refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers; serious government corruption; lack of accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; threats of violence targeting ethnic minorities and foreigners; existence or use of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including limits on collective bargaining and the right to strike; and forced labor.

Divisions between western and eastern institutions, a security vacuum in the south, the presence of criminal groups throughout the country, and the government’s weakness severely inhibited investigation and prosecution of abuses. The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses and acts of corruption within its area of reach; however, its limited resources, as well as political considerations, reduced its ability and willingness to prosecute and punish perpetrators.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that armed groups aligned with the Government of National Unity (GNU), as well as with the Libyan National Army (LNA) and other nonstate actors, including foreign fighters and mercenaries, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In October the Independent Fact-Finding Mission (FMM) on Libya reported that state agents or affiliates routinely used extrajudicial killings as a means of punishment or silencing “individuals suspected of involvement in serious human rights violations.” The Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Office of the Attorney General bore responsibility for investigating such abuses and pursuing prosecutions but were either unable or unwilling to do so in most cases due to severe resource or political constraints.

Alliances, sometimes temporary, among government officials, nonstate actors, and former or active officers in the armed forces participating in extralegal campaigns made it difficult to ascertain the role of the government in attacks by armed groups.

On January 6, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported the death of a 19-year-old Somali refugee in Tripoli. Prior to the man’s death, he had been held in a human smuggling camp in Bani Walid and subjected to repeated torture and abuse by his captors. On January 14, international and domestic human rights organizations documented the death of a 21-year-old Egyptian migrant in al-Qa’arah, east of Tobruk. His body bore signs of torture, and his hands and legs were burned. Witnesses reported he was detained in a prison for migrant smugglers and died on January 11.

On January 20, local authorities in Benghazi found two bodies with gunshot wounds to the head in the city’s downtown area. Their hands were tied behind their backs, and they bore signs of torture. It was not clear who was responsible for the killings.

On April 1, domestic and international human rights organizations reported a 37-year-old civilian was shot and killed as he passed by a checkpoint manned by the Ministry of Defense’s 444th Brigade near his home in Tripoli. That same month, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported guards at the Tripoli Gathering and Return Center, unofficially known as the al-Mabani migrant detention center, fired shots indiscriminately into two holding cells, killing one migrant and injuring two others.

On June 17, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) reported that guards at the Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Illegal Migration (DCIM)-operated Abu Rashada detention center shot and killed four migrants and injured a number of others. On June 22, MSF suspended its operations at al-Mabani and Abu Salim detention centers in Tripoli. MSF cited two incidents on June 3 and 13 at Abu Salim where guards indiscriminately opened fire on detainees, killing at least seven individuals and injuring several others, and repeated cases of human rights abuses and inhuman conditions at both facilities as motivating factors for the decision.

On June 27, the body of a civilian bearing signs of torture was delivered to a local hospital in Tripoli. The GNU-aligned al-Dhaman Brigade had reportedly kidnapped the individual on June 1 in the Qasr al-Qarabouli area of Tripoli. In November at least four mass graves were discovered in Tarhouna and in areas of southern Tripoli, which had been under the control of LNA-aligned forces, including the Kaniyat militia, from April 2019 until June 2020. According to data from Libya’s General Authority for the Search and Identification of Missing Persons (GASIMP), the remains of at least 200 persons, including women and children, had been uncovered as of late November. In March, GASIMP had revealed it had a list of 3,650 missing persons throughout the country, including 350 individuals in Tarhouna. According to GASIMP officials, their investigation into these mass graves continued.

In August the Libyan Red Crescent discovered the bodies of six migrants in an area known for human smuggling activity in Wadi Zamzam, in the central region of the country. According to an October 12 report from the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Libya Platform (LP), between January and June no fewer than 25 extrajudicial killings took place across the country. In the absence of an effective judicial and security apparatus, most killings were not investigated.

In December the EU imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group, a paramilitary force linked to Russia and supporting the LNA, as well as eight individuals and three entities connected to it, after the FFM’s October report concluded that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Wagner personnel may have committed the war crime of murder.” The EU stated that Wagner had “recruited, trained and sent private military operatives to conflict zones around the world to fuel violence, loot natural resources and intimidate civilians in violation of international law, including international human rights law.”

b. Disappearance

GNU- and LNA-aligned armed groups, other nonstate armed groups, criminal gangs, and tribal groups committed an unknown number of forced disappearances (see section 1.g.). The GNU made few effective efforts to prevent, investigate, or penalize forced disappearances.

The October, CIHRS-LP reported 33 enforced disappearances during the first six months of the year, attributing four of them to the GNU and its affiliates, 13 to the LNA, and two to ISIS. Of the other disappearances, 14 could not be attributed to any specific group.

In August, UNSMIL expressed concern regarding the number of abductions and enforced disappearances in towns and cities across the country conducted by armed groups with impunity. Migrants, refugees, and other foreign nationals were especially vulnerable to kidnapping. UNSMIL received reports that hundreds of migrants and refugees intercepted or rescued at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard went missing after disembarking at Libyan ports, and it was possible they were seized by armed groups engaged in human trafficking or smuggling. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that between January and early December, 807 migrants and refugees were confirmed missing at sea.

July 17 marked the two-year anniversary of the high-profile disappearance of member of parliament Siham Sergiwa, who was abducted from her home shortly after criticizing the LNA’s Tripoli offensive in a television interview. Her whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.

Domestic and international human rights organizations reported that dozens of civil society activists, politicians, judges, and journalists were forcibly disappeared by both western and eastern Libyan security services or armed groups and detained for making comments or pursuing activities perceived as disloyal to the GNU or LNA. On March 27, human rights activist Jamal Mohammed Adas disappeared in Tripoli. His whereabouts remained unknown. On May 31, LNA-aligned security services allegedly kidnapped the head of the Libyan Red Crescent in Ajdabiya, activist Mansour Mohamed Atti al-Maghrabi, in the eastern region of the country. Numerous domestic and international human rights organizations called for his release. On August 5, a commander of the LNA’s 302 Brigade reportedly confirmed that al-Maghrabi was being held in an unspecified LNA prison. On August 2, unidentified armed men abducted Ridha al-Fraitis, chief of staff for the first deputy prime minister, and a colleague. On August 10, UNSMIL released a statement condemning the abduction. On August 17, Fraitis and his colleague were reportedly released.

Many disappearances that occurred during the Qadhafi regime, the 2011 revolution, and the postrevolutionary period remained uninvestigated. Due to years of conflict, a weak judicial system, and legal ambiguity regarding amnesty for revolutionary forces, authorities made no appreciable progress in resolving high-profile cases. Officials engaged in documenting missing persons, recovering human remains, and reunifying families reported being underfunded. The International Commission on Missing Persons estimated there were between 10,000 and 20,000 missing persons in the country dating back to the Qadhafi era.

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

Although the 2011 Constitutional Declaration and postrevolutionary legislation prohibit such practices, credible sources indicated personnel operating both government and extralegal prisons and detention centers tortured detainees (see section 1.g.). While judicial police controlled some facilities, the GNU relied on armed groups to manage prisons and detention facilities. Armed groups, not police, initiated arrests in many instances. An unknown number of individuals were held without judicial authorization in other facilities nominally controlled by the Ministry of Interior or the Ministry of Defense, or in extralegal facilities controlled by GNU-affiliated armed groups, LNA-affiliated armed groups, and other nonstate actors. Treatment varied from facility to facility and typically was worst at the time of arrest. There were reports of cruel and degrading treatment in government and extralegal facilities, including beatings, administration of electric shocks, burns, and rape. In many instances this torture was reportedly initiated to extort payments from detainees’ families.

In addition to individuals held in the criminal justice system, many refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were held in migrant detention centers nominally controlled by the DCIM. An unknown number of other refugees and migrants were held in extralegal detention facilities, such as smugglers’ camps. The criminal and nonstate armed groups controlling these facilities routinely tortured and abused detainees, subjecting them to arbitrary killings, rape and sexual violence, beatings, forced labor, and deprivation of food and water, according to dozens of testimonies shared with international aid agencies and human rights groups.

On January 14, domestic human rights organizations and media reported security forces in the eastern city of al-Bardi rescued 14 Egyptian migrants from a prison that human traffickers controlled. The migrants said their captors had tortured them. On February 21, local authorities in al-Kufra raided a secret prison operated by human traffickers and freed at least 156 Somali, Eritrean, and Sudanese migrants and refugees. Some of the rescued migrants and refugees reportedly suffered abuse and torture, were malnourished, and required medical attention.

In June, UNSMIL documented the plight of five Somali teenage girls detained at the DCIM-operated Shara al-Zawiya migrant detention center, where guards repeatedly attacked and sexually assaulted them. At least two of the girls reportedly attempted suicide as a result of the repeated abuse. On July 15, authorities released the girls into UNHCR’s care. In August, UNSMIL reported guards at the DCIM-operated Abu Issa detention center in Zawiyah sexually abused and exploited boys and men.

UNSMIL also verified reports of rape and sexual violence against female prisoners in the eastern region, including the internal security section of the Kuwayfiyah prison in Benghazi.

The FFM noted in its October report to the UN Human Rights Council that migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and prisoners were particularly at risk of sexual violence. The FFM stated it found credible indications that government actors and militias members also used sexual violence as a subjugation or humiliation tool to silence critics and those appearing to challenge social norms or acceptable gender roles. For example, the FFM stated it received several reports that rights activists were abducted and subjected to sexual violence to deter their participation in public life. The FFM also reported cases of beatings and rape of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses and acts of corruption within its area of reach; however, its limited resources, as well as political considerations, reduced its ability and willingness to prosecute and punish perpetrators.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons and detention facilities were often overcrowded, and conditions were harsh and life threatening, falling well short of international standards. Many prisons and detention centers were outside GNU control (see section 1.g.).

Physical Conditions: Prisons remained overcrowded, needed infrastructural repairs, suffered from poor ventilation, lacked adequate hygiene facilities, and experienced power and water outages. Prisons lacked clean drinking water and served low-quality food. UN agencies reported malnutrition was a risk in some prisons and detention centers, notably at DCIM facilities that did not receive a food budget.

As of August, UNSMIL estimated there were 12,300 persons detained in 27 facilities under Ministry of Justice oversight. As of September the IOM estimated there were 4,564 persons detained in DCIM facilities and potentially thousands of other migrants held in extralegal and informal facilities.

In addition to the Tripoli-based Judicial Police Authority, which the GNU tasked to run the prison system, armed groups affiliated with the Ministries of Interior and Defense, as well as with the LNA and other rival eastern security forces, operated prisons and detention facilities. The ratio of detainees and prisoners to guards varied significantly during the year. Monitoring and training of prison staff by international organizations remained largely suspended, although training of judicial police continued.

Communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, scabies, and HIV/AIDS, affected detainees in some prisons and detention centers. Most prisons lacked functioning health units, and inmates depended on family members for medicine. Inmates needing medical attention were sometimes transferred to public hospitals within the jurisdiction of whichever police unit or militia controlled the prison; these transfers often depended on the availability of private vehicles, as most prisons lacked ambulances.

On May 23, the Ministry of Justice announced the launch of a coronavirus vaccination campaign within prisons. Inmates with chronic diseases were given first priority, and the government announced the campaign would expand to include the rest of the prison population.

There was no centralized record keeping. There were reportedly no functioning juvenile facilities in the country, and authorities held juveniles in adult prisons, although sometimes in separate sections.

UNSMIL estimated 400 women were detained in prisons as of September. Female prisoners faced conditions that fell well short of international minimum standards. Although there were often separate facilities for men and women, women remained almost universally guarded by male prison guards. UNSMIL received numerous reports of women subjected to forced prostitution in prisons or detention facilities in conditions that amounted to sexual slavery.

In May the LNA reportedly released more than 200 detainees from the Green Mountains Branch’s Gernada Military Prison in the eastern city of al-Bayda. There were an estimated 1,207 prisoners from Derna held in Gernada Prison due to their opposition to the LNA. Also in May the Ministry of Justice released 78 prisoners who were arrested during the civil conflict and detained in al-Jadeda Prison in Tripoli.

According to international and national migration advocates, migrant detention centers suffered from massive overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of access to medical care, food shortages, and significant disregard for the protection of detainees, including allegations of unlawful killing, sexual violence, and forced labor. As of September, UNHCR and the IOM estimated 25 percent of migrants and refugees held in DCIM detention centers were minors. A large number of migrant and refugee detainees were held in extralegal facilities, although numbers were unknown. There were numerous anecdotal reports that officials, nonstate armed groups, and criminal gangs moved migrants through a network of government and extralegal detention facilities with little monitoring by the government or international organizations.

As of August the government reported to UN agencies that it had released nearly 3,500 persons from Ministry of Justice prisons since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce overcrowding and minimize possible vectors for the spread of the virus. The ministry reportedly prioritized the release of persons who had already served more than half their sentences. While international human rights organizations welcomed the move, they noted that the vast majority of persons held in prisons and detention facilities were in pretrial detention. These groups called on the GNU to immediately release vulnerable inmates in pretrial detention, including women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. UNSMIL maintained that all migrant detention facilities should be closed and the detainees released.

Administration: There was no credible information available regarding whether authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment or allowed prisoners and detainees access to visitor or religious observance. There was no information available on prisoners’ access to religious observance.

Independent Monitoring: Multiple independent monitoring organizations reported difficulties gaining access to prison and detention facilities, particularly those in the east. The GNU permitted some independent monitoring by international organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, but controlled these movements tightly. UN and international aid organization sources reported that DCIM officials repeatedly denied access requests. The COVID-19 pandemic created further barriers to humanitarian access. Although some international organizations received permission to visit migrant detention facilities during the year, the responsiveness of GNU authorities and level of access varied widely from visit to visit. As of September, UNHCR and its partners had conducted 141 visits to DCIM facilities to administer aid and register refugees and asylum seekers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

There were continued reports by UNSMIL and human rights groups of prolonged and arbitrary detention for persons held in prisons and detention facilities. Human Rights Watch stated that a large but indeterminate number of persons held in such prisons and detention centers were arbitrarily detained for periods exceeding one year.

Nonstate actors detained and held persons arbitrarily and without legal authority in authorized and unauthorized facilities, including unknown locations, for extended periods and without legal charges.

The prerevolutionary criminal code remains in effect. It establishes procedures for pretrial detention and prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but these procedures were often not enforced. The government had weak control over police and GNU-aligned armed groups providing internal security, and some armed groups carried out illegal and arbitrary detentions unimpeded. The low level of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of arbitrary detentions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees:

The law stipulates an arrest warrant is required, but authorities may detain persons without charge for as long as six days and may renew detention for up to three months, provided there is “reasonable evidence.” The law also specifies authorities must inform detainees of the charges against them and have a detainee appear before a judicial authority every 30 days to renew a detention order. The law gives the government power to detain persons for up to two months if considered a “threat to public security or stability” based on their “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

Although the 2011 Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right to counsel, most detainees did not have access to bail or a lawyer. Government authorities and armed groups held detainees incommunicado for unlimited periods in official and unofficial detention centers.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities frequently ignored or were unable to enforce the provisions of the criminal code prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention. Various GNU-aligned and nonstate armed groups arbitrarily arrested and detained persons throughout the year. On March 25, LNA-aligned security forces arrested Hanin al-Abdali, daughter of slain lawyer Hanane al-Barassi, in downtown Benghazi on allegations of involvement in the killing that same month of an LNA brigade commander, Mahmoud al-Werfalli. Human rights groups reported that she was arrested shortly after appearing live on social media to discuss the circumstances of her mother’s killing and who she believed was responsible for it.

The FFM investigated several official and unofficial detention facilities, including GNU’s Mitiga and Ghniwa detention facilities in Tripoli and the LNA’s Tarek bin Ziyad detention facility in Benghazi. The FFM determined that individuals considered to be a threat to government leadership or to the interests and ideologies of militias were detained in these facilities. Most prisoners were never charged, and the FFM documented several cases of sexual violence, torture, unsanitary conditions, denial of medical care, and summary executions in these facilities.

In August, UNSMIL reported that individuals, including children, were detained without legal basis in Benghazi. These individuals were mainly held at military detention facilities, which included Tariq bin Ziyad, Kuwayfiyah, and Gernada, according to UNSMIL.

Throughout the year UNICEF reported that authorities continued to arbitrarily detain migrant children in detention centers in and around Tripoli. These children lacked access to legal assistance, due process, and basic protection and health services, according to UNICEF.

Pretrial Detention: While authorities must order detention for a specific period not exceeding 90 days, an ambiguity in the language of the law permitting judges to renew the detention period if the suspect is of “interest to the investigation” resulted in extended pretrial detentions. In addition limited resources and court capacity caused a severe backlog of cases. UNSMIL estimated that 41 percent of persons detained in Ministry of Justice prisons were in pretrial detention. According to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), many of these detainees were held for periods longer than the sentences for the minor crimes they allegedly committed. The Ministry of Justice was working to improve practices by training the judicial police on international standards for pretrial detention. The number of persons held in pretrial detention in Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and extralegal detention facilities was not publicly known.

Some individuals detained during the 2011 revolution remained in custody, mostly in facilities in the west. International NGOs called for the release of detainees held for petty charges to mitigate overcrowding and COVID-19 virus transmission risk in prisons.

Armed groups held most of their detainees without charge and outside the government’s authority. With control of the security environment divided among various armed groups and a largely nonfunctioning judiciary, circumstances prevented most of these detainees from accessing a review process.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law allows a detained suspect to challenge pretrial detention before the prosecutor and a magistrate judge. If the prosecutor does not order release, the detained person may appeal to the magistrate judge. If the magistrate judge orders continued detention following review of the prosecutor’s request, and despite the detainee’s challenge, there is no further right to appeal the assigned detention order. A breakdown in the court system, intimidation of judges, and difficulties in securely transporting prisoners to the courts effectively limited detainee access to the courts. For persons held in migrant detention facilities, there was no access to immigration courts or due process.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for an independent judiciary and stipulates every person has a right of recourse to the judicial system. Nonetheless, thousands of detainees lacked access to lawyers and information concerning the charges against them. In some cases trials were held without public hearings. Judges and prosecutors, facing threats, intimidation, violence, and lack of resources, cited concerns regarding the overall lack of security in and around the courts in various parts of the country, further hindering the rule of law. Civilian and military courts operated sporadically depending on local security conditions. Court proceedings were limited in areas still recovering from previous fighting and in the country’s south.

UNSMIL reported that it documented several cases, especially in the east, in which military judicial authorities tried cases normally under the jurisdiction of civilian courts; according to UNSMIL, these trials did not meet international standards. UNSMIL also received reports of the unlawful deprivation of liberty and the issuance of sentences by courts operating outside national and international legal confines.

Trial Procedures

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence, and the right to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent. Government and nonstate actors did not respect these standards. There were multiple reports of individuals denied fair and public trials, choice of attorney, language interpretation, the ability to confront witnesses, protection against forced testimony or confessions, and the right to appeal.

According to reports from international and domestic NGOs, arbitrary detention and torture by armed groups, including those operating nominally under government oversight, contributed to a climate of lawlessness that made fair trials elusive. Armed groups and families of the victims or the accused regularly threatened lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.

Amid threats, intimidation, and violence against the judiciary, the GNU did not take steps to screen detainees systematically for prosecution or release. The courts were more prone to process civil cases, which were less likely to invite retaliation, although capacity was limited due to a lack of judges and administrators.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Armed groups, some of which were nominally under GNU authority, held persons on political grounds, particularly former Qadhafi regime officials and others accused of subverting the 2011 revolution, in a variety of temporary facilities.

Due to the lack of international monitoring, there were no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for the right of citizens to have recourse to the judiciary. The judicial system did not have the capacity to provide citizens with access to civil remedies for human rights abuses. The law provides for fact-finding, accountability, and reparations for victims but was not implemented. Courts did process civil, administrative, family, commercial, and land and property law matters. Lack of security and intimidation by armed groups challenged the ability of authorities to enforce judgements.

Impunity for the state and for armed groups also exists in law. Even if a court acquits a person detained by an armed group, that person has no right to initiate a criminal or civil complaint against the state or the armed group unless “fabricated or mendacious” allegations caused the detention.

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

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration considers correspondence, telephone conversations, and other forms of communication inviolable unless access, collection, or use is authorized by a court order. Nonetheless, reports in the news and on social media indicated GNU-aligned groups violated these prohibitions by monitoring communications without judicial authorization, imposing roadside checks, and entering private homes.

Domestic human rights organizations continued to protest authorities’ searches of cell phones, tablets, and laptops at roadside checkpoints, airports, and border crossings. These organizations noted the practice was widespread across both western and eastern regions of the country as a means to target activists, lawyers, media professionals, bloggers, and migrants.

Invasion of privacy left citizens vulnerable to targeted attacks based on political affiliation, ideology, and identity. Extrajudicial punishment extended to targets’ family members and tribes. Armed groups arbitrarily entered, seized, or destroyed private property with impunity.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

Civil society and media reports documented abuses by GNU-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, nonstate groups, foreign actors including mercenaries from various countries, and terrorist organizations. Conflict-related abuses committed by armed groups reportedly included killings, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, kidnapping, arbitrary detention, and torture.

Saif al-Islam Qadhafi, son of former leader Muammar Qadhafi, remained subject to an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant to answer allegations of crimes against humanity in an investigation authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1970. On December 12, the ICC called for international cooperation in arresting and transferring Saif al-Islam to the court. The indictment against Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Werfalli, a commander in the LNA’s al-Saiga Brigade, had not been withdrawn by year’s end despite credible reports of his killing on March 24. On February 12, al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, a former head of the Internal Security Agency of Libya who was subject to an arrest warrant in 2017 for crimes against humanity and war crimes including torture, reportedly died in Cairo, Egypt. The ICC called upon Egyptian authorities to promptly investigate the reported death and to provide the relevant information to the ICC.

Killings: There were numerous reports that GNU-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, foreign actors and mercenaries, and nonstate actors committed arbitrary and unlawful killings of civilians (see section 1.a.).

There were reports of communal violence between ethnic and tribal groups. In October the FFM reported that tensions between the Ahali and Tebu communities in the south, which culminated in violent clashes in 2019, continued. An indeterminate number of civilians were killed and others injured in clashes between tribal and ethnic groups in the south.

Abductions: GNU-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, and other armed groups were responsible for the disappearance of civilians, although few details were available (see section 1.b.). Kidnappings targeted activists, journalists, government officials, migrants, and refugees. Kidnappings for ransom, including of migrants and other foreign workers, remained a frequent occurrence in many cities.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Guards at both government and extralegal detention centers tortured prisoners, although the law prohibits torture. The December midterm report of the UN Panel of Experts, a body established pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011) concerning Libya, identified multiple instances of torture and inhuman treatment committed by members of the Ministry of Interior’s Special Deterrence Force at the Mitiga detention facility in Tripoli. The panel also cited cases in detention facilities under the authority of or affiliated with the LNA.

Child Soldiers: In June a local monitoring and reporting mechanism for child soldiers verified that a GNU-affiliated militia in the west recruited a 15-year-old boy to fight on its behalf starting in 2019. Reports indicated the child left the militia and returned home between January and June. There were no reports of child recruitment and use by armed groups affiliated with the GNU, LNA, and other nonstate actors. Although government policy required verification recruits were age 18 or older, nonstate armed groups did not have formal policies prohibiting the practice. The GNU did not make credible efforts to investigate or punish recruitment or use of child soldiers.

There were reports that Sudanese and Chadian mercenary groups in the south also engaged in the recruitment or use of children.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various armed groups, including those aligned with the GNU, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists as reprisal for their reporting.

Freedom of Expression: Freedom of expression was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2017.” The House of Representatives, since its election in 2014, and the GNU, since taking its seat in Tripoli in March, did little to reduce restrictions on freedom of expression. Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech. Civil society organizations (CSOs) practiced self-censorship because armed groups previously threatened or killed activists. Skirmishes in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.

International and domestic human rights organizations claimed that human rights defenders and activists faced continuing threats – including physical attacks, detention, threats, harassment, and disappearances – by armed groups, both those aligned with and those opposed to the GNU.

Many armed groups aligned with the GNU or LNA maintained databases of persons being sought for their alleged opposition activities or due to their identity. Some journalists and human rights activists chose to depart the country rather than remain and endure harassment.

Armed groups reportedly used social media to monitor and target political opponents, incite violence, and engage in hate speech. According to UNSMIL, various news publications and television stations published calls to violence, spread intentionally false news, and permitted defamation.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Press freedoms were limited in all forms of media, creating an environment in which virtually no independent media existed. International news agencies reported difficulties obtaining journalist visas, encountered refusals to issue or recognize press cards, and were barred from reporting freely in certain areas, especially eastern cities. UNSMIL documented restrictions imposed by the Foreign Media Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seriously affecting the operations of journalists in Tripoli.

Violence and Harassment: The international NGO Reporters without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists. Harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings made it nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in several areas of the country.

Impunity for attacks on members of media exacerbated the problem, with no monitoring organizations, security forces, or functioning judicial system to constrain or record these attacks.

On February 25, a local television journalist was arrested after posing a number of questions to the prime minister during a press conference in Tripoli. He was released on February 28 after intensive lobbying by domestic and international organizations.

On July 31, domestic human rights groups and independent media organizations condemned the detention of local journalist Ahmed al-Senussi by security forces guarding the headquarters of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) in Tripoli. He reportedly went to the CBL to call for peaceful protest against the policies of its governor. CBL security guards released him several hours after his detention.

On September 11, reports emerged that the LNA General Command had released photojournalist Ismail Abuzreiba al-Zwei from prison in Benghazi after his May 2020 sentencing in a Benghazi military court to 15 years for his affiliation with a satellite television channel deemed “hostile” to interests in the eastern region. Human rights activists stated he was tried in a closed hearing without access to his lawyer and sentenced under the country’s 2014 counterterrorism law, which provides for the arrest of civilians for perceived terrorist acts. He was one of reportedly dozens of journalists, activists, and other civilians who had been detained and tried in LNA military courts in recent years. Human rights defenders expressed concern that the LNA unfairly applied the counterterrorism law to silence dissent.

On November 22, an armed group reportedly kidnapped Siraj Abdel Hafeez al-Maqsabi, a journalist with a local newspaper in Benghazi, and took him to an unknown location.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship due to intimidation and the lack of security. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing armed groups or political factions. In June human rights organizations reported LNA-affiliated security forces removed local newspapers in Ajdabiya critical of the deteriorating security situation in the city and the disappearance and eventual reported imprisonment of activist Mansour Mohamed Atti al-Maghrabi. In August several local news networks and independent media organizations protested the GNU’s adoption of Governmental Decision No. 301, which they alleged threatened media freedom and pluralism in the country. The decision reportedly gave the government broad powers to supervise and restrict news coverage and media content.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalizes a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It and other laws also provide criminal penalties for defamation and insults to religion. Most reports attributed infringement of free speech to intimidation, harassment, and violence.

National Security: The penal code criminalizes speech considered to “tarnish the [country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad,” but the GNU did not enforce this provision.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental armed groups, terrorist groups, and civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists.

Internet Freedom

The GNU generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or widely censor online content. Selective filtering or blocking of access existed, although no reliable public information identified those responsible for censorship. There were reports that GNU-aligned groups monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority (see section 1.f.).

Facebook pages were regularly hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.

Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial government and nongovernmental communications. Facebook remained the main platform government officials, ministries, and armed groups used to transmit information to the public. A significant body of evidence suggested that foreign actors sought to influence domestic opinion and incite violence in the country by spreading deliberate misinformation on social media and other platforms.

Many bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to intimidation by armed groups and the uncertain political situation.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

According to Freedom House, teachers and professors faced intimidation by students aligned with nonstate armed groups.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the GNU generally respected these rights but lacked the ability to fully protect freedom of association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for a general right to peaceful assembly, and the GNU generally respected this right. The law on guidelines for peaceful demonstrations, however, fails to include relevant assurances and severely restricts the exercise of the right of assembly. The law mandates protesters must inform the government of any planned protest at least 48 hours in advance and provides that the government may notify the organizers that a protest is banned as little as 12 hours before the event.

Freedom of Association

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration includes freedom of association for political and civil society groups. The government lacked capacity, however, to protect freedom of association, and targeted attacks on journalists, activists, and religious figures severely undermined this freedom.

CSOs must register with the GNU’s Civil Society Commission (CSC) in Tripoli. International and domestic CSOs reported that the CSC, along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Directorate of International Affairs, often delayed or denied their attempts to register or renew registrations, or unduly scrutinized their activities. Registration obstacles included ad hoc preapproval processes that required interfacing with formal and informal security forces; restrictions and preapprovals for organizing or attending meetings, seminars, conferences, and workshops; inordinately detailed requests for financial and human resource information; overly broad and vague prohibitions; and direct harassment in some cases.

In the western part of the country, this type of interference was frequently attributed to associates of the Nawasi Brigade, a Ministry of Interior-affiliated militia, working in the Tripoli-based CSC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In January domestic and international CSOs reported that Nawasi was behind the CSC’s December 2020 notification to all registered CSOs that their registrations would be canceled unless they signed a set of documents granting the CSC additional powers. For example, the documents allegedly included a pledge that no communication or meetings (physical or online) could take place with any foreign government or embassy or any international organization unless the CSC provided prior and explicit permission. The pledge also prohibited CSOs from receiving funding from these entities absent prior CSC approval. CSOs highlighted these restrictions significantly hampered their local operations.

Numerous CSO staff members received threats, including death threats, because of their human rights activities, and several of them believed they were under surveillance by intelligence services; they also reported being unjustly detained for short periods. The UN Panel of Experts cited numerous abductions of activists, including the September 26 abduction of Imad al-Harathi, a leader of the National League for Youth Support, who had organized peaceful demonstrations in support of elections, by a group of masked, armed men in Tripoli.

Numerous activists sought sanctuary abroad.

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 2011 Constitutional Declaration recognizes freedom of movement, including foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although the law provides the government with the power to restrict a person’s movement if it views that person as a “threat to public security or stability,” based on the person’s “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

In-country Movement: The GNU did not exercise control over internal movement in the west, although GNU-aligned armed groups set up some checkpoints. The LNA established checkpoints in the east and south.

There were reports that armed groups controlling airports within the country conducted random checks on departing domestic and international travelers, including of their personal electronic devices. The country lacked a unified customs and immigration system.

With the stated intention of reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, western and eastern territory authorities, as well as local municipalities, imposed curfews and restrictions on intercity travel. International and domestic aid workers noted that these restrictions had the secondary effect of restricting humanitarian access to communities in need.

Citizenship: The law states that citizens may lose citizenship if they obtain a foreign citizenship without receiving permission beforehand from authorities, but there was no process for obtaining such permission. Authorities may revoke citizenship if it was obtained based on false information, forged documents, or the withholding of relevant information concerning nationality. The state lacked the capacity, however, to investigate the authenticity of citizenship applications.

If a father’s citizenship is revoked, the citizenship of his children is also revoked. The law does not specify if a mother also loses her citizenship in this case. The law does not specify whether minors and adult children may lose their citizenship due to the revocation of their mother’s citizenship. The Arab nationalist Qadhafi regime marginalized non-Arab communities prior to its overthrow in 2011. Qadhafi revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including minorities such as the Tebu and Tuareg, after the regime returned the Aouzou strip along the Libya-Chad border to Chad in 1994. As a result there were many nomadic and settled stateless persons in the country.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Limited access for local and international assistance organizations into areas affected by fighting among rival armed groups and to official and unofficial detention centers hampered efforts to account for and assist the displaced.

As of June the IOM estimated there were approximately 199,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. Tripoli, Benghazi, and Misrata were the top three regions hosting IDPs. The IOM also estimated there were more than 648,000 IDP returnees by the end of September. Benghazi had the highest number of returnees, followed by Tripoli and al-Jafara. The IOM reported damage to public infrastructure and housing remained the main obstacles to the return of IDPs.

IDPs generally resided in rented accommodations or with relatives and other host families. A smaller portion of IDPs lived in schools or other public buildings, informal camps, shelter facilities, or abandoned buildings.

Most of the 48,000 former residents of the town of Tawergha, near Misrata, who were forcibly displaced after the 2011 revolution for their perceived affiliation with the former regime, remained displaced. During its investigation the FFM on Libya obtained evidence that these IDPs faced dire living conditions in camps where they were hosted. They were subject to acts of violence, including killings, beatings, death threats, abductions, arbitrary detention, and destruction of property, according to the findings. The FFM inferred that the government tolerated, acquiesced in, and failed to provide protection from these human rights violations and abuses.

The government struggled to facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their place of origin. Due to the lack of adequate laws, policies, or government programs, international organizations and NGOs assisted IDPs to the extent possible in the form of cash payments and provision of health services, including to those with disabilities.

f. Protection of Refugees

Government cooperation with UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies that operated within the country was inconsistent, and GNU-imposed restrictions often prevented humanitarian access and movement. These agencies were allowed to assist refugees and migrants in some geographic areas and facilities across the country. UN agencies monitored and publicly reported about refugees and migrants in the country, including those in GNU detention centers. International aid organizations provided basic services directly and through domestic implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers. The DCIM, however, suspended all UNHCR- and IOM-operated voluntary humanitarian evacuation flights and migrant return flights several times throughout the year, including a suspension from August until mid-October.

Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, although the 2011 Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right of asylum and forbids forcible repatriation of asylum seekers. The GNU had not established a system for protecting refugees or asylum seekers by year’s end. Absent an asylum system, authorities may detain and deport asylum seekers without giving them the opportunity to request asylum. The GNU did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits.

Authorities continued to expel migrants and asylum seekers across the country’s southern borders, and in some areas these activities reportedly increased. In August, GNU officials reported to the UN that DCIM authorities in the east expelled at least 1,400 migrants and refugees, contrary to the 2011 Constitutional Declaration. DCIM authorities forcibly deported these persons to Sudan, Chad, Niger, and Egypt without access to asylum procedures and transported them in unsafe conditions to remote desert locations.

According to the CIHRS-LP report, the Kufra Shelter and Deportation Center deported at least 532 potential asylum seekers to Sudan and Chad between January and June.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: According to UNSMIL and various UN agencies, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants routinely experienced unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual exploitation, and other abuses. Perpetrators included state officials, armed groups, smugglers, traffickers, and criminal gangs.

Conditions in government and extralegal migrant detention facilities included severe overcrowding, insufficient access to toilets and washing facilities, malnourishment, lack of potable water, and spread of communicable diseases (see section 1.c.). Many press reports indicated refugees and migrants endured torture in official and unofficial detention centers, and nonstate actors routinely held migrants for ransom payments. Reports also suggested that Christian migrants and refugees suffered greater rates of sexual and physical assault than non-Christians.

Armed groups and criminal gangs involved in human smuggling activities targeted migrants. Numerous reports suggested that human smugglers and traffickers had caused the death of migrants. There were limited arrests and no known prosecutions by the GNU of persons engaged in trafficking or human smuggling.

According to migrant advocates, numerous other DCIM-affiliated migrant facilities were colocated with or near weapons depots and other dual-use sites. In June, UNSMIL reported that an explosion and fire at the DCIM-operated Abu Rashada detention center in Gharyan resulted in an unknown number of migrant deaths and approximately 200 injuries. Both UNSMIL and domestic and international migrant aid organizations attributed the incident to a spark in an ammunition depot near the facility. High-resolution satellite photographs of the detention center circulating on social media and in news reports appeared to show that it was located near a military compound. Survivors reported that guards shot indiscriminately at migrants trying to escape from the fire, according to UNSMIL.

Smugglers, traffickers, and GNU-aligned armed groups reportedly exploited migrants for forced labor. There were reports that migrants in some official or informal detention locations had to engage in forced labor, such as construction and agricultural work, for no wages. According to international observers, some migrants also had to provide services for armed groups, such as carrying and transporting weapons, cooking food, cleaning, and clearing unexploded ordnance.

There were numerous reports that migrants, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, experienced harassment or discrimination by citizens due to the perception that foreigners were transmitting the COVID-19 virus.

Female refugees and migrants faced especially difficult situations, and international organizations received extensive reports of rape and other sexual violence. Women and girls were vulnerable to sex trafficking and were routinely detained in houses in Tripoli and Sebha, a southwestern city. Migrant women and girls were forced into commercial sex in both official and unofficial detention facilities in conditions that sometimes amounted to sexual slavery. Other migrant women reported being harassed when leaving their homes to search for work. Many migrant women who had been abused could not return to their countries of origin due to stigmatization. The country lacks legal protections for survivors of sexual violence.

In early October the Ministry of Interior launched a large-scale campaign that included raids on houses and temporary accommodations used by migrants and asylum seekers in and around Tripoli. UN agencies estimated that the operation resulted in the arrests of more than 5,000 migrants and asylum seekers, most of whom ended up in overcrowded detention centers, including al-Mabani (also known as Ghout al-Sha’al), Shara al-Zawiya, and Abu Salim. Human rights organizations reported that security personnel used excessive and lethal force during the raids, causing several injuries among migrants and asylum seekers and at least one death. UNSMIL issued a statement calling on the government to end arbitrary arrests, immediately release all vulnerable detainees, and investigate reports of security personnel’s excessive use of force, including lethal force. On October 10, the IOM reported that guards at al-Mabani killed six migrants and injured 24 others when opening fire on detainees following a riot and attempted escape at the facility on October 8.

Freedom of Movement: Migrants and asylum seekers were generally considered to be illegally present in the country and were subject to fines, detention, and expulsion. The government considered migrants intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard while attempting sea crossings on the Mediterranean to have violated the law and often sent them to migrant detention facilities in the west.

As of October the Libyan Coast Guard intercepted more than 27,500 migrants and asylum seekers at sea and returned them to the country. UN agencies expressed concern that thousands of these migrants remained unaccounted for after disembarkation and disappeared into informal detention by human-trafficking networks.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees registered with UNHCR may access basic protection and assistance from UNHCR and its partners, but the GNU did not provide refugees with reliable access to health care, education, or other services, due to the limitations of its health and education infrastructure.

g. Stateless Persons

Women generally may not transmit citizenship to their children.  The law permits female citizens to confer citizenship to their children only in certain exceptional circumstances, such as when fathers are unknown, stateless, or of unknown nationality.  In contrast the law provides for automatic transmission of citizenship to children born of a Libyan-national father, whether the child is born inside or outside of the country and regardless of the citizenship of the mother.  There are naturalization provisions for noncitizens.

According to some reports, up to 30 percent of the population in the south was of undetermined legal status, which fueled discrimination in employment and services. Noncitizens without national identification numbers may not access basic services; register births, marriages, or deaths; hold certain jobs; receive state salaries; vote; or run for office.

Due to the lack of international monitoring and governmental capacity, there were no comprehensive data on the number of stateless persons.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. After a prolonged delay because of the conflict, the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum agreed on the date of December 24 for national elections. On December 22, the High National Elections Commission stated it could not proceed with elections because of several unresolved matters, including disputed candidacies.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 the High National Electoral Commission successfully administered the election of members to the House of Representatives, an interim parliament that replaced the General National Congress, whose mandate expired that year. Observers mostly commended the performance of the electoral authorities, with the largest national observation umbrella group citing minor technical problems and inconsistencies. Violence affected some polling centers. A total of 11 seats remained vacant due to a boycott of candidate registration and voting by the Amazigh community.

The term of the House of Representatives expired; however, the legislative body was recognized as the nation’s legitimate parliament by the Libyan Political Agreement signed in 2015, which created the former interim Government of National Accord.

Rival factions attempted to schedule elections in 2018 and 2019, but the efforts failed when the LNA launched its offensive on Tripoli in 2019.

During UNSMIL’s Libyan Political Dialogue Forum meeting in Geneva on February 1-5, Libyan delegates successfully selected the GNU as the country’s interim executive authority and set December 24 as the date for presidential and parliamentary elections. A lack of agreement on a presidential candidate list scuttled the planned elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The 2011 Constitutional Declaration allows for full participation of women and minorities in elections and the political process, but significant social and cultural barriers – in addition to security challenges – prevented their proportionate political participation.

The election law provides for representation of women in the House of Representatives; of the 200 seats in parliament, the law reserves 32 for women. There were 27 active female members in the House of Representatives. The disparity was due to resignations and deputies’ refusal to take their seats.

Women were underrepresented in public-health decision making related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The GNU’s two COVID-19 pandemic response committees – the Supreme Committee for Coronavirus Response and an advisory Scientific Committee – lacked female members.

Ethnic minorities and indigenous groups, including the Amazigh, Tebu, and Tuareg, expressed frustration with what they perceived as their deliberate marginalization from political institutions and processes.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. The government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption but, as in 2020, no significant investigations or prosecutions occurred. There were many reports and accusations of government corruption due to the lack of transparency in the GNU’s management of security forces, oil revenues, and the national economy. There were allegations that government officials sometimes misused the letter of credit system to gain access to government funds.

Corruption: Internal conflict and the weakness of public institutions undermined implementation of the law. Based on Libyan Audit Bureau reports, officials frequently engaged with impunity in corrupt practices such as graft, bribery, and nepotism. There were numerous reports of government corruption, including instances of alleged money laundering, human smuggling, and other criminal activities. On November 4, the attorney general issued an arrest warrant for the former mayor of Brega on embezzlement charges. The government lacked significant mechanisms to investigate corruption among members of police and security forces.

Slow progress in implementing decentralization legislation, particularly regarding management of revenues from oil and gas exports and distribution of government funds, led to accusations of corruption and calls for greater transparency.

The Audit Bureau, the highest financial regulatory authority in the country, made efforts to improve transparency by publishing annual reports on government revenues and expenditures, national projects, and administrative corruption; the bureau struggled to release its reports on time, however. The bureau also investigated mismanagement at the General Electricity Company of Libya that contributed to lower production and led to acute power cuts.

Leadership disputes at the Administrative Control Authority, the sovereign body charged with some government oversight authorities, weakened the institution’s readiness and capacity to tackle corruption.

The UN-facilitated an independent, international audit of the two branches of the CBL concluded in August after a lengthy delay. The final recommendations of the audit encouraged the CBL to unify its organizational structure and strengthen its financial accountability and transparency. The CBL split between parallel western and eastern branches in 2014.

The UN Libya Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts, a committee established pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1970 (2011), continued to make recommendations, including on corruption and human rights problems.

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

Several human rights groups operated in the country but encountered government restrictions when investigating alleged abuses of human rights. The GNU and affiliated nonstate armed groups used legal and nonlegal means to restrict some human rights organizations from operating, particularly organizations with an international affiliation.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: UNSMIL maintained its headquarters and staff in Tripoli. The GNU was unable to assure the safety of UN officials, particularly in areas of the country not under GNU control, but generally cooperated with UN representatives in arranging visits within the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights, a national human rights institution created by legislative authority in 2011, was unable to operate fully in the country due primarily to political divisions between the east and west. The council maintained limited engagement with other human rights organizations and the UN Human Rights Council. It had a minimal presence in Tripoli. Its ability to advocate for human rights and investigate alleged abuses was unclear.

The GNU Ministry of Justice chaired an interagency joint committee to investigate human rights abuses in the country. The joint committee reportedly compiled quarterly reports on human rights conditions, but these reports were not publicly available. Domestic and international human rights organizations criticized the body for inactivity and noted that it lacked sufficient political influence to encourage reform. In June some domestic CSOs reported the Ministry of Interior closed an internal human rights office that former interior minister Fathi Bashagha established in 2018. The ministry stated it transferred the duties of the office, which included investigating reported human rights abuses by Ministry of Justice personnel, to the Department of Legal Affairs. Nevertheless, the reorganization reportedly had a detrimental impact on the Ministry of Justice’s ability to conduct human rights investigations.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not address spousal rape. The 2011 Constitutional Declaration prohibits domestic violence but does not contain reference to penalties for those convicted of violence against women.

There were no reliable statistics on the extent of domestic violence. Social and cultural barriers – including police and judicial reluctance to act and family reluctance to publicize an assault – contributed to lack of effective government enforcement. Several domestic CSOs reported throughout the year that women continued to experience higher rates of domestic violence due to COVID-19 pandemic curfews and extended time spent at home.

By law a convicted rapist may avoid a 25-year prison sentence by marrying the survivor, regardless of her wishes, provided her family consents. Rape survivors who could not meet high evidentiary standards could face charges of adultery.

Migrant women and girls remained particularly vulnerable to rape and sexual violence, including forced commercial sexual exploitation in conditions amounting to sexual slavery. There were reports of egregious acts of sexual violence against women and girls in government and extralegal detention facilities (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

Two specialized courts established in Tripoli and Benghazi by the Supreme Judicial Council addressed violence against women, men, and children. Five female judges served on these two courts.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, but there were no reports on how or whether it was enforced. According to CSOs, there was widespread harassment and intimidation of women by armed groups, including harassment and arbitrary detention based on accusations of “un-Islamic” behavior.

There were reports armed groups harassed women traveling without a male “guardian” and that armed groups asked men and women socializing in public venues to produce marriage certificates to verify their relationship.

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

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) noted family planning services were significantly limited due to cultural and social norms favoring large families, as well as the absence of prioritization of the matter by the government. Access to information on reproductive health and contraception was also difficult for women to obtain due to social norms surrounding sexuality.

According to UNFPA estimates, the reported contraceptive prevalence rate was 27 percent, and nearly 41 percent of women had unmet needs with respect to family planning using modern methods. Women’s access to maternal health-care services and contraceptive supplies remained limited due to continued political instability. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the large number of IDPs and access restrictions in conflict zones significantly affected the provision of reproductive health services. The WHO also reported lack of access to family planning services, obstetrical care, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

The government generally did not effectively provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including access to emergency contraception. Civil society actors provided limited legal assistance to survivors in the absence of the government.

Discrimination: The 2011 Constitutional Declaration states citizens are equal by law with equal civil and political rights and the same opportunities in all areas without distinction on the grounds of gender. Absent implementing legislation, and operating with limited capacity, the GNU did not effectively enforce these declarations.

Women faced social forms of discrimination that affected their ability to access employment, their workplaces, their mobility, and their personal freedom. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender, there was widespread cultural, economic, and societal discrimination against women. In a 2020 study, the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) found that women were 12 times more likely to be unemployed than men and that working women earned nearly three times less than men. There were significant inequalities in women’s access to insurance, loans, and other forms of social protection.

The country lacks a unified family code. Sharia (Islamic religious law) often governs family matters, including inheritance, divorce, and the right to own property. While civil law mandates equal rights in inheritance, women often received less due to interpretations of sharia that favor men.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Arabic-speaking Muslims of Arab, Amazigh, and mixed Arab-Amazigh ancestry constitute a majority of the citizenry. The principal linguistic-based minorities are the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Tebu. Except for some Amazigh, who belong to the Ibadi sect of Islam, minority groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim but often identified with their respective cultural and linguistic heritages regarding Arab traditions.

The law grants the right for “all linguistic and cultural components to have the right to learn their language,” and the government nominally recognizes the right to teach minority languages in schools. Minority and indigenous groups complained that their communities were often allowed to teach their languages only as an elective subject within the curriculum.

Some members of the Tebu minority residing in the south reported their access to higher education was limited, since university campuses were in geographic areas controlled by Arab tribes that routinely harassed or denied freedom of movement to members of the Tebu minority. Universities reportedly did not provide offsite learning alternatives to these Tebu students.

The extent to which the government enforced official recognition of minority rights was unclear. There were reports that teachers of minority languages faced discrimination in receiving accreditation and in being eligible for bonuses, training, and exchange opportunities provided by the Ministry of Education.

There were also reports that individuals with non-Arabic names encountered difficulties registering these names in civil documents.

Ethnic minorities faced instances of societal discrimination and violence. Racial discrimination existed against dark-skinned citizens, including those of sub-Saharan African heritage. Government officials and journalists often distinguished between “local” and “foreign” populations of Tebu and Tuareg in the south and advocated expulsion of minority groups affiliated with political rivals on the basis they were not truly “Libyan.”

Some representatives from the Amazigh, Tebu, and Tuareg communities rejected the 2017 draft constitution because of a perceived lack of recognition of the status of these communities and inadequate provisions on decentralization.

Several Tebu and Tuareg communities received substandard or no services from municipalities, lacked national identity numbers (see section 2.d.), faced widespread social discrimination, and suffered from hate speech and identity-based violence. In the south, if a member of one tribe or group attacked a member of another tribe or group, it was not uncommon for the latter tribe to take retribution against multiple members of the former group.

Some members of ethnic minority communities in the south and west reported being unwilling to enter certain courthouses and police stations due to intimidation and fear of reprisal.

There were numerous reports throughout the year of ethnic minorities being injured or killed in confrontations with other groups.

Children

Birth Registration:  By law children derive citizenship from a citizen father. The law permits citizen women who marry foreign men to transmit citizenship to their children, although some contradictory provisions may potentially perpetuate discrimination.  There are also naturalization provisions for noncitizens.

Education: Many schools remained closed throughout the year due to lack of materials, damage, or security concerns. Internal displacement further disrupted school attendance as many schools were repurposed as IDP shelters.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women, although judges may permit those younger than 18 to marry. LNA authorities reportedly imposed a minimum age of 20 for both men and women. Early marriages were relatively rare, according to UN Women, although comprehensive statistics were not available due to the lack of a centralized civil registry system and the continuing conflict.

There were anecdotal reports of child marriage occurring in some rural and desert areas where tribal customs are more prevalent. There were also unconfirmed reports that civil authorities could be bribed to permit underage marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There were no laws prohibiting or penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of children or for child pornography, nor laws regulating the minimum age of consensual sex.

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

Most Jewish persons left the country between 1948 and 1967. Some Jewish families reportedly remained, but no estimate of the population was available. There were no reports of clearly anti-Semitic acts during the year.

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 2011 Constitutional Declaration addresses the rights of persons with disabilities by providing for monetary and other types of social assistance for the “protection” of persons with “special needs” with respect to employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other government services, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. IDPs, migrants, and refugees with disabilities were especially vulnerable to poor treatment in detention facilities.

Some organizations estimated that approximately 13 percent of citizens may have some form of disability, although government estimates were much lower. Years of postrevolutionary conflict also led to a greater incidence of persons maimed by shelling or explosive war remnants.

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

Societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons persisted, and official discrimination was codified in local interpretations of sharia. Convictions of same-sex sexual activity carry sentences of three to five years’ imprisonment. The law provides for punishment of both parties.

There was little information on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, or health care. Observers noted that the threat of possible violence or abuse could intimidate persons who reported such discrimination.

There were reports of physical violence, harassment, and blackmail based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Armed groups often policed communities to enforce compliance with their commanders’ understanding of “Islamic” behavior, harassing and threatening with impunity individuals believed to have LGBTQI+ orientations and their families.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions. It provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires the reinstatement of workers for union activity. By law workers in the formal sector are automatically members of the General Trade Union Federation of Workers, although they may elect to withdraw from the union. Only citizens may be union members, and regulations do not permit foreign workers to organize. According to Freedom House, some trade unions formed after the 2011 revolution, but they remained in their infancy, and collective-bargaining activity was severely limited due to the continuing hostilities and weak rule of law.

The GNU was limited in its ability to enforce applicable labor laws. The requirement that all collective agreements conform to the “national economic interest” restricted collective bargaining. Workers may call strikes only after exhausting all conciliation and arbitration procedures. The government or one of the parties may demand compulsory arbitration, thus severely restricting strikes. The government has the right to set and cut salaries without consulting workers. State penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

Employees organized spontaneous strikes, boycotts, and sit-ins in a number of workplaces, generally to protest delays in salary payments.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law did not prohibit or criminalize all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penal code criminalizes slavery and prescribes penalties of five to 15 years’ imprisonment. It also criminalizes the buying and selling of slaves and prescribes penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Other forms of forced labor are not criminalized. The GNU did not fully enforce the law, however. The resources, inspections, and penalties for abuses were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

There were numerous anecdotal reports of migrants and IDPs being subjected to forced labor by human traffickers. According to numerous press reports, individuals were compelled to support the armed groups that enslaved them, including by preparing and transporting weapons. Others were forced under threat of violence to perform manual labor on farms, at industrial and construction facilities, and in homes.

Private employers sometimes used detained migrants from prisons and detention centers as forced labor on farms or construction sites; when the work was completed or the employers no longer required the migrants’ labor, employers returned them to detention facilities.

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 and criminalizes the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from employment, except in a form of apprenticeship. The law stipulates employees may not work more than 48 hours per week or more than 10 hours in a single day. The law sets occupational safety and health (OSH) restrictions for children. The government lacked the capacity to enforce the law. No information was available to determine whether abuses of child labor laws incur penalties commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. There were reports of children forced into labor or military service by nonstate armed groups. These accounts were difficult to verify due to the absence of independent monitoring organizations and the continuing hostilities.

See also 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 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 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for a right to work for every citizen and prohibits any form of discrimination based on religion, race, political opinion, language, wealth, kinship, social status, and tribal, regional, or familial loyalty. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s employment or occupation. The limitations of the central government restricted its ability to enforce applicable laws. Penalties for abuses were not commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference.

Women faced discrimination in the workplace. The law prohibits women from working in jobs deemed “morally inappropriate.” Regulations issued by the General People’s Committee prohibit women from working in roles “unsuited to their nature as women” and permit women’s work hours to be reduced for certain professions and occupations as a function of the work’s requirements and the proportion of male and female workers. Observers reported that authorities precluded hiring women for positions in the civil service. They also reported social pressure on women to leave the workplace, especially in high-profile professions such as journalism and law enforcement. In rural areas societal discrimination restricted women’s freedom of movement, including to local destinations, and impaired their ability to play an active role in the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The Ministry of Labor and Rehabilitation’s Department of Labor Inspection and Occupational Safety is responsible for enforcing the national monthly minimum wage. There is no set official poverty income level. The law stipulates a workweek of 40 hours, standard working hours, night shift regulations, dismissal procedures, and training requirements. The law does not specifically prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. Penalties for abuses were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: OSH standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country. The government generally did not enforce them. Certain industries, such as the petroleum sector, attempted to maintain standards set by foreign companies. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remained with OSH experts and not the worker. The law provides OSH standards and grants workers the right to court hearings regarding abuses of these standards. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment. The limitations of the GNU restricted its ability to enforce wage laws and OSH standards. Penalties for abuses of the law were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

The Ministry of Labor and Rehabilitation is responsible for OSH concerns, but no information was available on enforcement and compliance.

Informal Sector: No accurate data on the size of the informal economy were available. The law does not provide for OSH standards for workers in the informal economy.

Mali

Executive Summary

Mali had a constitutional democratic system that was upended in an August 2020 military coup d’etat. The country last held presidential elections in 2018, re-electing Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in elections that met minimum acceptable standards. Following the August 2020 coup, a brief period of military rule was followed by a civilian-led transition government in September 2020. On May 24, the transition government was itself overthrown by the military. On June 7, Assimi Goita, one of the August 2020 coup leaders and the former transition vice president, was sworn in as transition president. Repeatedly delayed parliamentary elections were held in March and April of 2020, followed by manipulation of results by the Constitutional Court. Parliament was dissolved after August 2020 and replaced by an unelected National Transition Council.

The National Police report to the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection and have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in urban areas. The National Gendarmerie has responsibility in rural areas, including a specialized border security unit. The country’s defense and security forces consist of the Malian Armed Forces, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard, which all fall administratively under the Ministry of Defense. Operational control of the National Guard and National Gendarmerie is shared between the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection. The National Guard and the army occasionally performed law enforcement duties in northern areas where police and gendarmes were absent. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection include maintaining order during exceptional circumstances, such as national disasters or riots. The country’s intelligence service has authority to investigate any case and temporarily detain persons at the discretion of its director general, who reports directly to the president. It usually detains persons only in terrorism and national security cases. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over civilian and military security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearance by government forces; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by government forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in a conflict, including unlawful and widespread civilian harm by government forces and nonstate armed groups, as well as unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by nonstate armed groups; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and 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 national and ethnic minority groups; existence and use of de facto laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

With occasional notable exceptions, the government made little effort to investigate, prosecute, or punish government officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. The government did, however, make efforts to address corruption. Impunity for serious crimes committed in the country’s northern and central regions continued with few exceptions, in view of the government’s lack of control of 80 percent of the national territory. Cases related to massacres, forced disappearances, or other serious human rights abuses rarely moved beyond an investigative phase.

Despite signing the 2015 Algiers Accord for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali (Algiers Accord), signatory armed groups committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Ethnic militias, formed to defend one ethnic group from other ethnic groups or other armed groups, committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, the destruction of homes and food stores, and the burning of entire villages. Terrorist groups kidnapped and killed civilians, including humanitarian workers, and military and peacekeeping forces. Investigations and prosecutions were rare because most abuses occurred in areas that the government did not control.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see also section 1.g.). The gendarmerie is responsible for conducting initial investigations into security forces. Cases are then transferred to the Ministry of Justice for investigations into alleged police violence or to the Ministry of Defense’s military tribunal for investigations into alleged military abuses. Depending on the infraction and the capacity of the military tribunal, some cases related to military abuses may be processed by the Ministry of Justice.

In reports dated March 26, June 1, and October 1, the UN secretary-general documented that as of August 26, a total of 871 attacks against civilians resulted in the death of 484 civilians, 385 injuries, and 383 abductions. The reports also mentioned 1,556 human rights abuses, including 65 extrajudicial killings, 73 cases of torture, and 444 abductions and or involuntary or enforced disappearances. For example, the March 26 report stated that on March 18, members of the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) summarily executed two men, injured four other men, and mistreated at least 30 persons in Boni in the Douentza area.

Attacks by extremist groups and criminal elements occurred in the northern regions, in the central part of the country, and in the west. Extremist groups frequently employed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to target civilians as well as government and international security forces. IEDs were also used repeatedly to target important infrastructure, including major national roads, cutting off communities from humanitarian assistance, important trade routes, and security forces. On February 10, unidentified armed individuals used IEDs to attack a temporary base of the United Nation’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The attack seriously injured several peacekeepers. On May 31, an IED boobytrap exploded, killing at least five persons in the village of Petaka in the Douentza area. On August 15, a FAMa vehicle hit an IED in the Menaka Region, killing three FAMa soldiers.

Terrorist groups, signatory and nonsignatory armed groups to the Algiers Accord, and ethnic militias committed numerous arbitrary killings related to the internal conflict. According to the UN secretary-general’s March 26, June 1, and October 1 reports to the UN Security Council, terrorist elements were allegedly responsible for 675 human rights abuses, including killings. Signatory armed groups to the Algiers Accord, including the armed group Platform of Movements (Platform) and the armed group Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), were allegedly responsible for at least 76 human rights abuses, including killings, while nonsignatory armed groups were allegedly responsible for at least 356 human rights abuses, including killings.

On March 30, MINUSMA’s Human Rights and Protection Division (HRPD) released a report on the findings of the human rights investigation into a January 3 air strike in Bounti by French forces that killed at least 22 persons, including 19 civilians. At least eight other persons were injured by the air strike. In a March 30 communique, the French Ministry of Armed Forces expressed reservations about the methodology used by the United Nations, stated that the report was based on “unverifiable local testimonies” and “unsubstantiated hypotheses,” and maintained that the strike had targeted a terrorist group.

Following an April 2 terrorist attack against the MINUSMA base in Aguelhok, killing four peacekeepers and injuring at least 34, peacekeeping forces allegedly killed three persons in Aguelhok that same day. The local population protested, claiming the victims were civilians and demanding MINUSMA relocate its base and clarify the circumstances of the killings. MINUSMA’s HRPD noted in its August 30 report that the circumstances of the killings remained unclear.

The UN secretary-general reports also alleged that on April 27, Nigerien armed forces summarily executed at least 19 civilian men during a cross-border operation in Mali’s Menaka Region.

On July 21, a unit of the anticriminality brigade of the National Police allegedly shot and killed a boy age 17, Abdoulaye Keita, in Bamako. The incident prompted protests in the Lafiabougou neighborhood and led to the arrest of six police officers for homicide. At the end of the year, the Commune IV Tribunal of High Instance in Bamako was investigating these alleged crimes.

On September 3, authorities indicted and arrested Oumar Samake, commander of the Special Antiterrorist Force, on charges of murder and assault and battery in connection with the repression of social unrest by security forces in July 2020. After police officers protested the arrest and stormed a prison where Samake had previously been held, Samake was released. On September 6, following several meetings among Samake, police union leaders, the director general of police, and the minister of security, Samake voluntarily surrendered to the gendarmerie in Bamako. He remained in custody as of November.

According to Human Rights Watch, between October 1 and 5, members of the security forces, later identified as FAMa, arrested at least 34 men in and around the town of Sofara in Mopti Region, allegedly in response to an uptick in attacks by terrorist groups, notably an October 1 attack in nearby Marebougou. Three of the arrested men were found dead a few miles from the Sofara military camp on or around October 11, according to local witnesses. In an October 13 communique, FAMa stated that 22 “presumed terrorists” had been transferred from FAMa custody to the gendarmerie for investigation (see also sections 1.b. and 1.c.).

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of forced disappearances believed to have been carried out by extremist groups and, in some instances, by the defense and security forces (MDSF) in the central and northern regions of the country. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that the MDSF were responsible for 29 forced disappearances between January and June.

Human rights observers reported they were unable to verify the whereabouts of dozens of prisoners purportedly detained in connection with the northern conflict. The limited capacity of the Penitentiary Administration to keep accurate records made it difficult to locate individuals within the country’s penal system. Human rights organizations estimated that the General Directorate for State Security (DGSE), the intelligence agency, held at least 60 unacknowledged detainees, but these organizations noted they did not have access to the DGSE’s facilities to verify the estimates. COVID-19 pandemic restrictions prevented many organizations from visiting prisons. Despite being denied access to DGSE facilities, the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) reported improved access to detention centers and sensitive detainees.

As of mid-November, the whereabouts of seven of the individuals arrested in October by FAMa in Sofara (see also section 1.a.) remained unknown.

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but reports indicated that FAMa soldiers employed these tactics against individuals with suspected links to extremist groups, including groups affiliated with Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) (see also section 1.g.). The UN secretary-general’s March 26, June 1, and October 1 reports noted 73 instances of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment committed by the MDSF, signatory armed groups, militias, violent extremists, or unidentified armed actors during the first six months of the year.

In response to a video showing mistreatment of a suspect by four uniformed men, an October 13 communique from FAMa related to October arrests in Sofara (see also section 1.a.) pledged to investigate the alleged mistreatment, noting that FAMa had imposed disciplinary actions on the officers involved and that legal proceedings pertaining to their cases were pending with the gendarmerie.

Impunity was a significant problem in the defense and security forces, including FAMa, according to allegations from Amnesty International, MINUSMA’s HRPD, and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Ministry of Defense reportedly ordered investigations into several of the allegations made against FAMa, but the government provided limited information regarding the scope, progress, or findings of these investigations. The lack of transparency in the investigative process, the extended length of time required to order and complete an investigation, the absence of security force prosecutions related to human rights abuses, and limited visibility of outcomes of the few cases carried to trial all contributed to impunity within the defense and security forces. Human rights organizations maintained that insufficient resources, insecurity, and a lack of political will were the largest obstacles to fighting impunity.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and inadequate medical care caused prison conditions to be harsh and life-threatening.

Physical Conditions: As of November Bamako Central Prison held approximately 2,920 prisoners in a facility designed to hold 400. There was also significant overcrowding at other prisons. Detainees were separated by age (adults or minors), gender, and offense type (terrorist or criminal). Detention conditions were better in Bamako’s women’s prison than in prisons for men.

By law authorities may hold arrested individuals for up to 72 hours in police stations, where there were no separate holding areas for women and children. Prison authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. As of November authorities held 200 individuals arrested on charges related to terrorism in the higher security division of Bamako Central Prison and in Koulikoro. The combination of the general security situation, population growth, and overloaded, inefficient courts worsened already poor prison conditions by increasing the number of pretrial detainees and preventing the release of prisoners who completed their sentences. Gendarmerie and police detention centers were at maximum capacity at year’s end.

As of November the prison administration reported that 17 prisoners and detainees, including three inmates detained on terrorism charges, died in custody due to heart attacks and stress. The CNDH, an independent entity that received administrative and budgetary assistance from the Ministry of Justice, attributed the deaths to unhealthy prison conditions. Authorities had a limited ability to control prisons, including prisoner-on-prisoner violence.

Prison food was insufficient in both quality and quantity, and prison medical facilities were inadequate. Lack of sanitation continued to pose the most significant threat to prisoners’ health. Buckets were used as toilets. Not all prisoners had access to potable water.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen. The CNDH is charged with visiting prisons and ensuring acceptable conditions. The law allows the CNDH to visit prisons without seeking prior permission from prison authorities, although its last visit to a military detention center occurred in 2012 despite several subsequent requests to visit. The government’s Penitentiary Administration also investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints, either directly through the CNDH or through the Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic, to judicial authorities to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Prisoners also made verbal complaints to the CNDH during prison inspections regarding their detention conditions.

Detainees were generally allowed to observe their religious practices and had reasonable access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by human rights monitors and organizations. The government required NGOs and other monitors to submit a request to the prison director, who then forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice. The Malian Association for Human Rights visited prisons in Kati, where a military detention center was located. Human rights observers with MINUSMA and the International Committee of the Red Cross regularly visited detention centers holding CMA and Platform members. International human rights and humanitarian organizations had access to most of these centers but not to detainees held in facilities operated by the DGSE.

Improvements: The government took steps to improve staff training and physical security measures. A nine-billion African Financial Community (CFA) franc ($16.4 million) prison construction project in Kenieroba, 30 miles south of Bamako, continued; the prison was partially operational. Although much of the structure was complete, the facility lacked adequate water, electricity, furnishings, and equipment. The prison was designed to hold 2,500 inmates and to meet international standards; as of September it held approximately 400 inmates.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law generally prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Nevertheless, government security forces arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully detained numerous individuals. Platform, CMA, and terrorist armed groups unlawfully detained individuals in connection with the continued conflict in the northern and central regions (see also section 1.g.).

The law allows detainees to challenge the legal basis or the arbitrary nature of their detention in court. Individuals are generally released promptly if their detention is determined to have been arbitrary, but the law does not provide for compensation from or recourse against the government.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires judicial warrants for arrest. It also requires police to charge suspects or release them within 48 hours of arrest. Although police usually secured warrants based on sufficient evidence and through issuance by a duly authorized official, these procedures were not always followed. The law provides for the transfer of detainees from police stations to the prosecutor’s office within 72 hours of arrest, but authorities sometimes held detainees longer in police stations. Lack of resources to conduct transfers was often cited as a contributing factor. Detainees have a limited right to bail, but authorities often granted conditional release for minor crimes and civil matters. Authorities occasionally released defendants on their own recognizance.

Detainees have the right to a lawyer of their choice or, if they cannot afford one, to a state-provided lawyer. Detainees are typically granted prompt access to their lawyers. Nevertheless, a shortage of private attorneys – particularly outside Bamako and Mopti – often prevented access to legal representation.

In many cases gendarmes detained suspects on DGSE orders and then transferred them for questioning to the DGSE, which generally held suspects for hours or days. Due to the country’s size, long travel times, poor road conditions, and inadequate personnel, however, the transfer process itself sometimes took more than a week, during which security services did not inform detainees of the charges against them. Authorities did not provide released detainees with transport back to the location of their arrest, trips that often required several days of travel.

Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights organizations reported widespread allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention by transition government security forces, armed groups, and terrorist groups. Detentions often occurred in the wake of attacks by bandits or terrorists and were targeted against members of the ethnic group suspected of carrying out the attacks.

Between September and late October, the DGSE arrested and detained six individuals (Colonel-Major Kassoum Goita, former deputy director of the DGSE; Moustapha Diakite, police commissioner and chief of the Second District of Police in the Kayes Region; FAMa officer Abdoulaye Ballo; Kalilou Doumbia, former secretary general of the presidency during the tenure of former transition president Bah N’Daw; marabout (Quranic teacher) Issa Samake; and businessman Sandi Ahmed Saloum). All were accused of plotting against the transition government. On November 5, the prosecutor of the Commune VI Tribunal of High Instance charged them with “criminal conspiracy and attempted assault and conspiracy against the government.”

According to MINUSMA, because the CMA gradually replaced the national government as a de facto authority in the north of the country, the CMA had illegally detained and pardoned individuals being held at the Kidal remand center.

Pretrial Detention: There are three categories of chargeable offenses or crimes: contraventions, misdemeanors, and felonies. The law provides for trials to occur within prescribed periods of time which vary according to possible sentences for the offense charged.

For contraventions, akin to minor misdemeanors, with a sentencing exposure of one to 10 days or a fine, there is no pretrial detention since no investigation period is necessary. For serious misdemeanors where sentencing exposure for conviction is less than two years’ incarceration, detention is limited to six months, which may be renewed once for a total legal pretrial detention period of one year. For minor felonies with a sentencing exposure ranging from two to five years’ incarceration, or serious felonies with potential sentences ranging from five years to life in prison (or the death penalty), a defendant may be detained for a year, renewable twice, for a total legal pretrial detention period of three years.

Despite these legal restrictions, pretrial detention beyond legal limits remained a problem. Judicial inefficiency, the large number of detainees, corruption, and staff shortages contributed to excessive pretrial detention. Individuals sometimes remained in prison for several years before their cases came to trial. As of November approximately 92 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair trial, but the executive branch exerted influence over the judicial system. Corruption and limited resources affected the fairness of trials. Bribery and influence-peddling were widespread in the courts, according to domestic human rights groups. There were problems enforcing court orders. In the northern and central regions, due to insecurity, judges were sometimes absent from their assigned areas for months at a time. Village chiefs and justices of the peace appointed by the government decided most disputes in rural areas. Justices of the peace had investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial functions. These traditional systems did not provide the same rights as civil and criminal courts.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally tried to enforce this right. Inadequate staffing, lack of logistical support (such as translators), poor infrastructure (insufficient number of court buildings), undigitized records and case management systems, security concerns, and political pressure sometimes interfered with or hampered trial processes. Proceedings often were delayed, and some defendants waited years for their trials to begin, in many cases beyond legal pretrial detention limits. The law presumes that defendants are innocent until declared guilty by a judge. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials generally were public, except in cases involving minors and sensitive family matters, where courtrooms were closed to protect the interests of victims or other vulnerable parties.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, or to have one provided at public expense for felony cases and cases involving minors. When a court declares a defendant indigent, it provides an attorney at public expense and the court waives all fees. Administrative backlogs and an insufficient number of private attorneys, particularly in rural areas, often prevented prompt access. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to access government-held evidence, to confront witnesses, and to present their own witnesses and evidence. The government generally respected these rights. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt. They may appeal decisions to the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. Local human rights organizations considered the arrest and detention of Kassoum Goita and Kalilou Doumbia (see also section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest) to be politically motivated. As of November there were an estimated two political prisoners in the country. Medical treatment for political prisoners was sometimes delayed or denied. Human rights and humanitarian organizations had inconsistent access to political prisoners relative to other detainees.

Following the May 24 consolidation of military power, authorities arrested then transition president Bah N’Daw and then prime minister Moctar Ouane and detained them on a military base. Although N’Daw and Ouane were released from detention on May 27, they were subsequently placed under house arrest. On July 1, the CNDH reported it was denied access to N’Daw and Ouane during their detention under house arrest. On August 27, the transition government released N’Daw and Ouane from house arrest.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. They may appeal their cases to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In cases of hereditary slavery, there were reports that civil court orders were sometimes difficult to enforce.

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The military and several armed groups committed serious human rights abuses in the northern and central parts of the country. These armed groups included former separatist forces such as the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, High Council for the Unity of Azawad, and the Arab Movement of Azawad; northern militias aligned with the government, such as the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad and the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA); and terrorist and extremist organizations such as ISIS in the Greater Sahara, JNIM, Macina Liberation Front, and al-Mourabitoun. Most human rights abuses committed by the military appeared to target Fulani, Tuareg, and Arab individuals and were believed to be either retaliation for attacks attributed to armed groups associated with those ethnicities or the result of increased counterterrorism operations.

The government failed to pursue and investigate human rights abuses in the north, which was widely controlled by the CMA. Despite international assistance with investigating some human rights cases in the central region, no cases there were prosecuted.

Killings: The military, former rebel groups, northern militias whose interests aligned with the government, and terrorist organizations unlawfully killed persons throughout the country, especially in the central and, to a lesser extent, northern regions. Terrorist groups and unidentified individuals or groups carried out many attacks resulting in the deaths of members of the security force, members of signatory armed groups, UN peacekeepers, and civilians.

Ethnic Fulani in the central Mopti and Segou Regions reported abuses by government security forces. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that on January 11, three civilians were killed by FAMa in Hombori, not far from a FAMa military base. The HRPD also reported that on January 15, five civilians from the Fulani ethnic group, including an employee of the international NGO Doctors Without Borders who was abducted in the Douentza area on January 10, were found dead near the town of Wami, not far from the Hombori FAMa military base. The HRPD further reported at least 20 civilians were killed and 18 wounded by the MDSF during military operations conducted between April and June.

According to the June report of the UN secretary-general, on March 18, the country’s armed forces unlawfully executed two individuals, injured four persons, and mistreated at least 30 others in Boni near Douentza, following the detonation of an IED in the area that injured soldiers. The UN secretary-general’s report stated as of June there were 303 conflict-related civilian deaths, including 145 from January to March and 158 from April to June, a decrease from the casualties registered during the same period in 2020. The report also stated that most conflict-related civilian deaths occurred in Mopti Region, Bandiagara, Douentza, and Segou Region.

On August 8, at least 42 civilians were killed in the villages of Ouatagouna, Karou, and Dirga in the Ansongo Circle, Gao Region, by unidentified armed individuals.

Abductions: Jihadist groups; armed groups associated with the CMA alliance; Platform-associated militias, such as GATIA; and ethnic self-defense militia groups reportedly held hostages. In the central region, the ethnic self-defense militia Dan Na Ambassagou (DNA) carried out dozens of abductions of civilians from Dogon villages that did not pay the money that DNA requested in lieu of the forced conscription of the villagers. On April 8, a French journalist, Olivier Dubois, was abducted in Gao. JNIM claimed responsibility for the abduction. Dubois remained in captivity as of November.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Human rights NGOs reported instances of conflict-related physical abuse, torture, and punishment perpetrated by the MDSF, armed groups, ethnic self-defense groups, and terrorist organizations.

Child Soldiers: The transition government’s National Directorate for the Protection of Children and Families reported that it had identified 30 cases of child soldiers during the year.

There were no known cases of FAMa using child soldiers during the year. On August 18, the militia group GATIA issued a statement expressing its commitment against use of children in armed conflict. On August 26, Platform, the armed group to which GATIA belongs, signed a UN action plan designed to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

According to two reports of the UN secretary-general to the UN Security Council covering the first nine months of the year, the United Nations documented 275 cases of recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups. According to those reports, 199 of the children were released to civilian child-protection organizations following UN intervention. The reports stated the government inappropriately detained some of these children, and that the government held some children comingled with adults in military detention centers. At the end of November, approximately 15 children remained in detention for association with armed groups. According to MINUSMA, four boys were detained between July and September for association with armed groups; however, they were released to child protection civilian partners after one to two days. Since January UNICEF assisted 256 children who were released from armed groups.

The HRPD reported exploitation of children in the gold mines controlled by the CMA in Kidal and that within the framework of a CMA operation to strengthen security in Kidal, children were used to manage checkpoints.

The government reported no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of corrupt and complicit officials or traffickers for child-soldier offenses during the year.

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

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 occasionally restricted this right. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restrictions. In December 2020 the transition government declared a state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic; the state of emergency was not renewed as of June 26. According to a letter sent from the Ministry of Territorial Administration to regional and local authorities, the state of emergency granted authorities the power to take “all necessary measures” to control the press, social media, and other media, including radio and television broadcasts. There were no reports, however, that authorities used emergency measures to control the press and media.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: There was generally good public access to private radio stations and newspapers.

Financial considerations skewed press coverage. Most media outlets had limited resources. Journalists’ salaries were extremely low, and many outlets could not pay the transportation costs for their journalists to attend media events. Journalists often asked event organizers to pay their transportation costs, and the terms “transportation money” and “per diem” were euphemisms for a pay-for-coverage system, with better-financed organizations often receiving more favorable press coverage.

Violence and Harassment: The media environment in Bamako and the rest of the south was relatively open, although there were sporadic reports of threats against journalists. Reporting on the situation in the north remained dangerous due to the presence of active armed groups (see also section 1.g., Disappearances, case of Olivier Dubois).

There were no known restrictions of online media during the year, but journalists or radio announcers were arrested in relation to their work. For example on April 29, independent journalist Malick Konate and radio announcer Issa Kaba were arrested by police in Bamako following publication of their articles denouncing an electricity shortage. They were not formally charged and were released from police custody on April 30.

In July the NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that authorities arrested former DGSE head Moussa Diwara for the 2016 abduction, illegal detention, and abuse of journalist Birama Toure.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law imposes fines and prison sentences for conviction of defamation.

On May 17, the former head of the Land and Real Estate Sales Agency, Mamadou Tieni Konate, and a radio announcer, Kassim Traore of Radio Kledu, were charged with defamation by the Bamako Commune II Tribunal for claiming Baba Maiga, a local businessman, was involved in corruption. They were convicted and in August they were each sentenced to six months imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 CFA francs ($270).

National Security: The law criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. In December 2020 five prominent figures, including popular radio presenter Ras Bath, were arrested for allegedly conspiring to destabilize the transition government. The public prosecutor’s office subsequently announced that those five individuals and a sixth (Boubou Cisse, former president Keita’s prime minister) were under investigation for “conspiracy against the government, criminal association, and insulting the head of state.” The prosecutor accused Bath of instigating public opinion against the transition government through radio broadcasts where Bath criticized transition authorities. In March the Appeals Court of Bamako ordered the dismissal of charges against the defendants, and the Supreme Court confirmed the dismissal on April 19.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports suggesting the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this freedom.  For example, on July 16, the government refused to grant authorization to teachers’ unions to hold demonstrations.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, although the law prohibits associations deemed immoral. The government generally respected freedom of association, but because the government considered the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community as immoral, freedom of association for members of the LGBTQI+ community remained problematic.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

In-country Movement: While in-country movement was not formally restricted, the military and some militias established checkpoints, ostensibly to maintain security. The unstable security situation, armed groups’ deliberate targeting of infrastructure such as bridges, and embargos by armed groups on cities such as Farabougou and Dinangourou also limited freedom of movement. The inhabitants of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, and parts of Mopti feared leaving the cities for security reasons, including the threat from IEDs (see also section 1.g., Conflict-related Abuses). MINUSMA and NGOs complained they were often hindered from conducting patrols or carrying out humanitarian missions due to impromptu checkpoints by various militias and armed groups such as DNA and the CMA.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Insecurity, banditry, ethnic conflict, and intercommunal violence in the north and central parts of the country forced many persons to flee their homes, sometimes seeking refuge outside the country. Regional insecurity, particularly in neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso, led to the return of Malian refugees. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 401,736 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country as of September 30. Approximately 115,000 IDPs were registered in the previous 12 months. According to the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, children constituted approximately 60 percent of IDPs in the country.

The Ministry of Health and Social Development registered IDPs, and the government assisted IDPs. IDPs generally lived with relatives, friends, or in rented accommodations. Most IDPs resided in urban areas and had access to food, water, and other forms of assistance. As many as one-half of all displaced families lacked the official identity documents needed to facilitate access to public services including schools, although identification was not required for humanitarian assistance. Aid groups provided humanitarian assistance to IDPs residing throughout the country, as access permitted.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian assistance, including some protection services, to refugees, returning refugees, and asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. Insecurity affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. A national committee in charge of refugees operated with assistance from UNHCR. UNHCR reported 47,884 refugees and asylum seekers as of August 31, most of whom arrived from neighboring Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso. UNHCR also reported 606,617 IDP returnees and 83,712 refugee returnees to the country as of September 30. This significant increase in IDP returnees and the steady increase in refugee flows strained already scarce resources dedicated to protecting and caring for refugees. Approximately 15,000 refugees registered in the country were of Afro-Mauritanian origin.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Refugees and migrants regularly transited through contested territory where there was often little government control or oversight. During September UNHCR recorded 83 incidents of physical violence towards refugees and migrants by armed groups and border authorities.

Durable Solutions: The government offered naturalization to Mauritanian refugees. During the year the government supported the voluntary repatriation of 57 Ivorian refugees to Cote d’Ivoire. The worsening security situation in the country hindered consideration of resettlement of refugees in the country.

Temporary Protection: The government’s National Directorate for Social Development was responsible for providing temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The National Commission for Refugees adjudicated refugee and asylum claims and provided temporary protection, pending a decision on whether to grant asylum.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, and citizens in the past exercised that right, but with some difficulty. The country had a military coup d’etat in August 2020, followed by a civilian-led transition government in September 2020 that was itself overthrown by the military on May 24. A new civilian-led transition government was subsequently formed; it announced plans to hold elections by February 27, 2022.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Originally scheduled for October 2018, legislative elections were held in March 2020. In April 2020 runoff elections took place. Restricted freedom of movement, logistical challenges, allegations of voter intimidation, election tampering, and financial limitations prevented many opposition candidates from campaigning in much of the central and northern parts of the country. In the months following the legislative elections, the constitutional court vacated key election results, especially in Bamako District, in favor of the then ruling party. The court’s action led to widespread civil unrest and efforts by ECOWAS to resolve the ensuing constitutional crisis.

In August 2020 military officers overthrew the elected government in a coup d’etat. The National Assembly was dissolved by then president Keita following the coup. ECOWAS swiftly imposed sanctions on the country, initially demanding an immediate return to constitutional order and eventually agreeing to an 18-month civilian transition government. In September 2020 a former minister of defense, retired colonel major Bah N’Daw, was sworn in as president of a transition government, and coup leader Colonel Assimi Goita was sworn in as transition government vice president. Later in September 2020, N’Daw named former minister of foreign affairs Moctar Ouane as prime minister of the transition government. In December 2020, 121 persons were nominated and subsequently confirmed to the National Transition Council (CNT), which played the role of the transition legislature. Goita selected the CNT’s members, the plurality of whom hailed from the MDSF.

On May 24, N’Daw and Ouane were arrested by the military, placed in detention for three days, and then placed under house arrest. On June 7, Goita became the new transition president. On June 11, a new government cabinet was formed with Choguel Kokalla Maiga as prime minister. On August 27, the transition government released N’Daw and Ouane from house arrest.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural or religious factors, however, sometimes limited women’s political participation in formal and informal roles due to a perception that it was taboo or improper to have women in such roles. The law requires that at least 30 percent of the slots on party election lists be reserved for female candidates and that 30 percent of high-level government appointees be women. Six of the 25 ministers and delegate ministers of the transition government were women.

Compliance with the law mandating female candidate participation was nearly achieved for the March and April 2020 legislative elections, with 41 seats of the 147-member National Assembly going to women, representing 28 percent of the National Assembly. The National Assembly was dissolved following the August 2020 coup.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption in all sectors of the administration was widespread. Authorities did not hold police accountable for corruption. Officials, police, and gendarmes frequently extorted bribes.

In June the general auditor released reports on government and public institution waste, fraud, and abuse. The management of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Project was investigated from February 18 to June 25 for financial verification and conformity. The investigation revealed irregularities of more than five billion CFA francs ($9.1 million). On August 26, former prime minister (2017-19) Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga and the former economy and finance minister (2013-15) Bouare Fily Sissoko, were arrested after being charged by the Supreme Court with forgery and falsification of records, misappropriation of public funds, corruption, abuse of influence, and favoritism. On September 21, four military officers were arrested and charged with misappropriation of public funds of the Ministry of Defense.

On November 15, the Appeals Court of Bamako began the second session of a Court of Assizes focusing on corruption cases. On November 17, the court heard the case of Salia Diarra, the mayor of Baguineda in the Koulikoro Region, charged with misuse of public funds totaling nearly 530 million CFA francs ($964,000). On November 19, Diarra was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. On November 22, the court heard the case of former president of the Chamber of Agriculture Bakary Togola, arrested in 2019 and charged with misuse of public funds and embezzlement totaling 9.5 billion CFA francs ($17.3 million). On November 29, Togola was acquitted of all charges.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. According to human rights organizations, government and military officials were generally not transparent, cooperative, or responsive to calls for investigations and prosecutions of allegations of human rights abuses by the MDSF.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH was an independent institution that received administrative and budgetary assistance from the Ministry of Justice. The government provided the CNDH with office space and staff. The CNDH’s membership included civil society representatives. The CNDH issued statements on several cases of human rights abuses, including the January 3 French forces’ airstrike in Bounti and the house arrest of former transition officials.

The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission was created in 2014 to accept evidence, hold hearings, and recommend transitional justice measures for crimes and human rights abuses stemming from the 2012 crisis when rebel and terrorist groups invaded the country and began attacking military bases and government entities. In the commission’s third public hearing in April, 14 victims testified on cases of forced disappearances. According to the UN secretary-general’s October report to the UN Security Council, as of September 6, the commission had heard testimony from 22,507 persons, up from 19,198 persons at the end of 2020.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women and men, with a penalty of five to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape was a widespread problem. Authorities prosecuted only a small percentage of rape cases. Survivors seldom reported rapes due to societal pressure, particularly because attackers were frequently close relatives, and due to fear of retaliation. No law explicitly prohibits spousal rape, but law enforcement officials stated that criminal laws against rape could apply to spousal rape. Police and judicial authorities investigated rape cases but were also willing to stop pursuing cases if parties privately reached an agreement prior to trial. This promoted an environment where survivors might be pressured by family to accept monetary compensation instead of seeking justice through the legal system.

In the June 1 report of the UN secretary-general to the UN Security Council on the situation in the country, MINUSMA documented at least two cases of conflict-related sexual violence. According to the report, the cases included the gang rape of a woman by unidentified armed individuals in the city of Menaka on March 27 and the mid-March gang rape of a Fulani woman. The latter was allegedly committed by members of the Dozo ethnic group in Niono, Segou Region.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, was prevalent. A 2012-13 gender assessment found a vast majority of women in the country suffered from domestic violence. The assessment concluded that 76 percent of women believed it was acceptable for a man to beat a woman for burning food, arguing, going out without telling the man, being negligent with children, or refusing to have sexual intercourse. The 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey concluded that 79 percent of women and 47 percent of men believed this behavior was justified. The survey found 49 percent of women experienced spousal violence (emotional, physical, or sexual), 43 percent of women ages 15 to 49 experienced physical violence, and one in every eight women experienced sexual violence. Of women who experienced domestic violence, 68 percent never sought help or told anyone.

Spousal abuse is a crime, but the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. According to human rights organizations, most cases went unreported because of cultural taboos and a lack of understanding regarding legal recourse. Conviction of assault is punishable by prison terms of one to five years and substantial fines. The sentence may be increased up to 10 years’ imprisonment if the assault is found to be premeditated. Police were often reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence. Many women were reluctant to file complaints against their husbands due to financial dependence concerns, or to avoid social stigma, retaliation, or ostracism. The Planning and Statistics Unit in the Ministry of Justice, established to track prosecutions, did not produce reliable statistics.

The United Nations reported an increase in conflict-related sexual violence attributable to extremist armed elements and signatory armed groups in the northern and central parts of the country. UNHCR and NGOs serving refugees and asylum seekers reported rising incidences of gender-based violence against refugees, asylum seekers, and IDPs, attributed to the deterioration of the protective environment for women and girls. Of 3,744 cases of gender-based violence against IDPs reported between January and June, more than half were rapes and physical assaults that took place while women carried out daily activities such as collecting water or firewood and traveling locally. UNHCR reported 196 cases of gender-based violence in the refugee population as of August 31. UNICEF reported that it provided more than 108,000 women and children with access to services related to the mitigation of, prevention of, or intervention in cases of gender-based violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is legal in the country and, except in certain northern areas, all religious and ethnic groups practiced it widely, particularly in rural areas. Although FGM/C is legal, authorities prohibited the practice in government-funded health centers.

Parents generally had FGM/C performed on girls between ages six months and nine years. According to the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey, 89 percent of women ages 15 to 49 were circumcised, but this varied widely by geographic location, with rates ranging from 2 percent in Gao to more than 95 percent in Koulikoro and Sikasso. Approximately 76 percent of circumcisions occurred prior to age five, and circumcision was almost always performed by a traditional practitioner (99 percent). According to the survey, approximately 70 percent of men and 69 percent of women believed excision was required by religion and three-quarters of the population, regardless of gender, believed the practice should continue. Government information campaigns regarding the dangers of FGM/C reached citizens throughout the country where security allowed, and human rights organizations reported decreased incidence of FGM/C among children of educated parents.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which routinely occurred, including in schools, without any government efforts to prevent it.

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

While no government policy adversely affected access to contraception, women and girls faced cultural and social barriers such as needing the consent of their husbands and influential members of the household to manage their reproductive health.

Distant health-care facilities and flooded roadways during rainy season negatively affected the ability of those living in rural areas to easily access adequate health care.

In accessing information regarding their reproductive health, women with disabilities faced distinct barriers, such as physical barriers to entry into health-care facilities, communication barriers, discriminatory and disrespectful treatment from health-care providers, and the lack of reproductive health information in accessible formats.

While government sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, were available to survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, the services were rarely specialized and survivors often sought care from general health facilities. Through Spotlight, an initiative supported by the European Union, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and UN Women, the country provided specialized assistance to survivors of gender-based violence, including family planning counseling, at the referral-health-center level via 10 “one-stop centers” in Bamako, Gao, Mopti, Kayes, and Koulikoro.

The maternal mortality rate was estimated at 325 per 100,000 live births, and 67 percent of women delivered in health centers assisted by skilled health workers. The key drivers of maternal mortality included poor access to and use of quality prenatal, delivery, and postnatal care services. The primary direct obstetric causes of maternal mortality were hemorrhage (37 percent), eclampsia (11 percent), and sepsis (11 percent). FGM/C was a significant public-health problem that contributed to maternal morbidity. According to UNFPA, the adolescent birth rate was 164 births per 1,000 girls.

There are no legal barriers related to menstruation or access to menstruation hygiene. Sociocultural barriers, however, impeded equal participation of women and girls in society in certain instances. Educational materials on menstrual hygiene management were scarce, and teachers often lacked knowledge on puberty and menstrual hygiene management. In a 2020 NGO study, more than a quarter of girls reported developing a genital condition related to improper menstrual hygiene, and 14 percent of girls missed classes due to pain during a menstrual cycle. According to the same study, more than half of girls attending school had problems concentrating in class due to menstrual periods, and menstruation caused three-quarters of girls to miss school due to the need to go home to change menstrual products to avoid embarrassment.

No law impedes adolescent girls’ access to education due to pregnancy or motherhood status. The law allows for the deferment, upon request, of education in secondary school for pregnant students. Many girls and their families were not informed of their rights and social stigma still prevented pregnant girls from attending school. Additionally, a lack of childcare was a barrier to girls’ access to education due to motherhood status.

Discrimination: The law does not provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, particularly concerning divorce and inheritance. Women are legally obligated to obey their husbands and are particularly vulnerable in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance. There were legal restrictions on women holding employment in the same occupations, tasks, and industries as men. Women had very limited access to legal services due to their lack of education, lack of information, and the prohibitive cost. Despite the discriminatory nature of the law, the government effectively enforced it. The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children, and the Family is responsible for providing for the legal rights of women.

While the law provides for equal property rights, traditional practices and ignorance of the law prevented women from taking full advantage of their rights. The marriage contract must specify if the couple wishes to share estate rights. If marriage certificates of Muslim couples do not specify the type of marriage, judges presume the marriage to be polygynous.

According to MINUSMA, extremist groups were responsible for intimidating and threatening women into “modesty” by forcing women in the regions of Timbuktu and Mopti to wear a veil. Reportedly, in the Dianke area of Timbuktu, several unveiled women were threatened, while in Binedama in the Mopti Region, all women were forced to wear a veil.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Societal discrimination continued against Black Tuaregs, often referred to as Bellah. Some Tuareg groups deprived Black Tuaregs of basic civil liberties due to hereditary slavery-like practices and hereditary servitude relationships.

There were continued reports of slaveholders kidnapping the children of their Bellah slaves. Slaveholders considered slaves and their children as property and reportedly took children of slaves to raise them elsewhere without permission from their parents. The antislavery organization Temedt organized workshops in Kayes Region to convince communities to abandon the practice of keeping slaves.

On August 18, at the end of a regional forum to strengthen social cohesion organized by the Kayes governor’s office and international NGO Mercy Corps, the regional government in Kayes signed a draft charter to end hereditary slavery. This draft charter was supported by NGOs and community leaders as well as the regional government.

On November 4, an investigating judge in Kayes Region ordered the arrest of 36 proslavery suspects for their alleged role in violent attacks against antislavery activists and victims of hereditary slavery in the Bafoulabe Circle that killed one person and injured 12 others on September 28 and 29. The suspects were transferred from a prison in Bafoulabe to Kayes for additional oversight. On November 11, Minister of Justice Mamoudou Kassogue instructed all public prosecutors to prosecute hereditary slavery to the fullest extent of the law.

Members of the Fulani (or Peul) ethnic group frequently clashed with members of the Dogon and, separately, with Bambara communities regarding alleged Fulani support of armed Islamists linked to al-Qa’ida. According to Human Rights Watch, this tension caused a rise in ethnic “self-defense groups” and drove thousands from their homes, diminished livelihoods, and induced widespread hunger. Groups representing these communities were reportedly involved in several communal attacks, and retaliatory attacks were common.

In the central region, violence across community lines escalated. Clashes between the Dogon and Fulani communities were exacerbated by the presence of extremist groups and resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths (see also section 1.g., Killings).

Intercommunal violence related to disputes regarding transhumant (seasonal migration) cattle grazing occurred among Dogon, Bambara, and Fulani communities in the Mopti Region, between Bambara and Fulani in the Segou Region, and among various Tuareg and Arab groups in the regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal.

Children

According to 2019 estimates, more than one-half of the population was younger than age 18.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from either parent or by birth within the country. The law stipulates registration within 30 days of birth. A fine may be levied for registration occurring after the 30-day period. Girls were less likely to be registered.

The government did not register all births immediately, particularly in rural areas. Some organizations stated there were insufficient registration sites to accommodate all villages, further exacerbating the low registration rates in certain areas. According to a 2019 UNICEF report, 13 percent of children younger than five were not registered, while 22 percent of registered children did not receive birth certificates. Lack or inaccessibility of services, lack of birth registration books, and parental ignorance regarding the importance of birth certificates were among the challenges for birth registration.

According to UNICEF, the government registered nearly 90 percent of births in 2019. The government conducted an administrative census in 2014 that collected biometric data and assigned a unique identifying number to every citizen. The process allowed the registration of children not registered at birth, although the number of birth certificates assigned was unknown.

Several local NGOs worked with foreign partners to register children at birth and to educate parents regarding the benefits of registration, which was critical for access to education and government services. Birth registration also played an essential role in protecting children, as well as facilitating their release and reintegration if recruited by armed groups or detained by authorities.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free universal education, and the law provides for compulsory schooling of children ages six through 15. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Other factors affecting school enrollment included long distances to the nearest school, lack of transportation, shortages of teachers, a protracted teachers’ strike during the year, shortages of instructional materials, and lack of school feeding programs. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, a cultural preference to educate boys, the early marriage of girls, sexual harassment of girls, lack of access to menstruation hygiene, and pregnancy and motherhood status (see also section 6, Reproductive Rights). According to the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey, two-thirds of women ages 15 to 49 had no education, compared with 53 percent of men in the same age range, and only 28 percent of women were literate, compared with 47 percent of men. According to a UNICEF report in May, more than two million children ages five to 17 did not go to school and more than half of persons ages 15 to 24 were illiterate. An October UN secretary-general’s report to the UN Security Council estimated that more than 478,000 children in the country were affected by school closures during the year.

As of June 1, the conflict had caused the closure of at least 1,595 schools in the north and central regions of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou. School closures began in June in the southern regions of Koulikoro and Sikasso. Many schools were damaged or destroyed because rebels sometimes used them as bases of operations. The United Nations reported government security forces sometimes used school compounds as bases. Most closed schools were in Mopti Region.

Child Abuse: Comprehensive government statistics on child abuse did not exist, but the problem was widespread. Most child abuse cases went unreported. The United Nations documented in the March, June, and October UN secretary-general’s reports 636 cases of grave abuses (defined as recruitment or use of children as soldiers, killing and maiming of children, rape and other grave sexual violence, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals, or denial of humanitarian access to children) against 467 children between January and September. Police and the social services department in the Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action investigated and intervened in some reported cases of child abuse or neglect, but the government provided few services for such children (see also section 1.g., Child Soldiers).

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age to marry without parental consent is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. A girl age 15 may marry with parental consent and with approval of a civil judge. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in rural areas, and child, early, and forced marriage was widespread throughout the country. Girls were also forced into marriage with combatants and leaders of armed groups. According to 2017 data from UNICEF, 54 percent of women were married by age 18 and 16 percent before age 15.

In some regions, especially Kayes and Koulikoro, girls married as young as age 10. It was common practice for a girl age 14 to marry a man twice her age. According to local human rights organizations, officials frequently accepted false birth certificates or other documents claiming girls younger than age 15 were old enough to marry. NGOs implemented awareness campaigns aimed at abating child, early, and forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation. The country has a statutory rape law that defines 18 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The law, which was inconsistent with the legal minimum marriage age of 15 for girls, was not enforced. Sexual exploitation of children occurred.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The government criminalized the act of infanticide. The August Court of Assizes session heard two cases of infanticide.

Displaced Children: According to an August UNICEF report, children made up approximately 64 percent of IDPs in the country.

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 were fewer than 50 Jews 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, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Persons with disabilities had access to basic health care. The government did not regularly provide official information and communications in accessible formats. The constitution and law do not specifically protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in access to employment, education, air travel and other transportation, health care, the judicial system, and state services. No law mandates accessibility to public buildings. Many individuals with disabilities relied on begging.

Persons with mental disabilities faced social stigmatization in public institutions.

The Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action was responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The ministry sponsored activities to promote income-earning opportunities for persons with disabilities. The ministry also worked with NGOs such as the Malian Federation of Associations for Handicapped Persons, which provided basic services. Although the government was responsible for eight schools countrywide for deaf persons, it provided almost no resources or other support for deaf persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS occurred. HIV positivity was often locally perceived to be synonymous with LGBTQI+ identity. The government implemented campaigns to increase awareness of the condition and reduce discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS.

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

According to local NGOs, LGBTQI+ individuals experienced physical, psychological, and sexual violence, which society viewed as “corrective” punishment. Police frequently refused to intervene when such violence occurred.

The law prohibits conduct pertaining to “attacks on morality,” thereby criminalizing, on a de facto basis, consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. The government actively enforced this law. Anecdotal evidence suggested LGBTQI+ individuals were at risk of violence if their status were known; their full protection remained in question.

In October the prosecutor of the Bamako Commune IV Tribunal of High Instance charged three women on the grounds of incitement to debauchery (under the same section of the law pertaining to “attacks on morality”) and violation of private communications. Two of the women were imprisoned before being granted provisional release on November 2. The third woman was charged with the same alleged crimes but fled to Cote d’Ivoire. In the same case, another woman was prosecuted but not detained. Media reports characterized the women as part of “a network of lesbians.” During the year there were no other examples of the use of this law criminalizing, on a de facto basis, consensual same-sex conduct between adults.

Most LGBTQI+ individuals isolated themselves and kept their sexual orientation or gender identity hidden. An NGO reported that LGBTQI+ individuals frequently dropped out of school, left their places of employment, and did not seek medical treatment to hide their sexual identity and avoid social stigmatization.

No laws specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Some NGOs provided medical and support services focusing specifically on men having sex with men or HIV prevention.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers, except members of the armed forces, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. There are restrictions which limit these rights, such as the requirement that workers must be employed in the relevant profession before they may form a union. A worker may remain a member of a trade union only for a year after leaving the relevant function or profession. Members responsible for the administration or management of a union must reside in the country and be free of any legal convictions that could suspend their right to vote in national elections. The process to register a union was cumbersome and time-consuming, and the government sometimes denied trade union registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds.

The minister of labor and public service has the sole authority to approve sectoral collective agreements and to decide which unions participate in sectoral collective bargaining. Employers have the discretion to refuse to bargain with representatives of trade unions. The law allows all types of strikes and prohibits retribution against strikers. Unions must exhaust the mandatory conciliation and arbitration procedures set out in the labor code before they may strike legally. Regulations require civil servants and workers in state-owned enterprises to give two weeks’ notice of a planned strike and to enter into mediation and negotiations with the employer and a third party, usually the Ministry of Labor and Public Service.

The law does not allow workers in “essential services” sectors to strike, and the minister of labor may order compulsory arbitration for such workers. The law defines “essential services” as services whose interruption would endanger the lives, personal safety, or health of persons; affect the normal operation of the national economy; or affect a vital industrial sector. For example, the law requires striking police to maintain a minimum presence in headquarters and on the street. The government, however, does not have a list of essential services.

Participation in an illegal strike is punishable by harsh penalties, including dismissal and loss of other rights except wages and leave. Civil servants exercised the right to strike. In May the large National Workers’ Union of Mali went on strike, demanding the equalization of salaries and benefits of all public workers. Teachers’ unions also went on strike in August, demanding a salary increase and calling for a boycott of end-of-year exams if the transition government failed to accede to union demands for better working and living conditions.

Although the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, the government did not effectively enforce relevant laws. Penalties for violating antiunion discrimination provisions were commensurate with penalties for comparable offenses. The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not have adequate resources to conduct inspections or perform mediation. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Authorities did not consistently respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, although workers generally exercised these rights. The government did not always respect unions’ right to conduct their activities without interference.

Although unions and worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties, they were closely aligned with various political parties or coalitions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced labor occurred. The law prohibits the contractual use of persons without their consent, and conviction includes fines and imprisonment with compulsory hard labor. Penalties may be doubled if a person younger than 15 is involved. Penalties were seldom enforced and therefore were not sufficient to deter these crimes. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for comparable crimes. According to NGOs, the judiciary was reluctant to act in forced labor cases. The government made little effort to prevent or eliminate forced labor, although it did allocate funding to its antitrafficking action plan. Government officials reportedly interfered in hereditary slavery cases, threatening and intimidating individuals in an effort to have charges dismissed. Prosecutors charged most hereditary slavery cases as misdemeanor offenses under discrimination, destruction of crops, or burglary statutes, which prescribed significantly lower penalties than those available under the trafficking law.

Most adult forced labor occurred in the agricultural sector, especially rice, cotton, dry cereal, and corn cultivation, and in artisanal gold mining, domestic services, and in other sectors of the informal economy. Forced child labor occurred in the same sectors. Corrupt religious teachers compelled boys into begging and other types of forced labor or service (see also section 7.c.).

The salt mines of Taoudeni in the north subjected men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, to the longstanding practice of debt bondage. Employers subjected many Black Tuaregs to forced labor and hereditary slavery, particularly in the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal (see also section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits most of the worst forms of child labor and prescribes a minimum age of employment of 15, limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions for children. No child may work more than eight hours per day under any circumstance. Girls between ages six and 18 may not work more than six hours per day. The government’s Hazardous Occupations List prohibits certain activities by children younger than 18. This law applies to all children, including those who work in the informal economy and those who are self-employed. Gaps exist in the legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor, and the law does not meet international standards regarding the prohibition of forced labor, the prohibition against using children in illicit activities, and the prohibition of military recruitment by nonstate armed groups.

Responsibility for enforcing child labor laws was shared among the Ministry for the Promotion of Children and Women, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Security, the National Social Security Institute through its health service, and the Ministry of Labor and Public Service. Interagency coordinating mechanisms were ineffective, inefficient, and cumbersome. Authorities often ignored child labor laws or did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate. The penalties for violations were commensurate with penalties for similar crimes but were not applied in all sectors.

Child labor, particularly in its worst forms, was a serious problem. Child labor was concentrated in the agricultural sector, especially rice and cotton production, but it was also found in domestic services, gold mining, forced begging organized by Quranic schools, and other sectors of the informal economy. Insecurity forced many schools to close, particularly in the regions of Sikasso and Mopti. Children not attending school were more vulnerable to labor exploitation, and children orphaned or separated from their families sometimes became victims of forced labor.

Approximately 25 percent of children between ages five and 14 were economically active, and employers subjected more than 40 percent of economically active children to the worst forms of child labor. Many children were engaged in hazardous activities in agriculture. Armed groups used child soldiers in the northern and central parts of the country (see also section 1.g.). Child trafficking occurred. Employers used children, especially girls, for forced domestic labor. Employers forced Black Tuareg children to work as domestic and agricultural laborers.

Traffickers targeted unaccompanied children and poor families, promising work opportunities, then selling them as laborers for farm and domestic work. Traffickers transported children across the border to Cote d’Ivoire to work on cocoa farms. In October 2020 the University of Chicago released a report showing West African child labor in cocoa production had increased 13 percent during a 10-year period, coinciding with a 62 percent growth in cocoa production. Although child labor increased, the report indicated that some interventions against hazardous child labor may have worked because there was no corresponding increase in hazardous child labor incidents in cocoa production due to using sharp tools, undertaking land clearing, working long hours or at night, and exposure to dangerous chemicals.

Child labor in artisanal gold mining was a serious problem. According to a March 2020 report from the Ministry of Environment on a 2019 action plan to reduce and eliminate the use of mercury in the artisanal mining sector, approximately 45,700 children worked under extremely harsh and hazardous conditions in artisanal gold mines and represented 9 percent of the artisanal mining workforce. Many of these children worked with mercury, a toxic substance used in separating gold from its ore.

An unknown number of primary-school-age boys throughout the country, most of them younger than 10, attended part-time Quranic schools funded by students and their parents. Some marabouts often forced their garibouts or talibes (students) to beg for money on the streets or to work as laborers in the agricultural sector. Any money earned was usually returned to their teachers. In some cases talibes worked as domestic workers without receiving compensation.

Prosecutors in Bamako had several pending investigations of potential abuse charges against marabouts who used children solely for economic purposes.

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 in employment and occupation based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, disability, social status, HIV-positive status, and skin color. The government’s Labor Inspection Agency is responsible for investigating and preventing discrimination based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, or ethnicity, but the law was not effectively enforced.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and ethnicity (see also section 6). The government was the major formal-sector employer and ostensibly paid women the same as men for similar work, but differences in job descriptions permitted pay inequality. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in dangerous occupations and tasks, and in industries such as mining, construction, and factories. Women are legally prohibited from working on the creation or sale of writing and images considered contrary to good morals. There were cases where employers from southern ethnic groups discriminated against individuals from northern ethnic groups.

Gender-based violence and sexual harassment were prevalent in the workplace. Research published by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Institute found that gender-based violence was an everyday occurrence for women and girls. The pandemic situation and growing insecurity increased the intensity and frequency of violent acts against women. The institute reported that husbands, co-wives, customary chiefs, religious leaders, and female employers of domestic workers were the main perpetrators of violence against girls and women in the central region.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage of 28,465 CFA francs per month ($52) in all sectors of the formal economy. The minimum wage is above the World Bank’s poverty line for the country. Minimum wage requirements did not apply to workers in the informal and subsistence sectors, which included most workers. In addition to setting a minimum wage, the government mandates that employers have a mandatory benefit package including social security and health care.

The legal workweek is 40 hours, except in the agricultural sector, where the legal workweek ranges from 42 to 48 hours, depending on the season. The law requires a weekly 24-hour rest period, and employers must pay workers overtime for additional hours. The law limits overtime to eight hours per week. The law applies to all workers, including migrants and domestics, but it was routinely ignored in the informal sector, which included an estimated 93 percent of workers, according to a 2018 International Labor Organization (ILO) report.

The Ministry of Labor and Public Service conducted few surprise or complaint-based inspections. Inspections conducted in August and October of oil companies Total, Oryx, and Vivo in Bamako found that salaries were below the legal minimum wage and that some workers were not registered with the national social security service. Following the inspections, the companies began implementing minimum wage policies and registered workers to receive social security benefits.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law provides for a broad range of occupational safety and health standards in the workplace. Workers have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Workers also have the right to request an investigation by the Social Security Department, which is responsible for recommending remedial action when necessary. Authorities, however, did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Workers often were reluctant to report violations of occupational safety regulations due to fear of losing their jobs.

The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not effectively enforce these standards, did not employ enough labor inspectors, and the few inspectors it did employ lacked resources to conduct field investigations. Many employers did not comply with regulations regarding wages, hours, and social security benefits. The ministry conducted few inspections in the three northern regions where the government has suspended services since the 2012 occupation of those regions by armed groups and other organizations. No government agencies provided information on violations or penalties. Labor inspectors made unannounced visits and inspections to worksites mostly after labor unions filed complaints.

Labor organizations reported employers used cyanide and mercury in gold mines, posing a public-health risk to workers exposed to them. Inspectors lacked the resources to assemble credible data on dangerous workplaces.

The most recent report from the ILO and the World Health Organization listed 2,915 annual work-related deaths in 2016. The Ministry of Labor reported two work-related deaths during the year.

Informal Sector: Almost 93 percent of workers worked in the informal sector, according to the ILO. Informal workers were employed in almost every sector of the economy, from agriculture (growing cotton) and transportation (including taxi drivers) to financial services (door-to-door banking, informal saving associations, and money lenders). Informal workers lost more income than formal-sector workers during the COVID-19 pandemic because informal workers were overrepresented in high-risk sectors of the economy such as restaurants, markets, hotels, beauty salons, tailoring, transport, and private education, according to a study released by United Nations University.

The worst working conditions existed in private businesses and informal sectors of the economy. In small, family-based agricultural endeavors, children worked for little or no remuneration. Employers paid some domestic workers as little as 7,500 CFA francs ($14) per month, which violated minimum wage laws; employers claimed that food and shelter provided to domestic workers was part of their compensation. Violations of overtime laws were common for children working in cities and those working in artisanal gold mines or rice and cotton fields.

Workers in the informal sector are not protected by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws and inspections. Workers in the informal economy benefitted from government health insurance if they contributed periodically from their salaries; however, there was no insurance against unemployment or retirement, or other social protections for workers in the informal economy.

Syria

Executive Summary

Bashar Assad has ruled the Syrian Arab Republic as president since 2000. The constitution mandates the primacy of Baath Party leaders in state institutions and society, and Assad and Baath Party leaders dominated all three branches of government as an authoritarian regime. An uprising against the regime that began in 2011 continued throughout the year. The May 26 presidential election resulted in Assad’s re-election, and the Baath Party-led National Progressive Front won 177 of the 250 seats in the People’s Council 2020 parliamentary elections. These elections, considered by the international community to be illegitimate, took place in an environment of widespread regime coercion and without the participation of a majority of Syrians residing in opposition-held territory due to the lack of a safe and neutral environment for voter participation. Nongovernmental organization observers additionally raised concerns about electoral fraud and did not consider the elections free or fair.

The regime’s multiple security branches traditionally operated autonomously with no defined boundaries between their areas of jurisdiction. Regime-affiliated militia, such as the National Defense Forces, integrated with other regime-affiliated forces and performed similar roles without defined jurisdiction. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the uniformed military, police, and state security forces, and used the security forces to carry out abuses, some of which rose to the level of crimes against humanity. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses. Civilian authorities possessed limited influence over foreign military or paramilitary organizations operating in the country, including proregime forces such as the Russian armed forces, Iran-affiliated Hizballah, and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, members of which also committed numerous abuses.

Regime and proregime forces continued aerial and ground offensives initiated in 2019 to recapture Idlib Governate and other areas in the northwestern region of the country, killing civilians and forcing the additional displacement of more than 11,000 persons. Escalations in the northwest, frequently involving the use of heavy weapons, devastated the civilian infrastructure in the affected areas and exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation. Air strikes by regime and Russian forces repeatedly struck sites where civilians were present, including hospitals, markets, schools, settlements for internally displaced persons, and farms, many of which were included in UN deconfliction lists.

As of September the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported there were 6.7 million internally displaced persons, 2.6 million of whom were children, and more than 5.6 million Syrian registered refugees outside the country. The UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria found it probable that the regime, its Russian allies, and other proregime forces committed attacks “marked by war crimes” that “may amount to crimes against humanity.”

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the regime; forced disappearances by the regime; torture, including torture involving sexual violence, by the regime; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care; prolonged arbitrary detention; political prisoners and detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in internal conflict, including unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by the regime and other armed actors, and aerial and ground attacks impacting civilians and civilian infrastructure such as schools, markets, and hospitals; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial suppression of the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; undue restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; coerced abortion; trafficking in persons; violence and severe discrimination targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and severe restrictions on workers’ rights.

The regime took no steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights violations or abuses or who engaged in corruption.

Regime-linked paramilitary groups reportedly engaged in frequent violations and abuses, including massacres; indiscriminate killings; kidnapping of civilians; extreme physical abuse, including sexual violence; and unlawful detentions. Regime-aligned militias, including Hizballah, reportedly launched numerous attacks that killed and injured civilians.

Russian forces were implicated in the deaths of civilians and destruction of civilian objects and protected sites resulting from air strikes.

The unstable security situation in areas under the control of armed opposition groups continued to foster an environment in which human rights abuses were committed, including killings, extreme physical abuse, and abductions.

Armed terrorist groups such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham committed a wide range of abuses, including unlawful killings and kidnappings, extreme physical abuse, and deaths of civilians during attacks described by the UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria as indiscriminate. Despite the territorial defeat of ISIS in 2019, the group continued to carry out unlawful killings, attacks, and kidnappings, sometimes targeting civilians.

Armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey in the northern region of the country committed human rights abuses, reportedly targeting Kurdish and Yezidi residents and other civilians, including: extrajudicial killings; the arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance of civilians; torture; sexual violence; forced evacuations from homes; looting and seizure of private property; transfer of detained civilians across the border into Turkey; recruitment of child soldiers; and the looting and desecration of religious shrines. The Ministry of Defense of the Syrian Interim Government, an alternative government formed by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, investigated claims of abuses committed by the armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey that make up the Syrian National Army. In September the Syrian Interim Government created a new office to investigate allegations of human rights violations and reported that its military courts issued verdicts in 169 cases.

Elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and other minority groups that included members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, reportedly engaged in human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary detention, recruitment of child soldiers, and restrictions on freedom of assembly. The Syrian Democratic Forces continued to investigate charges against their forces. There was no information available on prosecution of individual personnel.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that the regime and its agents, as well as other armed actors, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in relation to the conflict (see section 1.g.). No internal governmental bodies meaningfully investigated whether security force killings were justifiable or pursued prosecutions.

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), more than 227,400 civilians were killed in the conflict from 2011 to March. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its first estimated death toll since 2014; they documented more than 350,000 deaths since the beginning of the conflict but noted this was likely an “under-count of the actual number of killings.” Other groups estimated this number exceeded 550,000. This discrepancy was due in part to the vast number of disappeared, many of whom remained missing.

During the year the SNHR reported 1,116 civilians were killed, including at least 266 children and 119 women through November. According to the SNHR, the regime and its Russian and Iranian allies killed 295 civilians, including 91 children and 35 women. Most deaths occurred in the second half of the year during military operations led by the regime and its Russian and Iranian allies in Daraa Governate and Idlib.

The regime continued to commit extrajudicial killings and to cause the death of large numbers of civilians throughout regime-controlled territories. For example, human rights groups and other international organizations reported that in June the Fourth Division of the Syrian Arab Army and other regime forces surrounded and attacked the city of Daraa, breaking the Russian-brokered cease-fire and conducting heavy and indiscriminate shelling. The UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria (COI) and numerous human rights groups reported the regime continued to torture and kill persons in detention facilities. According to the SNHR, more than 14,580 individuals died due to torture between 2011 and November, including 181 children and 93 women; the SNHR attributed approximately 99 percent of all cases to regime forces during the year (see section 1.c.). The April report issued by the UN secretary-general on children and armed conflict in Syria noted that the United Nations verified 4,724 grave violations against children during the year, affecting at least 4,470 children, including the killing and maiming of more than 2,700 children.

Despite a cease-fire agreement in March 2020, the regime maintained its use of helicopters and airplanes to conduct aerial bombardment and shelling in Idlib. The SNHR documented the killing of 216 civilians in the Idlib region from the beginning of the year until November. According to the SNHR, the regime was responsible for the deaths of 78 of these civilians, including 25 children and 15 women. In February the COI determined there were reasonable grounds to believe Russian forces were guilty of the war crime of “launching indiscriminate attacks” and that there were reasonable grounds to believe “progovernment forces, on multiple occasions, have committed crimes against humanity in the conduct of their use of air strikes and artillery shelling of civilian areas.” It also noted that progovernment forces’ attacks amounted to the war crime of intentionally targeting medical personnel. In attacking hospitals, medical units, and health-care personnel, regime and progovernment forces violated binding international humanitarian law to care for the sick and wounded.

Other actors in the conflict were also implicated in extrajudicial killings (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of forced disappearances by or on behalf of regime authorities, and the vast majority of those disappeared since the start of the conflict remained missing. Human rights groups’ estimates of the number of disappearances since 2011 varied widely, but all estimates pointed to disappearances as a common practice. The SNHR documented at least 2,210 cases of arrests of which 1,750 were categorized as cases of enforced disappearances. The SNHR also reported that at least 150,000 Syrians remained arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared as of November, with the regime responsible for at least 88 percent of those detentions. The regime targeted medical personnel and critics, including journalists and protesters, as well as their families and associates. Most disappearances reported by domestic and international human rights documentation groups appeared to be politically motivated, and a number of prominent political prisoners detained in previous years remained missing (see section 1.e.).

In its March report, the COI determined that “widespread enforced disappearance was deliberately perpetrated by government security forces throughout the decade on a massive scale, to spread fear, stifle dissent and as punishment.” The Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison alleged that regime and nonstate actors used enforced disappearance and arrests as a tactic to accumulate wealth and gain influence. Between May and July, the regime released 81 individuals under the latest amnesty decree issued in May. The regime had issued 18 amnesty decrees since 2011, although the amnesty decree issued in May did not include political detainees. The decree excluded the vast majority of detainees who were never formally convicted of a crime in any court of law and were classified by human rights groups as unacknowledged detainees or forcibly disappeared.

During its February session the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) transmitted 33 newly reported cases of enforced disappearance to the regime. The UNWGEID received no response from the regime on these or other outstanding cases. The UNWGEID also received reports of disappearances, including women and children, perpetrated by various armed groups, including those affiliated with the Turkish armed forces. The April report issued by the UN secretary-general on children and armed conflict in Syria noted the abduction of 70 children from 2018 to 2020. The SNHR reported at least 5,000 children were still detained or forcibly disappeared as of November, with at least 50 of those detentions having taken place since the beginning of the year.

Throughout the year the regime continued publishing notifications of detainees’ deaths in regime detention facilities. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Families for Freedom, many families were unaware of the status of their detained family members and learned that relatives they believed to be alive had died months or even years earlier. In many cases the regime denied the presence of these individuals in its detention centers until it released death notifications. The SNHR recorded at least 970 of these notifications, including six during the year, but estimated that the number of detainees certified as dead was in the thousands. The regime did not announce publication of notifications on updated state registers, return bodies to families, or disclose locations of remains.

For example, the SNHR reported in March the regime notified the family of Muhammad Qatlish, a military defector detained and forcibly disappeared by regime forces in 2018 after signing a reconciliation agreement, that he had died in regime custody. As was frequently the case, the regime did not provide Qatlish’s body to the family or officially inform the family of the timing or manner of his death, although the SNHR reported it was likely due to torture.

The COI noted that the families of disappeared persons often feared approaching authorities to inquire about the locations of their relatives; those who did so had to pay large bribes to learn the locations of relatives or faced systematic refusal by authorities to disclose information about the fate of disappeared individuals. In January the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison reported that families had paid officials approximately $2.7 million for “information, promise to visit, or promise to release” prisoners since 2011.

Some terrorist groups and armed opposition groups not affiliated with the regime also reportedly abducted individuals, targeting religious leaders, aid workers, suspected regime affiliates, journalists, and activists (see section 1.g.).

The regime made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such actions.

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment and provides up to three years’ imprisonment for violations. Human rights activists, the COI, and local NGOs, however, reported thousands of credible cases of regime authorities engaging in systematic torture, abuse, and mistreatment to punish perceived opponents, a systematic regime practice documented throughout the conflict, as well as prior to 2011. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights assessed that, while individuals were often tortured to obtain information, the primary purpose of the regime’s use of torture during interrogations was to terrorize and humiliate detainees.

While most accounts concerned male detainees, there were increased reports of female detainees suffering abuse in regime custody during the year. Activists maintained that many instances of abuse went unreported. Some declined to allow reporting of their names or details of their cases due to fear of regime reprisal. Many torture victims reportedly died in custody (see section 1.a.).

The COI reported in March that the regime used 20 different methods of torture, including administering electric shocks and the extraction of nails and teeth. The SNHR documented the deaths of at least 91 individuals from torture between January and November, including two children.

The COI and Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported regular use of torture against perceived regime opponents at regime facilities run by the General Security Directorate and Military Intelligence Directorate. Human rights groups identified numerous detention facilities where torture occurred, including the Mezzeh airport detention facility; Military Security Branches 215, 227, 235, 248, and 291; Adra Prison; Sednaya Prison; the Harasta Air Force Intelligence Branch; Harasta Military Hospital; Mezzeh Military Hospital 601; and the Tishreen Military Hospital.

In September Amnesty International reported that regime prison and intelligence officials subjected women, children, and men to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape. One interviewee, Alaa, said regime officials arrested her and her 25-year-old daughter at a border crossing, accusing them of “speaking against [President] Assad abroad,” and sexually assaulted her daughter while she was in the room.

In June the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR), a consulting firm focused on political risk and development, reported that regime detention centers were routinely identified as sites of torture and sexual and gender-based violence for suspected members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) community.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) assessed that the regime perpetrated violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including the detention and torture of medical workers. In March PHR published the account of Houssam al-Nahhas, a physician who was imprisoned and tortured at the Military Intelligence Directorate in Aleppo for providing health care to injured protesters. According to al-Nahhas, he was released after signing a pledge to “not deliver health services to the government’s perceived adversaries.”

There continued to be a significant number of reports of abuse of children by the regime. Officials reportedly targeted and tortured children because of their familial relationships, real or assumed, with political dissidents, members of the armed opposition, and activist groups. According to witnesses, authorities continued to detain children to compel parents and other relatives associated with opposition fighters to surrender to authorities. The April report issued by the UN secretary-general on children and armed conflict in Syria noted 36 cases of sexual violence against children attributed to ISIS, regime forces, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and others between 2016 and the first half of 2018. The COI reported that the regime detained boys as young as age 12 and subjected them to severe beatings, torture, and denial of food, water, sanitation, and medical care.

In late February the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, convicted and sentenced Eyad al-Gharib, a Syrian security officer, to four and one-half years in prison for “aiding and abetting a crime against humanity in the form of torture and deprivation of liberty.” The proceedings marked the first trial for regime officials who conducted state-sponsored torture in Syria. Al-Gharib had been charged with aiding and abetting in crimes against humanity and complicity in approximately 30 cases of torture. A second defendant, Anwar Raslan, a former colonel in the Syrian intelligence services, remained on trial in Germany at year’s end. Raslan was charged with crimes against humanity, rape, aggravated sexual assault, and 58 murders at Branch 251, where he allegedly oversaw the torture of at least 4,000 individuals between April 2011 and September 2012.

In July German federal prosecutors announced charges against Alla Mousa, a Syrian doctor accused of 18 counts of torture in military hospitals in Homs and Damascus. He was arrested in Germany in 2020 and charged with murder and attempted, severe, and dangerous bodily harm at military hospitals No. 608 and No. 601, where he allegedly tortured protesters transported to the hospitals between 2011 and 2012. The indictment outlined his torture of detainees injured in anti-Assad demonstrations and noted the deaths of at least two victims.

Impunity was pervasive and deeply embedded in the security and intelligence forces and elsewhere in the regime. The UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria and human rights groups reported that perpetrators often acted with a sense of impunity, and the vast majority of abuses committed since 2011 went uninvestigated. Numerous human rights organizations concluded that regime forces continued to inflict systematic, officially sanctioned torture on civilians in detention with impunity. There were no known prosecutions or convictions in the country of security force personnel for abuses and no reported regime actions to increase respect for human rights by the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and in many instances were life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical and psychological abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Prison facilities were grossly overcrowded. Authorities commonly held juveniles, adults, pretrial detainees, and convicted prisoners together in inadequate spaces. Human rights groups reported that authorities continued to hold children in prison with adults. In its August report, the COI recounted the testimony of a media activist detained in military intelligence branches where he was held with minors between 12 and 17 years of age.

In March the COI reported that the regime maintained a vast network of detention centers where detainees were subjected to human rights violations. Reports from human rights groups and former detainees suggested that there continued to be many informal detention sites and that authorities held thousands of prisoners in converted military bases and in civilian infrastructure, such as schools and stadiums, and in unknown locations. Activists asserted the regime housed arrested individuals in factories and vacant warehouses that were overcrowded and lacked adequate sanitary facilities.

In some cases authorities transferred detainees from unofficial holding areas to intelligence services facilities. Detention conditions at security and intelligence service facilities continued to be the harshest, especially for political or national security prisoners. Facilities lacked proper ventilation, lighting, access to potable water or adequate food, medical staff and equipment, and sufficient sleeping quarters.

Inside prisons and detention centers, the prevalence of death from disease remained high due to unsanitary conditions and the withholding of food, medical care, and medication. In its March report, the COI said that detainees died from “inhuman living conditions,” including severe overcrowding, lack of food, and unclean drinking water. Prisoners received inadequate or no medical care, leading to death from preventable conditions in unhygienic cells. Local NGOs and medical professionals reported authorities denied medical care to prisoners with pre-existing health needs, such as diabetes, asthma, and cancer, and often denied pregnant women any medical care. Released prisoners commonly reported sickness and injury resulting from such conditions. According to the COI’s September report, survivor detainees reported hundreds of detainee deaths in custody of government security branches, including Sednaya Prison and Tishrin Military Hospital, due to torture and inhuman treatment. Interviewees also noted that hunger and tuberculosis were widespread.

In February the Columbia Human Rights Law Review published an article noting the risks of a COVID-19 outbreak among prisoners confined in overcrowded regime detention facilities, saying their health had already been compromised by abuse, lack of medical care, and unhygienic prison conditions. OHCHR assessed the conditions in regime prisons were alarming and presented unique risks of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Information on conditions and care for prisoners with disabilities was unavailable.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and other minority groups that included members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, oversaw more than 20 detention centers in the northeast holding approximately 10,000 ISIS fighters detained during coalition operations. The largest of these was the Provincial Internal Security Forces detention center in Hasakah estimated to hold the bulk of ISIS detainees in the country. Detainees were provided with sufficient food and water, but medical care was lacking, reflecting the overall lack of medical supplies throughout the northeast region. Due to the limited justice system in which to try and sentence Syrian detainees in the northeast, many Syrian detainees remained in detention awaiting trial. Non-Syrian detainees remained in these detention centers until they could be repatriated to their home countries. The SDF managed a program to release nonviolent Syrian detainees who had been tried and served at least part of their sentences back to their home communities under a tribal sponsorship program.

According to the COI, conditions in detention centers run by nonstate actors, such as HTS, violated international law (see section 1.g.).

Administration: There were no credible mechanisms or avenues for prisoners to complain or submit grievances, and authorities routinely failed to investigate allegations or document complaints or grievances. Activists reported there was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. The law provides for prompt access to family members, but NGOs and families reported inconsistent application of the law, with most families waiting years to see relatives and, in many cases, never being able to visit them at all unless they bribed regime officials. In many instances the regime never informed families of their relatives’ detention or of deaths in detention.

In areas where regime control was weak or nonexistent, localized corrections structures emerged. Reports of control and oversight varied, and both civilian and religious leaders oversaw facility administration. Former police forces or members of armed opposition groups operated facilities in areas under the control of opposition forces. Nonstate actors often did not respect due process and lacked training to run facilities.

Independent Monitoring: The regime prohibited independent monitoring of prison or detention center conditions, and diplomatic and consular officials had minimal access. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited central prisons and offered services aimed at restoring family links to relatives in detention.

The ICRC and Red Crescent continued to negotiate with all parties to gain access to detention centers across the country but were unable to gain access to any regime-controlled intelligence and military detention facilities during the year. The SDF provided the ICRC and UN-supported NGOs access to SDF prisons during the year. The ICRC continued to negotiate with all parties to try to gain access to other detention centers across the country.

Reportedly, the regime often failed to notify foreign governments when it arrested, detained, released, or deported their citizens, especially when the case involved political or national security charges. The regime also failed to provide consular access to foreign citizens known to be in its prisons and, on numerous occasions, claimed these individuals were not in its custody or even in the country.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but a 2011 decree allows the regime to detain suspects for up to 60 days without charge if suspected of “terrorism” or related offenses. Arbitrary arrests continued during the year, according to the COI, local news sources, and various human rights organizations, as well as prolonged or indefinite detentions. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the regime did not observe this requirement.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law generally requires a warrant for arrest in criminal cases, but police often cited emergency or national security justifications for acting without a warrant, which is permitted under the law. Under the constitution and code of criminal procedure, defendants must be informed of the reasons for their arrest, and they are entitled to legal aid and are presumed innocent until convicted by a court in a fair trial. Civil and criminal defendants have the right to bail hearings and possible release from pretrial detention on their own recognizance, but the regime applied the law inconsistently. At the initial court hearing, which could be months or years after the arrest, the accused may retain an attorney at personal expense or the court may appoint an attorney, although authorities did not ensure lawyers’ access to their clients before trial.

In March the COI reported that those arrested were typically not given information regarding the justification for the arrest. Those informed of the charges rarely had access to evidence supporting the charges. According to the COI, detainees were routinely tortured to extract confessions or compelled to sign declarations they had not been allowed to read. The COI also found that proceedings in field courts would “last only minutes,” with no legal counsel or witnesses present.

In cases involving political or national security offenses, authorities reportedly often made arrests in secret, with cases assigned in an apparently arbitrary manner to the Counterterrorism Court (CTC), courts-martial, or criminal courts. The CTC, military field courts, and military courts are exempted from following the same procedures as ordinary courts, allowing them to operate outside of the code of criminal procedure and deny basic rights guaranteed to defendants. Numerous human rights organizations asserted that trials before these courts were unfair and summary in nature, sometimes resulting in death sentences. In March the COI noted that eyewitness accounts from CTC proceedings described the hearings as “brief, with scant (if any) evidence presented to support serious charges.”

The regime reportedly detained suspects incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge or trial and denied them the right to a judicial determination of their pretrial detention. In most cases authorities reportedly did not identify themselves or inform detainees of charges against them until their arraignment, often months or years after their arrest. Individuals detained without charge did not qualify for release under regime-issued amnesty decrees. In January the Daraa Martyrs’ Documentation Office reported the execution of 83 military dissidents who had accepted a settlement agreement with the regime mediated by the Russian military police, in addition to 31 others who did not accept the agreement. According to the NGO Global Voices, the regime never complied with the conditions of the settlement and continued to target and arrest members of the opposition. In September the COI documented the case of a man from Homs who returned to Syria in 2019 under a regime-sponsored reconciliation process and was later detained for three and one-half months in several detention facilities until his family paid a bribe for his release. He said officials, as well as medical staff at Branch 235 of the Military Intelligence Directorate in Damascus, tortured him in detention.

Human rights groups continued to highlight the unlawful treatment of detainees and advocate for their release.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to NGO reports and confirmed by regime memoranda secured and released by human rights documentation groups, the security branches secretly ordered many arrests and detentions. Because the regime continued to withhold information on detainees, estimates varied widely, but the COI stated regime forces and affiliated militias continued to hold tens of thousands of persons arbitrarily or unlawfully in detention facilities. As of November the SNHR reported more than 150,000 persons remained arbitrary detained or forcibly disappeared; it attributed 88 percent of these cases to the regime, including the Syrian Arab Army, General Intelligence Directorate, Air Force Intelligence Directorate, General Administration Division, and Political Security Directorate. The SNHR reported that regime forces and proregime militias arbitrarily arrested or detained 756 individuals, including 19 children and 19 women, from the beginning of the year through November.

PHR reported that regime forces continued to specifically target health-care workers because of their status as medical professionals and their real or perceived involvement in the provision of health services to opposition members and sympathizers. Survivors reported the regime relied on torture to coerce medical workers to confess to crimes they did not commit and gather information on other health workers and health-care activities. Additionally, human rights activists said the regime arrested health-care providers who spoke to international media outlets regarding the COVID-19 crisis or contradicted the tightly controlled narrative on the impact of the pandemic on the country. According to the SNHR, at least 3,360 health care workers remained detained or forcibly disappeared as of November, of which the regime was responsible for more than 3,300 cases.

The SNHR reported that authorities continued to arbitrarily arrest men and boys at checkpoints, often citing no reason for their arrest. Some who had previously settled their security status with the regime via reconciliation agreements were transferred to long-term detention facilities or forcibly disappeared.

The Norwegian Refugee Council reported fear of interrogation, forced conscription, and arbitrary arrests and detention deterred refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from returning to their homes in areas retaken by regime forces.

There also were instances of nonstate armed groups reportedly engaging in arbitrary and unlawful detention (see section 1.g.). For example, a January report from the NGO Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) reported that military police affiliated with the Syrian National Army (SNA), a coalition of Syrian armed opposition groups receiving support from the government of Turkey, detained 237 persons in the “Peace Spring” and “Olive Branch” areas at the end of 2020. At the time of the report’s release, 133 of these individuals remained incommunicado, including women and children. The STJ reported that armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey detained residents at times based on their affiliation or perceived affiliation with the SDF, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), or the Self Administration for North and East Syria (SANES). In its March report, the COI reported that the YPG forces of the SDF arbitrarily detained activists, NGO workers, and other individuals who expressed opposing views. NGOs also reported cases of arbitrary detention at the hands of the SDF, including in the context of anti-ISIS operations.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Authorities reportedly held thousands of detainees incommunicado for months or years before releasing them without charge or bringing them to trial, while many detainees died in prison (see section 1.a.). A shortage of available courts and lack of legal provisions for speedy trial or plea bargaining contributed to lengthy pretrial detentions. There were numerous reported instances when the length of detention exceeded the sentence for the crime. Percentages for the prison and detainee population held in pretrial detention and the length of time held were not available.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities regularly subjected courts to political influence and prosecutors and defense attorneys to intimidation and abuse. Outcomes of cases where defendants were affiliated with the opposition appeared predetermined, and defendants could sometimes bribe judicial officials and prosecutors. NGOs reported that the regime at times shared with progovernment media outlets lists of in absentia sentences targeting armed opposition groups before the sentences were issued by the court. The SNHR reported that most of the individuals detained by regime authorities between January and November were denied access to fair public trial.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial. The judiciary generally did not enforce this right, and the regime did not respect judicial independence. In its June report, the international NGO International Legal Assistance Consortium found that “overt and indirect intimidation by the Syrian security services continues to inhibit the judiciary’s independence,” noting that the lack of independence left judges vulnerable to pressure in instances where one party is affiliated with the regime or proregime armed groups.

The constitution presumes that defendants are innocent until proven guilty, but numerous reports indicated the CTC or courts-martial did not respect this right. Defendants have the right to prompt, detailed notification of the charges against them, with interpretation as necessary, although authorities did not enforce this right, and a number of detainees and their families reported the accused were unaware of the charges against them. In its March report, the COI noted that some defendants learned they had been sentenced without being present at a hearing, while others were only informed of the verdict years after their trial. Trials involving juveniles or sexual offenses, or those referred to the CTC or courts-martial, are held via video conference instead of in person. The law entitles defendants representation of their choice, but it does not permit legal representation for defendants accused of spying. The courts appoint lawyers for indigents.

In March the COI reported that the regime denied detainees access to a lawyer and subjected detainees to incommunicado detention. The SNHR reported detainees on trial in military courts were often transferred to unknown locations without notification to their attorneys or families. The Truth and Justice Charter groups reported families of individuals detained by the regime continued to be unable to access information on the status of their relatives.

Human rights groups reported that in some cases the regime provided prosecution case files to defense lawyers that did not include any evidence, if they provided anything at all. By law defendants may present witnesses and evidence or confront the prosecution witnesses, but authorities often did not respect this right. Defendants may not legally be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but family members and NGOs routinely reported defendants were tortured and intimidated to acquire information and force confessions, as described in a July SNHR report.

Convicted persons may appeal verdicts to a provincial appeals court and ultimately to the Court of Cassation. Not all citizens enjoyed these rights equally, in part because interpretations of religious law provide the basis for elements of family and criminal law and discriminate against women. Some personal status laws apply sharia regardless of the religion of those involved.

Additionally, media and NGO reports suggested the regime denied some, and in certain cases all, of these protections to those accused of political crimes, violence against the regime, or providing humanitarian assistance to civilians in opposition-held areas. Sentences for persons accused of antigovernment activity tended to be harsh, if they reached trial, with violent and nonviolent offenders receiving similar punishments. The regime did not permit defendants before the CTC to have effective legal representation. The International Legal Assistance Consortium estimated that between March 2011 and August, more than 10,000 Syrians were tried in the CTC.

In opposition-controlled areas, legal or trial procedures varied by locale and the armed group in control. Local human rights organizations reported that local governing structures assumed these responsibilities. NGOs reported that civilians administered these processes employing customary sharia laws in some cases and national laws in others. Sentencing by opposition sharia councils sometimes resulted in public executions without an appeals process or visits by family members.

According to local NGOs, opposition-run sharia councils continued to discriminate against women, not allowing them to serve as judges or lawyers or to visit detainees.

In the territories it controlled, SANES authorities continued to implement a legal code based on the draft “Social Contract.” Reports described the Social Contract as a mix of Syrian criminal and civil law with laws concerning divorce, marriage, weapons ownership, and tax evasion drawn from EU law, but without certain fair trial standards, such as the prohibition of arbitrary detention, the right to judicial review, and the right to appoint a lawyer. The justice system within the SANES-controlled area consisted of courts, legal committees, and investigative bodies.

Human rights groups and media organizations continued to report that HTS denied those it had detained the opportunity to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention in its sharia courts. HTS reportedly permitted confessions obtained through torture and executed or forcibly disappeared perceived opponents and their families.

Tens of thousands of men, women, and children, many from former ISIS-held areas, remained in the overcrowded al-Hol camp, administered by an international NGO with security assistance provided by the SDF and Asayesh, the internal security forces of SANES. Living conditions remained difficult at al-Hol camp, where security incidents persisted, and most camp residents had limited freedom of movement. According to camp management, 89 residents were reportedly killed in al-Hol camp during the year. Violence was likely due to ISIS-related or criminal-related activity in the camp. The international NGO Save the Children reported from the start of the year through mid-August three children were shot and killed in al-Hol. While basic humanitarian needs were met, services were at times reduced due to COVID-19.

The SDF reportedly provided information to the COI on its procedure for the return of al-Hol inhabitants. According to the COI’s August report, 8,548 Syrians had been transferred out of al-Hol camp under tribal sponsorship agreements since mid-2019, while another 322 children and 56 women from 13 different countries were repatriated between September 2020 and June. Approximately 55,000 residents remained in al-Hol, more than 30,000 of them children younger than age 12.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were numerous reports of political prisoners and detainees. Amnesty International reported the regime continued to detain civilians systematically, particularly those perceived to oppose the regime, including peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, and political dissidents and their families. The four government intelligence agencies – Air Force, Military, Political Security, and General – were responsible for most such arrests and detentions.

Authorities continued to refuse to release information regarding the numbers or names of persons detained on political or security-related charges. Human rights groups noted detainees included doctors, humanitarian aid providers, human rights defenders, and journalists.

Prison conditions for political or national security prisoners, especially accused opposition members, reportedly continued to be much worse than those for common criminals. According to local NGOs, authorities deliberately placed political prisoners in crowded cells with convicted and alleged felons and subjected them to verbal and physical threats and widespread torture. Political prisoners also reported they often slept on the ground due to lack of beds and faced frequent searches. According to reports from families, including the Families for Freedom network, authorities refused many political prisoners access to family and counsel. Some former detainees and human rights observers reported the regime also denied political prisoners access to reading materials, including the Quran, and prohibited them from praying in their cells. According to the SNHR and the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ), regime forces arrested writer and journalist Bassam Safar at a regime checkpoint in Damascus in June. Prior to his arrest, Safar had conducted an interview on the presidential elections in which he criticized the regime. Safar was denied access to family and counsel. According to one local media outlet, Safar was released on July 30.

Many prominent civilian activists and journalists detained or forcibly disappeared following the 2011 protests reportedly remained in detention. There were no known developments in the majority of cases of reported disappearances from prior years, including the following persons believed forcibly disappeared by regime forces: nonviolent protester Abdel Aziz Kamal al-Rihawi; Alawite opposition figure Abdel Aziz al-Khair; Kurdish activist Berazani Karro; Yassin Ziadeh, brother of dissident Radwan Ziadeh; human rights lawyer Khalil Ma’touq and his assistant, Mohamed Zaza; human rights activist Adel Barazi; and peace activist and theater director Zaki Kordillo and his son, Mihyar Kordillo.

NGOs continued to report the regime used the counterterrorism law to arrest and convict nonviolent activists on charges of aiding terrorists in trials that violated basic due process rights. Although authorities reportedly brought charges under the guise of countering violent militancy, allegations included peaceful acts such as distributing humanitarian aid, participating in protests, and documenting human rights abuses.

Amnesty: The regime issued 18 amnesty decrees since 2011, but decrees generally resulted in the release of limited numbers of ordinary criminals. These amnesties excluded detainees who had not been charged with any crimes. In July the SNHR reported the regime released 81 detainees in the two months following the May amnesty announcement, while arbitrarily detaining 176 others within that same period. Limited releases of detainees occurred within the framework of localized settlement agreements with the regime. During the year regime forces violated prior amnesty agreements by conducting raids and arrest campaigns against civilians and former members of armed opposition factions in areas with signed settlement agreements with the regime.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: Human rights groups reported the regime used violence and threats of violence against Syrians in other countries and their family members residing in Syria for the purpose of politically motivated reprisal. In September National Public Radio reported the regime subjected witnesses in a trial against regime official Anwar Raslan taking place in Koblenz, Germany, and their families in Syria to threats and harassment. One witness, Hassan Mahmoud, reported withdrawing his testimony after feeling threatened by reports that regime security officials went searching for his brother, Waseem, in their Syrian hometown of Salamiyah.

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: In late 2020 the Syria Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC) issued a report analyzing regime documentation that detailed coordination between regime intelligence officials and Syrian embassy staff in Saudi Arabia and Spain, corroborating long-standing NGO reporting that the regime maintained a global surveillance apparatus to track dissidents’ activities both inside and outside of the country systematically.

Misuse of International Law-enforcement Tools: In October INTERPOL announced that its executive committee lifted “corrective measures” imposed on Syria in 2012 that restricted the Assad regime’s use of INTERPOL databases and communication systems. Following the decision media outlets and human rights organizations reported concern by human rights organizations that the Syrian government may use Red Notices to pursue political opponents.

Efforts to Control Mobility: The regime amended the military conscription law to allow authorities to confiscate the assets of “[military] service evaders” and their families who failed to pay the military exemption fee. The Guardian newspaper reported this regulation amounted to an effort to extort Syrian citizens living abroad, many of whom fled the country to escape the regime’s military offensive and would be unwilling to serve in the military. According to the Ministry of Defense, military exemption fees range from $7,000 for those who had four years of permanent and continuous residence outside Syria before or after entering the age of assignment, $8,000 for those who residing outside Syria for less than four years and more than three years, $9,000 for those residing outside Syria for two years, and $10,000 for those residing outside Syria for one year.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Regime civil remedies for human rights violations were functionally nonexistent. In areas under their control, opposition groups did not organize consistent civil judicial procedures. HTS and other extremist groups had no known civil judicial mechanisms in the territories they controlled.

In the areas of the northeast under the control of SANES, civilian peace and reconciliation committees reportedly resolved civil disputes before elevating them to a more formal justice system.

Property Seizure and Restitution

Regime security forces routinely seized detainees’ property and personal items. The law provides for the confiscation of movable and immovable property of persons convicted of terrorism, a common charge for political opponents and other detainees since 2012. Security forces did not catalog these items in accordance with the law, and although detained individuals had the right to retrieve their confiscated belongings after release, authorities often did not return the property. In its June report, the International Legal Assistance Consortium found that the CTC continued to issue orders for the seizure of property of those accused of terrorism, broadly interpreted to include perceived opponents, noting that such orders were also directed at medical workers, members of the Syrian Civil Defense, and journalists. According to media reports and activists, regime forces also seized property left by refugees and IDPs and used confiscations to target regime opponents. The CTC can try cases in the absence of the defendant, thus providing legal cover for confiscation of property left by refugees and IDPs.

In its September report, the COI found that some confiscated land was also “burned or destroyed,” which the COI concluded may amount to pillage, an act prohibited under international humanitarian law and a possible war crime. The housing, land, and property rights situation was further complicated by the destruction of court records and property registries in opposition-held areas in the years following the 2011 uprising.

In February the SNHR reported that the regime seized at least 170 square miles of agricultural land in the suburbs of Hama and Idlib. The SNHR called the seizing of regime opponents’ property part of the regime’s strategy to “engineer the demographic and social structure of the Syrian state that automatically constitutes a major obstacle to the return of refugees and IDPs.”

In April HRW reported that regime authorities unlawfully confiscated the homes and lands of citizens who fled regime and Russian military offensives in Hama and Idlib. In interviews with HRW, those whose lands were seized said the regime provided no notice or compensation. In three cases, they said that security committees consisting of the Peasants’ Cooperative Associations, Syrian military intelligence, and progovernment militia were responsible for seizing and leasing their land.

The regime continued to use Decree 66, issued in 2012, to “redesign unauthorized or illegal housing areas” and replace them with “modern” real estate projects. In April the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy described these urban development projects as illustrative of the regime’s efforts to punish opponents and “consolidate power and wealth among elites” allied with the regime. In September Presidential Decree No. 237 officially created a new development district known as the Northern Gate of Damascus Regulatory Area on the outskirts of Damascus. Homeowners and renters are required to submit proof of residence to qualify for interim housing during development. COAR predicted these projects would ultimately displace thousands of residents living in informal and transient neighborhoods in the area and cause refugees and IDPs to lose ownership of their property.

Armed groups also reportedly seized residents’ properties. In July the chair of the COI noted that SNA members in Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn looted and appropriated properties under their control. The SJAC similarly reported SNA fighters in Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn used threats of extortion, abduction, and torture to force residents, primarily of Kurdish origin, to flee their homes so the fighters could occupy them. A coalition of 34 NGOs assessed these and other abuses by armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey were part of a systematic effort to enforce demographic change targeting Kurdish Syrians. In September Syrian Interim Government authorities said it had facilitated the return of 300 Kurdish families to their original homes in Afrin and provided them with resettlement assistance. (See section 1.e., Efforts to Control Mobility, for information regarding seizing property of Syrians abroad who do not pay exemption fees for military service.)

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

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary searches, but the regime routinely failed to respect these prohibitions. Police and other security services frequently bypassed search warrant requirements in criminal cases by citing security reasons or emergency grounds for entry into private property. Arbitrary home raids occurred in large cities and towns of most governorates where the regime maintained a presence, usually following antigovernment protests, opposition attacks against regime targets, or resumption of regime control.

The regime continued to open mail addressed to both citizens and foreign residents and routinely monitored internet communications, including email (see section 2.a.).

Numerous reports confirmed the regime punished large numbers of family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives, such as by arbitrarily placing them on a list of alleged terrorists and freezing their assets. In March the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published a report noting that family members of perceived regime opponents and political detainees “are at risk of extortion and intimidation, and, in some cases, the unlawful freeze of assets and confiscation of property as a form of collective punishment.” UNHCR also noted that family members remained at risk of “threats, harassment, arbitrary arrest, torture, and enforced disappearance for the purpose of retaliation or to force real or perceived government critics to surrender.”

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The regime, proregime militias such as the National Defense Forces, opposition groups, the SDF, violent extremist groups such as HTS and ISIS, foreign terrorist groups such as Hizballah, and the governments of Russia, Turkey, and Iran were all involved in armed conflict throughout the country.

The most egregious human rights violations and abuses stemmed from the regime’s systemic disregard for the safety and well-being of its people. These abuses manifested themselves in a complete denial of citizens’ ability to choose their government freely and peacefully, law enforcement authorities refusing to protect the majority of individuals from state and nonstate violence, and the use of violence against civilians and civilian institutions. Numerous reports, such as Amnesty International’s September report, indicated that Syrian refugees who returned to Syria were subjected to torture, sexual abuse, detention, and disappearance by regime intelligence officers. Amnesty International documented violations against 79 refugees who returned to Syria from 2017 through year’s end. Attacks impacting and destroying schools, hospitals, places of worship, water and electrical stations, bakeries, markets, civil defense force centers, densely populated residential areas, and houses were common throughout the country.

As of September there were more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR in neighboring countries and 6.7 million IDPs. In April the World Food Program found that 12.4 million Syrians, nearly 60 percent of the population, were food insecure.

Killings: The regime reportedly committed the majority of killings throughout the year (see section 1.a.). The SNHR attributed 91 percent of civilian deaths to regime and proregime forces.

Media sources and human rights groups varied in their estimates of how many persons had been killed since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. In September the UN high commissioner for human rights announced that from March 2011 to March, 350,209 identifiable individuals had been killed in the conflict. The commissioner noted that the figure indicated “a minimum verifiable number,” and that it “is certainly an under-count of the actual number of killings.” Other groups attributed more than 550,000 killings to the conflict. This discrepancy was largely due to the high number of missing and disappeared Syrians, whose fates remained unknown. Regime and proregime forces reportedly attacked civilians in hospitals, residential areas, schools, IDP settlements, and Palestinian refugee camps throughout the year. These forces reportedly used as military tactics the deliberate killing of civilians, as well as their forced displacement, rape, starvation, and protracted siege-like conditions that occasionally forced local surrenders.

These attacks included indiscriminate bombardment with barrel bombs. According to the SNHR, the regime has dropped approximately 81,900 barrel bombs between July 2012 and March. Aerial and ground offensives throughout the demilitarized zone destroyed or ruined civilian infrastructure, including “deconflicted” hospitals, schools, marketplaces, and farmlands. In its February report, the COI determined it had “reasonable grounds” to believe that proregime forces had committed crimes against humanity as a result of their air strikes and artillery shelling of civilian areas. The COI further stated that the Syrian Air Force deployed barrel bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on densely populated civilian areas in a manner that was “inherently indiscriminate and amounted to war crimes.” It added that proregime forces likely committed “the war crime of spreading terror among the civilian population.”

In its September report, the COI detailed a February 2020 cluster munitions attack launched by regime and Russian forces impacting three schools in Idlib. The SNHR reported the regime and Russian forces carried out 495 cluster munition attacks since 2011, comprising the majority of cluster munition attacks during that time period. The SNHR also reported that attacks launched by these forces resulted in the deaths of at least 1,030 civilians, including 386 children and 217 women, as well as injuries to approximately 4,360 civilians. The SNHR documented at least 1,600 attacks on schools between March 2011 and November, with the regime responsible for 75 percent of the attacks.

The COI’s February report noted that progovernment forces established a pattern of intentionally targeting medical personnel. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), hundreds of health-care workers had been killed during the conflict. From 2011 through November the SNHR documented the death of 861 medical personnel, including five deaths from the beginning of the year through November. In March PHR documented the killing of 930 medical personnel since the onset of the conflict, reporting the regime and Russian forces were responsible for more than 90 percent of attacks. In Idlib medical professionals continued to be injured and killed throughout the year.

In June regime forces surrounded and attacked the city of Daraa, breaking the Russian-brokered cease-fire and leading to a surge in heavy shelling. In its September report, the COI found that targeted killings increased in Daraa and noted that it was investigating 18 incidents that occurred between July 2020 and February, although it had received reports of hundreds more. Victims included medical workers, local political leaders, judges, and former members of armed groups, some of whom had reconciled with the regime. The COI reported that in April armed men killed Ahmed al-Hasheesh, a former paramedic who had reportedly resisted reconciliation.

Although no use of prohibited chemical weapons was reported during the year, in April the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) concluded there were reasonable grounds to believe the regime carried out a chemical weapons attack in Saraqib in 2018. The IIT also concluded in its April 2020 report that the regime was responsible for three chemical weapons attacks on Ltamenah in 2017. These attacks preceded the more deadly sarin attack in nearby Khan Shaykhun less than two weeks later and were alleged to be part of the same concerted campaign of terror perpetrated by the Assad regime. In April the OPCW Conference of the State Parties adopted a decision condemning the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. The organization suspended certain rights and privileges of the regime under the Chemical Weapons Convention, including voting rights, until the OPCW director general reported that the government had completed the measures requested in the executive council’s July 2020 decision.

Additionally, PHR, the SNHR, and other NGOs reported that the regime and Russia targeted humanitarian workers such as the Syria Civil Defense (known as the White Helmets) as they attempted to save victims in affected communities. In June the SNHR reported that regime and Russian forces were suspected of shelling and destroying a Syria Civil Defense center in Hama, killing one rescue worker and injuring three others. The SNHR recorded at least 470 incidents of attacks on Syria Civil Defense facilities between March 2013, the date the Syria Civil Defense was established, and November; it attributed 320 attacks to the regime and 125 attacks to Russian forces.

In March Reuters reported accounts of Russian aerial strikes hitting a gas facility, cement factory, and several towns in the northwest. According to the COI’s September report, drawn from investigations into incidents occurring between July 2020 and June, Russian forces conducted at least 82 air strikes in support of the regime.

There were numerous reports of deaths in regime custody, notably at the Mezzeh airport detention facility, Military Security Branches 215 and 235, and Sednaya Prison, by execution without due process, torture, and deaths from other forms of abuse, such as malnutrition and lack of medical care (see section 1.a.). In most cases authorities reportedly did not return the bodies of deceased detainees to their families.

Violent extremist groups were also responsible for killings during the year. The SNHR attributed 17 civilian deaths, including five children, to HTS from January to November. In its March report, the COI found that some detainees in HTS detention facilities died of injuries sustained from torture and the subsequent denial of medical care. The COI also reported that HTS carried out executions without due process and noted that it had gathered 83 individual accounts, including from former detainees, about the executions.

The COI reported that ISIS also carried out executions of civilians and forced local residents, including children, to witness the killings. According to the COI, unauthorized “courts” handed down the sentences. In August the SNHR documented the killing of eight civilians at al-Hol camp by individuals believed to be affiliated with ISIS cells.

During the year armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey allegedly carried out extrajudicial killings.  In March the COI reported the SNA had conducted extrajudicial and summary executions of captured fighters.  For example, the SNHR reported the SNA Suqour al-Shamal Brigade unlawfully detained Hekmat Khalil al-De’ar on September 16 for alleged dealings with the SDF.  The family received al-De’ar’s body the next day.  The autopsy report by Ras al-Ayn Health Directorate confirmed he had been subjected to torture, an assessment corroborated by photographs and videos received by the SNHR.  Human rights monitors also reported several instances of individuals dying under torture in Firqat al-Hamza and SNA military police detention.  The Syrian Interim Government, to whom the SNA nominally reports, established a commission within its Ministry of Defense to investigate serious allegations of abuses in 2020.  Since 2016 the Syrian Interim Government and the armed groups in the SNA had detained 2,390 soldiers on offenses ranging from vehicle theft to murder, but the commission did not announce any new investigations during the year.  In its September report, the COI said that the SNA leadership stated it was investigating SNA elements involved in violations and that “it was committed to improving the conditions of detainees, respecting human rights in places of detention, and providing fair trial guarantees.”  In September the Syrian Interim Government announced the creation of a human rights office.  According to the Syrian Interim Government, military courts prosecuted at least 169 cases for crimes including petty theft, property confiscation, deprivation of liberty, human trafficking, physical violence, and murder among other offenses.  The individuals belonged to various armed opposition groups, and many were prosecuted in absentia.  The Syrian Interim Government and Turkish government also reported in June and July that SNA forces were receiving human rights training.  Geneva Call – an NGO working to strengthen respect of humanitarian norms by armed nonstate actors – reported providing training on international humanitarian law and international human rights law for 33 SNA factions.  Human rights activists reported the reforms lacked credibility and did not hold perpetrators accountable.

The COI, the SNHR, and other human rights groups reported dozens of civilian deaths from multiple car bombings, other attacks involving IEDs, and fighting between armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey in areas these groups support in the north. The COI also noted the rise in such attacks during the year.

The Center for American Progress reported the YPG and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, were likely responsible for many of the vehicle-borne IED and other attacks on the SNA and Turkish-affiliated individuals, including civilians. In September the news publication MENA Affairs reported a car bomb attack carried out by YPG in the Afrin region killed three civilians and injured six civilians, including three children. Some NGOs and media accused the YPG forces of carrying out shelling on June 12 that destroyed the UN-supported al-Shifaa Hospital in Afrin and killed 19 civilians, including health workers and children, and wounded 27 others; however, attribution for this attack was not confirmed. The attack destroyed the hospital’s surgical department and delivery room and partially damaged the outpatient room, prompting hospital staff to evacuate patients to nearby facilities.

Abductions: Regime and proregime forces reportedly were responsible for the most of disappearances during the year (see section 1.b.).

Armed groups not affiliated with the regime also reportedly abducted individuals, targeting religious leaders, aid workers, suspected regime affiliates, journalists, and activists. In March the COI reported that HTS detained civilians “in a systematic effort to stifle political dissent.” According to the COI and human rights organizations, HTS detained political opponents, journalists, activists, and civilians perceived as critical of HTS. The SNHR reported that HTS forces had detained or forcibly disappeared approximately 2,300 individuals as of November, among them 42 children. For example the SNHR reported that in June HTS detained five civilians in Idlib, alleging they had been involved in reconciling and communicating with the regime.

Although ISIS no longer controlled significant territory, the fate of 8,648 individuals forcibly disappeared by ISIS since 2014 remained unknown, according to the SNHR. In its March report, the COI noted that 81 former detainees reported experiencing enforced disappearance or incommunicado detention by ISIS, as corroborated by 218 interviewees who had credibly witnessed such abuses. Among those abducted in northern Iraq were an estimated 6,000 women and children, mainly Yezidis, who ISIS reportedly transferred to Syria and sold into sex trafficking, forced into nominal marriage to ISIS fighters, or gave as “gifts” to ISIS commanders. The Yezidi organization Yazda reported more than 3,000 Yezidi women and children had since escaped, been liberated in SDF military operations, or been released from captivity, but more than 2,700 remained unaccounted for.

There were no updates in the kidnappings of the following persons believed to have been abducted by ISIS, armed opposition, or unidentified armed groups during the conflict: activists Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hamada, Samira Khalil, and Nazim Hamadi; religious leaders Bolous Yazigi and Yohanna Ibrahim; and peace activist Paulo Dall’Oglio.

The COI reported the SDF continued to detain civilians, including women and children, and hold them in detention without charge. The SNHR reported that from the start of the crisis in 2011 until November, the SDF forcibly detained or disappeared more than 3,800 Syrians, including 667 children and 522 women. The SNHR and STJ reported instances of SDF fighters detaining civilians, including journalists, human rights activists, opposition party members, and persons affiliated with the SNA. In some instances the location of the detainees remained unknown. For example the SNHR reported the SDF detained Muhammad Suleiman in a July raid on his home in Aleppo. The SDF did not provide information on Suleiman’s status after he was transferred from a hospital in Aleppo. In October SANES set up telephone lines for persons in Hasakah and Raqqa to inquire if their relatives had been detained.

The SDF continued to allow the ICRC access to detention facilities to monitor and report on conditions. The SDF continued to investigate charges against their forces. According to the COI, in March the SDF launched an internal investigation into alleged abuses by their forces against civilians detained in a March raid of a hospital in Deir Ezzour, following an attack reportedly carried out by ISIS. The SDF also brought the members before a military tribunal. There was no update available on the results of the military tribunal at year’s end.

The COI, Amnesty International, and SNHR reported multiple first-hand accounts of kidnapping and arbitrary detention by armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey. The SNHR attributed to these groups 86 unlawful detentions and abductions in August alone, including one child and 10 women. The HRW and the COI reported that SNA forces detained and unlawfully transferred Syrian nationals to Turkey. In August the Human Rights Organization of Afrin and the Missing Afrin Women Project reported that hundreds of women had been abducted in areas under Turkish control since 2018 and that nearly 300 women remained missing. For example, the Human Rights Organization of Afrin reported the August 22 kidnapping of Hivin Abedin Gharibo, a young Kurdish woman from the town of Baadina. No additional information was available at year’s end.

According to the COI, abductions and extortions were increasing in regions where hostilities between armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey and government forces had created a security vacuum. Victims of abductions by armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey were often of Kurdish or Yezidi origin or were activists openly critical of these armed groups. For example, in February Afrin Post reported that Sultan Murad, a Syrian opposition group supported by Turkey, kidnapped a Kurdish citizen, Khalil Manla, after he filed a complaint against the militant group. Sultan Murad members reportedly beat and tortured Khalil at their headquarters and later released him on a ransom of 1,000 Turkish liras ($104).

The COI reported on the frequent presence of Turkish officials in SNA detention facilities, including in interrogation sessions where torture was used. The justice system and detention network used by SNA forces reportedly featured “judges” appointed by Turkey and paid in Turkish lira, suggesting the SNA detention operations acted under the effective command of Turkish forces. The COI asserted these and other factors reflected effective Turkish control over certain areas of Syria. The Turkish government denied responsibility for conduct by Syrian opposition or armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey but broadly acknowledged the need for investigations and accountability related to reports of abuse. It claimed the Turkish-supported SNA had mechanisms in place for investigation and discipline.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to the COI and NGO reports, the regime and its affiliated militias consistently engaged in physical abuse, punishment, and torture of opposition fighters and civilians (see sections 1.c. and 1.d.). Numerous organizations and former detainees reported that nearly all detainees in regime detention experienced physical abuse and torture at some point during their detention.

As of November the SNHR estimated parties of the conflict committed at least 11,520 incidents of sexual violence since March 2011. Regime forces and affiliated militias were reported to be responsible for the vast majority of these offenses – more than 8,000 incidents in total – including more than 880 incidents inside detention centers and more than 440 against girls younger than 18. The SNHR also reported almost 3,490 incidents of sexual violence by ISIS and 12 incidents by the SDF. Numerous NGOs reported that persons in areas retaken by regime forces remained reluctant to discuss events occurring in these areas due to fear of reprisals. In its February report, the COI found that regime forces and affiliated militias perpetrated rape and sexual abuse against women and girls, and occasionally men, during ground operations and house raids targeting opposition activists and perceived opposition supporters (see section 1.d.).

There were also reports of armed opposition groups engaging in physical abuse, punishment, and treatment equivalent to torture, primarily targeting suspected regime agents and collaborators, proregime militias, and rival armed groups. Between 2011 and November, the SNHR attributed 50 deaths from torture, including one child and two women, to armed opposition groups; 30 to HTS, including two children; and 32 to ISIS, including one child and 14 women. In its March report, the COI noted numerous reports of mistreatment and torture of detainees in HTS and ISIS detention facilities, including electrical shocks, stress positions, beatings, and suspension by their limbs.

The SDF was also implicated in several instances of torture, with the SNHR reporting the group used torture as a means of extracting confessions during interrogations. The SNHR attributed 73 deaths from torture to the SDF from 2011 to November, 12 of which occurred during the year. In June the SNHR reported that Amin Aisa al-Ali died in SDF custody after being detained and tortured by the SDF. According to the COI’s March report, 10 percent of former SDF detainees interviewed reported experiencing torture. The SDF reported it continued to implement protocols to ensure torture was not used as an interrogation technique and initiated two investigations into specific incidents of torture presented by the COI. There was no update available on the results of the investigation at year’s end.

According to the SNHR’s March report, HTS continued to torture and abuse perceived political opponents, activists, and journalists. In August an HTS “court” sentenced Hassan al-Sheikh and Khaled al-Jajah to death on charges of collaborating with the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. The families of both individuals denied the accusations, and al-Sheikh’s family reported that HTS extracted a confession from him under torture. Human rights groups continued to report that HTS, which officially denounces secularism, routinely detained and tortured journalists, activists, and other civilians in territory it controlled who were deemed to have violated the group’s stringent interpretation of sharia. HTS reportedly permitted confessions obtained through torture in its sharia “courts,” denied detainees the opportunity to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, and executed or forcibly disappeared perceived opponents and their families.

The COI, OHCHR, and human rights groups reported that since 2018, armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey had allegedly participated in the torture and killings of civilians in Afrin and, since 2019, in the areas entered during Turkish Operation Peace Spring. The COI reported in September that it had reasonable grounds to believe that members of armed groups under the umbrella of the SNA committed “torture, cruel treatment, and outrages upon personal dignity, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, which constitute war crimes.” The COI in March reported the torture and rape of minors in SNA detention, stating “the Syrian National Army attempted to systematize its detention practices through its vast network of detention facilities in Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn.” The SNHR reported SNA fighters detained and tortured Ali al-Sultan al-Faraj in September, filming themselves beating him with a whip and a club while he was stripped naked.

Child Soldiers: Several sources documented the continued unlawful recruitment and use of children in combat.

The UN General Assembly’s annual Children and Armed Conflict Report of the Secretary-General, published in May, reported the recruitment and use of 813 children (777 boys and 36 girls) in the conflict between January and December 2020.  According to the report, 805 of the children served in combat roles.  The report attributed 119 verified cases to SDF-affiliated groups, 390 to HTS, 170 to Free Syria Army-affiliated groups, 31 to Ahrar al-Sham, four to ISIS, three to Jaysh al-Islam, three to Nur al-Din al-Zanki, and two to regime forces.

The United Nations continued to receive reports of children being recruited by HTS. According to the Children and Armed Conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic Report of the Secretary-General published in April, HTS recruited boys as young as 10 years of age in districts across Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama. In the period covering July 2018 to June 2020, the United Nations observed a “significant increase” in HTS’ recruitment and use of children, noting 61 cases in 2018 and 187 cases in the first half of 2020. The report cited the case of two boys who were 16 and 17 years of age who served as guards at camp in Idlib after six weeks of training.

The STJ reported in August that SNA forces, including the Sultan Murad Division, continued to use more than 55 child soldiers.

The UN continued to receive reports of children being recruited by the SDF and YPG-affiliated groups like the Revolutionary Youth Union (RYU). The STJ reported in June that the RYU recruited seven minors in the first quarter of the year. According to the UN report, the SDF continued to implement an action plan with the UN secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children, resulting in the “disengagement of 150 children from SDF ranks” during the year. The SDF continued to implement an order banning the recruitment and use in combat of anyone younger than 18, ordering the military records office to verify the ages of those currently enlisted, requiring the release of any conscripted children to their families or to educational authorities in the northeast, and ending salary payments. The SDF order also prohibited using children to spy, act as guards, or deliver supplies to combatants. The order makes military commanders responsible for appointing ombudsmen to receive complaints of child recruitment and ordered punitive measures against commanders who failed to comply with the ban on child recruitment. During the year the SDF identified 908 minors seeking to join its ranks and continued to develop and refine an age screening mechanism in coordination with the United Nations. According to the UN secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict, the SDF also established an age assessment committee, as well as a child protection committee and office, to provide parents a single SANES and SDF point of contact to inquire about, identify, and demobilize minors from the SDF. According to the SDF, the child protection office addressed 313 complaints between January 1 and August 31. In October the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the SDF child protection office returned 54 minors to their families. In June the STJ called for stricter monitoring of the protection office in receiving complaints and taking punitive measures against those implicated in child recruitment, including the RYU and Young Women’s Union, the parallel all-women structure of the RYU.

Additionally, reports and evidence from human rights groups and international bodies indicate the Turkish government provided operational, material, and financial support to an armed opposition group in Syria that recruited child soldiers.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: In cities where the regime regained control, the COI reported the regime imposed blockades and restricted residents’ movement and access to health care and food. Human rights groups reported the regime and its allies frequently imposed these and other collective measures to punish communities, including by restricting humanitarian access; looting and pillaging; expropriating property; extorting funds; engaging in arbitrary detentions and widespread conscription; detaining, disappearing, or forcibly displacing individuals; engaging in repressive measures aimed at silencing media activists; and destroying evidence of potential war crimes.

In Daraa, Amnesty International alleged in August the regime was resorting to “surrender or starve” tactics, involving “a combination of unlawful siege and indiscriminate bombardment of areas packed with civilians,” to punish them for their association with the opposition and compel surrender. In its September report, the COI found that proregime forces’ use of siege-like tactics may amount to the war crime of collective punishment. In August UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen called for an end to the “siege-like situation” in Daraa. Reports from NGOs also indicated that hostilities in Idlib continued to take place despite the cease-fire brokered between Turkey and Russia in March 2020.

HRW and various media organizations found that the regime implemented a policy and legal framework to manipulate humanitarian assistance and reconstruction funding to benefit itself, reward those loyal to it, and punish perceived opponents. The regime regularly restricted humanitarian organizations’ access to communities in need of aid, selectively approved humanitarian projects, and required organizations to partner with vetted local actors to ensure that the humanitarian response was siphoned centrally through and for the benefit of the state apparatus, at the cost of preventing aid from reaching the population unimpeded. Organizations continued to report that entities such as the Syrian Arab Red Crescent faced difficulties accessing areas retaken by the regime.

The regime frequently blocked access for humanitarian assistance and removed items such as medical supplies from convoys headed to civilians, particularly areas held by opposition groups. In July the Wilson Center reported that the regime had weaponized humanitarian assistance, withholding aid to punish opposition areas and channeling aid to reward “strategically significant” areas.

In February the COI reported that repeated attacks on schools, growing poverty rates amidst economic crisis, recruitment of boys for military roles, and violent treatment of children in detention centers continued to hamper the ability of children to receive an education and had a disproportionate impact on girls as well as on all displaced children.

NGOs and media outlets documented repeated and continuing attacks on health facilities and other infrastructure in northwest Syria perpetrated by regime and Russian forces. According to UNOCHA, more than half of all health facilities in the country were closed or partially functioning. From 2011 through March, the SNHR documented at least 868 attacks on medical facilities between March 2011 and November, whereas PHR reported 598 attacks on at least 350 separate health facilities and documented the killing of 930 medical personnel since the onset of the conflict. PHR reported regime and Russian forces perpetrated 90 percent of the attacks. In March the Syrian American Medical Society reported the artillery shelling of the al-Atareb Surgical Hospital in Aleppo, whose coordinates had been shared with the UN-led deconfliction mechanism. According to the COI, at least eight civilian patients, including two boys, were killed and 13 others were wounded, including five medical workers. In Idlib medical professionals continued to be injured and killed throughout the year; on September 7, artillery shelling struck a medical center in southern Idlib. The COI concluded this pattern of attack strongly suggested “the deliberate targeting of medical facilities, hospitals and medical workers by government forces” and that such attacks “deprived countless civilians of access to health care and amounted to the war crimes.”

The COI and human rights organizations detailed the practice in which, after hostilities ceased and local truces were implemented, regime and proregime forces required certain individuals to undergo a reconciliation process as a condition to remain in their homes. The option to reconcile reportedly often was not offered to health-care personnel, local council members, relief workers, activists, dissidents, and family members of fighters. In effect the COI assessed the “reconciliation process” induced displacement in the form of organized evacuations of those deemed insufficiently loyal to the regime and served as a regime strategy for punishing those individuals. Various sources continued to report cases during the year in which the regime targeted persons who agreed to reconciliation agreements (see sections 1.b., 1.d., and 1.e.). The SNHR documented the arrest of at least 3,530 individuals, including 71 children and 36 women, in areas undergoing reconciliation agreements between 2015 and November.

Regime forces and armed groups also reportedly pillaged and destroyed property, including homes, farms, and businesses of their perceived opponents.

NGOs such as the SNHR alleged that, taken together with steps such as the law allowing for the confiscation of unregistered properties, the forcible displacements fit into a wider plan to strip those displaced of their property rights, transfer populations, and enrich the regime and its closest allies (see section 1.e.).

While the government pushed forward to recapture areas around Idlib, armed groups such as HTS reportedly launched counterattacks against government positions. These attacks, although much fewer and smaller in scale than those by the regime and proregime forces, reportedly caused some civilian casualties and destruction of infrastructure. The NGO Assessment Capacities Project and STJ reported in March that armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey had engaged in the systematic and repeated looting and seizure of civilian homes and property, particularly those of Kurds, resulting in civilian displacement. According to the Syrian Interim Government, however, in August these armed groups also reportedly began to enable some families to return to their properties in the north. The SJAC confirmed in May that SNA militias continued to profit from their control over real estate and agricultural exports seized from the local population. The group reported that the construction of settlements with foreign investment in these areas hindered the return of the original inhabitants and contributed to the processes of demographic change.

Armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey reportedly continued to interfere with and disrupt water access to parts of the northeast. UNICEF reported in July that damage from hostilities to the Alouk water station, continued to disrupt water supplies, affecting access to water for up to one million individuals al-Hassakeh governorate and surrounding areas. Another factor contributing to the water shortage was lack of electricity to operate the pumps, which was generated by the aging Rumelan gas power plant. UNICEF reported the lack of access to clean water exacerbated threats to public health posed by COVID-19. According to NGOs, Alouk Station was offline for periods of time between October 2019 and August. Turkish authorities alleged the frequent shutdowns resulted from inadequate power being provided to the Derbassiyah plant powering Alouk, which in turn received power from the Rumelan gas station in SDF-controlled areas, a claim disputed by the United Nations and NGOs present in the northeast.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

While the constitution provides for limited freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, the regime severely restricted this right, often terrorizing, abusing, arresting, or killing those who attempted to exercise this right.

Freedom of Expression: The law contains a number of speech offenses that limit the freedom of expression, including provisions criminalizing expression that, for example, “weakens the national sentiment” in times of war or defames the president, courts, military, or public authorities. The law imposes a one- to three-year sentence on anyone who criticizes or insults the president. The regime routinely characterized expression as illegal, and individuals could not criticize the regime publicly or privately without fear of reprisal. The regime also stifled criticism by broadly invoking provisions of law prohibiting acts or speech inciting sectarianism. The regime monitored political meetings and relied on informer networks.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Although the law provides for the “right to access information about public affairs” and bans “the arrest, questioning, or searching of journalists,” press and media restrictions outweighed freedoms. The law contains many restrictions on freedom of expression for the press, including provisions criminalizing, for example, the dissemination of false or exaggerated news that “weakens the spirit of the nation” or the broadcasting abroad of false or exaggerated news that “tarnishes” the country’s reputation. The law bars publication of content that affects “national unity and national security,” harms state symbols, defames religions, or incites sectarian strife or “hate crimes.” The law further forbids publication of any information about the armed forces. The law criminalizes the publication on social media of false news that causes fear and panic, with prison sentences up to 15 years with hard labor. Individuals found responsible for broadcasting of false or exaggerated news abroad that undermines the prestige of the state, or its financial standing, are subject to a minimum prison sentence of six months in addition to a fine. The law similarly criminalizes the broadcasting of false news or claims that undermine confidence in the “state currency.”

The regime continued to exercise extensive control over local print and broadcast media, and the law imposes strict punishment for reporters who do not reveal their sources in response to regime requests.

The SNHR reported that only print publications whose reporting promoted and defended the regime remained in circulation. Books critical of the regime were illegal. The regime owned some radio stations and most local television companies, and the Ministry of Information closely monitored all radio and television news broadcasts and entertainment programs for adherence to regime policies. Despite restrictions on ownership and use, citizens widely used satellite dishes, although the regime jammed some Arabic-language networks.

Violence and Harassment: Regime forces reportedly detained, arrested, harassed, and killed journalists and other writers for works deemed critical of the state as well as journalists associated with networks favorable to the regime (see section 1.c.). Harassment included intimidation, banning individuals from the country, dismissing journalists from their positions, and ignoring requests for continued accreditation. YouTubers and other citizen journalists were routinely detained, intimidated, and tortured, both by the regime and extremist groups.

The regime and, to a lesser extent, HTS and other armed groups routinely targeted and killed both local and foreign journalists, according to the COI, Freedom House, and the CPJ. The CPJ estimated that at least 139 journalists were killed since 2011. The SNHR documented more than 710 journalists and media workers killed between March 2011 and November and attributed 551 citizen journalist deaths in that period to regime forces.

In July Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported freelance photographer Homam al-Asi was killed during an artillery bombardment while covering rescue operations by members of the White Helmets.

According to NGO reports, the regime routinely arrested journalists who were either associated with or writing in favor of the opposition and instigated attacks against foreign press outlets throughout the country. RSF reported that more than 300 journalists had been arrested by the regime and more than 100 abducted by other parties to the conflict since the start of the conflict in 2011. The SNHR recorded at least 1,210 cases of arrests and abductions of journalists and media workers by parties to the conflict between March 2011 and November. According to the SNHR, 432 of these individuals remained under arrest or forcibly disappeared, including 17 foreign journalists. The SNHR attributed 357 of the arrests and abductions to the regime, seven to the SDF, 12 to armed opposition groups, 48 to ISIS, and eight to HTS.

RSF reported that regime authorities in January detained Hala Jerf, a Damascus-based television presenter, after she published comments on social media concerning the decline of living standards in Syria. According to the Syrian Journalists Union, Jerf was being investigated under the cybercrime law that prohibits statements that “undermine national sentiment.” Media outlets reported Jerf was released in May.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: According to Freedom House, the regime enforced censorship of news sites and social media content more stringently in regime-controlled areas. The regime continued to block circumvention tools used to access censored content, internet security software that can prevent state surveillance, and other applications that enable anonymous communications. The Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (STE) and private internet service providers (ISPs) implemented censorship using various commercially available software programs. Decisions surrounding online censorship lacked transparency, and ISPs did not publicize the details of how blocking was implemented or which websites were banned. The STE was known to implement blocking decisions; it was unclear which state agency typically made the decisions, although security and intelligence bodies were believed to play an important role. Websites covering politics, minorities, human rights, foreign affairs, and other sensitive topics were censored or blocked outright.

The regime continued to strictly control the dissemination of information, including on developments regarding fighting between the regime and the armed opposition and the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and prohibited most criticism of the regime and discussion of sectarian matters, including sectarian tensions and problems facing religious and ethnic minority communities. The Ministries of Information and Culture censored domestic and foreign publications prior to circulation or importation, including through the General Corporation for the Distribution of Publications, and prevented circulation of content determined critical or sensitive. The regime prohibited publication or distribution of any material security officials deemed threatening or embarrassing to the regime. Censorship was usually more stringent for materials in Arabic.

Local journalists reported they engaged in extensive self-censorship on subjects such as criticism of the president and his family, the security services, Alawite religious groups, and the spread of COVID-19.

Despite regime censorship and a campaign of intimidation to suppress information regarding the spread of COVID-19, medical workers reported the virus spread quickly across the country and that government hospitals were overwhelmed. In January PHR reported that the regime pressured medical professionals to suppress reporting on the spread of COVID-19. PHR assessed the regime’s persecution and intimidation “hindered physicians from sharing potentially life-saving information” and had “grave consequences for the country’s ability to cope and effectively save the lives of thousands of its citizens.” Civil society reported that the regime continued to list pneumonia as the cause of death for individuals suspected to have died from COVID-19.

In March RSF reported journalists fled the advance of regime troops, fearing imprisonment as soon as the regime controlled the province. RSF assessed the regime’s persecution of journalists for more than 10 years justified their fears, especially since many of them had covered the uprising from its outset, helped to document the regime’s human rights violations, and risked severe reprisals if identified with the opposition. In March VOA News reported that many journalists who decided to stay in areas recaptured by regime forces experienced retaliation from the regime and their affiliates.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel, slander, insult, defamation, and blasphemy, and the regime continued to use such provisions to restrict public discussion and to detain, arrest, and imprison journalists perceived to have opposed the regime.

National Security: The regime regularly cited laws protecting national security to restrict media criticism of regime policies or public officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: According to Freedom House, media freedom varied in territory held by armed opposition groups, but local outlets were typically under heavy pressure to support the dominant militant faction. The CPJ and RSF reported that extremist opposition groups, such as HTS, detained, tortured, and harassed journalists (see section 1.g.) and posed a serious threat to press and media freedoms. The SNHR documented the death of eight journalists at the hands of HTS since the start of the conflict. The COI stated in September that HTS targeted journalists and activists, particularly women, in Idlib to restrict freedom of expression, imposing regulations designed to restrict the ability of media workers to travel and report.

In May the SNHR reported that media activist Amer al-Asi was forcibly disappeared by police affiliated with HTS after he was summoned to an HTS police station in Idlib. In its September report, the COI similarly documented the case of a journalist summoned to HTS’ “prosecutor’s office” to appear on allegations of defamation after he criticized online marriage procedures in Idlib. The journalist was forced to put his thumbprint on a document containing a confession and was transferred to an underground facility before he was released days later following mounting public pressure.

Media outlets, human rights organizations, and the COI reported that HTS members detained civilians who spoke out against the group in what the COI described as a “systematic effort to stifle political dissent.”

Internet Freedom

In areas controlled by the regime, the STE served as both an ISP and a telecommunications regulator, providing the government with tight control over the internet infrastructure. Independent satellite-based connections were prohibited but heavily employed across the country, given the damage that information and communication technology infrastructure sustained in the conflict. ISPs and cybercafes operating in regime-controlled areas required a permit from the STE and another security permit from the Interior Ministry, and cybercafe owners were required to monitor customers and record their activities. The regime controlled and restricted access to the internet and monitored email and social media accounts.

Freedom House continued to report that self-censorship was widespread online and had increased in recent years as users contended with threats and violent reprisals for critical content. Sensitive topics included President Assad, former president Hafez Assad, the military, the ruling Baath Party, and influential government officials. Other sensitive subjects, including religious and ethnic tensions, COVID-19, and corruption allegations related to the president’s family, were also off limits. Individuals and groups reportedly could not express views via the internet, including by email, without prospect of reprisal. The regime applied the law to regulate internet use and prosecuted users. The anticybercrime law, which increased penalties for cybercrimes, including those affecting the freedom of expression, remained in place. It also mandates the creation of specialized courts and delegates “specialized jurists” for the prosecution of cybercrimes in every governorate. Citizen journalists and other civilians were frequently targeted based on their digital activism. Hackers linked to Iran and Russia continued cyberattacks against Syrian opposition groups to disrupt reporting on human rights violations.

The regime interfered with and blocked internet service, text messages, and two-step verification messages for password recovery or account activation. The regime employed sophisticated technologies and hundreds of computer specialists for filtering and surveillance purposes, such as monitoring email and social media accounts of detainees, activists, and others. The regime did not prosecute or otherwise take action to restrict the security branches’ monitoring and censoring of the internet. The security branches were largely responsible for restricting internet freedom and access.

The regime also restricted or prohibited internet access in areas under attack. Regime officials obstructed connectivity through their control of key infrastructure, at times shutting the internet and mobile telephone networks entirely or areas of unrest. Authorities limited the amount of data citizens were able to use through an “internet rationing” scheme. There was generally little access to state-run internet service in besieged areas unless users could capture signals clandestinely from rooftops near regime-controlled areas. Some towns in opposition-held areas had limited internet access via satellite connections. Some activists reportedly gained access independently to satellite internet or through second- and third-generation (2G and 3G) cellular telephone network coverage.

The regime expanded its efforts to use social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, to spread proregime propaganda and manipulate online content, including false content aiming to undermine the credibility of human rights and humanitarian groups. The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group of proregime computer hackers, frequently launched cyberattacks on websites to disable them and post proregime material. In addition to promoting hacking and conducting surveillance, the regime and groups it supported, such as the SEA, reportedly planted spyware and other malware in android applications using COVID-19-related lures to target human rights activists, opposition members, and journalists. Local human rights groups blamed regime personnel for instances in which malware infected activists’ computers. Arbitrary arrests raised fears that authorities could arrest internet users at any time for online activities perceived to threaten the regime’s control, such as posting on a blog, tweeting, commenting on Facebook, sharing a photograph, or uploading a video.

Observers also accused the SEA of slowing internet access to force self-censorship on regime critics and diverting email traffic to regime servers for surveillance.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The regime restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities generally did not permit employees of academic institutions to express ideas contrary to regime policy. The Ministry of Culture restricted and banned the presentation of certain films.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The regime limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, but the law grants the government broad powers to restrict this freedom.

The Ministry of Interior requires permission for demonstrations or any public gathering of more than three persons. As a rule the ministry authorized only demonstrations by the regime, affiliated groups, or the Baath Party, orchestrating them on numerous occasions. In its February report, the COI determined that regime forces regularly targeted protests and demonstrations. Following protests in Daraa, regime forces besieged and shelled the city in June, breaking the Russian-brokered cease-fire negotiated in 2018. The regime’s assault on Daraa caused civilian casualties, damaged the city’s infrastructure, including its only medical facility, and resulted in acute food, water, fuel, and medicine shortages that continued despite a new cease-fire that was brokered on September 5.

According to allegations by human rights activists and press, at times the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the YPG components of the SDF, suppressed freedom of assembly in areas under their control. Protests generally occurred throughout the northeast on a variety of topics without interference from local authorities; however, human rights organizations reported that the Asayesh, the internal security forces of SANES, opened fire during a protest in Manbij against SDF conscription, killing five protesters. In November the Asayesh announced its forces were beginning crowd-control training.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the freedom of association, but the law grants the regime latitude to restrict this freedom. The regime required prior registration and approval for private associations and restricted the activities of associations and their members. Executive boards of professional associations were not independent of the regime.

None of the local human rights organizations operated with a license, due to the regime’s practice of denying requests for registration or failing to act on them, reportedly on political grounds, but some functioned under organizations that had requisite government registration. The regime continued to block the multiyear effort by journalists to register a countrywide media association, but journalists in exile continued working to empower the role of freedom of the press and expression through the Syrian Journalist Association, an independent democratic professional association established in 2012 by Syrians in exile.

The regime selectively enforced the 2011 decree allowing the establishment of independent political parties, permitting only proregime groups to form official parties (see section 3). According to local human rights groups, opposition activists declined to organize parties, fearing the regime would use party lists to target opposition members.

Under laws that criminalize membership and activity in illegal organizations as determined by the regime, security forces detained individuals linked to local human rights groups, prodemocracy student groups, and other organizations perceived to be supporting the opposition, including humanitarian groups.

HTS and other armed groups also restricted freedom of association, including civil society activity, in areas they controlled. Armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey reportedly detained residents based on their affiliation with SANES (see section 1.d.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of movement “within the territories of the state unless restricted by a judicial decision or by the implementation of laws,” but the regime, HTS, and other armed groups restricted internal movement and travel and instituted security checkpoints to monitor such travel throughout the regions under their respective control. Regime attacks on Idlib Governorate restricted freedom of movement and resulted in documented cases of death, starvation, and severe malnutrition, while fear of death and regime retribution resulted in mass civilian displacement and additional breakdowns in service provision and humanitarian assistance (see section 1.g.).

In-country Movement: In areas outside of regime control, regime forces blocked humanitarian access, leading to severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care, and death. The violence, coupled with significant cultural pressure, severely restricted the movement of women in many areas. Additionally, the law allows certain male relatives to place travel bans on women.

The regime expanded security checkpoints into civilian areas to monitor and limit movement, and the COI reported regime security officials detained, forcibly conscripted, and extorted residents at checkpoints, at times impeding civilians’ access to health care and education. Regime forces used violence to prevent protests, enforce curfews, target opposition forces, and in some cases prevent civilians from fleeing besieged towns. The regime also barred foreign diplomats, including delegations from the United Nations and the OPCW IIT, from visiting most parts of the country and rarely granted them permission to travel outside Damascus. The consistently high level and unpredictability of violence severely restricted movement throughout the country.

In areas they controlled, armed opposition groups and terrorist groups such as HTS also restricted movement, including with checkpoints (see section 1.g.). The COI reported in February that HTS imposed severe restrictions on women and girls’ freedom of movement, harassing unaccompanied women and denying them access to public life. NGOs continued to report that HTS also attempted to control and interfere with the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

While the Syrian Democratic Council and the SDF generally supported IDP communities in the northeast, human rights organizations reported that SANES restricted the movement of more than 10,000 foreign women and children suspected to be affiliated with ISIS in the al-Hol displaced persons camp. The COI reported in February that children faced problems related to obtaining identity documentation, noting that the lack of birth registration papers, in some cases because parents were unable to register, jeopardized their rights to a nationality.

Foreign Travel: While citizens have the right to travel internationally, the regime denied passports and other vital documents, based on the applicant’s political views, association, or perceived association with or support for opposition groups, or ties to geographic areas where the opposition dominated. Additionally, the regime often banned travel by human rights or civil society activists, their families, and affiliates. The regime comprehensively banned international travel of opposition members, often targeting any such individual who attempted to travel. Local media and human rights groups repeatedly stated that opposition activists and their families hesitated to leave the country, fearing attacks and arbitrary detention at airports and border crossings. The regime also imposed exit visa requirements and routinely closed the Damascus airport and border crossings, claiming the closures were due to violence or threats of violence. Syrian passports cost between $800 to $2,000, which many found prohibitive. Many citizens reportedly learned of the ban against their travel only when authorities stopped them at points of departure. The regime reportedly applied travel bans without explanation or explicit duration, including in cases when individuals sought to travel for health reasons.

The regime also often refused to allow some citizens to return, while other Syrians who fled to neighboring countries reportedly feared retribution by the regime should they return.  In September Amnesty International reported that returning Syrian refugees faced detention, abuse, and torture upon their re-entry.  Regime authorities targeted returnees for having fled the country and accused them of treason and support of terrorist activity.  Amnesty International reported five cases of detainees dying in custody after returning to the country during the year.

In February the regime announced it was amending the military conscription law to allow for the immediate seizure of assets of men who evaded military conscription and failed to pay military exemption fees (see section 1.e., Efforts to Control Mobility). According to HRW the amendment grants the Ministry of Finance the power to confiscate and sell an individual’s property without providing notice or giving the individual the opportunity to challenge the decision. HRW reported this was an obstacle for Syrians considering returning to the country, particularly men who fled to avoid military conscription.

Women older than 18 have the legal right to travel without the permission of male relatives, but a husband may file a request with the Interior Ministry to prohibit his wife from departing the country. Syrians born abroad to parents who fled the conflict and remained in refugee camps generally did not have access to Syrian citizenship documents. The regime allowed Syrians living outside of the country whose passports had expired to renew their passports at consulates. Many who fled as refugees, however, feared reporting to the regime against which they may have protested or feared the regime could direct reprisals against family members still in the country.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Violence and instability continued to be the primary cause for displacement, most often Syrians fleeing regime and Russian aerial attacks, including more than 37,000 persons who were displaced in Daraa between July and August. Years of fighting repeatedly displaced persons, with each displacement further depleting family assets. The UN estimated more than 6.7 million IDPs were in the country and 5.9 million individuals needed acute assistance. According to UNOCHA, in April the humanitarian community tracked 34,000 IDP movements across the country and 12,000 spontaneous IDP returnees. Approximately 6,000 of these returns were recorded within and between Aleppo and Idlib Governorates. Spontaneous IDP return movements in areas other than the northwest remained very low.

The crisis inside the country continued to meet the UN criteria for a level three response – the classification for response to the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises. UN humanitarian officials reported most IDPs sought shelter with host communities or in collective centers, abandoned buildings, or informal camps.

The regime generally did not provide sustainable access to services for IDPs, offer IDPs assistance, facilitate humanitarian assistance for IDPs, or provide consistent protection. The regime forcibly displaced populations from besieged areas and restricted movement of IDPs. The regime did not promote the safe, voluntary, and dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs, and in some cases authorities refused to allow IDPs to return home. In its February report, the COI determined that IDPs were “routinely denied return to their places of origin” due to regime restrictions and fear of arrest in retaken or formerly besieged areas, including Rif Damashq, Daraa, Quneitra, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo. According to NGOs PAX and Impunity Watch, the regime’s confiscation of property from Syrians perceived to threaten the regime’s authority presented an increasingly grave impediment to the return of refugees and IDPs (see section 1.e., Property Restitution).

Persons with a backlog of service bills or back taxes who were unable to pay their debt to the regime were given a brief window to leave their property, while intelligence forces summarily seized homes and businesses of some former opposition members.

Humanitarian actors noted that access remained a key obstacle to assisting vulnerable persons in areas controlled by the regime and nonregime actors. The regime routinely disrupted the supply of humanitarian aid, including medical assistance, to areas under siege as well as to newly recaptured areas (see section 1.g.). NGOs operating from Damascus faced regime obstruction and interference in attempting to provide humanitarian assistance. UN agencies and NGOs sought to increase the flow of assistance to opposition-held areas subject to regime offensives to meet growing humanitarian needs, but the regime continued to restrict cross-line operations originating from Damascus. In July the Russian government threatened to veto a draft UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution to authorize UN cross-border humanitarian aid through the Bab al-Hawa and Yaroubiya crossings in the northwest and northeast. The UNSC ultimately approved UNSC Resolution 2585 reauthorizing the use of one crossing, Bab al-Hawa, for 12 months.

Turkey placed restrictions on the provision of humanitarian and stabilization aid to areas of the northeast from Turkey. Jordan placed restrictions on the provision of humanitarian aid to the Rukban displacement camp near its border with Syria.

The regime and Russian government routinely refused to approve UN requests for assistance delivery to the Rukban camp. The most recent UN convoy to Rukban took place in 2019. Armed opposition groups and terrorist groups such as HTS also impeded humanitarian assistance to IDPs. The COI and humanitarian actors reported HTS attempted to control and interfere with the delivery of aid and services in areas of the northwest, including by confiscating food items or distributing them on a “preferential basis” within their groups. NGOs continued to report bureaucratic difficulties in working with the HTS-affiliated Salvation Government, which impeded delivery of services in the camps.

The SDF and SDC generally facilitated the safe and voluntary return of IDPs during the year, particularly to Deir Ez-Zour and Raqqa.

f. Protection of Refugees

The regime inconsistently cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The regime provided some cooperation to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which assisted Palestinian refugees in the country.

UNHCR maintained that conditions for Syrian refugee return to the country in safety and dignity were not yet in place and did not promote or facilitate the return of refugees to the country during the year. The COI and various NGOs, including Amnesty International and HRW, reported cases of the regime subjecting returning refugees to arbitrary detention and torture, even in cases where reconciliation agreements were in place (see section 2.d.). Throughout the year, however, the regime and Russian government maintained a diplomatic campaign to encourage the return of refugees to the country. The Russian government reportedly sought to use the return of Syrian refugees to secure international donations for Syrian reconstruction efforts.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the regime has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR and UNRWA were able to maintain limited protection space for refugees and asylum seekers, although violence hampered access to vulnerable populations. In coordination with both local and international NGOs, the United Nations continued to provide such individuals essential services and assistance.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Both regime and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths. As of 2019, the UN estimated that at least 120,000 Palestinian refugees had been displaced from Syria since 2011.

Employment: The law does not explicitly grant refugees, except for Palestinians, the right to work. While the regime rarely granted non-Palestinian refugees a work permit, many refugees found work in the informal sector as guards, construction workers, and street vendors and in other manual jobs.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows for the issuance of identity cards to Palestinian refugees and the same access to basic services provided to citizens. The regime also allowed Iraqi refugees access to publicly available services, such as health care and education, but residency permits were available only to refugees who entered the country legally and possessed a valid passport, which did not include all refugees. The lack of access to residency permits issued by authorities exposed refugees to risks of harassment and exploitation and severely affected their access to public services. The approximately 23,600 non-Palestinian refugees and asylum seekers in the country faced growing protection risks, multiple displacements, tightened security procedures at checkpoints, and difficulty obtaining required residency permits, all of which resulted in restrictions on their freedom of movement.

g. Stateless Persons

Following the 1962 census, approximately 150,000 Kurds lost their citizenship. A legislative decree had ordained a single-day census in 1962, and the government executed it unannounced to the inhabitants of al-Hasakah Governorate. Persons not registered for any reason or without all required paperwork lost their Syrian citizenship from that day onward. The government at the time argued it based its decision on a 1945 wave of alleged illegal immigration of Kurds from neighboring states, including Turkey, to al-Hasakah, where they allegedly “fraudulently” registered as Syrian citizens. In a similar fashion, authorities recorded anyone who refused to participate as “undocumented.” Because of this loss of citizenship, these Kurds and their descendants lacked identity cards and could not access government services, including health care and education. They also faced social and economic discrimination. Stateless Kurds do not have the right to inherit or bequeath assets, and their lack of citizenship or identity documents restricted their travel to and from the country.

In 2011 President Assad decreed that stateless Kurds in al-Hasakah who were registered as “foreigners” could apply for citizenship. It was unclear how many Kurds benefited from the decree. UNHCR reported in 2015 that approximately 40,000 of these Kurds remained unable to obtain citizenship. Likewise, the decree did not extend to the approximately 160,000 “unregistered” stateless Kurds. The change from 150,000 to 160,000 reflected an estimated increase in population since the 1962 census.

Children derive citizenship solely from their father. Because women cannot confer nationality on their children, an unknown number of children whose fathers were missing or deceased due to the continuing conflict were at risk of statelessness. Mothers could not pass citizenship to children born outside the country, including in neighboring countries hosting refugee camps. Children who left the country during the conflict also experienced difficulties obtaining identification necessary to prove citizenship and obtain services.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, citizens were not able to exercise that ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential elections were held in May with three candidates, including incumbent president Bashar Assad, who claimed victory with an alleged 95 percent of the vote. Media outlets and human rights organizations described the election as “neither free nor fair” and noted the lack of a safe and neutral environment for campaigning and voter participation. Though regime officials claimed that 78 percent of voters participated in the elections, the Atlantic Council and others reported turnout was closer to 33 percent of the electorate. According to the COI’s September report, voting was restricted to regime-controlled areas and parts of the diaspora. National Public Radio reported that millions of Syrians living in Idlib Governate and the northeast, and in many countries abroad were excluded. The law only allows diaspora voting for presidential, not legislative, elections. Syrian refugees seeking to vote were required to present a valid passport with an exit stamp at Syrian embassies abroad, thereby excluding the large number of citizens who fled the country or did not have a valid Syrian passport. The fear of surveillance also dissuaded Syrian refugees from going to vote at the only designated locations in Syrian embassies.

The regime claimed there were no reported violations or infringements, but The Washington Post reported that government intimidation and coercion forced individuals to vote under the threat of being fired, dismissed from school, or having their businesses closed. There were also reports of intimidation at diaspora voting locations, such as in Lebanon, where voters reported threats of reprisals and property seizures. Residents of regime-held areas told The Washington Post the regime made voting a condition for the distribution of bread subsidies in Homs and World Food Program aid baskets in Damascus and Aleppo.

Parliamentary elections which introduced primaries and a two-round election system were held in July 2020, with 1,656 candidates vying for 250 seats. The Washington Post reported that the elections resulted in reports of alleged corruption, even within the regime loyalist community, including fraud, ballot stuffing, and political interference. Media outlets described low voter turnout, despite compulsory voting requirements for military and law enforcement officials, reportedly intended to bolster support for regime-affiliated candidates. Syrians residing outside the country were not permitted to vote, and those in areas outside regime control often had no or limited access to voting locations. Similar to the presidential elections in May, reports of citizens being pressured to vote were common, and voter privacy was not guaranteed. Polling staff reportedly handed out ballots already filled in with Baath Party candidates. According to observers the results were rigged in favor of the ruling Baath Party, and losing candidates leveled allegations of fraud, ballot stuffing, and political interference. Most candidates were either from the Baath Party or associated with it.

In 2017 Kurdish authorities held elections for leaders of local “communes” in an effort to establish new governing institutions to augment claims of regional autonomy. The regime does not recognize the Kurdish enclave or the elections. The Kurdish National Council (a rival to the PYD) called for a boycott, terming the elections “a flagrant violation of the will of the Kurdish people.” Media outlets reported the election was monitored by a small group of foreign experts, including a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which runs the Kurdish Regional Government in neighboring Iraq.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides that the Baath Party is the ruling party and assures that it has a majority in all government and popular associations, such as workers’ and women’s groups. The Baath Party and nine smaller satellite political parties constituted the coalition National Progressive Front. The Baath-led National Progressive Front dominated the 250-member People’s Council, holding 183 of the 250 parliament seats following the 2020 election marred with allegations of electoral fraud. The law allows for the establishment of additional political parties but forbids those based on religion, tribal affiliation, or regional interests.

Membership in the Baath Party or close familial relationships with a prominent party member or powerful regime official assisted in economic, social, and educational advancement. Party or regime connections made it easier to gain admission to better schools, access lucrative employment, and achieve greater advancement and power within the government, military, and security services. The regime reserved certain prominent positions, such as provincial governorships, solely for Baath Party members. Freedom House reported that political access was primarily a function of proximity and loyalty to the regime, noting that Alawites, Christians, Druze, and members of other religious minorities who were considered to be outside of the regime’s inner circle were “politically disenfranchised along with the rest of the population.”

The regime showed little tolerance for other political parties, including those allied with the Baath Party in the National Progressive Front. The regime harassed parties, such as the Communist Union Movement, Communist Action Party, and Arab Social Union. Police arrested members of banned Islamist parties, including Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria. Reliable data on other illegal political parties was unavailable.

The law prohibits individuals convicted of a felony or misdemeanor that “shakes public trust” from voting for 10 years after their conviction. The Ministry of Justice determines which felonies or misdemeanors fall under this category as the law does not specifically delineate the list of relevant crimes. As a result large numbers of Syrians, including those arrested on political charges, were unable to vote, according to NGOs.

SANES generally controlled the political and governance landscape in the northeast while allowing for Arab representation in local governance councils. SANES, however, maintained overall control of critical decisions made by local councils. SANES-affiliated internal security forces at times reportedly detained and forcibly disappeared perceived opponents.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Although there were no formal restrictions, cultural and social barriers largely excluded women from decision-making positions, except for within SANES, which enforced a minimum of 40 percent female representation in all civilian entities. The Syrian Democratic Council was led by a woman, Ilham Ahmad. Media reported that the government formed after the May election remained largely unchanged and included three women in the cabinet. Women accounted for 13 percent of the members of parliament elected in July 2020. There were Christian, Druze, and Armenian members of parliament but no Kurdish representatives. Alawites, the ruling religious minority, held greater political power in the cabinet than other minorities, as well as more authority than the majority Sunni sect.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the regime did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of regime corruption during the year. Corruption continued to be a pervasive problem in police forces, security services, migration management agencies, and throughout the regime.

Corruption: Due to the lack of free press and opposition access to instruments of government and media, there was no detailed information about corruption, except petty corruption. Freedom House reported that to secure its support base, the regime regularly distributed patronage in the form of public resources and implemented policies to benefit favored industries and companies. Authorities reportedly awarded government contracts and trade deals to allies such as Iran and Russia, possibly as compensation for political and military aid. Basic state services and humanitarian aid reportedly were extended or withheld based on a community’s demonstrated political loyalty to the regime, providing additional leverage for bribe-seeking officials.

Human rights lawyers and family members of detainees stated that regime officials in courts and prisons solicited bribes for favorable decisions and provision of basic services. In its June report, the International Legal Assistance Consortium found that bribery and corruption in the justice system was widespread. Lawyers interviewed for the report said bribes were needed for a case to proceed in court. The consortium said that court officials appeared “highly susceptible” to bribery, noting that the practice “often leaves individuals who lack the financial means for bribes with no recourse to justice.”

Despite a bread crisis, the regime often refused to allow private bakers in areas previously under opposition control to operate. According to HRW, since the beginning of the conflict, regime and proregime forces systematically destroyed bakeries and ovens, thereby limiting the ability to produce and distribute bread in contested areas. HRW reported that the regime security services took bread from bakeries and sold it on the black market. HRW interviewed aid workers who said the government directed the rehabilitation of bakeries according to the political affiliation, rather than the need, of a particular neighborhood. Interviewees also reported the discriminatory distribution of food, noting that government-supported bakeries had separate queues for residents, IDPs, and military and intelligence services, and that those affiliated with the regime were prioritized.

Entities with known or suspected links to Assad regime officials and Hizballah were reportedly producing and trafficking illicit narcotics in the country, particularly an amphetamine-type stimulant known widely as Captagon. According to The New York Times, much of the production and distribution of Captagon in Syria was overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian Army, a unit headed by President Assad’s brother Maher al-Assad. In recent years, authorities in Europe and the Middle East seized hundreds of millions of Captagon pills originating from regime-controlled ports in Syria. According to The Economist, Captagon has become the country’s main source of foreign currency.

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

The regime restricted attempts to investigate alleged human rights violations, criminalized their publication, and refused to cooperate with any independent attempts to investigate alleged violations. The regime did not grant permission for the formation of any domestic human rights organizations. Nevertheless, hundreds of such groups operated illegally in the country.

The regime was highly suspicious of human rights NGOs and did not allow international human rights groups into the country. The regime normally responded to queries from human rights organizations and foreign embassies regarding specific cases by denying the facts of the case or by reporting that the case was still under investigation, the prisoner in question had violated national security laws, or, if the case was in criminal court, the executive branch could not interfere with the judiciary. The regime denied organizations access to locations where regime agents launched assaults on antigovernment protesters or allegedly held prisoners detained on political grounds.

The regime continued to harass domestic human rights activists by subjecting them to regular surveillance and travel bans, property seizure, detention, torture, forcible disappearance, and extrajudicial killings (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Terrorist groups, including HTS, violently attacked organizations and individuals seeking to investigate human rights abuses or advocating for improved practices. The SDF and other opposition groups occasionally imposed restrictions on human rights organizations or harassed individual activists, in some cases subjecting them to arbitrary detention.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The regime continued to deny access for the COI, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to document and report on human rights violations and abuses in the country. The regime did not cooperate fully with numerous UN and other multilateral bodies, resulting in restrictions on access for humanitarian organizations, especially to opposition-controlled areas. In addition, the regime did not allow the OPCW IIT to access the sites under investigation in Ltamenah, as required by UN Security Council Resolution 2118.

The UNWGEID continued to request information from the regime on reported cases of enforced disappearances, but it failed to respond. The regime also ignored UNWGEID requests for an invitation to visit the country, dating back to 2011. The regime similarly ignored UN and international community calls for unhindered access for independent, impartial international humanitarian and medical organizations to all regime’s detention centers.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but the regime did not enforce the law effectively. Rape is punishable by imprisonment and hard labor for at least 15 years (at least nine years in mitigating circumstances), which is aggravated if the perpetrator is a government official, religious official, or has legitimate or actual authority over the victim. Rape of men is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The law specifically excludes spousal rape, and it reduces or suspends punishment if the rapist marries the victim. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and other UN agencies, NGOs, and media outlets characterized rape and sexual violence as endemic, underreported, and uncontrolled in the country (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.). The COI reported regime and proregime forces continued to commit sexual violence targeting protesters and opposition supporters, including rape and sexual abuse. Regime officials in the intelligence and security services perpetrated sexual and gender-based violence with impunity, according to the NGO Trial International. A September Amnesty International report revealed that refugees who returned to Syria, particularly women and children, faced severe sexual violence, including rape. There were instances, comparatively far fewer, of armed opposition groups reportedly raping women and children. Victims often feared reporting rape and sexual abuse, according to OHCHR, due to the stigma associated with their victimization and threat of retaliation.

Women and girls subjected to sexual violence lacked access to immediate health care, particularly in regime detention facilities where reports of sexual violence continued to be prevalent, and authorities often denied medical care to prisoners (see section 1.g.). The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy reported that many detainees were subjected to rape, sexual harassment, genital mutilation, intimate searches, forced nudity, and forced abortions (see section 6, Reproductive Rights).

In April HRW reported that Syrian state and nonstate actors subjected gay and bisexual men, transgender women, and nonbinary persons to sexual violence resulting in severe physical and mental health consequences.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, but it stipulates that men may discipline their female relatives in a form permitted by general custom. UNFPA and local human rights groups reported women and children were at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence due to the economic impact of COVID-19. Security forces consistently treated violence against women as a social rather than a criminal matter. Observers reported that when some abused women tried to file a police report, police did not investigate their reports thoroughly, if at all, and that in other cases police officers responded by abusing the women.

In January the COI reported Kurdish and Yezidi women in SNA detention were “raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence, including degrading and humiliating acts, threats of rape, performance of ‘virginity tests,’ or the dissemination of photographs or video material showing the female detainee being abused.” The UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict reported in March that members of the SNA were implicated in a number of rape cases and were found to have used sexual violence in detention facilities. In March the COI reported that sexual and gender-based violence committed by ISIS was a “regular practice specifically targeting women and girls,” and noted in its February report that ISIS members subjected Yezidi women and girls to rape, including through sexual slavery. The COI also reported that former detainees described sexual violence, including rape, in HTS facilities.

In previous years several domestic violence centers operated in Damascus, licensed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. Local NGOs reported, however, that many centers no longer operated due to the conflict. There were no known government-run services for women outside Damascus. According to human rights organizations, local coordination committees and other opposition-related groups offered programs specifically for protection of women. These programs were not available throughout the country, and none reported reliable funding.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permits judges to reduce penalties for murder and assault if the defendant asserts an “honor” defense, which often occurred. The regime kept no official statistics on use of this defense in murder and assault cases and reportedly rarely pursued prosecution of so-called honor crimes. Reporting from previous years indicated that honor killings increased following the onset of the crisis in 2011. In September the STJ reported the honor killing of a young woman and her mother in the HTS-controlled Idlib Governate. A paternal male cousin of the young woman killed her and her mother after the daughter posted a photograph to social media of herself without a hijab. A May STJ report on domestic violence and honor killings recorded the death of 16 women at the hands of male relatives on the pretext of bringing shame to the family from January 2020 to February. The SNHR reported thousands of victims of violence, sexual exploitation, and forced marriage were subsequently ostracized by their families because of their abuse. OHCHR noted one reason why sexual violence remained severely underreported was the threat of honor killings of the victims by family members.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was pervasive and uncontrolled. The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender but does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment. The regime did not enforce the law effectively. The Syrian Observer reported cases of women in Damascus facing sexual harassment and exploitation after being forced to drop out of school and enter the labor market.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of involuntary sterilization. PHR stated that women reportedly were increasingly choosing caesarean deliveries to reduce the amount time spent in hospitals which were known to be targets of attacks. In July 2020 UNOCHA reported an increase in coerced abortions in the northwest in response to increasing psychosocial stress, poverty, and lack of employment opportunities, compounded by the effects of COVID-19; no additional information was available.

Violence throughout the country made accessing medical care and reproductive services both costly and dangerous, and the COI reported that the regime and armed extremists sometimes denied pregnant women passage through checkpoints, forcing them to give birth in unsterile and often dangerous conditions, without pain medication or adequate medical treatment. PHR assessed that attacks on humanitarian actors by the regime and Russia and, to a lesser degree, armed groups caused medical providers to operate in secret or in some cases to leave the country (see section 1.g.). Attacks impacting hospitals affected pregnant women, and during the year midwives reported that hostilities forced an increasing number of women to give birth through caesarean sections to control the timing of their delivery and avoid traveling in insecure environments. The NGO International Rescue Committee reported pregnant women did not receive care during pregnancy, such as monitoring the fetus or essential vitamins. UNFPA reported a dramatic rise in early deliveries, miscarriages, and low-weight births during the year and expressed concern that COVID-19 threatened to further restrict access to family planning services already impacted by the conflict.

Activists reported that regime detention centers did not provide medical care to women during pregnancy or birth.

Many pregnant women living in IDP camps in Idlib Governorate and camps such as al-Hol and Rukban lacked access to hospitals, doctors, or skilled birth assistants.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, nationality, inheritance, retirement, and social security laws discriminate against women. For example if a man and a woman separately commit the same criminal act of adultery, then by law the woman’s punishment is double that of the man. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses, but the law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony in some cases. Under the law a divorced mother loses the right to guardianship and physical custody of her sons when they reach age 13 and of her daughters at age 15, when guardianship transfers to the paternal side of the family. Personal status laws applied to Muslims are derived from sharia and are discriminatory toward women. Church law governs personal status questions for Christians, in some cases barring divorce. Some personal status laws mirror sharia regardless of the religion of those involved in the case. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. Women cannot pass citizenship to their children. The regime’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except Christians. Accordingly, courts usually granted Muslim women half the inheritance share of male heirs. In all communities male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they refuse to provide this support, women have the right to sue.

The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.

The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor share responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered.

Women participated in public life and in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported the conflict, and more recently COVID-19, reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.

HTS reportedly placed similar discriminatory restrictions on women and girls in the territories it controlled. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s February report noted women cannot grant citizenship to their children, initiate divorce, or exercise their right to vote under HTS. HTS imposed a dress code on women and girls, banned women and girls from wearing makeup, forbade women from living alone, and required that women be accompanied by a mahram – a male member of their immediate family – in public. According to the STJ, HTS routinely detained, abused, and killed women under pretexts including “insulting deity,” “adultery,” and “espionage.”

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The regime actively restricted national and ethnic minorities from conducting traditional, religious, and cultural activities. The regime continued to limit the use of the Kurdish language, restricting publication in Kurdish of books and other materials and Kurdish cultural expression. The Kurdish population – citizens and noncitizens – faced official and societal discrimination and repression (see section 2.g.), as well as regime-sponsored violence. Regime and proregime forces, as well as ISIS and armed opposition forces such as the Turkish-backed SNA, reportedly arrested, detained, tortured, killed, and otherwise abused numerous Kurdish activists and individuals, as well as members of the SDF during the year (see section 1.g.). In March the COI reported cases of SNA members arresting, beating, and kidnapping Kurdish women in Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn, and in September the COI found that the SNA continued to subject civilians of Kurdish origin to unlawful deprivations of liberty.

The minority Alawite community to which President Assad belongs enjoyed privileged status throughout the regime and dominated the state security apparatus and military leadership. Nevertheless, the regime reportedly also targeted Alawite opposition activists for arbitrary arrest, torture, detention, and killing. Extremist opposition groups targeted Alawite communities on several occasions for their perceived proregime stance.

ISIS members continued to target ethnic and religious minorities in attacks. The February COI report stated that ISIS subjected Yezidi women and girls to human trafficking, torture, inhuman treatment, murder, and rape (see sections 1.g. and section 6, Children). In February The Jerusalem Post reported Yezidis in Syria denounced a new regime ruling that required them to follow Islamic personal status laws. Some Yezidis had previously requested to have their own court oversee personal status matters.

HTS violently oppressed and discriminated against members of all non-Sunni Arab ethnic minorities in the territories it controlled (see section 1.g.).

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship solely from their father. In large areas of the country where civil registries were not functioning, authorities often did not register births. The regime did not register the births of Kurdish noncitizen residents, including stateless Kurds (see section 2.g.). Failure to register resulted in deprivation of services, such as diplomas for high school-level studies, access to universities, access to formal employment, and civil documentation and protection.

Education: The regime provided free public education to citizen children from primary school through university. Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and 12. Enrollment, attendance, and completion rates for boys and girls generally were comparable. Noncitizen children could also attend public schools at no cost but required permission from the Ministry of Education. While Palestinians and other noncitizens, including stateless Kurds, could generally send their children to school and universities, stateless Kurds were ineligible to receive a degree documenting their academic achievement. The regime continued to limit the teaching of the Kurdish language.

Combatants on all sides of the conflict attacked or commandeered schools. The COI reported in February that repeated attacks on schools, growing poverty rates amid an economic crisis, recruitment of boys for military roles, and violent treatment of children in detention centers continued to hamper the ability of children to receive an education and had a disproportionate impact on displaced children, particularly girls. Many school buildings required extensive repairs, sometimes including clearance of explosive remnants of the war, and administrators required assistance to obtain basic supplies for learning.

In October UNICEF reported 6.8 million children needed humanitarian assistance, negatively impacting their ability to remain in school. Approximately 2.1 million children were out of school among more than 2.6 million internally displaced Syrian children, including refugees; another 1.3 million were at risk for leaving school. HTS reportedly imposed its interpretation of sharia on schools and discriminated against girls in the territories it controlled (see section 1.g.). The group imposed dress codes on female teachers and pupils where it allowed girls to remain in school, while preventing large numbers of girls from attending school at all, according to the COI.

The COI reported in September that the 40,000 children in al-Hol camp lacked sufficient access to education.

The SDF reportedly imposed penalties on school administration staff members who did not use their curriculum. For example, the COI reported in September that Asayesh, the SANES internal security forces, detained six teachers for tutoring students enrolled in university exams and forced them to sign a pledge that they would no longer instruct the government curriculum.

Child Abuse: The law does not specifically prohibit child abuse, but it stipulates parents may discipline their children in a form permitted by general custom. In September the COI reported children, especially girls, were acutely vulnerable to violence and were victims of a broad array of abuses.

NGOs reported extensively on reports of regime and proregime forces, as well as HTS and ISIS, sexually assaulting, torturing, detaining, killing, and otherwise abusing children (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., and 1.g.). HTS subjected children to extremely harsh punishment, including execution, in the territories it controlled.

The regime did not take steps to combat child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 17 for women. A boy as young as 15 or a girl as young as 13 may marry if a judge deems both parties willing and “physically mature” and if the fathers or grandfathers of both parties consent. Many families reportedly arranged marriages for girls, including at younger ages than typically occurred prior to the start of the conflict, believing it would protect them and ease the financial burden on the family. In February the COI reported that the death or disappearance of male parental figures at the hands of the regime and other armed groups left many children vulnerable to child labor and child marriage. In July the STJ reported that violence against women was increasing, leaving girls increasingly vulnerable to early and forced marriage due to the extreme financial hardships placed upon families by the conflict, problems exacerbated by COVID-19, and societal pressures. In August UNFPA reported an increase in early marriage cases, especially in Hassia camp, Hussainiya camp, Wadi Hassia industrial camp, Majar farms, and Shamsin.

There were instances of early and forced marriage of girls to members of regime, proregime, and armed opposition forces.

NGOs reported that early and forced marriages were prevalent in areas under the control of armed groups, and citizens often failed to register their marriages officially due to fear of detention or conscription at regime checkpoints.

In previous years ISIS abducted and sexually exploited Yezidi girls in Iraq and transported them to Syria for rape and forced marriage (see section 1.g.). The Free Yezidi Foundation reported that Yezidi women and children remained with ISIS-affiliated families in detention camps due to fear and the intense trauma from their treatment under ISIS.

From 2014 onwards ISIS began to forcibly marry women and girls living in territories under its control. Some of those forced to marry ISIS members were adults, but many forced marriage cases the COI documented in its February report involved young girls. Many women and girls reportedly were passed among multiple ISIS fighters, some as many as six or seven times within two years.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates penalties for those found guilty of certain forms of child abuse associated with trafficking crimes, including kidnapping and forced “prostitution,” both of which carry a penalty of up to three years in prison. The law considers child pornography a trafficking crime, but the punishment for child pornography was set at the local level with “appropriate penalties.” There were no known prosecutions for child pornography.

The age of sexual consent by law is 15 with no close-in-age exemption. Premarital sex is illegal, but observers reported authorities did not enforce the law. Rape of a child younger than 15 is punishable by not less than 21 years’ imprisonment and hard labor. There were no reports of regime prosecution of child rape cases.

Displaced Children: The population of IDP children increased for the 10th consecutive year due to the conflict, and a limited number of non-Syrian refugee children continued to live in the country. These children reportedly experienced increased vulnerability to abuses, including by armed forces (see sections 1.c., 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

NGOs and media reported that the Jewish population had fled the country and there were no known Jews still living in the country. In January the Jewish Chronicle newspaper reported that researchers had compiled a list of more than 2,000 important Jewish heritage sites in the country that should be protected, many of which had sustained damage during the conflict. The national school curriculum did not include materials on tolerance education or the Holocaust. There is no designation of religion on passports or national identity cards except for Jews. Government-controlled radio and television programming continued to disseminate anti-Semitic news articles and cartoons. The regime-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency frequently reported on the “Zionist enemy” and accused the Syrian opposition of serving “the Zionist project.”

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

While the law provides some protections for persons with disabilities, the regime did not make serious attempts to enforce applicable laws effectively during the year. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for assisting persons with disabilities, working through dedicated charities and organizations to provide assistance.

The destruction of schools and hospitals, most often by regime and proregime forces, limited access to education and health services for persons with disabilities, but government and nongovernment social care institutes reportedly existed for blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, and physical and intellectual disabilities. In February the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported violence against health-care workers and attacks on health facilities had compounded the effects of COVID-19, making it increasingly difficult for anyone to receive medical care, including those suffering from disabling injuries from the conflict. The regime did not effectively work to provide access for persons with disabilities to information, communications, buildings, or transportation. The COI’s February report noted the difficulties experienced by children with disabilities caused by the conflict. A June HRW report revealed that the conflict and lack of access to aid services had a devastating impact on the mental health of children with disabilities. In April the UNHCR reported 36 percent of IDPs had a disability, and 47 percent of this population lacked access to health facilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, but human rights activists believed such cases were underreported, and COAR noted that stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS was enormous. The UN Development Program assessed COVID-19 presented barriers access to HIV testing and treatment. COAR also assessed schools employed substandard educational curricula concerning HIV/AIDS and determined that HIV/AIDS awareness was inadequate.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, defined as “carnal relations against the order of nature,” and stipulates imprisonment of up to three years. In previous years police used this charge to prosecute LGBTQI+ individuals. There were no reports of prosecutions under the law during the year, but COAR reported the lack of protections in the legal framework created an environment of impunity for rampant, targeted threats and violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. NGO reports indicated the regime had arrested dozens of LGBTQI+ persons since 2011 on charges such as abusing social values; selling, buying, or consuming illegal drugs; and organizing and promoting “obscene” parties.

In June COAR reported that the regime and other armed groups subjected perceived members of the LGBTQI+ community to humiliation, torture, and abuse in detention centers, including rape, forced nudity, and anal or vaginal “examinations.”

Although there were no known domestic NGOs focused on LGBTQI+ matters, there were several online networking communities, including an online magazine. Human rights activists reported there was overt societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of society.

In February the COI reported that ISIS systematically discriminated against LGBTQI+ individuals as a matter of policy. HTS and other armed groups used unauthorized “courts” to impose draconian social restrictions, according to the COI, particularly against women and LGBTQI+ individuals (see section 1.g.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

While the law provides for the right to form and join unions, conduct legal labor strikes, and bargain collectively, there were excessive restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but also allows employers to fire workers at will.

The law requires all unions to belong to the regime-affiliated General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). The law prohibits strikes involving more than 20 workers in certain sectors, including transportation and telecommunications, or strikes resembling public demonstrations. Restrictions on freedom of association also included fines and prison sentences for illegal strikes. The regime did not effectively enforce applicable laws or make any serious attempt to do so during the year. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

The law requires that government representatives be part of the bargaining process in the public sector, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor could object to, and refuse to register, any agreements concluded. The law and relevant labor protections do not apply to workers covered under civil service provisions, under which employees neither have nor are considered to need collective bargaining rights. The law does not apply to foreign domestic servants, agricultural workers, NGO employees, or informal-sector workers. There are no legal protections for self-employed workers, although they constituted a significant proportion of the total workforce. Foreign workers may join the syndicate representing their profession but may not run for elected positions, except for Palestinians who may serve as elected officials in unions.

The Baath Party dominated the GFTU, and Baath Party doctrine stipulates that its quasi-official constituent unions protect worker rights. The GFTU president was a senior member of the Baath Party, and he and his deputy could attend cabinet meetings on economic affairs. In previous years the GFTU controlled most aspects of union activity, including which sectors or industries could have unions. It also had the power to disband union governing bodies. Union elections were generally free of direct GFTU interference, but successful campaigns usually required membership in the Baath Party. Because of the GFTU’s close ties to the regime, the right to bargain collectively did not exist in practical terms. Although the law provides for collective bargaining in the private sector, past regime repression dissuaded most workers from exercising this right.

There was little information available on employer practices regarding antiunion discrimination. Unrest and economic decline during the year caused many workers to lose their private-sector jobs, giving employers the stronger hand in disputes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit or criminalize all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and such practices existed. The penal code does not define forced labor. The code states, “Those sentenced to forced labor will be strictly required to do work with difficulty on par with their sex, age, and may be inside or outside of the prison.” The penal code allows for hard labor as a mandatory or optional sentence for numerous crimes, such as treason. Authorities may sentence convicted prisoners to hard labor, although according to the International Labor Organization, authorities seldom enforced such a sentence. There was little information available on regime efforts to enforce relevant laws during the year or whether penalties for violations were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Terrorist groups, including ISIS and HTS, reportedly forced, coerced, or fraudulently recruited some foreigners, including migrants from Central Asia, children, and Western women, to join them. Thousands of Yezidi women and girl captives of ISIS remained missing and were presumed to have been victims of sex trafficking and subjected to domestic servitude (see section 1.g.).

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 provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace and prohibits all the worst forms of child labor, including limitations on working hours, occupational safety, and health restrictions for children. Child labor, including its worst forms, occurred in the country in both informal sectors, including begging, domestic work, and agriculture. Conflict-related work such as lookouts, spies, and informants subjected children to significant dangers of retaliation and violence. Various forces, particularly terrorist groups and regime-aligned groups, continued to recruit and use child soldiers (see section 1.g.).

The law specifies that authorities should apply “appropriate penalties” to violators; however, it was unclear which penalties were appropriate to assess whether such penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. There was little publicly available information on enforcement of the child labor law. Independent information and audits indicated the regime did not make significant efforts to enforce laws that prohibit or eliminate child labor. Organized begging rings continued to subject children displaced within the country to forced labor. Restrictions on child labor do not apply to those who work in family businesses and do not receive a salary.

The minimum age for most types of nonagricultural labor is 15 or the completion of elementary schooling, whichever occurs first, and the minimum age for employment in industries with heavy work is 17. Parental permission is required for children younger than 16 to work. Children younger than 18 may work no more than six hours a day and may not work overtime or during night shifts, weekends, or on official holidays.

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

Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Labor and nationality laws discriminate against women. The labor law prohibits women from working during certain hours and does not allow women to work in jobs deemed hazardous, arduous, or morally inappropriate. Additional regulations prohibit women from working in factories or several industries, including mining, agriculture, energy, and construction. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shared responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered. Women participated in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported that violence and lawlessness in many regions reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.

The constitution does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Since the law criminalizes homosexuality, many persons faced discrimination due to their sexual orientation.

The law prohibits most forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, and other state services, but the regime did not enforce these provisions effectively, and the labor law allows an employer to decrease the wages of persons with disabilities whenever their productivity is substantially reduced as attested by a medical certificate. It was unclear whether there were penalties for violations commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. Discrimination occurred in hiring and access to worksites. The law seeks to integrate persons with disabilities into the workforce, reserving 4 percent of government jobs and 2 percent of private-sector jobs for them. Private-sector businesses are eligible for tax exemptions after hiring persons with disabilities.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to certain minority groups (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy. The law divides the public-sector monthly minimum wage into five levels based on job type or level of education, almost all of which fell below the World Bank’s poverty indicator. Benefits included compensation for meals, uniforms, and transportation. The law on minimum wage states it should rise gradually to meet the cost of living, and media reported it was raised in April. In December the regime raised civil and military salaries by 30 percent and pensions by 25 percent. The government did not effectively enforce laws related to the minimum wage and overtime. It was unclear whether penalties existed that were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. There is no employer liability for late payment of wages, allowances, or other social benefits. Most public-sector employees relied on bribery to supplement their income. Private-sector companies usually paid much higher wages, with lower-end wage rates semiofficially set by the regime and employer organizations. Many workers in the public and private sectors took additional manual jobs or relied on their extended families to support them.

The public-sector workweek is 35 hours, and the standard private-sector workweek is 40 hours, excluding meals and rest breaks. Hours of work may be increased or decreased based on the industry and associated health hazards. The law provides for at least one meal or rest break totaling no less than one hour per day. Employers must schedule hours of work and rest such that workers do not work more than five consecutive hours or 10 hours per day in total. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime work. There was little information available on regime efforts to enforce relevant laws during the year or whether penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws or standards as set by the regime. It was unclear whether penalties for violations of the law were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence or were appropriate for the main industries in the country, which included petroleum and agriculture or food processing. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with experts and not the worker based on hazards inherent to the nature of work. The law does not protect workers who remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety from losing their employment. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and other regulations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work. The Ministries of Health and of Social Affairs and Labor designated officials to inspect worksites for compliance with health and safety standards. Workers could lodge complaints regarding health and safety conditions with special committees established to adjudicate such cases. There was little information on regime enforcement of labor law or working conditions during the year. There were no health and safety inspections reported, and even previous routine inspections of tourist facilities, such as hotels and major restaurants, no longer occurred. Enforcement of labor law was lax in both rural and urban areas, since many inspector positions were vacant due to the conflict, and their number was insufficient to cover more than 10,000 workplaces.

Before the conflict began, 13 percent of women participated in the formal labor force, compared with 73 percent of men. During the year the unemployment rate for both men and women remained above 50 percent, with millions unable to participate in the workforce due to continued violence and insecurity. During the year UNFPA reported that local female employment participation increased in areas such as Damascus, Raqqa, and Daraa, as men were detained or killed.

Informal Sector: Foreign workers, especially domestic servants, were vulnerable to exploitative conditions. For example the law does not legally entitle foreign female domestic workers to the same wages as Syrian domestic workers. The law does not explicitly grant refugees, except for Palestinians, the right to work. While the regime rarely granted non-Palestinian refugees a work permit, many refugees found work in the informal sector as guards, construction workers, or street vendors and in other manual jobs. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor oversees employment agencies responsible for providing safe working conditions for migrant domestic workers, but the scope of oversight was unknown. Wage and hour regulations, as well as occupational health and safety rules, do not apply to migrant workers, rendering them more vulnerable to abuse.

The continued unrest resulted in the large-scale voluntary departure of foreign workers as demand for services significantly declined, but violence and lawlessness impeded some foreign workers from leaving the country.

Ukraine

Read A Section: Ukraine

Crimea

Note: Except where otherwise noted, references in this report do not include areas controlled by Russia-led forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine or Russia-occupied Crimea. At the end of this report is a section listing abuses in Russia-occupied Crimea.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Ukraine is a republic with a semipresidential political system composed of three branches of government: a unicameral legislature (Verkhovna Rada); an executive led by a directly elected president who is head of state and commander in chief and a prime minister who is chosen through a legislative majority and as head of government leads the Cabinet of Ministers; and a judiciary. In 2019 Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected president in an election considered free and fair by international and domestic observers. In 2019 the country held early parliamentary elections that observers also considered free and fair.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for maintaining internal security and order and oversees police and other law enforcement personnel. The Security Service of Ukraine is responsible for state security broadly defined, nonmilitary intelligence, and counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reports to the Cabinet of Ministers, and the Security Service reports directly to the president. The State Border Guard Service under the Ministry of Internal Affairs implements state policy regarding border security, while the State Migration Service, also under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, implements state policy regarding migration, citizenship, and registration of refugees and other migrants. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces in the territory controlled by the government. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees by law enforcement personnel; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in the Russia-led conflict in the Donbas, including physical abuses or punishment of civilians and members of armed groups held in detention facilities; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; serious acts of government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes, violence, or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of ethnic minority groups, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. The government took some steps to identify, prosecute, and punish officials involved in corruption.

In the Russian-instigated conflict in the Donbas region, Russia-led forces reportedly engaged in unlawful or widespread civilian harm, enforced disappearances or abductions, and torture and physical abuses or punishment. Other significant human rights issues included credible reports of: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and the press; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; serious restrictions on freedom of movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; restrictions on political participation, including unelected governments and elections that were not genuine, free, or fair; and unduly restricted humanitarian aid.

Significant human rights issues in Russia-occupied Crimea included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Russia or Russia-led “authorities,” including punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and transfer of prisoners to Russia; 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 of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; serious restrictions on political participation including unelected governments and elections that were not genuine, free, or fair; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups, or indigenous people, including Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons (see Crimea subreport).

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports indicating that the government or its agents possibly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The State Bureau for Investigations (SBI) is responsible for investigation of crimes allegedly committed by law enforcement agencies.

Human rights organizations and media outlets reported deaths due to torture or negligence by police or prison officers. For example, the Zhytomyr District Prosecutor’s Office initiated criminal proceedings in July against medical workers of the Zhytomyr Medical Service who allegedly misclassified the cause of death of a prisoner who died at the Zhytomyr Pretrial Detention Facility on July 18. The medical workers originally reported that prisoner Oleg Bereznyi had died of acute heart failure, but a forensic expert determined that the cause of death was a blunt chest injury that produced multiple rib fractures, lung damage, and shock from being beaten. The Zhytomyr Regional Prosecutor’s Office announced in late July that it opened criminal proceedings regarding the failure of prison staff to properly supervise and protect prisoners.

Impunity for past arbitrary or unlawful killings remained a significant problem. As of early November, the investigation into the 2018 killing of public activist Kateryna Handziuk continued. In 2019 a court in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast convicted five persons who carried out the fatal 2018 acid attack against Handziuk on charges of deliberately causing grievous bodily harm resulting in death. They were sentenced to terms of three to six and one-half years in prison. Each suspect agreed to testify against those who ordered the killing. In August 2020 a Kyiv court began hearings for the head of the Kherson regional legislature, Vladyslav Manger, and a suspected accomplice, Oleksiy Levin, on charges of organizing the fatal attack on Handziuk. As of late October, both suspects were to remain in custody until December 11. Former parliamentary aide Ihor Pavlovsky was charged in 2019 with concealing Handziuk’s murder. In October 2020 as part of a plea bargain Pavlovsky testified that Manger organized the attack on Handziuk. The court gave Pavlovsky a suspended sentence of two years, releasing him in November 2020. Human rights defenders and Handziuk supporters alleged additional organizers of the crime likely remained at large and that law enforcement bodies had not investigated the crime fully.

Exiled Belarusian human rights activist Vitaly Shyshou (often reported as Vitaliy Shishov) disappeared on August 2 after leaving his Kyiv home for his morning jog, according to his girlfriend. On August 3, authorities found his body hanged from a tree in a park near his home. Shyshou had been in Kyiv since fall 2020 and helped to found Belarus House, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that assists Belarusians fleeing to Ukraine from Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s crackdown on civil society, members of the opposition, and ordinary citizens in Belarus. Belarus House representatives said they believed Shyshou’s death was an act of transnational repression by the Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) in line with the Lukashenka regime’s continuing crackdown and repression against civil society activists. As of early September, an investigation into Shyshou’s death was underway.

On January 4, the National Police announced an investigation into leaked audio, believed to have been recorded in 2012, in which alleged Belarusian KGB officials discussed killing prominent Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was killed by a car bomb in 2016 in Ukraine. As of October no additional suspects had been identified as a result of the investigation of the leaked recordings, and trial proceedings against the three original suspects who were arrested in December 2019 were underway in a Kyiv court.

Law enforcement agencies continued to investigate killings and other crimes committed during the Revolution of Dignity protests in Kyiv in 2013-14. Human rights groups criticized the low number of convictions and frequent delays despite the existence of considerable evidence and the establishment in 2020 of a special unit for investigating Revolution of Dignity cases by the SBI, an investigative body with the mandate to investigate malfeasance by high-ranking government officials and law enforcement authorities. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) noted some progress had been made in investigating the killings. As of August the SBI had identified more than 60 alleged perpetrators of Revolution of Dignity killings, most of whom absconded and were wanted. Several perpetrators were sentenced for Revolution of Dignity-related crimes during the year, although courts had not yet found any perpetrators directly responsible for any of the 55 Revolution of Dignity-related killings under investigation.

During the year the SBI served notices of suspicion to 39 individuals, filed 19 indictments against 28 persons (five judges, 15 law enforcement officers, and eight civilians), and made three arrests for Revolution of Dignity-related crimes. On April 15, for example, the SBI arrested a fourth suspect in a case involving the kidnapping and torture of two activists and the murder of one of them (see section 1.b.).

On August 5, a Kyiv court declared Viktor Shapalov, a former Berkut special police unit commander on trial for his alleged role in the killing of Revolution of Dignity protesters in 2014, wanted after he failed to appear for a hearing. On September 23, a Kyiv court sentenced Yuriy Krysin to eight years in prison for his role in the 2014 abduction and torture of journalist Vladyslav Ivanenko.

On August 2, a court in Kyiv authorized the SBI to proceed with its pretrial investigation of former president Victor Yanukovych in absentia. In May 2020 the Pechersk District Court in Kyiv authorized the arrest of Yanukovych, his former defense minister, and two former heads of law enforcement agencies on charges of criminal involvement in the killings of protesters in Kyiv in 2014.

The HRMMU did not note any progress in the investigation and legal proceedings in connection with the 2014 trade union building fire in Odesa that stemmed from violent clashes between pro-Russia and Ukrainian unity demonstrators. During the clashes and fire, 48 persons died. The HRMMU noted that systemic problems, such as a shortage of judges and underfunded courts as well as COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions and a lack of political will, continued to cause trial delays.

There were reports of civilian casualties in connection with Russian aggression in the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

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

In connection with abuses during the 2013-14 Revolution of Dignity protests in Kyiv, a fourth suspect was arrested on April 15 for his suspected involvement in the abduction and torture of Revolution of Dignity activists Ihor Lutsenko and Yuriy Verbitsky and the killing of Verbitsky. On April 16, a Kyiv court convicted and sentenced Oleksandr Volkov to nine years in prison for the abduction and torture of Verbitsky and Lutsenko but acquitted him of more serious charges, which included murder. On August 8, a court in Bila Tserkva allowed two suspects who were standing trial for involvement in the same case to move from detention to house arrest. As of late October, 12 other suspects in the case remained at large.

A 2018 law to assist in locating persons who disappeared in connection with the conflict in eastern Ukraine calls for the creation of a commission that would establish a register of missing persons. The commission was established in July 2020. On May 19, the Cabinet of Ministers approved an action plan with the stated purpose of ensuring the commission’s effectiveness. As of mid-September, however, the commission was not fully operational, and the register had not been created. According to the Ombudsperson’s Office, as of August, 258 Ukrainians, including 67 servicemen, were considered missing in the areas of Donetsk and Luhansk controlled by Russia-led forces.

There were reports of politically motivated disappearances in connection with Russia’s aggression in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel and unusual punishment, there were reports that law enforcement authorities engaged in such abuse. While courts cannot legally use confessions and statements made under duress to police by persons in custody as evidence in court proceedings, there were reports that police and other law enforcement officials abused and, at times, tortured persons in custody to obtain confessions.

Abuse of detainees by police remained a widespread problem. For example on February 5, police in Cherkasy detained a 28-year-old man on suspicion of theft and took him to the Horodyshche district police station for further questioning. According to the SBI, during the interrogation officers struck the suspect repeatedly with a metal chair. The officers then handcuffed the suspect and continued striking his face and limbs with a plastic water bottle and the hose of a fire extinguisher. The suspect received injuries to his face, head, and back and had teeth knocked out. On February 7, the SBI reported that the two police officers involved in the incident were under investigation for torture. On August 28, Odesa police deployed more than 1,000 officers to protect the participants of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) pride parade from an estimated 300 counterprotesters, mostly from the violent radical group Tradition and Order. Shortly after the march, Tradition and Order counterprotesters attacked police, firing tear gas and dousing police with green dye. Police detained 51 individuals and reported 29 officers were injured in the clashes, mostly from tear gas exposure. Videos of the clashes posted on Telegram and YouTube showed instances of police stepping on the face of a detained counterprotester, beating an already subdued individual with a nightstick, and dragging handcuffed individuals by their arms.

Reports of law enforcement officers using torture and mistreatment to extract confessions were reported throughout the year. For example the HRMMU reported that on January 14, a group of plainclothes police officers in Zhytomyr stopped two car-theft suspects as they were walking along the side of a road and beat them. A uniformed police officer who arrived at the scene shortly thereafter reportedly pressed an unloaded pistol to the forehead of one of the suspects and pulled the trigger before striking him with the pistol and kicking him. The HRMMU reported the men were subsequently forced to confess to the car theft. The SBI opened an investigation into the incident, and on July 26, prosecutors charged four individuals, including at least one police officer, with torture, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

Impunity for abuses committed by law enforcement was a significant problem. The HRMMU reported that a pattern of lack of accountability for abuses by law enforcement persisted but noted a considerable increase since 2018 in the number of investigations and prosecutions of cases of alleged torture and abuse by law enforcement officials. The SBI and a specialized department within the Office of the Prosecutor General were responsible for investigating such allegations. According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG), individuals who experienced torture during pretrial detention often did not file complaints due to intimidation and lack of access to a lawyer; the KHPG also noted that prisoners often withheld complaints to prison officials due to fear of torture.

In the Russia-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk over which the Ukrainian government had no control, there were reports that Russia-led forces continued to torture detainees and carry out other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (see section 1.g.). The HRMMU noted instances of torture were likely underreported, due to the lack of confidential access to detainees of international monitors, and reports indicating large-scale abuses and torture continued to emerge (see section 1.g.). Victims of abuses committed by Russia-led forces in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) and “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”) had no legal recourse to attain justice.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained poor, did not meet international standards, and at times posed a serious threat to the life and health of prisoners. Physical abuse, lack of proper medical care and nutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate light were persistent problems.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem in some pretrial detention facilities, although human rights organizations reported that overcrowding at such centers decreased because of reforms in 2016 that eased detention requirements for suspects. In August monitors from the KHPG reported that living conditions at Lviv Oblast’s Lychakivska correctional colony No. 14 were poor, as they observed mold on cell walls and ceiling and noted an unbearable stench throughout the premises. There was almost no daylight in some cells due to the small size of the windows, and the water pipes in the bathroom were broken, which caused flooding.

While authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, there were reports that juveniles and adults were not separated in some pretrial detention facilities.

Physical abuse by guards was a problem. On March 18, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported that, during its most recent visit, in 2020, it received several credible allegations of physical abuse by prison staff at Colony No. 11 in Temnivka. According to the report, prisoners alleged abuse including punches, kicks, baton strikes, use of stress positions, squeezing of the testicles, and threats of rape. On March 18, the Ministry of Justice reported that a pretrial investigation of the allegations was underway.

There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. In its March 18 report, the CPT stated that prison staff routinely allowed “duty prisoners,” a select group of prisoners appointed by staff to maintain discipline, to punish newly arrived prisoners who refused to comply with their orders. The punishment consisted of first forcing a prisoner to undress and lie on the floor in the prone position and then beating the soles of the prisoner’s feet and buttocks with a plastic pipe as other inmates held the prisoner down.

Most detention facilities were old and needed renovation or replacement. According to a June KHPG report, conditions in many places of detention constituted inhuman or degrading treatment. The KHPG reported that some cells and facilities had very poor sanitary conditions. Some detainees reported that their cells were poorly ventilated and infested with insects. Conditions in police temporary detention facilities and pretrial detention facilities were harsher than in low- and medium-security prisons. Temporary detention facilities often had insect and rodent infestations and lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities. Detainees in temporary detention facilities often had to take turns sleeping due to a lack of beds, according to the KHPG.

The quality of food in prisons was generally poor. According to the 2019 report of the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, inmates received three meals a day, although in most places the food was described as “inedible,” leading inmates to rely on supplementary food they received through parcels from family. According to the CPT, in some prisons inmates had access to showers only once a week. The UN special rapporteur stated that most hygienic products, including toilet paper, soap, and feminine hygiene products, were not provided and that detainees relied on supplies provided by family or donated by humanitarian organizations. In some facilities, cells had limited access to daylight and were not properly heated or ventilated.

UN and other international monitors documented systemic problems with the provision of medical care. The CPT observed a lack of medical confidentiality, poor recording of injuries, and deficient access to specialists, including gynecological and psychiatric care. There was a shortage of all kinds of medications, with an overreliance on prisoners and their families to provide most of the medicines. Conditions in prison health-care facilities were poor and unhygienic. Bureaucratic and financial impediments prevented the prompt transfer of inmates to city hospitals, resulting in their prolonged suffering and delayed diagnoses and treatment.

The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in Russia-controlled areas remained harsh and life threatening. According to the Justice for Peace coalition, there was an extensive network of unofficial places of detention in the Russia-controlled Donbas located in basements, sewage wells, garages, and industrial enterprises. There were reports of severe shortages of food, water, heat, sanitation, and proper medical care. The HRMMU continued to be denied access to detainees held by Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine, preventing it from investigating what it described as credible claims of torture and abuse in detention centers with conditions that did not meet international human rights standards.

The HRMMU continued to report systemic abuses against prisoners in the “DPR” and “LPR,” such as torture, starvation, denial of medical care, solitary confinement, and forced labor. According to Human Rights Watch, female detainees were denied appropriate medical care, including sexual and reproductive health care.

Administration: Although prisoners and detainees may file complaints concerning conditions in custody with the human rights ombudsperson, human rights organizations stated that prison officials continued to censor or discourage complaints and penalized and abused inmates who filed them. Human rights groups reported that legal norms did not always provide for confidentiality of complaints, and authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of complaints. During an April 26 visit to Colony No. 77 in Berdyansk, parliamentary monitors received reports from 21 newly arrived inmates of having been beaten with batons by members of the National Guard as they disembarked from the train that had transferred them to the prison. To investigate the reports, a prison doctor documented the injuries. According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the doctor was subsequently fired. On November 8, the Ministry of Justice revoked the license of the prison. As of mid-November, the prison was renamed Colony No. 145 and operated under new leadership.

While officials generally allowed prisoners, except those in disciplinary cells, to receive visitors, prisoner rights groups noted some families had to pay bribes to obtain permission for visits to which they were entitled by law.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups, including the CPT, Ombudsperson’s Office, and HRMMU.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always observe these requirements.

The HRMMU and other monitoring groups reported numerous arbitrary detentions in connection with the conflict between the government and Russia-led forces on the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law authorities may detain a suspect for three days without a warrant, after which a judge must issue a warrant authorizing continued detention. Authorities in some cases detained persons for longer than three days without a warrant.

Prosecutors must bring detainees before a judge within 72 hours, and pretrial detention should not exceed six months for minor crimes and 12 months for serious ones. Persons have the right to consult a lawyer upon their detention. According to the law, prosecutors may detain suspects accused of terrorist activities for up to 30 days without charges or a bench warrant. Under the law citizens have the right to be informed of the charges brought against them. Authorities must promptly inform detainees of their rights and immediately notify family members of an arrest. Police often did not follow these procedures. Police at times failed to keep records or register detained suspects, and courts often extended detention to allow police more time to obtain confessions.

The NGO Association of Ukrainian Monitors on Human Rights in Law Enforcement continued to report a widespread practice of unrecorded detention, in particular the unrecorded presence in police stations of persons “invited” for “voluntary talks” with police and noted several allegations of physical mistreatment that took place during a period of unrecorded detention. Authorities occasionally held suspects incommunicado, in some cases for several weeks. The association also reported that detainees were not always allowed prompt access to an attorney of their choice. Under the law the government must provide attorneys for indigent defendants. Compliance was inconsistent because of a shortage of defense attorneys or because attorneys, citing low government compensation, refused to defend indigent clients.

The law provides for bail, but many defendants could not pay the required amounts. Courts sometimes imposed travel restrictions as an alternative to pretrial confinement.

Arbitrary Arrest: The HRMMU and other NGO human rights monitors reported a continued pattern of arbitrary detention by authorities. According to the HRMMU, an estimated 60 percent (approximately 2,300) of all conflict-related detentions made by authorities between 2014 and 2021 were arbitrary. Most of these arbitrary detentions were carried out by Security Service of Ukraine officials and took place in 2014 and 2015. The arbitrary detentions usually involved confinement of detainees in unofficial places of detention and denial of contact with lawyers or family members. The HRMMU noted it had not recorded any cases of prolonged confinement of conflict-related detainees by authorities in unofficial places of detention since 2016.

Arbitrary arrest was reportedly widespread in Russia-controlled territory in the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. The HRMMU reported arbitrary detention was a “daily occurrence” in the “DPR” and “LPR” and found that a large majority of “preventive detentions” or “administrative arrests” carried out by Russia-led forces in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine since 2014 amounted to arbitrary arrests. Under a preventive arrest, individuals may be detained for up to 30 days, with the possibility of extending detention to 60 days, based on allegations that a person was involved in crimes against the security of the “DPR” or “LPR.” During preventive arrests detainees were held incommunicado and denied access to lawyers and relatives.

The HRMMU documented 532 cases of conflict-related detention in the “DPR” and “LPR” between 2014 and April 30 and noted that most of these individuals experienced torture or mistreatment, including sexual violence.

Pretrial Detention: The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group noted that pretrial detention usually lasted two months but could be extended. When cases were delayed, precautionary measures were usually eased, such as permitting house arrest or temporary release.

Since the beginning of the armed conflict in 2014, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented 16 cases in which, following a court-ordered release, prosecutors pressed additional conflict-related criminal charges, enabling police to rearrest the defendant. In one case prosecutors charged a soldier with treason after he had been charged with desertion and granted release by a court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, courts were inefficient and remained highly vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low.

Despite efforts to reform the judiciary and the Office of the Prosecutor General, systemic corruption among judges and prosecutors persisted. Civil society groups continued to complain of weak separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. Some judges claimed that high-ranking politicians pressured them to decide cases in their favor, regardless of the merits. Some judges and prosecutors reportedly took bribes in exchange for legal determinations. Other factors impeded the right to a fair trial, such as lengthy court proceedings, particularly in administrative courts, inadequate funding and staffing, and the inability of courts to enforce rulings.

Attacks on lawyers were often associated with their defense of clients in politically sensitive criminal cases. Such attacks undermined the ability of lawyers to adequately perform their duties and protect the rights of their clients. In one such case, on June 7, unknown assailants attacked lawyers Roman Zhyrun Girvin and Yaroslav Symovonnyk outside of Symovonnyk’s home in Ivano-Frankivsk. The assailants allegedly shoved the lawyers to the ground and kicked them repeatedly, leaving Symovonnyk with a fractured nose and facial wounds that required stitches. The lawyers claimed the attack was likely in retaliation for their professional work representing the owners of a storage facility cooperative in lawsuits against a company that was found to have illegally seized part of the cooperative’s land. Police reportedly registered the case, but as of late October, no one had been charged for the attack.

Judges, defendants, and defense lawyers sometimes faced intimidation by members of violent radical groups. For example on July 20, approximately 50 members of violent radical groups, including National Resistance and Foundation of the Future, attacked Belarusian anarchist Oleksiy Bolenkov and his supporters as Bolenkov entered the Shevchenkivskyy District Court building in Kyiv for a hearing regarding his petition to appeal the Security Service of Ukraine’s decision to deport him. Video of the incident showed the attackers, who had gathered near the court’s entrance to block Bolenkov from entering, spraying Bolenkov with an irritant, throwing eggs at him, and beating him. At least five persons, including Bolenkov, were injured in the attack. Telegram channels associated with these groups justified the actions as retaliation for Bolenkov’s participation in anarchist groups that were allegedly involved in an attack on a Ukrainian veteran of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Dmitry Verbical, although Bolenkov denied involvement in the attack. Despite pressure from violent radical groups, the court ruled in favor of Bolenkov’s July 21 appeal against deportation.

Outcomes of trials sometimes appeared predetermined by government or other interference. On February 23, a district court in Odesa sentenced anticorruption activist and blogger Serhiy Sternenko to seven years and three months in prison and confiscation of one-half of his property after convicting him on kidnapping and robbery charges. Court-monitoring groups criticized procedural violations in the investigation and trial, including improper reliance on hearsay evidence and written witness testimony. Human rights NGOs attributed these alleged violations to possible biases of the judges and political pressure from senior justice and law enforcement officials. On May 31, an Odesa Appeals Court overturned Sternenko’s robbery conviction and ruled that the statute of limitations had lapsed on a kidnapping conviction, thus precluding sentencing.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial. Human rights groups noted that ineffective investigations and misuse of trial extensions by judges and defense lawyers sometimes caused undue trial delays.

The law presumes defendants are innocent, and they cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess, although some pointed to high conviction rates as a reason to call into question the legal presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with interpretation as needed; to a public trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial; to communicate privately with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also allows defendants to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence, and to appeal.

Trials are open to the public, but some judges prohibited media from observing proceedings, often justifying these measures as necessary to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. (Through much of the year the country had a high COVID-19 infection rate). An OHCHR survey of 121 lawyers concluded COVID-19 restrictions made it more difficult to access court registries and conduct confidential meetings with clients held in detention, increasing trial delays. While trials must start no later than three weeks after charges are filed, prosecutors seldom met this requirement. Human rights groups reported officials occasionally monitored meetings between defense attorneys and their clients.

The HRMMU documented violations of the right to a fair trial in criminal cases related to the Russia-led conflict in the Donbas region, notably the right to a trial without undue delay and the right to legal counsel. The government’s lack of access to Russia-controlled areas complicated investigations into human rights violations there. As a result perpetrators of such violations were rarely prosecuted. As of September only five former members of illegal armed groups in the Russia-controlled areas of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts had been convicted for crimes against civilians during the year, a relatively low number considering law enforcement agencies identified more than 1,600 war crimes committed since February 2014. In May parliament amended the criminal code to allow investigations to be conducted in absentia, removing what human rights groups considered a key obstacle to investigations into human rights abuses committed in the Donbas. Authorities also failed to effectively investigate and prosecute perpetrators for interfering in investigations and manipulating court proceedings. Court monitoring groups reported that judges sometimes admitted hearsay as evidence and allowed witnesses to submit testimony in writing rather than appear in person.

Undue delays continued to slow criminal proceedings in cases related to Russia-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.

Russia-led forces terminated Ukrainian court system functions on territories under their control in 2014. The “DPR” and “LPR” did not have an independent judiciary, and the right to a fair trial was systematically restricted. The HRMMU reported that in many cases individuals were not provided with any judicial review of their detention and were detained indefinitely without any charges or trial. In cases of suspected espionage or when individuals were suspected of having links to the Ukrainian government, closed-door trials by military “tribunals” were held. The “courts” widely relied on confessions obtained through torture and coercion. There were nearly no opportunities to appeal the verdicts of these tribunals. Observers noted that subsequent “investigations” and “trials” seemed to serve to create a veneer of legality to the “prosecution” of individuals believed to be associated with Ukrainian military or security forces. The HRMMU reported that Russia-led forces generally impeded private lawyers from accessing clients and that “court”-appointed defense lawyers generally made no effort to provide an effective defense and participated in efforts to coerce guilty pleas.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees in the government-controlled area of Ukraine.

According to the Security Service, as of mid-October, Russia-led forces kept an estimated 296 hostages in the Donbas region (see section 1.g.).

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Locate Outside the Country

Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: On April 3, media outlets reported that Ukrainian intelligence operatives allegedly kidnapped former Kyiv judge Mykola Chaus in Moldova and brought him to an undisclosed location in Ukraine following a Moldovan court’s rejection of his asylum request in March. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba denied allegations that Ukrainian government officials were involved in the incident. In 2016 the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine charged Chaus with accepting a $150,000 bribe, but Chaus subsequently fled to Moldova. As of late August Chaus was under house arrest in Ukraine.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution and law provide for the right to seek redress for any decisions, actions, or omissions of national and local government officials that violate citizens’ human rights. An inefficient and corrupt judicial system limited the right of redress. Individuals may also file a collective legal challenge to legislation they believe may violate basic rights and freedoms. Individuals may appeal to the human rights ombudsperson and to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting domestic legal remedies.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The country endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues but had not passed any laws dealing with the restitution of private or communal property, although the latter was partly resolved through regulations and decrees. In recent years most successful cases of restitution took place because of tacit and behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of Jewish groups.

For information regarding Holocaust-era property restitution and related issues, please see the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports authorities generally did not respect the prohibitions.

By law the Security Service of Ukraine may not conduct surveillance or searches without a court-issued warrant. The Security Service and law enforcement agencies, however, sometimes conducted searches without a proper warrant, which human rights groups partially attributed to the Security Service’s wide mandate to conduct both law enforcement and counterintelligence tasks. In an emergency, authorities may initiate a search without prior court approval, but they must seek court approval immediately after the investigation begins. Citizens have the right to examine any dossier in the possession of the Security Service that concerns them; they have the right to recover losses resulting from an investigation. There was no implementing legislation, authorities generally did not respect these rights, and many citizens were not aware of their rights or that authorities had violated their privacy.

There were reports that the government improperly sought access to information regarding journalists’ sources and investigations (see section 2.a.).

Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps to block access to websites based on “national security concerns” (see section 2.a.).

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The Russian government controlled the level of violence in eastern Ukraine, intensifying it when it suited its political interests. Russia continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside forces in the “DPR” and the “LPR.” Russia-led forces throughout the conflict methodically obstructed, harassed, and intimidated international monitors, who did not have the access necessary to record systematically cease-fire violations or abuses committed by Russia-led forces.

International organizations and NGOs, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the HRMMU, issued periodic reports documenting abuses committed in the Donbas region on both sides of the line of contact. As of August the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) fielded 1,314 persons supporting a special monitoring mission, which issued daily reports on the situation and conditions in most major cities.

According to the HRMMU, since the start of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, more than three million residents left areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts controlled by Russia-led forces. As of mid-September the Ministry of Social Policy had registered more than 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The HRMMU noted that hostilities continued to affect the lives of 3.4 million civilians residing in the area. Regular exchanges of fire across the line of contact exposed those residents to the constant threat of death or injury, while their property and critical infrastructure continued to be damaged in the fighting.

Killings: As of June 30, OHCHR reported that since the start of the conflict, fighting had killed at least 13,200 to 13,400 individuals, including civilians, government armed forces, and members of armed groups. The HRMMU reported that at least 3,393 of these were civilian deaths. This figure included the 298 passengers and crew on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, shot down by a missile fired from territory controlled by Russia-led forces in 2014 over the Donbas region. OHCHR recorded 84 civilian casualties (18 fatalities and 66 injuries) between January 1 and September 30.

The HRMMU noted significant numbers of civilians continued to reside in villages and towns close to the contact line and that both government and Russia-led forces were present in areas where civilians resided. According to media reports, on August 11, an elderly man in Novoselivka in the Russia-controlled part of Donetsk Oblast was killed in his home by shrapnel from a 122-mm artillery round fired by Russia-led forces. Media also reported that on February 23, an elderly man in Khutir Vilnyy in the government-controlled part of Luhansk Oblast was fatally wounded when an antitank projectile launched by Russia-led forces exploded in his yard. Ukrainian military personnel administered first aid and transported him to a hospital, where he died shortly after arrival. OHCHR reported the presence of military personnel and objects within or near populated areas on both sides of the line of contact.

The HRMMU also regularly noted concerns regarding the dangers to civilians from land mines, booby traps, and unexploded ordnance. According to the NGO Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, 7,000 square miles of both government-controlled territory and territory controlled by Russia-led forces in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts needed humanitarian demining. According to the HRMMU, 11 civilians were killed and 38 injured by mines and explosive ordnance from January through September 30. Civilian casualties due to mines and explosive ordnance accounted for 60 percent of total civilian casualties during the year. Most cases took place in the areas controlled by Russia-led forces, where humanitarian access was limited.

According to the OSCE, on April 2, a five-year-old boy was killed by shrapnel from an explosion that occurred nearby while he was outside his grandmother’s home in Oleksandrivske in the Russia-controlled part of Donetsk Oblast. The OSCE investigated the scene but was unable to determine what type of ordnance caused the explosion.

According to human rights groups, more than 1,000 bodies in government-controlled cemeteries and morgues, both military and civilian, remained unidentified, mostly from 2014.

Abductions: As of August more than 800 missing persons were registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Ukrainian Red Cross as unaccounted for, approximately one-half of whom were civilians. According to the ICRC, approximately 1,800 applications requesting searches for missing relatives were submitted since the beginning of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

There were reports of abductions or attempted abductions by Russia-led forces. According to the HRMMU, as of July there had been no new cases of forced disappearances committed by Ukrainian security services since 2016, although impunity for past disappearances persisted, and the Security Service continued to detain individuals near the contact line arbitrarily for short periods of time.

According to the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Russia-led forces held 296 Ukrainian hostages in the Donbas region as of mid-October. Human rights groups reported that Russia-led forces routinely kidnapped persons for political purposes, to settle vendettas, or for ransom. The HRMMU repeatedly expressed concern regarding “preventive detention” or “administrative arrest” procedures used in the “LPR” and “DPR” since 2018, which it assessed amounted to incommunicado detention and “may constitute enforced disappearance” (see section 1.d.).

In one example on May 14, representatives of the “ministry of state security” of the “DPR” carried out an “administrative arrest” of Oksana Parshina, a woman who was 10 weeks pregnant, on suspicion of espionage. According to Human Rights Watch, Parshina fled Donetsk in 2014 after shelling destroyed her house and returned in May to visit her sister. As of early September, Parshina remained in a temporary detention facility, and “authorities” denied her sister’s requests to visit her. As of April 30, the HRMMU estimated 200 to 300 individuals had died since 2014 while detained by Russia-led forces.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Both government and Russia-led forces reportedly abused civilians and members of armed groups in detention facilities, but human rights organizations consistently cited Russia-led forces for large-scale and repeated abuses and torture. Abuses reportedly committed by Russia-led forces included beatings, physical and psychological torture, mock executions, sexual violence, deprivation of food and water, refusal of medical care, and forced labor. Observers noted that an atmosphere of impunity and absence of rule of law compounded the situation.

In government-controlled territory, the HRMMU continued to receive allegations that the Security Service detained and abused individuals in both official and unofficial places of detention to obtain information and pressure suspects to confess or cooperate. The HRMMU did not report any cases of conflict-related torture in government-controlled territory, but it suspected such cases were underreported because victims often remained in detention or were afraid to report abuse due to fear of retaliation or lack of trust in the justice system. Based on interviews with nine detainees early in the year, the HRMMU reported on May 31 that detainees continued to report having been beaten and being detained in unofficial places of detention. The HRMMU noted, however, that allegations of torture or mistreatment had lessened since 2016.

According to the HRMMU, the lack of effective investigation into previously documented cases of torture and physical abuse remained a concern.

There were reports that Russia-led forces committed numerous abuses, including torture, in the territories under their control. According to international organizations and NGOs, abuses included beatings, forced labor, psychological and physical torture, public humiliation, and sexual violence. The HRMMU reported that, of the 532 cases of conflict-related detentions by Russia-led forces in the self-proclaimed “republics” from 2014 to April 30, at least 280 of the individuals were tortured or otherwise abused, including in some cases with sexual violence.

According to a July 5 Human Rights Watch report, Russia-led forces allegedly detained Olha Mozolevska in 2017 and took her to the Izolatsiya detention facility, where she was beaten, including being hit in the face, smashed against the wall, and tortured to force her to confess to espionage. She was reportedly not allowed to call her family during her first six months under incommunicado detention. She was transferred to another detention facility in May. International organizations, including the HRMMU, were refused access to places of deprivation of liberty in territory controlled by Russia-led forces and were therefore not able to assess fully conditions in the facilities.

In a July report, the HRMMU noted it had documented 35 cases of sexual and gender-based violence committed by government authorities against individuals detained in relation to the conflict since 2014 but had not documented any cases occurring after 2017. The HRMMU noted Russia-led forces continued to commit sexual and gender-based abuses, and most cases occurred in the context of detention. In these cases both men and women were subjected to sexual violence. Beatings and electric shock in the genital area, rape, threats of rape, forced nudity, and threats of rape against family members were used as methods of torture and mistreatment to punish, humiliate, or extract confessions. The HRMMU noted that women were vulnerable to sexual abuse at checkpoints along the line of contact between Ukrainian and Russia-led forces.

There were reports that in territory controlled by Russia-led forces, conditions in detention centers were harsh and life threatening (see section 1.c.). In areas controlled by Russia-led forces, the Justice for Peace in Donbas Coalition indicated that sexual violence was more prevalent in “unofficial” detention facilities, where in some cases women and men were not separated. The HRMMU reported that based on the percentage of cases in which detainees reported being sexually abused, the total number of victims of sexual violence while under detention by Russia-led forces could be between 170 and 200. The reported forms of abuse included rape, threats of rape, threats of castration, intentional damage to genitalia, threats of sexual violence against family members, sexual harassment, forced nudity, coercion to watch sexual violence against others, forced prostitution, and humiliation.

Russia-led forces continued to employ land mines without fencing, signs, or other measures to prevent civilian casualties (see subsection on Killings, above). Risks were particularly acute for persons living in towns and settlements near the line of contact as well as for the approximately 50,000 persons who crossed it monthly on average.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: On June 7, a Dutch court in The Hague started hearing evidence regarding the criminal case connected to the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in the Donbas region. In 2019 the Netherlands’ chief public prosecutor announced the results of the activities of the Joint Investigation Group, and the Prosecutor General’s Office subsequently issued indictments against three former Russian intelligence officers and one Ukrainian national. In 2018 the investigation concluded that the surface-to-air missile system used to shoot down the airliner over Ukraine, killing all 298 persons on board, came from the Russian military.

Russia-led forces in Donetsk Oblast restricted international humanitarian organizations’ aid delivery to civilian populations inside Russia-controlled territory. As a result, prices for basic groceries were reportedly beyond the means of many persons remaining in Russia-controlled territory. Human rights groups also reported severe shortages of medicine, coal, and medical supplies in Russia-controlled territory. Russia-led forces continued to receive convoys of Russian “humanitarian aid,” which Ukrainian government officials believed contained weapons and supplies for Russia-led forces.

The HRMMU reported the presence of military personnel and objects within or near populated areas on both sides of the line of contact.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, but authorities did not always respect these rights. The government banned, blocked, or sanctioned media outlets and individual journalists deemed a threat to national security or who expressed positions that authorities believed undermined the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Other problematic practices continued to affect media freedom, including self-censorship, so-called jeansa payments (publishing unsubstantiated or biased news articles for a fee), and slanted news coverage by media outlets whose owners had pro-Russia political views, close ties to the government, or business or political interests to protect. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters also led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.

In the Donbas region, Russia-led forces suppressed freedom of speech and the press through harassment, intimidation, abductions, and physical assaults on journalists and media outlets. They also prevented the transmission of Ukrainian and independent television and radio programming in areas under their control.

Freedom of Expression: With few exceptions, individuals in areas under government control could generally criticize the government publicly and privately and discuss matters of public interest without fear of official reprisal.

The law criminalizes the display of communist and Nazi symbols as well as the manufacture or promotion of the St. George’s ribbon, a symbol associated with Russia-led forces in the Donbas region and Russian irredentism. During the May 9 celebration of World War II Victory Day, police opened 17 criminal proceedings and filed 22 administrative offense citations against individuals in Odesa, Zakarpattya, Lviv, Zaporizhzhya, and Luhansk Oblasts for carrying banned communist and Nazi symbols.

The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression against the country, and the government prosecuted individuals under these laws (see subsections on Censorship and National Security).

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The NGO Freedom House rated the country’s press as “partly free.” Independent media and internet news sites were active and expressed a wide range of views, but the government took some actions that restricted media and freedom of expression.

On February 2, President Zelenskyy signed a decree imposing sanctions on Taras Kozak, a member of parliament from the Opposition Platform-For Life party, and eight companies, including three media outlets owned by Kozak (ZIK, 112, and NewsOne) that were forced to close on February 2, in accordance with the presidential decree citing national security grounds due to their affiliation with pro-Russia parliamentarian Viktor Medvedchuk. Further, the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) requested YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter remove the channels’ content from their platforms. Medvedchuk has been under international sanctions since 2014 for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and these sanctions remained in effect. Reactions of civil society organizations to media sanctions varied. Some local journalists and media organizations claimed the sanctions legitimately addressed concerns regarding the threat of terrorist financing. The HRMMU criticized the decision, noting it was not taken by an impartial authority and lacked proper justification and proportion.

On August 21, President Zelenskyy approved an NSDC decision to sanction several individuals, businesses, and media entities on what authorities deemed national security grounds for “spreading pro-Russian propaganda.” To carry out the decision, the Security Service of Ukraine ordered Ukrainian internet providers to block access to sanctioned news outlets, including, among other sites widely considered to have a pro-Russia editorial slant, Strana.ua, Sharij.net, Vedomosti, and Moskovsky Komsomolets. As of late October, access to these news sites for users in Ukraine was only possible with a virtual private network (VPN). Individuals sanctioned included bloggers and politicians Anatoliy and Olga Shariy in response to their running a video blog and website that authorities considered too “pro-Russian.” The OSCE media freedom representative expressed concerns regarding the decision’s effect on the country’s media freedom climate, noting, “Any sanctions on media should be subject to careful scrutiny, accompanied by effective procedural safeguards to prevent undue interference.”

Privately owned media, particularly television channels, the most successful of which were owned by influential oligarchs, often provided readers and viewers a “biased pluralism,” representing the views of their owners and providing favorable coverage of their allies and criticism of political and business rivals. The 10 most popular television stations were owned by businessmen whose primary business was not in media. Independent media had difficulty competing with major outlets that operated with oligarchic subsidies. Editorial independence was particularly limited in media controlled by individuals and oligarchs supportive of or linked to the Russian government and Russian intelligence agencies.

There were reports of continuing financial and political pressure on the National Public Broadcasting Company, created to provide an independent publicly funded alternative to oligarch-controlled television channels. Local media outlets claimed that senior representatives from the Office of the President and other government bodies lobbied the broadcaster’s supervisory board to support favored candidates for key leadership positions at the broadcaster. Despite this reported pressure, the selection process remained transparent and unbiased.

Jeansa, the practice of planting one-sided or favorable news coverage paid for by politicians or oligarchs, continued to be widespread. Monitoring by the Institute for Mass Information (IMI) of national print and online media for jeansa indicated a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. Only seven of the 18 most-visited information sites did not contain jeansa, according to an IMI monitoring study conducted in April. The study found that the publishing of jeansa increased by 39 percent in the second quarter of the year.

Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem. Human rights groups and journalists blamed what they saw as government inaction in solving the crimes for the emergence of a culture of impunity. Government authorities sometimes participated in and condoned attacks on journalists.

According to the IMI, as of September 1, there had been 12 reports of attacks on journalists, compared with 14 cases during the same period in 2020. As in 2020, private, rather than state, actors perpetrated most of the attacks. As of September 1, there were 11 incidents involving threats against journalists, compared with 13 during the same period in 2020. The IMI and editors of major independent news outlets also noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they asserted had the tacit support of the government.

There were multiple reports of attacks on journalists by government officials. For example on February 1, Cherkasy City Council official Stanislav Kolomiyets and an accomplice allegedly forced entry into the editorial office of independent broadcaster Antena TV and attacked journalist Valeriy Vorotnyk. According to Vorotnyk, the attackers punched and kicked him in the head, causing him to lose consciousness, and destroyed one of his cameras. Vorotnyk said he believed the attack was in retaliation for his dispute with Kolomiyets over the use of Antena’s copyrighted logo on social media. Police charged the attackers with attacking a journalist, and in May the prosecutor’s office submitted an indictment to the court. As of early September, the trial had not begun, and Kolomiyets retained his city council position.

Media professionals asserted that they continued to experience pressure from the Security Service, the military, police, and other officials when reporting on sensitive issues. For example on July 2, several officers of the Dnipro “Municipal Guard,” a subdivision of Dnipro City Council’s Department of Public Order, attacked two cameramen and a reporter who were filming the removal of advertisements from billboards in Dnipro’s city center. Ihor Hutnik, a cameraman for local television station OTV, and Serhiy Fayzulin, a cameraman for D1 local news, alleged a group of men, including Municipal Guard officers, suddenly began shouting at them to stop filming; the attackers punched and kicked the cameramen and smashed a camera. The two victims were hospitalized with serious head injuries. On July 3, police announced five suspects, including three Municipal Guard officers, had been arrested on charges of hooliganism and violence against a journalist. As of early September, the investigation was underway.

There were reports of attacks on journalists by nongovernment actors. On the night of February 1, journalist Olha Ferrar’s car was vandalized in Rivne with a brick that shattered the car’s side window. Ferrar said she believed she was targeted in retaliation for her journalistic activities and social media posts, particularly her coverage of the Rivne Oblast Council. Police classified the incident as “hooliganism” and opened an investigation. As of early September, the investigation continued.

On February 4, Nash TV journalist Oleksiy Palchunov was assaulted while reporting on a protest organized by violent radical groups against Nash TV, which the protesters accused of spreading pro-Russia propaganda. According to the Kyiv City Prosecutor’s Office, the assailant grabbed Palchunov’s microphone to disrupt the journalist’s video recording and punched Palchunov twice in the face. The police investigated the incident, and on July 29, the case was transferred to the court.

There were allegations the government prosecuted journalists in retaliation for their work (see section 1.e.).

Journalists reported receiving threats in connection with their reporting. For example, Volodymyr Yakymiv, editor of the online news site Berezh.info, claimed Ternopil Oblast Council deputy Oleh Valov threatened physical violence against him in an April 7 telephone conversation in response to his professional journalistic activities. Valov reportedly downplayed the incident as an emotional outburst in response to what he said were false accusations against his wife that were published on Yakymiv’s site. Police opened an investigation into the threats in April. As of late October, the case remained under investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights organizations frequently criticized the government for what they viewed as an overly broad approach to banning books, television shows, websites, and other content perceived by authorities to counter national security interests (see subsections on National Security and Internet Freedom, below).

There were instances in which the government practiced censorship, restricted content, and penalized individuals and media outlets for reportedly having pro-Russia views and disseminating Russian disinformation through imposing financial sanctions, banning websites, and blocking television channels. The government banned and penalized additional media outlets and television channels throughout the year and worked to prevent certain media outlets from advertising on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media platforms (see Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media, and National Security subsections).

Both independent and state-owned media periodically engaged in self-censorship when reporting stories that might expose their media owners or political allies to criticism or might be perceived by the public as insufficiently patriotic or provide information that could be used for Russian propaganda.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government offices and public figures used the threat of civil suits, sometimes based on alleged damage to a person’s “honor and integrity,” to influence or intimidate the press and investigative journalists.

National Security: In the context of the continuing Russia-led armed conflict in the Donbas region and Russian disinformation and cyber campaigns, authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat, particularly those emanating from Russia and promoting pro-Russia lines or disinformation. Authorities also sanctioned media figures and outlets, as well as banned websites, and prevented advertising of media outlets and websites whose messages were deemed to be counter to national security interests (see Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media and Censorship and Content Restrictions subsections above).

Citing the continuing armed conflict with Russian-led forces, the government continued the practice of banning specific works by Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russia journalists. According to the State Film Agency, as of mid-September approximately 815 films and television shows had been banned on national security grounds since 2014. The government maintained a ban on the operations of 1,848 legal entities, approximately 840 companies and 4,046 persons who allegedly posed a threat to the country’s national security. Targets of the ban included companies and persons that allegedly posed a “threat to information and the cyber security of the state.” The Ministry of Culture maintained a list of 204 cultural figures whose professional activities were banned for allegedly posing a “threat to the national security of Ukraine.” The government maintained a ban on VKontakte and Odnoklasniki, two widely used social networks based in Russia, major Russian television stations, and smaller Russian stations that operated independently of state control.

The National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting (Derzhkomteleradio) maintained a list of banned books seen to be aimed at undermining the country’s independence; promoting violence; inciting interethnic, racial, or religious hostility; promoting terrorist attacks; or encroaching on human rights and freedoms. As of August the list contained 264 titles.

Some media freedom groups claimed the government used formal pretexts to silence outlets for being “pro-Russia” and for being critical of its national security policy (see Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media, above). On February 12, Derzhkomteleradio announced an unscheduled inspection of pro-Russia television station Nash TV, claiming Nash TV guest Olena Bondarenko’s remarks during a January show regarding Ukrainian service members and the conflict in the Donbas might have amounted to “incitement of national enmity” in violation of national security laws. During the following several months, Derzhkomteleradio imposed a series of fines on Nash TV for these and other remarks that allegedly violated national security laws. On August 19, Derzhkomteleradio announced it would seek revocation of Nash TV’s broadcasting license, citing multiple instances of “incitement of national enmity,” including the use on the channel of “Ukrainophobic vocabulary.” On September 16, Derzhkomteleradio filed a lawsuit with the Kyiv District Administrative Court to revoke Nash TV’s broadcasting license.

Nongovernmental Impact: There were reports radical groups attacked journalists. For example on July 21, members of the violent radical group National Resistance reportedly attacked Oleksandr Kuzhelnyy, a photographer for Kyiv-based Bukvy media, outside the Shevchenkivskyy District Court building in Kyiv. At the time of the attack, Kuzhelnyy was covering the court’s deliberations regarding a request from the government of Belarus to deport Belarusian activist Oleksiy Bolenkov (see section 1.e.). According to Bukvy media, a representative of National Resistance, whose members had gathered there to express support for Bolenkov’s deportation, punched Kuzhelnyy in the face. In a video recording of the incident, law enforcement officials standing next to the victim at the time of the attack failed to react. Police subsequently opened a “hooliganism” investigation into the incident, but as of mid-September no arrests had been made. Andriy Biletskyy, leader of National Corps, which organized the protest, condemned the attackers and apologized to Kuzhelnyy; the two men were photographed shaking hands at their meeting.

The ability to exercise freedom of expression reportedly remained extremely limited in territory controlled by Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine. Based on HRMMU media monitoring, critical independent media on the territory controlled by Russia-led forces was nonexistent. According to a media freedom watchdog, authorities in the “LPR” continued to block dozens of Ukrainian news outlets.

The HRMMU reported that journalists entering Russia-controlled territory of the “DPR” had to inform the “press center” of the “ministry of defense” regarding their daily activities, were arbitrarily required to show video footage at checkpoints, and were accompanied by members of armed groups when travelling close to the line of contact.

Internet Freedom

There were instances in which the government censored online content. Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps to block access to websites based on “national security concerns.”

On August 21, President Zelenskyy approved an NSDC decision to sanction several individuals and legal entities deemed to be “pro-Russia propagandists” (see Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media, above). In addition to requiring Ukrainian internet service providers to block several Ukrainian news sites, the decision also ordered the blocking of social media pages of sanctioned individuals, which included Anatoliy Shariy, editor of the sharij.net news platform, and Ihor Huzhva, editor in chief of media outlet strana.ua (see Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media, above). The decision also ordered the blocking of 12 Russian news sites; the order did not define a time limit for the sanctions of several of the sites. Ukrainian internet providers continued to block websites in accordance with government orders from prior years based on national security concerns. As of mid-August, 685 sites were blocked in the country on such grounds. According to monitoring by Digital Security Lab Ukraine, internet service provider compliance with the government’s orders to block sites varied widely.

Free speech advocates expressed concern that courts continued to block access to websites on grounds other than national security. Freedom House reported thousands of websites, including some self-described news sites, were blocked for alleged involvement in cybercrime, fraud, and other illegal activities. For example on February 18, a Kyiv court ruled to block access to 12 websites, including media platforms Apostrophe, Glavkom, and Holos, on the grounds they allegedly published false information regarding plaintiff Pavlo Barbul, the former director of the state-owned defense technology enterprise SpetsTekhnoExport. Representatives of the publications claimed the court’s decision was retribution for their reporting on allegations of misuse of funds by SpetsTekhnoExport during Barbul’s 2014-18 tenure. On April 28, the court reversed the ruling and unblocked access to the websites. Barbul was charged with large-scale embezzlement in 2019; as of late October, his trial was underway in court.

The Myrotvorets (peacemaker) database, which reportedly maintained close ties to the country’s security services, published the personal data of journalists and public figures who had been critical of the country’s security services or had made other statements the site considered unpatriotic. For instance on February 5, the website published personally identifiable information of Nataliya Lavrenyuk, the wife of Opposition Platform-For Life lawmaker Taras Kozak. Myrotvorets claimed Lavrenyuk’s alleged financial dealings in Russia and alleged use of a Russian passport for travel to Russia-occupied Crimea constituted “conscious acts against the national security of Ukraine” and called on law enforcement agencies to investigate her. (The vast majority of the international community did not recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea.) On February 19, President Zelenskyy signed a decree sanctioning eight individuals, including Lavrenyuk, for “financing of terrorism.” Lavrenyuk was not convicted of the charge by any court.

There were reports of cyberattacks on journalists who reported on corruption. For example, former Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalist Elena Dub claimed Russia-backed bots on April 12 carried out a spam attack on her social networks and mobile devices, which included a barrage of threatening messages. She claimed the attack was likely retaliation for her reporting for RFE/RL’s Crimea Realities program from 2015 to 2020.

Human rights groups and journalists who were critical of Russia’s aggressive actions in the Donbas region and its occupation of Crimea reported their websites were subjected to cyberattacks, such as coordinated denial of service incidents and unauthorized attempts to obtain information from computers as well as coordinated campaigns of trolling and harassment on social media. In its annual Freedom on the Net report published in September, Freedom House concluded that the country’s internet freedom environment improved, citing fewer cases of users being imprisoned for online speech.

There were reports the government prosecuted individuals for their posts on social media. For example on March 25, the Chernihiv District Court filed administrative charges against a woman from Kolomyya for allegedly spreading false information. According to the court, the woman falsely claimed in a Facebook post that a COVID-19 vaccine had not passed all required safety tests. On April 28, a judge ruled to drop the charge on grounds of triviality. In a separate case, on October 7, a district court in Zakarpattya Oblast found a man guilty of spreading false rumors concerning the pandemic on social media and fined him 225 hryvnia ($9).

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were some instances in which the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events.

The government maintained a list of Russian or pro-Russia musicians, actors, and other cultural figures it prohibited from entering the country on national security grounds.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, but police sometimes restricted or failed to protect freedom of assembly. No laws, however, regulate the process of organizing and conducting events to provide for the right, and authorities have wide discretion under a Soviet-era directive to grant or refuse permission for assemblies on grounds of protecting public order and safety. Organizers are required to inform authorities in advance of demonstrations.

There were reports of police restricting and failing to protect freedom of assembly. For example according to human rights NGO Zmina, on June 18, police in Kupiansk arrested a woman who was participating in a rally against a city council decision to close several schools. The woman claimed that as she was leaving the rally, a man in civilian clothes shouted insults at her and attempted to physically restrain her. She claimed police officers who arrived at the scene pushed her in the back and detained her, causing her injuries. Journalist Bohdan Cheremsky claimed another man in civilian clothes knocked a smart phone out of his hands as he attempted to film the arrest. According to Cheremsky, the men in civilian clothes were police officers. The woman filed a complaint with police, but as of October no investigation had been registered.

Human rights defenders noted that police at times arbitrarily enforced COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, including through selective dispersal of civic assemblies. For example on January 19, police in Kyiv forcefully detained 13 individuals who had peacefully gathered at a square near the city center to protest impunity for violence committed by violent radical groups. Participants claimed police ordered them to disperse before they had unfurled their banners to begin the rally. One participant who was a minor claimed an officer hit him in the face while he was detained on a police bus. Police claimed the rally violated quarantine restrictions, but human rights observers noted police did not intervene to end a concurrent rally at Independence Square in Kyiv in support of entrepreneurs.

Events organized by women’s rights activists or the LGBTQI+ community were regularly disrupted by members of violent radical groups. Police at times did not adequately protect participants from attack before or after the events, nor did they provide sufficient security for smaller demonstrations or events, especially those organized by persons belonging to minority groups or opposition political movements. For example on May 27, members of the violent radical group Solaris attacked a prescreening of the LGBTQI+ film, Lets Be Gay, at Dialog Hub, a reproductive health-focused education center in Kyiv. The LGBTQI+ rights NGO KyivPride posted a video of the attack on its Instagram page, noting that approximately 10 persons in masks disrupted the event by playing loud music outside the center before breaking the center’s windows and throwing a firecracker and a tear gas canister into the room where the film was playing. Press reports stated that 20 guests suffered minor burns to their eyes and experienced a cough that lasted for approximately an hour.

On May 29, the violent radical group Tradition and Order violently disrupted two seminars on feminism organized by the LGBTQI+ NGO Insight held concurrently in Odesa and Kyiv. Insight representatives reported Tradition and Order members gathered outside the hotel where the Odesa seminar was set to take place several hours in advance, and several members later forced entry into the event, causing participants to flee to a more secure area. The organizer of the Odesa event claimed that two police officers who arrived at the scene refused to intervene, claiming they were undermanned and that there were no reports of bodily injuries. On the same day, approximately 30 balaclava-clad Tradition and Order members, some carrying metal bats, disrupted Insight’s seminar in Kyiv. The young men climbed a fence to force entry into the event, shouted antihomosexual insults and threats at the participants, and occupied seats being used for the seminar. The organizers report they secured a court order for police to investigate the case after police initially declined to register the incident as a criminal act.

There were some improvements throughout the year regarding police efforts to adequately protect peaceful protesters from attacks by violent radical groups. For example on September 19, between 5,000 and 7,000 persons took part in the “March of Equality” pride parade in central Kyiv. Organizers coordinated closely with police to implement security measures to protect the participants from the threat posed by counterprotesters. Police and National Guard officers strictly enforced a cordon of the parade route, requiring participants to exit via the subway to protect them from counterprotesters. Several hundred counterprotesters from violent radical groups gathered near the parade route carrying signs denouncing the participants. There were no police reports of violent clashes or arrests.

In Russia-controlled territory, the HRMMU observed a climate of fear and self-censorship, preventing individuals from openly participating in peaceful assemblies. The HRMMU noted there were a few instances in which peaceful assemblies existed in Russia-controlled territory on nonpolitical issues, such as protesting salary delays and expressing concern for a lack of water supply.

Russia-led forces in the “DPR” and “LPR” continued to implement “laws” requiring all religious organizations except the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate to undergo “state religious expert evaluations” and reregister with them. According to the HRMMU, most religious groups recognized under Ukrainian law continued to be unable to reregister because of stringent legal requirements under “laws” in the “DPR” and “LPR” that mirrored Russian legislation preventing or discouraging reregistration of many religious communities (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

Human rights organizations reported an increase in malicious actions, including attacks against activists (53 incidents in the first six months of the year, up slightly from 50 in the same period of 2020). International and domestic human rights NGOs remained concerned regarding the lack of accountability for attacks on members of civil society organizations, which they believed had created a climate of impunity.

In one case, Oleksandr Sylchenko, a Kyiv-based advocate for the protection of public spaces from illegal development, reported that in the early hours of June 22, two individuals set his car on fire near his apartment in what he described as an arson attack in retaliation for his activism. Sylchenko claimed nearby surveillance cameras recorded two young men pouring flammable liquid on the car and lighting it. Police classified the case as “intentional damage of property” and opened an investigation. Sylchenko claimed that days after the arson, he received an anonymous call from an individual who warned him, “If you keep shoving your nose into other people’s business, then you should be ready for problems.” As of early September, the case remained under investigation.

There were reports the government targeted activists for raids, arrests, or prosecution in retaliation for their professional activity. For example on March 24, police placed activist Roman Ratushnyy under house arrest on charges of “hooliganism” in connection with a March 20 rally at which protesters vandalized the Office of the President building. Human rights groups claimed police failed to provide any evidence of Ratushnyy’s involvement in the vandalism and were retaliating against him for his efforts to defend Protasiv Yar, a natural reserve in Kyiv, from illegal real estate development; Ratushnyy had previously reported receiving death threats from supporters of the illegal development. Authorities reportedly classified certain aspects of the investigation and withheld information from the defense. Fourteen Ukrainian human rights groups signed a letter condemning the charges against Ratushnyy as persecution in retaliation for civic activism. Ratushnyy was released from house arrest on April 21. As of early September, the case was being heard in a Kyiv court.

There were reports that unknown actors initiated violent attacks against activists because of their involvement in civil society organizations. For example on January 19, several individuals in balaclavas attacked a 15-year-old left-wing activist in Lviv. The victim claimed the attackers hit him several times on the head with a hammer and stabbed him in the leg. Representatives of the anarchist organization Black Flag, of which the boy was a member, claimed he was targeted for his anti-right-wing activities, which included spray painting to cover far-right graffiti and criticizing far-right groups on social networks.

According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces, domestic and international civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, could not operate freely. Residents informed the HRMMU they were being prosecuted (or feared being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation. The HRMMU also noted some civil society organizations run by Russia-led forces appeared to require certain persons, such as public-sector employees, to join.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government, however, restricted these rights, particularly in the eastern part of the country near the zone of conflict.

In-country Movement: The government and Russia-led forces strictly controlled movement between government-controlled areas and territories in the Donbas region controlled by Russia-led forces. Crossing the line of contact remained arduous.

On January 5, the government adopted a measure allowing individuals crossing into government-controlled territory at checkpoints and at the Administrative Boundary Line with Crimea to satisfy its COVID-19-related entry requirements by taking a free rapid indirect immunofluorescence assay (IFA) test instead of undergoing a 14-day quarantine. On July 22, President Zelenskyy signed into law a bill temporarily freezing administrative penalties against Ukrainians living in Russia-controlled areas who travel through Russia to access government-controlled areas of Ukraine. The HRMMU noted this law would help reduce the hardships caused by Russia-led forces’ restrictions on crossing the line of contact. As of mid-September, despite all seven entry and exit checkpoints being open for routine civilian crossings on the government-controlled side of the line of contact, only two were operational due to restrictions imposed by Russia-led forces. Russia-led forces limited crossings at the Novotroytske checkpoint to two days per week and turned many away who attempted to cross into government-controlled territory; those allowed to cross continued to be required to sign a document indicating they would not return until the COVID-19 pandemic had subsided. Authorities in the “LPR” required individuals seeking entry to provide proof of residency. Public passenger transportation there remained prohibited; private transportation was available at high prices and was generally unaffordable for most persons crossing. Human rights monitors observed arbitrary and inconsistent enforcement of entry and exit requirements at government-controlled checkpoints.

According to the HRMMU, the number of monthly line-of-contact crossings, most of which occurred in Luhansk Oblast, remained considerably lower than pre-COVID levels. For example, the HRMMU recorded 80,588 crossings in July, compared with more than one million crossings in July 2019. As a result, thousands were separated from their families and lost access to quality health care, pensions, social protection, and employment. Women and elderly persons, who comprised most of those crossing before the COVID-19 lockdown, were particularly affected. The government required those seeking to cross into government-controlled territory to obtain a pass. The pass system imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, especially for those seeking to receive pensions and government benefits not distributed in the territory controlled by Russia-led forces.

According to the HRMMU, since June 2020 civilians seeking entry to territory controlled by Russia-led forces in the “DPR” had to have permission from the “Operational Headquarters to Combat COVID-19” and have a residence registered in the “DPR.” To enter government-controlled territory from the “DPR,” civilians had to be registered in the government-controlled territory.

The government and Russian occupation authorities subjected individuals crossing between Russia-occupied Crimea and the mainland to strict controls at the administrative boundary between Kherson Oblast and Crimea. Authorities prohibited rail and commercial bus service across the administrative boundary, requiring persons to cross either on foot or by private vehicle. Civil society, journalists, and independent defense lawyers reported that the government made efforts to ease requirements for entering Crimea, improving previously lengthy processes to obtain required permissions that hindered their ability to document and address abuses taking place there. Russian occupation authorities imposed restrictions on Ukrainian citizens traveling from mainland Ukraine to Crimea (see Crimea subreport).

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of late September, more than 1.46 million persons were registered as IDPs due to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and occupation of Crimea. Some NGOs and international organizations estimated the number to be lower, since some persons returned to their homes after registering as IDPs, while others registered while still living in the conflict zone. The largest number of IDPs resided in areas immediately adjoining the conflict zones, in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts as well as in the Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts, and Kyiv. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in the hope they would be able to return home. On October 28, President Zelenskyy approved the Strategy on IDP Integration and Durable Solutions until 2024. The strategy outlined the government’s policies and protections for IDPs, which included full access to administrative, social, and other services.

The government granted social entitlements only to persons who had registered as IDPs. Local departments of the Ministry of Social Policy regularly suspended payment of pensions and benefits to IDPs pending verification of their physical presence in government-controlled territories, ostensibly to combat fraud, requiring recipients to go through a burdensome reinstatement process. Ukrainians residing in the “DPR” and “LPR” could not access their pensions there. As a result they had to periodically visit the government-controlled part of the country, where they “verified” their status to receive pension payments. In September the Cabinet of Ministers adopted Resolution #999, allowing pensioners to undergo annual physical verification to access their pensions remotely; IDPs are still required to present themselves every 60 days to keep their IDP certificate valid. One-half of all officially registered IDPs lived in areas controlled by Russia-led forces; the United Nations estimated that 734,000 IDPs lived in government-controlled areas. According to the HRMMU, as part of its COVID-19 prevention measures, the government suspended the burdensome requirement that IDPs undergo identification checks every second month to receive social benefits. The HRMMU noted the suspension was temporary and did not reflect a policy change.

According to the HRMMU, IDP integration remained impeded by the lack of a government strategy and the absence of allocation of financial resources, leading to IDPs’ economic and social marginalization. UN agencies reported the influx of IDPs led to tensions arising from competition for scarce resources.

NGOs reported employment discrimination against IDPs. IDPs continued to have difficulty obtaining medical care and necessary documents. According to the law, the government should provide IDPs with housing, but authorities did not take effective steps to do so. Lack of employment opportunities and the generally weak economy particularly affected IDPs, forcing many to live in inadequate housing, such as collective centers and temporary accommodations. Other IDPs stayed with host families, volunteers, and in private accommodations, although affordable private accommodations were often in poor condition. Some IDPs, particularly those in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, lacked sufficient sanitation, shelter, and access to potable water.

Romani activists expressed concern that some Roma could not afford to flee conflict areas, while others had no choice but to leave their homes.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. International and domestic organizations reported the system for protecting asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern did not operate effectively.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a legal system for providing protection to refugees. Protection for refugees and asylum seekers was insufficient, however, due to gaps in the law and the system of implementation. According to the State Migration Service, the number of refugees and asylum seekers had decreased. The country was a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, Syria, and Tajikistan.

Many Belarusian nationals either were forcibly exiled by Belarusian authorities or voluntarily fled to Ukraine seeking refuge from the Lukashenka regime’s violent crackdown on civil society in Belarus following election-related mass protests surrounding the fraudulent presidential election there in August 2020. In October 2020 President Zelenskyy signed a decree that relaxed requirements for certain categories of Belarusian citizens seeking residence. The decree directed the Cabinet of Ministers to extend the time allotted for temporary stays for Belarusian citizen entrepreneurs and information technology specialists from 90 to 180 days as well as to simplify procedures for obtaining a residence permit. Some human rights groups claimed the low number of Belarusian asylum cases relative to the number of Belarusians seeking refuge in Ukraine was due in part to inefficiencies in Ukraine’s asylum system, specifically the inability to lawfully work while in asylum procedures.

In in August and September, authorities facilitated the evacuation of hundreds of Afghans to Ukraine through flights from Kabul. Arrivals had access to asylum procedures or short-term humanitarian visas. They were initially accommodated in closed migration facilities for COVID-19 screening and were offered access to a COVID-19 vaccine. UNHCR provided counseling, and those who registered for asylum with the government were eligible for additional humanitarian assistance.

Human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of a refugee. The law permits authorities to reject many asylum applications without a thorough case assessment. In other instances government officials declined to accept initial asylum applications without a legal basis, leaving asylum seekers without documentation and vulnerable to frequent police stops, fines, detention, and exploitation. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within the prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance. Asylum seekers have five days to appeal an order of detention or deportation.

A lack of access to qualified interpreters also hampered the full range of asylum procedures. International observers noted that while the government allocated sufficient funding for interpretation, there was a shortage of interpreters trained in some of the languages required by asylum seekers.

Refoulement: There were reports the government deported individuals to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. In December 2020 the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine reportedly detained Turkish citizens Salih Fidan and Samet Gure in the town of Rava-Ruska, alleging that they were attempting to illegally cross the Ukraine-Poland border. According to Fidan, authorities forced them to sign a statement accepting their guilt in exchange for a guarantee of being returned to Erbil, Iraq, and transferred them to Kyiv Boryspil Airport. On January 5, Ukrainian authorities reportedly forced Gure and Fidan to board a flight to Istanbul. On January 6, Turkish media reported Gure and Fidan were detained upon arrival in Turkey and were being processed by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. Human rights activists condemned the deportations of Fidan and Gure as a violation of international nonrefoulement principles, noting they were unlikely to receive a fair trial and could face torture in Turkey due to their involvement in the opposition Gulen Movement in Turkey, which the Turkish government banned and deemed a “terrorist” organization.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods.

Employment: The law provided refugees access to employment, but bureaucratic administrative obstacles and lack of employer awareness regarding refugee employment rights contributed to some working illegally, increasing their risk of exploitation.

Access to Basic Services: The national plan on the integration of refugees adopted by the government did not allocate resources for its implementation.

Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 421 persons, which the government temporarily increased to accommodate Afghan refugees. Asylum seekers living outside an official temporary accommodation center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly imposed a substantial fine because they lacked registration. According to the State Migration Service, refugees could receive residence registration at homeless shelters for up to six months.

According to UNHCR, gaps in housing and social support for unaccompanied children left many without access to state-run accommodation centers or children’s shelters. Many children had to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation. UNHCR noted a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of August 31, authorities had provided complementary protection to 38 persons.

g. Stateless Persons

UNHCR estimated there were more than 35,000 stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality in the country. Persons who were either stateless, at risk of statelessness, or with undetermined nationality included Roma, homeless persons, current and former prisoners, as well as nationals of the former USSR who resided in Ukraine in 1991 but never obtained an endorsement in their Soviet passport indicating they were citizens of Ukraine.

The law requires those without a passport endorsement to establish their identity through a court procedure, proving their residence in Ukraine in 1991, which could be costly and cumbersome, thereby discouraging some applicants. UNHCR reported Roma were at particular risk for statelessness since many did not have birth certificates or any other type of documentation to verify their identity. Homeless persons had difficulty obtaining citizenship because of a requirement to produce a document testifying to one’s residence.

In June 2020 parliament adopted a law establishing statelessness determination procedures to clearly define the terms “stateless person,” “child separated from the family,” and “legal representatives” of stateless persons. The law allows stateless persons to stay in the country and obtain a residence permit and stateless identity card, which facilitates foreign travel. The law also allocates free legal aid for applicants for the statelessness determination. As of August 20, 404 persons had initiated determination procedures.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Nationwide local elections took place in October 2020, with runoff mayoral elections taking place through November and December. The local elections were the first to take place after decentralization reforms devolved power concentrated at the national level to local government. Due to COVID-19-related restrictions, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) sent only a limited election observation mission to monitor the conduct of these elections, while other observers cancelled their missions. According to the ODIHR, “The 2020 Ukraine local elections were effectively organized amid the COVID-19 pandemic and proved more inclusive, but further improvements are required to strengthen the capacity of the election administration and oversight of campaign rules, including related to campaign financing and media coverage.”

The country held early parliamentary elections in 2019. A joint international election observation mission by the ODIHR, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and the European Parliament assessed that “fundamental rights and freedoms were overall respected, and the campaign was competitive, despite numerous malpractices, particularly in the majoritarian races.” The administration of the election was generally competent and effective, despite the short time available to prepare the elections. In sharp contrast, the campaign was marked by widespread vote buying, misuse of incumbency, and the practice of exploiting all possible legislative loopholes, skewing equality of opportunity for contestants. Intertwined business and political interests dictated media coverage of elections and allowed for the misuse of political finance, including at the local level.

The country held a presidential election in two rounds in 2019. The joint international election observation mission assessed the election “was competitive, voters had a broad choice and turned out in high numbers. In the pre-electoral period, the law was often not implemented in good faith by many stakeholders, which negatively impacted trust in the election administration, enforcement of campaign finance rules, and the effectiveness of election dispute resolution.” The election mission reported candidates could campaign freely, although numerous and credible indications of misuse of state resources and vote buying undermined the credibility of the process. While election day was assessed positively, some procedural problems were noted during the count, and conditions for tabulation were at times inadequate.

Russian occupation authorities and Russia-led forces did not allow voting in either the parliamentary or the presidential elections to take place in Crimea or in the parts of the Donbas region under the control of Russia-led forces. Russia-led forces facilitated the acquisition of Russian passports to enable voting by residents in the “DPR” and “LPR” in Russia’s September 17-19 Duma elections, which according to independent observers in Russia were neither free nor fair. Russia-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine were one of the few places where residents were able to vote online. In addition, the “DPR” organized transportation for those residents unable to vote online to travel to Russia to cast their votes. Media and civil society reported that eligible voters in the “DPR” and “LPR” faced significant pressure to vote in the elections, with their employers monitoring their involvement to ensure they voted.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Communist Party remained banned. Voters in 18 communities in government-controlled territories of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts were denied the right to participate in local elections in October due to a decision by the Central Election Commission that elections could not be held there, based on security concerns identified by local civil-military authorities. Human rights groups criticized the lack of transparency and justification, as well as the inability to appeal the decision.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups, including LGBTQI+ and indigenous persons (see section 6), from voting or otherwise participating in the political process, and they did participate. According to the ODIHR, citizens found by a court to be incapacitated “on the basis of intellectual or psychosocial disability” were ineligible to vote. The Central Election Commission estimated this restriction affected 36,000 voters.

In the October 2020 local elections, women accounted for 43 percent of candidates on party lists and won approximately 30 percent of seats on local councils. No woman was elected mayor of a major city. Twenty-five Romani candidates stood for election, and 10 were elected to municipal councils, although the ODIHR estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Roma were unable to register to vote because they lacked identity documents. In the 2019 parliamentary elections, women accounted for 23 percent of the candidates and won 21 percent of the seats.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption. Authorities did not effectively implement the law, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the number of reports of government corruption was low, observers noted corruption remained pervasive at all levels in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. From January 1 to June 30, the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine launched 336 investigations that resulted in 25 indictments against 43 individuals. Accused individuals included public officials, heads of state-owned enterprises, one judge, and others.

On September 5, the High Anticorruption Court (HACC) announced that in the previous two years it had convicted 10 judges for a range of offenses, including soliciting bribes, lying in financial declarations, and abuse of office. The court sentenced the judges to between two and nine years in prison, deprived them of the right to hold office for a period of three years, and confiscated property. In 2020 and during the year, the HACC sentenced 36 officials to imprisonment on corruption-related charges. Anticorruption bodies continued to face pressure from antireform elites and oligarchs in the form of misinformation campaigns and political maneuvering that undermined public trust and threatened the viability of the institutions. Human rights groups called for increased transparency and discussion regarding proposed changes to these bodies, particularly respecting procedures for appointments to leadership positions. As of September 13, it was widely held that the selection process for the new head of the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office remained stalled due to political interference.

Human rights groups claimed another threat to the anticorruption infrastructure came from the Constitutional Court, where antireform interests exercised undue influence on judges. Parliament amended some provisions of anticorruption legislation that had been overturned by Constitutional Court decisions in 2020, and legislation to safeguard the independence of the National Anticorruption Bureau was adopted by parliament on October 19. Also pending was a review by the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of the High Anticorruption Court law.

On July 13, parliament adopted legislation to relaunch the High Qualification Commission of Judges and High Council of Justice (HCJ), bodies that control the hiring of judges and judicial self-governance, respectively, and that judicial reform groups characterized as influenced by corrupt interests. Implementation of the law governing vetting of HCJ members, however, faltered within weeks of enactment, when the Council of Judges refused to nominate at least one candidate to serve on the HCJ Ethics Council, which is envisioned to comprise three legal experts nominated by international partners and three Ukrainian judges nominated by the Council of Judges. On October 23, the Council of Judges nominated four judge candidates, but legal experts noted the Supreme Court had referred the judicial reform law to the Constitutional Court to assess its constitutionality.

Corruption: While the government publicized several attempts to combat corruption, it remained a serious problem for citizens and businesses alike.

On March 22, the NGO Center for Combatting Corruption announced the results of its analysis of government procurements conducted without public tenders under a Cabinet of Ministers decree to purchase drugs and medical equipment to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The study found that in 2020, more than 144,000 procurements were made with contracts worth 30 billion hryvnias ($1.1 billion), a significantly inflated figure indicative of significant overpayment. The organization noted that more than one-half of a 64.9-billion-hryvnia ($2.4 billion) fund allocated to combat the COVID-19 pandemic had been reallocated to road construction, an area historically rife with corruption.

On August 20, the National Anticorruption Bureau detained a member of the Commission for the Regulation of Gambling and Lotteries, Yevhen Hetman, for allegedly accepting two bribes totaling 2.46 million hryvnias ($90,000). In early August Hetman allegedly agreed to facilitate the approval of gambling licenses for two hotels in Zaporizhzhya and Chernihiv in exchange for two 1.23-million-hryvnia ($45,000) payments. On August 16, the Gambling Commission issued permits to the hotels. Hetman was detained on August 20 and released on bail of five million hryvnias ($183,000) on August 28. There were also concerns regarding financial disclosures of assets for government officials. On September 10, media outlets reported that the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption had noted potential indicators of a criminal offense in the declaration of Oleksandr Kasminin, a Constitutional Court judge who failed to provide information on real estate assets. The agency also identified irregularities in the declarations of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Industries Oleh Uruskyy, Supreme Court judge Serhiy Hopta, Deputy Minister of Community and Territorial Development Natalia Khotsyanivska, and First Deputy Minister of Culture and Information Policy Rostyslav Karandeev.

Law enforcement agencies often failed to appropriately investigate cases of attacks against journalists, human rights defenders, and activists, particularly those who focused on exposing corruption (see section 2.a.). For example on April 5, unknown individuals set fire to the car of Valeriy Kharchuk, the head of the Anticorruption Regional Front in Rubizhne, Luhansk Oblast. Police initiated proceedings under charges of intentional destruction or damage to property. On July 16, another vehicle belonging to Kharchuk was set on fire. According to Kharchuk, a surveillance camera recorded a man pouring flammable liquid onto the car and setting it on fire. Kharchuk said she believed she was targeted in connection to her reporting to police on corruption schemes involving city officials.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.

Russia-led forces and authorities in Russia-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine routinely denied access to domestic and international civil society organizations. Human rights groups attempting to work in those areas faced significant harassment and intimidation (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for a human rights ombudsperson, officially designated as parliamentary commissioner on human rights. In 2018 parliament appointed Lyudmila Denisova parliamentary commissioner on human rights. The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner on Human Rights cooperated with NGOs on projects to monitor human rights practices in various institutions, including detention facilities, orphanages and boarding schools for children, and geriatric institutions. Commissioner Denisova took a proactive stance advocating on behalf of political prisoners held by Russia as well as Crimean Tatars, Roma, IDPs, and persons with disabilities.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits domestic violence and rape, including spousal rape, of women and men. The penalty for rape is three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual assault and rape continued to be significant problems. The law prohibits domestic violence, which is punishable by fines, emergency restraining orders of up to 10 days, ordinary restraining orders from one to six months, administrative arrest, and community service.

Human rights groups reported police often failed to effectively enforce these laws. Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. In the first six months of the year, police received 103,000 domestic violence complaints. Intimate partner violence was common. The HRMMU reported the implementation of quarantine measures surrounding COVID-19 exacerbated the situation. According to the Internal Affairs Ministry, approximately 3,300 cases of domestic violence were investigated during the first eight months of the year. Police issued approximately 59,350 domestic violence warnings and protection orders during the first eight months of the year. Punishment included fines, emergency restraining orders of up to 10 days, ordinary restraining orders from one to six months, administrative arrest, and community service. Human rights groups noted the ability of agencies to detect and report cases of domestic violence was limited.

According to the NGO La Strada, COVID-19 lockdown measures made it difficult for victims of domestic violence to receive help. Survivors faced increased difficulty in accessing domestic violence shelters due to the requirement to obtain a hospital certificate declaring they were not infected with COVID-19 before the shelters would provide social services.

According to press reports, on July 20, a man with a police record of domestic violence killed his former wife and adult daughter with an axe in their apartment in Lutsk. Police arrived at the scene shortly after receiving a call from neighbors and detained the man. The suspect, Vasyl Pylypyuk, allegedly confessed to the murders to his neighbors and faced charges with punishments ranging from 15 years’ to life imprisonment. Police opened an investigation and placed Pylypyuk in pretrial detention. Media outlets reported on August 11 that Pylypyuk died in pretrial detention after being beaten by a fellow inmate. Police reportedly opened an investigation into his death.

According to La Strada, the conflict in the Donbas region led to a surge in violence against women across the country in recent years. Human rights groups attributed the increase in violence to post-traumatic stress experienced by IDPs fleeing the conflict and by soldiers returning from combat. IDPs reported instances of rape and sexual abuse; many said they fled areas controlled by Russia-led forces because they feared sexual abuse.

As of late September, the government operated 40 shelters for survivors of domestic violence and 19 centers for social and psychological aid as well as 21 crisis rooms across the country for survivors of domestic violence and child abuse.

Sexual Harassment: While the law prohibits coercing a person to have sexual intercourse, legal experts stated that safeguards against harassment were inadequate. The law puts sexual harassment in the same category as discrimination and sets penalties ranging from a fine to three years in prison. Women’s rights groups reported continuing and widespread sexual harassment, including coerced sex, in the workplace. Women rarely sought legal recourse because courts declined to hear their cases and rarely convicted perpetrators. On January 1, police registered a criminal investigation into Ukrainian Armed Forces lieutenant colonel Olha Derkach’s allegation that she was sexually harassed by her immediate supervisor, Chernhiv regional military commissioner Oleksandr Kryvoruchko, over a period of several years, beginning in 2016. Derkach claims Kryvoruchko’s unwelcome advances included instances of sexual groping. She claimed that when she rejected his advances, Kryvoruchko criticized her as incompetent in front of other officers. Kryvoruchko resigned from his position in February but denied the allegations and attempted to sue Derkach for defamation. On October 2, a court in Chernihiv dismissed Kryvoruchko’s lawsuit. As of mid-November, according to media reports, national police were still investigating Derkach’s allegations.

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

Romani women sometimes faced barriers in managing their reproductive health, including segregation in maternity wards and other forms of discrimination. Government policy does not bar access to contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, and emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape. Human rights groups said, however, that these services were sometimes unreliable and often did not reach Romani communities.

According to UN Women, health-care providers sometimes refused to provide adequate reproductive health services for LGBTQI+ women due to anti-LGBTQI+ views or lack of expertise. A 2020 UN Population Fund survey found that 81 percent of married or in-union women between the ages of 15 and 49 reported making their own decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights, including deciding on their own health care, deciding on the use of contraception, and consenting to sex.

Discrimination: While the law provides that women enjoy the same rights as men, women experienced discrimination in employment. According to the Ministry of Economy, men earned on average 18 percent more than women. The Ministry of Health maintained a list of 50 occupations that remain prohibited for women. Women experienced discrimination in pay and in access to retirement and pension benefits.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution prohibits any restriction of rights based on race, skin color, religious beliefs, language, and other characteristics, while the law criminalizes intentional acts provoking hatred and hostility based on nationality, religion, or race. The law also provides for designating racial, national, or religious enmity as aggravating circumstances to criminal offenses. Laws that protect members of racial or ethnic minorities from violence and discrimination were not effectively enforced. Human rights groups reported that police often failed to properly apply these laws when investigating attacks on members of minority groups.

Mistreatment of members of minority groups and harassment of foreigners of non-Slavic appearance remained problematic. According to September data from the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group, three xenophobic attacks occurred in the first eight months of the year. Human rights organizations stated the requirement to prove actual intent, including proof of premeditation, to secure a conviction made it difficult to apply the laws against offenses motivated by racial, national, or religious hatred. Police and prosecutors continued to prosecute racially motivated crimes under laws against hooliganism or related offenses.

In January a provision of a 2019 law promoting the use of the Ukrainian language went into effect, requiring shops and retails establishments to engage customers in Ukrainian unless the customers requested service in another language.

The most frequent reports of societal violence against national, racial, and ethnic minorities were against Roma. On October 17, approximately 50 to 100 individuals (including members of violent radical groups) gathered in front of the homes of Romani families in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin to protest the stabbing of a military veteran two days prior by two minor Romani boys. The crowd shouted anti-Roma slurs and threatened violence against the Romani community as collective punishment for the attack. The crowd also shot fireworks at a Romani family’s house, broke the entrance gate, and spray-painted “get out” on the fence around the house. Local police characterized the incident as a protest of civic activists. As of late October, no charges had been filed against any of the participants.

Human rights activists remained concerned regarding the lack of accountability in cases of attacks on Roma and the government’s failure to address societal violence and harassment against them.

Roma continued to face governmental and societal discrimination and significant barriers accessing education, health care, social services, and employment. According to Council of Europe experts, 60 percent of Roma were unemployed, 40 percent had no documents, and only 1 percent had a university degree. According to the Romani women’s foundation, Chirikli, local authorities erected a number of barriers to prevent issuing national identification documents to Roma. Authorities hampered access to education for persons who lacked documents and segregated Romani children into special schools or lower-quality classrooms. Officials also expressed anti-Roma sentiments and encouraged discrimination.

In a June 9 interview with a local radio station, Rivne city mayor Oleksandr Tretyak claimed that, in response to complaints from local citizens regarding high levels of crime committed by Romani individuals, he had recently confronted a group of Roma on the street and demanded that they leave the city within several hours. Tretyak claimed the individuals refused to leave, noting there was no transportation available. Tretyak noted in the interview, “I can see things coming to a point when we will take radical steps. We will pack them all in a bus and move them out to Transkarpattya, their home region.” Tretyak apologized on June 10, noting that illegal actions should be punished “regardless of ethnic origin.”

The enforcement of pandemic-related measures exacerbated governmental and societal discrimination against Roma. According to Chirikli, many Romani individuals with informal and seasonal employment lost their livelihoods during the series of lockdowns, which ended in May. Many of these individuals lacked personal identification documents and therefore had difficulty accessing medical care, social services, pensions, and formal employment.

Many Roma fled settlements in areas controlled by Russia-led forces and moved elsewhere in the country. According to Chirikli, approximately 10,000 Roma were among the most vulnerable members of the country’s IDP population. Many Romani IDPs lacked documents, and obtaining IDP assistance, medical care, and education was especially difficult.

The ombudsperson for human rights cooperated with NGOs to draft policies and legislation to protect members of racial and ethnic minorities from discrimination. The ombudsperson also advocated for accountability for cases of violence against members of racial and ethnic minorities.

Indigenous Peoples

On July 1, parliament passed legislation guaranteeing legal protections for “the indigenous people of Ukraine,” which included Crimean Tatars, Karaites, and Krymchaks. Crimean Tatars continued to experience serious governmental and societal violence and discrimination in Russia-occupied Crimea (see Crimea subreport).

Children

Birth Registration: Birth in the country or to Ukrainian parents conveys citizenship. A child born to stateless parents residing permanently in the country is a citizen. The law requires that parents register a child within a month of birth, and failure to register sometimes resulted in denial of public services.

Registration of children born in Crimea or Russia-controlled areas in the Donbas region remained difficult. Authorities required hospital documents to register births. Russian occupation authorities or Russia-led forces routinely kept such documents if parents registered children in territories under their control, making it difficult for the child to obtain a Ukrainian birth certificate. In addition, authorities did not recognize documents issued by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea or in territories controlled by Russia-led forces. Persons living in Crimea and parts of the Donbas had to present documents obtained in Russia-controlled territory to Ukrainian courts to receive Ukrainian government-issued documents. The courts were obliged to make rulings in 24 hours; these decisions were then carried out by the registry office. Due to the lack of judges in local courts, Ukrainians living in regions under Russian control faced serious difficulty in obtaining Ukrainian documents.

Child Abuse: Penalties for child abuse range from three years to life, depending on severity. The law criminalizes sexual relations between adults and persons younger than 16; violations are punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. The criminal code qualifies sexual relations with a person younger than 14 as rape.

Human rights groups noted authorities lacked the capability to detect violence against children and refer victims for assistance. Preventive services remained underdeveloped. There were also instances of forced labor involving children.

Authorities did not take effective measures to protect children from abuse and violence and to prevent such problems. The ombudsperson for human rights noted the imperfection of mechanisms to protect children who survived or witnessed violence, particularly violence committed by their parents. According to the law, parents were the legal representatives of their children, even if they perpetrated violence against them. There is no procedure for appointing a temporary legal representative for a child during the investigation of alleged parental violence.

According to press reports, on July 23, police in Kryvyy Rih received a telephone call from a seven-year-old boy who reported that his stepfather had beaten him and chained him to the radiator in his bedroom. Officers responding to the call removed the chain from the boy’s ankle and transported him to a hospital. Police detained the boy’s stepfather, who claimed he had been trying to keep the boy from running away while he was at work. The child told police his stepfather routinely beat and verbally abused him. The stepfather faced up to five years in prison on charges of unlawful imprisonment and intentional bodily injury.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. A court may grant a child as young as 16 permission to marry if it finds marriage to be in the child’s interest. Romani rights groups reported early marriages involving girls younger than 18 were common in the Romani community.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for commercial sex, and practices related to child pornography. The minimum prison sentence for rape of a minor is eight years. Molesting a child younger than 16 is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. The same offense committed against a child younger than 14 is punishable by imprisonment for five to eight years. The age of consent is 16. On February 18, parliament passed a law making the deliberate use, production, sale, or distribution of child pornography punishable by imprisonment for up to three years.

Sexual exploitation of children remained significantly underreported. Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem. In early March law enforcement officers in Vinnytsya Oblast arrested a woman who was suspected of producing and selling pornographic photographs of her five-year-old son on the internet. She was charged with producing and distributing child pornography. The investigation was underway as of mid-September.

Domestic and foreign law enforcement officials reported a significant amount of child pornography on the internet continued to originate in the country. The International Organization for Migration reported children from socially disadvantaged families and those in state custody continued to be at high risk of trafficking, including for commercial sexual exploitation and the production of pornography. For example on April 3, police in Chernivtsi detained two men for allegedly molesting girls younger than age 16. The two men, ages 66 and 74, reportedly filmed themselves sexually abusing minors in their apartment and distributed the pornographic material to a private group on the internet. According to police, the men targeted girls from disadvantaged families. As of mid-September police had identified four girls, ages 11 to 14, who were allegedly sexually abused by the men but continued to search for other victims. The men faced up to five years in prison.

Displaced Children: Most IDP children were from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, authorities registered more than 240,000 children as IDPs, a figure human rights groups believed was low.

Institutionalized Children: The child welfare system continued to rely on long-term residential care for children at social risk or without parental care, although the number of residential-care institutions continued to drop. Government policies to address the abandonment of children reduced the number of children deprived of parental care. A government strategy for 2017-26 calls for the transformation of the institutionalized child-care system into one that provides a family-based or family-like environment for children. As of early in the year, the government’s progress implementing the strategy was slow, with the number of children in orphanages dropping from 106,000 to 100,000 over four years.

Human rights groups and media reported unsafe, inhuman, and sometimes life-threatening conditions in some institutions. Officials of several state-run institutions and orphanages were allegedly complicit or willfully negligent in the sex and labor trafficking of girls and boys under their care. On August 20, the human rights ombudsperson reported the results of a monitoring visit to a state-run institution in the Darnytskyy district of Kyiv that provides medical and social services for children between the ages of four and 18. The monitoring group identified multiple violations of living standards, including cramped bedrooms, inadequate arrangements for privacy in bathrooms, lack of hygiene products, and a cockroach infestation.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to census data and international Jewish groups, the Jewish population was approximately 105,000, constituting approximately 0.25 percent of the total population. According to the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities, there were approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country, including President Zelenskyy. Estimates of the Jewish population in Crimea and the Donbas region were not available, although before the conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to the Jewish association, approximately 30,000 Jewish persons lived in the Donbas region. Jewish groups estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish persons lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.

On September 22, parliament passed a law defining the concept of anti-Semitism and establishing punishment for crimes motivated by anti-Semitism. The law also establishes punishment for making false or stereotypical statements regarding persons of Jewish origin, producing or disseminating materials containing anti-Semitic statements or content, and denying the facts of the persecution and mass killing of Jews during the Holocaust.

According to the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group, two cases of suspected anti-Semitic violence were recorded as of late October. The group recorded approximately four cases of anti-Semitic vandalism as of September 1, compared with seven incidents during the same period in 2020.

On October 7, a man broke into the house of a Hasidic family in Uman and attacked the homeowner in front of his wife and children. The attacker reportedly struck the man several times in his face and body while shouting anti-Semitic insults. Police responded to the scene, and the attacker was taken to a hospital due to his level of intoxication. In late October the United Jewish Community of Ukraine called on police to investigate the case.

Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv, Rivne, Kherson, Mariupol, Vinnytsya, Uman, Bogdanivka, Kremenchuk, and other cities. According to press reports, on February 9, a newly erected memorial honoring the 16,000 Jews killed by Nazis in the Proskuriv (Khmelnytskyi) ghetto in 1941 and 1942 was vandalized. Media outlets reported two swastikas were spray painted with a stencil onto the stone wall just below the memorial’s commemorative plaque. As of mid-September police had not identified any suspects in the case. In Lviv, Jewish organizations expressed concern regarding construction on a historic Jewish cemetery, which is also a UNESCO protected site. The Ministry of Culture agreed the site should be protected but appeared unable to protect the cemetery as the local Lviv government refused to enforce the ministry’s stop-work order. In Uman, Jewish organizations complained of construction at the grave of Rabbi Nachman.

In line with the country’s 2015 decommunization and denazification law, authorities continued to rename communist-era streets, bridges, and monuments. Some were renamed in honor of 20th century Ukrainian nationalists, some of whom were associated with anti-Semitism.

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 were unable to access public venues, health services, information, communications, transportation, the judicial system, or opportunities for involvement in public, educational, cultural, and sporting activities on an equal basis with others. The law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, but the government generally did not enforce these laws.

Advocacy groups maintained that, despite the legal requirements, most public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

Patients in psychiatric institutions remained at risk of abuse, and many psychiatric hospitals continued to use outdated and unsafe methods and treatments. On June 9, a monitoring group from the human rights ombudsperson’s office identified violations at the Panyutyn psychoneurological boarding school in Kharkiv Oblast. The monitors observed 20 residents confined to the facility’s gated exercise yard, which lacked toilets; residents needing to relieve themselves reportedly had to use a bucket and lacked privacy. The monitors also reported poor living conditions and low quality of food provided for the residents.

Law enforcement agencies generally took appropriate measures to punish those responsible for violence against persons with disabilities.

By law employers must set aside 4 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. NGOs noted that many of those employed to satisfy the requirement received nominal salaries but did not actually perform work at their companies.

The law provides every child with a disability the right to study at mainstream secondary schools (which usually include primary, middle, and high school-level education) as well as for the creation of inclusive groups in preschool facilities, secondary and vocational schools, and colleges. According to the Ministry of Education and Science, more than 25,000 children with disabilities attended mainstream schools within the program of inclusive education in the 2020-21 academic year.

Persons with disabilities in Russia-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine suffered from a lack of appropriate care and education.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Stigma and discrimination in health-care centers were barriers to HIV-positive individuals receiving medical services. UNICEF reported that children with HIV or AIDS were at high risk of abandonment, social stigma, and discrimination. Authorities prevented many children infected with HIV or AIDS from attending kindergartens or schools. Persons with HIV or AIDS faced discrimination in housing and employment.

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

There was societal violence against LGBTQI+ persons often perpetrated by members of violent radical groups, and authorities often did not adequately investigate these cases or hold perpetrators to account. The LGBTQI+ rights organization Nash Mir noted that criminal proceedings for attacks against members of the LGBTQI+ community were rarely classified under criminal provisions pertaining to hate crimes, which carry heavier penalties. For example, according to a victim’s account published by Nash Mir, on July 2, a police officer beat a gay man in the man’s home in Kyiv while shouting antihomosexual insults at him. The officer had reportedly arrived at the house after being called by the victim’s landlord, who had been engaged in a verbal argument with the victim. The victim filed a complaint with the Dniprovskyy District Police Department in Kyiv, and police reportedly opened an investigation into the attack on July 14 but closed it on August 17 without bringing any charges. According to Nash Mir, police reopened the case upon an appeal from the victim’s lawyer. As of late October, the investigation remained open.

Law enforcement at times condoned or perpetrated violence against members of the LGBTQI+ community. For example, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, police officers in Toretsk violently detained a man shortly after he entered his apartment building on May 3. According to the victim, police struck him on the head without any warning and then held him on the floor with his hands fastened behind his back and the knee of an officer pressed to his head, causing him to lose consciousness at one point. When the man stated that he was a representative of the LGBTQI+ community, the officers reportedly mocked him and continued the abuse. Officers reportedly filed an administrative charge against the victim for resisting arrest, claiming they had stopped him to search his backpack for drugs. According to his lawyers, the victim was hospitalized for one month because of his injuries and was later forced to move away from Toretsk due to threats from police. In June the victim’s lawyers appealed to the SBI to investigate the victim’s allegations.

Public figures sometimes made comments condoning violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. On March 18, a former member of the Kyiv City Council, Ruslan Andriyko, posted the comment, “Burn in the oven!” in the comments section of a news article regarding violence against LGBTQI+ teenagers.

According to Nash Mir, violent radical groups consistently tried to disrupt LGBTQI+ events with violence or threats of violence (see examples in section 2.b.).

The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There is no law, however, against discrimination in other areas, and discrimination was reportedly widespread in employment, housing, education, and other sectors.

Transgender persons reported difficulties obtaining official documents reflecting their gender identity, which resulted in discrimination in health care, education, and other areas.

A UN report noted that Russia-led forces’ regular use of identity checks in the “DPR” and “LPR” and at the line of contact put transgender persons at constant risk of arbitrary arrest, detention, and connected abuses, due to the lack of identity documents matching their gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association as a fundamental right and establishes the right to participate in independent trade unions. The law provides the right for most workers to form and join independent unions, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes. The law, however, establishes low penalties for noncompliance with collective bargaining agreements by employers. The low penalties were insufficient to ensure employers comply with collective bargaining agreements, making it easier to pay a penalty than to launch negotiations.

There are no laws or legal mechanisms to prevent antiunion discrimination, although the labor code requires employers to provide justification for layoffs and firings, and union activity is not an acceptable justification. Legal recourse is available for reinstatement, back wages, and punitive damages, although observers described court enforcement as arbitrary and unpredictable, with damages too low to create incentives for compliance on the part of employers.

The law contains several limits to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Several laws that apply to worker organizations are excessively complex and contradictory. Two laws establish the status of trade unions as legal entities only after state registration. Under another law, a trade union is considered a legal entity upon adoption of its statute. The inherent conflict between these laws created obstacles for workers seeking to form trade unions. Unions also reported significant bureaucratic hurdles in the registration process, including the payment of notary fees and requirements to visit as many as 10 different offices. Moreover, independent unions reported incidents of employers violating their collective agreements or impeding their efforts to join such agreements.

The Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine reported that the management of public joint-stock company ArcelorMittal Kryvyy Rih ignored collective bargaining by violating the collective agreement envisaging annual wage increases for its workers.

The independent trade union organizations at the Lviv Regional Children’s Clinical Hospital “Okhmatdyt” and at the Polytechnic School Number 3 in Lviv reported that their requests to join their respective collective agreements were not satisfied.

The legal procedure to initiate a strike is complex and significantly hindered strike action, artificially lowering the numbers of informal industrial actions. The legal process for industrial disputes requires initial consultation, conciliation and mediation, and labor arbitration allowing involved parties to draw out the process for months. Workers may vote to strike only after completion of this process, a decision that the courts may still block. The requirement that a large percentage of the workforce (two-thirds of general workers’ meeting delegates or 50 percent of workers in an enterprise) must vote in favor of a strike before it may be called further restricts the right to strike. The government can also deny workers the right to strike on national security grounds or to protect the health or “rights and liberties” of citizens. The law prohibits strikes by broad categories of workers, including personnel in the Office of the Prosecutor General, the judiciary, the armed forces, the security services, law enforcement agencies, the transportation sector, and the public-service sector.

Legal hurdles resulting from an obsolete labor code made it difficult for independent unions not affiliated with the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine to take part in tripartite negotiations, participate in social insurance programs, or represent labor at the national and international levels. Such hurdles hindered the ability of smaller independent unions to represent their members effectively. The government did not enforce labor laws effectively. Penalties for labor law violations slightly increased in January from 5,000 to 6,000 hryvnia ($183 to $220) due to an increase in the national minimum wage, which serves a basis for the calculation of such penalties. Labor inspections became more frequent thereafter. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other crimes related to civil rights.

In February parliament passed several bills aimed at protecting worker rights, including protections for individuals conducting remote and home-based work.

In September 2020 workers in the Zhovtneva Mine began an underground protest to address low wages and unsafe work conditions. The strikes spread to three other mines, encompassing 400 miners. Workers and employers initially agreed to terms; however, the employer ultimately filed a lawsuit against the protesters and union officials. In October 2020 the workers ended the protest. Miners and mine management reportedly signed a memorandum in which the parties agreed on a 10 percent increase of miners’ salaries, a waiver of prosecution of those miners who took part in the protests, and payment of salaries for those days miners spent underground. On May 7, the Zhovtnevyy District Court of the city of Kryvyy Rih ruled the miners’ protest was not a strike and therefore the actions of the eight participants were illegal.

Miners appealed the court decision and on September 14, the Dniprovskyy Court of Appeals struck down the lower court’s decision. The appeals court fully satisfied the demands of miners who were participants in the underground protest. It also ruled to collect a court fee from PJSC “Kryvyy Rih Iron Ore Plant” in the amount of 25,224 hryvnia ($953). The employer appealed to the Supreme Court. As of late October, the Supreme Court had not decided whether to accept the appeal.

On October 12, the Free Trade Union of Railway Workers of Ukraine (VPZU) and other trade unions spanning several cities organized a work-to-rule action, whereby railway employees came to work but strictly complied with all safety requirements and job descriptions. Trains found to have safety defects were temporarily removed from operation. The VPZU claimed its main demands were safe working conditions and an increase in wages. On October 25, the VPZU reportedly raised concerns to Ukrainian Railways management regarding reports that the railroad’s management had ordered the compilation of lists of railway employees who were members of free trade unions.

Worker rights advocates continued to express concerns regarding the independence of unions from government or employer control. Independent trade unions alleged that the Federation of Trade Unions enjoyed a close relationship with employers and members of some political parties. Authorities further denied unions not affiliated with the federation a share of disputed trade union assets inherited by the federation from Soviet-era unions, a dispute dating back more than two decades.

Independent union representatives continued to be subjected to violence and intimidation and reported that local law enforcement officials frequently ignored or facilitated violations of their rights. Worker advocates reported an increase in retaliation against trade union members involved in anticorruption activities at their workplaces.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes, but resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to enforce the law sufficiently.

During the year the Security Service responded to numerous instances of compulsory labor, to include the production of pornography, criminal activity, labor exploitation, begging, and sexual and other forms of exploitation.

The International Organization for Migration reported that 92 percent of the 511 victims of trafficking it identified from January to June were subjected to forced labor and labor exploitation. Of these, 74 percent were men and 26 percent were women, all between the ages of 18 and 50. The sectors where forced labor exploitation was most prevalent were construction, manufacturing, and agriculture. The vast majority of victims identified during the year had a university degree or vocational education. Annual reports on government action to prevent the use of forced labor in public procurement indicated that the government had not taken action to investigate its own supply chains for evidence of forced labor. Traffickers subjected some children to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

The government continued to rely on international organizations and NGOs with international donor funding to identify victims and provide the vast majority of victim protection and assistance.

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, but it does not always provide inspectors sufficient authority to conduct inspections. The minimum age for most employment is 16, but children who are 14 may perform undefined “light work” with a parent’s consent. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes but were inconsistently applied.

From January to July, the State Service on Labor conducted 1,882 inspections to investigate compliance with child labor laws. The number of inspections remained lower than the total conducted during the same period in 2019 due to COVID-19 measures. The inspections identified 38 employers engaged in child labor activities. Of these, 21 were in the service sector, three in the industrial sector, five in the agricultural sector, and nine in other areas. The inspections uncovered 73 cases of undeclared labor and nine of minors receiving undeclared wages. In the Russia-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine, child labor in coal mining remained a problem. The production of child pornography also remained a problem in the country.

The most frequent violations of child labor laws concerned work under hazardous conditions, long workdays, failure to maintain accurate work records, and delayed salary payments. The government established institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of laws and regulations on child labor. The limited collection of penalties imposed for child labor violations, however, impeded the enforcement of child labor laws.

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 labor code prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, color, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic, social and foreign origin, age, health, disability, HIV/AIDS condition, family and property status, or linguistic or other grounds.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and employment discrimination reportedly occurred with respect to gender, disability, nationality, race, minority status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and HIV-positive status. The agriculture, construction, mining, heavy industry, and services sectors had the most work-related discrimination. The law provides for civil, administrative, and criminal liability for discrimination in the workplace. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations but were not sufficient to deter violations. The burden of proof in discrimination cases is on an employee.

Under the law women are not allowed to work the same hours as men. Women are prohibited from occupying jobs deemed dangerous that men are permitted to hold. Women are also unable to work at night as men could, and women are prohibited from working in some industries, such as those involving underground work. The law prohibits women from work that involves lifting and moving certain heavy objects. The labor code prohibits involvement of pregnant women and women with children younger than three years of age in night or overtime work, work on weekends, and business trips.

The country does not mandate equal pay for equal work. Women received lower salaries due to limited opportunities for advancement and the types of industries that employed them. According to the Ministry of Economy, men earned on average 18 percent more than women. The gap was not caused by direct discrimination in the setting of wages, but by horizontal and vertical stratification of the labor market; women were more likely to work in lower-paid sectors of the economy and in lower positions. Women held fewer elected or appointed offices at the national and regional levels.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The country’s annual budget establishes a government-mandated national minimum wage, which is above the poverty level. Some employees working in the informal economy received wages less than the established minimum.

The labor law provides for a maximum 40-hour workweek, with a minimum 42-hour period of rest per week and at least 24 days of paid vacation per year. It provides for double pay for overtime work and regulates the number of overtime hours allowed. The law requires agreement between employers and local trade union organization on overtime work and limits overtime to four hours during two consecutive days and 120 hours per year. Workers in the information technology sector faced exceedingly long hours and were often classified as independent contractors, ostensibly to avoid responsibility for providing paid leave and other benefits.

Wage arrears continued to be a major problem, especially in the mining industry. A lack of legal remedies, bureaucratic wrangling, and corruption in public and private enterprises blocked efforts to recover overdue wages, leading to significant wage theft. Total wage arrears in the country increased during the year through September to four billion hryvnia ($152 million) from 3.6 billion hryvnia ($136 million) in September 2020. Of these arrears, 77 percent were in the industrial sector in the Donetsk, Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Dnipropetrovsk regions. The Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine reported that wage arrears for coal-mining enterprises amounted to 2.1 billion hryvnias (almost $80 million) as of October 1. Arrears and corruption problems exacerbated industrial relations and led to numerous protests.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws. Penalties were not consistently applied and were not commensurate with those of similar crimes. The State Labor Inspectorate (SLI), which is part of the Ministry of Social Policy, is responsible for enforcing wage and hour laws. Labor inspectors do not always have the authority to make unannounced inspections, although unannounced inspections did occur. The SLI has authority to initiate sanctions. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance, and the inspectorate lacked sufficient funding, technical capacity, and professional staffing to conduct independent inspections effectively. The absence of a coordination mechanism with other government bodies also inhibited enforcement.

Labor inspectors may assess compliance based on leads or other information regarding possible unreported employment from public sources, including information on potential violations from other state agencies. For example, when tax authorities discover a disparity between a company’s workforce, its production volumes, and industry norms, they may refer the case to labor authorities who will determine compliance with labor laws.

While performing inspection visits to check potential unreported employment, labor inspectors may enter any workplace without prior notice at any hour of day or night. The law, however, limits inspectors’ authority to enter workplaces without prior notice to investigate compliance with other labor law requirements. The law also allows labor inspectors to hold an employer liable for certain types of violations (e.g., unreported employment), empowering them to issue an order to cease the restricted activity. Labor inspectors may also visit an employer to monitor labor law compliance and inform the company and its employees regarding labor rights and best practices.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law requires employers to provide appropriate workplace safety standards. Employers sometimes ignored these regulations due to the lack of enforcement or strict imposition of penalties. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardizing their continued employment. Employers in the metal and mining industries often violated the rule and retaliated against workers by pressuring them to quit.

The same inspectors who cover wage and hour laws are responsible for enforcing occupational safety and health laws. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those of other similar crimes.

In August the Free Trade Union of Railways Workers of Ukraine expressed concern regarding several cases during the year of trains catching fire. The union noted the cases constituted a violation of the occupational safety and health and safety rules at the state-owned railway’s enterprises.

Mineworkers, particularly in the illegal mining sector, faced serious safety and health problems. Operational safety problems and health complaints were common. Lax safety standards and aging equipment caused many injuries on the job.

In the context of the pandemic, a COVID-19 infection in a medical worker was deemed a workplace accident. Workers in the health-care sector organized strikes to raise awareness regarding unpaid wages and hazard pay. For example on August 12, medical workers at the Sosnivska City Hospital in Lviv Oblast went on a hunger strike to protest three months of wage and hazard pay arrears. They suspended the hunger strike on August 16 after meeting with hospital management and local authorities.

During the first nine months of the year, authorities reported 2,532 individual workplace injuries, including 287 fatalities.

Despite active fighting with Russia-led forces close to industrial areas in the government-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, enterprises involved in mining, energy, media, retail, clay production, and transportation continued to operate. Fighting resulted in damage to mines and plants through loss of electricity, destroyed transformers, physical damage from shelling, and alleged intentional flooding of mines by combined Russia-led forces. Miners were especially vulnerable, as loss of electrical power could strand them underground. The loss of electrical power also threatened the operability of mine safety equipment that prevented the buildup of explosive gases.

Informal Sector: The country’s Statistics Service reported in 2020 that 26.5 percent (or more than four million) of the individuals comprising the country’s labor force were in the informal economy and were receiving shadow income. Approximately 56 percent of the informal sector workforce were men, 43 percent worked in the agriculture sector, 18 percent in trade, 15 percent in construction, 5 percent in industry, and 4.2 percent in transportation. The volume of unofficial income of the labor force was approximately 22.5 billion hryvnias ($855 million.). Informal workers are not covered by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws and inspections.