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Solomon Islands

Executive Summary

Solomon Islands is a constitutional multiparty parliamentary democracy. Observers considered the 2014 parliamentary election generally free and fair, although there were incidents of vote buying. Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as prime minister after the election, and he formed a coalition government. In November 2017, after a vote of no confidence against Sogavare, parliament elected Ricky Houenipwela prime minister, and he formed a new coalition government.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included corruption; criminalization of same-sex sexual activity, although the law was not enforced; and child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.

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 based on equal and universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers regarded the 2014 national parliamentary election as generally free and fair, although there was evidence of vote buying. The elections were the first the government held following the withdrawal of the RAMSI military peacekeeping contingent. The Commonwealth Observer Group reported that members of parliament used rural constituency development funds to buy political support. The postelection formation of the government was also marked by allegations that foreign and domestic business interests made corrupt payments to elected members of parliament. Following the election parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as prime minister.

In November 2017, after a vote of no confidence against Sogavare, parliament elected Ricky Houenipwela as prime minister, and he formed a new coalition government.

Following an investigation into an alleged politically motivated shooting during the formation of the coalition government in 2014, authorities charged five persons. All were free on bail, but the police investigation continued during the year, with police offering a reward for more information.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction, but they were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities. In August parliament amended the Electoral Act to require all candidates to present party certificates. It also makes provision for remote voting, increases candidate nomination fees, and calls for special accommodation for voters with disabilities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate; however, traditional male dominance limited the role of women in government. There were two women in the 50-member parliament and three female permanent secretaries in government ministries. There were no female judges on the High Court, although in September 2017 the country’s first female chief magistrate was sworn in. Government measures to increase the number of women in politics did not deliver the desired result. Civil society groups such as the Young Women’s Parliamentary Group continued to advocate for more leadership positions for women.

There was one minority (non-Melanesian) member of parliament.

Somalia

Executive Summary

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo,” following his election by a joint vote of the two houses of parliament in February 2017, led the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), formed in 2012. President Farmaajo succeeded President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who peacefully stepped down from power following his electoral defeat. Members of the two houses of parliament were selected through indirect elections conducted from October 2016 through January 2017, with House of the People membership based on clan and Upper House membership based on state. The electoral process for both houses was widely viewed as flawed and marred with corruption, but the two houses of parliament elected President Farmaajo in a process viewed as fair and transparent. The government of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland in the northwest and the regional government of Puntland in the northeast controlled their respective jurisdictions. As these administrations exercised greater authority in their areas, they were also more capable of infringing on the rights of citizens. The administrations of Galmudug, Jubaland, South West State, and Hirshabelle did not fully control their jurisdictions. The terrorist organization al-Shabaab retained control of the Juba River Valley and maintained operational freedom of movement in many other areas in the south-central part of the country. Conflict during the year involving the government, militias, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and al-Shabaab resulted in death, injury, and displacement of civilians.

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces and had limited ability to provide human rights protections to society.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings of civilians by security forces, clan militias, and unknown assailants; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary and politically motivated arrest and detentions, including of journalists; criminal libel; use of child soldiers; forced eviction, relocation and sexual abuse of internally displaced persons (IDPs); disruption, and diversion of humanitarian assistance; citizens’ lack of ability to change their government through free and fair elections; violence against women, partly caused by government inaction; trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and forced labor, including by children.

Impunity generally remained the norm. Government authorities took minimal steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed violations, particularly military and police officials accused of committing rape, killings, clan violence, and extortion.

Clan militias and the terrorist group al-Shabaab continued to commit grave abuses throughout the country; al-Shabaab committed the majority of severe human rights abuses, particularly terrorist attacks on civilians and targeted assassinations including extrajudicial and politically motivated killings; disappearances; cruel and unusual punishment; rape; and attacks on employees of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the United Nations. They also blocked humanitarian assistance, conscripted child soldiers, and restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement. AMISOM troops killed civilians (see section 1.g.).

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The provisional 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, but citizens could not exercise that ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 the FGS decided direct elections during the year would not be possible due to security concerns; it subsequently developed a plan for indirect elections by electoral colleges selected by elders. Indirect elections for the federal parliament’s two houses, concluded in January 2017, and parliament elected the president in February 2017. Indirect elections for the lower house of parliament–the House of the People–expanded the electorate from 135 elders to 14,025 electoral college delegates selected by the elders; 51 delegates selected by clan elders were responsible for voting on each lower house seat, and delegates were required to include 30 percent (16) women and 10 youths.

In 2012 the Transitional Federal Government completed the 2011 Roadmap for Ending the Transition, collaborating with representatives of Puntland, Galmudug, the ASWJ, and the international community. The process included drafting a provisional federal constitution, forming an 825-member National Constituent Assembly that ratified the provisional constitution, selecting a 275-member federal parliament, and holding speakership and presidential elections. The FGS was scheduled to review and amend the provisional constitution and submit it for approval in a national referendum, but the process remained incomplete.

Somaliland laws prevent citizens in its region from participating in FGS-related processes, although the federal parliament includes members “representing” Somaliland.

In 2012 Puntland’s constituent assembly overwhelmingly adopted a state constitution that enshrines a multiparty political system. In 2014 Abdiweli Mohamed Ali “Gaas” defeated incumbent President Abdirahman Mohamed “Farole” by one parliamentary vote in a run-off election broadcast live on local television and radio stations. President Farole accepted the results. Parliament also elected Abdihakim Abdulahi as the new vice president. Presidential elections were scheduled for January 2019 after a new parliament is scheduled to be formed in December.

The South West State parliament was formed in 2015 following the 2014 state formation conference, during which traditional elders and delegates elected Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adam as the region’s first president. Elections were scheduled for November and were delayed until December 19.

In 2015 the FGS officially inaugurated the 89-member Galmudug assembly; the members had been selected by 40 traditional elders representing 11 subclans. Later that year the assembly elected Abdikarim Hussein Guled as Galmudug’s first president. The ASWJ refused to accept the election results and unilaterally established its own self-declared administration for those parts of Galmudug it controlled. In February 2017 Guled resigned, reportedly due to health problems. Ahmed Duale Gelle “Haaf” was elected in May 2017 and initiated reconciliation talks with the ASWJ.

Parliamentary elections in Somaliland, last held in 2005, were overdue by 13 years. Somaliland has a bicameral parliament consisting of an appointed 86-member House of Elders, known as the Guurti, and an elected 82-member House of Representatives with proportional regional representation. The House of Elders voted in March 2017 to further postpone parliamentary elections to April 2019. There were allegations the House of Elders was subject to political corruption and undue influence. In November 2017 Somalilanders overwhelmingly elected ruling Kulmiye Party candidate Muse Bihi president. Bihi was peacefully sworn in in December 2017.

In 2013 the FGS and Jubaland delegates signed an agreement that resulted in the FGS’s formal recognition of the newly formed Jubaland administration. Ahmed Mohamed Islam “Madobe” was selected as president in a 2013 conference of elders and representatives.

In 2016 the FGS launched the state formation conference for Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle regions, the final federal member state to be constituted within the federal system. The process concluded with the formation of Hirshabelle State, the formation of the Hirshabelle assembly, and the election of Hirshabelle president Ali Abdullahi Osoble in 2016, although the state assembly voted to impeach Osoble in August and elected Mohamed Abdi Waare in September. The state formation process was marred by allegations that the FGS president interfered with the process to influence the Somali presidential elections by placing his supporters in key positions in the new state administration and providing for significant representation by his subclan. The traditional leader of the Hawadle subclan, a large constituency in Hiiraan, refused to participate.

Al-Shabaab prohibited citizens in the areas it controlled from changing their al-Shabaab administrators. Some al-Shabaab administrations, however, consulted local traditional elders on specific issues and allowed preexisting district committees to remain in place.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In 2016 the president signed the political parties law, which created the first framework for legal political parties since 1969, when former president Siad Barre banned political activities after taking power in a coup. The law required that all politicians join a political party by the end of 2018. As of November, 25 national parties had registered with the National Independent Election Commission. Prior to the law, several political associations had operated as parties. The provisional constitution provides that every citizen has the right to take part in public affairs and that this right includes forming political parties, participating in their activities, and seeking election for any position within a political party.

The Somaliland and Puntland constitutions and electoral legislation limit the number of political parties to three and establish conditions pertaining to their political programs, finances, and constitutions.

In December 2017 NISA raided the home of the leader of the Wadajir Party, leading to a firefight that left five of his bodyguards dead. The party leader, Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, a vocal critic of President Farmaajo, was arrested and detained for two days. In January he filed suit against Farmaajo’s then chief of staff Fahad Yasin.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s participation. While roadmap signatories agreed that women should hold at least 30 percent of the seats in the federal parliament prior to the country’s transition to a permanent government, women were elected to only 14 percent of 275 seats in parliament in 2012. The 30 percent quota met significant resistance in 2016-17 from clan elders, political leaders, and religious leaders, but women’s representation in parliament increased to 24 percent. The 26-member cabinet had four women.

Civil society, minority clans, and Puntland authorities called for the abolition of the “4.5 formula” by which political representation was divided among the four major clans, with the marginalized “minority” clans combined as the remaining “0.5” share. This system allocated to marginalized clans and other groups a fixed and low number of slots in the federal parliament. Under the provisional constitution, the electoral process was intended to be direct and, thus, diverge from the 4.5 formula, but federal and regional leaders decided in 2016 to revert to the 4.5 formula in determining lower house composition.

Somaliland had two women in its 86-member House of Representatives. The sole woman occupying a seat in the House of Elders gained appointment after her husband, who occupied the seat, resigned in 2012. Women traditionally were excluded from the House of Elders. There were two female ministers among the 24 cabinet ministers.

A woman chaired the Somaliland Human Rights Commission, while a minority youth served as deputy chair. The Somaliland president engaged a presidential advisor on minority problems.

Women had never served on the Council of Elders in Puntland. Traditional clan elders, all men, selected members of Puntland’s House of Representatives. Two women served in the 66-member House of Representatives. The minister of women and family affairs was the only woman serving in the cabinet. The nine-member electoral commission included one woman.

South Africa

Executive Summary

South Africa is a multiparty parliamentary democracy in which constitutional power is shared among the executive, judiciary, and parliament branches. In December 2017 the ruling African National Congress (ANC) elected then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as party president. On February 14, then president of the country Jacob Zuma announced he would step down. Of February 15, the National Assembly elected Ramaphosa to replace Zuma. In 2014 the country held a largely free and fair national election in which the ruling ANC won 62 percent of the vote and 249 of 400 seats in the National Assembly.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government agents; corruption; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Although the government investigated and prosecuted officials who committed abuses, there were numerous reports of impunity.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The ruling ANC’s elective conference in December 2017 elected then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the ANC. On February 14, Jacob Zuma stepped down as the country’s president, and on February 15, the National Assembly elected Ramaphosa to replace him. In 2016 the country held municipal elections to elect councils for all district, metropolitan, and local municipalities in each of the nine provinces. The ANC won 54 percent of the vote, the leading opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party 27 percent, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) 8 percent. According to the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, voter turnout was 58 percent, the highest local election turnout since the end of apartheid. The institute stated the elections were transparent, fair, credible, and in line with the constitutional and legal framework for elections.

Nevertheless, violent protests occurred prior to the election in Pretoria after some ANC members rejected the party’s choice of mayoral candidate. Protests marked by intermittent violence and looting lasted for three days. Five persons died and approximately 200 were arrested and charged with public violence, possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition, possession of stolen property, and malicious damage to property.

In the 2014 parliamentary elections, which were the most recent national elections, the ruling ANC won 62 percent of the vote and 249 of 400 seats in the National Assembly, the dominant lower chamber of parliament. Election observers, including the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, characterized the election as generally free and fair. The government, however, for the first time restricted diplomatic election observers to chiefs of mission only, effectively prohibiting diplomatic missions from observing elections. Following the general election, parliament re-elected Jacob Zuma as the country’s president. The DA won 89 parliamentary seats, the EFF won 25, and the IFP won 10. The remaining 27 seats in parliament were allocated to nine other political parties based on a proportional vote-count formula. In the National Council of Provinces, the upper house of parliament, the ANC held 33 seats, the DA 13 seats, and the EFF six seats. The remaining two seats were allocated to two other parties.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Opposition parties accused the SABC, the state-owned public broadcaster, of favoring the ruling party in its news coverage and advertising policies. Prior to the municipal elections, smaller political parties criticized the SABC for not covering their events. SABC regulations, however, dictate coverage should be proportional to the percentage of votes won in the previous election, and independent observers did not find the SABC violated this regulation.

Opposition parties claimed the ANC and the DA used state resources for political purposes in the provinces under their control. Prior to the municipal and national elections, the ANC reportedly handed out government food parcels to potential voters at political rallies, tied social grants to voting for the ANC, began (but did not complete) infrastructure projects, and created temporary government jobs for ANC voters during the election period. Through a cadre deployment system, the ruling party controls and appoints party members to thousands of civil service positions in government ministries and in provincial and municipal governments. During the year the ANC requested political contributions from some civil servants. One NGO reported that ANC members told residents of a community in rural Eastern Cape that if they did not vote for the ANC, the local government would withhold the distribution of free solar panels it was directed to provide to them.

There were reports government officials publicly threatened to boycott private businesses that criticized government policy.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. There were an estimated 93 minority (nonblack) members in the 400-seat National Assembly. There were 14 minority members among the 54 permanent members of the National Council of Provinces and nine minority members in the 72-member cabinet.

South Sudan

Executive Summary

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

Civilian authorities routinely failed to maintain effective control over the security forces.

In 2013 a power struggle within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party erupted into armed conflict. President Salva Kiir accused then first vice president Riek Machar Teny of plotting a coup. The two leaders appealed to their respective ethnic communities, and the conflict spread primarily to the northwest of the country. The parties signed several ceasefire agreements, culminating in the 2015 peace agreement. A ceasefire generally held from 2015 to July 2016, when fighting broke out in Juba, eventually spreading to the rest of the country. The major warring factions signed a “revitalized” peace agreement in September, which was still holding at year’s end.

Human rights issues included government-perpetrated extrajudicial killings, including ethnically based targeted killings of civilians; forced disappearances and the mass forced displacement of approximately 4.4 million civilians; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; violence against, intimidation, and detention of journalists, closure of media houses, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; corruption; unlawful recruitment and use of approximately 19,000 child soldiers; widespread rape of civilians targeted as a weapon of war; trafficking in persons; criminalization of LGBTI conduct, and violence against the LGBTI community.

Security force abuses occurred throughout the country. Despite one successful prosecution, impunity was widespread and remained a major problem.

Opposition forces also perpetrated serious human rights abuses, which, according to the United Nations, included unlawful killings, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and forced recruitment.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Elections have been postponed several times over several years due to intense violence and insecurity starting in 2013. Since then, the president fired and appointed local government officials and parliamentarians by decree. In March 2015 and again in July 2018, the legislature passed amendments to the transitional constitution extending the terms of the president, the national legislature, and the state assemblies for three years.

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

Political Parties and Political Participation: The SPLM enjoyed a near monopoly of power in the government and continued to be the most broadly recognized political entity since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. SPLM membership conferred political and financial advantages, and there was great reluctance by opposition parties to shed the SPLM name. For example, the main opposition party was referred to as the SPLM-IO (in-opposition) and most other political parties either were offshoots of the SPLM or affiliated with it.

The peace agreement signed September 12 allows the government and opposition to appoint those to allocated seats in parliament, the leadership of/control of ministries, and the leadership of local governments.

Opposition parties complained that at times the government harassed party members. The Political Parties Act, passed in 2012, mandated specific requirements for those political parties that existed in a unified Sudan prior to South Sudan’s independence in 2011. Representatives of the Political Parties Council (an independent body created by law in early February to manage political party matters) estimated the requirements affected approximately 25 parties.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The terms of the September peace agreement forming a new unity government requires at least 35 percent female participation in the government at the national and state levels, and specifies one of the vice presidents should be a woman. The Local Government Act requires at least 25 percent of county commissioners and 25 percent of county councilors be women.

These conditions and laws were inconsistently implemented at both the state and national levels, and although women made gains in both the TNLA and the executive branch (see below), they remained marginalized in the judiciary, local governments, and among traditional leaders. Representation was particularly poor at the local level, where there was little to no implementation of the 2009 act’s provisions. The current system also devolved substantial candidate selection power to political party leaders, very few of whom were women.

Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors limited women’s participation in government. Women tended to be discouraged from assuming leadership positions because of the belief such activities conflicted with their domestic duties.

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

The absence of translations of the constitution in Arabic or local languages limited the ability of minority populations to engage meaningfully in political dialogue and contributed to low turnout for several consultations on a permanent constitution that took place around the country.

Spain

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Spain is a parliamentary democracy headed by a constitutional monarch. The country has a bicameral parliament, the General Courts or National Assembly, consisting of the Congress of Deputies (lower house) and the Senate (upper house). The head of the largest political party or coalition usually is named to head the government as president of the Council of Ministers, the equivalent of prime minister. Observers considered national elections held in 2016 to be free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses during the year.

The government generally took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. In some instances officials engaged in corruption and created the impression of impunity.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: All national observers considered national elections in 2016 to have been free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Sri Lanka

Executive Summary

Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multiparty democratic republic with a freely elected government. In January 2015 voters elected President Maithripala Sirisena to a five-year term. The parliament shares power with the president. August 2015 parliamentary elections resulted in a coalition government between the two major political parties with Ranil Wickremesinghe as the prime minister. Both elections were free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces.

On October 26, President Sirisena announced the removal of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the appointment of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister and subsequently announced the dissolution of parliament. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and others challenged both actions as unconstitutional. On December 13, the Supreme Court ruled that Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament was unconstitutional. Following the ruling, Rajapaksa resigned and Sirisena reinstated Wickremesinghe as prime minister on December 16.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings; torture, notably sexual abuse; arbitrary detention by government forces; website blocking; violence against lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and criminalization of same-sex sexual activity; and corruption. Although same-sex sexual conduct was prohibited by law, it was rarely prosecuted.

Police reportedly harassed civilians with impunity, and the government had yet to implement a mechanism to hold accountable government security personnel accused of crimes during the civil war. During the year, however, the government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish some officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Commonwealth Observer Group reported that in the 2015 presidential election, voters exercised their franchise freely and that vote counting was transparent with the results swiftly revealed to the public. Observers reported widespread abuse of state resources used for campaigning, consistent bias in state media toward the former government, and denial of access to venues for the opposition candidate.

Domestic and international observers concurred that local authorities conducted the 2015 parliamentary elections in a fair and free manner with few reports of violence. The EU election observation mission’s preliminary findings stated the elections were “well administered and offered voters a genuine choice from among a broad range of political alternatives, although campaign rules were restrictive.” The mission noted the government respected freedoms of assembly and movement. It added that party activists and candidates campaigned vigorously despite restrictive campaign rules, such as not allowing candidates to engage in door-to-door campaigning, canvass in person, or distribute leaflets.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Voters elected 13 women to the 225member parliament in 2015. The local government elections held during the year included for the first time a quota for women’s participation, requiring that 25 percent of all local and municipal council seats be held by women. Parties struggled to reach this new quota, but the final results came close to the required total, reaching 22.8 percent of all local government elected positions.

Sudan

Executive Summary

Sudan is a republic with power concentrated in the hands of authoritarian President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his inner circle. The National Congress Party (NCP) continued approximately three decades of nearly absolute political authority. The country last held national elections (presidential and National Assembly) in 2015. Key opposition parties boycotted the elections when the government failed to meet their preconditions, including a cessation of hostilities, holding of an inclusive “national dialogue,” and fostering of a favorable environment for discussions between the government and opposition on needed reforms and the peace process. Prior to the elections, security forces arrested many supporters, members, and leaders of boycotting parties and confiscated numerous newspapers, conditions that observers said created a repressive environment not conducive to free and fair elections. Only 46 percent of eligible voters participated in the elections, according to the government-controlled National Electoral Commission (NEC), but others believed the turnout was much lower. The NEC declared al-Bashir winner of the presidential election with 94 percent of the vote.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Some armed elements did not openly identify with a particular security entity, making it difficult to determine under whose control they operated.

The government repeatedly extended its 2016 unilateral cessation of hostilities (COH) in Blue Nile and South Kardofan states (the “Two Areas”) and an end to offensive military action in Darfur. Clashes between the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) and government forces resumed, however, in April and continued through July, and there were credible reports that villages in Darfur’s Jebel Marra mountain range were targeted for attack during these clashes, resulting in thousands of newly displaced civilians. Nevertheless, the COH did allow for periods of increased stability and an overall improvement in the human rights situation in Darfur and the Two Areas. As part of its UN Security Council-mandated reconfigurations, the African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) established a Jebel Marra Task Force and a temporary operating base in Golo to monitor the humanitarian and security situation in the area. In Darfur weak rule of law persisted, and banditry, criminality, and intercommunal violence were main causes of insecurity in Darfur.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, torture, and arbitrary detention, all by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arrests and intimidation of journalists, censorship, newspaper seizures, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; restrictions on religious liberty; restrictions on political participation; corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; outlawing of independent trade unions; and child labor.

Government authorities did not investigate human rights violations by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), the military, or any other branch of the security services, with limited exceptions relating to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). Impunity remained a problem in all branches of the security forces and government institutions.

In Darfur and the Two Areas, paramilitary forces and rebel groups continued to commit killings, rape, and torture of civilians. Local militias maintained substantial influence due to widespread impunity. There were reports of both progovernment and antigovernment militias looting, raping, and killing civilians. Intercommunal violence spawned from land tenure and resource scarcity continued to result in civilian deaths, particularly in East, South, and North Darfur. The government continued its national arms collection campaign, which began in October 2017, mostly in Darfur.

There were some human rights abuses in Abyei, a region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, generally stemming from tribal conflict between Ngok Dinka and Misseriya. Reports were difficult to verify due to limited access.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The country continued to operate under the Interim National Constitution of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). It provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. Citizens were unable to exercise this right in practice. Post-CPA provisions provide for a referendum on the status of Abyei and popular consultations in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.

Several parts of the CPA, designed to clarify the status of southern-aligned groups remaining in the north following South Sudan’s secession continued to be the subject of negotiations between the governments of Sudan, South Sudan, and rebel groups.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: National executive and legislative elections, held in April 2015, did not meet international standards. The government failed to create an environment conducive to free and fair elections. Restrictions on political rights and freedoms, lack of a credible national dialogue, and the continuation of armed conflict on the country’s peripheries contributed to a very low voter turnout. Observers noted numerous problems with the pre-election environment. The legal framework did not protect basic freedoms of assembly, speech, and press. Security forces restricted the actions of opposition parties and arrested opposition members and supporters. Additionally, there were reported acts of violence during the election period.

The main opposition parties–Umma National Party, National Consensus Forces, Sudanese Congress Party, Sudanese Communist Party, and the Popular Congress Party–boycotted the election; only the ruling NCP and National Unity parties participated.

According to the chair of the National Election Commission, 5,584,863 votes were counted in the election, representing approximately a 46 percent participation rate. According to the African Union and other observers, however, turnout was considerably lower. The NCP won 323 seats, the Democratic Unionist Party 25, and independents 19 seats in the 426 seat National Assembly; minor political parties won the remaining seats. The independents, many of whom were previously ejected from the NCP, were prevented by the government from forming a parliamentary group. The States Council consisted of 54 members, with each state represented by three members.

General elections for president and the National Assembly are scheduled to be held every five years; the next is scheduled for April 2020.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The NCP dominated the political landscape, holding well over a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. The Original Democratic Unionist Party, the Registered Faction Democratic Unionist Party, and independents held the remaining seats.

The Political Parties Affairs Council oversees the registration of political parties. The ruling party controls the council. The council continued to refuse to register the Republican (Jamhori) Party, an Islamic reform movement which promotes justice and equality. The party leader filed an appeal in the Constitutional Court in 2017, which remained pending at year’s end.

The Political Parties Affairs Council listed 92 registered political parties. The Umma Party and the Democratic Unionist Party have never registered with the government. The government continued to harass some opposition leaders who spoke with representatives of foreign organizations or embassies or travelled abroad (see section 2.d.).

Authorities monitored and impeded political party meetings and activities, restricted political party demonstrations, used excessive force to break them up, and arrested opposition party members.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women have the right to vote and hold public office. Since the 2015 elections, women have held 25 to 30 percent of National Assembly seats and 35 percent of Senate seats. Eight women served inministerial following a September government re-shuffle. A few religious minorities participated in government. There were prominent Coptic Christian politicians in the National Assembly, Khartoum city government, and Khartoum state assembly. A member of the national election commission was Coptic. An Anglican woman served as the state minister of water resources and electricity.

Suriname

Executive Summary

Suriname is a constitutional democracy with a president elected by the unicameral National Assembly. Elections for the National Assembly took place in 2015. International observers considered the legislative elections to be free and fair. In 2015 the assembly elected Desire (Desi) Delano Bouterse to a second consecutive term as president.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included corruption, trafficking in persons, violence and abuse against women and children, use of child labor, and criminal defamation laws, although there were no prosecutions during the year.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Observers nonetheless expressed concern that high public officials and security officers had impunity from enforcement.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The constitution provides for direct election of the 51-member National Assembly no later than five years after the prior election date. The National Assembly in turn elects the president by a two-thirds majority vote. After legislative elections in 2015, the National Assembly re-elected Desire Bouterse as president in 2015. Observers from the Organization of American States and the Union of South American States judged that the elections were well organized and generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Sweden

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a freely elected multiparty parliamentary form of government. Legislative authority rests in the unicameral parliament (Riksdag). Observers considered the national elections on September 9 to be free and fair. Efforts to form a new government continued at year’s end. The king is largely a symbolic head of state. The prime minister is the head of government and exercises executive authority.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

Authorities generally prosecuted officials who committed abuses in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the national elections held on September 9 to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Switzerland

Executive Summary

The Swiss Confederation is a constitutional republic with a federal structure. Legislative authority resides in a bicameral parliament (Federal Assembly) consisting of the 46-member Council of States and the 200-member National Council. Federal elections in 2015 were considered free and fair. Parliament elects the executive leadership (the seven-member Federal Council) every four years, and did so in 2015. A four-party coalition made up the Federal Council.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed violations, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 voters elected parliamentary representatives for the National Council and the Council of States. Runoff elections for the Council of States in 12 of the 26 cantons were completed the following month. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Syria

Executive Summary

President Bashar Assad has ruled the Syrian Arab Republic since 2000. The constitution mandates the primacy of Baath Party leaders in state institutions and society, and Assad and Baath party leaders dominate all three branches of government as an authoritarian regime. An uprising against the government that began in 2011 continued throughout the year. The 2014 presidential election and the 2016 parliamentary elections resulted in the election of Assad and 200 People’s Council (Syrian parliament) seats for the Baath Party-led National Progressive Front, respectively. Both elections took place in an environment of widespread government coercion, and many Syrians residing in opposition-held territory did not participate in the elections. Observers did not consider the elections free or fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the uniformed military, police, and state security forces but did not maintain effective control over foreign and domestic military or paramilitary organizations. These progovernment forces included Russian armed forces, Hizballah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and nonuniformed progovernment militias, such as the National Defense Forces.

Government and progovernment forces launched a massive assault on the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta, culminating in the government’s recapture in April of an area it had besieged since 2013. The assault by the government and progovernment forces involved use of heavy weapons, likely use of chemical weapons, and deliberate denial of humanitarian aid. Government and progovernment forces launched an assault on opposition-controlled areas of Daraa Province, considered the cradle of the revolution that began in 2011, and reasserted government control in July. The assault killed hundreds of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government, including those involving the repeated use of chemical weapons, including chlorine and other substances; enforced disappearances; torture, including torture involving sexual violence; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care; prisoners of conscience; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; undue restrictions on free expression, including restrictions on the press and access to the internet, including censorship and site blocking; substantial suppression of the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe suppression of religious freedom; undue restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; high-level and widespread corruption; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by the government and other armed actors; trafficking in persons; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; violence and severe discrimination targeting LGBTI persons; and severe restrictions on workers’ rights.

The government took no steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights violations or abuses. Impunity was pervasive and deeply embedded in the security forces and elsewhere in the government.

Government-linked paramilitary groups reportedly engaged in frequent violations and abuses, including massacres, indiscriminate killings, kidnapping civilians, arbitrary detentions, and rape as a war tactic. Government-affiliated militias, including the terrorist organization Lebanese Hizballah, supported by Iran, repeatedly targeted civilians.

There were reports that armed opposition groups carried out what were characterized as indiscriminate attacks in the battle in eastern Ghouta and that they arbitrarily arrested and tortured civilians in Douma. Syrian opposition groups supported by the Turkish government reportedly looted and confiscated homes belonging to Kurdish residents in Afrin.

Some Kurdish forces reportedly unlawfully restricted the movement of persons in liberated areas and arbitrarily arrested some local civil council leaders, teachers, and other civilians. Elements affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and other minorities that included members of the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG), reportedly engaged in forced conscription, to include limited conscription of children. In September the SDF issued a military order banning the recruitment of anyone younger than age 18 and ordering their military records office to verify the ages of those currently enlisted.

Armed terrorist groups, such as the al-Qa’ida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), also committed a wide range of abuses, including massacres, unlawful killings, bombings, and kidnappings; unlawful detention; torture; and forced evacuations from homes based on sectarian identity. ISIS lost the majority of territory it once controlled, limiting its ability to subject large populations to human rights violations. Although severely weakened, ISIS attacked members of religious minority groups and subjected women and girls to routine rape, forced marriages, sexual slavery, human trafficking, and murder.

Russian forces were reportedly implicated in the deaths of civilians resulting from air strikes characterized as indiscriminate, particularly during support of the government’s military campaigns in the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta, including Douma.

Foreign forces fighting ISIS were implicated in civilian casualties reportedly in Afrin and Raqqa.

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. Outcomes reflected underlying circumstances of elections that impeded and coerced the will of the electorate.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Municipal elections were held on September 16 with approximately 40,000 candidates vying for more than 18,000 council seats in areas controlled by the government. According to media outlets, opposition figures claimed a low turnout because most Syrians considered the elections to be of limited value. Opposition sources, according to Al-Monitor, alleged the government forced civil servants to cast their votes. Multiple reports indicated the government denied access to ballot boxes to Syrians residing in Daraa Province, which the government brought under its control earlier this year following a military offensive. According to observers the results were rigged in favor of the ruling Baath Party. Most of the candidates were either from the Baath Party or associated with it.

In 2016 the country held geographically limited parliamentary elections, the results of which citizens living outside government control rejected. The 2014 presidential election, in which Bashar Assad ostensibly received 88.7 percent of the vote, was neither free nor fair by international standards. Voters faced intimidation by government security forces, and the government forcibly transported state employees in Damascus to polling centers, according to observers and media. Media reports described low overall voter turnout, even among those living in relatively stable areas with access to polling stations. Authorities allowed only persons in government-controlled territory, certain refugee areas, and refugees who left the country after obtaining official permission to vote.

In September 2017 Kurdish authorities held elections for leaders of local “communes” in an effort to establish new governing institutions to augment regional autonomy. The Syrian regime does not recognize the Kurdish enclave or the elections. The Kurdish National Council (KNC, 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 that 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 200 of the 250 parliament seats following the 2016 election. A 2011 decree 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 government official assisted in economic, social, and educational advancement. Party or government 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 government reserved certain prominent positions, such as provincial governorships, solely for Baath Party members.

The government showed little tolerance for other political parties, including those allied with the Baath Party in the National Progressive Front. The government 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 illegal political parties was unavailable.

The PYD generally controlled the political and governance landscape in northeast Syria while allowing for Arab representation in local governance councils. The PYD, however, maintained overall control of critical decisions made by local councils. PYD-affiliated internal security forces at times reportedly detained and forcibly disappeared perceived opponents, and Assyrian and Chaldean protesters accused it of incorporating political indoctrination in the public school curriculum. In June the Washington Institute reported that these forces arrested KNC leaders, burned KNC offices, and prevented KNC members from holding meetings and conferences. The arrests follow a long-standing dispute between the KNC and the PYD, in which the latter accuses the former of working with Turkey and the Syrian opposition to undermine the PYD’s governance apparatus in northeast Syria.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities 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. The government formed after the 2014 election included three female members: Vice President Najah al-Attar, Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Nazira Serkis, and Minister of Social Affairs Rima al-Qadiri. In 2016, 13 percent of members of parliament were women. There were Christian, Druze, and Kurdish members in parliament. In 2017 Hammouda Sabbagh became the first Orthodox Christian elected speaker of parliament. 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 did.

Taiwan

Executive Summary

Taiwan is a democracy governed by a president and a parliament selected in multiparty elections. In 2016, voters elected President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party to a four-year term in an election considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

Authorities enforced laws prohibiting human rights abuses and prosecuted officials who committed them. There were no reports of impunity.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential and legislative elections took place in January 2016. Democratic Progressive Party candidate Tsai Ing-wen won the presidency, and her party obtained a majority in the legislature for the first time in Taiwan’s history. In November, Taiwan held local elections in which the opposition party won 15 of 22 mayoral and county magistrate seats. Observers regarded both elections as free and fair, although there were allegations of vote buying by candidates and supporters of both major political parties.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Lawmakers approved a Political Party Act in November 2017 to promote fair political competition and improve regulation of parties’ activities. The statute bans political parties from operating for profit businesses or investing in real estate for profit, and levies fines between NT$5.0 million and NT$25 million ($163,000 and $814,000) for violations.

December 2017 amendments to the Referendum Act lowered the thresholds to initiate referenda and for referenda to pass. Approximately 1,800 signatures, or 0.01 percent of the total number of eligible voters in the most recent presidential election, are required to initiate island-wide and regional referendums. Approximately 280,000 signatures, or 1.5 percent of the electorate, are required for a proposed referendum to make it on the ballot. A referendum will be declared successful if 25 percent of the electorate, or about 4.95 million people, vote in favor of the proposal, and there are more votes in favor than in opposition. The revised referendum law did not allow for referenda on sensitive sovereignty and constitutional related issues, such as cross-Strait issues, territorial changes, and constitutional amendments. The amendments lowered the voting age for referenda from 20 to 18 years of age. In addition to referenda initiated by the public, the cabinet was also given the power to initiate referendums. In the November local elections, participation in the referenda exceeded expectations with voters passing seven out of 10 initiatives.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

With her election in 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen became Taiwan’s first female president. In the new legislature, a record 38 percent of lawmakers were women. A Cambodian-born woman became Taiwan’s first immigrant legislator in 2016. Six seats are also reserved in the legislature for representatives chosen by Taiwan’s indigenous people. In the November local elections, voters elected women to seven of the 22 mayoral and county magistrate seats. The number of women elected to local councils also continued to grow: women won 307 of the 912 city and county council seats–rising from 30.7 percent in 2014 to 33.8 percent in 2018.

Tajikistan

Executive Summary

Tajikistan is an authoritarian state dominated politically by President Emomali Rahmon and his supporters. The constitution provides for a multiparty political system, but the government has historically obstructed political pluralism and continued to do so during the year. Constitutional amendments approved in a 2016 national referendum outlawed nonsecular political parties and removed any limitation on President Rahmon’s terms in office as the “Leader of the Nation,” allowing him to further solidify his rule. The most recent national elections were the 2015 parliamentary elections, which lacked pluralism and genuine choice, according to international observers, many of whom called the process deeply flawed. The most recent presidential election, which took place in 2013, also lacked pluralism and genuine choice, and did not meet international standards.

Civilian authorities only partially maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of torture and abuse of detainees by security forces; arbitrary arrest or detention, beatings, and other forms of coercion by the government; harsh prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws and repression, harassment, and incarceration of civil society and political activists; politically motived prosecutions of human rights lawyers and journalists; significant restrictions of religious freedom; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; high-level and widespread corruption and nepotism; trafficking in persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and forced labor.

There were very few prosecutions of government officials for human rights abuses. Officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government acted with impunity.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government restricted this right. The president and his supporters continued to dominate the government while taking steps to eliminate genuine pluralism in the interest of consolidating power. The president’s political party, the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT), dominated both houses of parliament. PDPT members held most government positions. The president had broad authority, which he exercised throughout the year, to appoint and dismiss officials.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections were the 2015 parliamentary elections, which lacked pluralism and genuine choice, according to international observers, many of whom called the process deeply flawed and noted significant shortcomings such as multiple voting and ballot box stuffing. The most recent presidential election, which took place in 2013, also lacked pluralism and genuine choice, and did not meet international standards.

In 2016 the government held a national referendum on 41 proposed amendments to the constitution. Citizens were required to vote “yes” or “no” on the full package and were unable to cast votes on each of the 41 proposed amendments. While the government reported that voters approved the amendment package with more than 90 percent participation, anecdotal evidence, commentary on social media and media reports indicated that voter turnout was actually quite low. Several prominent news outlets, including Ozodagonand Faraj, did not report on the referendum at all. Despite this, one week prior to the referendum, the State Communications Service ordered internet service providers in the country to block access to the websites of independent news agencies Asia PlusOzodagon, and Ozodi.

Out of the 41 amendments, three were significant changes to the constitution: one institutionalized the title of “Leader of the Nation” upon President Rahmon–a title given to Rahmon by law in 2015 but requiring confirmation through amendment of the constitution. The title removed term limits for President Rahmon and gave him lifelong immunity from judicial and criminal prosecution. A second amendment lowered the eligible age to run for president from 35 to 30 years, and the third amendment banned all nonsecular political parties.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were seven legal major political parties, including the PDPT. Opposition political parties had moderate popular support and faced high levels of scrutiny from the government. All senior members of President Rahmon’s government were PDPT members. Most members of the country’s 97-seat parliament were members of the PDPT, progovernment parties, or PDPT affiliates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women were underrepresented in decision-making processes at all levels of political institutions. Female representation in all branches of government was less than 30 percent. There was one female minister but no ministers from minority groups. Cultural practices discouraged participation by women in politics, although the government and political parties made efforts to promote their involvement, such as the 1999 presidential decree that mandated every ministry or government institution have at least one female deputy. Civil society criticized this decree as a barrier to women holding top government positions.

Tanzania

Executive Summary

The United Republic of Tanzania is a multiparty republic consisting of the mainland region and the semiautonomous Zanzibar archipelago, whose main islands are Unguja (Zanzibar Island) and Pemba. The union is headed by a president, who is also the head of government. Its unicameral legislative body is the National Assembly (parliament). Zanzibar, although part of the union, has its own government with a president, court system, and legislature and exercises considerable autonomy. In 2015 the country held its fifth multiparty general election. Voting in the union and Zanzibari elections was judged largely free and fair, resulting in the election of a union president (John Magufuli). The chair of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission, however, declared the parallel election for Zanzibar’s president and legislature nullified after only part of the votes had been tabulated, precipitating a political crisis on the islands. New elections in Zanzibar in 2016 were neither inclusive nor representative, particularly since the main opposition party opted not to participate; the incumbent (Ali Mohamed Shein) was declared the winner with 91 percent of the vote. By-elections for ward councilor and parliamentary seats that became vacant due to the death, defection, resignation, or expulsion of the incumbents had egregious irregularities and obstructions that prevented opposition party members from registering and resulting in many races being declared uncontested for the ruling party. On September 19, the opposition Party of Democracy and Development (CHADEMA) announced it was boycotting the by-elections until further notice, saying there had been an “excessive militarization” of the electoral process.

Union security forces reported to civilian authorities, who directed security forces and their activities.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by state security forces; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; unlawful arrests and intimidation of civil society organizations, including organizations working to uphold the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons; restrictions on political participation; corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving gender-based violence and child abuse; and criminalization of adult consensual same-sex conduct.

In some cases the government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, but impunity in the police and other security forces and civilian branches of government was widespread.

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, but it allows parliament to restrict this right if a citizen is mentally infirm, convicted of certain criminal offenses, or omits or fails to prove or produce evidence of age, citizenship, or registration as a voter. Citizens residing outside the country are not allowed to vote. The National Electoral Commission is responsible for mainland and union electoral affairs, while the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) manages elections in Zanzibar.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held its most recent multiparty general election in 2015, whereby a new president and legislative representatives were elected. The union elections were judged largely free and fair, although some opposition and civil society figures alleged vote rigging. CCM benefited from vastly superior financial and institutional resources. There were also reports that the use of public resources in support of CCM increased, as well as many reports of regional and district commissioners campaigning for the ruling party.

In the presidential election, John Magufuli, the CCM candidate, was elected with 58 percent of the vote to replace Jakaya Kikwete, who was not eligible to run for a third term. Four opposition parties combined in the Coalition for the People’s Constitution to support a single candidate, who ran under the CHADEMA banner, as the law does not recognize coalitions. In parliamentary elections CCM retained its majority in parliament with nearly 73 percent of the seats.

Separate elections are held for the union and for Zanzibar, ordinarily on the same day, in which citizens of the two parts of the union elect local officials, members of the national parliament, and a union (national) president. Additionally, Zanzibar separately elects a president of Zanzibar and members of the Zanzibar House of Representatives. The voting in Zanzibar in 2015 was judged largely free and fair. Following the vote, however, when tabulation of the results was more than half completed, the chairperson of the ZEC announced he had nullified the Zanzibar elections, although according to the constitution and law, the commission does not have the authority to do so. This decision precipitated a political crisis in the semiautonomous archipelago, with the opposition candidate declaring he had won. New elections in 2016 were neither inclusive nor representative. They were boycotted by the opposition, which claimed they would not be fair. Following the new elections, the ZEC announced President Ali Mohammed Shein had won with 91 percent of the vote, with the ruling CCM party sweeping nearly all seats in the Zanzibar House of Representatives. Official voter turnout was announced at 68 percent, although numerous sources estimated actual turnout at closer to 25 percent.

Between November 2017 and December, seven by-elections were conducted on short notice for ward councilor and parliamentary seats that became vacant due to the death, defection, resignation, or expulsion of the incumbents. In several cases an opposition member who defected to the ruling party subsequently was named as the ruling party’s candidate for the same seat the individual had just vacated. By-elections were marked by egregious irregularities, including denying designated agents access to polling stations, intimidation by police of opposition party members, unwarranted arrests, and obstruction that prevented opposition candidates from registering and resulted in many races being declared uncontested for the ruling party.

In September CHADEMA announced it was boycotting the by-elections until further notice, saying there had been an “excessive militarization” of the electoral process. The ACT-Wazalendo party occasionally boycotted by-elections. The Civic United Front (the main opposition party in Zanzibar) continued to abide by the boycott it announced after the Zanzibar Electoral Commission’s October 2015 election annulment.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution requires that persons running for office must represent a registered political party. The law prohibits unregistered parties. There were 19 political parties with full registration and one with provisional registration.

The registrar of political parties has sole authority to approve registration of any political party and is responsible for enforcing regulations on registered parties. Parties granted provisional registration may hold public meetings and recruit members. To secure full registration, parties must submit lists of at least 200 members in 10 of the country’s 31 regions, including two of the five regions of Zanzibar.

The law requires political parties to support the union between Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania) and Zanzibar; parties based on ethnic, regional, or religious affiliation are prohibited.

MPs were sanctioned for expressing criticism of the government, including for speeches on the floor of parliament. In late March and early April, police arrested nine top CHADEMA leaders and charged them with unlawful assembly and disobeying an order to disperse after demonstrating with supporters to demand the issuance of credentials for party polling agents on the eve of a February 16 by-election. Of those arrested, CHADEMA party chairman Freeman Mbowe faced additional charges, including sedition. On April 3, 24 CHADEMA supporters were arrested for causing chaos while urging their leaders’ release, but they were let go without formal charges. The CHADEMA leaders were involved a protracted legal battle. A court hearing was pending for December 21.

The election law provides for a “gratuity” payment of TZS 235 million to TZS 280 million ($102,000 to $122,000) to MPs completing a five-year term. Incumbents can use these funds in re-election campaigns. Several NGOs and opposition parties criticized this provision for impeding aspiring opposition parliamentary candidates from mounting effective challenges.

The mainland government allowed political opponents unrestricted access to public media, but the ruling party had far more funding to purchase broadcast time.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed cultural constraints limited women’s participation in politics. In the 2015 election, voters elected a woman as vice president for the first time. There were special women’s seats in both parliament and the Zanzibar House of Representatives, which, according to World Bank data, brought total female representation to 36 percent.

Thailand

Executive Summary

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun as head of state. In a 2014 bloodless coup, military leaders, taking the name National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and led by then army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha, overthrew the civilian government administered by the Pheu Thai political party, which had governed since 2011 following lower house elections that were generally considered free and fair.

The military-led NCPO maintained control over the security forces and all government institutions.

An interim constitution, enacted by the NCPO in 2014 was in place until April 2017, when the king promulgated a new constitution, previously adopted by a popular referendum in 2016. The 2017 constitution stipulates the NCPO remain in office and hold all powers granted by the interim constitution until establishment of a new council of ministers and its assumption of office following the first general election under the new charter. The 2017 constitution also stipulates that all NCPO orders are “constitutional and lawful” and are to remain in effect until revoked by the NCPO, an order from the military-appointed legislative body, the prime minister, or cabinet resolution. The interim constitution granted immunity to coup leaders and their subordinates for any coup or postcoup actions ordered by the ruling council, regardless of the legality of the action. The immunity remains in effect under the 2017 constitution. Numerous NCPO decrees limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press, remained in effect throughout most of the year. NCPO Order 3/2015, which replaced martial law in March 2015, granted the military government sweeping power to curb “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability.” In December, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha lifted the ban on political activities, including the ban on gatherings of five or more persons. The military government’s power to detain any individual for a maximum of seven days without an arrest warrant remains in effect, however.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents; torture by government officials; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; abuses by government security forces confronting the continuing ethnic Malay-Muslim insurgency in the southernmost provinces of Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani, and parts of Songkhla; restrictions on political participation; and corruption.

Authorities took some steps to investigate and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Official impunity, however, continued to be a problem, especially in the southernmost provinces, where the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in the State of Emergency (2005), hereinafter referred to as “the emergency decree,” and the 2008 Internal Security Act remained in effect.

Insurgents in the southernmost provinces committed human rights abuses and attacks on government security forces and civilian targets.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The 2017 constitution largely 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, although particulars about the electoral process remained pending, and elections had not been held by year’s end.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There had been no elections since the 2014 coup. NCPO Announcements No. 85/2557 and No. 86/2557, issued in July 2014, and NCPO Chairman Order No. 1/2557, issued in December 2014, ordered the suspension of all types of elections nationwide, at both the national and local levels.

Political Parties and Political Participation: New political parties were permitted to begin registration in March. Established political parties had to reregister their members in April. Political parties filed complaints with the Office of the Ombudsman alleging the requirement to reregister members violated the rights of party members. All registered parties could begin recruiting new members in September. Restrictions on political activity, particularly the prohibition on political gatherings of more than five persons, affected political party operations. However, in December the ruling military junta government issued orders loosening restrictions on political activities and election campaigning as the country prepared to hold elections widely expected to take place in early 2019.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The precoup constitution encouraged political parties to consider a “close proximity of equal numbers” of both genders. The 2017 constitution does not contain such a provision. No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process; however, their participation was limited. There were 13 women in the NCPO-appointed 249-member NLA and one female minister in the 36-person interim cabinet. The previous elected government had 81 women in the 500-seat lower house.

Few members of ethnic or religious minorities held positions of authority in national politics. The 249-member NLA included four Muslims and one Christian. No Muslims or Christians held cabinet posts. All governors (who are centrally appointed) in the southernmost, majority Muslim, provinces were Buddhist, but chief executives in those provincial administrative organizations were Muslim.

Timor-Leste

Executive Summary

Timor-Leste is a multiparty, parliamentary republic. After parliamentary elections in May, which were free, fair, and peaceful, Taur Matan Ruak became prime minister, leading a three-party coalition government. The 2017 March presidential and July parliamentary elections were also free and fair. When the minority government failed to pass a state budget, President Francisco Guterres Lu Olo dissolved parliament and called early elections, which took place in May. In contrast with previous years, these elections were conducted without extensive assistance from the international community.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included corruption and violence against women.

The government took some steps to prosecute members and officials of the security services who used excessive force, but public perceptions of impunity persisted.

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: Electoral management bodies administered an early parliamentary election in May. International observers assessed it as free and fair. President Lu-Olo swore in Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak and a partial cabinet in June.

International observers similarly assessed national presidential (March) and parliamentary (July) elections in 2017 as free and fair, with only minor, nonsystemic irregularities.

Political Parties and Political Participation: To register, new political parties must obtain 20,000 signatures, which must also include at least 1,000 signatures from each of the 13 municipalities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Electoral laws require at least one-third of candidates on party lists be women. Following the May parliamentary elections, women held 26 (or 40 percent) of the 65 seats in the National Parliament but only six out of 29 ministerial, vice-ministerial, and secretary of state positions. Of 12 ministers in the Eighth Constitutional Government, only the minister of education and the minister of social solidarity and inclusion were women. At the local level, at least three women must serve on every village council, which generally include 10 to 20 representatives, depending on village size. In 2016 local elections, the number of female village chiefs increased from 11 to 21 out of 448 nationwide. Traditional attitudes, limited networks, high rates of domestic violence, extensive childcare responsibilities, and other barriers constrained meaningful participation of women at the local and national levels.

The country’s few ethnic minority groups were well integrated into the political system. The number of ethnic minority members of parliament and in other government positions was uncertain, since self-identification of ethnicity was not a common practice.

Togo

Executive Summary

Togo is a republic governed by President Faure Gnassingbe, whom voters re-elected in 2015 in a process international observers characterized as generally free and fair. On December 20, parliamentary elections took place under peaceful conditions. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) considered them reasonably free and transparent, despite a boycott by the opposition. On December 31, the country’s Constitutional Court announced the ruling Union for the Republic party (UNIR) won 59 of 91 seats; the government-aligned party, Union of Forces for Change (UFC), won seven seats; independent candidates aligned with the government and smaller parties split the remaining 25 seats.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; criminal libel; interference with freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; violence against women and inadequate government efforts to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise hold perpetrators accountable; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; trafficking in persons; and forced child labor.

The government took limited steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses. Impunity was a problem.

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, and citizens exercised that ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 President Faure Gnassingbe was re-elected to a third five-year term with 59 percent of the vote. International and national observers monitoring the election declared it generally free, fair, transparent, and peaceful, although there were logistical shortcomings. Security forces did not interfere with voting or other aspects of the electoral process; they played no role and remained in their barracks on election day.

On December 20, parliamentary elections were held. Fourteen parliamentary and nonparliamentary opposition parties chose to boycott the elections. Prior to the elections, the parties called for equal representation on the election commission, a neutral administrator, more transparency in the voter registration process, and the right for citizens residing abroad to vote. The parties withheld participation in the electoral commission and urged supporters not to register to vote.

International observers noted the parliamentary elections took place under generally peaceful conditions. Although it expressed regret regarding the decision of the coalition of 14 opposition parties to boycott the elections, on December 22, ECOWAS commended “the effective conduct of free and transparent legislative elections.” The Constitutional Court announced on December 31 that the ruling UNIR party won a majority with 59 of 91 seats. The government-aligned UFC won seven seats. Smaller parties and independent candidates aligned with the government won the remaining 25 seats.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The UNIR party dominated politics and maintained firm control over all levels of government. UNIR membership conferred advantages such as better access to government jobs.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed cultural and traditional practices prevented women from voting, running for office, serving as electoral monitors, or otherwise participating in political life on the same basis as men. For example, only 18 percent of parliamentarians were women (16 of 91) during the year. Members of southern ethnic groups remained underrepresented in both government and the military.

Tonga

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Tonga is a constitutional monarchy, with a largely democratically elected parliament that elects the prime minister. Following the November 2017 election, which international observers characterized as generally free and fair, Prime Minister Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva was returned to office for a second term. While Pohiva and his cabinet are responsible for most government functions, King Tupou VI, the nobility, and their representatives retain significant authority.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included corruption; criminalization of same-sex sexual activity, although the law was not enforced; and no progress in reducing the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses.

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, based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: After the king dismissed parliament one year before the end of its normal term, the country held elections in November 2017. International observers deemed the parliamentary election to be generally free and fair. In December 2017, the new parliament re-elected Prime Minister Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva.

Parliament has 26 elected members. Of these, citizens elect 17, and the 33 hereditary nobles elect nine of their peers. Parliament elects the prime minister, who appoints the cabinet. The prime minister may select up to four cabinet members from outside parliament. The law accords these cabinet members parliamentary seats for the duration of their tenure in the cabinet.

The king retains significant powers, such as to withhold his assent to laws (with no possibility of parliamentary override) and to dissolve parliament.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Although no laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, a variety of institutional and cultural factors have kept women’s representation low. Among these were the reservation of nine seats in parliament for nobles, all of whom are men; continuing male domination of informal local government systems, which deny women “entry-level” positions in politics; and cultural attitudes across the population about women’s proper roles and competence. The rate of registration to vote among women is the same as the rate among men, and women have the same legal rights to run for election. Voters elected two women to parliament in the November 2017 election and several women were elected to local offices in 2016, suggesting incremental change. A woman may become queen, but the constitution forbids women from inheriting hereditary noble titles or becoming chiefs.

There were no members of minority ethnic groups in the government or parliament.

Trinidad and Tobago

Executive Summary

The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a parliamentary democracy governed by a prime minister and a bicameral legislature. The island of Tobago’s House of Assembly has some administrative autonomy over local matters. In elections in 2015, which observers considered generally free and fair, the opposition People’s National Movement, led by Keith Rowley, defeated the ruling People’s Partnership, led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included refoulement of refugees and corruption.

The government took some steps to punish security force members and other officials charged with killings or other abuses, but open-ended investigations and the generally slow pace of criminal judicial proceedings created a climate of impunity.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 elections the opposition People’s National Movement (PNM), led by Keith Rowley, defeated the ruling People’s Partnership (PP), led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar, winning 23 parliamentary seats to the PP’s 18 seats. Commonwealth observers considered the elections generally free and fair. During the campaign, however, observers noted the “lack of transparency and accountability regarding the financing of political parties.” Many experts raised concerns that the lack of campaign finance rules gives any incumbent party an advantage.

Following the election, former prime minister Persad-Bissessar initiated a court challenge to overturn the election results. The former prime minister challenged the results in six key swing constituencies where the results were close and where the PP argued a last-minute decision by the Elections and Boundaries Commission to extend voting helped the PNM. The courts found that the commission was wrong to extend voting but that the action did not change election results.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Tunisia

Executive Summary

Tunisia is a constitutional republic with a multiparty, unicameral parliamentary system and a president with powers specified in the constitution. In 2014 the country held free and fair parliamentary elections that resulted in the Nida Tounes (Call of Tunisia) Party winning a plurality of the votes. President Beji Caid Essebsi of the Nida Tounes Party came to office in 2014 after winning the country’s first democratic presidential elections. Nida Tounes formed a coalition government with the Nahda Party and several smaller parties. On May 6, Tunisians voted in the country’s first democratic municipal elections. Domestic and international observers reported the elections were free and fair, with only isolated accounts of electoral law violations that did not affect the overall results or credibility of elections. Voter turnout was 35.7 percent with independent candidates winning the majority of seats nationwide followed by the Nahda and Nida Tounes political parties.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, primarily by terrorist groups; allegations of torture by government agents; arbitrary arrests and detentions of suspects under antiterrorism or emergency laws; undue restrictions on freedom of expression and the press, including criminalization of libel; corruption, although the government took steps to combat it; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct that resulted in arrests and abuse by security forces, including the continued use of forced and coerced anal examinations; and societal violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government took steps to investigate officials who allegedly committed abuses, but investigations into police, security force, and detention center abuses lacked transparency and frequently encountered long delays and procedural obstacles. The country’s first transitional justice case for gross violations of human rights commenced on May 29, advancing the process from the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) to the Ministry of Justice.

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. On February 2, parliament passed an electoral law that codified regulations regarding municipal and local elections, as well as granting members of the armed forces and security services the right to vote. Security forces had historically been denied suffrage on the grounds that the security forces must be “completely impartial.”

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Citizens exercised their ability to vote in free, fair, and transparent elections in 2014 for legislative and two rounds of presidential elections. The country’s first democratic municipal elections took place on May 6 with elections simultaneously organized and held in each of the 350 municipalities. For the first time since independence, the country’s security forces voted on April 29. Officials reported that approximately 1.8 million persons voted in the municipal elections, placing the turnout above 35.7 percent. Official elections observers generally agreed that these elections were successful with no widespread fraud, violence, or attempt to undermine the credibility of the results. While some observers detailed faults with certain technical aspects of the electoral process and some electoral law violations (such as violations of the moratorium on campaign activities prior to the election day) and detailed sporadic instances of election officials or party representatives obstructing aspects of their observation efforts, their overall assessment was that elections were satisfactory, transparent, and valid.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Of the approximately 200 registered parties, 70 ran electoral lists in the 2014 parliamentary elections while 22 ran electoral lists in the 2018 municipal elections. Authorities rejected parties that did not receive accreditation due to incomplete applications or because their programs were inconsistent with laws prohibiting discrimination and parties based on religion.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women and minorities did participate in the political process, and no laws limit their participation. Women continued to be politically active but faced societal barriers to their political participation. With the adoption of a new electoral law in 2017, party lists in the municipal elections were required to maintain horizontal and vertical gender parity and incorporate youth and persons with disabilities among the top positions on each list. The independent elections commission (ISIE) reported that of the newly elected municipal council members, 48 percent were women and 37 percent were youth below the age of 35. Persons with disabilities headed 15 of the successful lists.

Turkey

Executive Summary

Turkey is a constitutional republic with an executive presidential system and a 600-seat legislature. The unicameral parliament (the Grand National Assembly) exercises legislative authority. The most recent presidential and parliamentary elections took place on June 24; Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers expressed concern regarding restrictions on media reporting and campaign environment that restricted the ability of opposition candidates to compete on an equal basis and campaign freely, including the continued detention of a presidential candidate.

Civilian leaders maintained effective control over security forces. The government dismissed thousands of additional police and military personnel on terrorism-related grounds using state of emergency decrees and new antiterror laws as part of its response to the failed coup attempt of July 2016.

The country experienced significant political changes during the year. The two-year-long state of emergency–imposed following the 2016 coup attempt–ended July 19, but had far-reaching effects on the country’s society and institutions, restricting the exercise of many fundamental freedoms. New laws and decrees codified some provisions from the state of emergency; subsequent antiterror legislation continued its restrictions on fundamental freedoms and compromised judicial independence and rule of law. By year’s end, authorities had dismissed or suspended more than 130,000 civil servants from their jobs, arrested or imprisoned more than 80,000 citizens, and closed more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on terrorism-related grounds since the coup attempt, primarily for alleged ties to cleric Fethullah Gulen and his movement, accused by the government of masterminding the coup attempt, and designated by the Turkish government as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (“FETO”).

Human rights issues included reports of arbitrary killing, suspicious deaths of persons in custody; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention of tens of thousands of persons, including opposition members of parliament, lawyers, journalists, foreign citizens, and three Turkish-national employees of the U.S. Mission to Turkey for purported ties to “terrorist” groups or peaceful legitimate speech; political prisoners, including numerous elected officials and academics; closure of media outlets and criminal prosecution of individuals for criticizing government policies or officials; blocking websites and content; severe restriction of freedoms of assembly and association; restrictions on freedom of movement; and violence against women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and members of other minorities.

The government continued to take limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish members of the security forces and other officials accused of human rights abuses; impunity for such abuses remained a problem. Clashes between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist organization and its affiliates continued throughout the year, although at a reduced level compared with previous years, and resulted in the injury or death of security forces, PKK terrorists, and an unknown number of civilians. The government did not release information on efforts to investigate or prosecute personnel for any wrongful or inadvertent deaths of civilians linked to counter-PKK security operations.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage conducted by secret ballot, the government restricted equal competition and placed restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression. The government restricted the activities of some opposition political parties and leaders, including through police detention. Several parliamentarians remained at risk of possible prosecution after parliament lifted their immunity in 2016. During the year, the state of emergency impacted the ability of many, particularly among the opposition, to conduct political activities, such as organizing protests or political campaign events and sharing critical messages on social media. The government also replaced democratically elected mayors in 104 cities with state “trustees” when the former were accused of affiliation with terrorist groups. These tactics were most commonly directed against politicians affiliated with the pro-Kurdish HDP and its partner party, the DBP.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held early parliamentary and presidential elections, which had been originally scheduled for late 2019, on June 24. The elections completed a constitutional amendment process that began with the April 2017 national referendum, the passing of which initiated the country’s official transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential one.

The campaign and election both occurred under a state of emergency that had been in place since 2016 and which granted the government expanded powers to restrict basic rights and freedoms, including those of assembly and speech. Most candidates were generally able to campaign ahead of the June 24 elections–however the HDP’s candidate remained in prison during the campaign and the candidate for the IYI (“Good”) Party faced a de facto media embargo. Despite the ability to campaign, the OSCE’s Election Observation Mission noted the elections were held in an environment heavily tilted in favor of the president and the ruling party, noting “the incumbent president and his party enjoyed a notable advantage in the campaign, which was also reflected in excessive coverage by public and government-affiliated private media.”

Media coverage of the candidates overwhelmingly favored the president and ruling party. For example, according to a member of the Radio and Television Supreme Council, Turkey’s state agency for monitoring, regulating, and sanctioning broadcasts, between May 14-30, state-run TRT broadcast 67 hours of coverage about President Erdogan, seven hours about CHP candidate Muharrem Ince, 12 minutes about IYI candidate Meral Aksener, eight minutes about Felicity Party candidate Temel Karamanoglu, and zero minutes to HDP candidate Selahattin Demirtas. Many opposition parties relied instead on social media to connect with supporters.

The period between the April announcement of early elections and the vote saw a number of attacks on political party offices, rallies, and members, including some incidents that led to death and serious injury. Violence most commonly targeted the HDP and its campaigners. Opposition party members faced frequent accusations from the highest levels of government of alleged terrorism-related crimes. A number of opposition candidates for parliament continue to face legal charges in connection with such claims, and the HDP’s presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, was in detention during the campaign. His trials remained ongoing at year’s end. The OSCE noted that key amendments were adopted within months of the early elections, without consultation, and were perceived as favoring the ruling party.

There were allegations of electoral irregularities primarily in eastern Turkey, where the population was majority Kurdish.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The campaign for the presidential and parliamentary elections was marked by frequent violence against political parties and campaigners, with each party noting specific instances of unlawful interference in legitimate political activities. Victims were primarily members of the opposition political parties, and the HDP, the IYI Party, and the Saadet Party (Felicity Party) were most commonly subjected to harassment, intimidation, and violence.

One day after President Erdogan gave a speech in which he accused the opposition CHP presidential candidate of supporting the PKK, a man attacked a CHP women’s auxiliary member while she distributed campaign literature, shouting “PKK supporters cannot come here.” The victim filed a police report and the alleged assailant was detained.

In some cases, government officials also directly interfered in the activities of opposition parties. Istanbul municipal power workers allegedly cut the power at the site of an IYI party campaign rally. Witnesses reported that adjacent buildings had power, and only the location of the rally did not. In addition, city garbage trucks in Gaziantep parked to block access to a separate IYI party rally before city officials ordered an evacuation for unspecified “security reasons.”

A small number of attacks targeted the ruling AKP during the campaign. On May 14, unidentified individuals fired a weapon at an AKP election office in Ankara. The office was vacant at the time of the shooting, and no one was injured.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, although Kurdish politicians representing the HDP and the DBP remained under disproportionate government pressure relative to other politicians. The number of women in politics and the judiciary remained disproportionately low. As of year’s end, there were 104 women in the 600-member parliament. Parties did not nominate women to electable parliamentary candidates lists in 33 of the country’s 81 provinces. Prior to the June 24 election, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s cabinet included two female ministers. Following the election, President Erdogan appointed two female ministers and one woman to the Council of State.

Turkmenistan

Executive Summary

Although the 2016 constitution declares Turkmenistan to be a secular democracy, the country has an authoritarian government controlled by the president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, and his inner circle. Berdimuhamedov became president in 2006 and remained president following a February 2017 presidential election. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) determined that the election involved limited choice between competing political alternatives and found “serious irregularities.” The 2016 constitution extended the presidential term in office from five to seven years and failed to reintroduce earlier term limits.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of alleged torture; arbitrary arrest and detention; involuntary confinement; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence; censorship and site blocking; restrictions on freedom of religion; restrictions on freedoms of assembly and movement; restrictions on citizens’ inability to choose their government through free and fair elections; and endemic corruption. There was also trafficking in persons, including use of government-compelled forced labor during the annual cotton harvest. Consensual same-sex relations between men remained a criminal offense punishable by up to two years in prison. There were reports of restrictions on the free association of workers.

Officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government acted with impunity. There were no reported prosecutions of government officials for human rights abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Despite a constitutional provision giving citizens the ability to choose their government in periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage, there had been no free and fair elections in the country. There was no bona fide political opposition to the president, and alternative candidates came from derivative party structures, such as the state-controlled Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, or were members of individual initiative groups. Elections were conducted by secret ballot. The constitution declares the country to be a secular democracy in the form of a presidential republic. It calls for separation of powers among the branches of government but vests a disproportionate share of power in the presidency. The president’s power over the state continued to be nearly absolute. According to the OSCE, the election law does not meet OSCE standards.

Elections and Political Participation

In 2016 parliament ratified a new constitution that extended the presidential term in office from five to seven years and failed to reinstitute term limits for the presidency.

Recent Elections: In the February 2017 presidential election, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov won 97.69 percent of the vote.

The government invited an OSCE/ODIHR Election Assessment Mission (EAM) team, the Commonwealth of Independent States Executive Committee, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to observe the election. According to the OSCE/ODIHR EAM, “The presidential election took place in a strictly controlled political environment. The predominant position of the incumbent and the lack of genuine opposition and meaningful pluralism limited voters’ choice. The lack of clear regulations for key aspects of the process had a negative impact on the administration of the election, especially at lower levels.”

In March, 125 members of parliament (Mejlis), 240 provincial-level, and 1,200 district-level representatives of the People’s Council (Halk Maslahaty), and 5,900 local municipality (Gengesh) candidates were elected. In the election 31 women were entered parliament.

An OSCE/ODIHR EAM team monitoring the elections reported in May that “the elections lacked important features of a genuinely democratic electoral process. The political environment is only nominally pluralist, and the exercise of fundamental freedoms was severely curtailed. Despite measure to demonstrate transparency, the integrity of the elections was not ensured, leaving the veracity of results in doubt.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law makes it extremely difficult for genuinely independent political parties to organize, nominate candidates, and campaign, since it grants the Ministry of Justice broad powers over the registration process and the authority to monitor party meetings. The law prohibits political parties based on religion, region, or profession as well as parties that “offend moral norms.” The law does not explain how a party may appeal its closure by the government. The law permits public associations and organizations to put forth candidates for elected office. State media covered the activities of President Berdimuhamedov, the Democratic Party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the Agrarian Party, and trade and professional unions.

Neither organized opposition nor independent political groups operated in the country. The three registered political parties were the ruling Democratic Party (the former Communist Party), the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and the Agrarian Party. Each of these parties, which were progovernment in orientation, nominated a candidate for the February presidential election. Initiative groups put forward six additional candidates who were running in their individual capacities. The government did not officially prohibit membership in other political organizations, but there were no reports of persons who claimed membership in political organizations other than these three parties and a smattering of representatives of individual initiative groups. Authorities did not allow opposition movements based abroad–including the National Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan, the Republican Party of Turkmenistan, and the Fatherland (Watan) Party–to operate within the country.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Although women served in prominent government positions, including as speaker of parliament, only one woman served in the 12-member Cabinet of Ministers (as the deputy chairwoman for Culture, TV, and Press). The government gave preference for appointed government positions to ethnic Turkmen, but ethnic minorities occupied some senior government positions. Members of the president’s Ahal-Teke tribe, the largest in the country, held the most prominent roles in cultural and political life.

Tuvalu

Executive Summary

Tuvalu is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Observers judged that parliamentary elections held in 2015 were free and fair, with three new members elected to the 15-member parliament. There are no formal political parties. Parliament selected Enele Sopoaga for a second term as prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights abuses included criminalization of sexual activities between men, although the law was not enforced; and minimal progress in reducing the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate human rights abuses, and impunity was not a problem.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The parliamentary election held in 2015 was generally considered free and fair, with three new members elected to the 15-member parliament. Parliament selected Enele Sopoaga for a second term as prime minister.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no formal political parties. Parliament tended to divide itself between an ad hoc faction with at least the minimum eight votes to form a government and an informal opposition faction.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits participation of women in the political process, and they did participate. The 15-member parliament included one woman, who was also a cabinet minister. Nonetheless, participation by women in government and politics was limited. Women held a subordinate societal position, largely due to traditional perceptions of women’s role in society. There were no members of minorities in parliament or the cabinet.

Uganda

Executive Summary

Uganda is a constitutional republic led since 1986 by President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. In 2016 voters re-elected Museveni to a fifth five-year term and returned an NRM majority to the unicameral parliament. The elections fell short of international standards and were marred by allegations of disenfranchisement and voter intimidation, harassment of the opposition, closure of social media websites, and lack of transparency and independence in the Electoral Commission (EC). The periods before, during, and after the elections were marked by a closing of political space, intimidation of journalists, and widespread use of torture by the security agencies.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; violence and intimidation against journalists, censorship, criminalization of libel, and restricted access to the internet; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; corruption; criminalization of same-sex consensual sexual conduct; and security force harassment and detention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights violations, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, and impunity was a problem.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Nevertheless, the 2016 presidential and National Assembly elections and several special parliament elections during the year were marred by serious irregularities.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 the country held its fifth presidential and legislative elections since President Museveni came to power in 1986. The president was re-elected with 61 percent of the vote, and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate Besigye finished second with 36 percent. The ruling NRM party captured approximately 70 percent of the seats in the 431-member unicameral National Assembly. Domestic and international election observers stated that the elections fell short of international standards for credible democratic elections. The Commonwealth Observer Mission’s report noted flawed processes, and the EU’s report noted an atmosphere of intimidation and police use of excessive force against opposition supporters, media workers, and the public. Domestic and international election observers noted biased media coverage and the EC’s lack of transparency and independence. Media reported voter bribery, multiple voting, ballot box stuffing, and the alteration of precinct and district results. Due to election disputes stemming from the elections, in August 2016 the Supreme Court recommended changes to electoral laws to increase fairness, including campaign finance reform and equal access for all candidates to state-owned media. The Supreme Court instructed the attorney general to report in two years on the government’s implementation of the reforms. As of year’s end, the attorney general had not yet issued his report.

The law allows authorities to carry out elections for the lowest-level local government officials by having voters line up behind their preferred candidate or the candidate’s representative, portrait, or symbol. On July 10, authorities held the first Local Council I (L.C.I) elections in 17 years by lining up voters behind their candidates. Civil society organizations criticized this legislation, saying it violated citizens’ constitutional right to vote by secret ballot. On July 4, the EC suspended the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda’s (CCEDU) accreditation and banned it from any election-related activity, claiming that the organization was partisan due to its opposition to the lining-up voting method for the lowest-level local government elections (see section 5). All subsequent elections during the year took place without domestic or international observers present.

During the year several special elections and local level elections were held, all of which were marred by credible reports of irregularities and voter intimidation.

In special elections in Jinja on March 15, in Bugiri Municipality on July 26 and in Arua on August 15, CCEDU and local media reported incidents of ruling political party members bribing voters. The government deployed UPDF and UPF personnel heavily during the campaigning period and on voting day for these special elections, with NGOs and press reporting that security personnel beat and intimidated opposition supporters. Local media reported that 10 days after the EC set dates for the Rukungiri Woman MP by-election, the president visited the district and made donations worth five billion shillings ($1,300,000) to youth and women’s groups, which the opposition FDC characterized as an attempt to bribe the electorate to vote in favor of the ruling-party candidate. The president denied the bribery allegations and said he was only promoting poverty-eradication projects.

On August 13, the police arrested Kassiano Wadri, an opposition candidate in the August 15 Arua Municipality by-election, and prevented him from casting his ballot in the election. The UPF and UPDF fired teargas and live bullets to disperse Wadri’s supporters on the final campaign day August 13 and killed one person (see section 1.e.).

Political Parties and Political Participation: According to the EC, there were 29 registered political parties. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition leaders and intimidated and beat their supporters. While the ruling NRM party operated without restriction, regularly holding rallies and conducting political activities, authorities often prevented opposition parties and critical civil society organizations from organizing meetings, speaking on the radio, or conducting activities. The opposition FDC reported that, during campaigns for the May 30 Rukungiri Woman MP by-election, the government directed local radio stations to cancel purchased opposition advertisements without a refund. Authorities restricted CSOs from observing electoral processes (see section 5.).

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process.

Cultural factors limited women’s political participation. Local NGOs and the government statistics agency Uganda Bureau of Statistics reported that in rural communities husbands restricted their wives from running for public office. The FHRI reported that women abstained from lining up behind their favored candidate to vote in the July 10 L.C.I elections because they were afraid of confrontation with family members who supported rival candidates. The president and the ruling NRM party accused opposition supporters of intimidating their female supporters from taking part in electoral activity.

Ukraine

Executive Summary

IN THIS SECTION: Ukraine (BELOW) | 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 Russian-occupied Crimea. At the end of this report is a section listing abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Ukraine is a republic with a semi-presidential 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. The country held presidential and legislative elections in 2014; international and domestic observers considered both elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces in the territory controlled by the government.

Following the Russian Federation’s November 25 attack on and seizure of Ukrainian ships and crewmembers in the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait, the country instituted martial law for a period of 30 days in 10 oblasts bordering areas in which Russian forces are located. Martial law expired December 27 with no reports of rights having been restricted during the time.

Human rights issues included: civilian casualties, enforced disappearances, torture, and other abuses committed in the context of the Russia-induced and -fueled conflict in the Donbas region; abuse of detainees by law enforcement; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest and detention; censorship; blocking of websites; refoulement; the government’s increasing failure to hold accountable perpetrators of violence against activists, journalists, ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; widespread government corruption; and 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. Human rights groups and the United Nations noted significant deficiencies in investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by government security forces, in particular into allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other abuses reportedly committed by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The perpetrators of the 2014 Euromaidan shootings in Kyiv had not been held to account.

Russia-led forces in the Donbas region engaged in: enforced disappearances, torture, and unlawful detention; committed gender-based violence; interfered with freedom of expression, including of the press, peaceful assembly, and association; restricted movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; and unduly restricted humanitarian aid.

Human rights issues in Russian-occupied Crimea included: politically motivated disappearances; torture and abuse of detainees to extract confessions and punish persons resisting the occupation; politically motivated imprisonment; and interference with the freedoms of expression, including of the press, and assembly and association. Crimea occupation authorities intensified violence and harassment of Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists in response to peaceful opposition to Russian occupation (see Crimea sub-report).

Investigations into alleged human rights abuses related to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the continuing aggression in the Donbas region remained incomplete due to lack of government control in those territories and the refusal of Russia and Russia-led forces to investigate abuse allegations.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 citizens elected Petro Poroshenko president in an election considered free and fair by international and domestic observers. The country held early legislative elections in 2014 that observers also considered free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Communist Party remains banned.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Ukraine (Crimea)

Executive Summary

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, and Resolution 73/263 on the “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine)”of December 22, 2018, 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 April 2014 Ukraine’s legislature (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 Ukraine’s 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 Reports on Human Rights for Russia.

A local 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. In 2016 Russia’s nationwide parliamentary elections included seats allocated for purportedly annexed Crimea, a move widely condemned by the international community and that contravened the Ukrainian constitution.

Russian authorities maintained control over Russian military and security forces deployed in Crimea. Russian security services continued to consolidate control over Crimea and restrict human rights. Occupation authorities imposed and disproportionately applied repressive Russian Federation laws on the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

Human rights issues included: disappearances; torture, including punitive psychiatric incarceration; mistreatment of persons in detention as punishment or to extort confessions; harsh prison conditions and removing prisoners to Russia; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; pervasive interference with privacy; severe restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, including closing outlets and violence against journalists; restrictions on the internet, including blocking websites; gross and widespread suppression of freedom of assembly; severe restriction of freedom of association, including barring the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; restriction of freedom of movement and on participation in the political process; systemic corruption; and systemic discrimination against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians.

Russian-installed authorities took few steps to investigate or prosecute officials or individuals who committed human rights abuses, creating an atmosphere of impunity and lawlessness. Occupation and local “self-defense” forces often did not wear insignia and committed abuses with impunity.

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.

On March 18, the Russian Federation held presidential election and included the territory of occupied Crimea. The Crimea Human Rights Group recorded incidents in which occupation authorities coerced residents into voting in the elections, including through threats of dismissals and wage cuts.

HRMMU reported pressure on public sector employees to vote in order to ensure high turnout. Some voters stated their employers required them to photograph themselves at the polling station as evidence of their participation. For example the Crimean Human Rights Group reported that in the Krasnoperekopsk district three days before the election, teachers were instructed to report to the principal that they and their family members voted. On voting day, teachers received phone calls from the principal threatening termination of employment if they did not vote.

United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven semiautonomous emirates with a resident population of approximately 9.4 million, of whom an estimated 11 percent are citizens. The rulers of the seven emirates constitute the Federal Supreme Council, the country’s highest legislative and executive body. The council selects a president and a vice president from its membership, and the president appoints the prime minister and cabinet. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi emirate, is president, although Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi exercises most executive authority. The emirates are under patriarchal rule with political allegiance defined by loyalty to tribal leaders, leaders of the individual emirates, and leaders of the federation. A limited, appointed electorate participates in periodic elections for the partially elected Federal National Council (FNC), a consultative body that examines, reviews, and recommends changes to legislation and may discuss topics for legislation. The FNC consists of 40 representatives allocated proportionally to each emirate based on population; half are elected members while the remainder are appointed by the leaders of their emirates. There are no political parties. The last election was in 2015, when appointed voters elected 20 FNC members. Citizens may express their concerns directly to their leaders through traditional consultative mechanisms such as the open majlis (forum).

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of torture in detention; arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention, by government agents; political prisoners; government interference with privacy rights; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; the inability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; and criminalization of same sex sexual activity, although no cases were publicly reported during the year. The government did not permit workers to join independent unions and did not effectively prevent physical and sexual abuse of foreign domestic servants and other migrant workers.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and brought to conviction cases of official corruption.

The United Nations, human rights groups, and others alleged UAE military operations as part of the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen killed civilians, damaged civilian infrastructure, and obstructed delivery of humanitarian aid. Further, human rights groups alleged UAE-backed security forces in Yemen committed torture, sexual assault, and mistreatment against detainees. The government rejected allegations that members of its security forces serving in Yemen had committed human rights abuses, and there was no publicly available information on whether the government carried out any investigations into these reported incidents.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. Federal executive and legislative power is in the hands of the Federal Supreme Council, a body composed of the hereditary rulers of the seven emirates. It selects from its members the country’s president and vice president. Decisions at the federal level generally are by consensus among the rulers, their families, and other leading families. The ruling families, in consultation with other prominent tribal figures, also choose rulers of the emirates.

Citizens could express their concerns directly to their leaders through an open majlis, a traditional consultative mechanism. On occasion women attended a majlis. If a majlis was closed to women, men sometimes voiced concerns as proxies on behalf of women. Additionally, authorities sometimes held a women-only majlis or a majlis focused specifically on women’s issues.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were no democratic general elections. In 2015 an appointed electorate of more than 224,000 members, representing approximately one-fifth of the total citizen population, elected 20 members of the Federal National Council (FNC), a 40-member consultative body with some legislative authority. Each emirate receives seats in the FNC based on population. Each emirate’s ruler appoints that emirate’s portion of the other 20 FNC members. The electorate appointment process lacked transparency. Approximately 35 percent of eligible voters participated, electing one woman among the 20 FNC members, with another eight women appointed by their respective rulers. The current speaker of the FNC is the first woman to lead the FNC. In December the president decreed that women’s representation in the FNC will be raised to 50 percent during the 2019 election cycle.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Citizens did not have the right to form political parties.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Although some traditional practices discouraged women from engaging in political life, no laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process. The government prioritized women’s participation in government. There were nine female ministers in the 31-member cabinet, an increase of two women from the previous cabinet, and nine women in the FNC (one elected, who was appointed speaker).

Except in the judiciary and military, religious and racial minorities (including Shia) did not serve in senior federal positions. Many judges were contracted foreign nationals.

United Kingdom

Executive Summary

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the UK) is a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty, parliamentary form of government. Citizens elect members (MPs) to the House of Commons, the lower chamber of the bicameral Parliament. They last did so in free and fair elections in June 2017. Members of the upper chamber, the House of Lords, occupy appointed or hereditary seats. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Bermuda each have elected legislative bodies and devolved administrations, with varying degrees of legislative and executive powers. The UK has 14 overseas territories, including Bermuda. Each of the overseas territories has its own constitution, while the UK government is responsible for external affairs, security, and defense.

Civilian authorities throughout the UK and its territories maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included violence motivated by anti-Semitism and against members of minorities on racial or ethnic grounds.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished allegations of official abuse, including by police, with no reported cases of impunity.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

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