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Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Republic of the Congo is a presidential republic in which the constitution vests most decision-making authority and political power in the president and prime minister. In 2015 the country adopted a new constitution that extends the maximum number of presidential terms and years to three terms of five years and provides complete immunity to former presidents. In 2016 the Constitutional Court proclaimed the incumbent, Denis Sassou N’Guesso, the winner of the 2016 presidential election, despite opposition and international criticism of electoral irregularities. The government last held legislative and local elections in 2017, with legislative election irregularities sufficient to restrict the ability of citizens to choose their government. While the country has a multiparty political system, members of the president’s Congolese Labor Party and its allies retained 68 percent of legislative seats, and Congolese Labor Party members occupied almost all senior government positions.

National police, gendarmes, and the military have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The national police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of Interior. The gendarmerie reports to the Ministry of Defense and conducts domestic paramilitary and law enforcement activities. The army, navy, and air force, which also report to the Ministry of Defense, secure the country from external threat but also conduct limited domestic security activities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Police and gendarmes committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings including extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of government; cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government, including by Congolese peacekeepers deployed to UN missions; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; substantial interference with the freedom of association; restrictions on political participation where the government is unelected or elections have not been found to be genuine, free, or fair; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting indigenous people; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took limited steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, and official impunity was a problem.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were reports on social media of the government or its agents committing arbitrary or unlawful killings; however, for such reports (besides those specified below), no independent confirmation was possible, leading to uncertainty regarding the frequency of the incidents and the number of persons arbitrarily deprived of life. In some cases the Ministry of Justice coordinated with the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense to investigate security force involvement in the deaths of citizens and pursued prosecution.

Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report deaths resulting from abuse in prisons and pretrial detention centers (see section 1.c.).

In September a woman died in the southern town of Nkayi, allegedly due to injuries sustained during a beating by security forces for not wearing a mask. The Ministry of Justice began an inquiry, and parliament organized special hearings with the minister of defense on the alleged killing. Security forces placed at least one gendarme in custody.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits torture, and the law contains a general prohibition against assault and battery, but there is no legal framework specifically banning torture. There were reports on social media of the government or its agents meting out cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment to detainees or convicts. No independent confirmation was possible, leading to uncertainty regarding the frequency of the incidents and the number of persons abused.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were open allegations, submitted in previous years, of sexual exploitation and abuse by Congolese peacekeepers deployed to the UN mission to the Central African Republic, including six from 2019, two from 2018, two from 2017, nine from 2016, and one from 2015. Alleged offenses included rape of children, sexual assaults, exploitative relationships, and transactional sex. The Congolese Armed Forces (FAC) do not maintain a separate military justice system. In most cases the military handles allegations of abuse by soldiers outside the country through administrative procedures, which often include lengthy detentions. The FAC reported that all personnel involved in allegations in the UN peacekeeping deployments in the Central African Republic received legal or administrative discipline in line with these administrative procedures. As of September the government had not provided actions taken regarding these offenses to the United Nations.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, and officials took steps to prosecute or punish offenders. Abuses are investigated by the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Justice.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening due to inadequate sanitary conditions, gross overcrowding, and a severe deficit of medical and psychological care.

Physical Conditions: As of September the Brazzaville Prison, built in 1943 to accommodate 150 inmates, held more than five times its designed capacity, including women and minors. The Pointe-Noire Prison, built in 1934 to hold 75 inmates, held more than six times its designed capacity. In addition to these official prisons, the government’s intelligence and security services operated detention centers and security prisons that were inaccessible for inspection.

Authorities generally maintained separate areas within facilities for minors, women, and men in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. In Brazzaville, while these areas were separate, they were sometimes easily accessible with no locked entryways. In the other 10 prisons throughout the country, authorities sometimes held juvenile detainees with adult prisoners.

Prison conditions for women were generally better than those for men. There was less crowding in the women’s cells. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In Brazzaville authorities confined and treated prisoners with illnesses in one area but allowed them to interact with other inmates.

In the Brazzaville Prison, conditions for wealthy or well connected prisoners generally were better than conditions for others.

There were several reported deaths resulting from abuse, neglect, and overcrowding in prisons and pretrial detention centers. A local NGO reported that figures on the number and causes of death while in custody were unavailable.

In Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, authorities equipped the prisons with some mattresses and prisoner uniforms. Most inmates, however, slept on the floor on cardboard in small, overcrowded cells that exposed them to disease. The prisons lacked drainage and ventilation, and they had poorly maintained lighting with wiring protruding from the walls. Basic and emergency medical care was limited. Medical personnel at the Brazzaville Prison cited tuberculosis, dysentery, malaria, and HIV/AIDS as the most common maladies affecting prisoners. Authorities did not provide specialized medical care to prisoners with HIV/AIDS, nor were HIV tests available in prisons. Authorities took pregnant women to hospitals to give birth, and authorities sometimes allowed them to breastfeed their infants in prison. Access to social services personnel was severely limited due to insufficient staffing, overcrowding, and stigmatization of those with mental health problems. Prison authorities permitted outdoor exercise intermittently.

Prison inmates reportedly received, on average, two daily meals consisting of rice, bread, and fish or meat. The food provided in prisons did not meet minimum caloric or nutrition requirements; however, prison authorities usually permitted inmates’ families to supply them with additional food. Authorities permitted women to cook over small fires in a shared recreational space. The Pointe-Noire Prison occasionally had running water. All of the prisons supplied potable water to inmates in buckets.

Administration: Prison rules provide for prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but officials did not respect this right. Authorities did not investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions brought to them by NGOs and detainees’ families. Prisoners had weekly access to Christian religious services only.

Access to prisoners generally required a communication permit from a judge. The permit allowed visitors to spend five to 15 minutes with a prisoner, although authorities usually did not strictly enforce this limit. In most cases visits took place in either a crowded open area or a small room with one extended table where approximately 10 detainees sat at a time. A new permit is technically required for each visit, but families were often able to return for multiple visits on one permit. Since many prisoners’ families lived far away, visits often were infrequent because of the financial hardship of travel.

Independent Monitoring: The government provided domestic and international human rights groups with limited access to prisons and detention centers. Observers generally considered the primary local NGO focused on prison conditions independent; authorities, however, denied it access to the interior of several prisons on multiple occasions.

Other human rights NGOs that monitored detention conditions requested letters of permission from the Ministry of Justice to visit prisons. Their repeated requests went unanswered.

Representatives of religiously affiliated charitable organizations visited prisons and detention centers for charitable work and religious counseling.

Authorities granted diplomatic missions access to both prisons and police jails to provide consular assistance to their citizens.

Improvements: In June the government rehabilitated and reopened a detention center in the city of Ouesso.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but local NGOs reported arbitrary arrest continued to be a problem. The constitution and law provide detainees the right to challenge the legal basis of their detention before a competent judge or authority, but the government generally did not observe the law. Some members of the security forces acted independently of civilian authority, committed abuses, and engaged in malfeasance.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution and law require that a duly authorized official issue warrants before officers make an arrest, that a person be apprehended openly, that a lawyer be present during initial questioning, and that detainees be brought before a judge within three days and either charged or released within four months. The government habitually violated these provisions. There is a bail system, but with 70 percent of the population living in poverty, most detainees could not afford to post bail. There is an option for provisional release, but officials usually denied these requests, even for detainees with serious medical conditions. Authorities sometimes informed detainees of charges against them at the time of arrest, but the filing of formal charges often took at least one week. There were reports authorities arrested detainees secretly and without judicial authorization and sometimes detained suspects incommunicado or put them under de facto house arrest. Police at times held persons for six months or longer before filing charges. Observers attributed most administrative delays to lack of staff in the Ministry of Justice and the court system. Family members sometimes received prompt access to detainees but often only after payment of bribes. The law requires authorities to provide lawyers at government expense to indigent detainees facing criminal charges, but this usually did not occur.

The law states authorities may hold a detainee for a maximum of 48 to 72 hours in a police jail before an attorney general reviews the case. Thereafter, authorities must decide to release or to transfer the individual to a prison for pretrial detention. Authorities generally did not observe the 72-hour maximum and frequently held detainees for several weeks before an attorney general freed or transferred them to a prison to await trial. The law states a defendant or accused person may apply for provisional release at any point during his or her detention, from either an investigating judge or a trial court, depending on the type of case. The law states that provisional release should generally be granted, provided the judicial investigation is sufficiently advanced and the accused does not pose a risk of suborning witnesses or a threat to public order. This provision of the law was not respected.

Arbitrary Arrest: Reports suggested arbitrary and false arrests continued to occur.

Pretrial Detention: Under the law the four-month pretrial detention period is extendable for two additional months with judicial approval. The law is not clear whether the two-month extension is renewable; however, judges often renewed the two-month extension period. Between 60 and 75 percent of detainees in prison were pretrial detainees. Prison authorities stated the average pretrial detention for nonfelony cases lasted one to three months and for felony cases at least 12 months. Human rights activists, however, stated the average was much longer for felony cases, commonly exceeding a year, and sometimes exceeding the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.

Lengthy pretrial detentions were due to the judicial system’s lack of capacity and, according to observers, a lack of political will to address the problem. The law defines three levels of crime: misdemeanors (punishable by less than one year in prison), delicts (punishable by one to five years in prison), and felonies (punishable by more than five years in prison). Criminal courts try misdemeanor and delict cases regularly. The judicial system, however, suffered from a serious backlog of felony cases. By law criminal courts must hear felony cases four times per year, but the government held only one criminal session in each of the five appeals courts and continued to hold persons accused of felonies in pretrial detention pending trial.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest, arbitrary detention, and false arrest and provide detainees the right to challenge the legal basis of their detention before a competent judge or other authority. If an investigating judge determines a detainee to be innocent, his or her release is promptly ordered, and he or she is entitled to file suit with the Administrative Court. The government, however, generally did not observe this law. Local human rights NGOs reported numerous occasions when officials denied detainees in Brazzaville the right to challenge their detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide the framework for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect judicial independence and employed political influence at times. Corruption also undermined judicial independence. Freedom House noted the judiciary was dominated by allies of the president. Authorities generally abided by court orders; however, judges did not always issue direct court orders against accused authorities.

In rural areas traditional courts continued to handle many local disputes, particularly property, inheritance, and witchcraft cases, as well as domestic conflicts that could not be resolved within the family.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial presided over by an independent judiciary, but authorities did not always respect this right. Appeals courts existed in five departments–Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, Dolisie, Owando, and Ouesso–and each had authority to try felony cases brought within its jurisdiction.

Under the law all defendants must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, and have a right to a fair and public trial in all criminal cases. Defendants in all criminal trials enjoy the presumption of innocence and have the right to be present at their trials and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, although this did not always occur. The law obligates the government to provide legal assistance to any indigent defendant facing serious criminal charges, but such legal assistance was not always available because the government did not generally pay for public defenders.

Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the right to confront or question accusers and witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal. The government generally abided by these provisions, except in highly politicized cases.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners and detainees, although verifiable estimates of their total number were not available. While the government claimed there were no political prisoners, human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned persons solely or chiefly because of their political beliefs. The UN Mission in Brazzaville, based on information gathered from local NGOs, reported 40 persons in detention for political reasons. Additional reports claimed authorities released 12 detainees. The government did not publicize the release of any prisoners.

Former presidential candidate Andre Okombi Salissa remained in prison as of October. In August the government transferred Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, a former presidential candidate, into the central military hospital for medical treatment, where he remained in detention. Mokoko and Okombi Salissa were serving sentences of 20 years with hard labor.

The government detained Parfait Mabiala, a supporter of the opposition movement Incarner l’espoir (Embody Hope) in November 2019 in Pointe-Noire. The government subsequently detained three other opposition members in Brazzaville in December 2019, Franck Donald Saboukoulou Loubaki, Guil Miangue Ossebi, and Meldry Rold Dissavoulou. Also in December 2019 authorities arrested Celeste Nlemvo Makela, an activist with the citizen movement Ras-le-Bol (Had Enough).

The government permitted limited access to those considered political prisoners by international human rights and humanitarian organizations and diplomatic missions.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may file lawsuits in court on civil matters related to human rights, including seeking damages for or cessation of a human rights abuse. The public, however, generally lacked confidence in the judicial system’s ability to address human rights problems.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions; the government, however, did not always respect these prohibitions.

There were reports government authorities entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization, monitored private movements, and employed informer systems.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression in all forms of communication and prohibits censorship, including for the press, but the government did not always respect these rights.

Freedom of Speech: Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately but feared reprisal. The constitution criminalizes speech that incites ethnic hatred, violence, or civil war and makes it punishable by no less than five years in prison. It also criminalizes any act or event that promotes racism or xenophobia.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restrictions. Press and media outlets regularly published criticism and satire of the government and senior officials. Most citizens obtained their news from local retransmission of international media and local radio or television stations. There was greater space in electronic media for open and critical discussion of government policy. International radio broadcasts and satellite television services were available and encouraged discussions of public policy.

Violence and Harassment: There were unconfirmed reports of direct and indirect intimidation of journalists by the government, including telephone calls from official and anonymous persons warning journalists and news outlets not to use footage of politically sensitive events or run certain stories.

Private media reported that government spokesperson and journalist Rocil Otuna lost his broadcast reporting responsibilities after interviewing the minister of justice on the government-owned television station Telecongo in May and suggesting the then popular belief that the coronavirus was a hoax. Private media and the government’s media watchdog criticized Otuna’s removal from the airwaves.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets were required to register with the Superior Council for Liberty of Communication (CSLC), an official regulatory body. Media outlets that violated council regulations were subject to financial sanctions or temporary shutdown. The president appoints the director of the council.

Many journalists and editors at larger circulation media outlets practiced self-censorship and promoted the editorial views of media owners. Newspapers published open letters written by government opponents.

There were no reports the government revoked journalists’ accreditations if their reporting reflected adversely on the government’s image.

In July the CSLC suspended the weekly newspaper Manager Horizon for defamation for three months. The CSLC found the Manager Horizon’s editor unable to justify claims in its June 2 edition that two ministers and a government official had criticized the prime minister’s decision to practice social distancing. As of December the newspaper had resumed operation.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides for monetary penalties and suspension of a publication’s permission to print for defamation and incitement to violence. Authorities sometimes brought charges under these laws.

Internet Freedom

There were unverifiable reports government authorities monitored private digital communications without appropriate legal authority, including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private. Government officials often corresponded with opposition or diaspora personalities using social media accounts, encouraging online discussion of major news events.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Self-censorship was common in academia and at cultural events, especially in universities, where there was little room for public discourse on politically sensitive topics. Many university-level professors held second jobs as close advisors to government officials, possibly lessening their intellectual independence.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly. The government generally respected this right.

The government required authorization from the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization and appropriate local officials for assemblies and demonstrations.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government sometimes respected this right. Political, social, or economic groups or associations were required to register with the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization. Authorities sometimes rejected registration requests due to political influence. According to a local NGO, groups that spoke openly against the government encountered overt or veiled threats and found the registration process more time consuming than organizations less critical of the government.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

Foreign Travel: The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

By law all citizens are eligible for a national passport. The government, however, lacked the capacity to produce passports in sufficient numbers to meet demand and prioritized providing passports to those individuals who could demonstrate imminent need to travel or who had strong government connections. Obtaining a passport was a time consuming and difficult process for most persons.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

UN and government officials reported approximately 95 percent of the 160,000 estimated internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled the Pool region during the 2016-17 conflict had returned to their homes and villages; the government promoted their safe and voluntary return. Anecdotal reports suggested that those who did not return had resettled voluntarily in other parts of the country. Other IDPs in the country included residents in areas affected by seasonal floods, who generally returned home when waters receded. The number of IDPs increased as flooding grew worse in recent years.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. UNHCR conducted training sessions on international protection with representatives from national police and the gendarmerie, immigration service, judiciary, and local police.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees but not asylum seekers. There are no laws recognizing asylum seekers. The National Refugee Assistance Committee (CNAR), a joint committee under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, handled applications for refugee status. The CNAR received most of its operating budget from UNHCR.

Employment: The law does not address employment for refugees, but various government decrees prohibit foreigners, including refugees, from practicing small trade activities and working in the public transportation sector.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR-funded primary schooling was accessible to most refugees. Authorities severely limited access to secondary and vocational education for refugees. Some secondary education occurred at schools where refugees volunteered to teach or received payment from parents of refugee children.

Although refugees had equal access to community health centers and hospitals, there were reports of refugees receiving discriminatory treatment at some hospitals, including insults by medical personnel and long waiting times for treatment without regard to priority relative to their medical conditions.

Durable Solutions: Resident Rwandan refugees who had not applied or qualified for refugee status could obtain permanent status if they applied for a Rwandan passport. Many Rwandans feared deportation if they received a passport, despite the assurances of local authorities and UNHCR this would not be the case. As of September the government did not deport any former Rwandan refugees.

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: During the 2017 legislative and local elections, international observers conducted two rounds of electoral observation. Most observers reported polling stations and electoral officials conducted their business professionally and had the tools necessary to conduct two parallel and concurrent elections for legislative and local races. Civil society and political party representation inside polling stations was robust and critical in dispute resolution. Observers, however, reported the heavy presence of security forces both inside and outside polling stations.

International electoral observers reported instances of fraud that likely benefitted candidates of the ruling Congolese Labor Party (PCT) and its allies in both rounds. During the first round of voting in 2017, international observers witnessed ballot box stuffing after the close of voting and before vote counts at the Foyer Social voting station in the Poto-Poto neighborhood of Brazzaville. During the second round of voting in 2017, international observers witnessed busloads of soldiers at the CEG De La Paix voting station in the Moungali neighborhood of Brazzaville. Local residents claimed these soldiers lacked appropriate documentation for that voting station, thus compromising the election results.

Some opposition parties boycotted the vote. The 2017 legislative elections gave the PCT and its allies control of 102 of 151 seats.

The Constitutional Court declared incumbent president Denis Sassou N’Guesso the winner of the 2016 presidential election in the first round with 60.29 percent of the vote. The court cited a 68.92 percent voter turnout among the more than two million eligible voters, with a 100 percent voter turnout in at least three regions.

On presidential election day, international observers witnessed a number of irregularities including: incorrect voter lists; inconsistency in ballot boxes; prefilled voting tally sheets for voter stations in Brazzaville; polling officials allowing and encouraging underage and multiple voting and instructing voters to vote only for the incumbent; polling stations opening late and without adequate supplies; polling officials refusing entry to accredited international observers; persons paying voters to vote for certain candidates; lack of uniform enforcement of voter identification requirements; polling officials, at separate locations, loyal to either the incumbent president or opposition candidates blocking entry to voters supporting opposing candidates; ruling party loyalists impersonating representatives of other candidates; polling officials not posting final vote tally sheets on the exterior wall of polling stations as required and burning ballots after the polling station count; and officials prohibiting observation at regional and national vote compilation centers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties and civil society groups faced restrictions on their ability to participate in the political and electoral process. The law confers recognition on 55 of 200 existing parties. According to the government, the remaining political parties did not meet the nationwide representation requirements.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit women’s or minority groups’ political participation as voters or candidates. Observers suggested cultural constraints might limit the number of women in government. Sexual harassment discouraged women’s participation in political activities. There were 14 women in the 72-seat senate and 15 women in the 151-seat national assembly. There were seven women in the 35-member cabinet. The law required that women make up 30 percent of each party’s slate of candidates for local or legislative elections. The constitution grants parity for women in political positions and mandated the creation of a national advisory council for women, but it did not specify whether the promotion of parity related to pay, benefits, appointment to political positions, or other topics.

The political process excluded many indigenous persons. Reasons included their isolation in remote areas, lack of registration, cultural barriers, and stigmatization by the majority Bantu population (see section 6).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not apply the anticorruption law evenly, however, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Local and international organizations regularly accused government officials, including the president, his family, and senior ministers of corruption. The accusations generally alleged officials diverted revenues from their official portfolios into private, overseas accounts before officially declaring the remaining revenues.

In July the government removed from office the then mayor of Brazzaville, Christian Roger Okemba, and subsequently sentenced him to five years in prison for embezzling two million dollars of public funds. The court also sentenced Okemba’s wife, Anastasie Eleonore Okemba, to a three-year suspended sentence.

In June international media reported seizure of an overseas apartment owned by the president’s son and member of parliament, Denis-Christel Sassou N’guesso, as part of an investigation into the alleged misuse of state funds during his tenure as chief executive officer of the country’s parastatal oil company from 2010 to 2015.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution mandates elected and senior appointed officials disclose their financial interests before taking office and upon leaving office. Failure to do so constitutes legal grounds for dismissal from a senior position. The constitution does not require that financial disclosure statements be made public.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups occasionally faced government restrictions during their investigations and when publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were not cooperative with or responsive to international or domestic human rights groups. Some domestic human rights groups did not report on specific incidents due to fear of reprisal by the government.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government-sponsored Human Rights Commission (HRC) is the government human rights watchdog and is responsible for addressing public concerns regarding human rights problems. The HRC had little effectiveness or independence; it did not undertake any activities directly responding to human rights problems.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, but it does not specifically address spousal rape or the gender of victims. The law prescribes unspecified monetary fines based on the severity of the crime and between 10 and 20 years in prison for violators. Authorities enforced the law; however, judgments often took years to be rendered and penalties applied. According to a local women’s group, penalties imposed for rape ranged from as few as several months’ imprisonment to rarely more than three years. NGOs and women’s advocacy groups reported rape, especially spousal rape, was common. The law prohibits domestic violence, with maximum penalties including prison terms and hard labor. One local NGO working on women’s topics reported police often brought victims to the NGO’s headquarters due to the lack of a formal shelter or other area of refuge.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal. Generally, the penalty is two to five years in prison. In particularly egregious cases, the penalty may be 10 years. The government did not effectively enforce this law.

Reproductive Rights: Couples have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, free from violence, but they often lacked the information and means to do so.

According to the Ministry of Health, 92 percent of women gave birth with skilled health attendance. Government officials noted these figures were based on populations in urban areas; women in rural or hard to access locations in northern departments faced geographic barriers and a lack of access to transportation infrastructure limiting their access to care. NGOs reported local health clinics and public hospitals were generally in poor condition and lacked experienced health-care staff.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. The coverage, however, was limited to the two large urban centers, Brazzaville, and Pointe Noire.

In 2017 the World Health Organization estimated there were 378 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Government officials cited limitations on women’s empowerment to make their own health decisions, geographic barriers, lack of qualified health service personnel and of health centers, and a limited number of referrals by general practitioners as the primary factors influencing maternal deaths. Women sometimes died in labor on the way to the hospital in rural areas, especially in the north of the country. Women from both the indigenous and other rural communities suffered disproportionately from rates of obstetric fistula due to unattended childbirth. Despite the law mandating free emergency obstetric care and caesarian sections, women often had to pay for care before any procedures.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Customary marriages, family laws, and civil laws enacted by the government govern the rights of women, children, and extended families. Women are provided the same legal status as men under the law, and authorities enforced those laws. Individual bias and customary beliefs, however, contributed to societal pressures to limit the rights of women. Adultery is illegal for both women and men, although the penalty differs. Under civil law the husband could receive only a fine for adultery, while the wife could receive a prison sentence. Polygamy is legal, while polyandry is not.

Women experienced discrimination in divorce settlements, specifically regarding property and financial assets. The law considers the man the head of the household, unless the father becomes incapacitated or abandons the family. The law dictates that in the absence of an agreement between spouses, men shall choose the residence of the family.

Women experienced economic discrimination with respect to employment, credit, equal pay, and owning or managing businesses.

Children

Birth Registration: Children can acquire citizenship from one citizen parent. Birth within the territory of the country does not confer citizenship, although exceptions exist for children born of missing or stateless parents or children born of foreign parents, at least one of whom was also born in the country. The government does not require registration of births but adjudicates births on a nondiscriminatory basis; it is up to parents to request birth registration for a child.

Education: Education is compulsory, tuition-free, and universal until age 16, but families are required to pay for books, uniforms, and health insurance fees. Boys were five times more likely than girls to attend high school and four times more likely than girls in high school to attend university.

Child Abuse: NGOs reported child abuse was prevalent but not commonly reported to authorities. Authorities generally investigated these reports.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits child marriage, and the legal age for marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men. According to UNICEF, 27 percent of girls are married before age 18. Underage marriage is possible with a judge’s permission and with the permission of both sets of parents; the law does not specify a minimum age in such a case. Many couples nevertheless engaged in informal common-law marriages that were not legally recognized.

There was no government program focused on preventing early or forced marriage. The penalty for forced marriage between an adult and child is a prison sentence of three months to two years and fines. The government did not prosecute any cases.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides penalties for crimes against children such as trafficking, pornography, neglect, and abuse. Penalties for these crimes include fines and prison sentences of several years, sometimes with forced labor. The penalty for child pornography includes a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The maximum penalty for sex with a minor is five years’ imprisonment and fines. A lack of specificity in the law was an obstacle to successful prosecution; it does not address sale, offering, or procuring for prostitution.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a very small Jewish community. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but authorities did not enforce these provisions effectively. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action is the lead ministry responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. There are no laws, however, mandating access for persons with disabilities. The government provides separate schools for students with hearing disabilities in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. The government mainstreamed children with vision disabilities and children with physical disabilities in regular public schools.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity, but the government made little effort to enforce it.

Indigenous People

Locally the phrase “indigenous people” refers to forest-dwelling communities that live a seminomadic lifestyle and practice a traditional socioeconomic system based on hunting and gathering of forest products. Most indigenous communities live in rural or isolated parts of the country with limited exposure to the government or its representatives. According to a joint survey by the government and the United Nations in 2017, indigenous people represented 10 percent of the country’s total population, while other international and domestic NGOs reported figures of approximately 7 percent.

The law provides special status and recognition for indigenous populations. Additionally, the constitution stipulates the state shall provide promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights. In July 2019 the government adopted six decrees on the Protection and Promotion of Indigenous Peoples. These decrees created an interministerial committee for the monitoring and evaluation of indigenous rights, protection of cultural property, the status of certain civil measures, and promotion of education, literacy, and basic social services. The government continued a series of public campaigns to educate members of indigenous communities, civil society, and government agencies regarding the six decrees.

Nevertheless, according to UNICEF and local NGOs, geographic isolation, cultural differences, and lack of political inclusion marginalized indigenous peoples throughout the country. NGOs and UN agencies reported members of indigenous communities experienced episodic discrimination, forced labor, and violence. The UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, after a visit in October 2019, reported that indigenous peoples faced significant discrimination, exclusion, and marginalization, including in their access to health services, education, employment, and political participation. According to UNICEF poverty levels remained high in indigenous communities and a lack of access to social services remained the main socioeconomic hurdle for these populations. Other indigenous communities living in more urban areas had greater access to social services but feared harassment by members of the majority Bantu nonindigenous population. Government decrees in 2019 mandated free access education until age 16 for all indigenous children, regardless whether they had birth certificates.

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

There is no law that specifically prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. The law prescribes imprisonment of three months to two years and a fine for those who commit a “public outrage against decency.” The law prescribes a punishment of six months to three years’ imprisonment and a fine for anyone who “commits a shameless act or an act against nature with an individual of the same sex under the age of 21.” Authorities did not invoke the law to arrest or prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons. On occasion, however, to elicit a small bribe, police officers harassed gay men and claimed the law prohibited same-sex sexual conduct.

Local NGOs reported limited violence by government authorities and private citizens against LGBTI persons. Authorities investigated and punished these acts of violence. Surveys of LGBTI populations by local NGOs indicated a majority of violence occurred among persons within the same family. Authorities refused to recognize one organization until it removed from all registration documents language indicating the organization’s focus on the LGBTI community.

There is no law prohibiting discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Public opinion polls conducted by the World Bank in 2012 showed significant societal discrimination against individuals with HIV or AIDS. The law provides penalties for unlawful divulgence of medical records by practitioners, negligence in treatment by health-care professionals, family abandonment, and unwarranted termination of employment. Civil society organizations advocating for the rights of persons with HIV or AIDS were well organized and sought fair treatment, especially regarding employment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The government generally did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government did not provide adequate inspections or remediation. There are no penalties for violations.

The law allows workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, with the exception of members of the security forces and other services “essential for protecting the general interest.” The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference.

Workers have the right to strike, provided they have exhausted lengthy and complex conciliation and nonbinding arbitration procedures and given seven business days’ notice. Participation in an unlawful strike constitutes serious misconduct and can result in criminal prosecution and forced prison labor. Nonviolently occupying a premise also constitutes serious misconduct. The law requires the continuation of a minimum service in all public services as essential to protect the general interest.

There have been employers who used hiring practices, such as subcontracting and short-term contracts, to circumvent laws prohibiting antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor unless imposed pursuant to a criminal penalty lawfully mandated by a court. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The law, however, allows authorities to requisition persons to work in the public interest and permits imprisonment if they refuse. The government practiced forced prison labor, including of prisoners held for political offenses and for striking workers. The government used mandatory military service to compel labor unrelated to military work. The law providing for compulsory emergency work allows the government to compel a broad range of work.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred (see section 7.c.), including in agriculture, domestic service, and market vending. In previous years NGOs in Bambama, Sibiti, and Dolisie reported the majority Bantu population forced adult indigenous persons to harvest manioc and other crops with limited or no pay and under the threat of physical abuse or death. Some reports suggested that hereditary servitude was taking place. The government conducted an awareness campaign with a focus on government officials, NGOs, and members of the indigenous communities regarding amendments intended to improve the legal regime governing the rights of indigenous persons in the country.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law criminalizes the worst forms of child labor. Under the law employers may not hire children younger than age 16, even as apprentices, without a waiver from the minister of national education. Minimum age protections, however, do not extend to children younger than age 18 who engage in hazardous work, but who do so without an employment contract. The law criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children, as well as forced labor, trafficking, and all forms of slavery. In June 2019 the government adopted a comprehensive antitrafficking law making all forms of human trafficking illegal. The law prohibits child soldiering and forced recruitment for child soldiering but does not set a minimum age for voluntary enlistment into the military service.

The law includes specific ranges of penalties for violators of the worst forms of child labor. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for similar crimes. In August the felony chamber of the Criminal Court of Brazzaville found six defendants guilty of trafficking eight Beninese children to the country. The court sentenced the defendants, all Beninese citizens, included four women and two men, to a total of 30 years in prison.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The government did not provide adequate staff, and labor inspections were not conducted in some parts of the country, especially in rural areas where child labor was prevalent. Child labor was a problem, particularly in the informal sector. Internal child trafficking brought children from rural areas to urban centers for forced labor in domestic work and market vending. Children also engaged in agricultural work and the catching and smoking of fish. NGOs working with indigenous communities reported children were forced to work in fields for low or no wages harvesting manioc under the threat of physical abuse or death. Children from West Africa worked in forced domestic servitude for West African families in Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville. Children also engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation and forced recruitment for armed conflict.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on family background, ethnicity, social condition, age, political or philosophical beliefs, gender, religion, region of origin within the country, place of residence in the country, language, HIV-positive status, and disability. The law does not specifically protect persons from discrimination based on national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, or having communicable diseases other than HIV.

Sexual harassment in the workplace was a problem. Women disproportionately worked in the informal sector, where they were less likely to benefit from legal protections. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Workers in the public sector are accorded a national minimum wage, which exceeded the poverty line. The minimum wage for private sector employees exceeded the poverty line. No official minimum wage exists in the agricultural or informal sectors. The government enforced the minimum wage law, and penalties were commensurate with those for comparable violations.

The law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours and provides for overtime pay for hours worked in excess of the 40-hour limit. The law does not limit the maximum number of hours one can work per week, although it calls for a minimum of 24 hours without work per week. The law provides for 10 paid holidays per year and 15 weeks of maternity leave.

The Ministry of Labor sets health and safety regulations that correspond with international standards. While health and safety regulations require biannual Ministry of Labor inspections of businesses, businesses reported the visits occurred much less frequently. The Ministry of Labor employed an insufficient number of inspectors to enforce the law. Inspectors only conducted inspections in the formal sector. The size of the inspectorate was not sufficient to enforce compliance with the law.

Workers have no specific right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. NGOs reported safety violations commonly occurred in commercial fishing, logging, quarries, and at private construction sites.

Russia

Executive Summary

The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin. The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and an appointed upper house (Federation Council), both of which lack independence from the executive. The 2016 State Duma elections and the 2018 presidential election were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process, including the exclusion of meaningful opposition candidates. On July 1, a national vote held on constitutional amendments did not meet internationally recognized electoral standards.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Security Service, the Investigative Committee, the Office of the Prosecutor General, and the National Guard are responsible for law enforcement. The Federal Security Service is responsible for state security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism, as well as for fighting organized crime and corruption. The national police force, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for combating all crime. The National Guard assists the Federal Security Service’s Border Guard Service in securing borders, administers gun control, combats terrorism and organized crime, protects public order, and guards important state facilities. The National Guard also participates in armed defense of the country’s territory in coordination with Ministry of Defense forces. Except in rare cases, security forces generally report to civilian authorities. National-level civilian authorities have, at best, limited control over security forces in the Republic of Chechnya, which are accountable only to the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Members of the Russian security forces committed numerous human rights abuses.

The country’s occupation and purported annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation there significantly and negatively. The Russian government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside Russia-led separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as numerous abuses, to Russian-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine). Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured.

Significant human rights issues included: extrajudicial killings and attempted extrajudicial killings, including of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons in Chechnya by local government authorities; enforced disappearances; pervasive torture by government law enforcement officers that sometimes resulted in death and occasionally involved sexual violence or punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons; arbitrary arrest and detention; political and religious prisoners and detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located outside the country; severe arbitrary interference with privacy; severe suppression of freedom of expression and media, including the use of “antiextremism” and other laws to prosecute peaceful dissent and religious minorities; violence against journalists; blocking and filtering of internet content and banning of online anonymity; severe suppression of the right of peaceful assembly; severe suppression of freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organizations”; severe restrictions of religious freedom; refoulement of refugees; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; severe limits on participation in the political process, including restrictions on opposition candidates’ ability to seek public office and conduct political campaigns, and on the ability of civil society to monitor election processes; widespread corruption at all levels and in all branches of government; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; coerced abortion and forced sterilization; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence against persons with disabilities, members of ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

The government failed to take adequate steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were several reports the government or its agents committed, or attempted to commit, arbitrary or unlawful killings. Impunity was a significant problem in investigating whether security force killings were justifiable (see section 1.e.).

Opposition activist and anticorruption campaigner Aleksey Navalny was poisoned on August 20 with a form of Novichok, a nerve agent that was also used in the 2018 attack on former Russian intelligence officer Sergey Skripal in the United Kingdom. After campaigning in Siberia for independent candidates for local elections, Navalny became severely ill and fell into a coma. The Federal Security Service (FSB) was tracking and surveilling Navalny during his stay in Tomsk. On August 21, officials at the Omsk hospital where Navalny was initially treated claimed they found no traces of poison in his system. Navalny was transferred to a hospital in Germany on August 22; on September 2, the German government announced that traces of a nerve agent from the “Novichok” group had been found in samples taken from Navalny. At Germany’s request the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) conducted a technical assistance visit, which confirmed that Navalny was exposed to a nerve agent belonging to the “Novichok” group.

Credible reports indicated that officers from Russia’s FSB used a nerve agent to poison Navalny. The G7 industrialized democracies bloc and NATO countries condemned Navalny’s confirmed poisoning and called on Russia to bring the perpetrators to justice. At the November 30 OPCW Conference of States Parties, 58 countries issued a statement urging Russia to disclose “in a swift and transparent manner the circumstances of this chemical weapons attack.” Russian authorities stated there are no grounds to open a criminal investigation into the poisoning, despite Navalny’s requests that they do so.

Credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media outlets published reports indicating that from December 2018 to January 2019, local authorities in the Republic of Chechnya renewed a campaign of violence against individuals perceived to be members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. According to the NGO Russian LGBT Network, local Chechen authorities illegally detained and tortured at least 40 individuals, including two who reportedly died in custody from torture. According to human rights organizations, as of September authorities failed to investigate the allegations or reports of extrajudicial killings and mass torture of LGBTI persons in Chechnya and continued to deny there were any LGBTI persons in Chechnya.

There were multiple reports that, in some prison colonies, authorities systematically tortured inmates (see section 1.c.), in some cases resulting in death or suicide. According to media reports, on April 10, prisoners in Penal Colony Number 15 (IK-15) in Angarsk rioted after a prison employee beat one of the inmates, leading him to make a video about his ordeal and slash his veins in a failed suicide attempt. Afterwards, 17 other inmates slashed their veins as well, then set fire to parts of the penal colony. The Federal Penitentiary Service sent in approximately 300 special force officers, who beat the inmates, doused them with water, and set dogs on them. Human rights activists reported that two inmates were killed during the clashes and called for an investigation. On April 14, Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko told media that the riot in IK-15 had been organized from the outside by individuals who had paid “so-called human rights activists” to “stir things up in the media.” Officials confirmed that they found the body of an inmate who had been strangled and hanged. According to media reports, the inmate who made the video that set off the riots later retracted his statement that he had been beaten by a prison employee.

Although Deputy Defense Minister Andrey Kartapolov announced on August 26 that hazing and “barracks hooliganism” in the armed forces had been completely eradicated, physical abuse and hazing, which in some cases resulted in death or suicide, continued to be a problem. For example, on June 21, Russian media reported that Aleksandr Tatarenko, a soldier in a Primorsky region military unit, deserted his post, leaving a suicide note indicating hazing as the reason. After two months, Tatarenko was found living under a bridge while hiding from his unit. Tatarenko’s parents filed a complaint on hazing with the Military Prosecutor’s Office.

In February government spokesperson Dmitriy Peskov dismissed calls for an international investigation into the 2015 killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, telling journalists that such an investigation would not be permitted on the territory of the Russian Federation. Human rights activists and the Nemtsov family continued to believe that authorities were intentionally ignoring the question of who ordered and organized the killing and noted that these persons were still at large.

There were reports that the government or its proxies committed, or attempted to commit, extrajudicial killings of its opponents in other countries. For example, on January 30, blogger Imran Aliyev was found dead in a hotel room in Lille, France, having been stabbed 135 times. Aliyev, who had settled in Belgium after leaving Chechnya, often published YouTube videos critical of Chechnya head Ramzan Kadyrov and the Chechen government. French prosecutors stated that the Russian-born man suspected of killing Aliyev returned to Russia immediately after the stabbing.

On July 4, a man identified by Austrian authorities only as a Russian citizen shot and killed Mamikhan Umarov, an asylum seeker from Russia, in a parking lot outside of Vienna. Umarov was also an outspoken critic of Kadyrov and had posted a YouTube video taunting Kadyrov to “come and stop [him]” shortly before his death. In his interviews and social media posts, Umarov claimed to be a mercenary who had fought on the side of Chechen separatists in the 1990s and sought asylum in 2005 because he feared reprisal in Chechnya. Austrian authorities had designated him a “person at risk” because of his background. Kadyrov responded to allegations of his involvement in this and other extrajudicial killings of Russian citizens in Europe by accusing Western intelligence of killing Chechen dissidents to make him look bad.

The country played a significant military role in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, where human rights organizations attributed thousands of civilian deaths and other abuses to Russian-led forces. Russian occupation authorities in Crimea also committed widespread abuses (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

Since 2015 the country’s forces have conducted military operations, including airstrikes, in the conflict in Syria. According to human rights organizations, the country’s forces took actions, such as bombing urban areas, that intentionally targeted civilian infrastructure (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria).

The news website Caucasian Knot reported that violent confrontations with security forces resulted in at least 14 deaths in the North Caucasus during the first half of the year. Dagestan was the most affected region, with seven deaths in the first half of the year, followed by Kabardino-Balkaria and Ingushetia, where three persons were killed in each region.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances perpetrated by or on behalf of government authorities. Enforced disappearances for both political and financial reasons continued in the North Caucasus. According to the August report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, there were 867 outstanding cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances in the country.

There were reports that police committed enforced disappearances and abductions during the year. For example, on September 10, the Civic Assistance Committee reported that a North Korean citizen who was seeking asylum in Vladivostok was taken to the Artyom City Police Department by individuals in civilian clothes, where he subsequently disappeared. The North Korean citizen first approached a Migration and Law network lawyer for assistance with an asylum request on August 27, stating that he fled the Far Eastern Federal University campus on Russky Island. An officer at the Frunzenskiy District Police Department told the lawyer that the North Korean consulate took the asylum seeker from the police department. The asylum seeker’s lawyer suspected that he was forcibly returned to his country of origin.

Security forces were allegedly complicit in the kidnapping and disappearance of individuals from Central Asia, whose forcible return was apparently sought by their governments (see section 2.f.).

There were continued reports of abductions and torture in the North Caucasus, including of political activists and others critical of Chechnya head Kadyrov. On October 28, 1ADAT, a social media channel that is highly critical of Kadyrov, reported that Chechen security forces abducted more than 1,500 persons between April and October. For example, on September 6, Salman Tepsurkayev, a 19-year-old Chechen activist and a 1ADAT moderator, was kidnapped, reportedly by persons with connections to Chechen authorities. On September 7, a video recording of Tepsurkayev circulated on social media in which he appeared naked with signs of torture as he said, “I am punishing myself” and sat on a glass bottle. The office of the Chechen human rights ombudsman commented it was aware of the video of Tepsurkayev but had not looked into the matter because there had been no request from the victim or the relatives. As of December 1, Tepsurkayev’s whereabouts were unknown.

On October 20, the human rights group Memorial reported that five men were abducted from the village of Chechen-Aul on August 28, and two more were abducted on August 30. Memorial stated that all seven men were taken to the city of Argun, where they were visited by the Chechen interior minister Ruslan Alkhanov and Chechen deputy prime minister Abuzaid Vismuradov before being transferred to a secret prison, where they were interrogated and tortured. Four of the men were later released (two on September 18 and two on October 7), while three reportedly remained in government detention facilities as of December. Memorial reported that 13 men were abducted on November 5 from the Chechen city of Gudermes and taken to a secret prison, where Memorial believed they remained as of December.

There were reports Russian-led forces and Russian occupation authorities in Ukraine engaged in enforced disappearances (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, numerous credible reports indicated law enforcement officers engaged in torture, abuse, and violence to coerce confessions from suspects, and authorities only occasionally held officials accountable for such actions.

In December 2019, for the first time, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation published data on the use of torture in prisons and pretrial detention centers. The data showed that between 2015 and 2018, for every 44 reports of violence perpetrated by Federal Penitentiary Service employees, only one criminal case was initiated.

There were reports of deaths as a result of torture (see section 1.a.).

Physical abuse of suspects by police officers was reportedly systemic and usually occurred within the first few days of arrest in pretrial detention facilities. Reports from human rights groups and former police officers indicated that police most often used electric shocks, suffocation, and stretching or applying pressure to joints and ligaments because those methods were considered less likely to leave visible marks. The problem was especially acute in the North Caucasus. According to the Civic Assistance Committee, prisoners in the North Caucasus complained of mistreatment, unreasonable punishment, religious and ethnic harassment, and inadequate provision of medical care.

There were reports that police beat or otherwise abused persons, in some cases resulting in their death. For example, media reported that members of Russia’s National Guard forcibly dispersed a peaceful political rally in Khabarovsk City on October 12. Several participants reported being beaten by police during the rally’s dispersal, at least one with a police baton; one victim suffered a broken nose. Two detained minors said they were “put on their knees in a corner, mocked, had their arms twisted, and were hit in the eye.”

There were reports that law enforcement officers used torture, including sleep deprivation, as a form of punishment against detained opposition and human rights activists, journalists, and critics of government policies. For example, on May 11, Russian media reported Vladimir Vorontsov, the creator of the Police Ombudsman project, was hospitalized after being kept in an isolation ward in a prison. According to his lawyer, authorities detained Vorontsov on May 7, denied his request for medical assistance, and interrogated him into the evening, after which he was placed in solitary confinement and not allowed to sleep. On May 8, Vorontsov was charged with extorting money from a police officer. Vorontsov alleged the charges against him were revenge for his social activism, which involved reporting on officials’ labor rights violations of law enforcement officers.

In several cities police reportedly subjected members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious group banned under antiextremism laws, to physical abuse and torture following their arrest. For example, on February 10, officers from the Russian National Guard handcuffed Chita resident Vadim Kutsenko and took him to a local forest, where they beat his face and neck, suffocated him, and used a Taser to force him to admit to being a practicing member of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When Kutsenko reported the incident to authorities, he was ignored and sent to a temporary detention center along with three other members of Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to media reports, Kutsenko sought medical treatment upon his release, which confirmed the physical trauma.

There were multiple reports of the FSB using torture against young “anarchists and antifascist activists” who were allegedly involved in several “terrorism” and “extremism” cases. For example, on February 10, a court in Penza found seven alleged anarchists and antifascist activists supposedly tied to a group known as “Set” (“Network”) guilty of terrorism and sentenced them to between six and 18 years in prison. Authorities claimed they were plotting to overthrow the government, but human rights activists asserted that the FSB falsified evidence and fabricated the existence of the organization known as “Set/Network.” Several of the sentenced men claimed that the FSB forced them to sign admissions of guilt under torture; one of them claimed he had marks on his body from electric shocks and asked for medical experts to document them but was denied the request. Memorial considered all seven men sentenced to be political prisoners.

In the North Caucasus region, there were widespread reports that security forces abused and tortured both alleged militants and civilians in detention facilities. On January 20, Aminat Lorsanova became the second individual to file a complaint with federal authorities asking for an investigation into abuses against the LGBTI community in Chechnya. In 2018 she was forcibly detained at one psychiatric clinic for 25 days and at another for four months. She was beaten with sticks and injected with tranquilizer to “cure” her of her bisexual identity. Dzhambulat Umarov, Chechnya’s minister of national policy, foreign relations, press, and information, publicly denied Lorsanova’s claims and accused the LGBTI community of deceiving “a sick Chechen girl.”

There were reports of rape and sexual abuse by government agents. For example, media reported on Mukhtar Aliyev’s account of his five years in IK-7 prison in Omsk region from 2015 until his release during the year, where he was subjected to torture, including sexual assault. Aliyev told media that prison officials would beat him, tie him to the bars for a prolonged length of time causing his legs and arms to swell up, and force other inmates to assault him sexually while recording their actions. Aliyev said that the officials threatened to leak the recording to other inmates and officials if he did not behave.

There were reports of authorities detaining defendants for psychiatric evaluations to exert pressure on them or sending defendants for psychiatric treatment as punishment. Prosecutors and certified medical professionals may request suspects be placed in psychiatric clinics on an involuntary basis. For example, on May 12, approximately two dozen riot police stormed the home of Aleksandr Gabyshev, a Siberian shaman who announced in 2019 that he and his supporters planned to walk from Yakutsk to Moscow to “expel” Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin. Police detained Gabyshev and forcibly hospitalized him for psychiatric treatment. On May 29, Gabyshev filed a claim refusing further hospitalization, after which the clinic’s medical commission deemed him a danger to himself and others and filed a lawsuit to extend his detention there. The clinic released Gabyshev on July 22.

Reports of nonlethal physical abuse and hazing continued in the armed forces. Activists reported such hazing was often tied to extortion schemes. On January 22, the online media outlet 29.ru published an interview with the mother of conscript Ilya Botygin, who claimed that he was a victim of repeated hazing in his Nizhny Novgorod-based unit. The mother said that her son’s superiors locked him up for several days at a time, fed him irregularly, and beat him. When she visited him in January, she took him to the emergency room for a medical examination, but his unit did not accept the paperwork documenting his injuries on the grounds it could be forged. She and Botygin filed a case with the Nizhny Novgorod military prosecutor’s office but told media they had not received any updates about an investigation.

There were reports that Russian-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region and Russian occupation authorities in Crimea engaged in torture (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. According to a July 25 investigation published by independent news outlet Novaya Gazeta, tens of thousands of cases of beatings and torture by the military, police, and other security forces could have gone unpunished in the previous 10 years. The report assessed the Investigative Committee’s lack of independence from police as a key factor hampering accountability, because the organization failed to initiate investigations into a high number of incidents.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers varied but were often harsh and life threatening. Overcrowding, abuse by guards and inmates, limited access to health care, food shortages, and inadequate sanitation were common in prisons, penal colonies, and other detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a serious problem. While the law mandates the separation of women and men, juveniles and adults, and pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners in separate quarters, anecdotal evidence indicated not all prison facilities followed these rules. On March 31, Amnesty International urged authorities to take urgent measures to address the potentially devastating consequences of COVID-19 if it spreads among prisoners and detainees. The organization stated that prisons’ overcrowding, poor ventilation, and inadequate health care and sanitation led to a high risk of infection among prisoners and detainees.

Physical and sexual abuse by prison guards was systemic. For example, Russian media reported that on February 13, the prison warden of IK-5 in Mordovia, Valeriy Trofimov, took prisoner Ibragim Bakaniyev into his office and beat and humiliated him for six hours. Bakaniyev was accused of taking part in a riot that broke out earlier that night. Bakaniyev reported that the torture only ended when he used a hidden blade to cut his hand and threatened to commit suicide. Bakaniyev was sent to a punishment cell for the next three months.

Prisoner-on-prisoner violence was also a problem. For example, the Committee against Torture in Krasnodar reported that authorities opened a criminal investigation into the July 7 death of Dmitriy Kraskovskiy, a detainee in Pretrial Detention Facility Number 1 in Krasnodar. Authorities suspected he was beaten to death by inmates. The preliminary report indicated multiple bruises and head wounds on Kraskovskiy. The perpetrators allegedly tried to hang the corpse to hide the cause of death.

There were reports prison authorities recruited inmates to abuse other inmates. For example, on July 22, Russian media and the Civic Assistance Committee reported that a group of inmates tortured and sexually assaulted Makharbi Tosuyev, a prisoner at IK-7, who was confined to the psychiatric department of IK-3. According to Tosuyev, a group of inmates tied him to his bed while he was confined in the psychiatric department of IK-3 as a result of a self-inflicted injury, and tortured and sexually assaulted him with a plastic stick. Tosuyev accused the head of the operational department of IK-3, Edgar Hayrapetyan, of organizing the attack.

Overcrowding, ventilation, heating, sanitation, and nutritional standards varied among facilities but generally were poor. Opportunities for movement and exercise in pretrial detention were minimal. Potable water was sometimes rationed, and food quality was poor; many inmates relied on food provided by family or NGOs. Access to quality medical care remained a problem. For example, according to the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a 61-year-old Smolensk resident, Viktor Malkov, died three months after being released from an eight-month-long detention, partly because his chronic health problems were exacerbated by the denial of medical care in the detention center. Malkov, who was detained on the grounds of extremism due to his religious beliefs, had stated that prison officials did not allow him to seek proper treatment or medications for his heart disease and kidney problems.

NGOs reported approximately 50 percent of prisoners with HIV did not receive adequate treatment. Only prisoners with a CD4 white-blood cell level below a certain amount were provided treatment. NGOs reported that interruptions in the supplies of some antiretroviral drugs were sometimes a problem.

There were reports political prisoners were placed in particularly harsh conditions and subjected to punitive treatment within the prison system, such as solitary confinement or punitive stays in psychiatric units. For example, on May 21, a court ordered the forced psychiatric treatment of Kamchatka opposition activist Vladimir Shumanin during a criminal prosecution for libel stemming from a 2018 article in which he accused a law enforcement officer of engaging in criminal behavior. In the Far East region, Shumanin was known for running a personal YouTube channel in which he sharply criticized regional and federal authorities.

Administration: Convicted inmates and individuals in pretrial detention have visitation rights, but authorities may deny visitation depending on circumstances. By law prisoners with harsher sentences are allowed fewer visitation rights. The judge in a prisoner’s case may deny the prisoner visitation. Authorities may also prohibit relatives deemed a security risk from visiting prisoners. Some pretrial detainees believed authorities sometimes denied visitation and telephone access to pressure them into providing confessions.

While prisoners may file complaints with public oversight commissions or with the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, they often did not do so due to fear of reprisal. Prison reform activists reported that only prisoners who believed they had no other option risked the consequences of filing a complaint. Complaints that reached the oversight commissions often focused on minor personal requests.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted representatives of public oversight commissions to visit prisons regularly to monitor conditions. According to the Public Chamber, there were public oversight commissions in almost all regions. Human rights activists expressed concern that some members of the commissions were individuals close to authorities and included persons with law enforcement backgrounds.

By law members of oversight commissions have the right to videotape and photograph inmates in detention facilities and prisons with their written approval. Commission members may also collect air samples, conduct other environmental inspections, conduct safety evaluations, and access prison psychiatric facilities. The law permits human rights activists not listed in public oversight commissions to visit detentions centers and prisons. The NGO Interregional Center for Women’s Support, working with detained migrants, noted that only after a specific detainee submits a request and contacts the NGO may the organization obtain permission to visit a certain detention center.

Authorities allowed the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture to visit the country’s prisons and release some reports on conditions but continued to withhold permission for it to release all recent reports.

There were reports of authorities prosecuting journalists for reporting torture. For example, in September, three penal colonies in Kemerovo Oblast (IK-5, IK-22, and IK-37) filed a lawsuit for reputational protection against a number of former prisoners and civic activists, including journalist Andrey Novashov, who in June published an article on the news website Sibir.Realii exposing inmates’ allegations of torture in the three colonies.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities engaged in these practices with impunity. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but successful challenges were rare.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law authorities may arrest and hold a suspect for up to 48 hours without court approval, provided there is evidence of a crime or a witness; otherwise, an arrest warrant is required. The law requires judicial approval of arrest warrants, searches, seizures, and detentions. Officials generally honored this requirement, although bribery or political pressure sometimes subverted the process of obtaining judicial warrants. After an arrest, police typically took detainees to the nearest police station, where they informed them of their rights. Police must prepare a protocol stating the grounds for the arrest, and both the detainee and police officer must sign it within three hours of detention. Police must interrogate detainees within the first 24 hours of detention. Prior to interrogation, a detainee has the right to meet with an attorney for two hours. No later than 12 hours after detention, police must notify the prosecutor. They must also give the detainee an opportunity to notify his or her relatives by telephone unless a prosecutor issues a warrant to keep the detention secret. Police are required to release a detainee after 48 hours, subject to bail conditions, unless a court decides, at a hearing, to prolong custody in response to a motion filed by police not less than eight hours before the 48-hour detention period expires. The defendant and his or her attorney must be present at the court hearing, either in person or through a video link.

Except in the North Caucasus, authorities generally respected the legal limitations on detention. There were reports of occasional noncompliance with the 48-hour limit for holding a detainee. At times authorities failed to issue an official detention protocol within the required three hours after detention and held suspects longer than the legal detention limits.

By law police must complete their investigation and transfer a case to a prosecutor for arraignment within two months of a suspect’s arrest, although an investigative authority may extend a criminal investigation for up to 12 months. Extensions beyond 12 months need the approval of the head federal investigative authority in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB, or the Investigative Committee and the approval of the court. According to some defense lawyers, the two-month time limit often was exceeded, especially in cases with a high degree of public interest.

Problems existed related to detainees’ ability to obtain adequate defense counsel. The law provides defendants the right to choose their own lawyers, but investigators sometimes did not respect this provision, instead designating lawyers friendly to the prosecution. These “pocket” defense attorneys agreed to the interrogation of their clients in their presence while making no effort to defend their clients’ legal rights. In many cases especially in more remote regions, defense counsel was not available for indigent defendants. Judges usually did not suppress confessions taken without a lawyer present. Judges at times freed suspects held in excess of detention limits, although they usually granted prosecutors’ motions to extend detention periods.

There were reports that security services sometimes held detainees in incommunicado detention before officially registering the detention. This practice usually coincided with allegations of the use of torture to coerce confessions before detainees were permitted access to a lawyer. The problem was especially acute in the Republic of Chechnya, where such incommunicado detention could reportedly last for weeks in some cases.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were many reports of arbitrary arrest or detention, often in connection with demonstrations and single-person pickets, such as those that preceded and succeeded the July 1 national vote on constitutional amendments (see section 2.b.). The independent human rights media project OVD-Info reported that during the first six months of the year, police detained 388 single-person picketers in Moscow and St. Petersburg alone, although single-person pickets are legal and do not require a permit. After Novaya Gazeta journalist and municipal deputy Ilya Azar was arrested and sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest on May 26 for holding a single-person picket in Moscow, law enforcement authorities detained an estimated 130 individuals who took part in protests supporting him in three cities. Many of them were fined for violating the laws on staging public demonstrations.

There were reports that Russian-led forces and Russian occupation authorities in Ukraine engaged in arbitrary detention (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

Pretrial Detention: Observers noted lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, but data on its extent were not available. By law pretrial detention may not normally exceed two months, but the court has the power to extend it to six months, as well as to 12 or 18 months if the crime of which the defendant is accused is especially serious. For example, Yuliy Boyarshinov, described by Memorial as an antifascist and left-wing activist, was in pretrial detention from 2018 until the resumption of his trial in February; he was convicted and sentenced to 5.5 years in prison in June. He was accused of illegally storing explosives and participating in a terrorist organization because of his purported association with the “Network,” an alleged antifascist and anarchist group that relatives of the accused claim does not really exist. Memorial considered Boyarshinov to be a political prisoner.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law a detainee may challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court. In view of problems with judicial independence (see section 1.e.), however, judges typically agreed with the investigator and dismissed defendants’ complaints.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but judges remained subject to influence from the executive branch, the armed forces, and other security forces, particularly in high-profile or politically sensitive cases, as well as to corruption. The outcomes of some trials appeared predetermined. Acquittal rates remained extremely low. In 2019 courts acquitted 0.36 percent of all defendants.

There were reports of pressure on defense attorneys representing clients who were being subjected to politically motivated prosecution and other forms of reprisal. According to a June 2019 report from the Agora International Human Rights Group, it has become common practice for judges to remove defense attorneys from court hearings without a legitimate basis in retaliation for their providing clients with an effective defense. The report also documented a trend of law enforcement authorities’ using physical force to interfere with the work of defense attorneys, including the use of violence to prevent them from being present during searches and interrogations.

On August 7, the bar association of the Leningrad region opened disciplinary proceedings against Yevgeniy Smirnov, a lawyer from Team 29, an informal association of lawyers and journalists dedicated to protecting civil liberties. Smirnov was one of the lawyers representing journalist Ivan Safronov in a high-profile treason case. His colleagues believed that the disciplinary proceedings were retaliation for his work.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but executive interference with the judiciary and judicial corruption undermined this right.

The defendant has a legal presumption of innocence and the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, but these rights were not always respected. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges and to be present at the trial. The law provides for the appointment of an attorney free of charge if a defendant cannot afford one, although the high cost of legal service meant that lower-income defendants often lacked competent representation. A Yekaterinburg-based legal and human rights NGO indicated many defense attorneys do not vigorously defend their clients and that there were few qualified defense attorneys in remote areas of the country. Defense attorneys may visit their clients in detention, although defense lawyers claimed authorities electronically monitored their conversations and did not always provide them access to their clients. Prior to trial, defendants receive a copy of their indictment, which describes the charges against them in detail. They also may review their file following the completion of the criminal investigation.

Non-Russian defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, although the quality of interpretation is typically poor. During trial the defense is not required to present evidence and is given an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and call defense witnesses, although judges may deny the defense this opportunity. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right of appeal.

The law provides for trial by jury in criminal cases if the defendant is charged with murder, kidnapping, narcotics smuggling, and certain other serious crimes. Nonetheless, trials by jury remained rare, and the vast majority of verdicts and sentences are rendered by judges. The acquittal rate in trials by jury is much higher (23 percent in 2019) than in trials before a judge (0.36 percent in 2019), although acquittals by jury are sometimes overturned by judges in appellate courts.

The law allows prosecutors to appeal acquittals, which they did in most cases. Prosecutors may also appeal what they regard as lenient sentences. In April 2018, a court in Petrozavodsk acquitted renowned historian of the gulag and human rights activist Yuriy Dmitriyev of child pornography charges, a case many observers believed to be politically motivated and in retaliation for his efforts to expose Stalin-era crimes. In June 2018 the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia granted the prosecutor’s appeal of the acquittal and sent the case for retrial. In the same month, Dmitriyev was again arrested. On July 22, the Petrozavodsk City Court found him guilty of sexual abuse of a minor and sentenced him to 3.5 years in prison. On September 29, the Supreme Court of Karelia overturned the decision and extended his sentence to 13 years in maximum-security prison. Memorial considered Dmitriyev to be a political prisoner.

Authorities particularly infringed on the right to a fair trial in Chechnya, where observers noted that the judicial system served as a means of conducting reprisals against those who exposed wrongdoing by Chechnya head Kadyrov.

In some cases judicial authorities imposed sentences disproportionate to the crimes charged. For example, on August 18, political commentator Fyodor Krasheninnikov was sentenced to seven days in jail for publishing comments criticizing the Constitutional Court. The Sverdlovsk Oblast human rights ombudswoman responded that Krasheninnikov should only have been fined. Krasheninnikov filed a complaint with European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), asserting that his arrest violated his rights of speech, fair trial, and personal freedom.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were credible reports of political prisoners in the country and that authorities detained and prosecuted individuals for political reasons. Charges usually applied in politically motivated cases included “terrorism,” “extremism,” “separatism,” and “espionage.” Political prisoners were reportedly placed in particularly harsh conditions of confinement and subjected to other punitive treatment within the prison system, such as solitary confinement or punitive stays in psychiatric units.

As of December Memorial’s list of political prisoners contained 358 names, including 295 individuals who were allegedly wrongfully imprisoned for exercising religious freedom. Nevertheless, Memorial estimated that the actual number of political prisoners in the country could be two to three times greater than the number on its list. Memorial’s list included journalists jailed for their writing, such as Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev (see section 2.a.); human rights activists jailed for their work, such as Yuriy Dmitriyev; many Ukrainians (including Crimean Tatars) imprisoned for their vocal opposition to the country’s occupation of Crimea; Anastasiya Shevchenko, the first individual charged under the “undesirable foreign organizations” law; students and activists jailed for participating in the Moscow protests in July and August 2019; and members of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious believers. Memorial noted the average length of sentences for the cases on their list continued to increase, from 5.3 years for political prisoners and 6.6 years for religious prisoners in 2016 to 6.8 and 9.1 years, respectively, in 2018. In some cases sentences were significantly longer, such as the case of Aleksey Pichugin, a former security official of the Russian oil company Yukos, imprisoned since 2003 with a life sentence for conviction of alleged involvement in murder and murder attempts; human rights organizations asserted that his detention was politically motivated to obtain false evidence against Yukos executives.

Politically Motivated Reprisal Against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There were credible reports that the country attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as a reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country. Authorities used their access to the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) to target political enemies abroad. For example, the religious freedom rights organization Forum 18 reported that the country issued Interpol red notices in January to secure the extradition of at least two individuals facing “extremism” charges for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. Ashurali Magomedeminov, who studied the work of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, left Russia in 2016; the Investigative Committee launched a criminal case against him in 2017 after accusing him of sharing “extremist literature.”

There were credible reports that, for politically motivated purposes, the government attempted to exert bilateral pressure on another country aimed at having it take adverse action against specific individuals. For example, on February 21, Belarusian police detained Nikolay Makhalichev, a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, at the request of the Russian authorities. Makhalichev said that Belarusian police told him that Russian authorities had put him on an interstate wanted list after they opened a criminal case against him for “extremism” for his religious affiliation. Russian prosecutors brought forth a request for extradition, but on April 7, the Belarusian courts determined that he would not be extradited.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Although the law provides mechanisms for individuals to file lawsuits against authorities for human rights violations, these mechanisms often did not work well. For example, the law provides that a defendant who has been acquitted after a trial has the right to compensation from the government. While this legal mechanism exists in principle, it was practically very cumbersome to use. Persons who believed their human rights were violated typically sought redress in the ECHR after domestic courts ruled against them. Amendments to the constitution approved in a nationwide vote on July 1, and signed into law on December 8, enshrined the primacy of Russian law over international law, stating that decisions by interstate bodies interpreted in a manner contrary to the constitution are not enforceable in the country. Many experts interpreted this to mean that courts have greater power to ignore rulings from international human rights bodies, including the ECHR; the courts had already set a precedent by declaring such bodies’ decisions “nonexecutable.”

Property Restitution

The country has endorsed the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Restitution but declined to endorse the 2010 Guidelines and Best Practices. There is no legislation or special mechanism in the country that addresses the restitution of or compensation for private property; the same is true for heirless property. The government has laws in place providing for the restitution of cultural property, but according to the laws’ provisions, claims may only be made by states and not individuals.

For information regarding Holocaust-era property restitution and related issues, please see the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The law forbids officials from entering a private residence except in cases prescribed by federal law or when authorized by a judicial decision. The law also prohibits the collection, storage, utilization, and dissemination of information about a person’s private life without his or her consent. While the law previously prohibited government monitoring of correspondence, telephone conversations, and other means of communication without a warrant, those legal protections were significantly weakened by laws passed since 2016 granting authorities sweeping powers and requiring telecommunications providers to store all electronic and telecommunication data (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom). Politicians from minority parties, NGOs, human rights activists, and journalists alleged that authorities routinely employed surveillance and other measures to spy on and intimidate citizens.

Law enforcement agencies required telecommunications providers to grant the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB continuous remote access to client databases, including telephone and electronic communications, enabling them to track private communications and monitor internet activity without the provider’s knowledge. The law permits authorities with a warrant to monitor telephone calls in real time, but this safeguard was largely pro forma. The Ministry of Information and Communication requires telecommunications service providers to allow the FSB to tap telephones and monitor the internet. The Ministry of Information and Communication maintained that authorities would not access information without a court order, although the FSB is not required to show it upon request.

In January a Novaya Gazeta investigation revealed that personnel of the Internal Affairs Ministry’s antiextremism division had installed a secret video camera in 2018 in the bedroom of Anastasiya Shevchenko, an Open Russia activist facing criminal charges for participating in an “undesirable” organization. The camera recorded her for five months without her knowledge.

The law requires explicit consent for governmental and private collection of biometric data via facial recognition technology. Laws on public security and crime prevention, however, provide for exceptions to this consent requirement. Human rights activists claimed the law lacks appropriate safeguards to prevent the misuse of these data, especially without any judicial or public oversight over surveillance methods and technologies.

As of September almost 200,000 government surveillance cameras have been installed in Moscow and equipped with Russian-developed automated facial recognition software as part of its Safe City program. The system was initially installed in key public places, such as metro stations and apartment entrances, in order to scan crowds against a database of wanted individuals. The first major test of this system occurred in the spring, as the Moscow city government began enforcing mandatory COVID-19 self-isolation requirements using facial recognition. The personal data of residents and international visitors placed under quarantine in Moscow were reportedly uploaded into the system in order to monitor the public for self-isolation violations. The Moscow city government announced that additional cameras would be installed throughout the city, including in one-quarter of the city’s 6,000 metro cars, by the end of the year.

In July, two activists, Alyona Popova and Vladimir Milov, filed a complaint against the country’s facial recognition program with the ECHR. Popova and Milov claimed closed-circuit television cameras were used during a large September 2019 protest in Moscow to conduct mass surveillance of the participants. They claimed that the government’s collection of protesters’ unique biometric data through the use of facial recognition technology violated the right to privacy and freedom of assembly provided for in the European Convention on Human Rights. Popova and Milov also argued the use of the technology at an opposition rally amounted to discrimination based on political views. The pair had previously filed a complaint in a local Moscow court, which was dismissed in March when the court ruled the government’s use of the technology legal.

On May 21, the State Duma adopted a law to create a unified federal register containing information on all the country’s residents, including their names, dates and places of birth, and marital status. According to press reports, intelligence and security services would have access to the database in their investigations. There were reports that authorities threatened to remove children from the custody of parents engaged in political activism or some forms of religious worship, or parents who were LGBTI persons. For example, on October 2, Russian media reported that authorities were threatening to arrest and take away the children of gay men who have fathered their children through surrogacy, accusing them of child trafficking. Several families reportedly left the country due to fear of arrest. As of December no formal arrest related to this threat had been reported.

The law requires relatives of terrorists to pay the cost of damages caused by an attack, which human rights advocates criticized as collective punishment. Chechen Republic authorities reportedly routinely imposed collective punishment on the relatives of alleged terrorists, including by expelling them from the republic.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government increasingly restricted this right. Regional and local authorities used procedural violations and restrictive or vague legislation to detain, harass, or prosecute persons who criticized the government or institutions it favored. The government exercised editorial control over media, creating a media landscape in which most citizens were exposed to predominantly government-approved narratives. Significant government pressure on independent media constrained coverage of numerous topics, especially of Belarus, LGBTI persons, the environment, elections, COVID-19, criticism of local or federal leadership, as well as secessionism or federalism. The government used direct ownership or ownership by large private companies with government links to control or influence major national media and regional media outlets, especially television. Censorship and self-censorship in television and print media and on the internet was widespread, particularly regarding points of view critical of the government or its policies. The government’s failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters further stifled freedom of assembly and association.

Freedom of Speech: Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism, under which citizens may be punished for certain types of peaceful protests, affiliation with certain religious denominations, and even certain social media posts, as a tool to stifle dissent. As of August the Ministry of Justice had expanded its list of extremist materials to include 5,080 books, videos, websites, social media pages, musical compositions, and other items, an increase of approximately 80 items from 2019. According to the prosecutor general, authorities prosecuted 585 extremism cases in 2019, the majority of which included charges of “extremism” levied against individuals for exercising free speech on social media and elsewhere.

On March 27, the State Duma passed legislation criminalizing the dissemination of false “socially significant information” online, in mass media, or during protests or public events. This law in effect toughened a March 2019 law that prohibited the dissemination of “incorrect socially meaningful information, distributed under the guise of correct information, which creates the threat of damage to the lives and health of citizens or property, the threat of mass disruption of public order and public security, or the threat of the creation of an impediment to the functioning of life support facilities, transport infrastructure, banking, energy, industry, or communications.” Authorities used the law to target human rights defenders and civil society activists in criminal investigations, most recently by accusing them of spreading unreliable information related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 15, Agora International Human Right Group published a report showing that over the course of 450 days, authorities initiated approximately 200 cases against the dissemination of “unreliable socially significant information.” A total of 33 of the cases were filed between April 3 and June 9 and involved criminal complaints that mainly targeted activists, journalists, bloggers, and legislators.

In early May prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into the activities of Grigoriy Vinter, the head of the Vologda chapter of the NGO For Human Rights, after posts criticizing authorities for transporting prisoners who showed COVID-19 symptoms were published on a social media page that he administered. Vinter had previously faced similar politically motivated investigations for his human rights advocacy.

By law authorities may close any organization a court determines to be extremist, including media outlets and websites. Roskomnadzor, the country’s media oversight agency, routinely issued warnings to newspapers and internet outlets it suspected of publishing extremist materials. Three warnings in one year sufficed to initiate a closure lawsuit.

During the year authorities invoked a 2013 law prohibiting the distribution of “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relations” to minors to punish the exercise of free speech by LGBTI persons and their supporters. For example, Russian media reported that on July 10, LGBTI artist and activist Yuliya Tsvetkova was fined by a local court in the Russian Far East for social media posts and drawings depicting same-sex couples with their children, rainbow-colored cats, and matryoshka dolls holding hands. Tsvetkova was also under investigation for spreading pornography among minors for her body-positive projects in 2019. On September 22, her case was returned to the Investigative Committee for Khabarovsk Kray for further investigation in what experts believe was an attempt to prolong the trial.

Authorities investigated individuals for speech allegedly violating a law that prohibits “offending the feelings of religious believers.” For example, at the end of January, popular stand-up comic Aleksandr Dolgopolov left the country after police opened an investigation into one of his performances from 2019. Media reported that an audience member complained that Dolgopolov had insulted his religious feelings, possibly with a joke about Jesus and his mother Mary. In March, Dolgopolov announced that he had returned to Russia; the status of the investigation was unclear.

During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech that allegedly violated the law prohibiting the “rehabilitation of Nazism.” On August 8, media reported that the Investigative Committee opened a case against Voronezh resident Aleksandr Khoroshiltsev for posting a photo of Adolf Hitler on the website of the Immortal Regiment, the name given to the yearly procession of individuals with portraits of relatives who fought in World War II. Authorities told journalists that posts such as Khoroshiltsev’s were aimed at rehabilitating the Nazi regime.

The law bans the display of Nazi symbols and the symbols of groups placed on the government’s list of “extremist” organizations. There was no official register or list of banned symbols. On May 15, a district court in Kemerovo sentenced Vladislav Koretskiy, an 18-year-old student, to 10 days incarceration for publishing social media posts in 2016 and 2017 containing images of swastikas.

The law prohibits showing “disrespect” online for the state, authorities, the public, flag, or constitution. For example, on March 3, a district court in Tomsk fined activist Sergey Chaykovskiy, the executive director of the National Bureau for the Development of Democracy, for an Instagram post that showed a speech by Nancy Pelosi accusing Putin of interfering in the conflict in Ukraine. Chaykovskiy captioned the post “Vladimir Putin will answer for his crimes in Ukraine” and was found guilty of disrespecting authorities online.

During the year authorities enforced a law prohibiting the “propaganda of narcotics” to prosecute or threaten to block independent outlets. For example, in January the Supreme Court upheld lower court orders to block the distribution of an article by independent journalists chronicling the story of a heroin user. Free speech advocates expressed concern that the law allowed the government to ban any nonfiction article on drug use it deemed inappropriate.

During the year authorities used a law banning cooperation with “undesirable foreign organizations” to restrict free expression. For example, in March authorities opened an administrative case against the Andrey Rylkov Foundation for publishing a text from the Open Russia movement on its website. Prosecutors accused the foundation, which aids drug addicts and advocates for changes to laws on narcotics, of cooperating with an “undesirable foreign organization.”

Government-controlled media frequently used derogatory terms such as “traitor,” “foreign agent,” and “fifth column” to describe individuals expressing views critical of or different from government policy, leading to a societal climate intolerant of dissent.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government continued to restrict press and media freedom. More than 80 percent of country’s mass media was funded by the government or progovernment actors. Government-friendly oligarchs owned most other outlets, which are permitted to determine what they publish within formal or informal boundaries set by the government. In the regions each governor also controlled regional media through direct or indirect funding or through affiliated structures. The federal government or progovernment individuals completely or partially owned all so-called federal television channels, the only stations with nationwide reach. The 29 most-watched stations together commanded 86 percent of television viewership; all were owned at least in part by the federal or local governments or by progovernment individuals. Government-owned media outlets often received preferential benefits, such as rent-free occupancy of government-owned buildings, and a preferential tax rate. On a regional level, state-owned and progovernment television channels received subsidies from the Ministry of Finance for broadcasting in cities with a population of less than 100,000 and on the creation and production of content. At many government-owned or -controlled outlets, the state increasingly dictated editorial policy. While the law restricts foreign ownership of media outlets to no more than 20 percent, another provision of the ambiguously worded law apparently bans foreign ownership entirely. The government used these provisions to consolidate ownership of independent outlets under progovernment oligarchs and to exert pressure on outlets that retained foreign backers. In its annual report on freedom of the press, Freedom House rated the country “not free.”

By law the Ministry of Justice is required to maintain a list of media outlets that are designated “foreign agents.” As of August there were 11 outlets listed. The decision to designate media outlets as foreign agents may be made outside of court by other government bodies, including law enforcement agencies.

The law allows authorities to label individuals (both Russian and foreign citizens) as “foreign agents” if they disseminate foreign media to an unspecified number of persons and receive funding from abroad. Human rights defenders expressed concern that this legislation would be used to further restrict the activities of or selectively punish journalists, bloggers, and social media users. Individuals labeled a “foreign agent” are required to register with the Ministry of Justice, and those living abroad also must create and register a legal entity inside the country in order to publish materials inside the country. All information published by the “foreign agent” individual must be marked as having been produced by a “foreign agent.” Fines for noncompliance with the law range from 10,000 to five million rubles ($133 to $66,500).

A parliamentary commission investigated alleged foreign interference into Russian domestic affairs. After the September 13 regional elections, the commission reported that “foreign agent” NGOs tried to discredit the election and undermine the confidence of Russians in the democratic procedures. According to the commission, the interference tactics were diverse and included disinformation on social networks and round-the-clock hacker attacks on the servers of the Russian Central Election Commission.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to be subjected to arrest, imprisonment, physical attack, harassment, and intimidation as a result of their reporting. According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation, as of December incidents of violence and harassment against journalists included one killing, 42 attacks, 97 detentions by law enforcement officers, 46 prosecutions, 27 threats, and six politically motivated firings. Journalists and bloggers who uncovered government malfeasance or who criticized the government often faced harassment, either in the form of direct threats to their physical safety or threats to their livelihood, frequently through legal prosecution.

There were reports of attacks on journalists by government officials and police. For example, according to press reports, on June 30, a police officer severely injured David Frenkel, a journalist with the independent MediaZona outlet, as he was reporting on the nationwide vote on constitutional amendments in St. Petersburg. Frenkel was at a polling station investigating alleged violations of voting procedure. The head of the local voting commission requested that police remove Frenkel from the premises for purportedly interrupting the polling station’s work. A video widely circulated on social media showed the police officer tackling Frenkel, breaking his collarbone in the process. Frenkel was charged with three administrative offenses for allegedly interfering with the election commission’s work, ignoring police orders, and violating COVID-19 restrictions. Frenkel was eventually fined a nominal sum for the violations. His fines were upheld on appeal. Frenkel filed a lawsuit against the police officer involved; a preliminary investigation of the officer’s actions was reportedly launched but found no grounds for the opening of a case.

There were reports of police briefly detaining journalists to interfere with or punish them for their reporting. For example, on May 5, OVD-Info reported that police detained journalist Sergey Poznyakov as he was traveling to the editorial office of the newspaper Communists of Russia, where he worked as a correspondent. Police claimed they detained him because he did not show his documents, although Poznyakov asserted that he did. Police allegedly blocked the entrance to the newspaper’s office for five days, possibly in retaliation for its staff releasing red balloons, a symbolic gesture to communism, during a May Day celebration.

There were reports of police framing journalists for serious crimes to interfere with or punish them for their reporting. For example, Ivan Safronov, a former national security journalist for major national daily newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti, was arrested by the FSB and charged with treason in July. Safronov was working as an aide to the head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, at the time of his arrest. The charges alleged Safronov was recruited by Czech intelligence agents in 2012 to pass sensitive Russian military information to another foreign government. Observers speculated the charges might be related to a 2017 Kommersant article coauthored by Safronov, detailing the potential sale of Russian military aircraft to Egypt. Safronov also provoked a strong reaction from the government for a 2019 article in Kommersant speculating on a shakeup of the leadership in the Federation Council. Safronov was subsequently fired from Kommersant, according to some accounts, due to government pressure on the publisher. Safronov’s supporters noted the treason charges complicated his defense in that independent examination of the evidence would likely be impossible. If convicted, Safronov faces up to 20 years in prison. As of December Safronov remained in custody.

There were reports of police raids on the offices of independent media outlets that observers believed were designed to punish or pressure the outlets. For example, in July police raided the offices and private homes of the opposition organization MBK Media and its associated human rights foundation, Open Russia. These raids were ostensibly connected to the continuing investigation of the Russian groups’ founder, Mikhail Khodorkovskiy, for alleged tax violations in 2003. Independent journalists believed the raids were actually tied to planned protests against recent constitutional amendments. MBK Media representatives pointed out that many of the staff members were only children in 2003, emphasizing their view that the raids were intended to interfere with their work.

In another example, in January Leonid Krivenkov, a retired cameraman for a major Russian state television broadcaster, was severely beaten by two unknown assailants. The attack came several weeks after Krivenkov gave multiple interviews detailing political censorship and corruption at the broadcaster. Krivenkov alleged the two men disparaged him for not respecting his homeland as they beat him. He was treated for a broken nose and severe bruising.

On October 15, journalist Sergey Plotnikov was abducted and beaten by unidentified persons in Khabarovsk, where he had been reporting on continuing protests in the city. He was reportedly handcuffed, driven into the forest outside the city, and threatened by shooting live rounds of ammunition into the ground near his feet. Plotnikov sustained a wound on his temple and was released the following morning.

Journalists reported threats in connection with their reporting. On April 13, Chechnya head Kadyrov posted a video statement on social media condemning Novaya Gazeta over an article alleging that local authorities’ response to COVID-19 was abusive. Kadyrov made death threats against the newspaper, stating that Russian authorities needed to stop Novaya Gazeta journalists before Chechen authorities would be forced to “commit a crime.” The article’s author, Yelena Milashina, had previously suffered an attack in Chechnya in February after she was ambushed and beaten by unknown assailants at her hotel. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitriy Peskov dismissed Kadyrov’s statement by saying that there was nothing out of the ordinary in Kadyrov’s reaction to Milashina’s reporting. On September 29, a Moscow court fined Novaya Gazeta for disseminating “fake” information in the article.

There was no progress during the year in establishing accountability in a number of high-profile killings of journalists, including the 2004 killing of Paul Klebnikov, the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskaya, and the 2009 killing of Natalia Estemirova.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored media, much of which occurred online (also see section 2.a., Internet Freedom and Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).

There were reports that the government retaliated against those who produced or published content it disliked. For example, the founder and editor of the independent news site Koza.Press, Irina Murakhtayeva (known professionally as Irina Slavina), was subjected to various forms of harassment and substantial fines by law enforcement in recent years. On October 1, law enforcement officers forcibly entered her Nizhny Novgorod apartment, ostensibly with a search warrant related to the civil society organization Open Russia. On October 2, Murakhtayeva committed suicide by self-immolation outside a regional Ministry of Internal Affairs building, writing on Facebook, “For my death, please blame the Russian Federation.”

There were reports that the government placed restrictions on printing presses to prevent them from printing materials for the political opposition. For example, on June 23, the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ center for combating extremism searched a printing house in St. Petersburg. Authorities detained three activists who ordered leaflets that opposed proposed constitutional amendments and criticized President Putin. The activists were charged under an article on production or distribution of campaign materials in violation of the law during elections and referenda.

Self-censorship in independent media was also reportedly widespread.

Libel/Slander Laws: Officials at all levels used their authority to restrict the work of and to retaliate against journalists and bloggers who criticized them, including taking legal action for alleged slander or libel, which are criminal offenses. For example, on June 15, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal libel case against anticorruption crusader, opposition activist, and prominent blogger Aleksey Navalny after he used social media to criticize a WWII veteran’s participation in a propaganda video supporting President Putin’s constitutional amendments package. Navalny faced penalties ranging from a substantial monetary fine to 240 hours of community service if convicted.

National Security: Authorities cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of government policies or officials. For example, on September 9, Russian military historian Andrey Zhukov was convicted of high treason and sentenced to 12.5 years in prison. Zhukov was arrested in 2018 on allegations linked to “the history of the Russian Armed Forces and his vigorous activity online.” According to Zhukov’s colleagues, his interests included the formation, reassignment, and deployment of the country’s military units from World War I to the present. Before his arrest, Zhukov was also researching participants in World War II, their relatives, and their military awards.

There were reports that authorities charged journalists with terrorism offenses in retaliation for their reporting. For example, in June 2019 security services in Dagestan arrested Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev, a journalist and head of the religious affairs section of the independent newspaper Chernovik. Chernovik had long reported threats, politically motivated prosecutions, and other pressure for its work uncovering corruption and wrongdoing by local officials. In 2012 the newspaper’s editor in chief fled the country after receiving death threats, and its founder was shot 14 times outside the newspaper’s office in 2011, a crime that remained unsolved. Authorities charged Gadzhiyev and 10 codefendants with “taking part in the activities of a terrorist organization” and “organizing the financing of a terrorist organization” for purportedly diverting charitable donations to support the Islamic State in Syria. Conviction on the charges may result in up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Human rights defenders emphasized the charges were entirely based on a confession by a suspect who subsequently maintained that it was false and coerced, that Gadzhiyev had written critically of the Islamic State, and that there were other contradictions in the state’s case. They maintained that the case against him was fabricated. Gadzhiyev has remained in detention awaiting trial after a court repeatedly extended his pretrial detention. In April additional charges were filed against Gadzhiyev in Dagestan accusing him of participating in an extremist organization. The charges carry up to an additional 10 years in prison if Gadzhiyev is convicted. Memorial declared him to be a political prisoner.

There were reports that critics of the government’s counterterrorism policies were themselves charged with “justifying terrorism.” For example, on July 6, Pskov-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty contributor Svetlana Prokopyeva was convicted of “justifying terrorism” and fined in relation to a 2018 radio piece that delved into the motivations of a teenage suicide bomber who had attacked a regional FSB office. In the piece Prokopyeva discussed whether the country’s repressive political environment might have influenced the attack. Prosecutors sought a six-year prison sentence for Prokopyeva, who was ultimately required only to pay a fine and was able to avoid incarceration. As she had been charged under antiterrorism laws, however, Prokopyeva was placed on a government list of “terrorists and extremists,” barring her from foreign travel as a result.

Internet Freedom

The government monitored all internet communications (see also section 1.f.).

The law requires internet providers to install equipment to route web traffic through servers in the country. The government continued to employ its longstanding use of the System for Operative Investigative Activities, which requires internet service providers (ISPs) to install, at their own expense, a device that routes all customer traffic to an FSB terminal. The system enables police to track private email communications, identify internet users, and monitor their internet activity. Internet advocates asserted the measure allows for surveillance by intelligence agencies and enables state authorities to control information and block content. The law also envisions the creation of an independent domain name system (DNS) for the country, separate from the global DNS. In July the Account Chamber announced that the proposed plan to create an independent DNS did not meet its deadline, citing COVID-19 related delays.

The law requires domestic and foreign businesses to store citizens’ personal data on servers located in the country. Companies that ignore this requirement risk being fined, blocked, or both. The law provides that companies refusing to localize Russian users’ data may be subject to penalties ranging from 5,000 rubles ($66) to six million rubles ($78,700), with fines of up to 18 million rubles ($236,000) for repeat offenses. In 2016 Roskomnadzor blocked access to the foreign-based professional networking website LinkedIn for failure to comply with the law; the service remained unavailable in the country without a virtual private network (VPN) service. In February a Moscow district court fined Twitter and Facebook 4.7 million rubles ($62,800) each for refusing to store the data of Russian users on servers located inside Russia. The two companies were also reportedly at risk of further fines for noncompliance with this requirement.

Telecommunications companies are required to store user data and make it available to law enforcement bodies. Companies are required to store users’ voice records for six months, and electronic correspondence (audio, images, and video) for three months.

Observers believed that the country’s security services were able to intercept and decode encrypted messages on at least some messaging platforms. The law requires telecommunications providers to provide authorities with “backdoors” around encryption technologies. Companies are fined up to six million rubles ($79,300) if they refuse to provide the FSB with decryption keys that would allow them to read users’ correspondence. The government blocked access to content and otherwise censored the internet. Roskomnadzor maintained a federal blacklist of internet sites and required ISPs to block access to web pages that the agency deemed offensive or illegal, including information that was already prohibited, such as items on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The law gives the prosecutor general and Roskomnadzor authority to demand that ISPs block websites that promote extremist information and “mass public events that are conducted in violation of appropriate procedures.” According to the internet freedom NGO Roskomsvoboda, as of September a total of five million websites were unjustly blocked in the country. On August 10, a Moscow court fined Google for repeatedly failing to filter contents prohibited in Russia.

The law requires owners of internet search engines (news aggregators) with more than one million daily users to be accountable for the truthfulness of “publicly important” information before its dissemination. Authorities may demand that content deemed in violation be removed and impose heavy fines for refusal.

A law on the “right to be forgotten” allows individuals in the country to request that search-engine companies block search results that contain information about them. According to Freedom House’s 2020 Freedom on the Net report, the law was “routinely applied to require search engines to delete links to websites that contain personal information about an individual if it is no longer considered relevant.”

There was a growing trend of social media users being prosecuted for the political, religious, or other ideological content of posts, shares, and “likes,” which resulted in fines or prison sentences (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press).

The government prohibited online anonymity. The law requires commercial VPN services and internet anonymizers to block access to websites and internet content prohibited in the country. The law also authorizes law enforcement agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs and FSB, to identify VPN services that do not comply with the ban by Roskomnadzor. By law Roskomnadzor may also block sites that provide instructions on how to circumvent government blocking. When the law came into force in 2017, Roskomnadzor announced that the majority of commercial VPNs and anonymizers used in the country had registered and intended to comply with the law, although most foreign-based VPNs had not. In March, Roskomnadzor announced the launch of an automated system for checking proxies, VPNs, and search engines for compliance with the requirements for blocking access to prohibited sites.

The law prohibits companies registered as “organizers of information dissemination,” including online messaging applications, from allowing anonymous users. Messaging applications and platforms that fail to comply with the requirements to restrict anonymous accounts may be blocked. In June 2019 authorities demanded that dating app Tinder provide messages and photos exchanged by users of the service.

There were reports of politically motivated cyberattacks. In March the Digital Revolution hackers group announced that the FSB had purchased the Fronton program, which allows for cyberattacks to crash servers and hack smart devices. On May 5, a political activist in St. Petersburg, Denis Mikhailov, reported a spam attack on the anniversary of an anti-Putin protest. Mikhailov noted that he received several hundred telephone calls from unknown numbers on that day.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government took further steps during the year to restrict academic freedom and cultural events.

There were reports that the government censored textbooks, curricula, and other school materials. For example, in January the state university Higher School of Economics (HSE) published amendments to its student rules and labor regulations. These changes limited the rights of students to make political statements on behalf of student groups, effectively prohibiting activities by students or faculty deemed “socially divisive” by university administrators. Student newspapers also lost their status as student groups at the university, eliminating their school funding. The policy changes were seen as a direct response to a number of high-profile student political protests and the appearance of an opposition leader on a student talk show in 2019.

There were reports that the government sanctioned academic personnel for their teachings, writing, research, or political views. In August the HSE decided not to renew the contracts of five lecturers due to the “reorganization” of the university. Among the lecturers was Kirill Martynov, a political correspondent for the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper. Martynov claimed the official explanation for HSE’s failure to renew his contract was dubious, suggesting that it was related to his journalistic work. The university also failed to renew the contract of world-renowned sociologist Ella Paneyakh. Media outlets reported that HSE administrators asked their faculty members not to criticize Russian authorities while publicly identifying with the university.

During the year authorities in Chechnya retaliated against artists for alleged lack of compliance with local traditions. In July Chechnya head Kadyrov announced that singers who appear in public (including at weddings) must have their lyrics approved by the Chechen Ministry of Culture and a special commission that checks them for compliance with “the Chechen mentality.”

In June a Moscow court convicted well-known theater director Kirill Serebrennikov of embezzlement and sentenced him to a fine, three years of probation, and a three-year ban on leading a state-funded cultural institution in Russia. Serebrennikov had been on trial since 2018 for embezzlement of state funds to stage a Shakespeare play that the government alleged he never produced. According to media outlets, however, the play had been staged more than 15 times, and observers believed the charges were politically motivated, citing Serebrennikov’s participation in antigovernment protests and criticism of government policies. The prosecution was widely seen by observers as a warning to the artistic community as a whole.

There were reports that authorities failed to protect performers and audiences from threats and physical attacks during cultural events they opposed. For example, on January 30, The Economist magazine reported that teatr.doc, an experimental theater company based in Moscow, was attacked by an ultraconservative group during a play that explored LGBTI themes. The agitators allegedly entered the theater, stopped the play, and shouted homophobic slurs. Police were called in and a fight broke out, but no charges were brought. On another occasion, bomb threats were called in to the theater, forcing the performance to stop and providing authorities an opportunity to check audience members’ documents.

There were reports that authorities forced the cancellation of concerts of musicians who had been critical of the government. In most cases the FSB or other security forces visited the music venues and “highly recommended” cancelation of the concerts, which the owners and managers understood as a veiled threat against the venue if they did not comply. For example, on January 28, Novaya Gazeta reported that the Prosecutor’s Office in the Kaluga region warned the organizers of a concert by the ska-punk band Distemper that the band’s lyrics contained “propaganda of radical anarchist views” and reminded them that they faced criminal liability for “incitement to extremist activity.” As a result the organizers decided to cancel the concert.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly, but local authorities restricted this right. The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, or marches by more than one person to notify the government, although authorities maintained that protest organizers must receive government permission, not just provide notification. Failure to obtain official permission to hold a protest resulted in the demonstration being viewed as unlawful by law enforcement officials, who routinely dispersed such protests. While some public demonstrations took place, on many occasions local officials selectively denied groups permission to assemble or offered alternate venues that were inconveniently or remotely located. Many public demonstrations were restricted or banned due to COVID-19 measures. Each region enforced its own restrictions. As of September, Moscow and St. Petersburg had banned all mass events.

Although they do not require official approval, authorities restricted single-person pickets and required that there be at least 164 feet separating protesters from each other. In 2017 the Constitutional Court decreed that police officers may stop a single-person picket to protect the health and safety of the picketer. In July the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that single-person pickets are considered mass events and violate the COVID-19-related ban on mass gatherings.

The law requires that “motor rallies” and “tent city” gatherings in public places receive official permission. It requires gatherings that would interfere with pedestrian or vehicle traffic to receive official agreement 10 days prior to the event; those that do not affect traffic require three days’ notice. The law prohibits “mass rioting,” which includes teaching and learning about the organization of and participation in “mass riots.” The law allows authorities to prohibit nighttime demonstrations and meetings and levy fines for violating protest regulations and rules on holding public events.

The law provides heavy penalties for engaging in unsanctioned protests and other violations of public assembly law. Protesters convicted of multiple violations within six months may be fined substantially or imprisoned for up to five years. The law prohibits “involving a minor in participation in an unsanctioned gathering,” which is punishable by fines, 100 hours of community service, or arrest for up to 15 days.

Arrests or detentions for organizing or taking part in unsanctioned protests were common. The July 9 arrest of Khabarovsk Kray governor Sergey Furgal sparked more than four months of continuous protests in the region, with solidarity protests occurring in other Russian Far East cities including Vladivostok, Birobidzhan, and on Sakhalin Island. None of the protests was sanctioned by authorities. According to official Khabarovsk Kray statistics, between July 11 and September 6, a total of 4,126 citations were issued for drivers participating in motor rallies that “interfered” with the flow of traffic, 173 citations were issued for participation in an unsanctioned meeting, and 22 individuals were detained. Among those detained and fined was Father Andrey, an Orthodox priest who did not chant slogans or hold placards. He received the largest fine during the series of protests and was detained for three days.

In another example, on April 20, authorities detained at least 69 protesters in North Ossetia’s capital, Vladikavkaz, who opposed the government’s policy imposing self-isolation due to public-health concerns. The 2,000-person protest demanded economic support during the pandemic.

Police often broke up protests that were not officially sanctioned, at times using disproportionate force. For example, on July 19, police officers reportedly severely beat Academy of Science biochemist Anton Rasin, who was participating in a march in Vladivostok in solidarity with the Khabarovsk protests. Rasin claimed officers beat him when he asked plainclothes officers to produce their identification. On July 20, he was convicted and sentenced to five days in jail by the court for failure to obey law enforcement directions.

Authorities regularly detained single-person picketers. For example, on April 26, police detained Andrey Boyarshinov in Kazan while standing in a single-person picket to protest the demolition of a prerevolutionary building. Police claimed that Boyarshinov was in violation of a self-isolation order in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect it. Public organizations must register their bylaws and the names of their leaders with the Ministry of Justice. The finances of registered organizations are subject to investigation by tax authorities, and foreign grants must be registered.

The government continued to use the “foreign agents” law, which requires NGOs that receive foreign funding and engage in “political activity” to register as “foreign agents,” to harass, stigmatize, and, in some cases, halt their operation, although fewer organizations were registered than in previous years. As of December the Ministry of Justice’s registry of organizations designated as “foreign agents” included 75 NGOs. NGOs designated as “foreign agents” are banned by law from observing elections and face other restrictions on their activity.

For the purposes of implementing the foreign agents law, the government considered “political activities” to include: organizing public events, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets; organizing and conducting public debates, discussions, or presentations; ‎participating in election activities aimed at influencing the result, including election observation and forming commissions; public calls to influence local and state government bodies, including calling for changes to legislation; disseminating opinions and decisions of state bodies by technology; and attempting to shape public political views, including public opinion polls or other sociological research.

To be delisted, an NGO must submit an application to the Ministry of Justice proving that it did not receive any foreign funding or engage in any political activity within the previous 12 months. If the NGO received any foreign funding, it must have returned the money within three months. The ministry would then initiate an unscheduled inspection of the NGO to determine whether it qualified for removal from the list.

The law on “foreign agents” requires that NGOs identify themselves as “foreign agents” in all of their public materials. Authorities fined NGOs for failing to disclose their “foreign agent” status on websites or printed materials. For example, as of August the human rights NGO Memorial was fined at least 24 times for purported violations of the “foreign agents” law. The fines totaled more than five million rubles ($66,500). On December 3, the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) initiated a search of Memorial’s Moscow headquarters to verify compliance with the “foreign agents” law. Media reported that the PGO’s “verification” would continue through December 29 and involve requests to review hundreds of documents, in what Memorial characterized as an effort to harass the NGO and hinder its work.

Organizations the government listed as “foreign agents” reported experiencing the social effects of stigmatization, such as being targeted by vandals and online criticism, in addition to losing partners and funding sources and being subjected to smear campaigns in the state-controlled press. At the same time, the “foreign agent” label did not necessarily exclude organizations from receiving state-sponsored support. As of September 2019, four NGOs labeled as “foreign agents” had received presidential grants for “socially oriented projects.”

The law requires the Ministry of Justice to maintain a list of “undesirable foreign organizations.” The list expanded during the year to 31 organizations, since the Ministry of Justice added the European Endowment for Democracy, the Jamestown Foundation, Project Harmony, Inc., seven organizations associated with Falun Gong, the Prague Civil Society Center, and the Association of Schools of Political Studies of the Council of Europe. By law a foreign organization may be found “undesirable” if it is deemed “dangerous to the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, its national security, and defense.” Authorities have not clarified what specific threats the “undesirable” NGOs posed to the country. Any foreign organization deemed “undesirable” must cease its activities. Any money or assets found by authorities may be seized, and any citizens found guilty of continuing to work with the organization in contravention of the law may face up to seven years in prison.

Authorities imposed criminal penalties for purported violations of the law on “undesirable foreign organizations.” On October 2, a Krasnodar court convicted and sentenced Yana Antonova, a pediatric surgeon and a former coordinator of Open Russia in Krasnodar, to 240 hours of forced labor for “participating” in activities of “undesirable foreign organization.” Open Russia was declared an “undesirable foreign organization” in 2017. Authorities opened a criminal case against Antonova in March 2019 for reposting articles on her social media accounts and for conducting a single-person picket.

NGOs engaged in political activities or activities that purportedly “pose a threat to the country” or that received support from U.S. citizens or organizations are subject to suspension under the 2012 “Dima Yakovlev” law, which also prohibits NGOs from having members with dual Russian-U.S. citizenship.

Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism to stifle freedom of association. In 2017 the Supreme Court criminalized the activity of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, prohibiting all activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entities throughout the country and effectively banning their worship. The parent organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and its regional branches were placed on the Justice Ministry’s list of “extremist” groups, and members were subject to imprisonment, detention, house arrest, or criminal investigation participating in the activities of a “banned extremist organization” (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

There were reports civil society activists were beaten or attacked in retaliation for their professional activities and that in most cases law enforcement officials did not adequately investigate the incidents. For example, media outlets reported that on August 13 in St. Petersburg, Aleksandr Shurshev, a lawyer at the local office of Aleksey Navalny’s team, was beaten for the fourth time in a year. According to Shurshev, police did not respond to any of his reports of attacks.

In multiple cases, authorities arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted civil society activists in political retaliation for their work (see section 1.e.).

There were reports authorities targeted NGOs and activists representing the LGBTI community for retaliation (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but in some cases authorities restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: Although the law gives citizens the right to choose their place of residence, adult citizens must carry government-issued internal passports while traveling domestically and must register with local authorities after arriving at a different location. To have their files transferred, persons with official refugee or asylum status must notify the Ministry of Internal Affairs in advance of relocating to a district other than the one that originally granted them status. Authorities often refused to provide government services to individuals without internal passports or proper registration, and many regional governments continued to restrict this right through residential registration rules.

Authorities imposed in-country travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes.

Foreign Travel: The law provides for freedom to travel abroad, but the government restricted this right for certain groups. The law stipulates, for example, that a person who violates a court decision does not have a right to leave the country. A court may also prohibit a person from leaving the country for failure to satisfy debts; if the individual is suspected, accused, or convicted of a crime; or if the individual had access to classified material. The law allows for the temporary restriction of the right to leave the country for citizens with outstanding debts. According to press reports citing statistics from the Federal Bailiff Service, approximately 10 million Russians were unable to leave the country because of debts in 2019.

Since 2014 the government restricted the foreign travel of millions of its employees, prescribing which countries they are and are not allowed to visit. The restriction applies to employees of agencies including the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Federal Prison Service, the Federal Drug Control Service, the Federal Bailiff Service, the General Administration for Migration Issues (GAMI), and the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

Citizenship: There were reports that the government revoked citizenship on an arbitrary or discriminatory basis. For example, in April the Internal Affairs Ministry stripped the citizenship of Feliks Makhammadiyev and Konstantin Bazhenov, two members of Jehovah’s Witnesses convicted of “extremism” on the basis of their religious beliefs. Makhammadiyev was left stateless as a result. As of November Makhammadiyev was still serving a three-year prison term. In another case Yevgeniy Kim, who served more than three years in a Russian prison for conviction of “extremism,” was rendered stateless in January 2019 when Sverdlovsk region authorities canceled a 2005 decision to grant him citizenship after he had given up his Uzbek citizenship. Since his release in April 2019, Kim has been held in a migration detention center awaiting deportation to Uzbekistan, where authorities continued to refuse to accept him since he no longer held citizenship there.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) estimated the country was home to 5,300 internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of December 2019. Of the 5,300 IDPs, the IDMC asserted that 1,800 were due to conflict and violence.

According to the government’s official statistics, the number of “forced” migrants, which per government definition includes refugees, asylum seekers, and IDPs, decreased from 9,485 in 2019 to 5,323 in June, of whom 1,085 were IDPs. The government indicated that the majority of forced migrants came from former Soviet republics, namely Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

Reliable information on whether the government promoted the safe, voluntary, dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs was not available. According to Svetlana Gannushkina from the independent NGOs Civic Assistance Committee and Memorial, most IDPs in the country were displaced by the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992 and the Chechen wars in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. The Ossetian-Ingush conflict displaced Ingush people from the territory of North Ossetia-Alania, and the Chechen wars displaced Chechens. The government provided minimal financial support for housing to those who are registered as IDPs, but the Civic Assistance Committee criticized the government’s strict rules to qualify and the long line to wait for housing support.

f. Protection of Refugees

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported it had a working relationship with the government on asylum, refugee, and stateless persons problems. The Civic Assistance Committee reported, however, that the government failed to provide protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported that police detained, fined, and threatened with deportation migrants, refugees, and stateless persons.

The government considered Ukrainian asylum seekers to be separate from asylum seekers from other countries, such as Afghanistan, Georgia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen. In some cases temporary asylum holders who received refugee status from third countries were not granted exit visas or allowed to depart the country.

In March the country closed its borders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, trapping many migrants within the country. Many lost their jobs during that time and faced erratic and ad hoc repatriation measures. Lacking information and fearing the reintroduction of more stringent in-country travel restrictions, many found themselves on the street or stuck in makeshift camps near a transport hub until the country gradually opened up the borders after several months. For example, on September 21, Human Rights Watch reported on a temporary tent camp in the Samara region that housed approximately 4,500 Uzbek migrants who were waiting for a train to take them back to their country. Many had been there for months, living in extremely cramped, substandard conditions with no certainty of when they would be able to leave the country safely. On September 24, the department of the All-Russian Congress of Uzbekistanis in the Samara region announced that these migrants were granted permission to leave the country by October 3.

Refoulement: The concept of nonrefoulement is not explicitly stated in the law. The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The responsible agency, GAMI, did not maintain a presence at airports or other border points and did not adequately publicize that asylum seekers may request access to the agency. Asylum seekers had to rely on the goodwill of border guards and airline personnel to call immigration officials. Otherwise they faced immediate deportation to neighboring countries or return to their countries of origin, including in some cases to countries where they may have had reasonable grounds to fear persecution. While there were no statistics available on the number of persons subjected to such actions, in May the Civic Assistance Committee reported “the scale of expulsion of refugees must be considerable.”

Human rights groups continued to allege that authorities made improper use of international agreements that permit them to detain, and possibly repatriate, persons with outstanding arrest warrants from other former Soviet states. This system, enforced by informal ties among senior law enforcement officials of the countries concerned, permitted authorities to detain individuals for up to one month while the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated the nature of the warrants. International organizations reported six cases of refoulement of asylum seekers in 2018, and NGOs cited cases in which officials detained persons (most commonly from Central Asia) and returned them clandestinely to their country of origin.

In an example of clandestine repatriation, on September 1, Shobuddin Badalov, an activist from the Group 24 movement that is banned in Tajikistan, reportedly disappeared in Nizhny Novgorod. His lawyer and associates believed he was kidnapped and extradited without judicial process to Tajikistan. Badalov had been granted temporary asylum status in 2019. On October 3, the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that Badalov had voluntarily flown from Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport to Dushanbe on September 1. On November 3, the government of Tajikistan confirmed Badalov’s detention in Tajikistan.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. NGOs reported applicants commonly paid informal “facilitation fees” of approximately 33,000 rubles ($440) to GAMI adjudicators to have their application reviewed. Applicants who did not speak Russian often had to pay for a private interpreter. Human rights organizations noted that nearly all newly arrived asylum seekers in large cities, particularly Moscow and St. Petersburg, were forced to apply in other regions, allegedly due to full quotas. NGOs also noted difficulty in applying for asylum due to long queues and lack of clear application procedures. GAMI approved only a small percentage of applications for refugee status and temporary asylum, except for Ukrainians whose applications had a much higher chance of approval.

Human rights organizations noted the government’s issuance of refugee and temporary asylum status decreased steadily over the previous few years, pointing to the government’s systematic and arbitrary refusal to grant asylums. NGOs also reported that authorities encouraged applicants to return to their countries of origin.

Authorities reportedly also had blanket authority to grant temporary asylum to Syrians, but local migration experts noted a decrease in the number of Syrians afforded temporary asylum, suggesting that GAMI had not renewed the temporary asylum of hundreds of Syrians and, in some cases, encouraged applicants to return to Syria.

Employment: Employers frequently refused to hire applicants who lacked residential registration. UNHCR reported that employers frequently were not familiar with laws permitting employment for refugees without work permits and refused to hire them. NGOs reported that refugees and migrants were vulnerable to exploitation in the form of forced labor because of the lack of proper documents and insufficient Russian language skills.

Access to Basic Services: By law successful temporary asylum seekers and persons whose applications were being processed have the right to work, to receive medical care, and to attend school. NGOs reported authorities provided some services to Ukrainian asylum seekers, but there were instances in which applicants from other countries were denied the same service, including access to medical care and food banks.

While federal law provides for education for all children, regional authorities occasionally denied access to schools to children of temporary asylum and refugee applicants who lacked residential registration or who did not speak Russian. The Civic Assistance Committee reported that approximately one-third of the children of refugees were enrolled in schools. When parents encountered difficulties enrolling their children in school, authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR to resolve the problem.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of January 1, some 41,946 persons, 96 percent of whom were citizens of Ukraine, held a certificate of temporary asylum in Russia. A person who does not satisfy the criteria for refugee status, but who for humanitarian reasons could not be expelled or deported, may receive temporary asylum after submitting a separate application. There were reports, however, of authorities not upholding the principle of temporary protection.

g. Stateless Persons

According to the 2010 population census, the country was home to 178,000 self-declared stateless persons. Official statistics did not differentiate between stateless persons and other categories of persons seeking assistance. Law, policy, and procedures allow stateless persons and their children born in the country to gain nationality. The Civic Assistance Committee noted that most stateless persons in the country were elderly, ill, or single former Soviet Union passport holders who missed the opportunity to claim Russian citizenship after the Soviet Union broke up. The NGO reported various bureaucratic hurdles as obstacles to obtaining legal status in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While 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, citizens could not fully do so because the government limited the ability of opposition parties to organize, register candidates for public office, access media outlets, and conduct political campaigns.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On July 1, the government conducted a national vote on a package of constitutional amendments. This vote was not legally a referendum and was considered by most experts to be extraconstitutional. As such it was not bound by Russia’s normal election laws, and domestic observers were not provided a role in monitoring the poll’s conduct. Authorities mobilized administrative resources to drive up voter participation, which in effect functioned as a de facto campaign in favor of the government’s proposed amendments, while those seeking to campaign publicly against the amendments were denied the opportunity. Because the vote was not legally a referendum, no international observers were present to monitor the process.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that the 2018 presidential election “took place in an overly controlled environment, marked by continued pressure on critical voices” and that “restrictions on the fundamental freedoms, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition.” The OSCE also noted that “television, and in particular broadcasters that are state funded, owned, or supported, remains the dominant source of political information. A restrictive legislative and regulatory framework challenges freedom of media and induces self-censorship. Voters were thus not presented with a critical assessment of the incumbent’s views and qualifications in most media.” Observers widely noted that the most serious potential challenger, Aleksey Navalny, was prevented from registering his candidacy due to a previous politically motivated criminal conviction.

In a statement on the 2016 State Duma elections, the OSCE’s election observation mission noted, “Democratic commitments continue to be challenged and the electoral environment was negatively affected by restrictions to fundamental freedoms and political rights, firmly controlled media and a tightening grip on civil society…Local authorities did not always treat the candidates equally, and instances of misuse of administrative resources were noted.”

The September 13 elections of 18 governors and 11 regional legislative bodies were marked by similar allegations of government interference and manipulation. Independent election monitors logged thousands of reported abuses during these elections at the regional and local levels. For example, in a case that was emblematic of many others, the election commission of the Arkhangelsk region announced on August 4 that environmental activist Oleg Mandrykin, nominated by the opposition Yabloko Party to run in the gubernatorial election, had failed to pass the municipal filter. The election commission claimed he had not collected the required number of signatures from the municipal districts and thus was disqualified from running for the post of governor. Mandrykin reported that his supporters had faced “unprecedented pressure” from regional authorities.

Authorities sought to restrict the work of independent election monitors and promoted government-sponsored monitoring instead. Observers were prohibited from being accredited to more than one polling station, limiting the ability of civil society to monitor elections. Critics contended that the law made it difficult for domestic election monitors to conduct surprise inspections due to provisions requiring observers to register with authorities, including the polling station they intended to monitor, three days before elections. Burdensome registration regulations also hampered the work of journalists wishing to monitor elections as well as independent or nonpartisan groups.

The election-monitoring NGO Golos announced that the September 13 election took place under the worst electoral regulations in 25 years, with greater limits on the electoral rights of citizens and increased attacks on the rights of election observers. For example, on September 9, in the Ivanovo and Novgorod regions, security officials searched the apartments of public observation organizers, including Ruslan Zinatullin, the head of the Tatarstan branch of the Yabloko Party. Authorities continued to hamper the efforts of Golos to take part in the election process, since its work was made more difficult by a law prohibiting NGOs listed as “foreign agents,” as well as by continuing harassment and intimidation by authorities.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The process for nominating candidates for office was highly regulated and placed significant burdens on opposition parties and their candidates. While parties represented in the State Duma may nominate a presidential candidate without having to collect and submit signatures, prospective self-nominated presidential candidates must collect 300,000 signatures, no more than 7,500 from each region, and submit the signatures to the Central Election Commission for certification. Presidential candidates nominated by parties without State Duma representation must collect 100,000 signatures. An independent presidential candidate is ineligible to run if the commission finds more than 5 percent of signatures invalid.

Candidates to the State Duma may be nominated directly by constituents, political parties in single-mandate districts, or political parties on their federal list, or they may be self-nominated. Political parties select candidates for the federal lists from their ranks during party conventions via closed voting procedures. Party conventions also select single mandate candidates. Only political parties that overcame the 5 percent threshold during the previous elections may form federal and single-mandate candidate lists without collecting signatures, while parties that did not must collect 200,000 signatures to register a candidate for the Duma. Self-nominated candidates generally must gather the signatures of 3 percent of the voters in their districts.

Gubernatorial candidates nominated by registered political parties are not required to collect signatures from members of the public, although self-nominated candidates are. The law also requires gubernatorial candidates not nominated by a registered party to meet a “municipal filter” requirement. Such candidates must obtain signatures of support from a defined portion of municipal deputies, the portion of which varies by region, as well as collect signatures from at least one deputy in each of a specified portion of municipal council districts.

Observers and would-be candidates reported the municipal filter was not applied equally and that authorities pressured municipal deputies not to provide signatures to candidates who were not preapproved by authorities. They asserted that no independent candidate with the potential to defeat authorities’ favored candidates was permitted to pass through the municipal filter, while progovernment candidates were passed through the filter without fulfilling technical requirements.

In some cases opposition parties were repeatedly denied registration or faced court-mandated suspensions of their activities. On January 14, the Supreme Court ruled to suspend for three months the work of opposition leader Dmitriy Gudkov’s political party, Party of Change (officially known as Civic Initiative). The Justice Ministry filed a lawsuit against the party after refusing to register its charter because the party purportedly failed to provide the minutes from its meeting.

Authorities continued to engage in a pattern of harassment, including threats of violence, against Navalny and his supporters. On July 23, Dmitry Nizovtsev, the host of the YouTube channel for Navalny’s headquarters in Khabarovsk, was assaulted after he broadcast from a march organized to support ousted Khabarovsk Kray governor Sergey Furgal. He claimed that his attackers were linked to authorities and beat him because of his reporting and association with Navalny.

Systemic opposition parties (i.e., quasi-independent parties permitted by the government to appear on the ballot) also faced pressure. For example, media outlets reported on August 31 that representatives of the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party were attacked in Novosibirsk in the run-up to the September 13 regional election, including the headquarters of Roman Yakovlev, a candidate from the Communist Party. On July 26, the Communist Party also reported that its candidates had problems with passing the municipal filter in at least three regions.

State entities or entities closely aligned with the state also influenced their employees to vote a certain way. In Omsk workers from Russian Railways told journalists they were encouraged to photograph themselves with their completed ballots for the July 1 national vote on constitutional amendments. In Yekaterinburg the clergy of some Russian Orthodox Churches encouraged their parishioners to vote in favor of the constitutional amendments.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women held less than 20 percent of elected seats in the national legislature. As of January women held approximately 5 percent of ministerial positions. While members of national minorities took an active part in political life, ethnic Russians, who constituted approximately 80 percent of the population, dominated the political and administrative system, particularly at the federal level.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operating in the country investigated and published their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their concerns. Official harassment of independent NGOs continued and, in many instances, intensified, particularly of groups that focused on monitoring elections, engaging in environmental activism, exposing corruption, and addressing human rights abuses. NGO activities and international humanitarian assistance in the North Caucasus were severely restricted, especially in Chechnya, which closed its borders in April, purportedly to limit the spread of COVID-19. Some officials, including High Commissioner for Human Rights Tatyana Moskalkova and her regional representatives, regularly interacted and cooperated with NGOs.

Authorities continued to use a variety of laws to harass, stigmatize, and in some cases halt the operation of domestic and foreign human rights NGOs (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Officials often displayed hostility toward the activities of human rights organizations and suggested their work was unpatriotic and detrimental to national security. For example, Mikhail Degtyaryov, who was appointed interim governor of Khabarovsk Kray in July, warned against believing news reports about him, asserting that negative stories reveal “the hand of the West” and “it’s not for nothing that there are so many suspicious NGOs in Russia.”

Authorities continued to apply a number of indirect tactics to suppress or close domestic NGOs, including the application of various laws and harassment in the form of prosecution, investigations, fines, and raids (see sections 1.e. and 2.b.).

Authorities generally refused to cooperate with NGOs that were critical of government activities or listed as a foreign agent. International human rights NGOs had almost no presence east of the Ural Mountains or in the North Caucasus. A few local NGOs addressed human rights problems in these regions but often chose not to work on politically sensitive topics to avoid retaliation by local authorities. One NGO in this region reported that the organization’s employees sometimes had to resort to working in an individual capacity rather than as representatives of the organization.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Authorities refused to cooperate with the OSCE Moscow Mechanism rapporteur investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya in 2018 and did not permit him to visit the country. Two years after the release of the rapporteur’s report, the government still had not provided the OSCE a substantive response to the report or taken action to address the report’s recommendations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Some government institutions continued to promote human rights and intervened in selected abuse complaints, despite widespread doubt as to these institutions’ effectiveness.

Many observers did not consider the 168-member Civic Chamber, composed of government-appointed members from civil society organizations, to be an effective check on the government.

The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC) is an advisory body to the president tasked with monitoring systemic problems in legislation and individual human rights cases, developing proposals to submit to the president and government, and monitoring their implementation. The president appoints some council members by decree, and not all members operated independently. In October 2019 President Putin overhauled the HRC, dismissing several well respected human rights defenders from the council and appointing Valeriy Fadeyev, a senior member of the ruling United Russia party, as its head. Experts noted that Fadeyev worked closely with government authorities and often echoed their assessment of well-known human rights cases. In a July 8 interview with Kommersant, Fadeyev stated he did not believe there were more than 300 political prisoners in the country and that organizations such as Memorial needed to be “more careful” with their lists.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Tatyana Moskalkova was viewed as a figure with very limited autonomy. The country had regional ombudspersons in all regions with responsibilities similar to Moskalkova’s. Their effectiveness varied significantly, and local authorities often undermined their independence.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and the law provides the same punishment for a relative, including a spouse, who commits rape as for a nonrelative. The penalty for conviction of rape is three to six years’ imprisonment for a single offense, with additional time imposed for aggravating factors. According to NGOs, many law enforcement personnel and prosecutors did not consider spousal or acquaintance rape a priority and did not encourage reporting or prosecuting such cases. NGOs reported that local police officers sometimes refused to respond to rape or domestic violence calls unless the victim’s life was directly threatened. Authorities typically did not consider rape or attempted rape to be life threatening.

Domestic violence remained a major problem. There is no domestic violence provision in the law and no legal definition of domestic violence, making it difficult to know its actual prevalence in the country. The law considers beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than a criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment. The antidomestic violence NGO ANNA Center estimated that 60 to 70 percent of women suffering from some type of domestic violence do not seek help due to fear, public shame, lack of financial independence from their partners, or lack of confidence in law enforcement authorities. Laws that address bodily harm are general in nature and do not permit police to initiate a criminal investigation unless the victim files a complaint. The burden of collecting evidence in such cases typically falls on the alleged victims. The law prohibits threats, assault, battery, and killing, but most acts of domestic violence did not fall within the jurisdiction of the prosecutor’s office. The law does not provide for protection orders, which experts believe could help keep women safe from experiencing recurrent violence by their partners.

COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders and general restrictions on movement trapped many victims of domestic violence in the same space as the perpetrators. On May 5, media outlets reported that Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova acknowledged that NGOs recorded an increase of more than 50 percent in the number of domestic violence cases. The ANNA Center reported that 70 percent of the women that called its hotline stated the situation at home worsened during the COVID-19 lockdown. Many victims noted they could not leave their homes due to fear of being punished for violating the stay-at-home order.

There were reports that women defending themselves from domestic violence were charged with crimes. According to a MediaZona study, approximately 80 percent of women sentenced for murder between 2016 and 2018 killed a domestic abuser in self-defense. In one case in 2018, three teenaged sisters allegedly killed their father, Mikhail Khachaturyan, in their Moscow home. In October 2019 authorities confirmed that the father had physically and sexually abused the girls for many years without any repercussions. On July 12, the Attorney General’s Office upheld the murder charges, a reversal to Deputy Prosecutor General Viktor Grin’s December 2019 recommendation to reclassify the sisters’ actions as self-defense. As of September the women remained under house arrest as they awaited a jury trial. The case ignited widespread support for the sisters across the country, with many persons calling for their release.

According to the ANNA Center, when domestic violence offenses were charged, articles under the country’s criminal law were usually applied that employed the process of private prosecution. The process of private prosecution requires the victim to gather all necessary evidence and bear all costs after the injured party or his or her guardian took the initiative to file a complaint with a magistrate judge. The NGO noted that this process severely disadvantages survivors. Experts estimated that seven of 10 such cases were dropped due to reconciliation of the parties as a result of the abuser pressuring, manipulating, and intimidating the victim who often had to continue living in the same house.

According to NGOs, police were often unwilling to register complaints of domestic violence, often saying that cases were “family matters,” frequently discouraged victims from submitting complaints, and often pressed victims to reconcile with abusers. On March 15, in response to domestic violence cases presented to the ECHR, the deputy minister of justice and the Russian representative at the ECHR, Mikhail Galperin, asserted that the state should not be held responsible for the law enforcement officials’ inaction in domestic violence cases if the perpetrator was a private person.

The majority of domestic violence cases filed with authorities were either dismissed on technical grounds or transferred to a reconciliation process conducted by a justice of the peace whose focus was on preserving the family rather than punishing the perpetrator. NGOs estimated that 3 percent of such cases eventually reached the courts. Victims of domestic violence in the North Caucasus experienced particular difficulty seeking protection from authorities. On June 26, Human Rights Watch reported that Madina Umayeva died and was buried overnight in the Chechen Republic. Umayeva’s mother, suspecting her son-in-law of beating her daughter to death and burying her to hide the evidence, had the body exhumed for autopsy. Three days after the body was exhumed, Chechnya head Ramzan Kadyrov publicly accused the mother of spreading gossip about her daughter’s death and dismissed the possibility that it constituted murder. Umayeva’s mother later appeared on television and said, “I apologize for having listened to rumors. I apologize to [you].”

NGOs noted there were government-operated institutions that provided services to affected women such as social apartments, hospitals wards, and shelters. Access to these services was often complicated, since they required proof of residency in that particular municipality, as well as proof of low-income status. In many cases these documents were controlled by the abusers and not available to victims. A strict two-month stay limit in the shelters and limited business hours of these services further restricted victims’ access to social services. After COVID-19-related restrictions forced many shelters to close temporarily, NGOs rented out apartments and hotels to shelter the victims.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C. NGOs in Dagestan reported that FGM/C was occasionally practiced in some villages. On May 19, media outlets reported a nine-year-old girl from Ingushetia underwent an FGM procedure at a hospital in Magas in June 2019. The girl’s mother claimed that her former husband and his new wife took the girl to the hospital for the procedure without the mother’s consent. Authorities opened a criminal investigation into the hospital and the doctor who performed the operation. The clinic allegedly advertised FGM procedures performed by a pediatric gynecologist.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Human rights groups reported that “honor killings” of women persisted in Chechnya, Dagestan, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus, but they were rarely reported or acknowledged. Local police, doctors, and lawyers often collaborated with the families involved to cover up the crimes. For example, Russian media reported that in February in Ingushetia, Magomedbashir Mogushkov stabbed and killed his sister, Liza Yevloyeva, to “wash away the shame from the family.” On the eve of the killing, Mogushkov saw his sister on a police surveillance video when a well-known criminal, Isa Altemirov, was being detained. Altemirov’s gang was known to seduce Ingush women into extramarital relationships and blackmail them for money.

In some parts of the North Caucasus, women continued to face bride kidnapping, polygamy, forced marriage (including child marriage), legal discrimination, virginity requirements before marriage, and forced adherence to Islamic dress codes. Women in the North Caucasus often lost custody of their children after the father’s death or a divorce, due to traditional law that prohibits women from living in a house without a man. For example, on August 6, Russian media reported that Liana Sosurkayeva from Chechnya lost her two children to her husband’s brother after the husband died. She has been denied custody of the children, on the basis of Chechen traditional law.

Sexual Harassment: The law contains a general provision against compelling a person to perform actions of a sexual character by means of blackmail, threats, or by taking advantage of the victim’s economic or other dependence on the perpetrator. There is no legal definition of harassment, however, and no comprehensive guidelines on how it should be addressed. Sexual harassment was reportedly widespread, but courts often rejected victims’ claims due to lack of sufficient evidence. In January the newspaper Vedomosti published a survey showing that 16 percent of women and 7 percent of men had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace at least once in their careers. The newspaper noted that the law does little to help victims, as there is no concept of “harassment” in the labor code.

On April 29, media outlets reported that two women had accused Aleksey Venediktov, the head of the Ekho Moskvy radio station, of sexual harassment. According to Anna Veduta, Venediktov made unwanted advances toward her after a company dinner in 2012 and tried to kiss her outside her home. An activist who asked not be named recounted a similar experience in 2017. Although he had told media in 2005 that sexual harassment was a “right” at Ekho Moskvy, Venediktov denied these allegations.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. While there are no legal restrictions on access to contraceptives, very few citizens receive any kind of sexual education, hampering effectiveness. Senior government officials, the Russian Orthodox Church, and conservative groups in the country advocated stridently for increasing the birth rate, and their opposition to family planning initiatives contributed to a social stigma that impacted the use of contraceptives. Access to family planning and skilled medical birth attendants varied widely based on geography and was often extremely limited in rural areas. The government does not deny access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but survivors may not always seek needed treatment due to social stigma and the lack of follow-through on domestic-violence cases by the criminal justice system. There were significant social and cultural barriers to family planning and reproductive health in the North Caucasus republics, including cases of female genital mutilation. Approximately 100 occupations remained banned to women because they were deemed “dangerous to the women’s reproductive health.”

Coercion in Population Control: There were reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. In October media widely reported allegations of forced sterilizations of 15 women between 2006 and 2016 at the Uktus Boarding House in Yekaterinburg, which houses orphans with health issues, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Former residents of the institution also alleged that some women were forced to have abortions. One former resident of the institution reportedly died after undergoing sterilization surgery. Regional law enforcement and health authorities in the Sverdlovsk region launched a probe into the reports, and regional human rights ombudsperson Tatyana Merzlyakova called the alleged sterilizations “unacceptable.”

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide that men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights, but women often encountered significant restrictions. Women have experienced discrimination in the workplace, in pay, and access to credit (see section 7.d.). There are 100 jobs that the Ministry of Labor has ruled to be especially physically taxing, including firefighting, mining, and steam boiler repair, that remain off limits to women.

Children

Birth Registration: By law citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory if the parents are unknown or if the child may not claim the parents’ citizenship. Failure to register a birth resulted in the denial of public services.

Education: Education is free and compulsory through grade 11, although regional authorities frequently denied school access to the children of persons who were not registered local residents, including Roma, asylum seekers, and migrant workers.

Child Abuse: The country does not have a law on child abuse, but the law outlaws murder, battery, and rape. The penalties for conviction of such crimes range from five to 15 years in prison and, if they result in the death of a minor, up to 20 years in prison. A 2017 law that makes beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than a criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment, applies to children as well. Some Duma deputies claimed that children need discipline and authority in the family, condoning beating as a mode of discipline.

Studies indicated that violence against children was fairly common. According to a report published in April 2019 by the National Institute for Child Protection, one in four parents admitted to having beaten their children at least once with a belt. In an extreme case of child abuse, on September 11, media outlets reported that Gulmira Bukenova in Omsk region continuously beat, tied, and starved an 18-month-old boy who lived with her. The mother, Yevgeniya Kabelskaya, was forced to work for free in the household while they lived with Bukenova’s family.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both men and women. Local authorities may authorize marriage from age 16 under certain circumstances. More than a dozen regions allow marriage from age 14 under special circumstances, such as pregnancy or the birth of a child.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 16. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or procuring of children for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. For example, on May 8, media outlets reported that authorities detained monk Kliment (Korablev) in Orenburg region for “committing a number of sexual crimes against three minors.” Authorities held him in a pretrial detention center for more than four months. The Orthodox Church prohibited Korablev from taking part in church services until the investigation was over.

The law prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession with intent to distribute child pornography, but possession without intent to distribute is not prohibited by law. Manufacture and distribution of pornography involving children younger than 18 is punishable by two to eight years in prison or three to 10 years in prison if children younger than 14 are involved. Authorities considered child pornography to be a serious problem.

Roskomnadzor has the power to shut down any website immediately and without due process until its owners prove its content does not include child pornography. Roskomnadzor reported that from 2012 to 2017, it shut down 38,000 links related to child pornography, or 14 percent of all blocked links.

Institutionalized Children: There were reports of neglect as well as physical, sexual, and psychological abuse in state institutions for children. Children with disabilities were especially vulnerable. NGOs pointed to the closing of schools and strict stay-at-home orders during the height of COVID-19 measures as especially detrimental to at-risk children, including children in institutions. NGOs noted that many had limited access to social services and teachers or counselors.

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

Anti-Semitism

The 2010 census estimated the Jewish population at slightly more than 150,000. The president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia has stated that the actual Jewish population is nearly one million.

Media outlets reported several cases of anti-Semitism during the year. For example, on April 13, unidentified perpetrators set fire to a synagogue and Jewish cultural center in Arkhangelsk. No one was injured, but a Jewish community leader estimated property damages at 1.5 million rubles ($19,800). Two months after the incident, police detained a 32-year-old suspect. Authorities initiated a criminal case based on intentional damage to property rather than anti-Semitism.

Leading experts from the Jewish community had varying assessments of the level of anti-Semitism in the country. While the chief rabbi of Russia stated in January that the level of anti-Semitism was at its lowest point historically, in June the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities argued that the level of latent anti-Semitism was still quite high. Some political and religious figures made anti-Semitic remarks publicly. On July 20, the Verkhnepyshminskiy City Court fined Father Sergey Romanov, a former hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, for making anti-Semitic remarks during one of his sermons.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law provides protection for persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. The government often did not enforce these provisions effectively.

The conditions of guardianship imposed by courts on persons with disabilities deprived them of almost all personal rights. Activists reported that courts declared tens of thousands of individuals “legally incompetent” due to intellectual disabilities, forcing them to go through guardians to exercise their legal rights, even when they could make decisions for themselves. Courts rarely restored legal capacity to individuals with disabilities. By law individuals with intellectual disabilities were at times prevented from marrying without a guardian’s consent.

In many cases persons with intellectual or physical disabilities were confined to institutions, where they were often subjected to abuse and neglect. Roszdravnadzor, the Federal Service for Surveillance in Health Care, announced that it found abuses in 87.4 percent of institutions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities during a 2019 audit. On November 3, Russian media reported that it was not uncommon for persons with intellectual disabilities who had recently turned 18 to die within a few months of transferring from a children’s institution to an adult neuropsychiatric boarding house due to harsh conditions. The report noted that residents were sometimes given haloperidol and other suppressive substances, sent to isolation wards, tied to beds, and prohibited from going outside freely. On May 6, media outlets reported that a Bogotolsk neuropsychiatric hospital’s junior nurse physically abused an elderly person with a disability by grabbing him and dragging him on the floor without his pants on.

Federal law requires that buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities. While there were improvements, especially in large cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, authorities did not effectively enforce the law in many areas of public transportation and in buildings. Many individuals in wheelchairs reported they continued to have trouble accessing public transportation and had to rely on private cars. Wheelchair-accessible street curbs are not widely available in many regions throughout the country.

Election law does not specifically mandate that polling places be accessible to persons with disabilities, and the majority of them were not. Election officials generally brought mobile ballot boxes to the homes of voters with disabilities.

The government began to implement inclusive education, but many children with disabilities continued not to study in mainstream schools due to a lack of accommodations to facilitate their individual learning needs. Many schools did not have the physical infrastructure or adequately trained staff to meet the needs of children with disabilities, leaving them no choice but to stay at home or attend specialized schools. Even when children were allowed to attend a mainstream school, many staff and children lacked understanding to meet the educational needs of the child. For example, on September 2, media outlets reported that a child with a disability at a Krasnoyarsk school was excluded from a class photograph, adding that persons with disabilities were often kept from public view.

While the law mandates inclusive education for children with disabilities, authorities generally segregated them from mainstream society through a system that institutionalized them through adulthood. Graduates of such institutions often lacked the social, educational, and vocational skills to function in society.

There appeared to be no clear standardized formal legal mechanism by which individuals could contest their assignment to a facility for persons with disabilities. The classification of children with intellectual disabilities by category of disability often followed them through their lives. The official designations “imbecile” and “idiot,” assigned by a commission that assesses children with developmental delays at age three, signified that authorities considered a child uneducable. These designations were almost always irrevocable. The designation “weak” (having a slight cognitive or intellectual disability) followed an individual on official documents, creating barriers to employment and housing after graduation from state institutions.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, but according to a 2017 report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, officials discriminated against minorities, including through “de facto racial profiling, targeting in particular migrants and persons from Central Asia and the Caucasus.” Activists reported that police officers often stopped individuals who looked foreign and asked them for their documents, claiming that they contained mistakes even when they were in order, and demanded bribes.

Hate crimes targeting ethnic minorities continued to be a problem, although the NGO SOVA Center for Information and Analysis reported that the number of such crimes declined thanks to authorities’ effectively targeting groups that promoted racist violence. As of August 3, one individual had died and 14 had been injured in racially motivated attacks since the beginning of the year. On June 13, Timur Gavrilov, a 17-year-old medical student from Azerbaijan, died after being stabbed 20 times in Volgograd. Police later detained Vitaliy Vasilyev, an unemployed local man, who confessed to attacking Gavrilov on the basis of his ethnic identity. According to media reports, Vasilyev had ties to radical right-wing organizations and attacked the student because he wanted to “kill a non-Russian.” Authorities charged Vasilyev with murder.

According to a 2018 report by the human rights group Antidiscrimination Center Memorial (ADC Memorial), Roma faced widespread discrimination in access to resources (including water, gas, and electrical services); demolitions of houses and forced evictions, including of children, often in winter; violation of the right to education (segregation of Romani children in low-quality schools); deprivation of parental rights; and other forms of structural discrimination.

On February 21, a court in Leninsk-Kuznetskiy fined a local resident for posts on social media judged to be an “incitement to hatred or enmity” directed against Roma. The man made the posts during large-scale brawls that took place in villages near Leninsk-Kuznetskiy between Romani and non-Romani residents.

Indigenous People

The constitution and various statutes provide support for members of “small-numbered” indigenous groups of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, permitting them to create self-governing bodies and allowing them to seek compensation if economic development threatens their lands. The government granted the status of “indigenous” and its associated benefits only to those ethnic groups numbering fewer than 50,000 and maintaining their traditional way of life. A 2017 report by ADC Memorial noted the major challenges facing indigenous persons included “seizure of territories where these minorities traditionally live and maintain their households by mining and oil and gas companies; removal of self-government bodies of indigenous peoples; and repression of activists and employees of social organizations, including the fabrication of criminal cases.”

On August 9, indigenous residents of Norilsk commemorated the International Day of Indigenous Peoples by holding a march under the theme, “Industrial companies are seizing primordial lands.” A dozen individuals from the Nenets, Nganasans, Dolgans, and Entsy groups who participated in the march alleged they were oppressed, not allowed to lead a traditional way of life, and that their ability to fish was hampered. They specifically condemned industrial oil and gas giant Norilsk Nickel for destroying their way of life. Police initially tried to stop the march but eventually relented.

Indigenous sources reported state-sponsored harassment, including interrogations by security services as well as employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). Such treatment was especially acute in areas where corporations wanted to exploit natural resources. By law indigenous groups have exclusive rights to their indigenous lands, but the land itself and its natural resources belong to the state. Companies are required to pay compensation to local inhabitants, but activists asserted that local authorities rarely enforced this provision. Activists stated that interests of corporations and indigenous persons were in constant conflict.

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

The law criminalizes the distribution of “propaganda” of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors and effectively limits the rights of free expression and assembly for citizens who wish to advocate publicly for LGBTI rights or express the opinion that homosexuality is normal. Examples of what the government considered LGBTI propaganda included materials that “directly or indirectly approve of persons who are in nontraditional sexual relationships” (see section 2.a.). The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, or access to government services, such as health care.

During the year there were reports state actors committed violence against LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in Chechnya (see section 1.a.). According to the Russian LGBT Network, as of July more than 175 LGBTI persons had fled Chechnya since 2017, the majority of whom had also left the country.

There were reports that government agents attacked, harassed, and threatened LGBTI activists. For example, on January 29, media outlets reported that Rostov-on-Don-based LGBTI activist Anna Dvornichenko fled Russia for the Netherlands after local law enforcement authorities threatened to initiate criminal and administrative cases against her for “extremist” activities and distribution of LGBTI propaganda to minors. She told media that police refused to investigate several attacks against her in which unknown assailants attacked her with pepper spray and a smoke bomb. In addition, on November 13 in St. Petersburg, masked men shouted homophobic slogans as police and Rospotrebnadzor employees disrupted the opening night of Side By Side, Russia’s only annual LGBT film festival.

LGBTI persons were particular targets of societal violence, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents. For example, the Russian LGBT Network reported that a transgender man was attacked while he was leaving a supermarket in the Kursk region on April 28. The assailant grabbed the man by the neck, beat him, and threatened to kill him. After seeking medical attention, the man was diagnosed with a ruptured eardrum and a concussion. According to the network, the victim filed a report, but police did not investigate the incident and refused to open a criminal case.

There were reports that authorities failed to respond when credible threats of violence were made against LGBTI persons. For example, LGBTI and feminist activist Yuliya Tsvetkova reported she had received numerous death threats, including from an organization known as “Saw” that called for violence against the LGBTI community. Tsvetkova was under investigation for the distribution of pornography and LGBTI propaganda to minors and was under house arrest when she received numerous threats that included her address and other personal details. Tsvetkova also stated that her mother had received numerous threatening telephone calls related to her case. When Tsvetkova informed police, they dismissed the reported incidents and claimed it would be impossible to investigate them.

On April 14, the Russian LGBT Network released a report that showed 11.6 percent of LGBTI respondents in their survey had experienced physical violence, 4 percent had experienced sexual violence, and 56.2 percent had experienced psychological abuse during their lifetime. The report noted that LGBTI persons faced discrimination in their place of study or work, when receiving medical services, and when searching for housing. The report also noted that transgender persons were uniquely vulnerable to discrimination and violence. The Russian LGBT Network claimed that law enforcement authorities did not always protect the rights of LGBTI individuals and were sometimes the source of violence themselves. As a result LGBTI individuals had extremely low levels of trust in courts and police.

In one example of low levels of trust in authorities, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that in September St. Petersburg police arrested 53-year-old actor and theater producer Yuriy Yanovskiy for killing Jamshid Hatamjonov, a transgender sex worker from Uzbekistan who preferred to be called Tamara. Tamara was reported missing in January, and her dismembered body was found in July. The investigation was complicated because the victim’s acquaintances were not willing to testify due to fear authorities would identify and harass them for their sexual orientation and profession. Activists suspected that the victim did not seek any help from authorities for her client’s prior violent behaviors because she feared police.

There were reports police conducted involuntary physical exams of transgender or intersex persons. LGBTI NGO Coming Out reported that in March 2019, some police officers physically and sexually harassed a transgender woman in the process of medical transition. Police had detained her to investigate the death of her roommate. During interrogation at the police station, the victim reported that a police officer hit her approximately five times on the head, using both his open hand and his fist. The police officers also inquired repeatedly about her genitals, demanded that she display her chest, made rude comments about the shape and size of her genitals, took photographs of her, and shared the images on social media.

The Association of Russian Speaking Intersex reported that medical specialists often pressured intersex persons (or their parents if they were underage) into having so-called normalization surgery without providing accurate information about the procedure or what being intersex means.

The law prohibiting the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientations” restricted freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly for LGBTI persons and their supporters (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.). LGBTI persons reported significant societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to official promotion of intolerance and homophobia.

High levels of employment discrimination against LGBTI persons reportedly persisted (see section 7.d.). Activists asserted that the majority of LGBTI persons hid their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of losing their jobs or homes, as well as the risk of violence. LGBTI students also reported discrimination at schools and universities.

Medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBTI persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice. The Russian LGBT Network’s report indicated that, upon disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBTI individuals often encountered strong negative reactions and the presumption they were mentally ill.

Transgender persons faced difficulty updating their names and gender markers on government documents to reflect their gender identity because the government had not established standard procedures, and many civil registry offices denied their requests. When documents failed to reflect their gender identity, transgender persons often faced harassment by law enforcement officers and discrimination in accessing health care, education, housing, transportation, and employment.

There were reports LGBTI persons also faced discrimination in the area of parental rights. The Russian LGBT Network reported LGBTI parents often feared that the country’s prohibition on the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” to minors would be used to remove custody of their children.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV or AIDS faced significant legal discrimination, growing informal stigma-based barriers, and employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). They also continued to face barriers to adopting children in many cases.

According to NGO activists, men who have sex with men were unlikely to seek antiretroviral treatment, since treatment exposed the fact that these individuals had the virus, while sex workers were afraid to appear in the official system due to threats from law enforcement bodies. Many individuals who injected drugs also did not seek treatment because of the country’s aggressive criminalization of illegal drugs and the marginalization of users. Economic migrants also concealed their HIV status and avoided treatment due to fear of deportation. By law foreign citizens who are HIV-positive may be deported. The law, however, bars the deportation of HIV-positive foreigners who have a Russian national or permanent resident spouse, child, or parents. Younger women with HIV or AIDS in particular faced multiple challenges and barriers to accessing treatment because of stigma, discrimination, gender stereotypes, violence, and difficulty accessing sexual and reproductive health care.

Some prisoners with HIV or AIDS experienced abuse and denial of medical treatment and had fewer opportunities for visits with their children (see section 1.c.). For example, on January 24, media outlets reported that Giorgi Murusidze was denied HIV medication for several months while in a St. Petersburg detention center.

On September 7, the head of the Federal Scientific and Methodological Center for the Prevention and Control of AIDS had been diverted to address the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the capacity of the center to provide patients antiretroviral therapy. An NGO noted that it was difficult for persons with HIV or AIDS to receive elective health care, as most beds for patients with infectious diseases had been diverted to COVID-19-related cases. Migrants with HIV or AIDS had an especially difficult time because many lost their jobs and had difficulty accessing health care.

Children with HIV faced discrimination in education. NGOs noted that many younger children with HIV faced resistance by other parents when trying to enroll in schools.

On July 11, the government lifted restrictions on persons with HIV who wanted to adopt children if the adoptive parents met strict criteria, such as being on dispensary observation for at least a year and having a CD4 cell level above 350 cells/milliliter.

The Ministry of Justice continued to designate HIV-related NGOs as foreign agents, effectively reducing the number of organizations that could serve the community (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The lack of an internal passport often prevented homeless citizens from fully securing their legal rights and social services. Homeless persons faced barriers to obtaining legal documentation as well as medical insurance, without which clinics refused to treat them. Media outlets reported that in April police fined several homeless persons for violating the self-isolation regime imposed in various cities to control the spread of COVID-19.

Promotion of Acts of Discrimination

A homophobic campaign continued in state-controlled media in which officials, journalists, and others derided LGBTI persons as “perverts,” “sodomites,” and “abnormal,” and conflated homosexuality with pedophilia.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that workers may form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, but it does not require employers to reinstate workers fired due to their union activity. The law prohibits reprisals against striking workers. Unions must register with the Federal Registration Service, often a cumbersome process that includes lengthy delays and convoluted bureaucracy. The grounds on which trade union registration may be denied are not defined and can be arbitrary or unjustified. Active duty members of the military, civil servants, customs workers, judges, prosecutors, and persons working under civil contracts are excluded from the right to organize. The law requires labor unions to be independent of government bodies, employers, political parties, and NGOs.

The law places several restrictions on the right to bargain collectively. For example, only one collective bargaining agreement is permitted per enterprise, and only a union or group of unions representing at least one-half the workforce may bargain collectively. The law allows workers to elect representatives if there is no union. The law does not specify who has authority to bargain collectively when there is no trade union in an enterprise.

The law prohibits strikes in the military and emergency response services. It also prohibits strikes in essential public-service sectors, including utilities and transportation, and strikes that would threaten the country’s defense, safety, and the life and health of its workers. The law additionally prohibits some nonessential public servants from striking and imposes compulsory arbitration for railroad, postal, and municipal workers, as well as public servants in roles other than law enforcement.

Laws regulating workers’ strikes remained extremely restrictive, making it difficult to declare a strike but easy for authorities to rule a strike illegal and punish workers. It was also very difficult for those without a labor contract to go on a legal strike. For example, on July 13, according to media reports, several dozen Renaissance Heavy Industries workers staged a strike at the Gazprom plant in the Amur region demanding several months of unpaid wages. A crowd there was dispersed by riot police, and authorities charged several participants with criminal charges of hooliganism and participation in riots.

Union members must follow extensive legal requirements and engage in consultations with employers before acquiring the right to strike. Solidarity strikes and strikes on matters related to state policies are illegal, as are strikes that do not respect the onerous time limits, procedures, and requirements mandated by law. Employers may hire workers to replace strikers. Workers must give prior notice of the following aspects of a proposed strike: a list of the differences of opinion between employer and workers that triggered the strike; the date and time at which the strike is intended to start, its duration, and the number of anticipated participants; the name of the body that is leading the strike and the representatives authorized to participate in the conciliation procedures; and proposals for the minimum service to be provided during the strike. In the event a declared strike is ruled illegal and takes place, courts may confiscate union property to cover employers’ losses.

The Federal Labor and Employment Service (RosTrud) regulates employer compliance with labor law and is responsible for “controlling and supervising compliance with labor laws and other legal acts which deal with labor norms” by employers. Several state agencies, including the Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor’s Office, RosTrud, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are responsible for enforcing the law. These agencies, however, frequently failed to enforce the law, and violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining provisions were common. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other similar laws related to civil rights.

Employers frequently engaged in reprisals against workers for independent union activity, including threatening to assign them to night shifts, denying benefits, and blacklisting or firing them. Although unions were occasionally successful in court, in most cases managers who engaged in antiunion activities did not face penalties. For example, in June the independent university teachers’ union University Solidarity called on the heads of the Yugra State University to stop discrimination against Vanda Tilles, a professor and union member at that university. Tilles claimed that the lack of transparency in the promotion system at the university promoted the firing of active union leaders.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor but allows for it as a penal sentence, in some cases as prison labor contracted to private enterprises.

The government was not effective in enforcing laws against forced labor, and there was a government policy or pattern of forced labor. Prescribed penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Instances of labor trafficking have been reported in the construction, manufacturing, logging, textile, and maritime industries, as well as in saw mills, agriculture, sheep farms, grocery and retail stores, restaurants, waste sorting, street sweeping, domestic service, and forced begging (see section 7.c.). Serious gaps remained in protecting migrant laborers, particularly from North Korea, who generally earned 40 percent less than the average salary. Migrant workers at times experienced exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as withholding of identity documents, nonpayment for services rendered, physical abuse, unsafe working conditions, and extremely poor living conditions.

Under a state-to-state agreement in effect since 2009, North Korean citizens worked in the country in a variety of sectors, including the logging and construction industries in the Far East. In order to comply with the 2017 UN Security Council Resolution prohibiting the employment of North Koreans, Russia has largely eliminated North Korean laborers working in the country legally and continues to affirm its commitment to do so. The country failed, however, to return all North Korean workers by the December 2019 UN deadline and claimed that North Korea’s closing of its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic hindered the effort. The Ministry of Internal Affairs was believed to have manipulated its publicly available data on the number of North Koreans working in the country. Observers believed a significant number of North Koreans entering the country on student, tourist, and “other” visa categories since the introduction of UN sanctions came to work rather than their stated purpose of travel, especially in the Far East.

Authorities failed to screen departing North Korean workers for human trafficking and indications of forced labor.

There were reports of forced labor in the production of bricks, raising livestock, and at sawmills, primarily in Dagestan. While both men and women were exploited for forced labor in these industries in the Northern Caucasus region, victims were primarily male job seekers recruited in Moscow.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 16 in most cases and regulates the working conditions of children younger than 18. The law permits children to work at 14 under certain conditions and with the approval of a parent or guardian. Such work must not threaten the child’s health or welfare. The law lists occupations restricted for children younger than 18, including work in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, underground work, or jobs that might endanger a child’s health and moral development.

RosTrud is responsible for inspecting enterprises and organizations to identify violations of labor and occupational health standards for minors. The government effectively enforced the law, although penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

Child labor was uncommon but could occur in the informal service and retail sectors. Some children, both Russian and foreign, were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, forced participation in the production of pornography, and forced begging (see section 6, Children).

Also, see the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, gender identity, or disability. Although the country placed a general ban on discrimination, the government did not effectively enforce the law and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other similar laws related to civil rights.

Discrimination based on gender in compensation, professional training, hiring, and dismissal was common. Employers often preferred to hire men to save on maternity and child-care costs and to avoid the perceived unreliability associated with women with small children. Such discrimination was often very difficult to prove.

The law prohibits employer discrimination in posting job vacancy information. It also prohibits employers from requesting workers with specific gender, race, nationality, address registration, age, and other factors unrelated to personal skills and competencies. Notwithstanding the law, vacancy announcements sometimes specified gender and age requirements, and some also specified a desired physical appearance.

According to the Center for Social and Labor Rights, courts often ruled in favor of employees filing complaints, but the sums awarded were often seen as not worth the cost and time required to take legal action.

The law restricts women’s employment in jobs with “harmful or dangerous conditions or work underground, except in nonphysical jobs or sanitary and consumer services,” and forbids women’s employment in “manual handling of bulk weights that exceed the limits set for their handling.”

The law includes numerous tasks prohibited for women and includes restrictions on women’s employment in mining, manufacturing, and construction. During the year women were prohibited from employment in 456 labor categories. In late 2019 the law was amended to reduce the number of labor categories prohibited to woman to 98, starting in 2021. According to the Ministry of Labor, women on average earned 27.9 percent less than men in 2019. The legal age requirements for women and men to access either their full or partial pension benefits are not equal.

The law does not prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, and there are no criminal or civil remedies for sexual harassment experienced in the workplace.

The law requires applicants to undergo a mandatory pre-employment health screening for some jobs listed in the labor code or when enrolling at educational institutions. The medical commission may restrict or prohibit access to jobs and secondary or higher education if it finds signs of physical or mental problems. The law prohibits discrimination of persons with disabilities, but they were often subjected to employment discrimination. Companies with 35 to 100 employees have an employment quota of 1 to 3 percent for persons with disabilities, while those with more than 100 employees have a 2 to 4 percent quota. An NGO noted that some companies kept persons with disabilities on the payroll in order to fulfill the quotas but did not actually provide employment for them. Inadequate workplace access for persons with disabilities also limited their work opportunities.

Many migrants regularly faced discrimination and hazardous or exploitative working conditions. Despite President Putin signing a decree in April to extend the validity of documents necessary for temporary residency and labor within the country in response to COVID-19 restrictions, media outlets reported numerous cases of migrants being threatened with deportation or forced to pay to extend their status. For example, on May 14, media outlets reported that the employer of a Uzbek citizen who had been working legally in the country for 15 years forced him to pay for the extension of his work permit during the two months he was on unpaid leave and threatened to call authorities if he refused.

Employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was a problem, especially in the public sector and education. Employers fired LGBTI persons for their sexual orientation, gender identity, or public activism in support of LGBTI rights. Primary and secondary school teachers were often the targets of such pressure due to the law on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” targeted at minors (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Persons with HIV or AIDS were prohibited from working in areas of medical research and medicine that dealt with bodily fluids, including surgery and blood drives. The Ministry of Internal Affairs does not hire persons with HIV or AIDS, although a person who contracts HIV or AIDS while employed is protected from losing their job.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage increased to the official poverty level on January 1. Some local governments enacted minimum wage rates higher than the national rate.

Nonpayment of wages is a criminal offense and is punishable by fines, compulsory labor, or imprisonment. Federal law provides for administrative fines of employers who fail to pay salaries and sets progressive compensation scales for workers affected by wage arrears. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and nonpayment or late payment of wages remained widespread. According to the Federal State Statistics Service, Rosstat, as of October 1, wage arrears amounted to approximately 1.83 billion rubles ($23.8 million).

The law provides for standard workhours, overtime, and annual leave. The standard workweek may not exceed 40 hours. Employers may not request overtime work from pregnant women, workers younger than age 18, and other categories of employees specified by federal law. Standard annual paid leave is 28 calendar days. Employees who perform work involving harmful or dangerous labor conditions and employees in the Far North regions receive additional annual paid leave. Organizations have discretion to grant additional leave to employees.

The law stipulates that payment for overtime must be at least 150 percent for the first two hours and not less than 200 percent after that. At an employee’s request, overtime may be compensated by additional holiday leave. Overtime work may not exceed four hours in a two-day period or 120 hours in a year for each employee. The government did effectively enforce minimum wage and hour laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

The law establishes minimum conditions for workplace safety and worker health, but it does not explicitly allow workers to remove themselves from hazardous workplaces without threat to their employment. The law entitles foreigners working in the country to the same rights and protections as citizens.

Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate within the main industries. Government inspectors are responsible for enforcement and generally applied the law in the formal sector. Serious breaches of occupational safety and health provisions are criminal offenses and penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other similar crimes. Experts generally pointed to prevention of these offenses, rather than adequacy of available punishment, as the main challenge to protection of worker rights. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law in all sectors. RosTrud, the agency that enforces the provisions, noted state labor inspectors needed additional professional training and that the agency needed additional inspectors to enforce consistent compliance. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

At the end of 2019, an estimated 13 million persons were employed in the shadow economy. Employment in the informal sector was concentrated in the southern regions. The largest share of laborers in the informal economy was concentrated in the trade, construction, and agricultural sectors, where workers were more vulnerable to exploitative working conditions. Labor migrants worked in low-skilled jobs in construction but also in housing, utilities, agriculture, and retail trade sectors, often informally. Labor law and protections apply to workers in the informal sector.

No national-level information was available on the number of workplace accidents or fatalities during the year. According to Rosstat, in 2019 approximately 23,300 workers were injured in industrial accidents, including 1,060 deaths.

Rwanda

Executive Summary

Rwanda is a constitutional republic dominated by a strong presidency. The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front led a governing coalition that included four smaller parties. In 2017 voters elected President Paul Kagame to a third seven-year term with a reported 99 percent of the vote and a reported 98 percent turnout. One independent candidate and one candidate from an opposition political party participated in the presidential election, but authorities disqualified three other candidates. In the 2018 elections for parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, candidates from the Rwandan Patriotic Front coalition and two other parties supporting Rwandan Patriotic Front policies won all except four of the open seats. For the first time, independent parties won seats in the chamber, with the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda and the Social Party Imberakuri winning two seats each. In both the 2017 and 2018 elections, international monitors reported numerous flaws, including irregularities in the vote tabulation process. In September 2019, 12 new senators were elected to the 26-member Senate via indirect elections. Faculty at public and private universities elected two other senators. President Kagame appointed another four senators, and the National Consultative Forum for Political Organizations designated two, in accordance with the constitution. In September the National Consultative Forum for Political Organizations designated two new senators, including a member of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda.

The Rwanda National Police, under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for internal security. The Rwanda Defense Force, under the Ministry of Defense, is in charge of providing external security, although the Rwanda Defense Force also works on internal security and intelligence matters alongside the Rwandan National Police. In 2018 the Rwanda Investigation Bureau began carrying out many of the investigative functions formerly performed by the Rwandan National Police, including counterterrorism investigations, investigation of economic and financial crimes, and judicial police functions. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over state security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearance by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening conditions in some detention facilities; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, press, and the internet, including threats of violence against journalists, censorship, and website blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization laws; and restrictions on political participation.

The government took some steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, including within the security services, but impunity involving civilian officials and some members of the state security forces was a problem.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were reports the government committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) is responsible for conducting investigations into such killings. Under the Ministry of Justice, the National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) is responsible for prosecuting abuse cases involving police, while the Rwanda National Police (RNP) Inspectorate of Services investigates cases of police misconduct.

For example, Kizito Mihigo, a popular gospel singer and a genocide survivor, was found dead in police custody on February 17. Mihigo was arrested on February 13 near the border with Burundi. Authorities charged him with illegally attempting to cross the border, attempting to join terrorist groups, and corruption. Previously, in 2015 a court convicted Mihigo of planning to assassinate the president and conspiracy against the government. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison before being pardoned by the president in 2018. The NPPA found that Mihigo’s death was the result of suicide by hanging, but the autopsy results were not made public and the circumstances of his death remained unclear. Government critics asserted that authorities killed Mihigo and arranged for his death to be declared a suicide; a posthumously published work from Mihigo’s previous time in prison suggested he feared he would be killed. Mihigo told Human Rights Watch shortly before his arrest that he received threats, was asked to provide false testimony against political opponents, and feared for his safety. Many human rights defenders called on the government to conduct an independent investigation, which as of November had not taken place.

There were also reports the government failed to follow through on its obligation to conduct full, timely, and transparent investigations of killings of political opponents such as the March 2019 killing of Anselme Mutuyimana, a member of the unregistered United Democratic Forces-Inkingi (FDU-Inkingi) opposition party. FDU-Inkingi and Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged government involvement in Mutuyimana’s killing. Although the RIB announced in March 2019 that it was investigating Mutuyimana’s death and had arrested one suspect, the investigation had not progressed since that time.

There were reports that police killed several persons attempting to resist arrest or escape police custody. In March officers killed two individuals in Nyanza District for resisting arrest when apprehended for not complying with COVID-19 lockdown measures. In July officers killed two Burundian refugees in Ngoma District suspected of trafficking illegal drugs from Tanzania. In August the RNP announced officers had killed two suspects attempting to escape from police custody in Gasabo District. In Rusizi District, officers killed an individual suspected of theft when he resisted arrest.

b. Disappearance

There were several reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. In June Venant Abayisenga went missing. Abayisenga was a member of DALFA-Umurinzi, an unregistered opposition party under the leadership of government critic Victoire Ingabire. Abayisenga worked as Ingabire’s assistant and was previously imprisoned on charges of terrorism, of which he was acquitted after more than two years in detention. Ingabire stated that she believed government agents kidnapped or killed Abayisenga. The RIB announced it was investigating the disappearance, but as of September 27, it had not disclosed the results of that investigation.

The government failed to complete investigations or take measures to ensure accountability for disappearances that occurred in 2019 and 2018 such as those of Eugene Ndereyimana and Boniface Twagirimana.

There were reports the Rwanda Defense Force’s (RDF) military intelligence personnel were responsible for disappearances, illegal detention, and torture. Some advocates reported that RDF intelligence personnel took suspected political opponents to unofficial detention centers where they were subject to beatings and other cruel and degrading treatment with the purpose of extracting intelligence information.

Domestic organizations cited a lack of independence and capacity for government officials to investigate security sector abuses effectively, including reported enforced disappearances.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were numerous reports of abuse of detainees by police, military, and National Intelligence and Security Services officials.

In 2018 the government enacted a law that prescribes 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment for any person convicted of torture. The law mandates that when torture is committed by a public official in the course of his or her duties, the penalty for conviction is life imprisonment.

Prisoners were sometimes subjected to torture. In one case, 25 individuals were arrested and transferred from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the country on the grounds that they were involved in armed groups threatening the country’s security. During their court proceedings, some of these individuals claimed they had been tortured in custody. The court ruled there was no evidence that torture had occurred, but there were no reports the court investigated the allegations.

Human rights advocates continued to report instances of illegally detained individuals tortured in unofficial detention centers. Advocates including HRW claimed that military, police, and intelligence personnel employed torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment to obtain information and forced confessions, which in some cases resulted in criminal convictions. Some defendants in addition alleged in court they had been tortured while in detention to confess to crimes they did not commit, but there were no reports of any judges ordering an investigation into such allegations or dismissing evidence obtained under torture, and there were no reported prosecutions of state security forces personnel for torture.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions at prisons and unofficial detention centers ranged from harsh and life threatening to approaching international standards. The government took steps to make improvements in some prisons, but conditions varied widely among facilities.

Physical Conditions: Physical conditions in prisons operated by the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) approached international standards in some respects, although reports of overcrowding and food shortages were common. According to the RCS, the prison population rose from fewer than 52,000 inmates in 2015 to approximately 66,000 during the year, which greatly exacerbated overcrowding. Convicted persons and individuals in pretrial detention in RCS prisons were fed once per day, and family members were allowed to deposit funds so that convicts and detainees could purchase additional food at prison canteens, but human rights advocates reported that lack of food continued to be a problem. Domestic media reported food insecurity among the prison population worsened due to COVID-19 restrictions, which prohibited family members from purchasing and delivering food rations. The government did not keep statistics on deaths in custody beyond deaths of prisoners due to illness (who received medical treatment in custody). Authorities held men and women separately in similar conditions, and authorities generally separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, although there were numerous exceptions due to the large number of detainees awaiting trial. The law does not allow children older than age three to remain with their incarcerated mothers (see also section 6, Persons with Disabilities).

Conditions were generally harsh and life threatening in unofficial detention centers. Reports from previous years indicated individuals detained at such centers suffered from limited access to food, water, and health care.

Conditions were often harsh and life threatening at district transit centers holding street children, street vendors, suspected drug abusers, persons engaged in prostitution, homeless persons, and suspected petty criminals. Overcrowding was common in police stations and district transit centers. Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported authorities at district transit centers frequently failed to adhere to the requirements of a 2018 ministerial order determining the “mission, organization, and functioning” of transit centers. For example, HRW found detainees were often held in cramped and unsanitary conditions and that the amount of food provided was insufficient, in particular at the Gikondo transit center. HRW also reported that state security forces beat detainees at district transit centers. Transit centers often lacked separate facilities for children. Medical treatment was reportedly irregular, and many detainees suffered ailments such as malaria, rashes, or diarrhea. The government discouraged further detentions in these transit centers due to the difficulties of preventing the spread of COVID-19 under such conditions. In a press interview, the minister of justice and the prosecutor general stated authorities could continue to pursue cases while defendants were on bail.

Conditions at the Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Center operated by the National Rehabilitation Service (NRS) were better than those of transit centers. Young men detained at the center participated in educational and vocational programs and had access to ample space for exercise. A small number of medical professionals and social workers provided medical care and counseling to detainees.

The government held four prisoners of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in a purpose-built detention center that the United Nations deemed met international standards for incarceration of prisoners convicted by international criminal tribunals.

Administration: The RCS investigated reported abuses by corrections officers, and the same hierarchical structure existed in police and security forces; there was no independent institution charged with investigating abuses or punishing perpetrators.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions on a limited basis by diplomats, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and some NGOs. Nevertheless, it restricted access to specific prisoners and delayed consular notification of the arrest of some foreign nationals. The government permitted monitoring of prison conditions and trials of individuals whom the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) had transferred to the country’s jurisdiction for trials related to the 1994 genocide, per agreement with the IRMCT. Journalists could access prisons with a valid press card but required permission from the RCS commissioner to take photographs or interview prisoners or guards.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but state security forces regularly arrested and detained persons arbitrarily and without due process. The law provides for the right of persons to challenge in court the lawfulness of their arrest or detention; however, few tried, and there were no reports of any detainees succeeding in obtaining prompt release or compensation for unlawful detention. Observers credited the RNP with generally strong discipline and effectiveness. The RNP institutionalized community relations training that included appropriate use of force and respect for human rights, although arbitrary arrests and beatings remained problems.

Human rights NGOs previously reported that individuals suspected of having ties to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the Rwanda National Congress, or other insurgent groups were detained unlawfully and held incommunicado for long periods in harsh and inhuman conditions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires authorities to investigate and obtain a warrant before arresting a suspect. Police may detain suspects for up to 72 hours without an arrest warrant. Prosecutors must submit formal charges within five days of arrest. Police may detain minors a maximum of 15 days in pretrial detention but only for crimes that carry a penalty for conviction of five years’ or more imprisonment. Police and prosecutors often disregarded these provisions and held individuals, sometimes for months and often without charge, particularly in security-related cases. State security forces held some suspects incommunicado or under house arrest. At times police employed nonjudicial punishment when minor criminals confessed and the victims agreed to a police officer’s recommended penalty, such as a week of detention or providing restitution.

The law permits investigative detention if authorities believe public safety is threatened or the accused might flee, and judges interpreted these provisions broadly. A judge must review such a detention every 30 days. By law it may not extend beyond one year; however, the RCS held some suspects at the behest of state prosecutors indefinitely after the first authorization of investigative detention and did not always seek reauthorization every 30 days. The minister of justice announced in a statement to domestic media in March 2019 that he encouraged authorities to comply with legal standards in these areas, and such irregularities reportedly decreased.

After prosecutors formally file a charge, detention may be indefinite unless bail is granted. Bail exists only for crimes for which the maximum sentence if convicted is five years’ imprisonment or less, but authorities may release a suspect pending trial if satisfied the person would not flee or become a threat to public safety and order. Authorities generally allowed family members prompt access to detained relatives, unless the individuals were held on state security charges, or in unofficial or intelligence-related detention facilities. Detainees were generally allowed access to attorneys of their choice, provided that said attorneys were registered with the Rwanda Bar Association (RBA), were members of another international bar association which had a reciprocal agreement with the RBA, or were from a foreign jurisdiction included in a regional integration agreement to which the country was a party. The government at times violated the right to habeas corpus.

Convicted persons sometimes remained in prison after completing their sentences while waiting for an appeal date or due to problems with prison records. The law provides that pretrial detention, illegal detention, and administrative sanctions be fully deducted from sentences imposed, but this was not always followed. The law does not provide for compensation to persons who are acquitted. The law allows judges to impose detention of equivalent duration and fines on state security forces and other government officials who unlawfully detained individuals, but there were no reports that judges exercised this authority.

Arbitrary Arrest: On August 31, the RIB announced it had apprehended Paul Rusesabagina, the internationally known hero of the film Hotel Rwanda and long-time government critic turned leader of the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD) opposition group. On September 14, prosecutors brought terrorism charges against Rusesabagina, most of which were related to a series of National Liberation Forces (FLN–the armed wing of the MRCD) attacks against the country in 2018. As of November Rusesabagina’s trial had not yet officially begun; he remained in pretrial detention while the prosecution prepared the government’s case against him. The exact circumstances of his apprehension remained unclear. Rusesabagina’s family members asserted to press that authorities “kidnapped” Rusesabagina while he was on a business trip to Dubai. On September 6, President Kagame denied Rusesabagina had been kidnapped and implied that Rusesabagina had somehow been lured or tricked into coming to the country of his own volition. In September Rusesabagina stated he intended to travel to Bujumbura, Burundi, via private jet, but he unexpectedly arrived in Kigali instead.

Unregistered opposition political parties reported authorities detained their officials and supporters, including for lengthy periods. For example, 11 FDU-Inkingi leaders spent significant periods in custody after being arrested in 2017 on various charges, including the formation of an irregular armed group. In January seven were convicted and given prison sentences ranging from two to 12 years. Four were acquitted. Attorneys for the defense argued the arrests were politically motivated and unsuccessfully petitioned the court to dismiss the case on grounds that prosecutors employed improper and illegal procedures in authorizing a communications intercept after the fact.

Although there is no requirement for individuals to carry an identification document (ID), police and the District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO) regularly detained street children, vendors, suspected petty criminals, and beggars without IDs and sometimes charged them with illegal street vending or vagrancy. Authorities released adults who could produce an ID and transported street children to their home districts, to shelters, or for processing into vocational and educational programs. To address persistent reports of abuse of street vendors by DASSO employees, authorities continued to provide training to DASSO personnel. During the year 225 DASSO community security officer trainees participated in a course designed to promote professionalism and discipline. As in previous years, authorities held detainees without charge at district transit centers for weeks or months at a time without proactively screening and identifying trafficking victims before either transferring them to an NRS rehabilitation center without judicial review or forcibly returning them to their home areas. Detainees held at district transit centers or NRS rehabilitation centers could contest their detentions before the centers’ authorities but did not have the right to appear before a judge.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem, and authorities often detained prisoners for months without arraignment, in large part due to administrative delays caused by case backlogs. The NGO World Prison Brief reported, using 2017 data, that 7.5 percent of prisoners were pretrial detainees. The law permits detention of genocide and terrorism suspects until trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. There were no reports of direct government interference in the judiciary, and authorities generally respected court orders. Domestic and international observers noted, however, that outcomes in high-profile genocide, security, and politically sensitive cases appeared predetermined.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence and requires defendants be informed promptly and in detail of the charges in a language they comprehend.

Defendants have the right to a trial without undue delay. Human rights advocates and government officials noted, however, that shortages of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys and resource limitations within the criminal justice system resulted in delays for many defendants, particularly those awaiting pro bono government-provided legal aid.

By law detainees are allowed access to lawyers, but the expense and scarcity of lawyers limited access to legal representation. Some lawyers were reluctant to work on politically sensitive cases, fearing harassment and threats by government officials, including monitoring of their communications. Rusesabagina’s family claimed the government did not allow him to have the defense team of his choosing during the first two months of his detention. Authorities insisted that Rusesabagina chose his legal team from a list of available local lawyers without compulsion.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, although many defendants could not afford private counsel. The law provides for legal representation of minors. The RBA and 36 other member organizations of the Legal Aid Forum provided legal assistance to some indigent defendants but lacked the resources to provide defense counsel to all in need.

The law requires that defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, and judges routinely granted requests to extend preparation time. The law provides for a right to free interpretation, although availability of interpreters varied between urban and rural areas. Defendants have the right to be present at trial, confront witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. By law defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Judges generally respected the law during trial. The law provides for the right to appeal, and authorities respected this provision, although lack of access to computers necessary to file such appeals impeded some defendants’ ability to exercise that right.

State security forces continued to coerce suspects into confessing guilt in security-related cases. Judges tended to accept confessions obtained through torture despite defendants’ protests and failed to order investigations when defendants alleged torture during their trial. The judiciary sometimes held security-related, terrorism, and high-profile political trials in closed chambers. Some defense attorneys in these cases reported irregularities and complained judges tended to disregard the rights of the accused when hearings were not held publicly.

The RDF routinely tried military offenders, as well as civilians who previously served in the RDF, before military tribunals that handed down penalties of fines, imprisonment, or both for those convicted. Military courts provided defendants with similar rights as civilian courts, including the right of appeal. Defendants often appeared before military tribunals without legal counsel due to the cost of hiring private attorneys and the unwillingness of most attorneys to defend individuals accused of crimes against state security. The law stipulates military courts may try civilian accomplices of soldiers accused of crimes.

In 2012 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda transferred its remaining genocide cases to the IRMCT. On May 16, French police arrested one of the fugitives subject to an IRMCT indictment, Felicien Kabuga, near Paris. In October French courts confirmed that Kabuga would be transferred to IRMCT custody. On May 22, the IRMCT confirmed that remains discovered in the Republic of Congo were of Augustin Bizimana, another fugitive, and that he had been dead for 20 years. The IRMCT continued to pursue the six remaining genocide fugitives subject to tribunal indictments. Of these cases, five were expected to be transferred to the country’s jurisdiction and observed by the IRMCT if apprehended; the remaining case would be tried by the IRMCT.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were numerous reports that local officials and state security forces detained some individuals who disagreed publicly with government decisions or policies. Some opposition leaders and government critics faced indictment under broadly applied charges of genocide incitement, genocide denial, inciting insurrection or rebellion, or attempting to overthrow the government. Political detainees were generally afforded the same protections, including visitation rights, access to lawyers and doctors, and access to family members, as other detainees. The government did not generally give human rights or humanitarian organizations access to specific political prisoners, but it provided access to prisons more generally for some of these organizations. Occasionally authorities held politically sensitive detainees in individual cells. International and domestic human rights groups reported the government held a small number of political prisoners in custody, including Deo Mushayidi and Theoneste Niyitegeka.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There were reports the government attempted to pursue political opponents abroad. Rusesabagina’s family and supporters maintained that Rusesabagina did not travel to the country freely or through internationally sanctioned law enforcement channels but rather was brought to the country through illicit government intervention after he boarded a private jet in Dubai that he believed was bound for Bujumbura, Burundi. Although the government initially stated Rusesabagina’s arrival in Kigali was an outcome of international law enforcement cooperation, Emirati authorities stated they were not involved in the case.

In 2019 the government of South Africa issued arrest warrants for two Rwandans accused of murder for the 2014 killing of Rwandan dissident Patrick Karegeya at a hotel in Johannesburg. According to media reports, South Africa’s special investigative unit stated in written testimony that both Karegeya’s killing and the attempted homicide in Pretoria, South Africa, of the country’s former army chief of staff General Kayumba Nyamwasa “were directly linked to the involvement of the Rwandan government.” The government had not yet cooperated with the arrest warrants.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The judiciary was generally independent and impartial in civil matters. Mechanisms exist for citizens to file lawsuits in civil matters, including for abuses of human rights. The Office of the Ombudsman processed claims of judicial wrongdoing on an administrative basis. Individuals may submit cases to the East African Court of Justice after exhausting domestic appeals.

Property Restitution

Reports of expropriation of land for the construction of roads, government buildings, and other infrastructure projects were common, and complainants frequently cited government failure to provide adequate and timely compensation. The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) investigated some of these cases and advocated on citizens’ behalf with relevant local and national authorities but was unable to effect restitution in a majority of the cases.

The government forcibly evicted individuals from dwellings across the country (primarily in Kigali) deemed to be located in swamp land or other zones at high risk of flooding or landslides. Some of those who were evicted said the government refused to offer them compensation on the basis that dwellings should never have been constructed in those locations.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government continued to monitor homes, movements, telephone calls, email, and personal and institutional communications. Private text messages were sometimes used as evidence in criminal cases. Government informants continued to work within internet and telephone companies, international and local NGOs, religious organizations, media, and other social institutions.

The law requires police to obtain authorization from a state prosecutor prior to entering and searching citizens’ homes. According to human rights organizations, state security forces at times entered homes without obtaining the required authorization.

The law provides legal protection against unauthorized use of personal data by private entities, although officials did not enforce these provisions during the year.

The government blocked some websites, including media outlets, that included content considered contrary to government positions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press “in conditions prescribed by the law,” but the government severely restricted this right. Journalists reported government officials questioned, threatened, and at times arrested journalists who expressed views deemed critical of the government on sensitive topics. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and journalists led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.

The Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), a self-regulatory body, sometimes intervened on journalists’ behalf but was generally viewed as biased towards the government. Journalists reported most positions on the RMC board were filled in close consultation with the government and called into question the board’s independence.

Freedom of Speech: There were no official restrictions on individuals’ right to criticize the government publicly or privately on policy implementation and other issues, but broad interpretation of provisions in the law had a chilling effect on such criticism. The government generally did not tolerate criticism of the presidency and government policy on security, human rights, and other matters deemed sensitive.

Laws prohibiting divisionism, genocide ideology, and genocide denial were broadly applied and discouraged citizens, residents, and visitors to the country from expressing viewpoints that could be construed as promoting societal divisions.

The law prohibits making use of speech, writing, or any other act that divides the populace or may set them against each other or cause civil unrest because of discrimination. Conviction of “instigating divisions” is punishable by five to seven years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine. Authorities applied the laws broadly, including to silence political dissent and to shut down investigative journalism. The law also prohibits spreading “false information or harmful propaganda with intent to cause public disaffection against the government,” for which conviction is punishable by seven to 10 years’ imprisonment. The government generally investigated individuals accused of threatening or harming genocide survivors and witnesses or of espousing genocide ideology.

A revised law enacted in 2018 incorporated international definitions for genocide and outlined the scope of what constitutes “genocide ideology” and related offenses. Specifically, the law provides that any person convicted of denying, minimizing, or justifying the 1994 genocide is liable to a prison term of five to seven years and a substantial monetary fine. Authorities applied the statute broadly, and there were numerous reports of its use to silence persons critical of government policy.

The RIB and RNP reported opening 55 new investigations related to genocide ideology statutes as of May, although none had resulted in arrests as of September 27.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Vendors sold newspapers published in English, French, and Kinyarwanda. According to the RMC, there were 36 print media outlets registered with the government, although many of these did not publish regularly. Sporadically published independent newspapers maintained positions in support of, or critical of, the government, but a lack of advertisement revenue and funds remained serious hurdles to continuing operations. Most independent newspapers opted not to publish print editions and released their stories online instead. There were 35 radio stations (six government-owned community radio stations and 29 independent radio stations) and more than 13 television stations, according to the RMC. Independent media reported a difficult operating environment and highlighted the reluctance of the business community to advertise on radio stations that might be critical of the government.

Media professionals reported government officials used ambiguities in laws governing media to influence reporting and used threats and intimidation to prevent journalists from reporting information deemed sensitive or critical of the government. The law regulating media provides journalists the freedom to investigate, express opinions, and “seek, receive, give, and broadcast information and ideas through any media.” The law explicitly prohibits censorship of information, but censorship occurred. The laws restrict these freedoms if journalists “jeopardize the general public order and good morals, an individual’s right to honor and reputation in the public eye and to the right to inviolability of a person’s private life and family.” By law authorities may seize journalists’ material and information if a “media offense” occurs but only under a court order. Courts may compel journalists to reveal confidential sources in the event of an investigation or criminal proceeding. Persons wanting to start a media outlet must apply with the “competent public organ.” All media rights and prohibitions apply to persons writing for websites.

Violence and Harassment: Media professionals reported the government continued to use threats of arrests and physical violence to silence media outlets and journalists. Journalist Jean Bosco Kabakura remained outside the country after fleeing in 2018 because of threats related to his publication of an article examining the roles of police, military, and civilian authorities in the shooting of refugees from the Kiziba refugee camp earlier in 2018. Several other journalists who fled in prior years remained outside the country. Failure to investigate or prosecute threats against journalists resulted in self-censorship.

In April the government enforced a general lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. During the lockdown numerous bloggers and journalists, including some who used YouTube channels to distribute their work, were arrested and detained. These journalists were largely known to be critics of government policies and practices. Dieudonne Niyonsenga (also known as Hassan Cyuma), owner of the YouTube channel Ishema TV, and his employee Fidele Komezusenge were arrested for violating lockdown measures, remanded for 30 days, and denied bail. Komezusenge was later released, but Niyonsenga remained in prison as of October 1. HRW considered the detention of Hassan Cyuma and several other bloggers working for outlets that reported on an incident of several rapes perpetrated by a group of RDF soldiers during the COVID-19 lockdown and the impact of the COVID-19 directives on vulnerable populations to be retaliatory. In April the RMC stated unaccredited individuals conducting interviews and posting them on personal YouTube channels did not qualify as journalists and were not permitted to move about freely to conduct interviews during the lockdown.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law allows the government to restrict access to some government documents and information, including information on individual privacy and information or statements deemed to constitute defamation. HRW reported harassment, suspicious disappearances, and the fear of prosecution pushed many journalists to engage in self-censorship. Reporters Without Borders continued to report that censorship remained ubiquitous, and self-censorship was widely used to avoid running afoul of the regime. Reporters Without Borders also reported that foreign journalists were often unable to obtain the visas and accreditation needed to report in Rwanda.

Radio stations broadcast some criticism of government policies, including on popular citizen call-in shows; however, criticism tended to focus on provincial leaders and local implementation of policies rather than on the president or ruling party leadership. Some radio stations, including Radio 1, Radio Isango Star, Radio 10, and Radio Salus, had regular call-in shows that featured discussion of government programs or policies. For example Radio Flash and Radio Isango Star hosted several debates in which participants criticized government policies on human rights and social issues.

Libel/Slander Laws: In April 2019 the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional provisions of the law that made it illegal to use words, gestures, writings, or cartoons to humiliate members of parliament, members of the cabinet, security officers, or any other public servant. The court upheld a provision stating that conviction of insulting or defaming the president is punishable by five to seven years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine. In response the Office of the President issued a statement taking issue with the court’s decision to uphold that provision and called for continued debate of the issue, explaining that the president believed this should be a civil matter, not a criminal matter. Parliament subsequently revised the law in August 2019 to decriminalize such speech, to include when related to the president. Defamation of foreign and international officials and dignitaries remains illegal under the law, with sentences if convicted of three to five years’ imprisonment. The penal code does not contain provisions criminalizing public defamation and public insult in general.

National Security: Under media laws, journalists must refrain from reporting items that violate “confidentiality in the national security and national integrity” and “confidentiality of judicial proceedings, parliamentary sessions, and cabinet deliberations in camera.” Authorities used these laws to intimidate critics of the government and journalists covering politically sensitive topics and matters under government investigation.

Internet Freedom

The law includes the right of all citizens to “receive, disseminate, or send information through the internet,” including the right to start and maintain a website. All provisions of media law apply to web-based publications. The government restricts the types of online content that users can access, particularly content that strays from the government’s official line, and continued to block websites. The government continued to monitor email and internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views online, including by email and social media, but were subject to monitoring. In May 2019 the minister of information and communications technology and innovation announced the government planned to impose regulations on social media content to combat misinformation and protect citizens. The government did not announce any further details.

According to a 2010 law relating to electronic messages, signatures, and transactions, intermediaries and service providers are not held liable for content transmitted through their networks. Nonetheless, service providers are required to remove content when handed a takedown notice, and there are no avenues for appeal.

Government-run social media accounts were used to debate and at times intimidate individuals who posted online comments considered critical of the government.

The government blocked access within the country to several websites critical of its policies, including websites of the Rwandan diaspora.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government generally did not restrict academic freedom or cultural events, but students and professors practiced self-censorship to avoid accusations of engaging in divisionism or genocide ideology. Local think tanks deferred to government officials in selecting subjects for research, and authorities often prevented or delayed the publication of studies that cast the government in a negative light. The government requires visiting academics to receive official permission to conduct research.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution, law, or both provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. The law states it is illegal to demonstrate in a public place without prior authorization. Conviction of violating this provision is punishable by a prison sentence of eight days to six months or a substantial monetary fine. The penalties are increased for illegal demonstrations deemed to have threatened security, public order, or health.

Freedom of Association

While the constitution provides for freedom of association, the government limited the right. The law requires private organizations to register. Although the government generally granted licenses to private organizations, it impeded the formation of political parties, restricted political party activities, and delayed or denied registration to local and international NGOs seeking to work on human rights, media freedom, or political advocacy (see section 3). In addition the government imposed burdensome NGO registration and renewal requirements, especially on international NGOs, as well as time-consuming requirements for annual financial and activity reports (see section 5). The law requires faith-based organizations to obtain legal status from the government before beginning operations. It also calls for their legal representatives and preachers with supervisory responsibilities to hold academic degrees.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government accepted former Rwandan combatants who returned from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Rwandan Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, with international support, placed adult former combatants in a three-month re-education program at the Mutobo Demobilization Center in Northern Province. After completion, each adult former combatant was enrolled automatically in the RDF Reserve Force and received a cash allowance. The Musanze Child Rehabilitation Center treated former child combatants.

Foreign Travel: The law allows a judge to deprive convicted persons of the right to travel abroad as a stand-alone punishment or as punishment following imprisonment. Government officials must obtain written permission from the Office of the Prime Minister or the president before traveling abroad for official or personal reasons. The government restricted the travel of existing and former security-sector officials. The government continued to advise citizens to avoid traveling to Uganda due to safety concerns. The government at times characterized travel warnings as advisories rather than prohibitions, but nevertheless there were reports authorities prevented some Rwandans from traveling to Uganda and Burundi.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. As of August the government hosted approximately 71,000 Burundian refugees and asylum seekers and more than 76,000 Congolese refugees and asylum seekers.

UNHCR, under an agreement with the government and 14 host countries, recommended in 2015 the invocation of the “ceased circumstances” clause for Rwandans who fled the country between 1959 and 1998 with an agreement with African states hosting Rwandan refugees that refugees were to be assisted in returning to Rwanda or obtaining legal permanent residency in host countries by the end of 2017. The cessation clause forms part of the 1951 Refugee Convention and may be applied when fundamental and durable changes in a refugee’s country of origin, such that they no longer have a well-founded fear of persecution, remove the need for international protection. As of September approximately 3.5 million exiled Rwandans had returned. The government worked with UNHCR and other aid organizations to assist the returnees, most of whom resettled in their districts of origin.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities generally provided adequate security and physical protection within refugee camps. The RNP worked with UNHCR to maintain police posts on the edge of and station police officers in refugee camps. Refugees were free to file complaints at both camp and area police stations. There were no major security incidents at refugee camps during the year.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. UNHCR, with government and donor support, assisted approximately 149,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The government continued to grant prima facie refugee status to Burundian refugees fleeing instability after Burundi’s 2015 presidential election. For other nationalities significant delays existed in the application of individual refugee status determinations. An interagency committee that makes individual refugee status determinations in cases where claimants are not eligible for prima facie refugee status met infrequently.

Freedom of Movement: The law does not restrict freedom of movement of asylum seekers, but refugees continued to experience delays in the issuance of identity cards and convention travel documents. Authorities sometimes restricted access to the camps, in part due to COVID-19 prevention measures. As part of the joint verification exercise the government conducted with UNHCR, eligible refugees received identity cards allowing them to move around the country, open bank accounts, and enroll refugees in social service programs.

Employment: No laws restrict refugee employment, and in 2016 the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs launched a livelihoods strategy with UNHCR aimed at increasing the ability of refugees to work on the local economy. UNHCR saw some success in livelihood and financial inclusion projects in the agriculture sector, which benefited both refugees and their host communities. Many refugees, however, were unable to find local employment. A 2019 World Bank study found that local authorities and businesses often were unaware of refugees’ rights with respect to employment.

Durable Solutions: The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their countries of origin and sought to improve local integration of refugees in protracted stays by permitting them to accept local employment and move freely in the country and by establishing markets to facilitate trade between refugees and local citizens. In September 2019 the government, UNHCR, and the African Union signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a transit mechanism for evacuating refugees from Libya. The mechanism provided a framework for Rwanda to temporarily host these individuals, who would eventually be resettled in third countries, helped to return to countries where asylum had previously been granted, helped to return to their home countries, or granted permission to remain in Rwanda. More than 300 refugees arrived under the transit mechanism before COVID-19 restrictions brought arrivals to halt. As of September 27, 49 individuals brought to Rwanda via the transit mechanism had already been resettled in third countries. In cooperation with UNHCR and the government of Burundi, the government facilitated the voluntary repatriation of refugees to Burundi, reaching a total of approximately 1,500 persons by October 1.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

g. Stateless Persons

UNHCR reported providing technical support to help the government conduct national assessments on statelessness and draft a multiyear action plan to this end.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage, but government restrictions on the formation of opposition parties and harassment of critics and political dissidents limited that ability. The law provides for voting by secret ballot in presidential and parliamentary–but not local–elections. The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and allied parties controlled the government and legislature, and RPF candidates dominated elections at all levels.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 the government held parliamentary elections for all 80 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament. Of those, 53 seats were filled through general voting; the remaining 27 seats were reserved for women, youth, and persons with disabilities and were allocated by special electoral colleges. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) claimed that 6.6 million voters participated in the general voting, which equated to a 93 percent turnout. According to the NEC, the RPF coalition won 74 percent of the vote and was awarded 40 of the 53 contested seats. The RPF-allied Social Democratic Party and Liberal Party claimed five and four seats, respectively. The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) and the Social Party Imberakuri (PS-Imberakuri) were awarded two seats each. Neither the DGPR nor PS-Imberakuri was represented in the previous parliament.

As had been the case in 2017 when the NEC announced that voters had re-elected President Kagame to a third seven-year term with a reported 99 percent of the vote, irregularities and instances of ballot stuffing undermined confidence in the integrity of the results. Observers were unable to effectively monitor the process of vote tabulation at polling stations and vote consolidation at the sector, district, and national levels due to inconsistent levels of access and transparency. Ballots were not numbered or adequately controlled and accounted for, either at the individual polling station or at the sector, district, or national level. Observers noted that reported results in some polling rooms exceeded the number of voters observed throughout the day. Some independent aspirants experienced politically motivated difficulties in obtaining the number of signatures required to register their candidacies ahead of the elections. For example, some independent candidates reported residents and local authorities attempted to prevent them from gathering signatures in certain areas. Four independent candidates managed to qualify for the ballot, but the compressed three-week campaign timeline and the prohibition on fundraising prior to the NEC’s certification of candidacies severely hampered their ability to compete against registered parties. Of the four independent candidates, none received enough votes to obtain a seat in the chamber.

In September 2019, 12 new senators were elected to the 26-member Senate via indirect elections. Members of district councils and sector councils elected the 12 via secret ballot. Faculty at public and private universities elected an additional two senators. President Kagame appointed another four senators, and the National Consultative Forum for Political Organizations designated two, in accordance with the constitution. In September the National Consultative Forum designated two new senators, including a DGPR member.

In 2015 the government held a referendum on a set of constitutional amendments that would allow the president to run for up to three additional terms in office. The NEC reported 98 percent of registered voters participated, and 98 percent endorsed the amendments. The text of the amendments was not generally available to voters for review prior to the referendum, and political parties opposed to the amendments were not permitted to hold rallies or public meetings to express their opposition to the amendments.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution outlines a multiparty system but provides few rights for parties and their candidates. It was common for RPF principles and values to receive prominent attention during civic activities and for government officials in private to encourage citizens to join the RPF. Political parties allied to the RPF were largely able to operate freely, but members faced legal sanctions if found guilty of engaging in divisive acts, destabilizing national unity, threatening territorial integrity, or undermining national security. DALFA Umurinzi, an opposition political party that spun off from the FDU-Inkingi, remained unregistered. There were reports the government harassed or otherwise targeted DALFA Umurinzi and FDU-Inkingi members. For example, in May DALFA Umurinzi member Theophile Ntirutwa was arrested in connection with the killing of a pastor named Theoneste Bapfakurera. DALFA Umurinzi members told journalists that Ntirutwa was the target of a botched operation where the assailants killed Bapfakurera in a case of mistaken identity. His case was pending as of October, and Ntirutwa remained in prison, having been denied bail.

The government no longer required, but strongly encouraged, all registered political parties to join the National Consultative Forum for Political Organizations. The forum sought to promote consensus among political parties and required member parties to support publicly policy positions developed through dialogue. At year’s end all 11 registered parties were members of the organization. Government officials praised it for promoting political unity, while critics argued it stifled political competition and public debate.

In accordance with the constitution, which states a majority party in the Chamber of Deputies may not fill more than 50 percent of cabinet positions, independents and members of other political parties allied with the RPF held key positions in government, including that of prime minister. As of October 1, the PS-Imberakuri and the DGPR were not represented in the cabinet.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The constitution calls for women to occupy at least 30 percent of positions in decision-making organs, including the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The government consistently implemented this requirement.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials and private persons transacting business with the government that include imprisonment and fines, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year. The Office of the Auditor General submitted a report to Parliament in May covering the office’s anticorruption efforts. The report identified multiple instances of irregular expenditures and diversion of funds in government spending. The law also provides for citizens who report requests for bribes by government officials to receive financial rewards when officials are prosecuted and convicted.

Corruption: The government investigated and prosecuted reports of corruption among police and government officials. Police frequently conducted internal investigations of police corruption, including sting operations, and authorities punished offenders. For example, in July the RNP dismissed 56 police officers for corruption-related offenses. This included several relatively senior officials, such as an assistant commissioner and a senior superintendent of the RNP.

The NPPA prosecuted civil servants, police, and other officials for fraud, petty corruption, awarding of public tenders illegally, and mismanagement of public assets. A 2018 law states corruption offenses are not subject to any statute of limitations. Specialized chambers at the intermediate court level handled corruption cases.

On April 5, the government arrested several senior government officials, including a permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance, a former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Infrastructure, a director general of the Rwanda Housing Authority, and two directors general in the Ministry of Infrastructure, for misconduct in procuring a government building. The previous owners of the building were also arrested. The minister of infrastructure had not been arrested as of September but was the subject of an investigation. In May President Kagame denounced the “corrupt behavior” of such officials during a meeting of the RPF. Separately, four prominent businesspersons and financiers of the RPF who had received government procurement contracts for providing fertilizer to farmers were also arrested for mismanagement of funds.

The government utilized a “bagging and tagging” system to aid companies with regional and international due diligence requirements related to conflict minerals. The law prohibits the purchase or sale of undocumented minerals from neighboring countries. A 2019 UN report found irregularities in official statistics on exports of gold from Rwanda to the United Arab Emirates. Observers and government officials reported smugglers trafficked an unknown amount of undocumented minerals through the country.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution and law require public officials to report income and assets annually as well as to report them upon entering and leaving office. There is no requirement for public disclosure of those assets, except in cases where irregularities are discovered. The Office of the Ombudsman, which monitors and verifies disclosures, reported 99 percent of officials complied with the requirement. In cases of noncompliance, the Office of the Ombudsman has the power to garnish wages and impose administrative sanctions that often involved loss of position or prosecution. State-owned enterprises did not fully and transparently disclose their investments and investors.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Several domestic human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, and international groups also published reports on human rights abuses. The government was often intolerant of public reports of human rights abuses and suspicious of local and international human rights observers, and it often impeded independent investigations and rejected criticism as biased and uninformed. Human rights NGOs expressed fear of the government, reported state security forces monitored their activities, and self-censored their comments. NGOs such as HRW working on human rights and deemed to be critical of the government experienced difficulties securing or renewing required legal registration. For example, HRW had no representatives operating in the country since the government refused to renew its previously lapsed memorandum of understanding with HRW.

The government conducted surveillance on some international and domestic NGOs. Some NGOs expressed concern that intelligence agents infiltrated their organizations to gather information, influence leadership decisions, or create internal problems.

Individuals who contributed to international reports on human rights reported living under constant fear that the government could arrest and prosecute them for the contents of their work.

Some domestic NGOs nominally focused on human rights abuses, but self-censorship limited their effectiveness. Most NGOs that focused on human rights, access to justice, and governance matters vetted their research and reports with the government and refrained from publishing their findings without government approval. Those NGOs that refused to coordinate their activities with progovernment organizations and vet their research with the government reported they were excluded from government-led initiatives to engage civil society.

A progovernment NGO, the Rwanda Civil Society Platform, managed and directed some NGOs through umbrella groups that theoretically aggregated NGOs working in particular thematic sectors. Many observers believed the government controlled some of the umbrella groups. Regulations require NGOs to participate in joint action and development forums at the district and sector levels, and local governments had broad powers to regulate activities and bar organizations that did not comply.

The NGO registration process remained difficult, in part because it required submission of a statement of objectives, plan of action, and detailed financial information for each district in which an NGO wished to operate.

The government sometimes used the registration process to delay programming and pressure organizations to support government programs and policies (see also section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government sometimes cooperated with international organizations, but it criticized reports that portrayed it negatively as inaccurate and biased.

In 2012 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Tanzania, transferred its remaining genocide cases to the IRMCT, which maintained an office in Tanzania and continued to pursue genocide suspects. From 1994 through July 2019, the tribunal completed proceedings against 80 individuals; of these, 61 were convicted, and 14 were acquitted. Two cases were dropped, and in the remaining three cases, the accused died before the tribunal rendered judgment. As of October 1, six suspects remained fugitives. The government cooperated with the IRMCT, but it remained concerned by the IRMCT’s past practice of granting early release to convicts, especially when those released had not professed remorse for their actions.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The adequately funded Office of the Ombudsman operated with the cooperation of executive agencies and took action on cases of corruption and other abuses, including human rights cases (see section 4).

The government funded and cooperated with the NCHR. According to many observers, the NCHR did not have adequate resources to investigate all reported abuses and remained biased in favor of the government. Some victims of human rights abuses did not report them to the NCHR because they perceived it as biased and feared retribution by state security forces.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women and spousal rape, and the government handled rape cases as a judicial priority. Penalties for conviction of rape range from 10 years’ to life imprisonment with substantial monetary fines. Penalties for conviction of committing physical and sexual violence against one’s spouse range from three to five years’ imprisonment. In March and April, several RDF soldiers allegedly committed rape while enforcing COVID-19 lockdown measures, media reported. The RDF issued a press release on April 4 stating it had arrested five suspects and was investigating the cases.

Domestic violence against women and children remained common. CSOs and NGOs reported this trend appeared to increase during COVID-19, although precise data was unavailable. Authorities encouraged reporting of domestic violence cases, although most incidents remained within the extended family and were not reported or prosecuted.

Police headquarters in Kigali had a hotline for domestic violence. Several other ministries also had free gender-based violence hotlines. Each of the 78 police stations nationwide had its own gender desk, an average of three officers trained in handling domestic violence and gender-based violence cases, and a public outreach program. The government operated 44 one-stop centers throughout the country, providing free medical, psychological, legal, and police assistance to victims of domestic violence.

The government continued its whole-of-government, multistakeholder campaign against gender-based violence, child abuse, and other types of domestic violence. Gender-based violence was a required training module for police and military at all levels and was included for all troops and police preparing for deployment to peacekeeping missions abroad.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for penalties for conviction of six months’ to one year’s imprisonment and monetary fines. The penalties are increased when the offender is an employer or other person of authority and the victim is a subordinate. Nevertheless, advocacy organizations reported sexual harassment remained common.

Reproductive Rights: The government encouraged couples to have no more children than they could afford but also respected the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination and violence.

The UN Population Fund estimated that 70 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 made their own decisions about health care, the use of contraception, and whether to engage in sexual activity. The World Health Organization reported that 63 percent of women had access to modern family planning methods. Although there was still some unmet demand for modern family planning services, access has increased substantially over the past 20 years. Parental consent was required for minors to access family planning services, which contributed to the country’s adolescent birth rate of 41 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19, according to UN sustainable development goal datasets. In some households, there were cultural barriers to conversations about adolescents seeking these services. While there is no policy restricting reproductive health service access for LGBTI persons, there are no protections either, and LGBTI persons and organizations reported societal discrimination as a barrier when seeking services.

The government provides sexual and reproductive health services for victims of sexual or gender-based violence via the country’s network of Isange One Stop Centers.

According to the United Nations, the estimated maternal mortality ratio decreased from 373 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 248 deaths in 2017, with a lifetime risk of maternal death of one in 94. Major factors influencing maternal mortality included low clinical capacity of health providers, absence of equipment and commodities, and patients delaying timely care. UN reporting indicated that 91 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and are entitled to the same rights as men, including under family, labor, nationality, and inheritance laws. The law allows women to inherit property from their fathers and husbands, and couples may make their own legal property arrangements. Women experienced some difficulties pursuing property claims due to lack of knowledge, procedural bias against women in inheritance matters, multiple spousal claims due to polygyny, and the threat of gender-based violence. The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination in hiring decisions. There are no known legal restrictions on women’s working hours or employment in the same occupations, tasks, and industries as men. Studies in previous years indicated few persons reported gender-based discrimination in workplaces, and most people were either unaware of it or unwilling to discuss it. Experts concluded gender-based discrimination remained underreported, in part because victims of discrimination feared losing their employment.

After the 1994 genocide that left many women as heads of households, women assumed a larger role in the formal sector, and many operated their own businesses. A 2016 law governing matrimonial regimes stipulates joint land title ownership for a husband and wife who are legally married. Nevertheless, men owned the major assets of most households, particularly those at the lower end of the economic spectrum, making bank credit inaccessible to many women and rendering it difficult to start or expand a business.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents. Children born to at least one Rwandan parent automatically receive citizenship. Children born in the country to unknown or stateless parents automatically receive citizenship. Minor children adopted by Rwandans, irrespective of nationality or statelessness, automatically receive citizenship. Children retain their citizenship in the event of dissolution of the parents’ marriage. Birth registrations were performed immediately at hospitals and birth centers for the most part. If a birth occurred elsewhere, the birth could be registered upon the presentation of a medical birth certificate at the sector level. There were no reports of unregistered births leading to denial of public services.

Education: The government’s 12-year basic education program includes tuition-free universal public education for six years of primary and six years of secondary education. Education through grade nine is compulsory. Parents were not required to pay tuition fees, but they often had to pay high fees for teachers’ incentives and meal expenses, according to domestic observers.

Child Abuse: While statistics on child abuse were unreliable, such abuse was common within the family, in the village, and at school. As in previous years, the government conducted a high-profile public awareness campaign against gender-based violence and child abuse. The government supported a network of one-stop centers and hospital facilities that offered integrated police, legal, medical, and counseling services to victims of gender-based violence and child abuse. In partnership with UNICEF, the National Commission for Children (NCC) maintained a corps of 29,674 community-based “Friends of the Family” volunteers (two for each of the country’s 14,837 villages) to help address gender-based violence and child protection concerns at the village level.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 21; the government strictly enforced this requirement. Anecdotal evidence suggested child marriage sometimes occurred in line with traditional norms in rural areas and refugee camps but rarely in urban areas, and not with government recognition.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law, sexual relations with a child younger than 18 constitutes child defilement for which conviction is punishable by 20 years to life in prison, depending on the age of the victim.

The law prohibits sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, for which conviction is punishable by life imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine. Conviction statistics were not available. The 2018 antitrafficking law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, conviction of which is punishable by life imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine.

Child Soldiers: The government supported the Musanze Child Rehabilitation Center in Northern Province that provided care and social reintegration preparation for children who previously served in armed groups in the DRC (see section 2.d., Freedom of Movement).

Displaced Children: There were numerous street children throughout the country. Authorities gathered street children in district transit centers and placed them in rehabilitation centers. In January HRW reported authorities abused street children in the transit centers and held them under harsh conditions (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center conditions). Conditions and practices varied at 29 privately run rehabilitation centers for street children.

UNHCR continued to accommodate in the Mahama refugee camp unaccompanied and separated minors who entered the country as part of an influx of refugees from Burundi since 2015. Camp staff provided additional protection measures for these minors.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a very small Jewish population, consisting entirely of foreigners; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The law mandates access to public facilities, accommodations for taking national examinations, provision of medical care by the government, and monitoring of implementation by the NCHR. Despite a continuing campaign to create a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities, accessibility remained a problem throughout the country, including in public buildings and public transport, although a limited number of public buses could accommodate persons with disabilities. There were generally limited resources in terms of accessibility at police stations and detention centers for persons with disabilities, including a lack of sign language interpreters. The National Council on Persons with Disabilities and the National Union of the Deaf reported working to compile a sign language dictionary.

There were no legal restrictions or extra registration steps for citizens with disabilities to vote, and registration could be completed online. Braille ballots were available for the 2018 parliamentary elections. Observers noted some polling stations were inaccessible to persons with disabilities and that some election volunteers appeared untrained on how to assist voters with disabilities.

Many children with disabilities did not attend primary or secondary school. Those who attended generally did so with peers without disabilities. Few students with disabilities reached the university level because many primary and secondary schools were unable to accommodate their disabilities.

Some citizens viewed disability as a curse or punishment that could result in social exclusion and sometimes abandoned or hid children with disabilities from the community.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The constitution provides for the eradication of ethnic, regional, and other divisions in society and the promotion of national unity. Long-standing tensions in the country culminated in the 1994 state-orchestrated genocide that killed between 750,000 and one million citizens, including approximately three-quarters of the Tutsi population. Following the killing of the president in 1994, an extremist interim government directed the Hutu-dominated national army, militia groups, and ordinary citizens to kill resident Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The genocide ended later in 1994 when the predominantly Tutsi RPF, operating from Uganda and northern Rwanda, defeated the national army and Hutu militias and established an RPF-led government of national unity that included members of eight political parties.

Since 1994 the government has called for national reconciliation and abolished the policies of the former government that created and deepened ethnic cleavages. The government removed all references to ethnicity in official discourse–with the exception of references to the genocide, which is officially termed “the genocide against the Tutsi”–and eliminated ethnic quotas for education, training, and government employment.

Some individuals said the government’s reconciliation policies and programs failed to recognize Hutu victims of the genocide or crimes committed by the RPF after the end of the genocide, whereas others noted the government focused positive attention on Hutus who risked their lives to save Tutsis or members of mixed families during the genocide.

Indigenous People

After the genocide the government banned identity card references to Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa ethnicity and prohibited social or political organizations based on ethnic affiliation. As a result the Twa, who numbered approximately 34,000, lost their official designation as an ethnic group. The government no longer recognizes groups advocating specifically for Twa needs, and some Twa believed this government policy denied them their rights as an indigenous ethnic group.

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

No laws criminalize sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services such as health care. Cabinet-level government officials expressed support for the human rights of all persons regardless of sexual orientation, but LGBTI persons reported societal discrimination and abuse, including challenges to officially registering NGOs.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law provides for imprisonment of up to six months or a monetary fine or both for persons convicted of stigmatizing a sick person without the intention to protect the sick person or others. There were no reports of prosecutions under this statute. Discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS occurred, although such incidents remained rare. The government actively supported relevant public education campaigns, including establishing HIV/AIDS awareness clubs in secondary schools and making public pronouncements against stigmatization of those with the disease.

The law also provides stiffer penalties for conviction of rape and defilement in cases of transmission of an incurable illness. In most cases of sexual violence, the victim and alleged perpetrator both undergo HIV testing.

According to RDF policy and in keeping with UN guidelines, the military did not permit its members with HIV or AIDS to participate in peacekeeping missions abroad but allowed them to remain in the RDF.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join unions and employer associations, bargain collectively, and strike, but it places restrictions on these rights. An employer may refuse a recognized union access to the workplace, and the union must appeal this to the labor inspector. A union must include a majority of workers in the enterprise. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not automatically provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Labor disputes are mediated by local and national labor inspectors before they may be referred to a court, which may refuse to hear the case. The law applies to all employees with contracts. The law applies to informal-sector employees with regard to occupational health and safety (OSH) and the right to form trade unions and employers’ associations, but it does not address strikes in the informal sector.

A March ministerial order defines the implementation of the 2018 labor law and specifies guidelines for labor inspections, provides the modalities of electing employee representatives, lists acts considered gross misconduct, determines the core elements of a written employment contract, and defines essential services that may not be interrupted by a strike or lockout.

The law and ministerial orders provide some workers the right to conduct strikes, subject to numerous restrictions. The law states that employees have the right to strike when the arbitration committee has allowed more than 15 working days to pass without issuing a decision, the conciliation resolution on collective dispute had not been implemented, or the court award was not enforced. The law further states all strikes must be preceded by a notice of four working days. The law states that a strike or lockout must not interrupt the continuity of “essential services” as defined by the Ministry of Public Service and Labor. The ministry broadly defined essential services to include all modes of transportation and fuel sales, security, health, education, water and sanitation, and all forms of telecommunications, which severely restricted the right to strike in these fields. Employees and employers are prohibited from exercising a strike or lock-out within 10 days preceding or following elections in the country or during a state of national emergency. There were 35 labor unions organized into three confederations: 16 trade unions represented by the Rwanda Confederation of Trade Unions (CESTRAR), 12 by the Labor and Worker’s Brotherhood Congress (COTRAF), and seven by the National Council of Free Trade Union Organizations in Rwanda. All three federations were officially independent of the government, but some maintained close links with the government.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining generally were not respected. The government did not enforce applicable laws effectively and restricted these rights.

The government severely limited the right to collective bargaining, and legal mechanisms were inadequate to protect this right. Labor union officials commented that many private-sector businesses did not allow collective bargaining negotiations. The government also controlled collective bargaining with cooperatives and mandatory arbitration. No labor union had an established collective bargaining agreement with the government.

Collective bargaining occasionally was practiced in the private sector, although there were few recent examples. In 2015 an international tea exporter renewed its 2012 collective bargaining agreement with its employees. CESTRAR, COTRAF, and the Ministry of Labor participated in the negotiations.

There were neither registered strikes nor anecdotal reports of unlawful strikes during the year; the most recent recorded strike was by textile workers in 2013. CESTRAR noted that in several cases, the government acted to resolve labor disputes in workers’ favor to avert the threat of a strike. National elections for trade union representatives occurred on regular cycles depending on the trade union. Trade union leaders stated the government interfered in the elections and pressured some candidates not to run.

There were no functioning labor courts or other formal mechanisms to resolve antiunion discrimination complaints, and COTRAF reported it could take four to five years for labor disputes to be resolved through the civil courts. According to one trade union, employers in small companies frequently used transfers, demotions, and dismissals to intimidate union members.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor and states it is unlawful to permit the imposition of forced labor. In 2014 the government issued a national trafficking in persons action plan that included programs to address forced labor; the government continued to update the plan during the year. In 2018 the government enacted an updated law to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons. The 2018 antitrafficking law prescribes penalties for conviction of imprisonment or fines. Penalties were commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape, with the penalties being higher if the victim is a child or a vulnerable person. Statistics on the number of victims identified in forced labor were not available. Suspected victims were sometimes detained in transit centers without proper screening or referral to care and assistance.

Government enforcement to prevent forced labor was inconsistent, particularly in cases involving domestic workers. Although not widespread, forced labor reportedly occurred in bars, restaurants, and mines.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for full-time employment is 16, but children ages 13 to 15 are allowed to perform light work in the context of an apprenticeship. The law prohibits children younger than age 18 from participating in physically harmful work, including work underground, under water, at dangerous heights, or in confined spaces; work with dangerous machinery, equipment, and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads; work that exposes the child to unsafe temperatures or noise levels; and work for long hours or during the night. The 2018 labor law determines the nature of other prohibited forms of work for a child.

In addition to national law, some districts enforced local regulations against hazardous child labor and sanctioned employers and parents for violations. Police, immigration officials, local government officials, and labor inspectors received training on identifying victims of trafficking.

The NCC took the lead role in designating responsible agencies and establishing actions to be taken, timelines, and other concrete measures in relation to the integrated child rights policy and various national commissions, plans, and policies related to child protection subsumed therein. At the local level, 149 child labor committees monitored incidents of child labor, and each district was required to establish a steering committee to combat child labor. At the village level, 320 child labor focal point volunteers were supported by 10 national protection officers appointed by the NCC and 48 social workers.

The Ministry of Public Service and Labor conducted labor inspections of sectors of the economy known to employ children, focusing on domestic work and the agriculture sector. The government removed 316 children from hazardous work situations and fined employers approximately $3,000. The RNP operated a child protection unit. District government officials, as part of their performance contracts, enforced child labor reduction and school attendance benchmarks. Observers noted considerable political will to address child labor within the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, and the RNP, but the labor inspectorate remained underfunded and understaffed.

The government worked with NGOs to raise awareness of the problem and to identify and send to school or vocational training children involved in child labor. The government’s 12-year basic education program aided in reducing the incidence of child labor, although some children who worked also attended school because classes were held in alternating morning or afternoon shifts at some grade levels. The government fined those who illegally employed children or parents who sent their children to work instead of school.

The government enforced the law inconsistently. The number of inspectors was inadequate, but criminal penalties were commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The majority of child laborers worked in the agricultural sector and as household domestics. Child labor also existed in isolated instances in cross-border transportation and in the mining industry. Children received low wages, and abuse was common.

Also, see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnic origin, family or ancestry, clan, race, sex, region, religion, culture, language, and physical or mental disability, as well as any other form of discrimination. The constitution requires equal pay for equal work.

There were no known legal restrictions to women’s employment in the same occupations, tasks, and working hours as men. The government did not consistently enforce antidiscrimination laws, and there were numerous reports of discrimination based on gender and disability. Women generally enjoyed equal pay for the same work as men, although pay varied across occupations. Persons with disabilities are officially protected from employment discrimination but often faced discrimination in hiring. Migrant workers enjoyed the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens but sometimes faced discrimination due to societal bias and informal hiring quotas tied to citizenship status.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no official minimum wage. The law states the Ministry of Labor may establish a minimum wage by ministerial order, but as of October 1, such an order had not been issued. Laws on working conditions applied to all workers but were seldom enforced in the informal sector.

The law provides a standard workweek of 45 hours and 18 to 21 days paid annual leave, in addition to official holidays. The law provides employers with the right to determine daily rest periods. Most employees received a one-hour lunch break. The law states female employees who have given birth are entitled to a maternity leave of at least 12 consecutive weeks. A ministerial order issued during the year states overtime is accrued after 45 hours worked per week and is compensated by a “rest period equal to the extra hours performed” within the following 30 days. If employees are not provided the rest period within 30 days, they are to be paid for hours worked. The rate for overtime work is the worker’s regular salary.

The law states employers must provide for the health, safety, and welfare of employees and visitors and that enterprises are to establish occupational safety and health committees. Authorities conducted public awareness campaigns to inform workers of their rights and highlight employers’ obligation to register employees for social security and occupational health insurance and pay into those benefit systems. Orders from the Ministry of Labor determined appropriate OSH conditions and the establishment and functioning of OSH committees.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce labor standards effectively. The many violations reported to labor unions compared to the few actions taken by the government and employers to remedy substandard working conditions suggested penalties and enforcement were insufficient. The law was seldom applied in the informal sector.

Families regularly supplemented their incomes by working in small businesses or subsistence agriculture in the informal sector, which included more than 75 percent of all workers. Most workers in the formal sector worked six days per week. Violations of wage, overtime, and OSH standards were common in both the formal and informal sectors. Employers frequently failed to register employees for social security or occupational health insurance and pay into those benefit systems.

Workers in the subcontractor and business process outsourcing sectors were especially vulnerable to hazardous or exploitative working conditions. Statistics on workplace fatalities and accidents were not available, but ministry officials singled out mining as a sector with significant problems in implementing occupational safety and health standards. The Ministry of Labor maintained a list of dangerous professions subject to heightened safety scrutiny.

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Executive Summary

Saint Kitts and Nevis is a multiparty parliamentary democracy and federation. The prime minister is the head of government. The United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor general. The constitution provides the smaller island of Nevis considerable powers of self-governance under a premier. In national elections on June 5, Team Unity, a coalition of three political parties, won nine of the 11 elected seats in the legislature. Team Unity leader Timothy Harris was reselected prime minister for a second term. A Caribbean Community observation mission assessed that “the voters were able to cast their ballots without intimidation or fear and that the results of the 5 June 2020 General Elections reflect the will of the people of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.”

The security forces consist of a police force, which includes the paramilitary Special Services Unit, a drug unit, the Special Victims Unit, the Office of Professional Standards, and a white-collar crimes unit. These forces are responsible for internal security, including migration and border enforcement. In addition there is a coast guard and a small defense force. The military and police report to the Ministry of National Security, which is under the prime minister’s jurisdiction. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct between men, although the law was not enforced during the year.

The government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish officials who abused human rights. There were no reports of prosecutions or arrests of government officials for human rights violations.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The prison was slightly overcrowded, and facilities were austere.

Physical Conditions: The country has two prisons with a total capacity of 160 inmates. The total prison population on St. Kitts was 180 in September, including pretrial detainees who were confined with convicted prisoners. Most prisoners had beds, although some slept on blankets on the floor. Inmates between ages 16 and 21 were held with adult prisoners.

Administration: Authorities generally investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, although there were no known visits during the year.

Improvements: During the year authorities repainted and renovated some cells and installed new air-conditioning units. Barracks were constructed for staff.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police may arrest a person without a warrant, based on the suspicion of criminal activity. The law requires that detained persons be charged within 72 hours or be released. If detainees are charged, authorities must bring them before a court within 72 hours of detention. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees have prompt access to a lawyer of their choice or to a lawyer provided by the state. The government provides free defense counsel to indigent defendants only in capital cases. There is a private legal-aid program to provide legal assistance to indigent defendants. Authorities permitted family members, attorneys, and clergy to visit prisoners once per month and to visit those in pretrial confinement once per week.

Authorities remand persons accused of serious offenses to custody to await trial. They release those accused of minor infractions on their own recognizance or on bail with sureties.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees were 30 percent of the prison population. The length of time a person was held in pretrial detention varied. The government did not report on the average length of pretrial detention. Nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives, however, reported pretrial detentions of six to nine months for High Court (serious offenses) cases, while noting that the Magistrate Court (for less serious cases) remained backlogged for years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. There is a presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges and to have a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult an attorney of their choice in a timely manner. Defendants have adequate time to prepare a defense. Defendants have free access to an interpreter. Defendants may question or confront witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have a right to appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters. Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts and the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judicial system, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: In May the opposition St. Kitts and Nevis Labor Party (SKNLP) filed an injunction against the government-owned media house, ZIZ Broadcasting Corporation, claiming ZIZ gave an unfair advantage to the political parties in the government. The SKNLP later withdrew its injunction following a public commitment by ZIZ to provide balanced election coverage.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Civil servants are restricted from participating in protests.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Information on the government’s cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was unavailable.

Access to Asylum: While the law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no requests for asylum reported during the year.

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. Voters elect 11 members of the National Assembly, and the governor general appoints a three-person senate: two on the recommendation of the prime minister and one on the recommendation of the opposition leader.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Team Unity, a coalition of the People’s Action Movement and the People’s Labor Party in St. Kitts, and the Concerned Citizens Movement in Nevis, won nine of the 11 elected seats in the legislature in June 5 national elections. Team Unity leader Timothy Harris was reselected prime minister for a second term. The opposition SKNLP won two seats in the June general election.

Five unsuccessful SKNLP candidates filed petitions in the High Court challenging the results of the June 5 general elections in the constituencies in which they ran. Citing a lack of independent observers, the SKNLP leader alleged the government had an unfair political advantage as the elections were held during a COVID-19-related state of emergency. On May 27, the government revoked a May 19 invitation for election observers from the Organization of American States, citing a mandatory 14-day COVID-19 quarantine requirement. Three independent observers from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), however, were able to travel to the country. The CARICOM observation mission assessed that “the voters were able to cast their ballots without intimidation or fear and that the results of the 5 June 2020 General Elections reflect the will of the people of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.”

The island of Nevis exercises considerable self-governance with its own premier and legislature, and it has the right to secede from the federation. There were no local elections during the year.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The first woman to lead a political party in the country was elected president of the Nevis Reformation Party on September 13.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively.

Corruption: Media and private citizens reported government corruption was occasionally a problem. Citizens expressed concern about the lack of financial oversight of revenues generated by the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program. The government introduced security measures in 2018 to make the CBI process more transparent, and it began vetting investors. The government did not publicize the number of passports issued through CBI or the nationalities of the passport holders.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are not subject to financial disclosure laws. The Financial Intelligence Unit and the police white-collar crime unit investigated reports of suspicious financial transactions, but these reports were not available to the public.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The country had a small number of domestic human rights groups that generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Health maintained a human rights desk to monitor discrimination and other human rights abuses beyond the health sector.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law classifies sexual violence, rape, and incest as serious offenses, protects victims of domestic violence, and establishes penalties for perpetrators. The government enforced the law. The law prohibits rape of women but does not address spousal rape. The law utilizes an “unnatural offenses” statute to address male rape.

Court cases and anecdotal evidence suggested that rape, including spousal rape, was a problem. Penalties for rape range from two years’ imprisonment for incest between minors to life imprisonment. Indecent assault has a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.

Violence against women was a serious and underreported problem. The law criminalizes domestic violence, including emotional abuse, and provides for a fine or six months in prison. The government enforced the law. Advocates indicated they believed the true number of incidences was likely higher than reported but that many victims were reluctant to file reports due to the belief that they would not be protected or that their abusers would not be prosecuted.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment cases are prosecuted under the Protection of Employment Act. The press reported that sexual harassment occurred in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and had access to the information and the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Contraception was widely available. There were no legal or social barriers to accessing contraception, but some religious beliefs and cultural barriers limited its usage.

Survivors of sexual violence could access services from any public hospital. Various ministries, including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Legal Affairs and Justice, and the Ministry of Community Development, Gender Affairs, and Social Services, worked together to assist victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men except in the labor sector, where women are legally restricted from working in some industries, including mining, construction, factories, energy, and water. The law requires equal remuneration, and women and men generally received equal salaries for comparable jobs. The government effectively enforced the law. Women had equal access to leadership roles in the private and public sectors.

Children

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship by birth in the country, and all children are registered at birth. Children born abroad to citizen parents may be registered by either parent.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal but was a problem. According to the government, neglect was the most common form of abuse, while physical abuse, including sexual molestation, also remained prevalent.

In child abuse cases, the law allows children to testify against their alleged attackers using remote technologies such as Skype. Other solutions, such as placing a physical barrier in the courtroom, were also employed to protect victims. The Ministry of Social Services and the Ministry of Education collaborated on programs to curb child abuse, including modifying the primary school curriculum to include information on child abuse and designating November as Child Abuse Awareness Month.

The St. Christopher Children’s Home served abused and neglected children; it received funding and logistical support from the government.

The government offered counseling for both adult and child victims of abuse. Additionally, the government developed a media campaign to help athletic coaches, parents, and students recognize abuse. The government maintained a program to provide youth and their families with life skills, counseling, parenting skills, and mentorship to reduce abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women. Underage marriage was rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, and it was generally enforced. Child pornography is illegal and carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. NGO representatives reported that sexual exploitation and molestation of children were problems. NGO representatives also reported that adolescent transactional sex was an occasional problem. The age of consent for sexual relations is 16. Having sexual relations with children younger than age 16 is illegal.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no organized Jewish community, and members of the Jewish faith reported there were no anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that St. Kitts and Nevis was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking; however, there were allegations of such activity.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination, particularly with access to buildings and public transportation. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but it was not consistently enforced. Children with disabilities attended school, although some parents of students with disabilities preferred to have their child stay at home. There was a specialized school for students with disabilities. Many local schools accommodated students with physical disabilities.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct among men under an “unnatural offenses” statute that carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Top government officials made public statements acknowledging that sexual orientation is a private matter and that all citizens have equal rights under the law. There were no reports the government enforced the law. No laws prohibit discrimination against a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Officials stated the government “has no business in people’s bedrooms”; however, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons reported they did not feel safe engaging in public displays of affection. The government stated it received no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation, but some observers suggested there was underreporting due to negative societal attitudes.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination based on a person’s HIV status; however, societal discrimination occurred against persons with HIV or AIDS. The Ministry of Labor enforced a specific antidiscrimination policy covering HIV and AIDS in the workplace.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Labor laws and procedures are the same in St. Kitts and in Nevis.

The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions or staff associations. Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected in practice. The law permits police, civil servants, hotels, construction workers, and small businesses to organize staff associations. Staff associations do not have bargaining powers but are used to network and develop professional standards. A union representing more than 50 percent of the employees at a company may apply for the company to recognize the union for collective bargaining. Companies generally recognized the establishment of a union if a majority of its workers voted in favor of organizing the union, but the companies are not legally obliged to do so.

In practice, but not by law, there were restrictions on strikes by workers who provide essential services, such as police and civil servants. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not require employers found guilty of such discrimination to rehire employees fired for union activities. The International Labor Organization provided technical assistance to the government in labor law reform, labor administration, employment services, labor inspection, and occupational safety and health.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The Ministry of Labor provided employers with training on their rights and responsibilities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits slavery, servitude, and forced labor. The government did not report any cases of involuntary servitude. The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, and a Special Victims Unit, led by the Child Protection Services and police, investigated violations. The law sets the minimum age for work at 16. Prohibitions do not apply to family businesses. Children ages 16 and 17 have the same legal protections from dangerous work conditions as all workers. The law permits children from the ages of 16 to 18 to work regular hours. Employment of children from the ages of 16 to 18 in certain industries related to the hotel and entertainment sectors is restricted. The government effectively enforced the applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for analogous crimes. Most children younger than age 16 with jobs worked after school in shops and supermarkets or did light work in the informal sector.

The Ministry of Labor relied heavily on school truancy officers and the Community Affairs Division to monitor compliance with child labor laws, which they did effectively. The ministry reported that investigations were frequent and that violators were referred to the Social Security Office for enforcement.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, language, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social status. The law stipulates any employer who wrongfully terminates an employee can be fined to cover the cost of employee benefits. The government effectively enforced discrimination laws and regulations, and penalties were commensurate to those for laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was above the estimated poverty income level. The law does not prohibit excessive or compulsory overtime, but policy calls for employers to inform employees if they have to work overtime. Although not required by law, workers generally received at least one 24-hour rest period per week.

The government sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards that were outdated but appropriate for the country’s main industries. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The law also requires employers to report accidents and dangerous incidents. The government effectively enforced OSH laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and make recommendations.

The Labor Commission settles disputes over OSH conditions. The office conducts regular workplace inspections. Violators are subject to fines, and repeat offenders are subject to prosecution. The commission undertook wage inspections and special investigations when it received complaints. If the commission found that employers violated wage regulations, penalties were generally sufficient to encourage compliance. The government reported there were no violations resulting in arrests or prosecutions.

The Ministry of Labor relied primarily on worker complaints to trigger inspections of facilities using informal labor. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, labor inspectors were part of the National COVID-19 Compliance Task Force. The Social Security Office was responsible for registering informal workers and businesses.

Saint Lucia

Executive Summary

Saint Lucia is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. In free and fair elections in 2016, the United Workers Party won 11 of the 17 seats in the House of Assembly, defeating the previously ruling Saint Lucia Labour Party. Allen Chastanet, leader of the winning party, was prime minister.

The Royal Saint Lucia Police Force has responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. A new agency, the Border Control Agency, was established to enforce immigration, maritime, and customs laws. Both entities report separately to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Justice, and National Security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included violence against suspects and prisoners by police and prison officers and criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced.

The government took steps to prosecute officials and employees who committed abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

In August prosecutors charged a police officer with murder following an investigation into accusations of the unlawful killing of a suspect in 2018.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, but prisoners and suspects continued to complain of physical abuse by police and prison officers.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. Although the government launched independent inquiries into allegations of abuse, the limited transparency into official investigations sometimes created a perception among civil society and government officials of impunity for the accused officers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns. Overcrowding was a problem.

Physical Conditions: The Bordelais Correctional Facility experienced overcrowding, with 549 prisoners held in a prison with a maximum capacity of 500. Overcrowding was exacerbated by COVID-19, which required the government to turn one of the prison’s units into a quarantine facility for incoming prisoners. Prisoners reportedly lacked free access to clean drinking water.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. A five-member board of visiting justices reviewed complaints from prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prison monitoring was typically done by local, regional, and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), although no independent visits occurred during the year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Improvements: During the year prison officials installed four electricity regulators to reduce electricity fluctuations and damage to the prison’s equipment.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution stipulates authorities must apprehend persons openly with warrants issued by a judicial authority. The law requires a court hearing within 72 hours of detention. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to counsel and family. There was a functioning bail system.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a significant problem. Those charged with serious crimes often spent between six months and six years in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence, prompt and detailed information about charges, and a fair and public trial without undue delay. They have the right to be present at their own trial; communicate with an attorney of their choice; have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; receive free assistance of an interpreter as needed; confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal. Attorneys are provided at public expense to defendants who cannot pay only if the charge is murder.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent, impartial judiciary in civil matters where one can bring lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations cannot appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights courts for a binding decision. Individuals and organizations may present petitions to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their home countries.

Access to Asylum: The law does not specifically provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

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 2016 the United Workers Party (UWP) defeated the Saint Lucia Labour Party, winning 11 of 17 parliamentary seats, and UWP party leader Allen Chastanet became prime minister. The previous administration did not invite international election observation missions but permitted local election observers.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws, but not always effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: There were no developments in any major corruption cases.

Financial Disclosure: High-level government officials, including elected officials, must make an annual disclosure of their financial assets to the Integrity Commission, a constitutionally established entity. While authorities do not publicize the disclosure reports filed by individuals, the commission submits a report to parliament each year. The commission publishes the names of noncompliant officials in the newspaper, and fines of up to 50,000 Eastern Caribbean dollars ($18,500) and up to five years’ imprisonment can be imposed for failing to file the disclosure.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, which is punishable by 14 years’ to life imprisonment. The law criminalizes spousal rape only when a couple is divorced or separated or when there is a protection order from the Family Court. Authorities generally enforced the law. Roungement–the practice of parents accepting monetary compensation to settle rape and sexual assault cases out of court–is prohibited by law, but it was rarely prosecuted and was commonly practiced.

The law prohibits sexual assault; nevertheless, it was a problem. NGOs reported difficulties obtaining data from the government on the number of sexual cases reported. High-level government officials supported strengthening family-law legislation and avenues of recourse for victims of gender-based violence.

Domestic violence was also a significant problem, and NGOs reported a surge in domestic violence cases during the country’s mandatory COVID-19 shutdown. NGOs reported 47 cases of gender-based violence as of October, three of which were brought to trial; the remaining cases were waiting to be prosecuted in what NGOs described as an “extremely slow” judicial system. While police were willing to arrest offenders, the government prosecuted crimes of violence against women only when the victim pressed charges. The Gender Relations Department stated its officers lacked training in trauma-specific interview techniques, which negatively affected their evidence-collection skills.

The law provides penalties for domestic violence ranging from five years’ to life imprisonment, and the law was generally enforced. Shelters, a hotline, police training, including NGO-conducted training in February, and detailed national policies for managing domestic violence were available, but victims lacking financial security were often reluctant to remove themselves from abusive environments. Police also faced problems such as a lack of transportation, which at times prevented them from responding to calls in a timely manner. The NGO Saint Lucia Crisis Center continued to receive monthly government assistance and maintained a facility for female victims of domestic violence and their children and a hotline for support, but the NGO reported that funding was insufficient to meet the needs of all victims seeking assistance. The Department of Gender Relations operated a residential facility for victims of domestic abuse, the Women’s Support Center, which an NGO reported had the capacity to house only five victims at any given time.

The Ministry of Education, Innovation, Gender Relations, and Sustainable Development assisted victims. Authorities referred most cases to a counselor, and police facilitated the issuance of court protection orders in several cases. The Department of Gender Relations operated several gender-based violence prevention programs in schools and community-based groups.

NGOs reported that challenges facing victims of abuse included a lack of adequate shelters, an extensive court case backlog, a lack of capacity to prosecute, a lack of technical resources at the forensic laboratory, unfriendly social services agencies, and insufficient victim assistance training for police officers.

The Family Court hears cases of domestic violence and crimes against women and children. The court can issue a protection order prohibiting an abuser from entering or remaining in the residence of a specified person. The court remands perpetrators to an intervention program for rehabilitation. The court employed full-time social workers to assist victims of domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but sexual harassment remained a problem, and government enforcement was not an effective deterrent. Most cases of sexual harassment were handled in the workplace rather than prosecuted under the law.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. All individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Contraception was widely available for adults. There were no legal or social barriers to accessing contraception, but some religious beliefs and cultural barriers limited its usage.

There were no government policies or legal, social, or cultural barriers that adversely affected access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth. The maternal death rate for 2017 was 117 deaths per 100,000 live births, which was the latest available information.

Survivors of sexual violence could access services from any of the public hospitals and wellness centers and from the Saint Lucia Planned Parenthood Association. Various divisions of the government worked together to assist victims of sexual and gender-based violence, including through the Ministry of Health’s Department of Social Services, the Ministry of Education’s Department of Gender Relations, and the Special Victims Unit of the police.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law generally provides for the same legal status and rights for women and men. The law requires equal pay for equal work. Women were underrepresented in the labor force, had higher levels of unemployment than men, and sometimes received lower pay or faced additional informal hurdles gaining access to credit. The law provides for equal treatment for women concerning family property, nationality, and inheritance. The foreign husband of a Saint Lucian woman does not automatically receive Saint Lucian citizenship, but the foreign wife of a Saint Lucian man does.

Children

Birth Registration: Children receive citizenship by birth to a parent with citizenship. Authorities provided birth certificates without undue administrative delay.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits all forms of child abuse, but child abuse remained a problem. The Department of Human Services and Family Affairs handled cases of sexual abuse, physical abuse, abandonment, and psychological abuse. Although the government condemned the practice, parents of sexually abused children sometimes declined to press sexual assault charges against the abuser in exchange for the abuser’s financial contributions toward the welfare of the victim. Nonetheless, courts heard some child sexual abuse cases, convicted offenders, and sentenced them.

The human services division provided services to victims of child abuse, including providing a home for severely abused and neglected children, counseling, facilitating medical intervention, finding foster care, providing family support services, and supporting the child while the child was cooperating with police and attending court.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for men and women, but 16 with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Laws on sexual offenses cover rape, unlawful sexual contact, and unlawful sexual intercourse with children younger than age 16. The age of consent is 16, but a consent defense may be cited if the victim is between ages 12 and 16. The law prohibits sex trafficking of children younger than 18; however, it does not criminally prohibit the use or offering of children for commercial sexual exploitation. No separate law defines or specifically prohibits child pornography. The government enforced the law, including through a police team that focused solely on sexual crimes, which includes sexual crimes involving children.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a small organized Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Government regulations require access for persons with disabilities to all public buildings, but only a few government buildings had access ramps. Persons with disabilities have the right to vote, but many polling stations were inaccessible for mobility-impaired voters. The Ministry of Health operated a community-based rehabilitation program in residents’ homes.

Children with physical and visual disabilities were sometimes mainstreamed into the wider student population. There were schools available for persons with developmental disabilities and for children who were hard of hearing, deaf, blind, or otherwise visually impaired. Children with disabilities faced barriers in education, and there were few employment opportunities for adults with disabilities.

While there were no reports of discrimination, civil society representatives reported difficulty obtaining data on discrimination.

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

Civil society representatives reported widespread societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. A resort reportedly denied a request by an LGBTI couple to hold their wedding there. Some openly LGBTI persons faced verbal harassment and at times physical abuse, including a reported public attack on a gay man walking down the street. Civil society groups reported LGBTI persons were forced to leave public buses, denied jobs or left jobs due to a hostile work environment, and harassed by members of the public.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex relations and consensual same-sex intercourse between men with a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Attempted consensual same-sex sexual intercourse between men is punishable by five years in prison. The law was not enforced in practice.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI persons based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics.

NGOs reported there was some stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Civil society reported health-care workers occasionally did not maintain appropriate patient confidentiality with respect to HIV/AIDS status.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law specifies the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination, and workers fired for union activity have the right to reinstatement. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

The law places restrictions on the right to strike and bargain collectively by members of the police, corrections service, fire department, health service, and utilities (electricity, water, and telecommunications) on the grounds these organizations provide “essential services.” These workers must give 30 days’ notice before striking. Once workers have given notice, authorities usually refer the matter to an ad hoc labor tribunal set up under the Essential Services Act. The government selects tribunal members, following rules to ensure tripartite representation. These ad hoc tribunals try to resolve disputes through mandatory arbitration.

The government generally respected freedom of association, while employers generally respected the right to collective bargaining. Workers exercised the right to strike and bargain collectively.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor and offers protection from slavery and forced labor; however, forced labor is not criminally prohibited unless it results from human trafficking. The government did not have written procedures to guide officials on the proactive identification and referral of trafficking victims.

The International Labor Organization noted with concern that the law allows for prisoners to be hired out to or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies, and associations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Not all of the worst forms of child labor are prohibited. Although the criminal code prohibits the use of children in some illicit activities, such as prostitution, the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs, is not criminally prohibited. The law provides for a minimum legal working age of 15 once a child has finished the school year. The minimum legal age for industrial work is 18. The law provides special protections for workers younger than age 18 regarding working conditions, and it prohibits hazardous work. There are no specific restrictions on working hours for those younger than 18. There is no comprehensive list of what constitutes hazardous work; however, the Occupational Health and Safety Act prohibits children younger than 18 from working in industrial settings, including using machinery and working in extreme temperatures. Children ages 15 to 17 require a parent’s permission to work.

The Ministry of Infrastructure, Ports, Energy, and Labour is responsible for enforcing statutes that regulate child labor. The penalties in theory were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, and these laws were not effectively enforced.

There were no formal reports of violations of child labor laws, and the government did not report any investigations (see section 6, Children). Nevertheless, government officials, civil society, and educators suspect that children from economically disadvantaged families were vulnerable to unorganized commercial sexual exploitation and engaged in sexual activity in exchange for goods or services.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, skin color, sex, religion, national extraction, social origin, ethnic origin, political opinion or affiliation, age, disability, serious family responsibility, pregnancy, marital status, and HIV/AIDS status. The law prohibits discrimination regarding gender identity. The law requires that men and women receive equal pay for equal work. In addition the law sets different rates of severance pay for men and women. The law prohibits termination of employment for sexual orientation. Civil society groups received reports of LGBTI persons being denied jobs or leaving jobs due to a hostile work environment. There are no specific penalties for discrimination, so penalties for discrimination are covered under the general penalties section of the labor code. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a minimum wage for some sectors, including office clerks, shop assistants, and messengers. On average the sector-specific minimum wages were below the official poverty level.

The legislated workweek is 40 hours, with a maximum of eight hours per day. Special legislation covers work hours for shop assistants, agricultural workers, domestic workers, and industrial workers. Labor laws, including occupational health and safety standards, apply to all workers whether in the formal or informal sector.

The labor code provides penalties which were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. The government effectively enforced the law. The Ministry of Infrastructure, Ports, Energy, and Labour is charged with monitoring violations of labor law. Employers were generally responsive to ministry requests to address labor code violations, and authorities rarely levied fines. Officers effectively monitored compliance with standards governing pensions, terminations, vacation, sick leave, contracts, and hours of work. Inspectors have the authority to initiate sanctions, institute proceedings before the tribunal, or hold informal inquiries when complaints are brought to their notice. There were no reported violations of wage laws, and most categories of workers received wages higher than minimum wage, based on prevailing market conditions.

The government sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards that are current and appropriate. The number of inspectors was not adequate to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. As of November, one workplace facility was closed for failing to meet OSH standards.

Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The ministry reported workers in energy and construction sectors sometimes faced hazardous working conditions. Officials reported three workplace-related deaths during the year. Most overtime and wage violations occurred in the construction sector. The government does not legally define or collect statistics on the informal economy.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Executive Summary

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy. The prime minister is the head of the government. The United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor general. On November 5, Ralph Gonsalves was elected to a fifth consecutive term as prime minister. Regional and local observers assessed the election as generally free and fair.

The Royal Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Police is the only security force in the country and is responsible for maintaining national security. Its forces include the Coast Guard, Special Services Unit, Rapid Response Unit, Drug Squad, and Antitrafficking Unit. Police report to the minister of national security, a portfolio held by the prime minister. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports of security forces committing abuses during the year.

Significant human rights issues included the criminalization of libel and the criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct between men, which was not enforced during the year.

There were no reports of officials committing human rights abuses, and there was not a widespread perception of impunity for security force members.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports the government employed them systematically.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were less than adequate, although they varied depending on the facility. Key problems with prison facilities included understaffing, overcrowding, gang activity, the inability to control contraband, and limited space to segregate noncompliant and juvenile prisoners.

Physical Conditions: Limited prison capacity prevented authorities from segregating juvenile offenders, with offenders between the ages of 16 and 21 held with adult prisoners. Prisoners younger than age 16 were held in a separate facility. Female prisoners were held in a makeshift facility while construction of a women’s prison was underway. The two facilities for male prisoners were near capacity throughout the year.

Limited physical space and inadequate training for prison officials hindered accommodations for prisoners with disabilities. One prisoner died from an apparent suicide.

Administration: There were two reports of mistreatment, and authorities investigated the mistreatment allegations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Due in part to COVID-19 restrictions, no representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) visited or monitored the prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires a judicial authority to issue arrest warrants. The bail system was generally effective. Authorities generally gave detainees prompt access to a lawyer. For indigent detainees accused of a capital offense, the state provides a lawyer. For other crimes the state does not provide a lawyer, and defendants without the financial means to hire a lawyer must represent themselves.

Although lengthy delays prior to preliminary inquiries were reported, government authorities and civil society reported compliance with Court of Appeal guidelines that require a preliminary hearing to be held within nine months of detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and are informed promptly and in detail of the charges. Defendants have the right to a fair, timely, and public trial and to be present at the trial. Defendants are able to select an attorney of their choice. The court appoints attorneys only for indigent defendants charged with a capital offense. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have access to free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants could confront and question witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Witnesses and victims sometimes refused to testify because they feared retaliation. Defendants may appeal verdicts and penalties.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent, impartial judiciary in civil matters where one may bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Individuals may appeal domestic courts’ decisions to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal or the United Kingdom’s Privy Council.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Libel/Slander Laws: Civil society observers reported concerns about criticizing the government, primarily due to fear of facing libel charges, including under the cybercrime act. Civil society representatives indicated these fears resulted in media outlets practicing self-censorship. The act establishes criminal penalties, including imprisonment, for offenses including libel by electronic communication, cyberbullying, and illegal acquisition of data. The government did not charge anyone with libel or defamation during the year.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Civil society representatives, however, reported citizens were hesitant to participate in antigovernment protests due to fear of retaliation.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government, however, enforced a COVID-19 entry requirement that forced all persons entering the country to surrender their passports until the end of a 14-day quarantine.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Information on the government’s cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was unavailable.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status; the government addresses each case individually. The government has not established a system for protecting refugees.

g. Stateless Persons

Not applicable.

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: On November 5, the Unity Labour Party won nine of the 15 elected seats in the unicameral House of Assembly, which also includes six appointed senators. The New Democratic Party won six seats but also won a majority of the popular vote. Regional observers from the Caribbean Community declared the elections generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. There was only one woman in the 21-seat legislature; she was an appointed senator.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials at times engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. NGOs and the opposition party alleged instances of government corruption during the year, including exclusive direction of COVID-19 relief funds and services to political supporters.

Corruption: Allegations of political handouts and other forms of low-level corruption persisted. NGO representatives alleged that multiple COVID-19 relief measures, including programs directed at supporting small businesses and food security, were awarded solely to supporters of the government.

Financial Disclosure: There are no financial disclosure laws for public officials.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA), a nonpartisan domestic human rights group, generally operated without government restriction, and investigated and published its findings on human rights cases. The government held various meetings with civil society that included the SVGHRA. The SVGHRA’s viewpoints were often dismissed, however, due to the government’s perception that it was aligned with the opposition. Additionally, civil society representatives reported that even where government officials shared the SVGHRA’s concerns, senior officials intimidated subordinate government officials from investigating allegations of human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, and the government inconsistently enforced the law. Sentences for rape begin at 10 years’ imprisonment. Authorities referred allegations of rape or physical or sexual abuse of women to police, who were generally responsive to these complaints.

Civil society representatives reported that they did not believe officially reported numbers on rape and sexual abuse represented the scope of the problem. They claimed the justice system protected the powerful and largely ignored poorer, less-well-connected victims.

The government occasionally offered sexual abuse awareness training, but civil society representatives argued such efforts were insufficient to address the root problems that perpetuated an environment of insensitivity to sexual abuse victims. Police and human rights groups reported that perpetrators commonly made payoffs to victims of rape or sexual assault in exchange for victims not pressing charges.

Civil society groups reported domestic violence against women remained a serious and pervasive problem. The Division of Gender Affairs in the Ministry of National Mobilization offered programs to assist women and children. In the past the ministry maintained a crisis center for survivors of domestic violence, but the center was closed for renovations throughout the year. Civil society representatives stressed the importance of reopening this center and the need for provision of sustainable job-seeking, life, and social skills to survivors of rape and domestic violence. The COVID-19 crisis presented an additional barrier to offering such services.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment; authorities could prosecute such behavior under other laws. Sexual harassment was widespread, particularly in the workplace. Local human rights groups and women’s organizations considered enforcement in the workplace ineffective, citing a lack of sensitivity by government officials, particularly towards economically vulnerable populations.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. All individuals had the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Contraception was widely available. There were no legal or social barriers to accessing contraception, but some religious beliefs and cultural barriers limited its usage.

There were no government policies or legal, social, or cultural barriers that adversely affected access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence through the Ministry of National Mobilization, Family, Gender Affairs, Youth, Housing, and Informal Human Settlement. Local NGO Marion House worked with various divisions of that ministry (i.e., the Gender Affairs Division, the Child Development Division), in addition to Family Court and the Ministry of Health to assist victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights to family, nationality, and inheritance as men. Women receive an equitable share of property following separation or divorce. The law requires equal pay for equal work, and authorities generally enforced it. No specific law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, and women were restricted from working in some industries.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or from either parent. Birth registration usually occurred within a few days of a child’s birth.

Child Abuse: The law provides a legal framework, including within domestic violence laws, for the protection of children. The Family Services Division of the Ministry of Social Development monitored and protected the welfare of children. The division referred all reports of child abuse to police for action and provided assistance in cases where children applied for protection orders with the family court.

Child abuse cases were reported. Unlawful sexual intercourse with children younger than age 15 remained a problem, with some cases possibly linked to transactional sex. Government and NGO interlocutors indicated that child abuse remained a significant problem.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Parental consent is required for underage marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not include provisions that expressly prohibit the use of children for prostitution, pornography, or pornographic performances. The law prohibits girls younger than age 15 and boys younger than 16 from engaging in consensual sexual relations, and the government enforced the law. The law prohibits statutory rape, with special provisions for persons younger than age 13. Observers noted that male and female teenagers engaged in prostitution and transactional sex. NGO and government representatives reported some mothers pressured their daughters to have sexual relations with older men as a way to generate family income. Government officials conducted sensitization workshops in the community and schools to address the problem.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no organized Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, mental, and intellectual disabilities, and the government generally enforced these prohibitions. The law does not mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities, and access to buildings generally was difficult. Government officials and NGOs reported government funding for organizations supporting persons with disabilities was insufficient to meet the need. NGOs reported subtle discrimination in hiring practices throughout the economy. The government reported that programs to improve recruitment and hiring of persons with disabilities such as the Youth Employment Scheme and the Secondary Education Training Program were no longer operational.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults is illegal under gross indecency statutes, and sexual conduct between men is illegal under anal intercourse laws. Indecency statutes carry a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, and anal intercourse carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, although these laws were rarely enforced. No laws prohibit discrimination against a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2019 two gay men filed court proceedings to challenge these statutes, asserting the statues violate multiple and overlapping rights in the constitution. As of November the suit was pending, but local civil society organizations noted an increase in physical and verbal attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons since the lawsuit was filed. These included at least four unprovoked attacks on LGBTI persons, including a stabbing, following a protest against LGBTI rights.