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Ukraine

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: UKRAINE (BELOW) | CRIMEA

Note: Except where otherwise noted, references in this report do not include areas controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine or Russian-occupied Crimea. At the end of this report is a section listing human rights abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Ukraine is a republic with a semi-presidential political system composed of three branches of government: a unicameral legislature (Verkhovna Rada), an executive led by a directly elected president and a prime minister chosen through a legislative majority, and a judiciary. The country held presidential and legislative elections in 2014; international and domestic observers considered both elections free and fair.

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

The most significant human rights problems in the country during the year were:

Conflict- and Occupation-related Abuses: Russian-backed separatists in Donbas engaged in abductions, torture, and unlawful detention, employed child soldiers, stifled dissent, and restricted humanitarian aid. To a lesser extent, there were also reports of some of these practices by government forces. In Crimea, Russian occupation authorities systematically targeted perceived dissidents for abuse and politically motivated prosecution.

Corruption and Official Impunity: The country suffered from impunity for corruption and deficiencies in the administration of justice. The Prosecutor General’s Office and the judicial system proved largely unable to convict perpetrators of past or current major corruption.

Insufficient Support for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs): Russia’s occupation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine resulted in 1.7 million IDPs who faced continuing difficulties obtaining legal documents, education, pensions, and access to financial institutions and health care. During the year the government suspended all social payments for IDPs, pending verification of their presence in government-controlled territory, ostensibly to combat fraudulent payments.

Other problems reported during the year included: alleged beatings and torture of detainees and prisoners, as well as harsh conditions in government-run prisons and detention facilities; nongovernmental attacks on journalists; societal violence against women and abuse of children; societal discrimination against and harassment of ethnic and religious minorities; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; discrimination and harassment against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. There also were limitations on workers’ right to strike, and failure to enforce effectively labor laws and occupational safety and health standards for the workplace.

The government generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. Human rights groups and the United Nations noted significant deficiencies in investigations into human rights abuses committed by government security forces, in particular into allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other abuses reportedly perpetrated by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The perpetrators of the 2014 Euromaidan shootings in Kyiv and riots in Odesa have not been held to account.

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

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 that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

According to media reports, police in Kryve Ozero allegedly beat a man to death on August 24, after responding to a domestic violence call. Authorities detained four police officers on suspicion of murder. In response, the chief of the National Police disbanded a police station where the killing occurred. On October 2, the detained officers were released on bail; the pretrial investigation continues.

There were also reports of killings by government and Russian-backed separatist forces in connection with the conflict in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).

There were reports of politically motivated killings by nongovernment actors.

On July 20, a car bomb in Kyiv killed Belarusian-born journalist, Pavel Sheremet, as he drove in a car belonging to his partner, Olena Prytula. Sheremet, a Russian citizen, worked for Ukrainska Pravda newspaper and Vesti radio station, where he had been critical of Ukrainian, Russian, and Belarusian authorities. Authorities released a video of two individuals placing the device under the car. As of year’s end, the investigation remained open and authorities had made no arrests.

On March 9, Yuriy Hrabovsky, a lawyer representing a detained Russian special forces soldier, Aleksandr Aleksandrov, disappeared in Odesa. On March 25, his body was found in a shallow roadside grave. The killing remained under investigation at year’s end, and authorities had made no arrests.

Human rights organizations and media reported deaths in prisons or detention centers due to torture or negligence by police or prison officers (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).

Law enforcement agencies continued to investigate killings and other crimes committed during the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv in 2013-14. Human rights groups were critical of the low number of convictions despite considerable evidence. Human rights groups also criticized prosecutors for focusing on low-ranking officials while taking little action to investigate government leaders believed to have been involved. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, as of mid-November, courts had convicted 45 persons investigated for Euromaidan-related crimes, 152 were on trial, and 190 remained under investigation.

Law enforcement agencies also continued their investigation into the events in Odesa in 2014 in which 48 persons died, including six government supporters and 42 persons who supported more autonomy for regions. Those who supported autonomy died in a fire at the Trade Union Building; authorities largely failed to investigate these deaths, focusing on alleged crimes committed by individuals seeking more autonomy. A Council of Europe report in 2015 found the government’s investigation lacked independence and that the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs failed to conduct a thorough, coordinated investigation. On January 15, a group of civil society activists and journalists released a statement expressing their lack of confidence in the investigation by the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, accusing the authorities of sabotaging the investigation to prevent the perpetrators from being brought to justice. On May 4, Odesa police chief, Petro Lutsiuk, was fired from his position, and the Prosecutor General’s Office later charged him with abuse of authority in connection with the events at the trade union building. Court hearings continued through the year’s end.

b. Disappearance

There were multiple reports of politically motivated disappearances, particularly in relation to the conflict between the government and combined Russian and separatist forces in the Donbas region and by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see section 1.g., Crimea subsection).

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel punishment, there were reports that law enforcement authorities engaged in such abuse. While courts cannot legally use as evidence in court proceedings confessions and statements under duress made to police by persons in custody, there were reports that police and other law enforcement officials abused and, at times, tortured persons in custody to obtain confessions.

In the Donbas region, there were reports that government and progovernment forces engaged in military operations at times committed human rights abuses, including torture. There were reports that Russian-backed separatist forces in the self-proclaimed “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk systematically committed numerous abuses, including torture, to maintain control or for personal financial gain. According to international organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), abuses included beatings, forced labor, psychological and physical torture, public humiliation, and sexual violence (see section 1.g.).

In a July joint report, Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlighted allegations of the use of torture at SBU detention sites, including beatings, starvation, and electric shocks.

In its March report, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), under the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, gave an undated account of a “profederalism” activist who was allegedly tortured and pressured to sign a confession at an SBU facility in Odesa. The government asserted that such “profederalist” messaging was used by Russia to weaken Ukraine’s central government. The man reported that during interrogation the SBU suffocated him with a plastic bag and beat him. Afterwards, the SBU brought the man to the lobby of the SBU building to witness that authorities had also arrested his son. His son was then brought to a neighboring cell, where the father could hear his son scream as he was abused.

Abuse of prisoners and detainees by police and prison authorities remained a widespread problem. For example, on August 23, 15 staff members of the Chernihiv pretrial detention facility reportedly beat 25-year-old Viktor Kravchenko. After the beating, facility staff placed him in a disciplinary cell and denied his request for medical help. The facility’s administration denied any wrongdoing.

There were reports of hazing in the military. On August 4, the country’s human rights ombudsman sent a letter to the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Defense expressing concern about military hazing following the suicide of Vlad Khaisuk, a young soldier serving in a unit stationed in Stanytsia Luhanska. After Khaisuk’s suicide, his parents found videos on Khaisuk’s smartphone of him being hazed and humiliated by other soldiers. The Luhansk Department of the Military Prosecutor’s Office investigated and found no signs of military hazing. At year’s end, however, police in Stanytsia Luhanska were investigating the accident as a homicide.

In its September report, the HRMMU noted that it “continued to document cases of sexual violence, amounting to torture, of conflict-related detainees, both men and women. It includes cases of rape, and threats of rape or other forms of sexual violence towards victims and/or their relatives.” In one example, the HRMMU described a case in March where unidentified members of the security services detained a man, took him to an abandoned building, and interrogated him about the positions of armed groups. When he could not provide information, the perpetrators chained him to a metal cage, took a ramrod, and inserted it into the man’s urethra, causing him severe pain.

During the first nine months of the year, the Prosecutor General’s Office forwarded for prosecution 35 cases specifically alleging torture or degrading treatment involving law enforcement officers.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, during the first nine months of the year, authorities opened 133 criminal cases against police officers for crimes including torture, illegal arrests and searches, and illegal confiscation of property. Of these alleged cases of abuse, five were for alleged torture. Authorities imposed disciplinary actions against 20 officers and fired 10.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained poor, did not meet international standards, and at times posed a serious threat to the life and health of prisoners. Physical abuse, lack of proper medical care and nutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate light were persistent problems. The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union maintained that life sentences amounted to slow executions of prisoners because of the poor conditions of their imprisonment.

Physical Conditions: Authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, although there were reports that juveniles and adults were not separated in some pretrial detention facilities.

Conditions in police temporary detention facilities and State Penitentiary Service pretrial detention facilities were harsher than in low- and medium-security prisons. Despite a reduction in the number of inmates, overcrowding remained a problem in pretrial detention facilities. Temporary detention facilities often lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities.

Physical abuse by guards was a problem. For example, according to the Ombudsman’s Office, the staff of the Kryzhopil Correctional Center Number 113 in Vinnytsia Oblast systematically violated prisoners’ rights during the year. Inmates complained to the Ombudsman’s Office about illegal actions of the administration, including systematic beatings, forced and unpaid labor, and lack of medical care. The monitoring team found that a convicted person kept in one of the disciplinary cells tried to commit suicide, which he claimed was due to fear of physical violence by the prison administration. The local prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into the actions of the correctional facility administration.

There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. For example, on June 6, an inmate of the Shepetivka correctional facility in Khmelnytskyi Oblast died of a traumatic brain injury inflicted by his fellow inmates. The penitentiary service conducted an investigation of the incident.

According to the Association of Independent Monitors and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, authorities failed to protect the lives and human rights of prisoners in areas close to the zone of operation against combined Russian and separatist forces in eastern Ukraine adequately and failed to evacuate staff and inmates in a timely fashion. As of September 1, under the auspices of the Ombudsman’s Office, 17 prisoners incarcerated in territories seized by Russian-backed separatist forces were transferred to penal facilities on government-controlled territory.

The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in areas held by Russian-backed separatist forces was very poor. According to the Justice for Peace coalition, there was an extensive network of unofficial places of detention in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts located in basements, sewage wells, garages, and industrial enterprises. In most cases the places of detention were not suitable for even short-term detention. There were reports of shortages of food, water, heat, sanitation, and proper medical care.

According to October press reports citing information from the Eastern Human Rights Group, abuse of prisoners was widespread in areas not controlled by the government. Prior to the conflict, more than 5,000 prisoners were held in the part of Luhansk Oblast under the control of Russian-backed separatists. According to the group, prison conditions had deteriorated severely. The groups reported systemic abuses, such as torture, starvation, denial of medical care, and solitary confinement, as well as the extensive use of prisoners as slave labor to produce goods that, when sold, provided a direct source of personal income to Russian-backed separatist leaders.

Administration: Authorities kept records of prisoners in detention, but they were occasionally incomplete. In areas controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces, authorities lacked central record keeping, leading to difficulties for prisoners and arbitrarily held detainees. Human rights groups reported instances in which authorities confiscated prisoners’ identification cards and failed to return them upon their release. Prisoners released by Russian-backed separatists often had no identification. There was no prison ombudsman.

In government-controlled areas, prisoners could file complaints with the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman for Human Rights. As of October 1, the ombudsman’s office received 1,114 complaints from prisoners and their relatives throughout the country. The most common complaints were regarding a lack of appropriate living and sanitary conditions; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; public humiliation; limited communication with family members and relatives; unjustified punishment; denial of the right to legal consultation; and denial of the right to submit a complaint about actions of the administration. Prisoners also complained about inadequate medical treatment and precautions. For example, authorities did not isolate prisoners with contagious tuberculosis from other patients.

Although prisoners and detainees may file complaints about conditions in custody with the human rights ombudsman, human rights organizations noted prison officials continued to censor or discourage complaints and penalized and abused inmates who filed them. Rights groups reported that legal norms did not always provide for confidentiality of complaints.

Officials generally allowed prisoners to receive visitors, with the exception of those in disciplinary cells. Prisoner rights groups noted some families had to pay bribes to obtain permission for prison visits to which they are entitled by law.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups. On May 25, the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) suspended its visit to the country after being denied access to places in several parts of the country where it suspected the SBU was illegally depriving individuals of their liberty. On September 5, the SPT resumed its visit and was granted access to the facilities. During the year the Ombudsperson’s Office together with representatives of civil society conducted monitoring visits to penitentiary facilities in 15 oblasts.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but serious problems remained.

AI and HRW reported details of arbitrary secret detentions by the SBU that emerged following the release of 13 persons from an SBU facility in Kharkiv (see section 1.b.). One of those detained, Viktor Ashykhin, was kidnapped from his hometown of Ukrainsk in 2014 and released in July. He told AI that he was moved three times during his 597-day illegal detention to hide him from independent monitors.

The HRMMU, AI, HRW, and other international groups reported numerous unauthorized detentions in areas of Donbas controlled by Russian-backed separatists (see section 1.g.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for maintaining internal security and order. The ministry oversees police and other law enforcement personnel. The SBU is responsible for all state security, nonmilitary intelligence, and counterintelligence matters. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reports to the Cabinet of Ministers, and the SBU reports directly to the president. The State Fiscal Service exercises law enforcement powers through the tax police and reports to the Cabinet of Ministers. The State Migration Service under the Ministry of Internal Affairs implements state policy regarding border security, migration, citizenship, and registration of refugees and other migrants.

Civilian authorities generally had control over law enforcement agencies but rarely took action to punish abuses committed by security forces.

Impunity for abuses by law enforcement remained a significant problem frequently highlighted by the HRMMU in its reports and by other human rights groups. In its September report, the HRMMU attributed the problem to “pressure on the judiciary, [and] inability and unwillingness of the Office of the Prosecutor General and Office of the Military Prosecutor to investigate” abuses. The HRMMU also noted that authorities were unwilling to investigate allegations of torture, particularly when victims were detained on grounds related to national security or were seen as proseparatist.

While authorities sometimes brought charges against members of the security services, cases often remained under investigation without being brought to trial, while authorities allowed alleged perpetrators to continue their work. Additionally, human rights groups criticized the lack of progress in investigations of alleged crimes in areas retaken by Ukraine from Russian-backed separatists, resulting in continuing impunity for these crimes. In particular, investigations of alleged crimes committed by Russian-backed separatist forces in Slovyansk and Kramatorsk in 2014 appeared stalled. Human rights groups believed that many of the local law enforcement personnel in both cities collaborated with Russian-backed separatists when they controlled these cities.

Under the law members of the Verkhovna Rada have authority to conduct investigations and public hearings into law enforcement problems. The human rights ombudsman may also initiate investigations into abuses by security forces.

Security forces generally prevented or responded to societal violence. At times, however, they used excessive force to disperse protests and, in some cases, failed to protect victims from harassment or violence. For example, on September 1, approximately 100 persons attacked a camp of peaceful demonstrators near the Odesa City Council on Dumska Street. The attackers pushed protesters from the square using fire extinguishers and tear gas and destroyed their camp. A few protesters were injured and hospitalized. According to witnesses, police watched and did nothing to prevent the clashes.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law authorities may detain a suspect for three days without a warrant, after which time a judge must issue a warrant authorizing continued detention. Authorities in some cases detained persons for longer than three days without a warrant.

Prosecutors must bring detainees before a judge within 72 hours, and pretrial detention should not exceed six months for minor crimes and 12 months for serious ones. Persons have the right to consult a lawyer upon their detention. According to the law, prosecutors may detain suspects accused of terrorist activities for up to 30 days without charges or a bench warrant. Under the law citizens have the right to be informed of the charges brought against them. Authorities must promptly inform detainees of their rights and immediately notify family members of an arrest. Police often did not follow these procedures. Police at times failed to keep records or register detained suspects, and courts often extended detention to allow police more time to obtain confessions. Authorities kept suspects under house arrest and occasionally held them incommunicado, in some instances for several weeks.

Under the law the government must provide attorneys for indigent defendants. Compliance was inconsistent because of a shortage of defense attorneys or because attorneys, citing low government compensation, refused to defend indigent clients. According to the Ministry of Justice, 60,500 persons received free legal aid. As of September 1, there were 550 points of access to free legal aid throughout the government-controlled areas of the country.

The law provides for bail, but many defendants could not pay the required amounts. Courts sometimes imposed travel restrictions as an alternative to pretrial confinement. Under the criminal procedure code, prosecutors need a court order to impose travel restrictions on persons awaiting trial. Prosecutors must prove the restrictions are the minimum needed to ensure that suspects will appear at hearings and not interfere with criminal proceedings.

Arbitrary Arrest: The HRMMU reported a pattern of arbitrary detention by authorities. In its September report, the HRMMU reported that the SBU apprehended a married couple in Odesa and reportedly held the couple incommunicado at an SBU compound for 20 hours before recording their detention. SBU also reportedly subjected them to threats, sleep deprivation, interrogation without a lawyer present, and denied requests for legal counsel.

The HRMMU expressed concern over mass arrests in government-controlled portions of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. These oblasts are subject to the Law on Combatting Terrorism, which allows authorities to make arrests with a lower standard of proof than allowed under the criminal procedure code, leading in some cases to arbitrary arrest. For example, in its March report, the HRMMU cited SBU raids, conducted in December 2015 in Krasnohorivka and Avdiivka in Donetsk oblast, in which authorities detained hundreds of persons for several hours for questioning about alleged affiliation with armed groups. Authorities subsequently released most detainees.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Under the law citizens have the right to challenge an arrest in court or by appeal to a prosecutor to obtain prompt release in cases of unlawful detention.

Protracted Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods without court approval. They also regularly detained asylum seekers prior to their deportation (see section 2.d.).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the Verkhovna Rada passed a judicial reform package in June, courts were inefficient and remained vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low.

On June 2, parliament adopted amendments to the constitution regarding the judiciary. The amendments give new powers to the High Council of Justice, stipulate that the majority of High Council members must be judges, and authorize the High Council to make decisions on the election, dismissal, transfer, promotion, and immunity of judges. Parliament and the president no longer have decisive roles in these processes, which limit potential interference with the judiciary. Certain provisions will be implemented gradually. For example, the president retains the right to decide on the transfer of judges for two years.

On September 30, the Law on Judiciary and Status of Judges came into effect, facilitating the implementation of the above constitutional amendments. The law introduces a three-tier system of courts, with the Supreme Court as the highest judicial body, holding the authority to rescind lower courts’ judgments. The law provides for wider civil society engagement in the selection and assessment of judges through a new consultative body called the Public Integrity Council. The law allows anyone to initiate disciplinary proceedings against a judge before the High Council of Justice and imposes anticorruption measures on judges.

As of October 1, the Prosecutor General’s Office had brought 16 criminal cases against judges to court.

Judges continued to complain about weak separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. Some judges claimed that high-ranking politicians pressured them to decide cases in their favor, regardless of the merits. Other factors impeded the right to a fair trial, such as lengthy court proceedings, particularly in administrative courts, inadequate funding, and the inability of courts to enforce rulings. According to the human rights ombudsman, authorities fully executed only 40 percent of court rulings.

There were reports of intimidation and attacks against lawyers representing defendants considered “pro-Russian” or “proseparatist.” For example, on January 26 in Kharkiv, an unoccupied car belonging to lawyer Oleksandr Shadrin exploded. Shadrin had been working on a number of high-profile cases involving “proseparatist” defendants. On January 29, the Ukrainian Bar Association issued an open letter of concern about the incident involving Shadrin’s car as well as other cases in which the safety of attorneys was threatened. In a similar incident on February 2 in Kyiv, an unoccupied car belonging to another lawyer, Andriy Fedur, exploded. Fedur had been defending the accused murderers of journalists Oles Buzyna and Heorgiy Gongadze.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

A single judge decides most cases, although two judges and three public assessors who have some legal training hear trials on charges carrying the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The law provides for cross-examination of witnesses by both prosecutors and defense attorneys and for plea bargaining.

The law presumes defendants are innocent, and they cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess, although high conviction rates called into question the legal presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with interpretation as needed; to a public trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial, to communicate privately with an attorney of their choice (or one provided at public expense); and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also allows defendants access to government-held evidence, to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence, and the right to appeal. The law applies to all defendants regardless of ethnicity, gender, or age.

Trials are open to the public, but some judges prohibited media from observing proceedings. While trials must start no later than three weeks after charges are filed, prosecutors seldom met this requirement. Human rights groups reported that officials occasionally monitored meetings between defense attorneys and their clients.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

On May 12, an Ivano-Frankivsk court sentenced blogger Ruslan Kotsaba to three-and-a-half years in prison, on charges that he had impeded the work of the armed forces with his calls to ignore the military draft. Authorities arrested Kotsaba in 2015, and human rights groups deemed him a political prisoner. The court dropped a more serious charge of treason. On July 24, an appeals court overturned the conviction, freeing Kotsaba after 18 months in detention.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for the right to seek redress for any decisions, actions, or omissions of national and local government officials that violate citizens’ human rights. An inefficient and corrupt judicial system limited the right of redress. Individuals may also file a collective legal challenge to legislation they believe may violate basic rights and freedoms. Individuals may appeal to the human rights ombudsman at any time and to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting domestic legal remedies.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports authorities generally did not respect the prohibitions.

By law the SBU may not conduct surveillance or searches without a court-issued warrant. In practice, however, law enforcement agencies sometimes conducted searches without a proper warrant. In an emergency authorities may initiate a search without prior court approval, but they must seek court approval immediately after the investigation begins. Citizens have the right to examine any dossier in the possession of the SBU that concerns them; they have the right to recover losses resulting from an investigation. Because there was no implementing legislation, authorities generally did not respect these rights, and many citizens were not aware of their rights or that authorities had violated their privacy.

On October 28, the newspaper Ukrainska Pravda published an open appeal to the president and heads of the SBU, the National Police, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The appeal concerned recordings the newspaper received from an anonymous source, which indicated that its journalists and editors had been under SBU surveillance at the request of high-level officials in late 2015 and possibly beyond. The newspaper demanded to know why, how, and on whose authority the surveillance had taken place. The official SBU response said that national security legislation prohibited the disclosure of information sought by Ukrainska Pravda.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but authorities did not always respect these rights. The government introduced measures that banned or blocked information, media outlets, or individual journalists deemed a threat to national security or who expressed positions that authorities believed undermined the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Other problematic practices continued to affect media freedom, including self-censorship, so-called jeansa payments to journalists for favorable news reports disguised as objective journalism, and slanted news coverage by media whose owners had close ties to the government or opposition political parties.

In the Donbas region, Russian-backed separatists suppressed freedom of speech and the press through harassment, intimidation, abductions, and assaults on journalists and media outlets. They also prevented the transmission of Ukrainian and independent television and radio programming in areas under their control.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: With some exceptions, individuals in areas not under Russian occupation or Russian-backed separatist control could generally criticize the government publicly and privately and discuss matters of public interest without fear of official reprisal. The law criminalizes the display of communist and Nazi symbols, although there have been no prosecutions.

The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression towards Ukraine.

On September 15, the National Television and Radio Council issued a warning to Kherson-based radio station AKS for statements suggesting that Crimean Tatars were involved in terrorism. If a station receives a second warning, it could lose its broadcasting license.

On December 9, the Verkhovna Rada passed a bill to restrict imports of certain Russian books with “anti-Ukrainian content” that violated Ukrainian law. The books may still be legally imported below the commercial threshold of 100 copies.

Press and Media Freedoms: According to the NGO Freedom House, the press in the country was “partly free.”

Independent media and internet news sites were active and expressed a wide range of views. Privately owned media, the most successful of which were generally owned by wealthy and influential “oligarchs,” often presented readers and viewers a “biased pluralism,” representing the views of their owners, favorable coverage of their allies, and criticizing political and business rivals. The 10 most popular television stations were owned by businessmen whose primary business was not in media. Independent media had difficulty competing with major outlets that operated with oligarchic subsidies.

The public television broadcaster was established in 2015 and planned to be fully operational by January 2017. On November 1, the head of the public broadcaster, Zurab Alasania, resigned from his position in protest regarding a number of obstacles to establishing the channel’s operations, including the government’s diversion of the channel’s budget for other purposes. Alasania also cited complaints he had received from the government regarding investigative journalism programs on corruption produced by the broadcaster.

The practice of jeansa, or publishing unsubstantiated news articles for a fee, continued to be widespread. For example, according to the Institute of Mass Information press monitoring, the highest proportion of jeansa in regional media was found in print outlets in Mykolaiv Oblast, where 15 percent of all published articles were political or commercial jeansa.

Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem in the country, though attacks on journalists dropped for the second year. Human rights groups and journalists criticized government inaction in solving these crimes, giving rise to a culture of impunity.

According to the Institute of Mass Information, there were 30 reports of attacks on journalists, half as many as in 2015, and almost a 10th as many as in 2014. As in 2015, the majority of these attacks were perpetrated by private, not state, actors. There were 42 incidents of threats against and harassment of journalists, up from 36 in 2015.

The Institute of Mass Information and editors of major independent news outlets noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they said had the tacit support of the government. In one case, on May 10, the nationalist website Myrotvorets (Peacemaker), which allegedly has links to the Interior Ministry, published the names and personal information of more than 4,000 domestic and foreign journalists who had received accreditation from the Russian-backed separatist “authorities” in Donetsk and Luhansk. The website claimed that the journalists’ actions amounted to collaboration with terrorists. On May 24, Myrotvorets published the personal information of an additional 300 journalists. Some affected media professionals subsequently received death threats and were subjected to significant online harassment. While Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov spoke out in support of Myrotvorets, calling the journalists “liberal separatists,” President Poroshenko on June 3 condemned the website during his annual press conference. Police investigation of the case continued through year’s end.

There were multiple incidents of violence and harassment against the television channel INTER, which is perceived to have a pro-Russian editorial policy. According to press reports, in January protesters spray-painted “Kremlin mouthpiece” on INTER’s offices and threw rocks through its windows. On February 25, volunteer Azov Battalion fighters blocked journalists’ access to INTER’s offices after INTER broadcasters were inadvertently recorded criticizing the “heavenly hundred,” demonstrators killed during the Euromaidan protests. In June, protesters burned tires at the entrance to INTER’s offices. On August 4, Myrotvorets published hacked email correspondence purporting to show that an INTER TV journalist had coordinated the contents of an article with Russian-backed separatist leaders. On August 31, Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov publicly called on the SBU to deal with INTER, which he labeled “anti-Ukrainian.” On September 4, approximately 15 to 20 masked persons entered INTER’s offices, setting fire to the building, destroying equipment, and trapping employees in the smoke-filled building. As a result some staff members were hospitalized, including one with a spinal injury. Authorities arrested six persons at the scene; an investigation into the attack by the SBU Investigative Department continued. On November 21, five unidentified persons threw Molotov cocktails at INTER’s headquarters. Authorities opened an investigation into the incident, which continued at year’s end.

On July 20, well-known journalist Pavel Sheremet, who hosted a morning show on Vesti radio and worked for the Ukrainska Pravdaonline news outlet, was killed by a bomb in the car he was driving in downtown Kyiv (see section 1.a.).

During the year authorities detained but later released two suspects in the 2015 killing in Kyiv of Oles Buzina, who was perceived as pro-Russian. Both suspects were allegedly members of right-wing political groups. An investigation into the case remained open at year’s end.

There were multiple reports of attacks on journalists investigating government corruption. On May 24, three masked men fled in a car after beating Anatoliy Ostapenko, a journalist affiliated with the independent media outlet Hromadske Zaporizhzhya. Ostapenko was working on several investigations linking local authorities in Zaporizhzhya to corruption. An investigation into the attack continued at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Institute for Mass Information recorded seven incidents of censorship of individual publications, down from 12 in 2015.

Both independent and state-owned media periodically engaged in self-censorship when reporting stories that might expose political allies to criticism or that might be perceived by the public as insufficiently patriotic or that might provide information that could be used for Russian propaganda.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government entities, and public figures in particular, used the threat of civil suits, sometimes based on alleged damage to a person’s “honor and integrity,” to influence or intimidate the press and investigative journalists. For example, on August 29, former prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, announced he would sue the investigative journalism television program “Schemes” over its claims to have uncovered evidence of his corruption, including his ownership of luxury property registered in the names of family members.

National Security: Authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat.

The government continued the practice of banning specific works by pro-Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russian journalists. According to the head of the State Film Agency, Fillip Ilienko, as of February 18, some 432 films and television shows had been banned in the country on national security grounds since August 2014. On May 31, the president signed a decree imposing visa bans on 17 Russian journalists; several dozen other journalists were sanctioned previously. The decree also lifted sanctions against 29 foreign journalists. Human rights NGOs criticized the move. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the country to “immediately rescind the decree banning Russian journalists from the country and to resist the urge to fight propaganda with censorship.”

The government continued to block Russian television channels from broadcasting in the country, based on a 2014 decision by the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council based on the perceived dangerous influence of Russian propaganda. As of year’s end, only six Russian channels were permitted to broadcast, compared to 83 Russian channels able to broadcast in the country at the start of 2014. According to the head of the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council, as of November 2, the council had issued 23 warnings to Ukrainian cable providers for violating the ban on certain Russian channels.

Media professionals continued to experience pressure from SBU and the armed forces when reporting on sensitive issues, such as military losses. On July 8, the press center of the Antiterrorist Operation (ATO) asked the SBU to suspend the accreditation of journalists representing two Ukrainian and one Russian media outlets that were reporting from Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast. The journalists had released a video considered by the ATO headquarters to violate the rules for reporting from a conflict area, since it disclosed soldiers’ faces, locations, and weaponry. After the request to remove it, the Ukrainian Hromadske journalists removed the video from their YouTube channel, but Russian journalist, Yulia Polukhina, published the material in Novaya Gazeta. After later receiving concurrence, Hromadske published an abridged version of the video approximately three weeks later. The HRMMU considered the response of the ATO headquarters to be disproportionate to the violation.

On February 24, the SBU deported Russian journalist, Mariya Stolyarova, and banned her from re-entering the country for five years. Stolyarova worked as a broadcast editor of “Podrobnosti Nedeli” (“Details of the Week”) at INTER TV. Before the deportation the SBU conducted an investigation regarding an obscene statement Stolyarova made on air during a broadcast of material related to the “heavenly hundred” protesters who were killed during the Euromaidan demonstrations. Law enforcement officers also questioned Stolyarova’s stay on territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and her alleged coordination of storylines with Russian-backed separatists.

Nongovernmental Impact: Russian-backed separatists in eastern areas of the country harassed, arbitrarily detained, and mistreated journalists (see section 1.g.). According to the HRMMU, “persons living in the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ know that expressing their opinion freely and publicly was not acceptable in armed group-controlled territory,” that “armed groups are directly influencing and shaping the content in local media,” and that they require favorable coverage as the cost of retaining registration to operate.

According to the HRMMU and media reports, on January 4, the “Ministry of State Security” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” detained Kyiv-based blogger and activist, Volodymyr Fomichev, and charged him with unlawful possession of weapons. On June 27, he pled guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison. Fomichev’s family insisted the conviction was baseless and the result of a forced confession. During the “hearings,” Fomichev gave his father a sweater covered with blood, raising concerns about mistreatment by “investigators.”

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: On February 4, parliament passed a law criminalizing the illegal seizure of materials collected, processed, and prepared by journalists or of technical devices they use in their professional activities. The law also introduces a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment for unlawfully denying journalists access to information, unlawfully banning them from covering particular topics, or for any other action impeding their professional activity.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Authorities did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority. Authorities did not restrict content or censor websites or other communications and internet services.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 49 percent of persons in the country used the internet in 2015.

Human rights groups and journalists that were critical of Russian involvement in the Donbas region and Crimea reported that opponents subjected their websites to cyberattacks, such as coordinated denial of service incidents and unauthorized attempts to obtain information from computers, as well as coordinated campaigns of “trolling” and harassment on social media.

Users of social media, particularly Facebook and VKontakte, sometimes had their access temporarily blocked for innocuous or political posts that other users mischaracterized as “hate speech” and flagged as terms of service violations.

In its yearly Freedom on the Net report, Freedom House assessed in November that internet freedom in the country deteriorated for the second year in a row, noting that, “Ukrainian authorities have become less tolerant of online expression perceived as critical of Ukraine’s position in the conflict, and the government has been especially active this year in sanctioning social media users for ‘separatist’ and “extremist” activities, with many users detained, fined and even imprisoned for such activities. Meanwhile, Russian-backed separatist forces in the east have stepped up efforts to block content online perceived to be in support of Ukrainian government or cultural identity.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were several reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. On November 4, the SBU announced that it had banned 140 Russian cultural figures from entering the country, as their actions or statements conflicted with the country’s interests.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides citizens with the right to freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There are no laws, however, regulating the process of organizing and conducting events to provide for freedom of peaceful assembly. Authorities have wide discretion under a Soviet-era directive to grant or refuse permission for assemblies on grounds of protecting public order and safety. Organizers are required to inform authorities in advance of plans for protests or demonstrations.

During the year citizens generally exercised the right to peaceful assembly without restriction in areas of the country under government control. Most assemblies were peaceful and at times accompanied by a very large police presence to maintain order. The HRMMU noted an overall improvement in the ability of the National Police to provide security for demonstrations.

There were some reports of violence at LGBTI demonstrations during the year (see section 6.).

On July 4, more than 100 persons protested peacefully against the presence of military equipment in Toretsk, Donetsk Oblast. Police arrested eight men, charged them with disobeying police, interrogated them without lawyers present, and did not bring them before the court within three hours, as required by the law. SBU officers reportedly threatened and intimidated the detainees. The detainees spent the night sleeping on the floor of a small cell with only one mattress and a wooden bench. After the court hearing ordering their release, they were brought back to a police station where the head of police in the Donetsk Oblast allegedly insulted and threatened them before their release.

In the territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists, the HRMMU noted an absence of demonstrations because “people are concerned that they may be ‘arrested’ if they organize protests or assemblies against the policies of the armed groups.” The HRMMU also noted that the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local authorities, often apparently organized by the armed groups, with forced public participation.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

The HRMMU noted a pattern of harassment of Communist Party members. For example, on June 28, the apartment of a first secretary of the Kharkiv local branch of the Communist Party was searched, and she was charged with violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine and bribing state officials. On June 30, a Kharkiv court ruled to place her in pretrial detention.

According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by the Russian-backed separatists, “civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, cannot operate freely.” Residents informed the HRMMU that they were being prosecuted (or were afraid of being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. The HRMMU also noted an increase in civil society organizations run by the armed groups, which appeared to have compulsory membership for certain persons, such as public sector employees.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government, however, restricted these rights, particularly in the eastern part of the country near the zone of conflict.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods without court approval.

The government cooperated with the Office of UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. International and domestic organizations reported the system for protecting asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern did not operate effectively.

In-country Movement: The government and Russian-backed separatist forces strictly controlled the freedom of movement between government- and Russian-backed separatist controlled territories in the Donbas region. Crossing the contact line remained arduous. While five crossing points existed, only four were in operation for much of the year. According to the HRMMU, between May and August, an average of 26,000 to 32,000 individuals crossed the line daily. People formed long lines at all operating transit corridors and had to wait for up to 36 hours with no or limited access to water, medical aid, toilets, and shelter in case of shelling or extreme weather. The HRMMU’s March report noted that two elderly persons died at government checkpoints due to lack of timely medical care; its September report noted three deaths for the same reason. The HRMMU’s June report noted that, on April 27, four civilians were killed and eight injured at a crossing point near Olenivka in the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” when it was shelled while they waited in line overnight.

Movement across the line of contact was limited to four crossing points in Donetsk Oblast and one in Luhansk Oblast, which were frequently closed due to nearby fighting. The crossing point at Stanytsia Luhanska traversed a temporary wooden structure that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) believed was unsafe. People regularly reported long lines; as an example, on August 19, the SMM reported more than 700 persons waiting to cross into the country at Stanytsia Luhanska. On August 16, more than 1,000 persons were observed at the same crossing point, and medical officials claimed 21 persons were treated for heat-related illnesses.

In 2015 the SBU introduced a pass system involving an online application process to control movement into government-controlled territory. Human rights groups were concerned that many persons in nongovernment-controlled territory did not have access to the internet to obtain such passes. The order imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, in particular those who sought to receive pensions and government benefits, which ceased distribution in the territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in 2014.

The HRMMU repeatedly voiced concern about reports of corruption by checkpoint personnel on both sides, including demands for bribes or goods in exchange for easing passage across the line of contact. Russian-backed separatists continued to hinder freedom of movement in the eastern part of the country during the year. In April the crossing checkpoint in Stanytsia Luhanska was closed due to shelling by Russian-backed separatist forces and, as of December, it was open only for pedestrians. Russian-backed separatists have also consistently prevented civilians from crossing at the Zolote checkpoint in Luhansk oblast.

The government and Russian occupation authorities subjected individuals crossing between Russian-occupied Crimea and the mainland to strict passport controls at the administrative boundary between the Kherson oblast and Crimea. Authorities prohibited rail and commercial bus service across the administrative boundary, requiring persons either to cross on foot or by private vehicle. The three crossing points between Russian-occupied Crimea and mainland Ukraine were closed on several occasions in early August, creating long lines of individuals who were prevented from freely moving across the administrative boundary. As of August 15, the movement of vehicles and persons fully resumed but slowed due to enhanced security measures.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of November 15, there were more than 1.7 million registered internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and occupation of Crimea. Some NGOs and international organizations estimated the number to be lower, since some persons returned to their homes after registering as IDPs, while others registered while still living in the conflict zone. The largest number of IDPs resided in areas immediately surrounding the conflict zones, in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, as well as in the Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in hope that they would be able to return home.

The government granted social entitlements only to those individuals who had registered as IDPs. By law IDPs are eligible to receive payments of 880 hryvnias ($33) per month for children and persons with disabilities and 440 hryvnias ($16) per month for those able to work. Families may receive no more than 2,400 hryvnias ($89) per month. According to the law, the government should provide IDPs with housing, but authorities had not taken effective steps to do so. Humanitarian aid groups had good access to areas under government control.

On February 16, the Ministry of Social Policy instructed its regional offices and local departments to suspend all social payments for IDPs, pending verification of their presence in government-controlled territory, ostensibly to combat fraudulent payments. According to the HRMMU, following this decision the SBU provided regional administrations with lists of individuals whose social entitlements should be revoked pending verification. The HRMMU reviewed a list that the SBU submitted to the regional administration in Kharkiv and determined that it was developed from information in the SBU database on individuals who received permits to cross the contact line. On June 8, the government adopted amendments to resolutions on IDPs to allow for automatic termination of benefits and prescribing two to six months for reinstatement, depending on the grounds for termination. The HRMMU, the human rights ombudsperson, the Council of Europe, and other domestic and international human rights and humanitarian groups criticized these amendments.

According to the HRMMU, the government applied the IDP verification procedure extremely broadly. The suspensions affected approximately 85 percent of IDPs residing in government-controlled areas and 97 percent of those residing in areas under the control of Russian-backed separatists, particularly the elderly and disabled whose limited mobility hindered their ability to verify whether they were included in the lists or prove their residency. The government often suspended payments without notification, and IDPs reported problems having them reinstated. In one case the HRMMU interviewed a female IDP with disabilities in Kramatorsk, who was also the single parent of a 13-year-old daughter with disabilities. She incidentally discovered that all of her other social payments had also been cut, including her disability pension.

According to the HRMMU, IDP integration remained impeded by the lack of a state strategy and the consequent absence of allocation of financial resources, leading to IDPs’ economic and social marginalization. Local civil society organizations and international humanitarian organizations provided the bulk of assistance for IDPs on a temporary basis. NGOs reported that their ability to support IDPs was limited and nearing exhaustion. UN agencies reported that the influx of IDPs led to tensions arising from competition for resources. Critics accused internally displaced men who moved to western areas of the country of evading military service, while competition rose for housing, employment, and educational opportunities in Kyiv and Lviv.

A shortage of employment opportunities and the generally weak economy particularly affected IDPs, forcing many to live in inadequate housing, such as collective centers and other temporary accommodation. As of July 1, there were 271 such collective centers housing more than 10,000 persons. Other IDPs stayed with host families, volunteers, and in private accommodation, although affordable private accommodation was often in poor condition.

UN agencies expressed concern about instances of eviction of IDPs from the collective centers. On September 29, 22 elderly IDPs, including two disabled persons, were evicted from the Kuialnyk sanatorium in Odesa. A representative from the Odesa regional administration stated that the management of the sanatorium had suspended utilities on September 26 due to nonpayment of bills. While collective center accommodation was only intended as a temporary solution, many IDPs remained for extended periods.

There were reports of government officials expressing discriminatory views toward IDPs. For example, on September 23, Minister of Internal Affairs Avakov publicly attributed an increase in the crime rate to an inflow of IDPs, provoking a public outcry.

NGOs reported employment discrimination against IDPs. Some IDPs, particularly those in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, lacked sufficient sanitation, shelter, and access to potable water. IDPs continued to have difficulty obtaining education, medical care, and necessary documents. Romani activists expressed concern that some Roma in eastern areas could not afford to flee conflict areas, while others had no choice but to leave their homes.

In September 2015 the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal overturned a National Bank decision that Crimean IDPs were nonresidents, which had restricted access to banking and financial services for those fleeing the Russian occupation. Nonetheless, media reports indicated that banks continued to restrict banking services for Crimean IDPs even after the court decision.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a legal system to protect refugees. Protection for refugees and asylum seekers was insufficient due to gaps in the law and the system of implementation. The country is a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria.

Human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of who is a refugee. The law permits authorities to reject many asylum applications without a thorough case assessment. In other instances government officials declined to accept initial asylum applications without a legal basis, leaving asylum seekers without documentation and vulnerable to frequent police stops, fines, detention, and exploitation. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within the prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance. Asylum seekers have five days to appeal an order of detention or deportation.

A lack of access to qualified interpreters also hampered the full range of asylum procedures. International observers noted that the government did not provide resources for interpreters, which created opportunities for corruption and undermined the fairness of asylum application procedures.

Refoulement: The government did not provide for protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers to a country where there was reason to believe their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. UNHCR described refoulement at the border as a “largely hidden phenomenon,” as persons seeking asylum may not receive legal aid or interpretation at border crossing points or temporary holding facilities and were, therefore, unable to apply for asylum before being deported. Human rights groups noted the law offers legal protection against forcible return.

Employment: Authorities did not provide employment assistance, and most asylum seekers were unable to obtain a work permit as required by law. Authorities provided language instruction for asylum seekers only in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa. Some attempted to work illegally, increasing their risk of exploitation.

Access to Basic Services: The national plan on the integration of refugees adopted by the government did not allocate resources for its implementation. Human rights groups reported that authorities did not provide social and economic support to asylum seekers or assist them. Authorities did not provide language courses or social assistance. A UNHCR report indicated all newly recognized refugees received a one-time grant of approximately 30 hryvnias ($1.10).

Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 320 persons and could accommodate approximately 20 percent of asylum applicants. Asylum seekers living outside a center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly fined them more than 500 hryvnias ($19) because they lacked this registration. According to the State Migration Service, refugees and those seeking complementary protection could receive residence registration at homeless shelters for up to six months.

UNHCR noted an improvement in the quantity and quality of food provided in the migrant custody centers as well as a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods. According to UNHCR, gaps in housing and social support for unaccompanied children left many without access to state-run accommodation centers or children’s shelters. As of November 1, seven unaccompanied migrant children were registered, five of whom expressed a desire to apply for refugee status. Many children had to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; authorities provided it to approximately 618 persons during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to law, a person may acquire citizenship by birth, territorial origin, naturalization, restored citizenship, and adoption.

According to UNHCR, there were 35,179 persons in the country under its statelessness mandate as of mid-2015. According to the State Migration Service, at the end of the year there were 5,343 stateless persons residing in the country.

The law requires establishing identity through a court procedure, which demanded more time and money than some applicants had. UNHCR reported Roma were at particular risk for statelessness, since many did not have birth certificates or any other types of documentation to verify their identity.

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. On July 17, parliamentary by-elections were conducted in seven constituencies.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 citizens elected Petro Poroshenko president in an election considered free and fair by international and domestic observers. Later that year the country held early parliamentary elections that observers also considered free and fair. In October 2015 the country held nationwide local elections.

On July 17, citizens in seven constituencies voted in parliamentary by-elections. According to the OSCE observer mission, the elections were organized and democratic but influenced by economic interests. According to OPORA, a human rights NGO that monitored elections in the country, some candidates started campaigning prematurely, leading to unfair advantages for certain candidates and parties. OPORA considered the elections to be free and fair with electoral irregularities that were not systemic.

IDPs were unable to vote in local elections unless they changed their registration to their new place of residence.

Political Parties and Political Participation: On February 25, President Poroshenko signed a bill that allows political parties to wait until after an election to select which members from a party list will take seats in the Verkhovna Rada. The law was widely criticized by domestic and international election monitoring groups, as it shifts the power of selecting deputies from the electorate to the leadership of political parties.

The Communist Party remains banned.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws limiting the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process and women and minorities did so.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, although authorities did not effectively implement the law, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the number of reports of government corruption was low, corruption remained pervasive at all levels in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government and in society.

During the year multiple high-level officials who had been brought into the government to oversee anticorruption reform processes resigned due to efforts to impede their work. Complaining of ingrained corruption, Minister of Economy Aivaras Abromavicius resigned in February and was followed by some members of his team. Abromavicius stated in his resignation letter that corrupt officials had blocked systematic reform and were attempting to gain influence over state enterprises.

Corruption: While the government publicized several attempts to combat corruption, it remained a serious problem for citizens and businesses alike. The law establishes two governmental anticorruption bodies, the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) and the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU).

As of October 1, the NABU had launched 243 criminal proceedings in corruption cases with support from the newly created Specialized Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office. Authorities tried 31 corruption cases involving 70 persons, including judges, prosecutors, and state officers, but many were for minor violations. In a major anticorruption case, the Verkhovna Rada stripped Member of Parliament Oleksandr Onyshchenko of immunity from prosecution in July under suspicion of corruption and embezzlement. At year’s end he remained a fugitive outside the country, and the investigation continued.

Civil society criticized the Prosecutor General’s Office and the judicial system for failing to hold high-level officials to account for corruption. According to the anticorruption watchdog group, Nashi Hroshi, between July 2015 and July 2016, 952 persons were convicted of corruption. Of these individuals 312 were fined (70 percent of these fines were below 20,000 hryvnias ($740)), 336 persons received suspended sentences, and 137 had their convictions overturned. One hundred twenty-eight persons were sentenced to prison; of these individuals 33 were serving sentences, while the rest had appeals pending. Of the 952 persons convicted for corruption, only three were officials of significant stature: two heads of district administrations and one deputy head of the state agricultural inspectorate. As of July all three cases were undergoing appeals, and the defendants had yet to begin serving their sentences.

While members of the Verkhovna Rada are immune from prosecution, several members, such as Onyshchenko, were stripped of immunity for prosecution during the year. Judges may not be arrested or detained before courts convict them, unless the Verkhovna Rada rescinds their immunity.

The NAPC is responsible for the development of national anticorruption policies, monitoring national compliance with anticorruption legislation, and verifying asset declarations of high officials. The NAPC, established in March 2015, began operations in May.

The law designates NABU as the lead investigative agency for allegations of corruption by senior government officials, including the president, members of the Cabinet of Ministers, members of the Verkhovna Rada, and local governors. NABU is responsible only for investigating corruption offenses committed after its creation in 2015. The Prosecutor General’s Office had 25,000 open corruption cases that predated the creation of NABU.

There were reports that the Prosecutor General’s Office took steps during the year to hinder NABU’s ability to investigate high-level corruption. On August 5, an investigative group from the Prosecutor General’s Office raided the NABU headquarters in Kyiv, alleging that NABU had illegally wiretapped its employees. On August 12, Prosecutor General’s Office staff allegedly unlawfully detained and beat two NABU detectives who they asserted were engaged in wiretapping. On September 20, three Prosecutor General’s Office employees were suspended pending the outcome of an internal investigation, which continued at year’s end.

According to the Justice Ministry, implementation of a 2014 law on “lustration” was 99 percent completed. Some 700,000 civil servants and state officials were on the list for lustration. The checks resulted in the dismissal of approximately 1,000 state officials. According to the Parliamentary Anticorruption Committee, 80 percent of state officials from the Yanukovych era were discharged from their posts. Law enforcement and judicial agencies, however, avoided full compliance with the law. The SBU subjected only 50 staff members to lustration. The judiciary lustrated only 40 judges, eight of whom contested the decision in court and were restored to their positions.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates the filing of income and expenditure declarations by public officials, and a special review process allows for public access to declarations and sets penalties for either not filing or filing a false declaration.

By law, the NACP is responsible for reviewing financial declarations and monitoring the income and expenditures of high-level officials. On August 15, the government officially launched an asset e-declaration system. By the conclusion of the first phase on November 1, more than 120,000 officials had submitted e-declarations, indicating near total compliance. The results were made publicly available, provoking public outcry about the lavish lifestyles of many public officials. By law the NAPC reviews the declarations and refers suspected corruption cases to the NABU for further action. Some observers questioned, however, whether the NAPC had the capacity to fulfill this function.

Public Access to Information: The constitution and law require authorities to provide government information upon request, unless it pertains to national security. By law officials must respond to regular requests within five days and within 20 days to requests for large amounts of data. Requesters can appeal denials within agencies and ultimately to the court system. Instructions for filing information requests were a common and conspicuous component of government websites. Implementation of the law on public access to government information and training of officials on the regulations governing such access remained inadequate.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views. The government invited human rights groups to participate in monitoring activities, drafting legislation, and adopting administrative rules.

International and domestic human rights groups collaborated with the government to draft the National Human Rights Strategy and related action plan in 2015. During the year civil society closely monitored implementation and expressed concern about government progress on the action plan. Representatives from the human rights ombudsman’s office noted that, as of September 23, the strategy remained largely unimplemented and cited concerted resistance from certain ministries, including the Ministries of Justice and Health, to cooperating with the office on implementation. Human rights groups described particular government resistance to implementing points in the plan that related to the rights of IDPs. The HRMMU stated that, in the Ministry of Justice’s first progress report on the plan, some activities marked as completed were implemented only partially or not in substance.

The Ministry of Justice, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s, and civil society groups such as the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union participated in open hearings in December to mark the one-year anniversary of the action plan. Nongovernmental representatives reported slow progress and weak intragovernmental coordination, but both government representatives and human rights activists indicated progress in justice sector reform and the provision of social services.

Russian authorities and the separatists they backed routinely denied domestic and international human rights groups access to territories they controlled in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation (see section 2.b.).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with international organizations, such as the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the HRMMU.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for a human rights ombudsman, officially designated as parliamentary commissioner on human rights. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office frequently collaborated with NGOs through civic advisory councils on various projects for monitoring human rights practices in prisons and other government institutions (see sections 1.c. and 1.d.).

Valeriya Lutkovska served as parliamentary ombudsman for human rights during the year, and observers considered her office an effective promoter of human rights. The office was a partner with leading domestic human rights groups and an advocate on behalf of Crimean Tatars, IDPs, Roma, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and prisoners.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape but does not explicitly address spousal rape. The courts may use a law against “forced sex with a materially dependent person” as grounds to prosecute spousal rape. Under the law authorities can detain a person for up to five days for offenses related to domestic violence and spousal abuse.

Sexual assault and rape continued to be significant but underreported problems. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, through September there were 355 registered reports of rape or attempted rape of which authorities brought 47 to court.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. Spousal abuse was common. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, 922 cases of domestic violence were registered during the first nine months of the year, and 833 cases were brought to court. Advocacy groups asserted the percentage of women subjected to physical violence or psychological abuse at home remained high. Human rights groups noted the ability of agencies to detect and report cases of domestic violence was limited, and preventive services remained underfunded and underdeveloped. Additionally, human rights groups stated that law enforcement authorities did not consider domestic violence to be a serious crime but rather a private matter to be settled between spouses.

According to the Kyiv-based international women’s rights center, La Strada, Russian aggression in the Donbas region led to a dramatic surge in violence against women across the country. Human rights groups attributed the increase in violence to post-traumatic stress experienced by IDPs fleeing the conflict and by soldiers returning from combat. IDPs reported instances of rape and sexual abuse; many claimed to have fled because they feared sexual abuse. There were no special social services available to women IDPs. According to the Ministry for Social Policy, police issued approximately 38,000 domestic violence warnings and protection orders during a six-month period. According to the ministry, approximately 65,000 persons were under police monitoring in connection with domestic violence. Punishment included fines, administrative arrest, and community service.

La Strada operated a national hotline for victims of violence and sexual harassment. Through September more than 24,000 individuals called the hotline for assistance, and 35 percent of the calls related to domestic or sexual violence. According to La Strada, more than 49 percent of calls related to psychological violence. The NGO reported that expanded public awareness campaigns increased the number of requests for assistance it received each year.

Although the law requires the government to operate a shelter in every major city, it did not do so, in part due to lack of municipal funding. During the year officials identified 19 centers for social and psychological help and nine centers for psychological and legal help for women who suffered from domestic violence.

According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of July 1, government centers provided domestic violence-related services, in the form of sociopsychological assistance, to 423 families with children and 3,934 individuals. Social services centers monitored families in matters related to domestic violence and child abuse. NGOs operated additional centers for victims of domestic violence in several regions, but women’s rights groups noted that many nongovernment shelters closed due to lack of funding.

According to women’s advocacy groups, municipal and privately funded shelters were not always accessible. Shelters were frequently full, and resources were limited. Some shelters did not function throughout the year, and administrative restrictions prevented women and families from accessing services. For example, some shelters would only accept children of certain ages, while others did not admit women not registered as local residents. Government centers offered only limited legal, psychological, and economic assistance to survivors of domestic violence. Each center could accommodate approximately 30 women and children, which was often inadequate.

Sexual Harassment: The law puts sexual harassment in the same category as discrimination, but women’s rights groups asserted there was no effective mechanism to protect against sexual harassment. They reported continuing and widespread sexual harassment, including coerced sex, in the workplace. Women rarely sought legal recourse because courts declined to hear their cases and rarely convicted perpetrators. Women’s groups also cited a persistent culture of sexism and harassment.

While the law prohibits coercing a “materially dependent person” to have sexual intercourse, legal experts stated that safeguards against harassment were inadequate.

Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.

Discrimination: The law provides that women enjoy the same rights as men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws, and are entitled to receive equal pay for equal work. In practice women received lower salaries than men (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Either birthplace or parentage determines citizenship. A child born to stateless parents residing permanently in the country is a citizen. The law requires that parents register a child within a month of birth.

Registration of children born in Crimea or areas in the east controlled by Russian-backed separatists remained difficult. Authorities required hospital paperwork to register births. Russian-backed separatist “authorities” routinely kept such paperwork if parents registered children in territories under their control, making it difficult for the child to obtain a Ukrainian birth certificate. Additionally, authorities do not recognize documents issued by Russian-occupied Crimean or Russian-backed separatist entities and sometimes refused to issue birth certificates to children born in those areas.

Child Abuse: As of September 30, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported 4,817 crimes against children. Human rights groups noted that authorities lacked the capability to detect violence against children and refer victims for assistance. Preventive services remained underfunded and underdeveloped. There were also instances of forced labor involving children (see section 7.c.).

Authorities did not take effective measures at the national level to protect children from abuse and violence and to prevent such problems. Parliament’s ombudsman for human rights noted the imperfection of mechanisms to protect children who survived violence or witnessed violence, in particular violence committed by their parents. According to the law parents were legal representatives of children, even if they perpetrated violence against them. There is no procedure for appointing a temporary legal representative of a child during the investigation of a case of parental violence.

The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman for Human Rights includes a representative for children’s rights, nondiscrimination, and gender equality. As of August 31, the office had received 552 complaints regarding children’s rights.

A major consequence of Russian aggression in the Donbas was its effect on children. In January the law On Protection of Childhood was amended to include a provision supporting children affected by the armed conflict. In August the Ukrainian Institute of Extremism Research reported that fighting killed 166 children since the conflict started in 2014. According to UNICEF the conflict has affected 1.7 million children, including approximately 230,000 forced from their homes. Children living in areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists did not receive nutritional and shelter assistance. Human rights groups reported that children who experienced the conflict or fled from territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists suffered psychological trauma. UNICEF reported that 200,000 children in the Donbas needed psychological rehabilitation, and approximately 580,000 urgently needed aid.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. If it finds marriage to be in the child’s interest, a court may grant a child as young as 16 permission to marry. Romani rights groups reported early marriages involving girls under the age of 18 were common in the Romani community.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The minimum prison sentence for child rape is 10 years. Molesting children under the age of 16 is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. The same offense committed against a child under the age of 14 is punishable by imprisonment for five to eight years. The age of consent is 16.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs recorded 274 sexual crimes against children during the year. Sexual exploitation of children, however, remained significantly underreported. Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem.

Domestic and foreign law enforcement officials reported that a significant amount of child pornography on the internet continued to originate in the country. The International Organization for Migration reported that children from socially disadvantaged families and those in state custody continued to be at high risk of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation and the production of pornography. Courts may limit access to websites that disseminate child pornography and impose financial penalties and prison sentences on those operating the websites.

Child Soldiers: There were reports that Russian-backed separatists used child soldiers in the conflict in the east of the country (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: According to the Ministry of Social Policy, authorities registered more than 235,700 children as IDPs. Human rights groups believed this number was low, as children who fled without their parents cannot register as IDPs unless another relative officially files for custody, which can be a lengthy process. The majority of IDP children were from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.

Institutionalized Children: The child welfare system continued to rely on long-term residential care for children at social risk or without parental care, although the number of residential care institutions continued to drop. During the year some 100,000 orphans and other children deprived of parental care lived and studied in various types of boarding schools. Approximately 90 percent of such children ended in the schools because of their parents’ poverty, their inability to raise children, or the child’s developmental disorders.

In recent years the government implemented policies to address the abandonment of children and their reintegration with their biological families. Consequently, the number of children deprived of parental care decreased. Human rights groups and media reported unsafe, inhuman, and sometimes life-threatening conditions in some institutions. Children institutionalized in state-run orphanages were at times vulnerable to trafficking. Officials of several state-run institutions and orphanages were allegedly complicit or willfully negligent in the sex and labor trafficking of girls and boys under their care.

Observers noted the judicial system lacked the expertise to work effectively with minors, and the legal process for juveniles emphasized punishment over rehabilitation. Supportive social services were often lacking, and children in custody or under supervision faced bureaucratic and social barriers to reintegration. Authorities viewed imprisonment as a form of supervision and punishment rather than correction and education.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to census data and international Jewish groups, an estimated 103,600 Jews lived in the country, constituting approximately 0.2 percent of the population. According to the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD), there were approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country, although the number may be higher. Before Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, according to VAAD approximately 30,000 Jewish persons lived in the Donbas. Jewish groups estimated between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.

Jewish community leaders reported that societal anti-Semitism was low, and authorities took steps to address problems of anti-Semitism when they arose. Institutional anti-Semitism was rare, and VAAD stated that attacks were isolated and carried out by individuals rather than organized groups. VAAD claimed that negative attitudes towards Jews and Judaism continued to be low, although some individuals espoused anti-Semitic beliefs. VAAD believed that some attacks were provocations meant to discredit the government. In September the Jewish pilgrimage to the Uman burial site of Rabbi Nachman took place without significant incidents. On December 21, however, unknown individuals vandalized the site with a pig’s head and blood. Authorities opened an investigation into the incident and immediately condemned it.

In July authorities named a street in Kyiv after former Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) leader, Stepan Bandera. In response according to press reports, more than 20 Ukrainian Jewish groups published a statement condemning, as a form of Holocaust denial, the naming of streets for leaders of the OUN and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA),. Some international scholars also objected. At the same time, authorities also named a street in Kyiv in honor of Janusz Korczak, a Polish-Jewish writer who had died in Auschwitz.

According to the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG) supported by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and VAAD, one case of suspected anti-Semitic violence was recorded during the year, compared to one case of anti-Semitic violence in 2015, four such cases in 2014, and four in 2013. The NMRMG identified 18 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism during the year, as compared to 22 in 2015 and 23 in 2014. Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv and other cities. On January 13, arsonists damaged a Jewish cemetery in Kolomiya, following similar attacks in 2015. On March 4, unknown persons set fire to a wreath left by the Israeli minister of justice at the Babyn Yar memorial. On April 15, vandals defaced a monument to the Holocaust in Cherkasy. In May, on Israel’s national memorial day for the Holocaust, an unknown group of persons burned an Israeli flag at the Babyn Yar memorial. There were reportedly several anti-Semitic incidents targeting the memorial during the year.

Senior government officials and politicians from various political parties continued efforts to combat anti-Semitism by speaking out against extremism and social intolerance and criticizing anti-Semitic acts. On September 29, the government held a commemoration ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre, during which 33,771 Jews were killed in two days during the Nazi German occupation.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, and the provision of other state services. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

The law requires the government to provide access to public venues and opportunities for involvement in public, educational, cultural, and sporting activities for persons with disabilities. The law also requires employers to take into account the individual needs of employees with disabilities. The government generally did not enforce these laws. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, approximately 25 percent of persons with disabilities were employed.

Advocacy groups maintained that, despite the legal requirements, most public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities, restricting the ability of such persons to participate in society. Access to employment, education, health care, transportation, and financial services remained difficult (see section 7.d.).

There were reports of societal discrimination against persons with disabilities in places of public accommodation. For example, February media reports described how a young man in Lviv, who used a wheelchair, had been repeatedly denied membership in a fitness club since 2014. The club’s management gave several reasons for its refusal, including that his wheelchair could spread disease in the facility and that the man’s disability could scare off other patrons.

Inclusive education remained problematic. Authorities often did not integrate students with disabilities into the general student population. Only secondary schools offered classes for students with disabilities. State employment centers lacked resources to place students with disabilities in appropriate jobs.

NGOs noted the government was unable to provide outpatient care to persons with disabilities, thus putting the main burden on their families and forcing them to place children and sometimes adults with disabilities in state institutions.

Government policy favored institutionalization of children with disabilities over placement with their families. The state cared for more than 70,000 of the country’s estimated 150,000 children with disabilities, but lacked the legal framework and funds to deinstitutionalize them. Programs to provide for the basic needs of children with disabilities and inpatient and outpatient therapy programs were underfunded and understaffed. The inadequate number of educational and training programs for children with disabilities left many isolated and limited their professional opportunities in adulthood. Persons with disabilities in areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country suffered from a lack of appropriate care.

Patients in mental health facilities remained at risk of abuse, and many psychiatric hospitals continued to use outdated methods and medicines. According to the Ukrainian Psychiatric Association, insufficient funding, patients’ lack of access to legal counsel, and poor enforcement of legal protections deprived patients with disabilities of their right to adequate medical care.

Government monitors observed incidents of involuntary seclusion and application of physical restraints to persons with mental disabilities at psychiatric and neuropsychiatric institutions of the Ministry of Social Policy. Health-care authorities placed patients in isolated and unequipped premises or even metal cages, where authorities held them for long periods without proper access to sanitation.

By law employers must set aside 4 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. NGOs noted that many of those employed to satisfy the requirement received nominal salaries but did not actually work at their companies.

On September 7, parliament adopted legislation to harmonize the country’s law with international standards with respect to the rights of persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Mistreatment of minority groups and harassment of foreigners of non-Slavic appearance remained problems. NGOs dedicated to combating racism and hate crimes observed that overall xenophobic incidents declined slightly during the year.

The law criminalizes deliberate actions to incite hatred or discrimination based on nationality, race, or religion, including insulting the national honor or dignity of citizens in connection with their religious and political beliefs, race, or skin color. The law imposes increased penalties for hate crimes; premeditated killing on grounds of racial, ethnic, or religious hatred carries a 10- to 15-year prison sentence. Penalties for other hate crimes include fines of 3,400 to 8,500 hryvnias ($126 to $315) or imprisonment for up to five years.

Human rights organizations stated that the requirement to prove actual intent, including proof of premeditation, to secure a conviction made application of the law difficult. Authorities did not prosecute any of the criminal proceedings under the laws on racial, national, or religious offenses. Police and prosecutors continued to prosecute racially motivated crimes under laws against hooliganism or related offenses.

According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, authorities registered 58 criminal investigations involving racial, national, or religious hatred during the first nine months of the year. Of these cases 13 were closed and 15 were forwarded to court. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), reported as of October 31, 10 documented cases of violence against racial or ethnic minorities that involved 17 victims. Victims of the attacks were from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Jordan, Nigeria, and Syria, as well as citizens of Tajik, Jewish, and Muslim descent. Most of the incidents occurred in Dnipropetrovsk, Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa. There were cases of vandalism, including arson, targeting Jewish and Romani property in the Dnipropetrovsk, Cherkasy, and Zakarpattya Oblasts and in Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, and Mykolaev.

On January 4, the Pechersk District Court in Kyiv sentenced a participant in a racist attack at a Dynamo Kyiv football match to two years in prison. Investigations into other persons involved remained open.

Roma continued to face governmental and societal discrimination. Romani rights groups estimated the Romani population at between 200,000 and 400,000. Official census data placed the number at 47,600. The discrepancy in population estimates was due in part to a lack of legal documentation for many Roma. According to experts there were more than 100 Romani NGOs, but most lacked capacity to act as effective advocates or service providers for the Romani community. Romani settlements were mainly located in the Zakarpattya, Poltava, Cherkasy, Volyn, Dnipropetrovsk, and Odesa Oblasts. Roma experienced significant barriers accessing education, health care, social services, and employment due in part to discriminatory attitudes against them.

There were reports of societal violence against Roma during the year, including cases in which police declined to intervene to stop the violence. On August 27, police failed to stop a mob from attacking a Romani settlement near Loshchynivka, Odesa Oblast, and watched while the mob vandalized Romani homes and set at least one on fire. The mob formed in reaction to the news that police arrested a man of Romani heritage in connection with the killing and rape of a local nine-year-old girl. In subsequent days local authorities announced a plan to evict Roma from their homes forcibly but cancelled the plans after the majority of recently arrived Roma fled of their own accord. Odesa’s regional governor, Mikhail Saakashvili, appeared to condone the evictions, stating, “I fully share the outrage of the residents of Loshchynivka…there is massive drug-dealing in which the antisocial elements that live there are engaged. We should have fundamentally dealt with this problem earlier–and now it’s simply obligatory.”

There were several reports during the year that police arbitrarily detained Romani individuals, at times beating or mistreating them.

While the government in 2013 adopted a seven-year action plan to implement a strategy for protecting and integrating Roma into society, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) reported that it had not led to significant improvements for Roma. The ERRC monitored the plan in collaboration with the International Renaissance Foundation. According to human rights groups, the government did not allocate funds for the plan’s implementation.

According to parliament’s ombudsman for human rights, 24 percent of Roma have never had any schooling, and only 1 percent of the Romani population had a university degree. Approximately 31 percent of Romani children did not attend school. According to the ERRC, more than 60 percent of Roma were unemployed, creating a vicious cycle leading to social exclusion and marginalization. According to the ombudsman, securing employment was the main problem for the Romani minority. Approximately 49 percent of Roma named it as their most significant challenge.

According to the Romani women’s foundation, Chiricli, local authorities erected a number of barriers to prevent issuing passports to Roma. Authorities hampered access to education for persons who lacked documents and segregated Romani children into special schools or lower-quality classrooms.

During the year many Roma fled settlements in areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists and moved elsewhere in the country. According to Chiricli approximately 10,000 Roma were among the most vulnerable members of the country’s IDP community. Because many Roma lacked documents, obtaining IDP assistance, medical care, and education was especially difficult.

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

The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. No law, however, prohibits such discrimination in other areas. LGBTI groups, along with international and domestic human rights organizations, criticized the lack of such language in the National Human Rights Strategy, although the action plan for implementation included provisions for incorporating LGBTI rights.

There was sporadic violence against LGBTI persons. For example, on February 28, hooligans assaulted two persons in Odesa after calling them a derogatory slur. While homophobic threats from right-wing nationalist groups continued, their presence at festivals and marches was often limited to several dozen counterprotesters. Although leading politicians and ministers condemned attacks on LGBTI gatherings and individuals, local officials sometimes voiced opposition to LGBTI rights and failed to protect LGBTI persons.

Overall, LGBTI groups enjoyed greater freedom to assemble than in past years. In most cases security forces and local officials deployed adequate security forces to prevent violence and protect conferences and marches. For example, security forces provided protection to an equality march in Kyiv on June 6 and a pride march in Odesa on August 11. In the case of the equality march, authorities deployed more than 6,000 security personnel, protecting more than 2,000 marchers including members of parliament. Police also adequately protected the equality festivals in Kyiv in May, in Dnipro in July, and in Zaporizhzhya in September. During an equality festival in Kyiv, right-wing groups telephoned a bomb threat. Instead of cancelling the event, security forces cleared the building, allowing the event to continue.

One notable exception was the Lviv equality festival on March 19. Hotels and conference spaces refused to honor reservations made by the festival, allegedly under pressure from city officials, who then banned all public gatherings. After the festival relocated to another hotel, security officials allowed right-wing radicals to threaten participants. After a bomb threat cancelled the conference, security forces evacuated participants on buses and took no action to prevent attacks from radicals, who threw rocks and firecrackers. Security forces failed to take action against right-wing groups that “went on safari,” seeking persons suspected of being LGBTI for attack throughout the next day. According to civil society groups, assailants injured five persons after the festival.

Nash Mir LGBT Human Rights Center reported 215 instances in which persons allegedly violated the rights of LGBTI persons in the country between January and September, including 133 instances of threats and 79 instances of violence, many related to attacks in and around the Lviv equality festival. Nash Mir stated that while the number of incidents increased, there were no reports of murder or grievous harm done to LGBTI persons in the first half of the year. Crimes and discrimination against LGBTI persons remained underreported, however; and law enforcement authorities only opened 17 cases related to such acts. Nash Mir stated that extortion remained a problem and anti-LGBTI groups employed social media to entrap LGBTI persons.

Transgender persons continued to face discrimination and stereotyping in media. Medical policies towards transgendered persons improved somewhat, as, individuals no longer had to undergo sex reassignment surgery to change their names and genders officially and could do so with counseling and hormone therapy. This procedure was approved by the Ministry of Health and registered with the Ministry of Justice during the year. Regulations still prevent reassignment for married individuals and those with minor children. Transgender persons claimed to have difficulty obtaining official documents reflecting their gender.

According to Nash Mir, the situation of LGBTI persons in Russian-occupied Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of Russian-backed separatists was very poor. Most LGBTI persons either fled or have hidden their gender identity. According to a report published by the Center for Civil Liberties and Memorial’s Antidiscrimination Center in Saint Petersburg, violence and intimidation against LGBTI persons in territories controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts was widespread and encouraged by Russian and Russian-backed authorities. According to the report, the Occupy Pedophilia movement was active and tolerated by local and Russian authorities. The group used social media to identify LGBTI persons and then abused them physically and verbally. According to the report, a foreign victim was beaten and forced to perform degrading acts. The report also claimed that Russian-backed separatists forced suspected LGBTI persons to dig trenches for military fortifications if ransoms were not paid.

There was overall improvement during the year in social attitudes towards homosexuality and a decline in homophobic rhetoric from churches and leading political figures, and increasing numbers of Verkhovna Rada members voiced support for LGBTI rights. Seven Verkhovna Rada members participated in the June equality march in Kyiv.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

UNICEF reported that children with HIV/AIDS were at high risk of abandonment, social stigma, and discrimination. Authorities prevented many children infected with HIV/AIDS from attending kindergartens or schools. They were subjected to neglect and isolated from other children. The most at-risk adolescents faced higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDs as well as additional barriers to accessing information and services for its prevention and treatment. Persons with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination and, at times, lacked access to treatment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association as a fundamental right and establishes the right to participate in independent trade unions. The law also provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes. There are no laws or legal mechanisms to prevent antiunion discrimination, although the labor code requires employers to provide justification for layoffs and firings, and union activity is not an acceptable justification. Legal recourse is available for reinstatement, back wages, and punitive damages, although observers described court enforcement as arbitrary and unpredictable, with damages too low to create incentives for compliance on the part of employers.

The law contains several limits to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. A number of laws that apply to worker organizations are excessively complex and contradictory. Unions reported significant bureaucratic hurdles in the registration process, entailing the payment of multiple fees and requiring visits to as many as 10 different offices. Efforts to reform legal entity registration complicated registration specifically for trade unions. Independent unions reported multiple incidents of harassment by local law enforcement officials while navigating the registration process, including nonstandard requests for documentation and membership information.

The legal procedure to initiate a strike was overly complex and effectively prohibited strike action in practice, contributing to increasing numbers of informal industrial actions. By law industrial disputes should follow procedures of consideration, conciliation, and labor arbitration that parties can draw out for months. Only after the exhaustion of this process are workers able to vote to strike, which courts may still block. The right to strike is also restricted by the requirement that a large percentage of the workforce (two-thirds of general workers’ meeting delegates or 50 percent of workers in an enterprise) must vote in favor of a strike before it may be called. Poorly defined legal grounds for striking allowed the government the possibility to deny the right to strike due to national security or to protect the health or “rights and liberties” of citizens. Additionally, the law prohibits strikes by overly broad categories of workers, including personnel in the Prosecutor General’s Office, the judiciary, the armed forces, the security services, law enforcement agencies, the transportation sector, and the public service sector.

In 2014 the European Court of Human Rights adjudicated restrictions in the transportation sector, declaring restrictions on strikes in the sector illegal. The decision required the government to amend legislation in conformity with the ruling, but, as of December, it had not done so. Transportation-sector workers could also refer to the Law on Transport, which regulates the strikes in the transport sector and allows strikes in case of nonfulfillment of administrative duties by employer.

Legal hurdles also made it difficult for independent unions, those not affiliated with the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU), to take part in tripartite negotiations, participate in social insurance programs, or represent labor at the national and international levels. These legal hurdles, set in place by outdated laws and an obsolete labor code, further entrenched the FPU and hindered the ability of smaller independent unions to act effectively when representing their members. Authorities did not enforce labor laws effectively or consistently. On the regulatory side, inspectors were limited in number and funding (also see section 7.e.). Throughout the year the labor inspection service continued to be functionally suspended due to an incomplete reorganization.

Observers disputed the independence of unions from government or employer control. Independent trade unions alleged that the country’s largest trade union confederation, the FPU, enjoyed a close relationship with employers and members of some political parties. Authorities further denied unions not affiliated with the FPU a share of disputed trade union assets inherited by the FPU from Soviet-era unions, a dispute dating back more than a decade.

Statutory worker-management commissions were not always effective. Management at times dominated the commissions. There were cases where workers who renounced membership in an FPU-affiliated union and joined an independent union faced loss of pay, undesirable work assignments, and dismissal.

Several pieces of legislation passed during the year weakened protection of freedom of association, including the aforementioned law complicating trade union registration and a law complicating the tax status of trade unions.

Independent union representatives continued to be subjected to violence and intimidation. In January the deputy head of the Kryvyi Rih, Dnipropetrovsk chapter of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPGU), Elena Maslova, was beaten on her way home from work. NPGU president, Mykhaylo Volinets, claimed the attack was in response to Maslova’s union activities. The union reported that authorities have not identified any perpetrators and did not investigate the attack.

In February the president of the Novovolinsk chapter of the NPGU, Anatoliy Muhomedzhanov, was beaten in the office of the mine’s director. The trade union alleged that multiple witnesses saw who beat him, but police did not pursue the incident.

Arrears and corruption issues exacerbated industrial relations and led to numerous protests. In August the NPGU leader in Selidovo and Novogrodifka, Victor Trifonov, set himself on fire during a sit-in in the Kyiv building of the Ministry of Energy and Coal of Ukraine. In response government officials accused trade union members of siding with separatists in the east of the country.

In September the president of the Free Health-care Workers Union, Oleg Panasenko, reported that unknown persons destroyed a union protest camp at the entrance of the Ministry of Health, while police were present and failed to intervene.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations ranged from three to 15 years imprisonment and were sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to provide for enforcement. In the first nine months of the year, the IOM assisted 777 victims of trafficking in the country: 312 women and 465 men. Approximately 93 percent of the victims had been subjected to labor exploitation.

There were reports of trafficking of women, men, and children for labor. Traffickers subjected some foreign nationals to forced labor in construction, agriculture, manufacturing, domestic work, the lumber industry, nursing, and street begging. Traffickers subjected some children to forced labor (see section 7.c.) The government made minor efforts to prevent or eliminate forced labor, citing a lack of budgetary resources.

According to the IOM, identified victims of trafficking received comprehensive reintegration assistance, including legal aid, medical care, psychological counseling, financial support, vocational training, and other types of assistance based on individual needs.

Also, see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets 16 as the minimum age for most employment. Children who are 15 years of age may perform undefined “light work” with a parent’s consent, leaving the issue open to interpretation by employers and opening the system to abuse. The law allows children to do some forms of “nonhazardous” work beginning at 14 as part of an apprenticeship in the context of vocational training.

The government did not effectively enforce the law due to a lack of resources within the Ministry of Social Policy and a continued moratorium on surprise labor inspections for much of the year. Penalties for violations ranged from small fines for illegitimate employment or other labor law violations to prison sentences for sexual exploitation of a child or involvement of a child in illicit activities or pornography; they were insufficient to deter violations. The penalty for forcing children to beg is imprisonment for up to three years.

The most frequent violations of child labor laws related to work in hazardous conditions, long workdays, failure to maintain work records, and delayed salary payments.

As of September 20, the territorial bodies of the State Service on Labor had conducted 2,547 inspections in which they examined compliance with child labor laws. The inspections found 112 instances of the use of child labor and 105 violations of the law. The businesses inspected included 17 agricultural enterprises, 24 trade companies, 35 service providers, and 36 companies in other sectors. The inspections uncovered 252 working minors, of whom 56 were 14 to 15 years old and 196 were 16 to 18 years old.

There were reports of child soldiers among the Russian-backed separatist forces in the east of the country (see section 1.g., Child Soldiers).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic, social, and foreign origin, age, health, disability, HIV/AIDS condition, family and property status, or linguistic or other grounds.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and discrimination in employment and occupation reportedly occurred with respect to gender, disability, nationality, race, minority status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and HIV-positive status. The agriculture, construction, mining, heavy industry, and services sectors had the most work-related discrimination. The law provides for civil, administrative, and criminal liability for discrimination in the workplace. Penalties include a fine of up to 50 tax-free minimum incomes, correctional labor for a term of up to two years or restraint of liberty for a term up to five years, with or without the deprivation of the right to occupy certain positions or engage in certain activities for a term up to three years. Such actions accompanied by violence, are punishable by correctional labor for a term of up to two years, imprisonment for a term of up to five years, or imprisonment for a term of two to five years, if such actions were committed by an organized group of persons or if they caused death or other grave consequences.

Industries dominated by female workers had the lowest relative wages. Women received lower salaries due to limited opportunities for advancement and the types of industries that employed them. According to the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, men earned on average 29.5 percent more than women. Domestic and international observers noted that women held few elected or appointed offices at the national and regional levels. Additionally, the law limits women’s employment opportunities and prohibits women from engaging in more than 500 occupations, including bulldozer operator and bus driver.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage was 1,378 hryvnias ($51) from January 1 through April 30; it rose to 1,450 hryvnias ($54) on May 1 and to 1,600 hryvnias ($59) on December 1. As of January 1, 2017, the minimum wage for private-sector workers is to increase to 3,200 hryvnias ($119) according to the 2017 draft budget. The hourly minimum wage was 8.29 hryvnias ($0.31) from January through April and rose to 8.69 hryvnias ($0.32) on May 1 and to 9.29 hryvnias $.034) on December 1. Some workers in the informal sector received wages below the established minimum. The poverty income level rose during the year from 1,330 hryvnias ($49) per month to 1,399 hryvnias ($52) during the year.

The labor law provides for a maximum 40-hour workweek, with a minimum 42-hour period of rest per week and at least 24 days of paid vacation per year. It provides for double pay for overtime work and regulates the number of overtime hours allowed. The law requires agreement between employers and the respective local trade union organization on all overtime work and limits overtime to four hours during two consecutive days and 120 hours per year.

Wage arrears continued to be a major problem during the year. A lack of legal remedies, bureaucratic wrangling, and corruption in public and private enterprises, often blocked efforts to recover overdue wages, leading to significant wage theft.

In July the NPGU reported that arrears in the coal sector reached almost 496 million hryvnias ($18.4 million). Arrears and corruption issues exacerbated industrial relations and led to numerous protests.

Total wage arrears in the country rose during the year to 1.9 billion hryvnias ($70 million) as of September 1. More than half of the debt was in the Luhansk (23.2 percent), Donetsk, (19.6 percent), and Kharkiv (10.1 percent) regions.

The law requires employers to provide safe workplaces. While the law and associated regulations contain occupational safety and health standards, employers frequently ignored them due to the lack of enforcement mechanisms and the government’s failure to hold employers accountable for unsafe conditions. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardizing their continued employment. According to one NGO, employers in the metal and mining industries often violated the rule and retaliated against workers by pressuring them to quit.

Penalties for violations ranged from 510 to 1,700 hryvnias ($19 to $63), which were insufficient to deter violations. The State Labor Inspectorate was responsible for enforcing labor laws. Inspectors were limited in number and funding. By 2014, the latest date for which such data were available, the number of inspectors had dropped to 457 from 616, in large part due to a 70 percent funding cut that year.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards in all sectors, including the informal economy. Penalties for violations included fines of 50 to 100 tax-free minimum incomes, limitations on the right to occupy positions of responsibility or to engage in some activities for three to five years, correctional labor for up to two years, or arrest for up to six months if the actions committed affected a minor or a pregnant woman. It is impossible to determine whether these penalties were enough to deter violations as with little to no inspection regime, coupled with a largely nonfunctioning reporting mechanism, it was difficult for the government to detect violations. The government has had a moratorium in place on surprise inspections since 2014, with the goal of cutting the number of required inspections and certifications, deregulating the economy, and preventing corruption. The moratorium constrained the government’s ability to enforce labor laws effectively. During this period authorities required the State Labor Service and its predecessor, the State Labor Inspectorate, to pursue a lengthy interagency process to obtain permission from the Cabinet of Ministers to conduct an inspection. Labor inspections could also occur at a company’s request or upon the formal request of the investigator in the framework of criminal proceedings against a company.

Lax safety standards and aging equipment caused many injuries on the job. Wage arrears, nonpayment of overtime, operational safety problems, and health complaints were common in the mining industry.

Mineworkers, particularly in the illegal mining sector, faced very serious safety and health problems. Through September there were 144 incidents resulting in mining injuries, including 17 fatalities, or approximately 8 percent fewer injuries but 54 percent more fatalities than in the same period in 2015. During the same period, authorities reported 635 individual injuries to coal miners, or almost 17 percent above the same period in 2015. Also through September there were 3,168 occupational injuries for all employment types (including 298 fatalities), which was 0.5 percent (11 percent) above the same period in 2015. Workers faced unsafe situations in areas outside government control in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.

Despite Russian aggression close to industrial areas in the Donbas region, enterprises involved in mining, energy, media, retail, clay production, and transportation continued to operate through December. Fighting resulted in physical damage to mines and plants through loss of power, destroyed transformers, physical damage from shelling, and reportedly intentional flooding of mines by combined Russian-separatist forces. Miners were especially vulnerable, as loss of electrical power could strand them underground. Additionally, loss of electrical power threatened the operability of mine safety equipment that prevented the buildup of explosive gases.

Ukraine (Crimea)

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: UKRAINE | CRIMEA (BELOW)


In February 2014 Russian forces entered Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and occupied it militarily. In March 2014 Russia announced the peninsula had become part of the Russian Federation following a sham referendum that violated Ukraine’s constitution. On March 27, 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 68/262 on the “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine,” which called on states and international organizations not to recognize any change in Crimea’s status and affirmed the commitment of the UN to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. In April 2014 Ukraine’s legislature (Verkhovna Rada) adopted a law attributing responsibility for human rights violations in Crimea to the Russian Federation as the occupying state. The United States does not recognize the attempted “annexation” of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Russian law has de facto applied in Ukraine’s Crimea since the Russian occupation and purported “annexation” of the peninsula. For detailed information on the laws and practices of the Russian Federation, see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia.

A local authority installed by the Russian government and led by Sergey Aksyonov as “prime minister” of the “state council of the republic of Crimea” administered occupied Crimea. The “state council” was responsible for day-to-day administration and other functions of governing. On September 18, Russia’s nationwide parliamentary elections included seats allocated for occupied Crimea, a move widely condemned by the international community. “Authorities” closed the election to independent observers; it was not free and fair and was held in contravention of the Ukrainian constitution.

Russian authorities maintained control over Russian military and security forces deployed in Crimea.

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

The most significant human rights problems in Crimea during the year related directly to the Russian occupation.

Russian security services engaged in an extensive campaign of intimidation to suppress dissent and opposition to the occupation that employed kidnappings, disappearances, physical abuse, political prosecution, repeated interviews, and interrogations by security forces. Russian security forces routinely detained individuals without cause and harassed and intimidated neighbors and family of those who opposed the occupation.

Occupation authorities deprived members of certain groups, particularly ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, of fundamental civil liberties, including the freedom to express their nationality and ethnicity, subjecting them to systematic discrimination. On May 12, Russian authorities banned the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, a democratically elected body representing the Crimean Tatar people, claiming it was an extremist organization, and prohibited all meetings, gatherings, or financial activities of the group. Continuing their policy of imposing Russian citizenship on all residents of Crimea, occupation authorities subjected persons who refused Russian citizenship to discrimination in accessing education, health care, and employment. They also interfered with freedom of expression and assembly, criminalizing the display of cultural and national symbols, preventing groups of private individuals from celebrating their national and cultural heritage, and restricting access to education in Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages.

Russian authorities engaged in a widespread campaign to suppress free speech and media in Crimea. Independent media ceased to operate in Crimea. Occupation authorities questioned, detained, and charged with extremism the few remaining independent journalists who worked independently, often merely for expressing their belief that Crimea remained part of Ukraine.

Other problems included poor conditions in prisons and pretrial detention facilities; political interference in the judicial process; limitations on freedom of movement; the internal displacement of thousands of individuals to government-controlled Ukraine; failure to allow residents of Ukraine’s region of Crimea to exercise the ability to vote in periodic and genuine elections to choose their leaders; official corruption; discrimination and abuse of ethnic and religious minority groups; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; kidnapping and transport of orphans to Russia by occupation authorities; and employment discrimination against persons who did not hold a Russian passport.

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

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

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

Russian occupation authorities did not adequately investigate cases of abductions and killings of Crimean residents from 2014 and 2015. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 Crimean residents who had disappeared during the occupation were later found dead. Occupation authorities did not investigate other suspicious deaths and disappearances, occasionally categorizing them as suicide. Human rights observers reported that families frequently did not challenge findings in such cases due to fear of retaliation.

b. Disappearance

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, as of October 1, 28 persons had disappeared since the occupation of Crimea, including 12 later found dead. Russian occupation authorities did not adequately investigate the deaths and disappearances. Human rights groups reported that police often refused to register reports of disappearances and intimidated and threatened with detention those who tried to report a disappearance. Ukrainian government and human rights groups believed Russian security forces kidnapped the individuals for opposing Russia’s occupation to instill fear in the population and prevent dissent.

On May 24, a group of uniformed men kidnapped Ervin Ibragimov, a member of the Bakhchisaray Mejlis and of the Coordinating Council of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, after stopping his car on a road outside Bakhchisaray. Footage from a closed-circuit television camera showed the men forcing Ibragimov into a car and departing. According to the Crimea Human Rights Group, the men wore uniforms of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ traffic police. According to the HRMMU, on May 25, Ibragimov’s father went to the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Simferopol to file a complaint and provide the television footage. The FSB officers allegedly refused to file the complaint and told him to send it by mail. A week before he disappeared, Ibragimov told friends that he had noticed a car waiting outside his house that later followed him during the day. Ibragimov had planned to travel to the town of Sudak on May 25 to attend the court hearing of a group of Crimean Tatars charged for holding an “unauthorized” gathering on May 18 to mark Crimean Tatar Deportation Remembrance Day. On June 1, Ibragimov’s employment record book and passport were found near a bar in Bakhchisaray. While occupation authorities opened an investigation into the case, according to the Crimea Human Rights Group, they specifically excluded the possibility of a political motivation for the disappearance or of state involvement.

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

There were widespread reports that Russian authorities in Crimea abused residents who opposed the occupation. Human rights monitors reported that Russian occupying forces subjected Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in particular to physical abuse. For example, on June 11, Ukrainian blogger and activist, Yuri Ilchenko, escaped from house arrest in Sevastopol and fled across the administrative boundary to government-controlled Ukraine. Ilchenko had been awaiting trial on extremism charges from February 2015 for his online writings expressing his opposition to the occupation of Crimea. Ilchenko and his parents claimed to be the first individuals in Sevastopol formally to decline taking Russian citizenship. In August he gave several accounts to the press describing his mistreatment during detention in a pretrial facility in Simferopol that lasted from February 2015 through June 2. Ilchenko claimed that security officials had repeatedly beaten him and collaborated with other inmates to continue beatings and threats while he was in detention, to coerce him explicitly into taking Russian citizenship, and to punish him for speaking Ukrainian. He claimed they forced him to remain awake for days and beat him when he fell asleep in retaliation for refusing to wear a “St. George’s ribbon,” a Russian military symbol. Ilchenko claimed occupation authorities denied him clothing, bedding, and medical care.

Occupation authorities demonstrated a pattern of using punitive psychiatric incarceration as a means of pressuring detained individuals, including in the case of Ilmi Umerov (see section 1.d.). For example, on November 3, authorities ordered that six Crimean Tatar defendants accused of belonging to Hizb-ut-Tahrir be subjected to psychiatric evaluation and confinement against their will without apparent medical need (see section 1.d.).

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical Conditions: Prison and detention center conditions reportedly remained harsh and overcrowded. In June the director of the Russian Federal Prison System stated that Crimea lacked sufficient prison facilities and that there were twice as many inmates as there were cells necessary to house them. Human rights groups reported that prisons suffered from overcrowding and poor conditions.

According to a 2015 report on Crimea by the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, health care in prisons had deteriorated since the occupation began. Yuri Ilchenko reported that prisoners in the Simferopol pretrial detention facility lacked proper food, sanitation, and health care. On March 1, the Crimea Human Rights Group reported that a group of four Crimean Tatars detained in February on politically motivated “terrorism” charges were living in cells in a Simferopol pretrial facility that were infested with fleas and bedbugs, were forced to sleep in shifts on a single filthy bed, and given food that contained cockroaches.

Administration: According to the 2015 OSCE/ODIHR report, persons incarcerated during the Russian occupation did not have the opportunity to retain Ukrainian citizenship. Russian authorities compelled all individuals who were in prison or pretrial facilities when the occupation began to accept Russian citizenship. As of August the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Offices of Ukraine and Russia were working on a solution that would allow some prisoners to return to Ukraine.

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Occupation authorities arbitrarily detained protesters, activists, and journalists for opposing the Russian occupation.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Russian government agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB, the Federal Investigative Committee, and the Office of the Prosecutor General applied and enforced Russian law in Crimea. The FSB also conducted security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism activities and combatted organized crime and corruption. A “national police force” operated under the aegis of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

In addition to abuses committed by Russian forces, “self-defense forces,” largely consisting of former Ukrainian Ministry of Interior officers allegedly linked to local organized crime, reportedly continued to operate and commit abuses. These forces often acted with impunity in intimidating perceived occupation opponents and were involved in extrajudicial detentions and arbitrary confiscation of property. While the “law” places the “self-defense forces” under the authority of the “national police,” their members continued to commit abuses while receiving state funding for their activities as well as other rewards, such as beachfront property and service medals. For example, on December 8, members of “self-defense” forces allegedly beat two residents of the village of Shchelkino. Police arriving at the scene declined to arrest members of the self-defense forces. An investigation into the incident continued.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports that Russian occupation authorities made arbitrary arrests, in particular targeting Crimean Tatars.

On May 12, police arrested Ilmi Umerov, a member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, accusing him of “undermining the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation” for stating that Crimea remains part of Ukraine. Umerov, who suffered from health problems, has since been taken from court hearings in poor health. On August 18, Umerov was forcibly subjected to psychiatric hospitalization, ostensibly for an examination, exacerbating his health problems. On September 7, occupation authorities released him from the hospital following international publicity over the case. At year’s end his case remained in pretrial investigation.

As of October 25, occupation authorities had arrested 19 Crimean residents, mostly Crimean Tatars, accusing them of belonging to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamic organization prohibited in Russia but not Ukraine. Human rights groups believed occupation authorities intended to intimidate Crimean Tatars, discredit the Mejlis leadership, and instill fear in the local population to prevent dissent through the arrests.

Russian authorities continued to detain Akhtem Chiygoz, the deputy leader of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis. Russian authorities arrested Chiygoz in January 2015 and charged him with “inciting a mass riot” during protests he organized at the Crimean parliament in 2014 that were disrupted by pro-Russian activists, resulting in clashes between the groups. Subsequently, occupation authorities prosecuted individuals alleged to have participated in the protest, although Russia did not exercise control over Crimea at the time. Human rights groups reported that authorities reviewed video of the incident and selectively brought charges against leading Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian individuals who subsequently opposed the occupation, in particular members of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis. Video footage shows Chiygoz and other Crimean Tatar leaders working to defuse tensions in the hopes of avoiding clashes with counterprotesters. Occupation authorities refused to investigate acts of violence committed by pro-Russian “protesters,” who were likely working for Russian security services according to independent observers. On December 12, authorities extended Chiygoz’s detention until April 2017.

Throughout the year Russian authorities conducted mass arrests designed to humiliate and intimidate Crimean Tatars. On April 1, Russian security forces detained 35 men, mostly Crimean Tatars, in Pionierske, took them to a “center to combat extremism,” and collected DNA samples from them. Human rights groups claimed that Russian security forces attempted to recruit some as police informants. On May 6, Russian security forces detained more than 100 Crimean Tatars at a mosque in Molodizhne. On May 7, Russian security forces detained another 35 Muslims, many of whom were Crimean Tatars, at a market in Simferopol.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Under the Russian occupation regime, the “judiciary” was neither independent nor impartial.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Russian occupation authorities routinely detained and prosecuted individuals for political reasons (see section 1.d.). They also transferred Crimean cases to Russia’s legal system and changed the venue of prosecution for some detainees. Human rights groups identified several dozen Crimean residents as political prisoners held in either Crimea or Russia. These included: Oleg Sentsov, Oleksander Kolchenko, Oleksiy Chirniy, Oleksander Kostenko, Ilmi Umerov, Akhtem Chiygoz, Ali Asanov, Mustafa Dehermedzhy, Mykola Semena, Andrii Kolomiets, Ruslan Zaytullaev, Rustam Vaytov, Nuri Primov, Ferat Sayfullaev, Enver Bekirov, Vadim Siruk, Muslim Aliev, Emir-Ussein Kuku, Refat Alimov, Arcen Dzhepparov, Enver Mamutov, Remzi Memetov, Zevri Abseitov, Rustem Abultarov, and others.

According to Mejlis member Gayana Yuksel, as of October 26, occupation authorities have deprived 67 Crimean Tatar children of a parent because of politically motivated imprisonment since the start of the occupation.

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

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

Russian occupation authorities routinely conducted raids on homes to intimidate the local population, particularly Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, ostensibly on the grounds of searching for weapons, drugs, or “extremist literature.” In its June report, the HRMMU expressed concern about “the growing number of large scale ‘police’ actions conducted with the apparent intention to harass and intimidate Crimean Tatars and other Muslim believers.” On February 11 and 12, Russian occupation authorities raided Crimean Tatar villages in the Yalta and Bakhchisaray regions. According to the Crimea Human Rights Group, men with guns and in balaclavas burst into homes and in some cases broke through doors or windows, despite encountering no resistance from the residents. Between April 16 and 20, authorities conducted several raids on Crimean Tatar homes in the Alyushta region. According to press reports, police entered Crimean Tatar homes and demanded to know how many persons lived in the house, where they went shopping, where their children studied, and who sold drugs in the village. They also demanded to inspect gardens and greenhouses.

Human rights groups reported that Russian authorities had widespread authority to tap telephones and read electronic communications and had established a network of informants to report on suspicious activities. According to Mejlis members, Russian authorities had invited hundreds of Crimean Tatars to “interviews” where authorities played back the interviewees’ telephone conversations and read their e-mail aloud. Media reported that in July the FSB interviewed a doctor in a Feodosia hospital after a colleague had denounced him for privately expressing pro-Ukrainian views. The doctor stated that posters in the hospital hallways advertised an FSB hotline. The eavesdropping and visits by security personnel create an environment in which persons are afraid to voice any opinion contrary to the occupation authorities, even in private.

According to press reports, on January 22, the Russian FSB sent a notice to all post offices in Crimea containing a list of individuals deemed “extremist,” but which was in fact a list of individuals known to oppose the occupation, with instructions to report to the FSB any correspondence sent or received by these individuals.

Occupation authorities harassed family members of a number of political opponents. On February 2, Russian migration and security officials questioned Erol Abdulzhelilov, grandson of Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemilev, demanding his passport and summoning him to a police station. On February 18, Russian authorities summoned Yevgeny Kostenko, the brother of Oleksander Kostenko, imprisoned on political grounds, and threatened him with a forced psychiatric examination when he refused to answer questions. On September 26, occupation authorities pressured the young children of imprisoned Crimean Tatar activist, Emir-Ussein Kuku, to make statements about Kuku that could be used to strip him of his parental rights.

Following the sabotage of electrical lines from government-controlled territory to occupied Crimea, Russian officials cut power and natural gas to the homes of Crimean Tatar Mejlis members in retaliation.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Occupation authorities significantly restricted freedom of speech and press, and subjected dissenting voices to harassment and prosecution. They refused to register independent print and broadcast media outlets, forcing them to cease operations. Threats and harassment against international and Ukrainian journalists were common.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported that the FSB engaged in widespread surveillance of social media, telephones, and electronic communication and routinely summoned individuals for “discussions” for voicing or posting opposition to the Russian occupation.

For example, on August 12, occupation authorities in Yalta charged Larysa Kitaiska with extremism because of a social media posting that they believed to be anti-Russian. Kitaiska had left Crimea for mainland Ukraine after the occupation began, but had temporarily returned to resolve a property matter when she was charged. Kitaiska left Crimea shortly after she was charged; she maintained that occupation authorities brought the case in retaliation for her pro-Ukrainian views and participation in the 2013-14 Euromaidan movement.

On October 5, armed security forces raided the home of Suleyman Kadyrov, a member of the Feodosia Mejlis, because of a March Facebook posting in which Kadyrov stated that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine. On October 11, occupation authorities charged Kadyrov with separatism.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent print and broadcast media could not operate freely. Occupation authorities refused to register most independent media outlets, forcing them to close in 2015.

On March 25, Krymska Svitlytsya, the only Ukrainian-language newspaper remaining in Crimea, ceased publication. According to its website, the newspaper moved operations to Kyiv after it could no longer provide for the safety of its employees in Crimea.

On January 15, Russian occupation forces detained blogger and journalist Zair Akadyrov as he covered the trial of the “February 26” group of political prisoners and took him to a police precinct for questioning.

On December 7, the “prosecutor general” of Crimea charged Mykola Semena with “undermining Russian territorial integrity via mass media,” a criminal offense punishable up to five years in prison. Semena, a freelance writer for the news website Krym Realii, had written pieces using a pseudonym criticizing the de facto Crimean government and Russian occupation. Occupation authorities detained Semena twice in 2015, and human rights groups believed that Russian security forces hacked into his computer to prove he had written articles critical of the occupation. Authorities placed Semena, who was in poor health, under house arrest in April, under the condition that he not leave Crimea. On September 29, a judge denied Semena’s request to seek medical treatment in government-controlled Ukraine.

On June 14, Russian occupation authorities arrested Alexi Sapov, editor of Argumenty Nedeli-Krym. Sapov was one of the last reporters to cover the trials of Crimean Tatars. Sapov was previously a journalist in Vladimir, Russia, where his reporting led to accusations that he had blackmailed a member of the Russian parliament. Russian authorities extradited Sapov to Vladimir, Russia.

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of Russian security forces or police harassing independent media and detaining journalists in connection with their professional activities.

On May 11, Russian authorities detained Igor Burdyga, a Ukrainian journalist covering the anniversary of the deportation of Crimean Tatars. According to Burdyga authorities detained him for his journalistic work, accused him of being a member of the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector, and forced him to testify that he had been involved in the demolition of electrical power lines in Ukraine that supplied Crimea. After seven hours of detention, authorities released Burdyga and he left Crimea.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists overwhelmingly resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting. Russian occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcasts, replacing the content with Russian programming. Human rights groups reported that Russian authorities forbade songs by Ukrainian singers, such as Ruslana and Jamala, from playing on Crimean radio stations. Censorship of independent internet sites became more widespread.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Russian occupation authorities restricted free expression on the internet by imposing repressive laws of the Russian Federation on Crimea (see section 2.a. of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia). Security services routinely monitored and controlled internet activity to suppress contrary opinions. According to media accounts, occupation authorities interrogated residents of Crimea for posting pro-Ukrainian opinions on Facebook or in blogs.

On May 27, journalist Lilia Bujurova received a warning from security forces about postings she made on social media that Crimea was part of Ukraine.

On November 11, the Yevpatoria city court sentenced Serhiy Vasylchenko, a local anarchist, to 10 days in jail for “extremism” after he made calls on social media to boycott the Russian Duma elections in Crimea.

Throughout the year, Russian authorities blocked internet sites they considered “extremist,” but that in fact provided mainstream reporting about the situation in Crimea. For example, in February they blocked the sites of Ukrainska Pravda, censor.net, and Apostrophe. Following the arrest of Mykola Semena in April, Russian authorities blocked the website of Krym Realii. By August Russian authorities had blocked more than 60 websites as “extremist” for stating that Crimea remained a part of Ukraine.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Russian authorities in Crimea engaged in a widespread campaign to suppress Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian languages. While Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian are official languages in occupied Crimea, authorities continued to reduce instruction in schools and offered the languages only as an optional language at the end of the school day. In 2015 authorities closed the Crimean Tatar school in Bakhchysarai. The Mejlis reported that authorities continued to pressure Crimean Tatars to use the Cyrillic, as opposed to the Latin, alphabet.

On May 27, Russian security officers interviewed children at School No. 15 in Blizhne, Feodosia District, after receiving reports that some had not worn the St. George’s Ribbon, a Russian military symbol, on May 9. According to human rights monitors, authorities interviewed students about their opinions on Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea. Authorities singled out Crimean Tatar boys for questioning, and witnesses reported that FSB officers stated they would conduct similar investigations in the future.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Organizations representing minority communities reported gross and widespread harassment and intimidation by occupation authorities to suppress their ability to assemble peacefully. Abuses included arbitrary searches, interrogations, threats of deportation, and unsubstantiated accusations of possessing “extremist” literature.

According to the HRMMU, on July 4, occupation authorities amended a 2014 resolution listing the places in Crimea where public events could be held, decreasing the number almost by half (from 665 to 366). The HRMMU noted that the amendments further restricted freedom of assembly to a shrinking number of “specially designated spaces,” an unnecessary move that appeared “designed to dissuade the exercise of the right of freedom of assembly.”

On March 1, authorities in Simferopol refused to allow the commemoration of the birthdate of Taras Shevchenko, the national poet of Ukraine. On March 9, Simferopol authorities issued a blanket prohibition on public gatherings not organized by the government from March 7 to March 22.

Occupation authorities prohibited gatherings and meetings to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the 1944 Soviet mass deportation of Crimean Tatars on May 18. On May 17, Ilmi Umerov received a preemptive warning from police not to organize any type of gathering. In the days leading up to the anniversary, schoolteachers forbade students, particularly Crimean Tatar students, to skip school to participate in commemorative events. The Mejlis reported that Crimean Tatar communities did not seek permission for gatherings as they assumed that occupation authorities would forbid them. Throughout Crimea peaceful assemblies took place, but authorities arrested Crimean Tatars displaying flags and other symbols, including at least one person in Bakhchysarai, four in the Kirovsky District, and four in Sudak.

Occupation authorities forbade any assembly marking Crimean Tatar Flag Day on June 26.

On August 20, a group named The Deceived of Crimea gathered in Simferopol to protest rampant corruption in Crimea following Russia’s occupation in 2014. Despite having obtained permission from the local government, authorities prohibited protesters from assembling for a demonstration planned to coincide with a visit by President Putin of Russia.

There were reports of occupation authorities using coercive methods to provide for participation at pro-”government” rallies. For example, according to press reports, a Duma candidate shared on social media a photograph of an order authorities sent to municipal government offices in Feodosia, which stated that attendance at a September 8 rally in support of the United Russia party was mandatory and that those unable to attend must write an explanatory note to their superiors.

There were reports that occupation authorities charged and fined individuals for allegedly violating public assembly rules in retaliation for gathering to witness security force raids on homes. For example, courts fined at least five Crimean Tatars for gathering to witness security force raids on neighboring homes in Bakhchisarai in May. Crimean Tatar leaders claim the charges were designed to intimidate Crimean Tatars into passively remaining in their homes during raids.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Occupation authorities broadly restricted freedom of association for individuals that opposed the occupation.

On February 15, the “prosecutor general” of Crimea filed a motion to ban the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, an elected, representative body of Crimean Tatars that the Ukrainian government legally recognizes. On April 13, the prosecutor general provisionally banned the Mejlis pending a court decision; the Russian Ministry of Justice upheld the decision on April 18. On April 26, a Russian occupation court declared the Mejlis an extremist organization for continuing to recognize Ukrainian sovereignty in Crimea. On September 29, the Russian Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision. The ban forbids Mejlis organized meetings or demonstrations, sharply restricts its financial activities, and prohibits the display of the Mejlis flag and symbols. While the Mejlis was led by a central council of 33 members, its organization extended to towns and villages, meaning that up to 2,000 local members of Mejlis groups were under threat.

In late September authorities fined at least eight Mejlis members for allegedly taking part in a meeting of an illegal organization, stemming from their informal gathering at the home of Ilmi Umerov on September 22. They had gathered to wish exiled Crimean Tatar leader, Refat Chubarov, a happy birthday via Skype, but authorities had monitored the meeting and determined that it constituted a meeting of the banned Mejlis. On December 29, Umerov announced that he was unable to pay the fine as occupation authorities had frozen his bank accounts by putting him on a list of “extremists.”

On February 11, Russian authorities summoned Nariman Jelal, the highest ranking member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis not incarcerated or exiled, demanding he detail the activities of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis and his future travel plans.

Russian authorities raided groups and institutions associated with Ukrainian culture. On March 31, security forces raided the Taras Shevchenko Association in Simferopol and seized approximately 250 books for promoting Ukrainian nationalism. Many of the seized materials dealt with the Holodomor, a famine produced by Soviet authorities in 1932 and 1933 that led to the deaths of millions of Ukrainians. On July 18, authorities questioned Leonid Kuzmin, a member of the Ukrainian Cultural Association. Authorities compelled Kuzmin to sign a nondisclosure agreement, forbidding discussion of the grounds for his questioning.

Russian occupation authorities carried out numerous raids on Crimean Tatar cultural and spiritual institutions. On January 27, Russian police raided the Crimean Tatar children’s center Elif in Dzhankoi, seizing books and materials. On January 28, police raided the Islamic Cultural Center in Simferopol, again seizing books and materials.

Russian laws imposed on Crimea that regulate NGOs prohibit any group that receives foreign funding and engages in vaguely defined “political activity” to register as a “foreign agent,” a term that connotes treason or espionage. While authorities had not included any Crimean NGOs on the list during the year, the law had a chilling effect on their activities (see sections 2.b. and 5 of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

Russian occupation authorities did not respect rights related to freedom of movement and travel.

In-country Movement: There were reports that occupation authorities selectively detained and at times abused persons attempting to enter or leave Crimea. According to human rights groups, Russian authorities routinely detained adult males at the administrative boundary for additional questioning, threatening to seize passports and documents, seizing telephones and memory cards, and questioning them for hours. Crimean residents travelling on Ukrainian passports were required to complete migration paperwork when crossing the administrative boundary between Kherson Oblast and occupied Crimea. As of April 1, Russian authorities forbade Crimean residents with Ukrainian license plates from driving out of Crimea and required all Crimean residents to obtain Russian driver licenses.

On February 25, when Ukrainian journalist Anastasia Ringis attempted to visit her parents in Crimea, Russian authorities prohibited her from entry until 2020. On March 22, Ukrainian authorities reported that Russian occupation authorities banned Kherson residents Rustem Gugurik, Bekir Gugurik, and Bilyal Seytumerov from admission to Crimea for five years.

Occupation authorities also prohibited entry into Crimea by Mustafa Jemilev and Refat Chubarov, members of the Verkhovna Rada and the former and current chairmen of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, respectively; Crimean Tatar activist Sinaver Kadyrov; and Ismet Yuksel, general director of the Crimean News Agency, on the pretext that they would incite radicalism.

There were reports that authorities forcibly relocated stateless persons in retaliation for their political activism. For example, on November 7, authorities deported Crimean Tatar activist Nedim Khalilov, who had initiated a court case several months earlier against occupation authorities, which sought to have Russia’s occupation of Crimea declared illegal. Khalilov possessed only a Soviet identity document, which stated that his place of birth was Uzbekistan. He had obtained neither Ukrainian nor Russian citizenship on ideological grounds. After a brief court hearing, occupation authorities forcibly deported Khalilov to a detention center in Russia; at year’s end, he was still awaiting deportation to Uzbekistan, where he had no relatives, housing, or other support.

Citizenship: Russian occupation authorities require all residents of Crimea to be Russian citizens. Those who refuse Russian citizenship may be subjected to arbitrary expulsion. According to the Russian Office of the Federal Bailiff’s Service, occupation authorities expelled a couple with Israeli and Ukrainian citizenships from Kerch in February. Additionally, authorities denied those who refused Russian citizenship access to government employment, education, and health care, as well as the ability to open bank accounts and buy insurance, among other limitations. One media report detailed the case of a woman in Yevpatoria who could not have stitches removed because she had not accepted Russian citizenship. In another case, a displaced person from the Donbas could not receive treatment for a dog bite.

According to media sources, Russian authorities prosecuted private employers who continued to employ Ukrainians. According to the Crimea Human Rights Group, on April 8, occupation authorities fined the company Voyazhkrym 35,000 rubles ($570) for employing a Ukrainian. On April 18, authorities fined the Fregat shipbuilding company in Kerch 250,000 rubles ($4,100) for employing a Ukrainian.

In some cases authorities compelled Crimean residents to surrender their Ukrainian passports, complicating international travel, as many countries did not recognize passports issued by Russian occupation authorities.

Occupation authorities announced that, as of January 1, individuals who retained Ukrainian citizenship must register their passports or be subjected to fines or imprisonment.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Approximately 30,000 residents of Crimea registered with Ukraine’s State Emergency Service as IDPs on the mainland, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The Mejlis and local NGOs, such as Krym SOS, believed the actual figure could be as high as 100,000 as most IDPs remained unregistered. Many individuals fled out of fear that occupation authorities would target them for abuse because of their work as political activists or journalists. Muslims, Greek Catholics, and Evangelical Christians who left Crimea said they feared discrimination due to their religious beliefs.

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Recent Elections: Russian occupation authorities have prevented residents from voting in Ukrainian national and local elections since Crimea’s occupation began in 2014.

On September 18, Russia’s nationwide parliamentary elections included seats allocated for occupied Crimea, a move widely condemned by the international community. The Crimea Human Rights Group recorded incidents where occupation authorities coerced residents into voting in the elections, including threats of dismissals and wage cuts.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Corruption: There were multiple reports during the year of systemic rampant corruption among Crimean “office-holders,” including through embezzlement of Russian state funds allocated to support the occupation. According to media reports, more than half of the funding for transportation infrastructure during the year was misspent or unaccounted for, and funds for infrastructure in Crimea were being funneled to the Kerch bridge project without adequate oversight. Human rights sources also reported misspent or stolen medical services funds adversely affected the provision of health care under Russian occupation.

Financial Disclosure: There were no known requirements for Russian occupation authorities or their agents to file, verify, or make public any income or asset disclosure statements, nor was there a mechanism to provide for public access to information about their activities.

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

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

Russia continued to deny access to the peninsula to international human rights monitors from the OSCE and the United Nations. A Council of Europe human rights delegation visited Crimea in April.

The Assembly has a committee on legal issues, public administration, and human rights.

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

Children

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

Institutionalized Children: There were reports that Russian authorities continued to permit kidnapping of orphans in Crimea and transporting them across the border into Russia for adoption. Ukraine’s government did not know the whereabouts of the children.

Anti-Semitism

According to Jewish groups, an estimated 10-15,000 Jews lived in Crimea, primarily in Simferopol. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Since the beginning of Russia’s occupation, authorities singled out Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians for discrimination, abuse, deprivation of religious and economic rights, and violence, including killings and abductions (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., 1.d., 1.f., 2.a., 2.b., and 2.d.).

Crimean Tatars are an ethnic group native to Crimea, dating most recently to the Crimean Khanate of the 15th century. In 1944 Soviet authorities forcibly deported more than 230,000 Crimean Tatars to the Soviet Far East for allegedly collaborating with the Nazis during World War II. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many surviving Crimean Tatars returned to Crimea. Prior to the Russian occupation, there were approximately 300,000 Crimean Tatars living in Crimea.

There were reports that government officials openly advocated discrimination and violence against Crimean Tatars. For example, during a public online discussion on December 13, Natalya Kryzhko, a member of the “parliament,” threatened to “load [Crimean Tatars] on barges and drown them in the Black Sea” in reaction to requests by two Crimean Tatar villages to restore their historic Crimean Tatar place names.

Occupation authorities harassed Crimean Tatars for speaking their language in public and forbade speaking it in the workplace. There were reports that teachers prohibited schoolchildren from speaking Crimean Tatar to one another.

Occupation authorities placed restrictions on the Spiritual Administration of Crimean Muslims, which is closely associated with Crimean Tatars. According to human rights groups, Russian security services routinely monitored prayers at mosques for any mention that Crimea remains part of Ukraine. Russian security forces also monitored mosques for anti-Russian sentiment and as a means of recruiting police informants.

Laws forbid religious gatherings outside established institutions. Crimean Tatars reported that Russian occupation authorities threatened the custom of home funeral services and have compiled lists of gravediggers and Muslim leaders.

Russian occupation authorities also targeted ethnic Ukrainians. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on June 10, a court convicted Vladimir Baluch of insulting an official during an investigation into a stolen automobile. Baluch maintained the charges were in retaliation for his displays of Ukrainian ethnic symbols and opposition to the occupation. On December 8, the FSB raided Baluch’s home after he posted a sign “renaming” his street in honor of the “heavenly hundred” protesters who died during the 2013-14 Euromaidan protests in Kyiv. During the raid the FSB claimed to have found explosives, which Baluch insists its agents planted, and arrested Baluch. He faced weapons charges carrying a prison term of four years. On December 27, a court extended his detention until February 2017. In 2015 security forces detained and beat Baluch for flying a Ukrainian flag at his home.

Occupation authorities have not permitted churches linked to ethnic Ukrainians, in particular the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to register under Russian law. Occupation authorities harassed and intimidated members of the churches and used court proceedings to force the UOC-KP in particular to leave properties it had rented for years. According to a January 16 court decision, the UOC-KP was compelled to vacate part of the St. Vladimir and Olga church in Sevastopol after its lease expired and was required to pay an administrative fine of nearly 600,000 rubles ($9,800). Church officials reported regular and systematic surveillance of UOC-KP churches and parishioners.

Russian occupation authorities targeted businesses and properties belonging to ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars for expropriation and seizure. Particularly, they prohibited Crimean Tatars affiliated with the Mejlis from registering businesses or properties.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Human rights groups and local gay rights activists reported that much of the LGBTI community fled Crimea after the Russian occupation began. Those who remained live in fear of verbal and physical abuse due to their sexual orientation. According to a report commissioned by the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties and Memorial’s Antidiscrimination Center in Saint Petersburg, the Russian group Occupy Pedophilia is active in Crimea. The group used social media to lure suspected LGBTI persons to locations where they are humiliated, filmed, and beaten. According to one report, a group of six men patrolling a park beat two individuals in Simferopol. The victims did not file a complaint with police for fear of retaliation. Individuals were accosted and abused for wearing nonconformist clothing, on the assumption that they must be LGBTI persons. Human rights groups stated that these groups operated with the tacit support of local authorities, who did not investigate such crimes.

Russian occupation authorities prohibited any LGBTI groups from holding public events in Crimea. On April 25, an LGBTI activist in Sevastopol announced plans to hold a peaceful protest. In response Sergei Aksyonov, the head of the occupation authorities in Crimea, stated that authorities would prevent any such assembly. Subsequently, “self-defense” forces threatened to expel LGBTI individuals from Crimea forcibly. LGBTI individuals faced increasing restrictions on their right to assemble peacefully, as occupation authorities enforced a Russian law that criminalizes the so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors (see section 6 of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia).

Section 7. Worker Rights

Russian occupation authorities announced that the labor laws of Ukraine would no longer be in effect after January 1 and that only the laws of the Russian Federation would apply (see section 7 of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia).

Russian occupation authorities imposed labor laws and regulations of the Russian Federation on Crimean workers, limited worker rights, and created barriers to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the ability to strike. The NGO Freedom House reported that pro-Russian authorities threatened to nationalize property owned by Ukrainian labor unions in Crimea. Ukrainians who did not accept Russian citizenship faced job discrimination in all sectors of the economy. Only Russian passport holders could continue to work in “government” and municipal positions.


READ A SECTION: UKRAINE | CRIMEA (ABOVE)

United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven semiautonomous emirates with a resident population of approximately 9.2 million, of whom an estimated 11 percent are citizens. The rulers of the seven emirates constitute the Federal Supreme Council, the country’s highest legislative and executive body. The council selects a president and a vice president from its membership, and the president appoints the prime minister and cabinet. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi emirate, is president, although Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi exercises most executive authority. The emirates are under patriarchal rule with political allegiance defined by loyalty to tribal leaders, leaders of the individual emirates, and leaders of the federation. A limited, appointed electorate participates in periodic elections for the partially elected Federal National Council (FNC), a consultative body that examines, reviews, and recommends changes to legislation and may discuss topics for legislation. The FNC consists of 40 representatives allocated proportionally to each emirate based on population; half are elected members while the remainder are appointed by the leaders of their respective emirates. There are no political parties. The last election was in October 2015, when an appointed electorate of approximately 224,000 citizens, making up one-fifth of the total citizen population, elected 20 FNC members. Citizens may express their concerns directly to their leaders through traditional consultative mechanisms such as the open majlis (forum).

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The three most significant human rights problems were the inability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections; limitations on civil liberties (including the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association); and arrests without charge, incommunicado detentions, lengthy pretrial detentions, and mistreatment during detention.

Other reported human rights problems included a lack of government transparency; police and prison guard brutality; government interference with privacy rights, including arrests and detentions for internet postings or commentary; and a lack of judicial independence. The law directly prohibits blasphemy and proselytizing by non-Muslims, and indirectly prohibits conversion from Islam by referring to Sharia law on matters of religious doctrine. Domestic abuse and violence against women remained problems. Noncitizens faced legal and societal discrimination. Legal and societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS and based on sexual orientation and gender identity remained problems. Trafficking in persons, mistreatment including physical and sexual abuse of foreign domestic servants and other migrant workers, and discrimination against persons with disabilities remained problems. The government restricted worker rights. Lack of transparency and access made it difficult to assess the extent of many reported human rights problems, such as conditions surrounding detentions in state security cases, social and legal discrimination, and societal abuses of women and children.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and brought to conviction cases of official corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year.

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.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances of individuals allegedly involved in state security cases. For example, according to human rights organizations, Emirati citizen Abdulrahman Bin Sobeih disappeared in December 2015 after authorities in Indonesia arrested him and handed him over to UAE authorities. The status of Bin Sobeih, who had previously been convicted in absentia for membership in a group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, was unknown until he appeared before the National Security Court of the Federal Supreme Court in March. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that on November 14, Bin Sobeih was sentenced to 10 years in prison and three years of administrative control subsequent to the completion of his sentence for belonging to a secret organization. Additionally, several persons were arrested in 2015 and their whereabouts were unknown until the following year. Examples include Nassir bin Ghaith and Tayseer al-Najjar (see sections 1.d. and 2.a. respectively).

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports of instances. There were reports in previous years that some individuals imprisoned for suspected state security violations were subjected to severe abuse or mistreatment. Human rights groups alleged this mistreatment took place during interrogations and to induce a prisoner to sign a confession. For example, in 2015 Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported allegations from prisoners that authorities used techniques including beatings, forced standing, and threats to rape or kill, including by electrocution. Two Libyan-Americans arrested on security-related grounds in August 2014 said they were tortured while in detention. In some cases, judges ordered investigations, to include medical examinations by state-appointed doctors, into allegations of torture or mistreatment. The government-sanctioned Emirates Human Rights Association, which monitors prisons, reported in December that it had not found any human rights violations related to treatment of detainees during the year.

Sharia (Islamic law) courts, which adjudicate criminal and family law cases, may impose flogging as punishment for adultery, prostitution, consensual premarital sex, pregnancy outside marriage, defamation of character, and drug or alcohol abuse, although this was rare and tended to be confined to only a few jurisdictions. Multiple Western consulates reported courts imposed flogging as a punishment in some of the northern emirates.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied widely among the individual emirates and between regular prisons and state security detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: The government did not release statistics on prison demographics and capacity. Some prisoners reported poor sanitary conditions, poor temperature control, and overcrowding.

There were reports in prior years that individuals within state security detention facilities were mistreated.

There was no information available on whether prisoners with HIV/AIDS received appropriate health care. Medical care was generally adequate in regular prisons, although some prisoners reported extended delays in receiving medical treatment and difficulty obtaining necessary medication. Most prisons had nurses or other medical professionals on duty, although reportedly prison doctors were often reluctant to issue anything other than nonprescription pain medication. In addition, media reports stated some detainees in State Security Department custody did not receive adequate access to medical care.

Prisons attempted to accommodate persons with disabilities based on their specific needs, such as by placing a wheelchair user on a lower floor. Some reports alleged inconsistencies in providing support for prisoners with mental disabilities. In Dubai and to some extent Abu Dhabi, prison officials worked with mental health professionals to provide support and administer needed medication. Training and capabilities to accommodate prisoners with mental health disabilities were allegedly less well developed in the other emirates. Reportedly it was common for authorities to grant a humanitarian pardon in cases where a person with a disability had been convicted of a minor offense.

Administration: Some state security detainees did not have access to visitors or had more limited access than other prisoners. Although prisoners had a right to submit complaints to judicial authorities, details about investigations into complaints were not publicly available and there were no independent authorities to investigate allegations of poor conditions. There was also no publicly available information on whether or not authorities investigated complaints about prison conditions. Dubai Emirate maintained a website where individuals could obtain basic information about pending legal cases including formal charges and upcoming court dates.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted charitable NGOs to visit prisons and provide material support on a limited basis. Members of the government-sanctioned Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA) met with prisoners during regular visits to detention facilities and reported their findings to federal Ministry of Interior officials. Their reports were not publicly available. Authorities did not grant regular consular access for State Security Department detainees.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government reportedly often held persons in custody for extended periods without charge or a preliminary judicial hearing. The law permits indefinite detention, including incommunicado detention, without appeal. In some cases authorities did not allow detainees contact with attorneys, family members, or others for indefinite or unspecified periods.

In cases of foreign nationals detained by police, which in view of the country’s demographic breakdown were the vast majority of cases, the government often did not notify the appropriate diplomatic missions. For state security detainees, notification was exceptionally rare and information about the status of these detainees was very limited.

Authorities treated prisoners arrested for political or security reasons differently from other prisoners, including placing them in separate sections of a prison. A specific government entity, the State Security Department, handled these cases, and in some cases held prisoners and detainees in separate undisclosed locations for extended periods prior to their transfer to a regular prison.

In May, two Libyan-Americans accused of state security violations were acquitted following a Federal Supreme Court trail. The individuals were originally arrested in August 2014, but formal charges were not filed until January 2016. Also authorities did not inform their families or relevant consular missions at the time of the arrest; they were denied access to legal counsel; and they reported that they were tortured while in detention.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Each emirate maintained a local police force called a general directorate, which was officially a branch of the federal Ministry of Interior. All emirate-level general directorates of police enforced their respective emirate’s laws autonomously. They also enforced federal laws within their emirate in coordination with each other under the federal ministry. The federal government maintained federal armed forces for external security.

There were no public reports of impunity involving security forces, but there was no publicly available information on whether or not authorities investigated complaints of police corruption or other abuses including prison conditions and mistreatment (see section 1.c., Administration).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police stations received complaints from the public, made arrests, and forwarded cases to the public prosecutor. The public prosecutor then transferred cases to the courts. The law prohibits arrest or search of citizens without probable cause. Unlike the previous year, there were no reports security forces failed to obtain warrants. Police must report an arrest within 48 hours to the public prosecutor, and police usually adhered to the deadline.

The law requires prosecutors to submit charges to a court within 14 days of the police reporting the case to them and to inform detainees of the charges against them; however, judges may grant extensions to prosecutors, sometimes resulting in extended periods of detention without formal charges. Multiple detainees complained authorities did not inform them of charges until several days after they had been detained. Noncitizen detainees reported that when the prosecutor presented the charges, they were written in Arabic with no translation, and that authorities pressured detainees to sign a statement saying they understood the charges placed against them.

Public prosecutors may order detainees held as long as 21 days without charge; this can be extended by court order. Judges may not grant an extension of more than 30 days of detention without charge; however, they may renew 30-day extensions indefinitely. As a result, pretrial detention sometimes exceeded the maximum sentence for the crime charged. Public prosecutors may hold suspects in terrorism-related cases without charge for six months. Once authorities charge a suspect with terrorism, the Federal Supreme Court may extend the detention indefinitely.

There is no formal system of bail. Authorities may temporarily release detainees who deposit money, a passport, or an unsecured personal promissory statement signed by a third party. Authorities may deny pretrial release to defendants in cases involving loss of life, including involuntary manslaughter. Authorities released some prisoners detained on charges related to a person’s death after the prisoners completed diya (blood money) payments.

A defendant is entitled to an attorney after authorities complete their investigation. Authorities sometimes questioned the accused for weeks without permitting access to an attorney. The government may provide counsel at its discretion to indigent defendants charged with felonies punishable by imprisonment of three to 15 years. The law requires the government to provide counsel in cases in which indigent defendants face punishments of life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Authorities held some persons incommunicado, particularly in cases involving state security. For example, according to human rights groups the location and status of Emirati activist Nassir bin Ghaith remained unknown from the time of his arrest in August 2015 until April, when prosecutors announced charges of defaming a foreign country (Egypt), ridiculing the UAE’s decision to grant land for a Hindu temple, and having ties to Islamist groups. Bin Ghaith, who remained in prison as of year’s end, was convicted in 2011 of insulting the country’s leadership, incitement, and endangering national security. On December 5, his case was transferred from the State Security chamber of the Federal Supreme Court to the Federal Court of Appeal.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports the government committed arrests without informing the individual of the charge, notably in cases of alleged violations of state security regulations. In these cases, authorities did not give notice to the individual or to family members regarding the subject of the inquiry or arrest.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention occurred, especially in cases involving state security; however, the speed at which these cases were brought to trial increased during the year with a higher number of State Security Court acquittals and convictions in comparison to the previous year. There was no estimate available of the percentage of the prison population in pretrial status.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There were reports that authorities sometimes delayed or limited an individual’s access to an attorney, and did not give prompt court appearances or afford consular notification, particularly in state security cases. The law permits indefinite detention without appeal in state security-related cases. There were no reports of courts finding individuals to have been unlawfully detained and recommending compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, court decisions remained subject to review by the political leadership. Authorities often treated noncitizens differently from citizens. The judiciary consisted largely of contracted foreign nationals subject to potential deportation, further compromising its independence from the government.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.

The law presumes all defendants innocent until proven guilty. By law a defendant enjoys the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. The law requires all court proceedings be conducted in Arabic. Despite the defendant’s procedural right to an interpreter, there were reports authorities did not always provide an interpreter or that quality was sometimes poor.

The constitution provides the right to a public trial, except in national security cases or cases the judge deems harmful to public morality. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and have a right to legal counsel in court. While awaiting a decision on official charges at the police station or the prosecutor’s office, a defendant is not entitled to legal counsel. In cases involving a capital crime or possible life imprisonment, the defendant has a right to government-provided counsel after charges have been filed. The government may also provide counsel, at its discretion, to indigent defendants charged with felonies punishable by imprisonment of three to 15 years. The law provides prosecutors discretion to bar defense counsel from any investigation. Defendants and their attorneys may present witnesses and question witnesses against them, and defense counsel has the right to access relevant government-held evidence. Defendants may not to be compelled to testify or confess. Some defendants said they did not have adequate time to prepare a defense and requested additional time, which judges typically granted.

Both local and federal courts have an appeals process; cases under local jurisdiction are appealed to the Court of Cassation and federal cases to the Federal Supreme Court. Convicted defendants may also appeal death sentences to the ruler of the emirate in which the offense was committed or to the president of the federation. In murder cases, the victim’s family must consent to commute a death sentence. The government normally negotiated with victims’ families for the defendant to offer diya in exchange for forgiveness and a commuted death sentence. The prosecutor may appeal acquittals and provide new or additional evidence to a higher court. An appellate court must reach unanimous agreement to overturn an acquittal.

Prior to November, state security cases were heard exclusively at the Federal Supreme Court and were therefore not subject to appeal by a higher court; however, in November the law was amended so that state security cases are now heard at the Federal Court of Appeal, and as a result can be appealed to the higher Federal Supreme Court.

When authorities suspected a foreigner of crimes of moral turpitude, authorities sometimes deported the individual without recourse to the criminal justice system. At the judge’s discretion, foreigners charged with crimes may be permitted to defend themselves while on bail.

The penal code also requires all individuals to pay diya to victims’ families in cases where accidents or crimes caused the death of another person, and media reported multiple cases of courts imposing this punishment. In some cases sharia courts imposed more severe penalties during the month of Ramadan. There were also reports courts applied these punishments more strictly to Muslims.

Women faced legal discrimination because of the government’s interpretation of sharia law (see section 6).

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year there were reports of persons held, typically incommunicado and without charge, for their political views or affiliations, often because of alleged links to Islamist organizations.

According to news reports, prosecutors brought approximately 200 state security cases to court since 2013, including about 70 during the first half of the year. Most convictions were for terrorism-related crimes or membership in banned organizations. Human rights organizations alleged that some of these cases involved individuals advocating nonviolent change, and they criticized the government for using overly broad antiterrorism laws to arrest and detain those with suspected ties to nonviolent, political Islamist movements.

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the government restricted the activities of organizations and individuals allegedly associated with Dawat al-Islah, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, and others critical of the government. Media reported two Emiratis were convicted and jailed on November 14 with 10- and seven-year jail sentences for being leading members of al-Islah.

As part of its security and counterterrorism efforts, the government issued or updated restrictive laws–such as the 2014 antiterrorism law–governing activities, including the use of the internet and social media. Numerous observers criticized these laws as extending beyond security concerns by also outlawing activities and speech of a political nature.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and noncitizens had access to the courts to seek damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The civil courts, like all courts, lacked full independence. In some cases courts delayed proceedings.

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

The constitution prohibits entry into a home without the owner’s permission, except when police present a lawful warrant. Officers’ actions in searching premises were subject to review by the Ministry of Interior, and officers were subject to disciplinary action if authorities judged their actions irresponsible.

The constitution provides for freed and confidential correspondence by mail, telegram, and all other means of communication. There were reports, however, that the government monitored and in some cases censored incoming international mail and wiretapped telephones and monitored outgoing mail and electronic forms of communication without following appropriate legal procedures. A May 29 study by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab reported that since 2012, Emirati journalists, activists, and dissidents have been targeted by sophisticated spyware attacks, which the researchers found may be linked to the Emirati government (see also section 2.a., Internet Freedom).

Local interpretation of sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims and Muslim men from marrying women “not of the book,” generally meaning adherents of religions other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

The country employs judicial supervision for individuals considered at risk from relatives committing honor crimes against or otherwise harming them. Judicial supervision typically included housing individuals to provide for their well-being and for family mediation and reconciliation.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the law prohibits criticism of national rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest; the government restricted freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: After the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011, authorities severely restricted public criticism of the government and ministers. The government continued to make arrests or impose other restrictions for speech related to and in support of Islamist political activities, calls for democratic reforms, criticism of or perceived insults against the government and government institutions, and in rarer cases, criticism of individuals. In February a court sentenced Omani citizen Saleh Mohammed al-Awaisi to a three-year jail term for sharing a poem over social media that ridiculed the government and its soldiers in Yemen. He was tried under the cybercrime law, which criminalizes all forms of electronic abuse.

In another case, in January authorities issued an arrest warrant for two men who had posted a video of themselves in military uniforms, mimicking the dance moves from a popular Saudi music video. The authorities accused the men of dishonoring the country’s military services. Also in January, the Federal Supreme Court sentenced Mohammed Ashour to three years in prison for creating a Facebook page that allegedly damaged the reputation of the country. In other cases, authorities brought individuals to trial for posting material on social media platforms that was seen as personally insulting to acquaintances, colleagues, employers, or religions.

Press and Media Freedoms: International NGOs categorized the press, both in print and online, as not free. Except for media outlets located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s free trade zones, the government owned most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations. All media conformed to unpublished government reporting guidelines. The government also influenced the privately owned media, through the National Media Council (NMC), which directly oversaw all media content. Satellite-receiving dishes were widespread and provided access to uncensored international broadcasts.

In February, Jordanian media outlets and human rights groups reported that Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar had been detained in mid-December 2015 without charge and was being held incommunicado. His wife subsequently told the press that authorities had accused him of spying for Qatar, criticizing the UAE, and criticizing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Human Rights Watch reported in December that al-Najjar was transferred to al-Wathba prison in March and had not been provided with access to legal counsel or informed of the charges against him. Al-Najjar remained in detention at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the NMC, whose members the president appoints, licenses and censors all publications, including private association publications. The law authorizes censorship of domestic and foreign publications to remove criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments; statements that “threaten social stability;” and materials considered pornographic, excessively violent, derogatory to Islam, or supportive of certain Israeli government positions. The law also criminalizes, as blasphemy, acts that provoke religious hatred or insult religious convictions through any form of expression, including broadcasting, printed media, or the internet.

According to the NMC and Dubai police officials, authorities did not give journalists specific instructions; however, government officials reportedly warned journalists when they published or broadcast material deemed politically or culturally sensitive. Journalists commonly practiced self-censorship due to fear of government retribution, particularly since most journalists were foreign nationals and could be deported. Authorities did not allow some books perceived as critical of the government, Islam, and Emirati culture, as well as books that supported the Muslim Brotherhood or its ideology.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of its leaders and institutions. The law criminalizes acts that defame others through online or information technology means. Those who commit libel may face up to two years in prison; the maximum penalty for those convicted of libel against the family of a public official is three years in prison.

In May the courts convicted three sports journalists of slander and handed each a three-month suspended prison sentence after they publicly criticized a competitor television channel.

National Security: Authorities often cited the need to protect national security as the basis for laws that curb criticism of government or expression of dissenting political views. For example, the country’s cybercrimes laws include broad limitations on using electronic means to promote disorder or “damage national unity.” Human rights groups criticized these laws for excessively restricting freedom of speech.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted access to some websites and monitored social media, instant messaging services, and blogs. Authorities stated they could imprison individuals for misusing the internet. Self-censorship was apparent on social media, and there were reports the Ministry of Interior monitored internet use. The International Telecommunication Union estimated more than 90 percent of the population had access to the internet.

The country’s two internet service providers, both linked to the government, used a proxy server to block materials deemed inconsistent with the country’s values, as defined by the Ministry of Interior. Blocked material included pornographic websites and a wide variety of other sites deemed indecent, as well as those dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues; Judaism and atheism; negative critiques of Islam; testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity; gambling; promotion of illegal drug use; and postings that explained how to circumvent the proxy servers. International media sites accessed using the country’s internet providers contained filtered content. The government also blocked some sites that contained content critical of ruling families in the UAE and other states in the region. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority was responsible for creating lists of blocked sites. Service providers did not have the authority to remove sites from blocked lists without government approval. The government also blocked most voice-over-internet-protocol applications. In June authorities asked Snapchat to block content after some users complained to the telecoms regulator of objectionable content. Also in June, authorities blocked the website of news organization Middle East Eye.

The law explicitly criminalizes use of the internet to commit a wide variety of offenses and provides fines and prison terms for internet users who violate political, social, and religious norms. The law provides penalties for using the internet to oppose Islam; to proselytize Muslims to join other religions; to abuse a holy shrine or ritual of any religion; to insult any religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic group; to incite someone to commit sin; or to contravene family values by publishing news or photographs pertaining to a person’s private life or family. In February the government announced it would increase fines and jail terms for the “criminal intent” use of Virtual Private Networks, which often were used to circumvent internet censorship.

In August news reports alleged that authorities had used a malware application to obtain access to the iPhone of Emirati political activist Ahmed Mansoor by exploiting a flaw in Apple’s iOS operating system.

The 2012 cybercrimes decree and the 2015 Antidiscrimination Law provide for more severe penalties for violations and add to existing online communication limitations on freedom of speech to include prohibitions on criticism or defamation of the government or its officials; insults based on religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic origin; insults directed at neighboring countries; and calls for protests and demonstrations.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, including speech both inside and outside the classroom by educators, and censored academic materials for schools. The government required official permission for conferences and submission of detailed information on proposed speakers and topics of discussion. Some organizations found it difficult to secure meeting space for public events that dealt with contentious issues.

Cultural institutions avoided displaying artwork or programming that criticized the government or religion. Self-censorship among cultural and other institutions, especially for content presented to the public, was pervasive and generally directed at preventing the appearance of illegal works, including those deemed as promoting blasphemy or addressing controversial political issues.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association; however, the government did not always respect these rights.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides limited freedom of assembly and the government imposed restrictions.

The law requires a government-issued permit for organized public gatherings. Authorities dispersed impromptu protests such as labor strikes and at times arrested participants. While there was no uniform standard for the number of persons who could gather without a permit, civil society representatives in the past have reported authorities could ask groups of four or more to disperse if they did not have a permit. The government did not interfere routinely with informal, nonpolitical gatherings held without a government permit in public places unless there were complaints. The government generally permitted political gatherings that supported its policies. Hotels, citing government regulations, sometimes denied permission for groups such as religious organizations to rent space for meetings or religious services.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides limited freedom of association. The government imposed some restrictions.

Political organizations, political parties, and trade unions are illegal. All associations and NGOs are required to register with the Ministry of Social Affairs, and many that did received government subsidies. Domestic NGOs registered with the ministry were mostly citizens’ associations for economic, religious, social, cultural, athletic, and other purposes. Registration rules require that all voting organizational members, as well as boards of directors, must be Emirati; this excluded almost 90 percent of the population from fully participating in such organizations.

Associations must follow the government’s censorship guidelines and receive prior government approval before publishing any material. In Abu Dhabi, exhibitions, conferences, and meetings require a permit from the Tourism and Culture Authority. To obtain a permit, the event organizer must submit identification documents for speakers along with speaker topics; the government denied permits if it did not approve of the topic or speaker.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law generally provided for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights; however, the government imposed certain legal restrictions on foreign travel. The government allowed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The lack of passports or other identity documents restricted the movement of stateless persons, both within the country and internationally.

Foreign Travel: Authorities generally did not permit citizens and residents involved in legal disputes under adjudication, and noncitizens under investigation to travel abroad. In addition, authorities sometimes arrested individuals with outstanding debts or legal cases while in transit through an airport.

At the sole discretion of emirate-level prosecutors, foreign nationals had their passports taken or travel restricted during criminal and civil investigations, which in some cases times posed significant difficulties. Some were also banned from foreign travel. These measures posed particular problems for noncitizen debtors, who in addition to being unable to leave the country, were usually unable to find work without a passport and valid residence permit, and as a result were unable to repay their debts or maintain legal residency.

Travel bans could also be placed on citizens; citizens of interest for reasons of state security, including former political prisoners, also encountered difficulties renewing official documents, resulting in de facto travel bans.

Authorities did not lift travel bans until the completion of a case in the judicial system. In complex cases, particularly in the investigation of financial crimes, travel bans remained in place for three years or more.

Custom dictates that a husband may prevent his wife, minor children, and adult unmarried daughters from leaving the country by taking custody of their passports.

Citizenship: The government may revoke naturalized citizens’ passports and citizenship status for criminal or politically provocative actions. According to AI, in March authorities confiscated the passports and revoked the citizenship of three siblings whose father had been convicted previously of membership in Al Islah, a group the government designated as a terrorist organization.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

UNHCR lacked formal legal status in the country separate from the UN Development Program; however, the government worked with UNHCR on a case-by-case basis to address refugee issues. The government did not formally grant refugee status or asylum to aliens seeking protection; however, it allowed some refugees to remain in the country temporarily on an individual basis. This nonpermanent status often presented administrative, financial, and social hardships, including the need frequently to renew visas and the inability to access basic services such as health care and education for children.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government had not established a transparent, codified system for providing protection to refugees. While the government extended informal protection from return to refugees in some cases, any persons lacking legal residency status were technically subject to local laws on illegal immigrants and authorities could detain them. There were no reports, however, that the government sent individuals who expressed a fear of return back to their country of origin against their will. In some cases authorities confined individuals seeking protection at an airport to a specific section of the airport while they awaited resettlement in another country.

Access to Basic Services: Access to employment, education, and other public services, including health care, is based on an individual’s status as a legal resident. Persons with a claim to refugee status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for such benefits, and as a result some families, particularly from Iraq and Syria, reportedly did not have access to healthcare or school for children. The government provided or allowed access to some services on a case-by-case basis, often after the intervention of UNHCR representatives.

STATELESS PERSONS

Estimates suggested 20,000 to 100,000 bidoon, or persons without citizenship, resided in the country. Most bidoon lacked citizenship because they did not have the preferred tribal affiliation used to determine citizenship when the country was established. Others entered the country legally or illegally in search of employment. Because children derive citizenship generally from the father, bidoon children born within the country’s territory remained stateless. Without passports or other forms of identification, the movement of bidoon was restricted, both within the country and internationally.

The government has a naturalization process, and individuals may apply for citizenship. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens do not acquire citizenship automatically at birth, but their mothers may obtain citizenship for the children after submitting an application, which a government committee reviews and generally accepts, once the child is 18 years old. A foreign woman may receive citizenship after 10 years of marriage to a citizen. Anyone may receive a passport by presidential fiat.

The committee that reviews mothers’ citizenship applications for their children also reviews citizenship applications from bidoon who could satisfy certain legal conditions to be eligible for naturalization and subsequently could gain access to education, health care, and other public services. There were no reports, however, of stateless persons receiving Emirati citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

Political Parties and Political Participation: Citizens did not have the right to form political parties. There were no reports of citizens attempting to form political parties.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Although some traditional practices discouraged women from engaging in political life, the government prioritized women’s participation in government. There were eight female ministers in the 24-member cabinet, and nine women (one elected, who was appointed speaker) in the FNC.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption.

Nepotism and conflict of interest in government appointments and contract allocations existed. The Ministries of the Interior and Justice and the state audit institutions are responsible for combating government corruption.

Corruption: In August, Khadem al-Qubaisi, the former head of one of the country’s primary sovereign wealth funds, was arrested following allegations of wide-scale financial fraud. The authorities reportedly had frozen the travel documents of Qubaisi and a second senior executive in April as part of a money laundering and embezzlement investigation.

Authorities also prosecuted cases of police corruption. In June, Dubai authorities brought a police officer to court, accusing him of accepting a bribe to release a prisoner he was transporting.

Financial Disclosure: There are no financial disclosure laws, regulations, or codes of conduct requiring officials to disclose their income and assets. The operating instructions for the Federal National Council elections did require all candidates to disclose sources of funding for their campaigns.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, but the government followed this provision selectively. Requests for access usually went unanswered. There were no reports of public outreach activities or training for public officials to encourage the effective use of the law to access public information.

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

The government generally did not permit organizations to focus on domestic political issues. Two recognized local human rights organizations existed: the government-supported EHRA, which focused on human rights problems and complaints on matters such as labor conditions, stateless persons’ rights, and prisoners’ well-being and treatment; and the government-subsidized Emirates Association for Lawyers and Legal Council (formerly the Jurists’ Association Human Rights Administration), which focused on human rights education and conducted seminars and symposia subject to government approval. Several EHRA members worked in the government and the organization received government funding. The EHRA viewed itself as operating independently without government interference, apart from the requirements that apply to all associations in the country.

The government directed, regulated, and subsidized participation by all NGO members in events outside the country. All participants must obtain government permission before attending such events. The government also restricted entry to the country by members of international NGOs. The 2015 Antidiscrimination Law provides a legal basis for restricting events such as conferences and seminars.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not allow international human rights NGOs to be based in the country but, on a limited basis, allowed representatives to visit. There were no transparent standards governing visits from international NGO representatives.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is punishable by death under the penal code. The penal code does not address spousal rape. The penal code allows men to use physical means, including violence, at their discretion against female and minor family members. Punishments issued by courts in domestic abuse cases were often minimal. In some cases, police shared a victim’s contact information with her/his family, which sometimes reached the assailant. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children managed a shelter in Dubai for domestic abuse victims and was active in increasing awareness of domestic violence problems and avenues available for victims to seek help. For the first half of the year the organization reported 196 cases of domestic violence.

In general the government did not enforce domestic abuse laws effectively, and domestic abuse against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. There were reports employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers. These cases rarely went to court, and those that did led to few convictions. In sharia courts, which are primarily responsible for civil matters between Muslims, the extremely high burden of proof for a rape case contributed to a low conviction rate. Additionally, female victims of rape or other sexual crimes faced the possibility of prosecution for consensual sex outside marriage instead of receiving assistance from authorities.

Victims of domestic abuse may file complaints with police units stationed in major public hospitals. Social workers and counselors, usually female, also maintained offices in public hospitals and police stations. Women, however, often were reluctant to file formal charges of abuse for social, cultural, and economic reasons. There were domestic abuse centers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah, and Sharjah.

The government, in coordination with social organizations, sought to increase awareness of domestic violence, conducting seminars, educational programs, symposiums, and conferences. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children increased awareness of domestic violence through social media, television and radio programming and advertising, by hosting workshops, and by sponsoring a hotline. The organization also offered services to all those residing in or transiting the country, including legal services and rehabilitation programs.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not address FGM/C, although the Ministry of Health prohibits hospitals and clinics from performing the procedure. The practice was rare and confined to foreign residents.

Sexual Harassment: The government prosecutes harassment via the penal code. Conviction of “disgracing or dishonoring” a person in public is punishable by a minimum of one year and up to 15 years in prison if the victim is under age 14. Conviction for “infamous” acts against the rules of decency is punishable by a penalty of six months in prison, and “dishonoring a woman by word or deed on a public roadway” is also a punishable offense.

Reproductive Rights: Married couples have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; have the information and means to do so; and have the right to attain the highest standard of reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Authorities typically deported unmarried noncitizen workers who become pregnant. Hospitals do not issue birth certificates to children born to unmarried parents, making it difficult for a child to remain in the country or to obtain the necessary documents, such as a passport, to depart. Abortion is generally illegal; however, it is allowed if the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. The government provides free healthcare to citizens, including access to contraception, obstetric and gynecologic services, prenatal care, and delivery care to married female citizens. Despite this, only 39 percent of women aged 15-49 used a modern method of contraceptives, and 20 percent of women had an unmet need for planning, according to UN Population Fund 2015 estimates. The government did not provide free antenatal care for noncitizen pregnant women.

Discrimination: Women in general faced legal and economic discrimination, with noncitizen women at particular disadvantage. The treatment of Emirati women showed some signs of improvement.

The government’s interpretation of sharia applies in personal status cases and family law. As noted above, the law forbids Muslim women to marry non-Muslims.

In addition, the law permits a man to have as many as four wives; women normally inherit less than men; and a son may inheritance may be double what a daughter’s.

For a woman to obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, she must prove her husband inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, abandoned her for at least three months, or had not provided her or their children’s upkeep. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands. Strict interpretation of sharia does not apply to child custody cases, as courts have applied the “the best interests of the child” standard since 2010.

The law provides for corporal punishment for sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage. The government may imprison and deport noncitizen women if they bear children out of wedlock. In previous years, authorities arrested some victims of sexual assault for sexual relations outside of marriage.

Women who worked in the private sector regularly did not receive equal benefits and reportedly faced discrimination in promotions and pay (see section 7.d.).

While foreign men working in the country and earning a salary above a certain level could obtain residency permits for their families for three years, a foreign woman could obtain a one year, renewable permit for her family only if she was working in a job deemed rare or with a specialty such as health care, engineering, or teaching.

While education is equally accessible, federal law prohibits coeducation in public schools and universities, except in the United Arab Emirates University’s Executive MBA program and in certain graduate programs at Zayed University. A large number of private schools, private universities, and institutions, however, were coeducational. Women hold two-thirds of public sector posts, including 30 percent of senior and decision-making positions, according to government estimates.

The government excluded women from certain social benefits including land grants for building houses because tribal family law often designates men as the heads of families.

The government has a Gender Balance Council to promote a greater role for female citizens, but not noncitizens, who were working outside the home. Its activities primarily focused on speaking and awareness raising activities including seminars, workshops, and conferences aimed at educating and empowering women. The government requires female participation on the boards of government agencies and companies.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship generally from their parents. As noted, the children of Emirati mothers married to foreigners did not receive citizenship automatically. The government registered noncitizen births, including of bidoon.

Education: Education is compulsory through the ninth grade; however, the law was not enforced, and some children did not attend school, especially children of noncitizens. Noncitizen children could enroll in public schools only if they scored more than 90 percent on entrance examinations, which authorities administered only in Arabic. The government provided free primary education only to citizens. Public schools are not coeducational after kindergarten. Islamic studies are mandatory in all public schools and in private schools serving Muslim students.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and the government has taken steps to increase awareness of the issue. The government provided shelter and help for child victims of abuse or sexual exploitation. Newspapers frequently advertised the Ministry of Interior’s child abuse reporting hotline and carried stories of prosecutions of child abuse cases. In June the government enacted a new Child Rights Law that included increased reporting requirements for suspected cases of child abuse, tightened definitions of abuse, and increased legal punishments.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage for both men and women is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children, with a minimum penalty for conviction of 10 years in prison. Consensual sex is illegal outside of marriage, carrying a minimum penalty of one year in prison. The penalty for conviction of sex with children under age 14 is life imprisonment. Distribution and consumption of child pornography is illegal.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is no indigenous Jewish community. There were no synagogues and no formal recognition for the very small foreign Jewish population (which constituted less than 1 percent of the population); the foreign Jewish community could conduct regular prayer services in rented space. Occasionally social media contained anti-Semitic remarks, and there was anti-Semitic material available at some book fairs including a few that operated with government oversight.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons who have physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services; however, some discrimination occurred.

Public and private facilities provided education, health services, sports, and vocational rehabilitation for persons with disabilities; however, capacity was insufficient. Many of the facilities were reserved for citizens. There were reports that in some cases authorities detained individuals for behavior linked to a mental disability, rather than send them to a medical facility. These individuals were later acquitted because of their disabilities.

The Ministry of Social Affairs is the central body dealing with the rights of persons with disabilities and raising awareness at the federal and local level. In accordance with the law, most public buildings provided some form of access for persons with disabilities.

Government entities, including the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Services for Educational Development Foundation for Inclusion, and the Sports Organizations for Persons with Disabilities, sponsored conferences and workshops emphasizing the inclusion and integration of persons with disabilities into schools and workplaces. The Ministry of Social Affairs, which ran a number of rehabilitation centers, stated that the increased emphasis in recent years on integrating children with disabilities into regular schools opened up space in their rehabilitation centers to better accommodate persons with more significant disabilities.

Various departments within the Ministries of Labor, Education, and Social Affairs are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and the government enforced these rights in employment, housing, and entitlement programs. While enforcement was effective for jobs in the public sector, the government did not sufficiently encourage hiring in the private sector. The emirate of Abu Dhabi reserved 2 percent of government jobs for citizens with disabilities, and other emirates and the federal government included statements in their human resources regulations emphasizing priority for hiring citizens with disabilities in the public sector. Public sector employers provided reasonable accommodations, defined broadly, for employees with disabilities. The employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector remained a challenge due to a lack of training and opportunities, and societal discrimination.

The government sponsored several initiatives to host international conferences for persons with disabilities emphasizing rights, opportunities, and the importance of social inclusion. The government also worked to improve the accessibility of public facilities. For example in June, Dubai launched a $2.7 million study to identify specific targets and methodologies to improve accessibility for schools, hospitals, parks, and transportation facilities.

The General Authority of Sports and Youth Welfare and the Disabled Sports Federation provided programs to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in sporting activities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Approximately 89 percent of the country’s residents were noncitizens, more than half of whom originated from the Indian subcontinent. Societal discrimination against noncitizens was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment, education, housing, social interaction, and health care.

The law allows for criminalizing commercial disputes and bankruptcy, which led to discrimination against foreigners. Authorities enforced these laws selectively and allowed citizens to threaten noncitizen businesspersons and foreign workers with harsh prison sentences to assure a favorable outcome in commercial disputes. Under the penal code, those who issue checks with an insufficient account balance are punishable by detention or fine (see also section 2.d., Foreign Travel). By presidential decree citizens have immunity from prosecution for bounced checks.

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

Both civil law and sharia criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Under sharia individuals who engage in consensual same-sex sexual conduct could be subject to the death penalty. Dubai’s penal code allows for up to a 10-year prison sentence for conviction of such activity. There were no reports of arrests or prosecutions for consensual same-sex activity. In September authorities passed Federal Decree No. 4, which permits doctors to conduct sexual reassignment surgery so long as there are “psychological” and “physiological” signs of gender and sex disparity.

There were reports of LGBTI persons being questioned in Dubai airport. For example, in August media reported that authorities detained a Canadian model, allegedly on account of discrepancies between her female physical appearance and her insistence she was female, and the information contained in her passport, which authorities said contained a picture that appeared male and listed her sex as male. Due to social conventions and potential repression, LGBTI organizations did not operate openly, nor were gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events held. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.

By law wearing clothing deemed inappropriate for one’s sex is a punishable offense. The government deported foreign residents and referred the cases of individuals who wore clothing deemed inappropriate to the public prosecutor. For example, in February authorities arrested, fined, and deported a male foreign national for wearing makeup and women’s clothing in a Dubai mall.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Noncitizens and, to a lesser extent, citizens, with HIV/AIDS and other diseases faced discrimination. Legal protections regarding employment and education discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS, as well as free access to HIV treatment and care programs, existed for citizens; however, noncitizens did not have these rights. The government does not grant residency or work visas to persons with certain communicable diseases including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, or leprosy. Noncitizens that test positive for these diseases may be detained and deported. Doctors are required to inform authorities of HIV/AIDS cases, reportedly discouraging individuals from seeking testing or treatment. A study released in February and conducted across eight universities indicated that 85 percent of citizen students expressed negative attitudes towards those with HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not protect the right to organize, strike, or bargain collectively. The law does not permit workers to form or join unions. The labor law forbids strikes by public sector employees, security guards, and migrant workers. The law does not entirely prohibit strikes in the private sector, but allows an employer to suspend an employee for striking. In the private sector the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE), formerly the Labor Ministry, must approve and register individual employment contracts. Labor law does not apply to domestic and agricultural workers or to most workers in export processing zones.

Private sector employees may file collective employment dispute complaints with the MOHRE, which by law acts as mediator between the parties. Employees may then file unresolved disputes within the labor court system, which forwards disputes to a conciliation council. Public sector employees may file an administrative grievance or a case in a civil court to address a labor-related dispute or complaint. Administrative remedies are available for labor complaints, and authorities commonly applied them to resolve issues such as delayed wage payments, unpaid overtime, or substandard housing.

All foreign workers have the right to file labor-related grievances with the MOHRE. The ministry sometimes intervened in foreign workers’ disputes with employers and helped negotiate private settlements. The law allows employers to request the government to cancel the work permit of, and deport for up to one year any foreign worker for unexcused absences of more than seven days or for participating in a strike.

The government generally enforced labor law. In May, the MOHRE issued its first Worker Welfare Report, which will be updated on an annual basis, and which outlines and provides statistics on the ministry’s enforcement and dispute settlement activities regarding recruitment, contract integrity, payment of wages and overtime, housing accommodation, and health and safety.

Professional associations were not independent, and authorities had broad powers to interfere in their activities. For example, the MOHRE had to license and approve professional associations, which were required to receive government approval for international affiliations and travel by members. The government granted some professional associations with majority citizen membership a limited ability to raise work-related issues, petition the government for redress, and file grievances with the government.

Foreign workers may belong to local professional associations; however, they do not have voting rights and may not serve on association boards. Apart from these professional associations, in a few instances some foreign workers came together to negotiate with their employers on issues such as housing conditions, nonpayment of wages, and working conditions.

The threat of deportation discouraged noncitizens from voicing work-related grievances. Nonetheless, occasional protests and strikes took place. The government did not always punish workers for nonviolent protests or strikes, but it dispersed such protests, and sometimes deported noncitizen participants. In July media sources reported that an estimated 1,300 workers had engaged in a strike and demonstrations in Ajman accusing their company of delays in salary payments. Workers returned to their jobs after local police and the MOHRE officials intervened to broker an agreement to pay back wages.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the domestic labor sector.

The government took steps to prevent forced labor through continued implementation of the Wages Protection System (WPS) (see section 7.e.). The government enforced fines for employers who entered incorrect information into the WPS, did not pay workers for more than 60 days, or made workers sign documents falsely attesting to receipt of benefits.

In January the government implemented three new decrees that aim to ensure that work is performed on a voluntary basis throughout the employment relationship. The first decree addresses contract substitution after arrival in the country by requiring a migrant worker to sign an offer letter in his or her home country, which is turned into a contract when the individual arrives in the UAE. The second decree addresses ending the employment relationship, allowing either party to do so subject to certain requirements of notice and/or indemnification. The third decree addresses an employee’s ability to switch employers without the consent of the current employer.

It was relatively common for employers to subject migrant domestic workers, and to a lesser degree, construction and other manual labor workers, to conditions indicative of forced labor. Workers experienced nonpayment of wages, unpaid overtime, failure to grant legally required time off, withholding of passports, threats and in some cases psychological, physical, or sexual abuse. In a few cases, physical abuses led to death. Local newspapers reported on court cases involving violence committed against maids and other domestic workers. For example, in January police arrested a noncitizen woman in Dubai for killing her maid. Prosecutors said the victim had suffered multiple forms of physical abuse prior to death.

In violation of the law, employers routinely held employees’ passports, thus restricting their freedom of movement and ability to leave the country or change jobs. In labor camps, it was common practice for passports to be kept in a central secure location, accessible with 24 or 48 hours’ notice. In most cases, individuals reported they were able to obtain documents without difficulty when needed; however, this was not always the case. With domestic employees, passport withholding frequently occurred, and enforcement against this practice was weak.

Some employers forced foreign workers in the domestic and agricultural sectors to compensate them for hiring expenses such as visa fees, health exams, and insurance, which the law requires employers to pay, by providing unpaid labor or having these costs deducted from their contracted salary. Some employers did not pay their employees contracted wages even after they satisfied these “debts.”

Though illegal, workers in both the corporate and domestic sectors often borrowed money to pay recruiting fees in their home countries, and as a result spent most of their salaries trying to repay home-country labor recruiters or lenders. These debts limited workers options to leave a job, and sometimes trapped them in exploitive work conditions. In May the country hosted the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, a forum to improve cooperation between origin and destination countries. The agenda included discussion on enhancing efforts to counter labor-recruiting abuses. In December, the government transferred oversight of recruitment of domestic workers from the interior ministry to the MOHRE.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of persons under age 15 and includes special provisions regarding children ages 15 to 18. The law, however, excludes domestic and agricultural work, leaving underage workers in these sectors unprotected. In June the government announced a law to allow issuance of work permits for 12- to 18-year olds, specifically for gaining work experience and under specific rules. There are separate provisions regarding foreign resident children age 16 or older. The MOHRE is responsible for enforcing the regulations and generally did so effectively; violations were uncommon.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The 2015 Antidiscrimination Law prohibits all forms of discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, or race, although without specific reference to employment. Penalties are adequate and include fines and jail terms of six months to 10 years. To date, the law has been applied in cases of religious discrimination, including one incident that occurred in a work environment.

No specific law prohibits or regulates discrimination regarding sex, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or communicable disease status in employment or occupation; however, the country is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. It also ratified the International Labor Organization’s discrimination convention and thus submits regular reports to it on its implementation of that convention. Women who worked in the private sector, however, regularly did not receive equal benefits and reportedly faced discrimination in promotions and equality of wages. In free zones, individualized laws govern employment requirements. For example, in the Dubai International Financial Center, employers may not discriminate against any person based on sex, marital status, race, national identity, religion, or disability. Nevertheless, job advertisements requesting applications only from certain nationalities were common and not regulated.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no minimum wage. There was very limited information on average domestic, agricultural, or construction worker salaries or on public sector salaries.

The law prescribes a 48-hour workweek and paid annual holidays. The law states daily working hours must not exceed eight hours in the day or night shifts and provides for overtime pay to employees working more than eight hours in a 24-hour period.

Government occupational health and safety standards require that employers provide employees with a safe work and living environment, including minimum rest periods and limits on the number of hours worked, depending on the nature of the work. For example, the law mandates a two-and-one-half-hour midday work break, from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., between June 15 and September 15, for laborers who work in open areas such as construction sites. The government may exempt companies from the midday work break if the company cannot postpone the project for emergency or technical reasons. Such projects include laying asphalt or concrete and repairing damaged water pipes, gas lines, or electrical lines. The MOHRE was responsible for enforcing laws governing acceptable conditions of work for workers in semiskilled and professional job categories but did not do so in all sectors, including the informal sector and the domestic labor sector. To monitor the private sector, the ministry had active departments for inspection, occupational safety, combating human trafficking, and wage protection. The ministry published statistics on its inspection and enforcement activities.

Workers in domestic services, agriculture, and other categories overseen by the Ministry of Interior come under a different regulatory regime. These workers are not covered by private and public sector labor law, but have some legal protections regarding working hours, overtime, timeliness of wage payments, paid leave, health care, and provision of adequate housing; however, enforcement of these rules was often weak. As a result, these workers were more vulnerable to unacceptable work conditions.

There was no information available on the informal economy, or legal enforcement within this sector, or an estimate of its size; however, anecdotal reports indicate it was common for individuals to enter the country on a nonwork visa and join the informal job sector.

The MOHRE conducted inspections of labor camps and workplaces such as construction sites. The government also routinely fined employers for violating the midday break rule and published compliance statistics.

The government took action to address wage payment issues. Its implementation of the WPS and fines for noncompliance discouraged employers from withholding salaries to foreign workers under the jurisdiction of the MOHRE. The WPS, an electronic salary transfer system, requires institutions to pay workers via approved banks, exchange bureaus, and other financial institutions, to assure timely and full payment of agreed wages. The MOHRE monitored these payments electronically. The WPS, however, did not apply to foreign workers under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, such as domestic and agricultural workers.

The MOHRE conducted site visits to monitor the payment of overtime. Violations resulted in fines and in many cases a suspension of permits to hire new workers. In October, the MOHRE said that its salary enforcement efforts year to date, which included 2,200 site visits, resulted in finding violations at 122 facilities. These efforts also resulted in resolving compensation shortfalls, such as unpaid overtime and salary delays, for over 10,000 workers. According to MOHRE, it has also referred approximately 250 companies to public prosecutors for failure to pay sufficient overtime over the last five years.

The MOHRE continued efforts to ensure adequate health standards, safe food, and facilities in labor camps. It conducted regular inspections of health and living conditions at labor camps and stated that it issued written documentation on problems needing correction and reviewed them in subsequent inspections. Nevertheless, some low-wage foreign workers faced substandard living conditions, including overcrowded apartments or unsafe and unhygienic lodging in labor camps. In some cases the ministry cancelled hiring permits for companies that failed to provide adequate housing. During some inspections of labor camps, the ministry employed interpreters to assist foreign workers in understanding employment guidelines. The ministry operated a toll-free hotline in Arabic, English, Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog, and other languages spoken by foreign residents through which workers were able to report delayed wage payments or other violations. MOHRE mobile van units also visited some labor camps to inform workers of their rights. The General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs Dubai Office created the Taqdeer Award program, which rewards companies based on labor practices and grants them priority for government contracts.

The government-instituted revised standard contract for domestic workers aimed to protect domestic workers through a binding agreement between employers and domestic workers. The contract provides for transparency and legal protections concerning issues such as working hours, time-off, overtime, health care, and housing. Officials from some originating countries criticized the process, saying it prevented foreign embassies from reviewing and approving the labor contracts of their citizens. As a result some countries attempted to halt their citizens’ travel to the UAE to assume domestic labor positions. Many still enter on visit visas, however, and then adjust status.

The government allowed foreign workers to switch jobs without a letter of permission from their employer. Labor regulations provide foreign employees the option to work without an employment contract or, in cases in which a contract was in force, to change employer sponsors after two years as well as within the first two years within the terms of the contract. The government designed this regulation to improve job mobility and reduce the vulnerability of foreign workers to abuse. The regulation, however, did not apply to agricultural or domestic workers.

One of the activities of the government-supported NGO, EHRA, was to promote the rights of workers. It conducted unannounced visits to labor camps and work sites to monitor conditions and reported violations to the MOHRE.

There were cases in which workers were injured or killed on job sites; however, authorities typically did not disclose details of workplace injuries and deaths, including the adequacy of safety measures. The MOHRE routinely conducted health and safety site visits. Dubai emirate required construction companies and industrial firms to appoint safety officers accredited by authorized entities to promote greater site safety.

Reports of migrant worker suicides or attempted suicides continued. In some cases observers linked the suicides to poor working and living conditions, low wages, and/or financial strain caused by heavy debts owed to originating-country labor recruitment agencies. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, a quasi-governmental organization, conducted vocational training programs with some elements aimed at decreasing suicidal behavior.

United Kingdom

Executive Summary

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the UK) is a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty, parliamentary form of government. Citizens elect representatives to the House of Commons, the lower chamber of the bicameral Parliament. They last did so in free and fair elections in May 2015. On June 23, the UK held a free and fair nationwide referendum and voted to leave the European Union. Members of the upper chamber, the House of Lords, occupy appointed or hereditary seats. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Bermuda each have elected legislative bodies and devolved administrations, with varying degrees of legislative and executive powers. The UK has 14 overseas territories, including Bermuda. Each of the overseas territories has its own constitution, while the UK government is responsible for external affairs, security, and defense.

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

During the year the most serious human rights problems were unsafe and deteriorating prisons, restrictions on those seeking asylum in the country, and an increase in hate crimes based on ethnicity, disability, anti-Semitism, and religion.

Other problems included violence against women and children, sexual abuse of children, trafficking in persons, differences in the legal ages for certain same-sex acts in Bermuda and some other British territories, the rare application of the law against inciting to hate, forced labor, and discrimination against women in employment.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished allegations of official abuse, including by police, with no reported cases 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 no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards but nevertheless had serious problems. On September 24, an article in The Economist characterized conditions as “grim and getting worse.”

Physical ConditionsThe Economist stated buildings were “crumbling, infested with rats and cockroaches.” It reported prisons held 11 percent more detainees than they could “decently accommodate” by the government’s own standards.

The Annual Report 2015-16 of Her Majesty’s (HM) Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales released on July 19 stated there were more than 20,000 assaults in English and Welsh prisons in 2015, an increase of 27 percent over 2014. Citing data from the Home Office, The Economist reported 646 serious assaults on staff and 2,328 serious assaults on other prisoners during the year for a total of 2,974 or a 31 percent increase. Between April 2015 and March 2016, the chief inspector reported six apparent homicides. During the same period, there were 100 suicides, a 27 percent increase, of which two were transgender women held in men’s prisons. There were more than 32,000 incidents of self-harm in 2015, an increase of 25 percent.

Four of the five young offender institutions the chief inspector visited were “not sufficiently good in the area of safety.” Children were locked in their cells for too much of the day and got too little fresh air and exercise, according to the report.

The Official Annual Report of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales for the period 2015-16 released in September stated there were 304 deaths in custody, an increase of 21 percent from the preceding year. Twelve of these deaths were in “approved premises” (halfway houses), up from eight in the preceding year; three deaths were in immigration removal facilities, up from two in the previous year. There were 172 deaths from natural causes; the ombudsman explained the increase because of the rising number of older prisoners. The prison service also noted six as apparent homicides; a further 23 deaths were classified as “other non-natural,” which the ombudsman noted were “usually drug related,” and of these, 12 awaited further classification.

An important contributing factor to the problems of safety in prisons is the use of synthetic drugs, especially cannabinoids such as “spice” and “black mamba.” The Economist reported drones flew drugs through broken windows in Pentonville prison in London.

Scottish Prison Service figures showed 24 deaths in prisons in Scotland in 2015, the same number as 2014. Of those 24, 20 were still to be determined following the conclusion of fatal accident inquiries. The other deaths were a result of natural causes.

In Northern Ireland women did not have a separate facility from juveniles. According to the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland’s annual report for 2015-16, the ombudsman began investigations into two deaths (one fewer than in 2015). One of the deaths appeared to be a suicide, and the other death was due to natural causes.

Following a critical official report in 2015 that deemed the Maghaberry prison County Antrim, Northern Ireland, which housed 1,000 prisoners, as “unsafe and unstable,” subsequent investigations indicated the situation stabilized, and authorities partially achieved recommendations to improve the situation. In November investigations began into the death of a 44-year-old man at the prison. It was at least the fourth death since the 2015 report.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Every prison, immigration removal center, and some short-term holding facilities at airports have an independent monitoring board. Each board’s members are independent, and their role is to monitor day-to-day life in their local facility and to ensure proper standards of care and decency are maintained. Members have unrestricted access to their local prison or immigration detention center at any time and can talk to any prisoner or detainee they wish, out of sight and hearing of staff, if necessary.

For two weeks beginning on March 30, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited places of detention in England. At year’s end the report of the visit was not yet published.

In August 2015 the Scottish Prison Service announced a new independent monitoring system of Scotland’s prisons would begin to assess the conditions and treatment levels for prisoners. Approximately 150 volunteers were trained as prison inspectors. By August almost 900 visits had been carried out.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government observed these prohibitions.

A report published in January by the Scottish Police Authority showed an 81 percent decline in stop-and-search actions by the Scottish police force, Police Scotland, from June 2015 to August 2016 (22,787), compared with the corresponding period in 2014 (119,940).

In Bermuda the number of stop-and-search actions “in anticipation of violence” numbered approximately 425 in the first half of the year. This represented a continuing significant decrease from a high of approximately 6,500 in the second quarter of 2011, when gang violence was at its height. Civil rights groups stated the law unfairly targeted blacks.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Except in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the national police maintained internal security and reported to the Home Office. The army, under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security and supports police in extreme cases. The National Crime Agency (NCA) investigates many serious crimes in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and it has a mandate to deal with organized, economic, and cybercrimes as well as border policing and child protection. The NCA director general has independent operational direction and control over the NCA’s activities and is accountable to the home secretary.

By law authorities must refer to the Independent Police Complaints Commission all deaths and serious injuries during or following police contact, including road traffic fatalities involving police, fatal police shootings, deaths in or following police custody, apparent suicides following police custody, and other deaths where the actions or inaction of police may have contributed.

Scotland’s judicial, legal, and law enforcement system is fully separate from that of the rest of the UK. Police Scotland reports to the Scottish justice minister and the state prosecutor. Police Scotland reports cross-border crime and threat information to the national UK police and responds to UK police needs in Scotland upon request.

Northern Ireland also maintains a separate police force, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The PSNI reports to the Northern Ireland Policing Board, a nondepartmental public body composed of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and independent members of the community. Northern Ireland’s minister of justice appoints the board.

In Bermuda the Bermuda Police Service (BPS) is responsible for internal security. The BPS reports to the governor appointed by the UK but is funded by the elected government of Bermuda.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Coroner’s inquests investigated deaths related to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Historical Enquiries Team was closed and replaced by the Legacy Investigations Branch located in the PSNI. The 2014 Stormont House Agreement and the Fresh Start Agreement of 2015 provide for the creation of legacy bodies to deal with the past, which would include establishment of a Historical Investigations Unit. At year’s end these institutions had not yet been established.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police in the UK must have a warrant issued by a magistrate or a judge to arrest a person, unless there is reasonable suspicion a person has just committed or is about to commit a crime. In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, a senior police official must authorize detention without charges for more than 24 hours, and a magistrate must authorize detention for more than 36 hours up to a maximum 96 hours. Police may detain terrorism suspects without charge for up to 14 days. Police must inform detainees promptly of charges against them, and this right was respected.

In the UK there is a functioning bail system, and defendants awaiting trial have the right to bail, except for those judged to be flight risks, likely to commit another offense, suspected terrorists, or in other limited circumstances.

If questioned at a police station in the UK, all suspects have the right to legal representation, including counsel provided by the government if they are indigent. Police may not question suspects who request legal advice until a lawyer is present. Detainees may make telephone calls. The maximum length of pretrial detention is 182 days. The court may extend the detention in exceptional cases. Suspects were not held incommunicado or under house arrest. Authorities generally respected these rights.

In Gibraltar the CPT found that, while the right of access to a lawyer is adequately enshrined in law in Gibraltar, a lawyer was only accessible at the detainee’s own expense.

The inspectorate of prisons in England and Wales reported “inadequate and, in some cases, nonexistent monitoring of the use of force” in detention centers and expressed concerns that some applications of force were not reasonable or proportionate.

In Scotland police may detain a subject for no more than 24 hours. After an initial detention period of 12 hours, a police custody officer may authorize further detention for an additional 12 hours without authorization from the court, if the officer believes it necessary. Only a judge can issue a warrant for arrest if he or she believes there is enough evidence against a suspect. A detainee must be informed immediately of allegations against him or her and be advised promptly of the charges if there is sufficient evidence to proceed. Police may not detain a person more than once for the same offense. Depending on the nature of the crime, a suspect should be released from custody if the detainee is deemed not to present a risk. If police consider it important that the case be heard at court quickly, the suspect may be released on an “undertaking”–a promise to attend court when told to. Suspects perceived to be a risk to the public can be held in custody until the next court day. There is a functioning bail system.

In Bermuda a person must usually be arrested with a warrant issued by a court. The law permits arrests without warrant in certain conditions. No arrests or detentions can be made arbitrarily or secretly. The detainee must be told the reason for his arrest immediately upon being arrested. Detainees may be held for 42 hours for investigation, but detention should be reviewed at specified intervals of initially six hours, then every 12 hours, until 42 hours are reached. For serious crimes a senior police officer may authorize additional detention of up to 72 hours before charges are filed. Crimes with firearms automatically allow detention up to 72 hours and have special provisions under the law to detain without charge for two weeks, followed by an additional two-week period with the approval of the Supreme Court.

There is a functioning system of bail in Bermuda. A detainee has the immediate right of access to a lawyer, either through a personal meeting or by telephone. Free legal advice is provided for detainees. A detainee who wishes to have another lawyer can have one at his own expense. Police may interview without a lawyer in exceptional circumstances which must be authorized, such as to save life or to find a kidnapping victim. Police must inform the arrestee of his rights to communication with a friend, family member, or other person identified by the detainee. The police superintendent may authorize incommunicado detention for serious crimes such as terrorism. House arrest does not legally exist but may be a condition of bail.

Formal complaints about arrests in Bermuda can be made to an independent criminal compensation board, the police complaints authority, the Human Rights Commission, or a court.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: All citizens in the UK have a right to habeas corpus; in Northern Ireland they apply via Northern Ireland’s devolved judicial system. In Scotland the right to habeas corpus is protected by law.

Protracted Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: See section 2.d.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary routinely enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Criminal proceedings must be held without undue delay and be open to the public except for cases in juvenile court or those involving public decency or security. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. In a trial under the Official Secrets Act, the judge may order the court closed, but sentencing must be public.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of choice, or to have one provided at public expense, except in cases before employment tribunals that may unintentionally overlap with undiscovered discrimination cases. Defendants and their lawyers have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases, with some exceptions, such as instances in which information pertaining to a suspect relates to national security. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them, present witnesses and evidence, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal adverse verdicts.

The law extends the above rights to all defendants.

In Bermuda the Disclosure and Criminal Reform Act 2015 passed early in 2016 requires a defendant to declare to the prosecutor and the court within 28 days of his arraignment whether he intends to give evidence at his trial. Failure to do so permits the court to direct the jury to draw inferences in deciding whether the accused is guilty of the offense charged. During the year the Bermudian Supreme Court heard one case where a defense statement was required and was duly supplied.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

In the UK individuals, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and groups of individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations and have the right to appeal to the European Court for Human Rights decisions involving alleged violations by the government of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In Bermuda the Human Rights Tribunal adjudicates complaints.

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. In a memorandum dated May 17, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner stated that 65 laws cover the interception of communications, a framework he called “extremely complicated.”

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government routinely respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits expressions of hatred toward persons because of their color, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation as well as any communication that is threatening or abusive and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress a person. The penalties for such expressions include fines, imprisonment, or both.

Press and Media Freedoms: The law’s restrictions on expressions of hatred apply to the print and broadcast media. In Bermuda the law prohibits publishing written words that are threatening, abusive, or insulting, but it applies only on racial grounds; on other grounds, including sexual orientation, the law prohibits only discriminatory “notices, signs, symbols, emblems or other representations.”

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. The UK has no blanket laws covering internet blocking, but the courts have issued blocking injunctions against various categories of criminal content such as depictions of child sexual abuse, promotion of extremism and terrorism, and materials infringing on copyrights. Courts have blocked torrent file-sharing sites such as The Pirate Bay and Newzbin, primarily for hate speech and violations of intellectual property rights.

Individuals who view or post criminal content online may be prosecuted if the content is hosted by UK servers, but there are difficult jurisdictional issues when such material is hosted by foreign servers. In general, viewing or posting the following categories of activity on the internet is subject to criminal prosecution: child sexual abuse images hosted anywhere in the world, criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK, incitement to racial hatred content hosted in the UK, and nonphotographic child sexual abuse images, such as drawings, hosted in the UK.

In recent years the government has placed significant emphasis on stopping the dissemination of terrorist and hate speech online and on protecting individuals from targeted harassment on social media. In 2015 laws were amended to increase prison time for those convicted of targeting individuals with abusive and offensive content online “with the purpose of causing distress or anxiety.” Also in 2015 English and Welsh laws were amended to criminalize pornographic images distributed online without the subject’s permission and with the intent to harm the subject, so-called revenge porn.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2015, 78 percent of adults (39.3 million individuals) in the UK accessed the internet every day, or almost every day.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Home Office officials have the power to detain asylum seekers and unauthorized migrants who do not enter the asylum system. Immigration detention was used to establish a person’s identity or basis of claim, to remove a person from the UK, or to avoid a person’s noncompliance with any conditions attached to a grant of temporary admission/release. The UK’s immigration detention facilities contained approximately 3,500 places. In 2015, 27,812 men and 4,634 women entered detention. Figures for 2016 showed 81 percent of all immigration detainees leaving detention had been held for less than two months, approximately 2 percent for between six and 12 months, and an additional 1 percent for more than a year. Although Home Office policy stated detention should be used sparingly, and for the shortest period necessary, there was neither a maximum time limit for the use of immigration detention in the UK nor automatic judicial oversight of decisions to detain. In response to calls from NGOs and the CPT to introduce a maximum time limit and to enhance existing mechanisms for independent oversight, the Home Office began to review its use of immigration detention and the length of time individuals can spend in detention.

A report published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief stated asylum claims from genuine converts to Christianity were being rejected if they could not recite the Ten Commandments; the report accused immigration officials of ignoring or failing to follow their guidance correctly.

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

In-country Movement: The home secretary may impose terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs) based on a “balance of probabilities.” TPIMs include electronic tagging, reporting regularly to the police, and facing “tightly defined exclusion from particular places and the prevention of travel overseas.” A suspect must live at home and stay there overnight, possibly for up to 10 hours. The suspect may apply to the courts to stay elsewhere. The suspect is allowed to use a mobile phone and the internet, to work and study, subject to conditions. As of October 26, six suspected terror suspects were subject to TPIMs.

Emigration and Repatriation: The law permits the home secretary administratively to impose “Temporary Exclusion Orders” (TEOs) on a returning UK citizen, or others with a right to live in the UK, certain obligations once back in the UK, such as reporting to a police station. A TEO requires a court order and is subject to judicial oversight; an individual has the right to appeal. A TEO may be imposed if the home secretary reasonably suspects the individual in question is, or has been, involved in terrorism-related activity and reasonably considers it necessary to protect persons in the UK from a risk of terrorism. There were no known impositions of TEOs during the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: In England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Bermuda’s constitution and laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government does not have an established system for providing protection to refugees.

In the year ending in June, the UK resettled 3,439 refugees. Additionally in October, just before the French government closed and demolished the “Jungle” camp in Calais, the UK resettled 300 refugees. In September, Scotland confirmed it had accepted the 1,000 Syrian refugees Scottish First Minister Sturgeon pledged in September 2015 to take. On April 28, 57 Syrian refugees from 14 families arrived in Northern Ireland.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The UK is subject to the EU’s Dublin III regulation and considers all other EU member states, except Greece, to be countries of safe origin or transit. The regulation permits authorities to remove an asylum applicant to another country responsible for adjudicating an applicant’s claim. The government places the burden of proof on asylum seekers who arrive from safe countries of origin, who pass through a country where they are not considered to be at risk, or who remained in the country for a period before seeking asylum.

Employment: The government did not allow asylum seekers to work. They received government support at 30 percent below the normal rate for their family size for the duration of their asylum application. The government granted an asylum seeker with an upheld claim “refugee status” and the benefits enjoyed by citizens, including employment opportunities.

Access to Basic Services: In February the “Right to Rent” entered into force. It requires all landlords in England to check the immigration documents of prospective tenants to verify that they are not irregular or undocumented migrants. Landlords can be fined up to 3,000 pounds ($3,700) for noncompliance. In a memorandum dated March 22, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, called on the government to end the “Right to Rent” program, which he alleged deprived irregular migrants of adequate housing.

Durable Solutions: The government granted varying levels of assistance to refused asylum seekers, including return flights and financial assistance.

Temporary Protection: The government may provide temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the categories of humanitarian protection and discretionary leave. In 2015 it granted humanitarian protection to 1,650 persons and subsidiary protection to 125 others.

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 May 5, Scotland held elections to the Scottish Parliament, Wales to the Welsh Assembly, and Northern Ireland to the legislative assembly elections. The UK held national parliamentary elections in May 2015. Bermuda last held elections in 2012. International standards were respected during these elections. There were no reports of abuses or irregularities. On June 23, citizens voted to leave the EU in a free and fair UK-wide referendum.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities 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 implemented the law effectively. In the UK there were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: All members of Parliament (MPs) are required to disclose their financial interests. The Register of Members’ Interests was available online and updated regularly. These public disclosures include paid employment, property ownership, shareholdings in public or private companies, and other interests that “might reasonably be thought to influence” the member in any way. The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Bermudian Parliament have similar codes of conduct for members. Under the ministerial code issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, ministers must follow standards of conduct, including the disclosure of gifts and travel. The UK publishes the names, grades, job titles, and annual pay rates for most civil servants with salaries greater than 150,000 pounds ($185,250). Government departments publish the business expenses of and hospitality received by their most senior officials.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to information, and authorities routinely granted access to citizens and noncitizens, including foreign media. Authorities implemented the law effectively.

In Scotland the law gives everyone the right to ask for any information held by a Scottish public authority. The Scottish Information Commissioner is responsible for enforcing and promoting this legislation and implemented the law effectively.

During the first year of Bermuda’s public access to information law, authorities received more than 100 requests by the end of 2015.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: Parliament has a Joint Committee on Human Rights composed of 12 members selected from the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The committee investigates human rights matters in the country and scrutinizes legislation affecting human rights. It may call for testimony from government officials, who routinely comply.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is an independent, nondepartmental public body that promotes and monitors human rights and protects, enforces, and promotes equality across nine “protected” grounds: age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation, and gender reassignment. The sponsoring department is the Government Equalities Office. The commission was well funded and was considered effective.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, sponsored by the Northern Ireland Office, and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, sponsored by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, monitored human rights in that province. These entities were adequately funded and considered effective.

In Bermuda the Human Rights Commission is an independent body that effectively administers the law regarding human rights by the investigation and resolution of complaints lodged to it; its funding was adequate.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, spousal rape, and domestic violence. The maximum legal penalty for rape is life imprisonment. The law also provides for injunctive relief, personal protection orders, and protective exclusion orders (similar to restraining orders) for female victims of violence. The government enforced the law effectively in reported cases. Courts in some cases imposed the maximum punishment for rape. According to the ONS, the police recorded a total of 106,378 sexual offenses during the period of March 2015/16, of which 35,798 were for rape. This represented an increase of 21 percent in sexual offenses recorded by the police compared with the previous year, and a 22 percent increase in rape. The ONS stated the increase was due to improvements in the recording of sexual offenses by the police and an increased willingness of victims to report them. The PSNI reported the number of offenses investigated by its Rape Crime Unit topped 600 in 2014-15, an increase of 24 percent from the previous year. The PSNI also stated there were 28,465 incidents of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland in the year ending in June. Improvements in recording and a greater willingness of victims to come forward to report such crimes were believed to be the main causes for the higher numbers. The government provided shelters, counseling, and other assistance for survivors of rape or violence in the UK and Northern Ireland. It offered free legal aid to battered women who were economically dependent on their abusers.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C in the UK. The law also requires health and social care professionals and teachers to report to police cases of FGM/C on girls under 18 years of age. It is also illegal to take abroad a British national or permanent resident for FGM/C, or to help someone trying to do this. The penalty is up to 14 years in prison. An FGM Protection Order, a civil measure that can be applied for through a family court, offers the means of protecting actual or potential victims from FGM/C under the civil law. Breach of an FGM Protection Order is a criminal offense carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.

Hospital providers and general practice doctors are obligated to collect data on all incidents of FGM/C for the Female Genital Mutilation Prevalence Dataset, including those already being treated and new cases.

In July the Health and Social Care Information Center published the first ever recorded figures for FGM/C, which showed 5,702 new cases in England between April 2015 and March 2016. Most of the women and girls were born in Africa and underwent the procedure there, but 43 girls were born in the UK and 18 of those had it done in the country. The true extent of the abuse was believed to be much higher, with the government estimating 170,000 women and girls in the UK had undergone the procedure. Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland did not collect figures on FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment. No further information was available.

For the first time, Nottinghamshire Police recorded harassment of women as a hate crime in an effort to tackle sexist abuse. The force defines misogyny hate crime as “Incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman and includes behavior targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman.” The classification means individuals can report incidents that might not be considered a crime, and police will investigate and put in place support for victims.

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

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women were subject to some discrimination in employment.

Children

Birth Registration: A child born in the UK receives the country’s citizenship at birth if one of the parents is a UK citizen or a legally settled resident. Children born in Northern Ireland may opt for UK, Irish, or dual citizenship. A child born in an overseas territory is a UK overseas territories citizen if at least one of the child’s parents has citizenship. There are special provisions for granting citizenship to persons who might otherwise be stateless. All births must be registered within 42 days in the district where the baby was born, and unregistered births were uncommon.

Child Abuse: According to the ONS, police in England and Wales recorded 40,886 sexual offenses committed against children, including rape, assault and grooming offenses, in 2015-16.

In Scotland while the specific age of the victim cannot generally be determined from the data supplied by authorities, many of the sexual crime codes used by police to record crime make it clear when the victim was under age 18. By adding up all these crime codes, at least 43 percent of the 10,273 sexual crimes recorded in 2015-16 by police related to a victim under 18.

The number of child abuse referrals the PSNI recorded in 2015-16 was 4,723, an increase of 23 percent from 2014-15. As of June the charitable NGO National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) stated the number of children on the child protection registry was 2,207. In June the NSPCC put the number of children on the child protection registry because of sex abuse at 142.

Social service departments in each local authority in the country maintained confidential child protection registers containing details of children at risk of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect. The registers also included child protection plans for each child. According to the NSPCC, at the end of March 2015 there were 52,625 children on child protection registers or subject to child protection plans in England and Wales. In Scotland there were 2,751 children on child protection registers in 2015. In Northern Ireland as of September, there were 2,262 children on the child protection register, representing a 5 percent increase on the previous year.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage in the UK is 16. In England and Wales, persons under 18 and not previously married require the written consent of the parents or guardians, and the underage person must present a birth certificate. Forcing a UK citizen into marriage anywhere in the world is a criminal offense in England and Wales with a maximum prison sentence of seven years. In Scotland persons between 16 and 18 do not need parental consent to be married. In Northern Ireland persons under 18 need parental consent “or if appropriate an order of a court dispensing with consent.” In Bermuda the minimum age for marriage is 18.

The government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) operated a helpline providing confidential support and advice to victims and professionals and conducted a nationwide outreach program with schools, social services, and police. In 2015 the FMU gave advice or support to 1,220 cases, of which 329 (27 percent) involved victims below 18 years of age; 427 (35 percent) involved victims ages 18-25. In 980 (80 percent) cases the victims were women or girls, and 240 cases (20 percent) involved male victims.

In Scotland the law provides for protection against forced marriage without free and full consent and for protecting persons who have been forced into marriage without such consent. The legal minimum age to enter into a marriage in Scotland is 16 and does not require parental consent.

The minimum age for marriage in Bermuda is 16 for both girls and boys.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under 18 in women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalties for sexual offenses against children and the commercial sexual exploitation of children range up to life imprisonment. Released persons convicted of sexual offenses must register with police and notify police any time they change their name or address, or travel outside the UK.

Authorities identified 3,266 potential trafficking victims from 102 countries in 2015, compared with 2,340 the previous year.

The minimum age of consensual sex in the UK is 16. In Bermuda the legal minimum age for consensual sex is 16 for heterosexuals and lesbians and 18 for gay men.

International Child Abductions: The UK including Bermuda is party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Due to its distinct and separate legal system, Scotland has an independent body for handling Hague Convention cases and communicates directly with Hague Convention authorities. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The 2011 census recorded the Jewish population of the UK as 263,346. Some considered this an underestimate, and both the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and the British Board of Deputies suggested that the actual figure was approximately 300,000.

The NGO Community Security Trust (CST) published a half-yearly report in August that recorded 557 incidents in the six months to June, an 11 percent increase in incidents compared with the same period in 2015. The CST stated, “This is the second highest incident total the CST has ever recorded for the January-June period, despite there being no discernible ‘trigger event’.” Anti-Semitic incidents in London recorded by the CST rose by 62 percent in the first six months of 2015 and 2016. In contrast, in Greater Manchester the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents fell by 54 percent.

The CST believed a combination of factors, including prominent and sustained public debate about anti-Semitism; increased use of social media by anti-Semites; and a general rise in racism and xenophobia in wider society all contributed to the increase in incidents. Civil society contacts criticized the UK government’s inability to prosecute perpetrators of hate crimes successfully.

During the year the Labour Party faced criticism for its members’ anti-Semitic acts and comments. In March the party suspended the membership of its vice-chairman in Woking, Surrey, for anti-Semitic Tweets. MP Naz Shah was temporarily suspended in April for comments made on her Facebook page in 2015 before she became an MP: Under an outline of Israel that was superimposed on a map of the U.S. with the headline “Solution for Israel-Palestine conflict–relocate Israel into United States,” Shah commented, “Problem solved.” Shah apologized in Parliament for the comment and then apologized to the members of a synagogue in her constituency and in an opinion piece in the Jewish News.

In April, Ken Livingstone, former MP and former London mayor, was suspended from the Labour Party for anti-Semitism. Livingstone, when asked about Shah, called her comments “rude” but said they were not anti-Semitic. He said it was important “not to confuse criticism of Israeli government policy with anti-Semitism.” He then suggested that Hitler was a Zionist, which led to his suspension.

On October 3, Labour Party activist Jackie Walker was removed from her post as vice-chairman of Momentum, the campaigning group supporting Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, following remarks in which she criticized the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and counterterrorism security at Jewish schools, although Momentum claimed that she had not said anything anti-Semitic. Walker was also suspended from the Labour Party and then readmitted in May despite claiming that Jews were the “chief financiers” of the African slave trade, a proposition described by the Legacies of British Slave Ownership project at University College, London, as based on “no evidence whatsoever.”

The Labour Party conducted two inquiries on anti-Semitism during the year. In February, Alex Chalmers, the cochairman of the Labour Club at Oxford University, resigned from his post because, he said, some on the club “have problems with the Jews.” After investigating this and other allegations, Baroness Janet Royall produced a report in May, which concluded that Oxford University Labour Club students had engaged in anti-Semitic acts.

In April, Corbyn announced the party would conduct an inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism perpetrated by members of the Labour Party, chaired by former Liberty Director Shami (now Baroness) Chakrabarti. Chakrabarti’s report in June concluded that the party was “not overrun” by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of racism, but that, “as with wider society,” there was evidence of “minority hateful or ignorant attitudes and behaviors festering within a sometimes bitter incivility of discourse.” It recommended a number of changes to the Labour Party’s disciplinary processes. The most controversial were that Labour members who are excluded from the party for anti-Semitism should not automatically be banned for life, and the proposal of a two-year statute of limitations for those members accused of “uncomradely conduct and language.” The Chakrabarti report was criticized for not referring to the Royal report.

Many Jewish civil society groups called the Chakrabarti report a “whitewash” about anti-Semitism, although some Jewish leaders welcomed the recommendations that Labour Party members curb anti-Semitic language. In September a dispute arose over whether Chakrabarti was given the title of Baroness in exchange for writing the report.

On October 16, Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee released a comprehensive, cross-party report on anti-Semitism in the UK, calling “on all political leaders to tackle the growing prevalence of anti-Semitism.” It “notes the failure of the Labour Party consistently to deal with anti-Semitic incidents in recent years…” The report stated Corbyn’s “lack of consistent leadership” on anti-Semitism created “a ‘safe space’ for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.” The Home Affairs Committee’s report also criticized the president of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, for failing to take sufficiently seriously the problem of anti-Semitism on university campuses. The Home Affairs Committee’s report expressed particular concern at the volume and viciousness of anti-Semitism online, including countless examples directed at MPs.

To help address online hate crime more broadly, the Home Affairs Committee recommended that government and political parties adopt an amended definition of anti-Semitism aimed at promoting a zero-tolerance approach while allowing free speech on Israel and Palestine to continue. The committee stated that law enforcement and political party officials should consider the use of the word “Zionist” in an accusatory context inflammatory and potentially anti-Semitic.

On August 28, 13 Jewish graves were destroyed in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The PSNI investigated eight youths who knocked over headstones and in some cases used hammers to destroy markers. Officials condemned the incident, and local authorities offered assistance to rectify the damage.

Trafficking in Persons

The law provides for trafficking reparation orders to encourage the courts to use seized assets to compensate victims and prevention orders to restrict the activities of potential slave masters. Thousands of the UK’s biggest firms must reveal whether they have taken action to ensure they do not use child or slave labor (see section 7.b.).

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other government services. The government effectively enforced the law.

Britain’s equality watchdog, the EHRC, contended persons with disabilities were still treated as “second-class citizens,” because progress in promoting improvements by governments, businesses, and the wider community had stalled. The commission awaited a Supreme Court decision on a test case regarding the rights of wheelchair users on buses and criticized airlines for their treatment of customers with disabilities.

In the first ever disability discrimination lawsuit to be brought in the UK, the UK Supreme Court was considering the case of a wheelchair user refused access to public transport when a bus driver would not require a mother with a stroller to vacate a space designated for passengers with disabilities. The passenger argued the bus policy of “requesting, not requiring” passengers without disabilities to vacate spaces intended for passengers with disabilities constitutes disability discrimination.

Bermudian law protects the rights of persons with disabilities in the workplace. The law does not include any protection from discrimination on the grounds of mental health.

From March 2015 through March 2016 in Scotland, there were 201 recorded crimes connected to disability, an increase of 14 percent from the previous year. The PSNI recorded 70 hate crimes connected to disability from July 2015 through June 2016, a decrease of eight crimes from the previous year. The mandate of the EHRC includes work on behalf of persons with disabilities to stop discrimination and promote equality of opportunity. The EHRC provided legal advice and support to individuals, a hotline for persons with disabilities and employers, and policy advice to the government. It may also conduct formal investigations, arrange conciliation, require persons or organizations to adopt action plans to ensure compliance with the law, and apply for injunctions to prevent acts of unlawful discrimination.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits racial and ethnic discrimination, but Travellers, Roma, and persons of African, Afro-Caribbean, South Asian, and Middle Eastern origin at times reported mistreatment on racial or ethnic grounds. In January the High Court ruled the government had illegally discriminated against Travellers by unlawfully subjecting planning applications from Roma and Travellers to special scrutiny.

Following the UK’s decision to leave the EU, NGOs reported a sharp rise in hate crimes. In the week before and the three weeks following the EU referendum, 6,193 hate crimes were reported to police in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, a 20 percent increase on the first two weeks of July compared with the same period in 2015. Of those, 3,076 hate crimes and incidents were reported in June 16-30, an increase of 915, or 42 percent, compared with the same period in 2015. On June 25, the daily number of alleged offenses peaked at 289.

There was an increase in the number of racially or religiously aggravated offenses recorded in June, followed by an even sharper increase in July. The number of offenses declined in August but remained at a level higher than prior to the referendum. The number of racially or religiously aggravated offenses recorded by the police in July 2016 was 41 percent higher than in July 2015.

In England and Wales, police recorded 52,528 hate crimes in 2014-15, an increase of 18 percent compared with the previous year. Of these, 37,484 (84 percent) were racial hate crimes. On August 27, a gang of six teenage boys attacked a Pole, Arkadiusz Jozwik, in Harlow. Jozwik died from his injuries on August 29. The boys were arrested for the attack.

The home secretary announced a review of how police handle hate crime; HM Inspectorate of Constabulary was to analyze how forces in England and Wales respond. The home secretary announced also a hate crimes action plan for England and Wales, including an assessment of the level of other bullying in schools; action to tackle hate crime online, on public transport, and around the “night-time economy”; a fund of 2.4 million pounds ($3.0 million) for security measures at places of worship; and an allocation of 300,000 pounds ($371,000) to establish three projects to “explore innovative new ways” of tacking hate crime in local communities.

In 2015-16 Scottish police recorded 3,712 race crimes, a 3 percent decrease from the previous year and the lowest number recorded since 2003-04. In October a University of Strathclyde study found that one in three of the 500 black and minority ethnic Scots surveyed had experienced discrimination. In Northern Ireland from July 2015 to June 2016, the PSNI recorded 785 hate crimes connected to racism, a decrease of 101 crimes from the previous year.

In Bermuda arrests of black persons were disproportionately high. In 2015, 86 percent (2,284) of 2,651 persons arrested were black (excluding mixed race). According to the 2010 census, 54 percent of all residents described themselves as black. Among the Bermudian population, excluding foreign residents, 63 percent were black.

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

In Bermuda the legal minimum age for consensual sex is 16 for lesbians and 18 for gay men. The British territories of Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Bailiwick of Guernsey set different ages of consent for same-sex acts.

The law in England and Wales prohibits discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation, although individuals reported sporadic incidents of homophobic violence. It encourages judges to impose a greater sentence in assault cases where the victim’s sexual orientation was a motive for the hostility, and many local police forces demonstrated an increasing awareness of the problem and trained officers to identify and moderate these attacks. In 2014-15 police in England and Wales recorded 5,597 hate crimes related to sexual orientation and 605 transgender hate crimes.

On October 4, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reported that intimidation, harassment, and violence might be an everyday reality for some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. LGBTI pupils experienced severe bullying in school and were not always supported by teachers.

In Scotland racial, sexual, or other discriminatory motivation may be an “aggravating factor” in crimes. Scottish law also criminalizes behavior that is threatening, hateful, or otherwise offensive at a regulated soccer match and penalizes any threat of serious violence and threats to incite religious hatred through the mail or the internet. Crime aggravated by sexual orientation was the second most common type of hate crime, with 1,020 charges reported in 2015-16, a 20 percent increase from 2014-15. Between March 2015 and March 2016, 30 charges were reported in Scotland with an aggravation of prejudice relating to transgender identity.

In Northern Ireland from October 2015 to September 2016, the PSNI recorded 195 hate crimes related to homophobia, of which 10 were transphobic crimes. This represented a decrease of 30 homophobic crimes and three transphobic crimes compared with the previous year. In October an appeal court upheld a decision that the owners of Ashers bakery discriminated based on sexual orientation by refusing an order from a gay customer. They were ordered to pay 500 pounds ($618) in damages to the individual. In December the bakery announced it would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. In July, NGO representatives cited difficulties in gaining access to adequate health care and a lack of LGBTI awareness in schools. In May the Northern Ireland Executive lifted the ban on gay persons’ donating blood.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

According to ECRI considerable intolerant political discourse focused on immigration and contributed to increasing xenophobic sentiments. Certain politicians and some policies portrayed Muslims in a negative light. Their alleged lack of integration and opposition to “fundamental British values” was a common theme adding to a climate of mistrust and fear of Muslims. Hate speech in some traditional media, particularly tabloid newspapers, continued to be a problem, with dissemination of biased or ill-founded information that might contribute to perpetuating stereotypes.

Offenses linked to victims’ religion increased by 43 percent from 2013-14 to 3,254. In Scotland there were 581 charges with a religious aggravation in 2015-16, a 3-percent increase compared with the previous year. The PSNI recorded 18 hate crimes motivated by religion from July 2015 to June 2016, a decrease of 13 crimes from the previous year. During the same period, the PSNI recorded 874 sectarian crimes in Northern Ireland, a decrease of 207. The number of sectarian incidents was 1,208, a decrease of 340 incidents.

On October 4, ECRI reported, “The specific incitement to hatred provisions are almost never applied. The significant difference between hate crime recorded by police and offenses referred for prosecution indicate that a large amount of hate crime goes unpunished.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government generally respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects employees from unfair dismissal while striking, provided the union has complied with the legal requirements governing such industrial action.

The new Trade Union Act allows strikes to proceed only when there has been a ballot turnout of at least 50 percent. For “important public services,” defined as health services, education for those age under 17, fire services, transport services, nuclear decommissioning and the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, and border security, an additional threshold of 40 percent of support to take industrial action from all eligible union members must be met for strike action to be legal.

The law does not cover workers in the armed forces, public-sector security services, police forces, and freelance or temporary work. The law excludes workers serving in the police, the prison service, and the armed forces from the right to strike. According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the right to strike in the UK is “limited” due to prohibitions against political and solidarity strikes, lengthy procedures for calling strikes, and the ability of employers to seek injunctions against unions before a strike has begun if the union does not observe all proper steps in organizing the strike.

The government enforced applicable laws. Remedies were limited in situations where workers faced reprisal for union activity, and the ITUC stated that the law does not provide “adequate means of protection against antiunion discrimination,” and noted that legal protections against unfair labor practices only exist within the framework of organizing a recognition ballot. Penalties range from employers paying compensation to reinstatement and were sufficient to deter violations.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Unions and management typically negotiated collective “agreements,” which were less formal and not legally enforceable. The terms of the agreement could, however, then be incorporated into an individual work contract with legal standing. According to the ITUC, in February the High Court ordered eight major construction firms to pay millions of pounds in compensation to 71 workers, represented by Ucatt and Unite unions, who had been illegally blacklisted for their participation in trade unions or political campaigns, or for raising health and safety problems on site.

The law does not allow independent trade unions to apply for derecognition of in-house company unions or to protect individual workers seeking to do so. Labor-market surveys suggested that employers expanded the practice of “zero-hour contracts” in which workers are required to be available but are not guaranteed any minimum work hours, which potentially eroded independent trade union membership and further limited worker rights. The ONS stated 903,000 or 2.9 percent of the employed workforce were on zero-hour contracts during the period April to June.

Various labor NGOs advocated for worker’s rights freely within the UK and acted independently from trade unions, although often advocacy problems overlapped. NGOs advocated for improvements in paid family leave, a minimum/living wage, and worker safety among other problems.

According to the ONS, approximately 6.5 million employees in the UK were trade union members in 2015. Membership levels were well below the peak of more than 13 million in 1979.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor, but such practices occurred. The government generally enforced these laws effectively. Resources and inspections were generally adequate and sufficiently stringent compared with other sentences for serious crimes.

The Modern Slavery Law, enacted in 2015, requires more than 12,000 firms with a global turnover of 36 million pounds ($44 million) that supply goods or services in the UK to publish an annual statement setting out what steps they are taking to ensure that slave labor is not being used in their operations and supply chain. Foreign companies and subsidiaries that “carry on a business” in the UK also have to comply with this law. The law includes the ability for courts to make reparation orders following the conviction of exploiters and prevention orders to ensure that those who pose a risk of committing modern slavery offenses cannot work in relevant fields, such as with children.

Forced labor in the UK involved both foreign and domestic workers, mainly in sectors characterized by low-skilled, low-paid manual labor and heavy use of flexible, temporary workers. Those who experienced forced labor practices tended to be poor, living on insecure and subsistence incomes and often in substandard accommodation. Victims of forced labor included men, women, and children. Forced labor was normally more prevalent among the most vulnerable, minorities or socially excluded groups. Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania, and Poland were the most likely countries of origin, but some victims were from the UK itself. Most migrants entered the UK legally. Many migrants used informal brokers to plan their journey and find work and accommodation in the UK, enabling the brokers to exploit the migrants through high fees and to channel them into forced labor situations. Many with limited English were trapped in poverty through a combination of debts, flexible employment, and constrained opportunities. Migrants were forced to share rooms with strangers in overcrowded houses, and often the work was just sufficient to cover rent and other charges. Sexual exploitation was the most common form of modern slavery reported in the UK, followed by labor exploitation, forced criminal exploitation, and domestic servitude. Migrant workers were subject to forced labor in agriculture, construction, food processing, service industries (especially nail salons), and on fishing boats. Women employed as domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to forced labor. NGOs noted that the UK’s work visa system ties the employee to the employer even when they were subject to abuse, making victims of exploitation potentially reluctant to come forward.

In Bermuda the Department of Immigration and the Director of Public Prosecutions confirmed there were no cases of forced labor during the year, although historically there were some cases of forced labor, mostly involving migrants, among men in the construction sector and women in domestic service. The media did not report any cases of forced labor or worker exploitation in 2015 or the first half of the year. The law requires employers to repatriate work-permit holders. Failure to do so had been a migrant complaint. The cases of worker exploitation largely consisted of employers requiring workers to work longer hours or to perform work outside the scope of their work permit. The Department of Immigration imposed civil penalties in approximately eight such cases. The penalties for ‎employing someone outside the scope of their work permit are 5,000 Bermudian dollars (BD$) ($5,000) for the first offense and BD$10,000 ($10,000) for the second or subsequent offenses.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

UK law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 13 with exceptions for sports, modeling, and paid performances, which may require a child performance license. The law prohibits those under 16 from working in an industrial enterprise, including transportation or street trading. Children’s work hours are strictly limited and may not interfere with school attendance. Different legislation governs the employment of persons under 16, and, while some laws are common across the UK, local bylaws vary. If required by local bylaws, children between the ages of 13 and 16 must apply for a work permit from a local authority. The local authority’s education and welfare services have primary responsibility for oversight and enforcement of the permits.

The Department for Education has primary regulatory responsibility related to child labor, although local authorities generally handled enforcement. Penalties for noncompliance consist of relatively low fines. The Department of Education did not keep records of the number of local prosecutions, but officials insisted the department effectively enforced applicable laws.

In Bermuda children under the age of 13 may perform light work of an agricultural, horticultural, or domestic character if the parent or guardian is the employer. Schoolchildren may not work during school hours or more than two hours on school days. No child under 15 may work in any industrial undertaking, other than light work, or on any vessel, other than a vessel where only family members work. Children under 18 may not work at night, except that those ages 16 to 18 may work until midnight; employers must arrange for safe transport home for girls between ages 16 and 18 working until midnight. Penalties for violations of the law begin at BD$350 ($350) for the first offense and BD$720 ($720) for the second and subsequent offenses. The penalty for willfully abusing, mistreating, neglecting, deserting, or abandoning a child is a fine not exceeding BD$3,000 ($3,000) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months. The BPS reported no cases of child labor or exploitation of children during the year.

Labor laws do not set a minimum age for work in the territories of St. Helena-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha. The government of the British Virgin Islands has not developed a list of hazardous occupations prohibited by children, and it is unclear whether a comprehensive list of hazardous occupations exists for children in St. Helena-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha and Monserrat.

There are legislative gaps in the prohibition of trafficking in children for labor exploitation and the use of children for commercial sexual exploitation in St. Helena-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha. While criminal laws prohibit trafficking in children for sexual exploitation, they do not address trafficking in children for labor exploitation. It is unclear whether the laws in Monserrat prohibit the use of children in illicit activities such as drug trafficking, begging, theft, or burglary. Traffickers subjected children to commercial sexual exploitation in Anguilla and Turks and Caicos.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/  for information on UK territories.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation regarding race, color, sex, religion or belief, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, being pregnant or on maternity leave, age, language or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. Legal protection extends to others who are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic or who have complained about discrimination or supported someone else’s claim. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, and sexual orientation and gender identity. Complainants faced higher fees in discrimination cases than in other types of claims made to employment tribunals or the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government enacted mandatory gender pay reporting, aimed at closing the “gender pay gap,” a separate concept from the equal pay principle. From April 2017, businesses with more than 250 employees will be required to measure, and then report, on how they pay men and women. This should affect 8,000 businesses employing approximately 11 million persons. In addition, the government made a commitment to extend these requirements to the public sector. Together, these regulations will affect nearly half of the workforce. In April the ONS estimated the gender pay gap for all employees averaged 18.1 percent. This was the lowest pay gap since the survey began in 1997, when the gap for all employees was 27.5 percent. The gap has narrowed over the long term for low earners but has remained largely consistent over time for high earners.

In March an employment tribunal awarded a sales associate in a luxury jewelry store more than 63,000 pounds ($78,000) for age discrimination. Alan Dove, 61 years old and the oldest member of the sales team, had worked in the store for 25 years before he was forced out of his job. The head of sales had referred to Dove as “Gramps” for several years before he was dismissed.

In September an airline employee won a legal claim for sex discrimination after complaining female cabin crew members were not treated as fairly as men. In her job, Emma Seville worked full-time on any 22 days required by Flybe airline each month, making it difficult for her to engage regular child care because of the unusual working hours. She requested to reduce her working days to 11 per month and to fix these days in advance to allow her to make child-care arrangements for her newborn baby.

In October an employment tribunal in Scotland awarded a father almost 30,000 pounds ($37,000) in a sex discrimination case after his employer, Network Rail, refused to pay him the same as his wife while on shared parental leave.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The new National Living Wage became law on April 1. All workers age 25 and over are legally entitled to at least 7.20 pounds per hour ($8.89). Workers under 25 are legally entitled to the correct National Minimum Wage, which was 6.70 pounds ($8.27) for individuals between 21 and 24, and 5.30 pounds ($6.54), 3.87 pounds ($4.78), and 3.30 pounds ($4.08) for an apprentice.

The government measures the poverty level as income less than 60 percent of the median household income, thus the poverty line moves with the median income year to year. In 2014-15, the most recent period for which data was available, the poverty level for households was an income of 284 pounds ($351) per week.

The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is responsible for setting minimum wage rates annually as recommended by the independent Low Pay Commission. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) enforces minimum wage laws on behalf of the BEIS, with employment tribunals handling disputes. The HMRC’s enforcement activity showed an increase in investigations from 2,204 cases in 2014-15 to 2,667 in 2015-16. In 2015-16 the HMRC identified almost 10.3 million pounds ($12.7 million) in pay arrears owed to more than 58,000 workers. This represented more than triple the amount of money and more than double the number of workers identified in 2014-15. Although criminal enforcement is available, most minimum wage noncompliance was pursued via civil enforcement. Civil penalties for noncompliant employers include fines of up to 200 percent of arrears (capped at 20,000 pounds [$24,644] per worker) and public naming and shaming. Since 2013, 687 noncompliant employers have been named and shamed for owing combined arrears of more than 3.5 million pounds ($4.3 million). During the year the HMRC employed approximately 290 National Minimum Wage compliance officers.

Labor protections in the UK are linked to employment status. The prime minister announced a comprehensive review of modern employment practices, including the informal/gig economy and internships, which was to be led by Matthew Taylor, the former head of the 10 Downing Street Policy Unit under Tony Blair. The Taylor Review was tasked with looking specifically at whether the current arrangements are sufficient to protect persons working in the informal economy.

The law limits the workweek to an average of 48 hours, normally averaged over a 17-week period. The law provides for one day of rest per week, 11 hours of daily rest, and a 20-minute rest break when the working day exceeds six hours. The law also mandates a minimum of four weeks of paid annual leave, including eight national holidays. As part of collective agreements, however, almost all workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year, while an employer can choose to include bank holidays as part of a worker’s statutory annual leave. An individual employee may agree by contract to work overtime for premium pay. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime, but it limits overtime to the 48-hour workweek restriction. The 48-hour workweek regulations do not apply to senior managers and others who can exercise control over their own hours of work. There are also exceptions for the armed forces, emergency services, police, domestic workers, sea and air transportation workers, and fishermen. The law allows workers to opt out of the 48-hour limit, although there are exceptions for airline staff, delivery drivers, security guards, and workers on ships or boats.

The government set appropriate and current occupational safety and health standards. The law stipulates that employers may not place the health and safety of employees at risk. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an arm of the Department for Work and Pensions, effectively enforced occupational health and safety laws in all sectors including the informal economy. The fines for penalties are 400 pounds ($492), which was sufficient to deter violations. The HSE conducted workplace inspections and may initiate criminal proceedings. HSE inspectors enforced health and safety standards by giving advice on how to comply with the law. Employers may also be ordered to make improvements, either through an improvement notice, which allows time for the recipient to comply, or a prohibition notice, which prohibits an activity until remedial action has been taken. The HSE issued notices to companies and individuals for breaches of health and safety law. The notice may involve one or more instances when the recipient has failed to comply with health and safety law, each of which was called a “breach.” The HSE prosecuted recipients for noncompliance with a notice. In 2014 the HSE prosecuted 582 cases in England and Wales; local authorities in England and Wales prosecuted 92 cases, while the procurator fiscal in Scotland prosecuted 35 cases. In Northern Ireland from April 2015 to March 2016, there were 15 successful prosecutions with fines totaling slightly more than 278,000 pounds ($343,000). The HSE for Northern Ireland (HSENI) also made 5,567 inspections and served 155 formal enforcement notices.

According to the HSE’s annual report for 2014-15, the provisional estimate of workers fatally injured in the UK was 142, more than the 133 fatalities reported for the same period in the previous year. There were 78,000 reported nonfatal injuries to employees. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The HSENI reported that for 2015 to 2016 workplace fatalities were down 48 percent to 12, compared with 23 in the previous year. Reportable injuries were 2,777, a 1.4 percent increase from the previous year.

Bermuda’s law does not provide for a minimum wage, but the Department of Labor and Training enforces any contractually agreed wage. The law requires that work in excess of 40 hours per week be paid at the overtime rate or with compensatory time off; employees may waive rights to overtime pay. The law also requires that employees have a rest period of at least 24 consecutive hours per week. It provides for paid public holidays and two weeks’ paid annual leave. Regulations enforced by the Department of Labor and Training extensively cover the safety of the work environment; occupational safety and health standards are current and appropriate for the main industries. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Between January and September, one industrial injury was reported.

Uruguay

Executive Summary

The Oriental Republic of Uruguay is a constitutional republic with an elected president and a bicameral legislature. In 2014, in a free and fair runoff election, Tabare Vazquez won a five-year presidential term, and his Frente Amplio party won a majority in parliament.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Principal human rights problems included widespread use of extended pretrial detention, severe overcrowding and harsh conditions in some prisons, and violence against women.

Other human rights concerns included violence against children, societal discrimination against Afro-Uruguayans, and trafficking in persons.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, and there were no reports of impunity during the year.

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 politically motivated disappearances.

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

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

In August 2015 a judge indicted 26 employees of the Uruguayan Institute for Children and Adolescents (INAU) Adolescent Offenders’ Division (SIRPA) for abuses of juveniles at the Ceprili home for youth. In June an internal INAU investigation determined the employees did not torture the juveniles, and in December an appeals court acquitted 14 of the 26 employees. The crime, initially classified as “torture,” was changed to “abuse of authority” for the remaining 12 employees.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions continued to be harsh and potentially life threatening in some facilities.

Physical Conditions: The National Rehabilitation Institute (INR) reported 10,228 prisoners in facilities with a capacity for approximately 9,095 inmates. Approximately 65 percent of the prisoners were awaiting sentencing. Some facilities had inadequate sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, medical care, and access to potable water. Prisoners depended on visitors for clothing and lacked sufficient food to reach their daily minimum caloric intake. Female and poorer male prisoners often received no support from their families.

Some prison facilities were inadequate. Many lacked formal clearances from the fire department. The INR closed the El Molino facility in Montevideo due to poor building conditions and transferred nine women with 10 accompanying children to an annex of the Unidad Penitenciaria No.5. The public mental health hospitals Vilardebo, Colonia Etchepare, and Santin Carlos Rossi, which held prisoners, suffered overcrowding and infrastructure problems.

In April and June, Juan Miguel Petit, the country’s special rapporteur on the prison system, reported that the conditions of modules 8, 10, and 11 of unit 4 of Comcar prison were very bad. The report described inadequate building conditions, rodent infestation, poor hygiene of inmates, overcrowding, and insufficient space designated for work, educational activities, and family visits. The report also stated few inmates had access to exercise activities and noted a lack of reliable medical attention, due to understaffing. The rapporteur alerted prison authorities to a serious problem of internal violence in several prison facilities and requested urgent action.

Five prisoners died in these facilities in the first half of the year due to violence. In September a male prisoner died in one of the units of Comcar prison as the result of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. In an overcrowded facility in the department of Maldonado, prisoners set fire to mattresses and caused damage to the prison infrastructure. Two police officers were injured during the incident. Lawyers provided to prisoners who could not afford legal counseling held video conferences with their clients due to unsafe conditions that prevented them from visiting modules 8, 10, and 11.

In December 2015 the government created INISA to replace SIRPA, and in June INISA authorities took over management of the organization. According to the new director, many facilities were aging or damaged and could not be refurbished due to budget limitations, which additionally affected hiring staff. An audit of the buildings presented by the Bureau of Architecture in the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works concluded that most facilities were inadequate to develop and implement rehabilitation programs.

In July the Pan American Health Organization presented the results of a 2015 poll on prisoner health conditions. The report noted that four of 10 prisoners were overweight or obese due to lack of physical activity, medical treatment was inadequate, and 74 percent of prisoners smoked tobacco and 33 percent smoked marijuana. In addition, 19 percent took psychotropic drugs without prescriptions or medical controls, 5 percent consumed cocaine paste, and 3 percent consumed cocaine powder. Slightly more than 8 percent attempted suicide, and 18 percent alleged suffering mistreatment.

In August the government’s National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture reported as major problems the lack of sufficiently trained staff, poor building conditions that resulted in overcrowding and violence, and insufficient social and educational activities. Concerning INISA facilities, the report noted pervasive use of psychotropic drugs, with scarce medical control.

In September the labor union for law enforcement personnel expressed concern over the working conditions of police officers and civilian prison staff members in some facilities. Union representatives noted unhealthy and dangerous labor conditions, such as extended work hours (shifts of 12 to 18 hours) and unmanageable responsibilities, including an instance where a single guard, without adequate communication systems, was in charge of monitoring 700 detainees.

Administration: Independent authorities investigated allegations of inhuman conditions. The Office of Probation Measures continued to lack sufficient human and financial resources to work in most departments.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, local human rights groups, media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and international bodies. The country’s special rapporteur on the prison system and the National Institution of Human Rights (INDDHH) were also allowed to monitor prisons.

Improvements: In March the State Health Services Administration collaborated with the INR on a program to provide medical and psychological support to drug-addicted prisoners in Montevideo. In May officials from the INR and INISA participated in six workshops on prison management led by experts from a foreign country.

Authorities provided inmates several new options for work, both during incarceration and after release. The government’s budget law created the National Unit to Support Released Prisoners. The INR and the National Institute for Employment and Professional Training signed an agreement to teach prisoners skills in garment making, construction, carpentry, cooking, and vegetable gardening. In February volunteer prisoners joined municipal workers of the department of Salto to clean up the city after major floods. The Salto municipality also agreed to hire 16 inmates, who were allowed to leave the prison compound on a regular basis to do work for the community. In September the Ministry of Interior and the Canelones municipality signed an agreement for 27 prisoners to repair sidewalks and lanes at a local resort. In June a private fishing-port services operator in Montevideo began hiring former prisoners for its operations. The INR created industrial sites in the departments of Canelones, Maldonado, and Salto to help prisoner rehabilitation.

Government authorities and private entities also provided other opportunities for adult prisoners to participate in sports activities, such as soccer and rugby. In June INISA began a pilot program to train juvenile inmates in sports to allow them to compete in events at the national level.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law and constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, maintain internal security. The National Directorate for Migration, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for migration and border enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the National Police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and have some domestic responsibilities as guardians of the outside perimeter of six prisons. There were no reports of impunity involving police and security forces during the year.

The judiciary continued to investigate the serious human rights violations committed during the 1973-1985 military dictatorship. The law classifies crimes committed during the dictatorship as crimes against humanity. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Truth and Justice Group was responsible for further investigating human rights abuses committed between 1968 and 1985.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police apprehended suspects with warrants issued by a duly authorized official and brought them before an independent judiciary. The law provides detainees with the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention and requires that the detaining authority explain the legal grounds for the detention. For any detainee who cannot afford a defense attorney, the court appoints a public defender at no cost to the detainee. The constitution states police cannot hold persons for longer than 24 hours without informing a judge. The judge then has another 24 hours to determine whether the subjects will be indicted and detained, indicted but released on their own recognizance, or released for lack of probable cause. If no charges are brought, the case is filed but the investigation may continue and the case reopened if new evidence emerges.

The possibility of bail exists but was not used in practice. For most persons accused of crimes punishable by at least two years in prison, the criminal code procedure prohibits bail. A judge may set bail if the individual is a first-time offender and if there are provisions in place to prevent the subject from fleeing. Most persons facing lesser charges were not jailed. Officials allowed detainees prompt access to family members.

Confessions obtained by police prior to a detainee’s appearance before a judge and without an attorney present are not valid. A lawyer assigned to each police station reports to the Ministry of Interior concerning treatment of detainees. A judge leads the investigation of a detainee’s claim of mistreatment.

Pretrial Detention: The use of pretrial detention is mandatory for particular crimes, and lengthy legal procedures required in the judge-led, inquisitorial criminal justice system, large numbers of detainees, and staff shortages in the judicial system led to trial delays and prison overcrowding. Some detainees spent one year or more in jail awaiting the conclusion of their trial. For most individuals credibly accused of crimes punishable by at least two years’ incarceration, the accused is sent to prison pending trial. First-time offenders (with no criminal record) and individuals facing lesser charges are usually released pending trial. The number of instances in which the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime could not be determined due to a lack of statistics.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges brought against them, to have a trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay), to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, to access government-held evidence, to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and to appeal. Defendants may cross-examine witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

Juries are not used; trial proceedings usually consist of written arguments to the judge and were not normally made public. Only the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney have access to the written record. Individual judges may elect to hear oral arguments, but most judges chose to rule on a case solely based on an examination of written documents, a major factor slowing down the judicial process.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There are transparent administrative procedures to handle complaints of abuse by government agents. An independent and impartial judiciary handles civil disputes, but its decisions were ineffectively enforced. Local police lacked the training and staff to enforce restraining orders, which often were generated during civil disputes related to domestic violence. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions filed by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies including fair compensation to the individual injured.

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 Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and 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.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 65 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of 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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees 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.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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. Through its refugee commission, the government had a system for adjudicating asylum claims, providing protection to refugees, and finding durable solutions, including resettlement.

Durable Solutions: There were approximately 350-370 refugees in the country, mostly from Latin America, who received long-term support. The government continued to provide 42 Syrian refugees with temporary housing, financial assistance, food, clothing, language training, and employment training.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 Tabare Vazquez of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) party won a five-year presidential term in a free and fair runoff election. The runoff followed a series of party primaries and a free and fair first-round election involving seven political parties. In parliamentary elections in October 2015, the Frente Amplio won 15 of 30 seats in the Chamber of Senators and 50 of 99 seats in the Chamber of Representatives.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process. Women participated in the political process and government, although primarily at lower and middle levels. Afro-Uruguayans were underrepresented in government; there were two Afro-Uruguayans among the 99 representatives in parliament.

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. While officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices that authorities addressed with appropriate legal action, the country was considered to have a low level of corruption, according to Transparency International.

Corruption: No cases of official corruption occurred or were publicized during the year.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials. Each year the presidentially appointed Transparency and Ethics Board lists the names of government officials expected to file a declaration on its web page and informs the individuals’ organizations of those expected to comply. The incumbent, the judiciary, a special parliamentary committee, or the board may access the information in the declarations (by majority vote of the board). The board may direct an official’s office to retain 50 percent of the employee’s salary until the declaration is presented, and it may publish the names of those who fail to comply in the federal register. While there is a requirement for filing, there is no review of the filings absent an allegation of wrongdoing.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for general access to public information, defined as all information held by a government entity unless considered classified. The law requires government agencies to make public their organizational charts, responsibilities, salaries, and budget allotment and to produce regular reports. Authorities effectively implemented the law; there were no public outreach activities to encourage its use.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The INDDHH, an autonomous agency that reports to parliament, is composed of five board members proposed by civil society organizations and approved by a two-thirds vote in parliament’s General Assembly for a period of five years (renewable one time). According to the most recently available information, the institution received 152 complaints and 416 requests for guidance in 2015, primarily concerning personal integrity, access to jobs, equality and nondiscrimination, and access to justice.

The institution worked with the prison ombudsman, who reported to parliament. It did not deal with human rights violations committed during the military dictatorship (1973-1985), which were handled by the Human Rights Secretariat in the Office of the Presidency.

The Committee against Racism, Xenophobia, and All Forms of Discrimination of the Ministry of Education and Culture includes government, religious, and civil society representatives. The committee had not been allocated a budget since 2010 but received economic support from the government for some activities. Government agency representatives on the commission received no extra compensation but were able to participate in the commission’s activities during work hours. Members of civil society participated on an ad hoc basis without any additional compensation.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape. The law allows for sentences of two to 12 years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of rape, and authorities effectively enforced the law. The Ministry of Interior attributed 62 percent (29 cases) of homicides to domestic violence in the 12-month period ending October 31. Tacuarembo, Treinta y Tres, and Rocha Departments had the highest incidence of femicide.

The law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence, but victims without severe injuries often did not file complaints. Victims of domestic violence requiring hospitalization were more likely to receive follow-up assistance from health-care providers and police authorities.

The law allows for sentences of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of committing an act of violence or making continued threats of violence. Civil courts decided most of the domestic cases, and judges in these cases often issued restraining orders, which were difficult to enforce. The judiciary and the Ministry of Interior continued the use of double ankle-bracelet sets (one bracelet for the victim and one for the aggressor) to track the distance between the perpetrator and victim. During the year there were 346 sets of ankle bracelets in use, compared with 283 in 2015.

The Ministry of Social Development, some police stations in the interior, INAU, and NGOs operated shelters where abused women and children could seek temporary refuge. In 2015, 58 women and 99 children received temporary refuge in these shelters. All services were funded and staffed according to the reported prevalence of domestic violence in each location; nonetheless, NGOs and government actors reported the shelters were often overcrowded. The Montevideo municipal government and the state-owned telephone company Antel funded a free nationwide hotline operated by trained NGO employees for victims of domestic violence.

The government’s 2016-2019 Action Plan For a Life Free of Gender-Based Violence provided interagency coordination on violence prevention, access to justice, victim protection and attention, and punishment of perpetrators. It also promoted social and cultural awareness and provided training for public servants to deal more effectively with gender-based violence. The Prosecutor General’s Office established a specialized gender unit in September to incorporate a gender perspective in the agency’s work, promote greater respect for women’s rights, combat gender-based violence, and enhance interagency coordination on gender issues.

The National Institute of Women and the National Institute of Employment and Professional Training signed an agreement to offer job skills training to female victims of domestic violence and discrimination.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and punishes it by fines or dismissal. The law establishes guidelines for the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as in student-professor relations, and provides damages for survivors.

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

Discrimination: The law grants the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women, however, faced discrimination in employment, pay, credit, education, housing, and business ownership. The law does not require equal pay for equal work. In May, UN Women Deputy Regional Representative Lara Blanco noted that women’s access to jobs increased by 3 percent in 2015 but that a 20 percent difference remained, compared with men’s access to jobs.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory and/or from one’s parents. The government immediately registered all births.

Child Abuse: The System for the Protection of Childhood and Adolescence Against Violence (SIPIAV) reported 44 cases of child abuse in 2015, mostly corresponding to sexual and psychological abuse. INAU reported 1,908 cases of violence against children in 2015. INAU’s hotline reported receiving 8,720 calls for information and requests for assistance in 2015, the latest period for which information was available. A UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report published in June noted that despite improvements, 54 percent of children under age 14 were victims of some kind of “violent discipline” at home–more so in urban areas than in rural ones. Thirty-four percent of boys and 18 percent of girls suffered physical and psychological aggressions.

The government sponsored awareness campaigns against child abuse. SIPIAV–which was led by INAU and included representatives from the Ministries of Social Development, of Health, and of Interior; the judicial branch; UNICEF; NGOs; and the National Education Board–coordinated interagency efforts regarding protection of children’s rights.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but with parental consent it is 12 for girls and 14 for boys. Early marriage was not perceived to be a significant problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities made efforts to enforce the law through investigations and prosecutions. The law does not specifically criminalize prostitution of children as child sex trafficking. The penal code establishes the minimum age for consensual sex as 12. When a sexual union takes place between an adult and a minor under age 15, violence is presumed and statutory rape laws, which carry a penalty of two to 12 years in prison, may be applied. Minors between ages 12 and 15 may legally engage in consensual sex with each other. Penalties for trafficking children range from four to 16 years in prison. Child pornography is illegal, and penalties range from one to six years in prison. Some children were victims of commercial sexual exploitation, pornography, and sex trafficking. Laws against child pornography were effectively enforced.

In December the Ministry of Social Development presented a report of the National Committee for the Eradication of Commercial and Noncommercial Sexual Exploitation of Children on sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. The report noted the committee assisted with 285 cases during the year.

Institutionalized Children: INAU’s 2015 annual report stated 511 adolescents were in INISA homes (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish Central Committee reported that the Jewish community had an estimated population of 15,000.

In March businessman and community leader David Fremd was stabbed to death in the city of Paysandu by a schoolteacher allegedly aligned with anti-Jewish movements. Police arrested Carlos Omar Peralta, and a judge indicted him for the murder of Fremd and religious hatred and requested a psychiatric evaluation. The psychiatric report stated Peralta’s mental condition could not make him legally responsible for the crime. He was committed to Vilardebo, a public mental-health hospital.

In January the government granted media networks time to broadcast a commemorative message for International Holocaust Day. In May the government’s Plan Ceibal program (digital connectivity for education) presented a project on the memory and legacy of the Holocaust. In November, President Tabare Vazquez participated in B’nai B’rith Uruguay’s annual commemoration of Kristallnacht.

The Canelones municipality in the department of Canelones accepted a petition from the Jewish community to modify local cemetery regulations that require a minimum of 12 hours post mortem for burials.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The law prohibits abuse of persons with disabilities in educational and mental facilities, including degrading treatment, arbitrary commitment, and abusive use of physical restraints; unhygienic conditions; inadequate or dangerous medical care; and sexual or other violence. The law also grants persons with disabilities the right to vote and participate in civic affairs without restriction. The government in general did not monitor compliance and did not effectively enforce provisions or promote programs to provide for access to buildings, information, public transportation, and communications.

PRONADIS is the governmental entity responsible for developing actions, programs, and regulations to provide building and facilities access; cultural, sports and recreational opportunities; education; and employment to persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Development continued to train government employees on the content of the manual of good practices in dealing with persons with disabilities and to organize training workshops for government employees. In September the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Social Development signed an agreement to raise awareness, strengthen social inclusion, and improve access to travel opportunities for persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Tourism held an award ceremony to honor companies committed to good practices in providing access for persons with disabilities.

The law reserves no less than 4 percent of public-sector jobs for persons with physical and mental disabilities. Government decrees certify and regulate the use of canes and establish provisions for extending adequate training in their use. Guide dogs legally have full access to public and private premises and transportation. Most public buses did not have provisions for passengers with disabilities other than one reserved seat, although airports and ports offered accessibility accommodations. The law also provides tax benefits to private-sector companies and grants priority benefits to small and medium-sized companies owned by persons with disabilities.

The law grants children with disabilities the right to attend school (primary, secondary, and higher education). Ramps built at public elementary and high schools facilitated access for wheelchair users, and 87 percent of children and adolescents with disabilities attended school, including institutions of higher education. The state-funded University of the Republic offered sign-language interpreters for deaf students. Some movie theaters and other cultural venues lacked access ramps. Plan Ceibal continued to offer specially adapted laptops to children with disabilities. Some parks in Montevideo and Canelones offered wheelchair-accessible facilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country’s Afro-Uruguayan minority, estimated at 8 percent of the population, continued to face societal discrimination and high levels of poverty. Twenty-six percent of the Ministry of Social Development welfare program (Tarjeta Uruguay Social) was directed to members of the Afro-Uruguayan community. The law grants 8 percent of state jobs to Afro-Uruguayan minority candidates who comply with constitutional and legal requirements. In 2015 Afro-Uruguayans held only 2.7 percent of state jobs. The National Employment Agency is required to include Afro-Uruguayans in its training courses. The law also requires that all scholarship and student support programs include a quota for Afro-Uruguayans, and it grants financial benefits to companies that hire them. An interagency antidiscrimination committee and the National Institution of Human Rights receive complaints of racism.

NGOs reported “structural racism” in society and noted that the percentage of Afro-Uruguayans working as unskilled laborers was much higher than for other groups. Afro-Uruguayans were underrepresented in government (two representatives in parliament and the president of the National Postal Service were Afro-Uruguayan), academia, and in the middle and upper echelons of private-sector firms. Unemployment of Afro-Uruguayan women remained high. The NGO Mundo Afro continued its AM radio talk show to raise awareness of racism and its antidiscrimination campaign through a network of informal AM radio stations; other outreach efforts included regional exhibitions and seminars for government employees responsible for staff recruitment.

As head of the government’s ethnic and racial equality efforts, the Ministry of Social Development declared July the first Month of Afro-descendants. In July the ministry and the African Descent and Public Policies Department of the University of the Republic organized a seminar on Afro-descendant issues. The ministry organized a workshop on public policies about combatting structural racism.

In August the National Public Education Administration and Ministry of Social Development presented the guide Education and Afro-descent for teachers to use in their classrooms. The guide included modules that stress the use of the term Afro-descendant over other terms, recommended that teachers cite prominent Afro-Uruguayan leaders of the community in teaching the country’s history, emphasized diversity as a positive value, and provided interactive tools with displays of African cultural activities that could be complemented with Afro-Uruguayan cultural education. In September the President’s Office of Planning and Budget and the School of Humanities and Educational Sciences at the University of the Republic signed an agreement to carry out a study on the impact of racism and discrimination on the Afro-Uruguayan community.

The National Police Academy, National School for Peacekeeping Operations of Uruguay, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ School of Diplomacy included discrimination awareness training as part of their curricula. Mundo Afro’s Higher Institute for Afro Training offered courses related to Afro-descendant culture. In 2015 the Ministry of Interior created an Ethnic and Racial Affairs Unit.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Authorities generally protected the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, although civil society representatives asserted that generally government mechanisms for protection were weak and ineffective. Public-health regulations prevent gay men who had same-sex intercourse within 12 months to donate blood.

Members of the transgender community claimed to suffer social discrimination in society and within their families.

In June the Ministry of Public Health released a sexual diversity guide for professionals in the health sector and for the general public. The guide was cosponsored by the Medical School of the University of the Republic, the NGO Ovejas Negras, and the UN Population Fund.

In December 2015 the Montevideo municipality created a Diversity Secretariat and elaborated a plan of action for 2016-2020. The LGBT Chamber of Commerce, created in 2015, continued to expand agreements with departmental governments to foster diversity tourism programs.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were isolated reports of societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In June public health authorities presented a 2015 report stating only 70-75 percent of individuals infected with HIV were diagnosed and that the infection had increased in men ages 15-24.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, protects the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively, and the government respected and effectively enforced these rights in practice. The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in practice. Civil servants, employees of state-run enterprises, private-enterprise workers, and legal foreign workers may join unions. The law regulates collective bargaining and grants the government a significant role in adjudicating labor disputes. The law also designates trade unions to negotiate on behalf of workers whose companies are not unionized. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities and pay an indemnity to such workers. In addition, if an employer contracts employees from a third-party firm, the law holds the employer responsible for possible labor infringements committed by the third-party firm. Both foreign and domestic workers in the informal sector were excluded from these protections. The International Labor Organization urged the government to ensure that women caregivers for abandoned children have the right to form or join a trade union and bargain collectively.

The Collective Bargaining Division of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security investigates antiunion discrimination claims filed by union members. Information on government remedies and penalties for violations were not provided. There were generally effective, albeit lengthy, mechanisms for resolving workers’ complaints against employers. The law establishes a conciliatory process before a trial begins and requires that the employer be informed of the reason for a claim and the alleged amount owed to the worker.

Worker organizations operated free of government and political intervention. The governing Frente Amplio party provided strong political support to labor unions in general, and they were very active in the political and economic life of the country. Collective bargaining occurred regularly. Workers exercised the right to strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced applicable laws. The law establishes penalties of two to 12 years of prison for forced labor. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The labor ministry and other authorities did not report identifying or investigating cases of forced labor during the year. Information on the effectiveness of inspections and governmental remedies was not available. Foreign workers remained vulnerable to forced labor in agriculture and domestic service.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at age 15, but INAU may issue work permits for children ages 13 to 15 under special circumstances specified by law. Minors ages 15 to 18 must have government permission to work, undergo physical exams prior to beginning work, and renew the exams yearly to confirm the work being performed does not exceed the physical capacity of the incumbent. The government maintains a list of hazardous or fatiguing work that minors should not perform and for which it does not grant permits. Children ages 15 to 18 may not work more than six hours per day within a 36-hour workweek and may not work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The labor ministry is responsible for overall compliance with labor regulations, but INAU is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Violations of child labor laws by companies and individuals are punishable by fines determined by an adjustable government index. Parents of minors may receive a sentence of three months to four years in prison, according to the penal code. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Due to a lack of dedicated resources, enforcement was mixed and particularly poor in the informal economy, where most child labor occurred.

In 2015, the latest year for which data was available, INAU granted 3,132 work permits. The main labor activities deemed nonhazardous were in the food industry (supermarkets, fast food restaurants, and bakeries) and on small farms and poultry farms; typical activities included clerical work, egg sorting, animal feeding, and cleaning. In 2015, the latest year for which data was available, INAU worked with the labor ministry and the National Insurance Bank to investigate 48 complaints of child labor and worked with the Ministry of Interior to allow the judiciary to prosecute cases. INAU had 11 trained child-labor inspectors, who completed 3,032 inspections in 2015. INAU continued its efforts to prevent and regulate child labor and provided training on child labor matters.

Child labor continued to be reported in activities such as domestic service, street vending, garbage collection and recycling, construction in the informal sector, and in agriculture and forestry sectors, which were generally less strictly regulated and where children often worked with their families. The most recent data available from the National Committee for the Eradication of Child Labor indicated that approximately 67,000 children and adolescents worked. A small percentage of children ages five to 17 begged for a living. Children were also exploited in commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The government in general effectively enforced applicable law and regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to sex and race. The government took steps to prevent and eliminate discrimination (see sections 5 and 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage for all workers was 11,150 pesos ($395). The official per capita poverty income level was approximately 10,740 pesos ($380) per month, according to the National Statistics Institute.

The law stipulates that the standard workweek for those in the industrial and retail sectors may not exceed 44 or 48 hours with daily breaks of 30 minutes to two and one-half hours, depending on the sector. The law requires that workers receive premium pay for work in excess of regular work schedule hours. The law entitles all workers to 20 days of paid vacation after one year of employment and to paid annual holidays, and it prohibits compulsory overtime beyond a maximum 50-hour workweek. Employers in the industrial sector are required to give workers either Sunday off or one day off every six days of work (variable workweek). Workers in the retail sector are entitled to a 36-hour block of free time each week.

The labor ministry sets occupational safety and health standards, and the standards are current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The law and regulations protect the rights of foreign and national workers in the formal sector but does not extend protection to the informal economy or female foster caregivers for abandoned children who provide services on behalf of INAU.

Except in the informal sector, workers, including domestic and migrant workers and workers in the agricultural sector, are covered by laws on minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards. Agricultural workers had a slightly higher minimum wage.

The labor ministry is responsible for enforcing the minimum monthly wage for both public- and private-sector employees and for enforcing legislation regulating health and safety conditions. The ministry had 120 labor inspectors. The number of penalties imposed for labor violations was unavailable, and penalties appeared to be insufficient to deter violations of labor laws in all cases. The ministry conducted 17,102 inspections in 2015.

The government monitored wages and other benefits, such as social security and health insurance, through the Social Security Fund and the Internal Revenue Service. The Ministry of Public Health’s Bureau of Environment and Occupational Work is responsible for developing policies to detect, analyze, prevent, and control risk factors that may affect workers’ health. In general authorities effectively enforced these standards in the formal sector but less so in the informal sector.

The labor ministry’s Social Security Fund monitored domestic work and may obtain judicial authorization to conduct home inspections to investigate potential labor law violations. The law establishes August 19 as a paid holiday to recognize the Day of Domestic Workers. The ministry organized awareness activities with the Domestic Workers Union and the umbrella labor organization PIT/CNT.

Formal-sector companies generally complied with minimum wage regulations, and most workers earned more than the minimum wage. Many citizens and foreign workers were employed informally, however, and thus did not benefit from certain legal protections. By law workers may not be exposed to situations that endanger their health or safety and may remove themselves from such situations without jeopardy to their employment. Government authorities and unions protected employees who removed themselves from such activities. The Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for carrying out safety and health inspections in the agricultural sector.

The labor ministry reported 4,496 labor accidents in 2015, primarily in the construction and related services, agriculture and cattle breeding, health services and related activities, and manufacturing industries. The construction workers union reported eight deaths in 2015.

Uzbekistan

Executive Summary

Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state with a constitution that provides for a presidential system with separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The executive branch under former President Islam Karimov dominated political life and exercised nearly complete control over the other branches of government. On September 2, President Karimov died in office and new elections took place on December 4. Former prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev won with 88 percent of the vote. The Organization for Security and Cooperation’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODHIR), in its preliminary election observation mission report, noted that “limits on fundamental freedoms undermine political pluralism and led to a campaign devoid of genuine competition.” The report also identified positive changes such as the election’s increased transparency, service to disabled voters, and unfettered access for 600 international observers.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, but security services permeated civilian structures, and their interaction was opaque, which made it difficult to define the scope and limits of civilian authority.

The most significant human rights problems included torture and abuse of detainees by security forces, denial of due process and fair trial, and an inability of citizens to choose their government in free, fair, and periodic elections.

Other continuing human rights problems included incommunicado and prolonged detention; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; and widespread restrictions on religious freedom, including harassment of religious minority group members and continued imprisonment of believers of all faiths. Problems also included restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association; restrictions on civil society; restrictions on freedom of movement; violence against women; the inability of citizens to obtain adequate social services such as public health and education; and human trafficking, including government-compelled forced labor. There was widespread disregard for the rule of law as authorities subjected human rights activists, journalists, and others who criticized the government, as well as their family members, to harassment, arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and politically motivated prosecution and detention.

Government prosecutions of officials were rare, selective, but often public, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with 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 reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including by torture.

In February, Ozodlik Radio, the Uzbek Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), reported that police brought the body of Makhmudjon Khasanov, who was serving a prison term at penal colony No. 64/46 in Navoi for affiliation with the banned religious organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir, to his family without official forensic medical examination records of the detainee’s death. Police demanded immediate burial. According to Fergana News, the death resulted from torture.

Information regarding other deaths from torture was not available, however, other reported cases that fit this pattern included the deaths of Doston Abdurakhmanov, Shakhob Makhkamov, and Ikromjon Nizamov in February.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances, although some prisoners’ family members reported being unable to locate their relatives when attempting to visit them in penitentiary systems.

In its 2016 annual report, the Geneva based UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances noted it had seven outstanding cases from previous years. According to the working group, the government did not respond to the group’s requests to visit the country, and the information provided by the government was insufficient to clarify the status of the seven outstanding cases.

There were reports that persons sought by the country’s law enforcement bodies were abducted abroad by the country’s secret services, with the acquiescence or direct cooperation of national and multilateral security structures abroad, even when granted asylum status, and were forcibly returned to the country to stand trial.

Lawyers for Rakhmiddin Kamolov reported an attempt to kidnap their client on August 29 in Moscow. Kamolov was wanted in Uzbekistan on charges of affiliating with a banned religious organization. According to reports from the Moscow-based Yordam (Help) Consulting-Legal Center, the Uzbek National Security Service (NSS) kidnapped Kamolov, exposed him to physical and psychological abuse, and later that same day forcibly transported him to the airport for return to Uzbekistan. Russian authorities intervened, took Kamolov into custody, and later released him. He remained in Russia awaiting a decision by Russian authorities on Uzbekistan’s extradition request.

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, law enforcement and security officers routinely beat and otherwise mistreated detainees to obtain confessions, incriminating information, or for corrupt financial gain. Sources reported torture and abuse were common in prisons, pretrial facilities, and local police and security service precincts. Reported methods of torture included severe beatings, denial of food, simulated asphyxiation, tying and hanging by the hands, and electric shock. There were also continued reports that authorities exerted psychological pressure on inmates and detainees, including through threats against family members and blackmail.

In 2010 the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern that the definition of torture in the criminal code did not conform to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the country is a party. The most recent country assessment by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment was in 2003, as the country has not responded to subsequent requests for this or any other UN special rapporteur to visit since 2002.

On February 19, the Jizzakh Regional Criminal Court sentenced five men–Aramais Avakyan, Furkat Djuraev, Bektemir Umirzokov, Akmal Mamatmurodov, and Dilshod Alimov–to prison terms ranging from seven to 12 years for criminal charges against the state related to terrorism, attempts to overthrow the state; production and distribution of materials containing threats to public security and public order; and the creation, leadership, and participation in religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist and other banned organizations. During the court hearing, Avakyan and others reported that Jizzakh regional NSS and police officers used torture to extract false confessions. In response to questions regarding the case, the government denied this account and stated that an internal investigation found the torture claims groundless.

On March 7, Elena Urlaeva, chairperson of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, was forcibly placed in a psychiatric hospital, according to a decision from the Mirabad Inter-District Court. After her release on June 2, Urlaeva reported that during her incarceration at Tashkent City Psychiatric Hospital No. 1, authorities beat her on numerous occasions and forcefully gave her psychotropic substances. Hospital authorities refused to perform any medical examinations to confirm or deny claims of mistreatment or conduct a blood analysis, as requested. Authorities also hospitalized Urlaeva in 2001, 2002, 2005, and 2012 following reports of her activism.

Authorities reportedly increased the severity of punishments for individuals suspected of “Islamist extremism.” Local human rights workers reported that authorities often proffered inducements–such as bribes or prison privileges–to inmates who agreed to harass and harm other inmates suspected of “religious extremism.” The government does not differentiate between violent and nonviolent forms of extremism.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were in some circumstances harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions: There were reports that, in some facilities, inmates convicted of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order were held separately, and that prison officials isolated inmates convicted under “religious extremism” charges from other inmates, according to human rights monitors.

Reports of overcrowding, severe abuse, and shortages of medicine were common. Inmates generally had access to potable water and food, but both reportedly were of poor quality. Relatives of prisoners sometimes complained that prison diets did not include sufficient meat. There were reports of political prisoners held in cells without proper ventilation and subjected to temperatures below freezing in winter and over 120 degrees in summer; detention facilities commonly lacked heat or air conditioning. Family members also reported occasions when officials withheld or delayed delivery of food and medicine intended for prisoners. Unlike in past years, family members of inmates did not report any incidents of sexual abuse.

Prison administration officials reported an active World Health Organization tuberculosis program in the prisons and an HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention program. Officials reported hepatitis was not present in high numbers and that hepatitis patients received treatment in existing medical facilities and programs. Reports of such treatment could not be verified independently because access to such facilities was frequently denied.

Administration: There was no information available whether recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate. Authorities in limited cases used administrative measures such as bail, house arrest and correctional work as alternatives to criminal sentences for nonviolent offenders. In addition, the criminal code mandates instances in which courts cannot sentence individuals to prison if he or she has paid a fine in full.

The Human Rights Ombudsman’s office and the Prosecutor General’s Office may investigate complaints from detainees. The Ombudsman’s Office may make recommendations on behalf of specific prisoners, including changes to the sentences of nonviolent offenders to make them more appropriate to the offense. The Ombudsman’s Office noted, however, that it rarely received complaints from prisoners regarding detention conditions. Family members of detained or released prisoners said their complaints to the ombudsman went unanswered or were referred to the original sentencing court for redress without investigation from the ombudsman.

Prison officials generally allowed family members to visit prisoners for up to four hours two to four times per year. Relatives of prisoners held on religious or extremism charges reported denial of visitation rights. Officials also permitted longer visits of one to three days two to four times per year, depending on the type of prison facility. Family members of political prisoners reported that officials frequently delayed or severely shortened visits arbitrarily. Family members of other prisoners mentioned that visits were often conditional on payment of a bribe to officials.

The government stated prisoners have the right to practice any religion or no religion, but prisoners frequently complained to family members that they were not able to observe religious rituals conflicting with the prison’s schedule. Such rituals included traditional Islamic morning prayers. Authorities forbid prisoners to observe religious holidays such as Ramadan, with no fasting allowed. Although some prison libraries had copies of the Quran and the Bible, family members continued to complain that authorities did not allow prisoners access to religious materials.

According to official government procedures, prisoners have the right to “participate in religious worship and family relations, such as marriage.” “Close relatives” also have the right to receive oral and written information from prison officials about the health and disciplinary records of their family members. Families continued to report a lack of communication and information concerning their imprisoned relatives and stated that the government continued to withhold information contained in health and prison records.

According to family members and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), authorities at times failed to release prisoners, especially those convicted of “religious extremism,” at the end of their terms. Prison authorities often extended inmates’ terms by accusing them of additional crimes or of violating vague or internal prison rules or claiming the prisoners represented a continuing danger to society.

Authorities extended the sentences of human rights activist Ganikhon Mamatkhanov by an additional three years in May and opposition activist Samandar Kukanov by an additional five years in October, reportedly for violations of internal prison rules. The government subsequently released Kukanov in November under its annual amnesty program.

Independent Monitoring: Independent observers had limited access to some parts of the penitentiary system, including pretrial detention facilities, juvenile and women’s prisons, and prison settlements. Authorities granted access to selected observers, but only to certain prisons and to limited areas within them. On July 20, authorities allowed local human rights activists from the Ezgulik Human Rights Society to visit Mukhammad Bekjanov at prison No. 64/48, Zarafshan District, Navoi region; Azam Farmonov at prison No. 64/71, Jaslyk, Karakalpakstan; and Isroil Kholdorov, at prison No. 64/29, Navoi. No UN rapporteurs or representatives from the international community were allowed to visit prisons during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but authorities continued to engage in such practices.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The government authorizes three different entities to investigate criminal activity. The Ministry of Interior controls the police, who are responsible for law enforcement, maintenance of order, and the investigation of general crimes. The Prosecutor General’s Office investigates violent crimes such as homicide as well as corruption by officials and abuse of power. The NSS, headed by a chairman who reports directly to the president, deals with national security and intelligence problems, including terrorism, corruption, organized crime, border control, and narcotics. When jurisdictions overlap, the agencies determine among themselves, which takes the lead.

Impunity was a problem. The Ministry of Interior investigated abuses but rarely disciplined officers accused of human rights violations. A human rights and legal education department within the ministry investigated some police brutality cases. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, affiliated with parliament, also has the power to investigate cases, although its decisions on such investigations have no binding authority.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law a judge must review any decision to arrest accused individuals or suspects. Judges granted arrest warrants in most cases. Defendants have the right to legal counsel from the time of arrest. State-appointed attorneys are available for those who do not hire private counsel. Officials did not always respect the right to counsel and occasionally forced defendants to sign written statements declining the right. Authorities’ selective intimidation and disbarment of defense lawyers produced a chilling effect that also compromised political detainees’ access to legal counsel. The law authorizes the use of house arrest as a form of pretrial detention.

Detainees have the right to request hearings before a judge to determine whether they remain incarcerated or may be released before trial. The arresting authority is required to notify a relative of a detainee about the detention and to question the detainee within 24 hours of arrest. There were complaints that authorities tortured suspects before notifying either family members or attorneys of their arrest to gain confessions that could be used for convictions.

Suspects have the right to remain silent and must be informed of the right to counsel. Detention without formal charges is limited to 72 hours, although a prosecutor can request an additional 48 hours, after which time the person must be charged or released. Authorities typically held suspects after the allowable period of detention, according to human rights advocates. After formal charges are filed, the prosecutor decides whether a suspect is released on bail (or on the guarantee of an individual or public organization acting as surety), stays in pretrial detention, or is kept under house arrest. The judge conducting the arrest hearing is allowed to sit on the panel of judges during the individual’s trial.

The law requires authorities at pretrial detention facilities to arrange a meeting between a detainee and a representative from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office upon the detainee’s request. Officials allowed detainees in prison facilities to submit confidential complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Once authorities file charges, suspects may be held in pretrial detention for up to three months while investigations proceed. The law permits an extension of the investigation period for as much as one year at the discretion of the appropriate court upon a motion by the relevant prosecutor, who may also release a prisoner on bond pending trial. According to human rights advocates, authorities frequently ignored these legal protections. Those arrested and charged with a crime may be released without bail until trial on the condition they provide assurance of “proper behavior” and that they will appear at trial.

A decree requires that all defense attorneys pass a comprehensive relicensing examination. Several experienced and knowledgeable defense lawyers who had represented human rights activists and independent journalists lost their licenses after taking the relicensing examination or because of letters from the bar association under the control of the Ministry of Justice claiming that they violated professional ethical norms. As a result several activists and defendants faced difficulties in finding legal representation. Although unlicensed advocates cannot represent individuals in criminal and civil hearings, courts have the discretion to allow such an advocate if he or she belongs to a registered organization whose members are on trial.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities continued to arrest or detain persons arbitrarily on charges of extremist sentiments or activities and association with banned religious groups. Local human rights activists reported that police and security service officers, acting under pressure to break up extremist cells, frequently detained and mistreated family members and close associates of suspected members of religious extremist groups. Coerced confessions and testimony in such cases were commonplace.

On January 20, seven police and security services officers detained Sharufitdin Tashpulatov in the Mirzo-Ulugbek district of Tashkent on hooliganism charges. The Mirzo-Ulugbek Criminal Court sentenced him to 15 days of incarceration, during which Tashpulatov was severely abused to confess to religious offenses. In 1999 Tashpulatov was sentenced and served nine years in prison for membership in the banned religious organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir and for attempting to overthrow constitutional order, among other charges.

In November 2015 authorities arrested human rights activist Uktam Pardaev following a search of his house. Pardaev faced criminal charges, including conspiracy to swindle and offer bribes, which carried maximum penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. On January 11, Pardaev was convicted on all charges, sentenced to almost eight years in prison, and then immediately exonerated and released with the informal warning that he may not engage in human rights-related activities for three years.

There were reports that police detained persons on false charges of extortion, drug possession, tax evasion, or extremism as an intimidation tactic to prevent them or their family members from exposing corruption or interfering in local criminal activities. On April 22, in Gurlan District, Khorezm Province, Valibek Eshmanov was forcibly removed from a taxi after witnessing and commenting on a traffic police officer’s demand and acceptance of a bribe. He was beaten severely on the street and transported to the district police station on charges of obstructing justice. The Gurlan District Court convicted Eshmanov and fined him one day’s pay. Eshmanov was later exonerated in a general amnesty, but his police record prevented him from obtaining meaningful employment. Eshmanov filed repeated requests with the Office of the Ombudsman, Supreme Court, President’s Office, Prosecutor General’s Office as well as law enforcement bodies, alleging his innocence and the misconduct of police. At year’s end Eshmanov had not received a reply to his request for judicial review of his case and expunging of his criminal record.

Pretrial Detention: Prosecutors generally exercised discretion over most aspects of criminal procedures, including pretrial detention. Detainees had no access to a court to challenge the length or validity of pretrial detention. Even when authorities did not file charges, police and prosecutors frequently sought to evade restrictions on the length of time persons could be held without charges by holding them as witnesses rather than as suspects. Pretrial detention ranged from one to three months. The government did not provide information regarding the number of persons held in pretrial detention centers.

Detainees or former detainees are able to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court. Appeals are sometimes open to the public by request of the applicant and new evidence rarely heard. Appeal courts generally review previous trial records and ask applicants to declare for the record their innocence or guilt. Appeals rarely result in the courts overturning their original decisions.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court:

Detainees or former detainees are able to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court. Appeals are sometimes open to the public by request of the applicant and new evidence rarely heard. Appeal courts generally review previous trial records and ask applicants to declare for the record their innocence or guilt. Appeals rarely result in the courts overturning their original decisions.

Amnesty: Authorities give amnesty and release some individuals imprisoned for religious extremism or political grounds every year. In November 2015 Murod Juraev was released after 21 years in prison. Juraev, a former member of parliament and opposition figure, was sentenced in 1994 to 12 years, which was extended in 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2012, allegedly for violations of internal prison rules. Following his release, Juraev remained on parole for one year and reported regularly to police authorities who detained him–and at times his wife–for up to six hours without food, water, or bathroom access. No explanations were provided, but detentions occurred when members of the diplomatic corps attempted to visit him.

Released in October, Bobomurod Razzokov, a farmer and head of the Ezgulik human rights organization, was sentenced to four years in prison on accusations of facilitating the trafficking of a woman into prostitution in 2013. Razzokov’s lawyer claimed that security services pressured the woman into bringing charges against him. The 60-year-old maintained that the charges were politically motivated due to his human rights activities, and human rights organizations alleged serious due process violations.

In November, the government amnestied and released political prisoner Samandar Kukanov. Kukanov, a former member of parliament and businessman, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in July 1993. In 2013, his prison term was prolonged for three years for violating internal prison rules. His sentence was extended again in October, shortly before the government granted him amnesty.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, members of the judiciary reportedly rendered verdicts desired by the Prosecutor General’s Office or other law enforcement bodies.

The president appoints all judges for renewable five-year terms. Removal of Supreme Court judges must be confirmed by parliament, which generally complied with the president’s wishes.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The criminal code specifies a presumption of innocence. Most trials were officially open to the public, although access was sometimes restricted. Judges may close trials in exceptional cases, such as those involving state secrets or to protect victims and witnesses. Judges generally permitted international observers at proceedings without requiring written permission from the Supreme Court or court chairman, but judges or other officials arbitrarily closed some proceedings to observers, even in civil cases. Authorities generally announced trials only one or two days before they began, and hearings were frequently postponed.

A panel of one professional judge and two lay assessors, selected by committees of worker collectives or neighborhood committees, generally presided over trials. The lay judges rarely spoke, and the professional judge usually accepted prosecutors’ recommendations on procedural rulings and sentencing.

Defendants have the right to attend court proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence, but judges declined defense motions to summon additional witnesses or to enter evidence supporting the defendant into the record. In the overwhelming majority of criminal cases brought to trial, the verdict was guilty. Defendants have the right to hire an attorney, and the system worked reasonably well, although some human rights activists encountered difficulties finding legal representation. The government provided legal counsel and interpreters without charge when necessary. According to credible reports, state-appointed defense attorneys routinely acted in the interest of the government rather than of their clients because of their reliance on the state for a livelihood and fear of possible recriminations, including nonrenewal of licenses.

By law a prosecutor must request an arrest order from a court, and courts rarely denied such requests. Prosecutors have considerable power after obtaining an arrest order: They direct investigations, prepare criminal cases, recommend sentences to judges, and may appeal court decisions, including the sentence. After formal charges are filed, the prosecutor decides whether a suspect is released on bail, stays in pretrial detention, or is kept under house arrest. Although the criminal code specifies a presumption of innocence, a prosecutor’s recommendations generally prevailed. If a judge’s sentence does not correspond with the prosecutor’s recommendation, the prosecutor may appeal the sentence to a higher court. Judges often based their verdicts solely on confessions and witness testimony, which authorities were known to extract through abuse, threats to family members, or other means of coercion. This was especially common in religious extremism cases. Lawyers may, and occasionally did, call on judges to reject confessions and investigate claims of torture. Judges often did not respond to such claims or dismissed them as groundless. Courts failed to investigate properly allegations of torture. Judicial verdicts frequently alleged that defendants claimed torture to avoid criminal responsibility.

Legal protections against double jeopardy were not applied.

The law provides a right of appeal to defendants, but appeals rarely resulted in reversals of convictions. In some cases, however, appeals resulted in reduced or suspended sentences.

Defense attorneys may access government-held evidence relevant to their clients’ cases after the initial investigation is completed, the prosecutor files formal charges, and the case is passed to the criminal court, except when the release of certain evidence could pose a threat to state security. In the past courts invoked the state security exception, leading to complaints that its primary purpose was to allow prosecutors to avoid sharing evidence with defense attorneys. In many cases prosecution was based solely upon defendants’ confessions or incriminating testimony from state witnesses, particularly in cases involving alleged religious extremism.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

International and domestic human rights organizations estimated that authorities held hundreds of prisoners on political grounds, and some groups asserted the number was in the thousands. These claims were not statistically and independently verifiable. The government denied it held political prisoners and maintained that these individuals were convicted of violating the law. Officials released one high-profile prisoner, Bobomurod Razzokov, in October and another, Samandar Kukanov in November. Family members of several political prisoners, including Azam Farmonov, reported abuse in prison and deterioration of the prisoners’ health.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may file suit in civil courts for alleged human rights violations by officials, excluding investigators, prosecutors, and judges. There were reports that bribes to judges influenced civil court decisions.

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

Although the constitution and law forbids arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, authorities did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires that prosecutors approve requests for search warrants for electronic surveillance, but there is no provision for judicial review of such warrants.

There were reports that police and other security forces entered the homes of human rights activists and members of religious groups without a warrant. According to Forum 18, a Norwegian NGO that reports on religious freedom, members of Baptist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other minority churches holding worship services in private homes reported that armed security officers raided services and detained and fined church members for religious activity deemed illegal. Among such incidents were raids in Khorezm in February and May. Baptist congregants reported home intrusions by authorities even when they gathered to celebrate important occasions such as birthdays. They also reported harassment and interference by authorities when publicly reading the Bible.

Human rights activists and political opposition figures generally assumed that security agencies covertly monitored their telephone calls and activities.

The government continued to use an estimated 12,000 neighborhood (mahalla) committees as a source of information on potential “extremists.” The committees provided various social support functions, but they also functioned as an informational link from local society to government and law enforcement. Mahallas in rural areas tended to be more influential than those in cities.

There continued to be credible reports that police, employers, and mahalla committees harassed family members of human rights activists, such as Elena Urlaeva, Malokhat Eshonkulova, Uktam Pardaev, Gulshan Karaeva, and Chamangul Negmanova.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government did not respect these rights and severely limited freedom of expression.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law restricts criticism of the president, and publicly insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. The law specifically prohibits publication of articles that incite religious confrontation and ethnic discord or that advocate subverting or overthrowing the constitutional order.

On April 25, the president signed an amendment criminalizing a broad range of religious expression online and via mass media. Criminal Code Article 244-1 (Threats to Public Security and Public Order) prescribes up to eight years in prison for anyone who uses religion online, via mass media, or in telecommunications to “violate civil concord, disseminate defamatory, destabilizing fabrications, commit other acts aimed against the established rules of behavior in society and public safety, and spread panic among the population.” Anyone distributing or displaying “attributes and symbols of religious extremist and terrorist organizations” can face up to five years in prison.

Press and Media Freedoms: All media entities, foreign and domestic, must register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Print media must also provide hard copies of publications to the government. The law holds all foreign and domestic media organizations accountable for the accuracy of their reporting, prohibits foreign journalists from working in the country without official accreditation, and subjects foreign media outlets to domestic mass media laws. The government used accreditation rules to deny foreign journalists and media outlets the opportunity to work in the country.

Amendments to the Law on Information Technologies, signed in September 2015, hold bloggers legally accountable for the accuracy of what they post and prohibit posts potentially perceived as defaming an individual’s “honor and dignity.” Limitations also preclude perceived calls for public disorder, encroachment on constitutional order, posting pornography or state secrets, issuing “threats to the state,” and “other activities that are subject to criminal and other types of responsibilities according to legislation.”

The government prohibited the promotion of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism as well as the instigation of ethnic and religious hatred. It prohibited legal entities with more than 30 percent foreign ownership from establishing media outlets in the country.

Articles in state-controlled newspapers reflected the government’s viewpoint. The main government newspapers published selected international wire stories. The government allowed publication of a few private newspapers with limited circulation containing advertising, horoscopes, and some substantive local news, including infrequent stories critical of government socioeconomic policies.

The government used large-circulation tabloids, such as Darakchi and Bekajon, as platforms to publish articles that criticized lower-level government officials or discredited “Western” ideas, such as pop culture and globalization.

A few purportedly independent websites consistently reported the government’s viewpoint. Government-owned media, such as the UzA and Jahon Information Agencies, frequently carried reports about reforms or visits to the country in which foreign experts’ comments were misquoted or embellished.

Violence and Harassment: Police and security services subjected print and broadcast journalists to arrest, harassment, intimidation, and violence, as well as to bureaucratic restrictions on their activity.

As in past years, the government harassed journalists from state-run and independent media outlets in retaliation for unauthorized contact with foreign diplomats, specifically questioning journalists about such contact. Some journalists refused to meet with foreign diplomats face-to-face because doing so in the past resulted in harassment and questioning by the NSS.

In June 2015 authorities detained Barnokhon Khudoyarova, editor in chief of the Huquq Dunyosi (World of Law) newspaper, shortly after he wrote a critical article on the Narin District Prosecutor’s Office and State Tax Committee. In October 2015 the Narin District Criminal Court found her guilty of extortion and sentenced her to five years four months in prison. In December 2015 the Namangan Regional Criminal Court declined an appeal and kept the sentence without changes.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists and senior editorial staff in state media organizations reported that some officials’ responsibilities included censorship. In many cases, the government placed individuals as editors in chief with the expressed intent that they serve as the main censor for a particular media outlet. There continued to be reports that government officials and employers provided verbal directives to journalists to refrain from covering certain events sponsored by foreign embassies, and, in some cases, threatened termination for noncompliance. As in past years, regional television outlets broadcast some moderately critical stories on local issues, such as water, electricity, and gas shortages, as well as corruption and pollution.

The government continued to refuse Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and the BBC World Service permission to broadcast from within the country, although the websites of Voice of America and the BBC were periodically accessible.

Government security services and other offices regularly directed publishers to print articles and letters under fictitious bylines and gave explicit instructions about the types of stories permitted for publication. There was often little distinction between the editorial content of a government and a privately owned newspaper. Journalists engaged in little investigative reporting. Widely read tabloids occasionally published articles that presented mild criticism of government policies or discussed some problems that the government considered sensitive, such as trafficking in persons.

Journalists working for state media outlets were discouraged from attending events held at foreign embassies.

Libel/Slander Laws: The criminal and administrative codes impose significant fines for libel and defamation. The government used charges of libel, slander, and defamation to punish journalists, human rights activists, and others who criticized the president or the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally allowed access to the internet, including social media sites. Internet service providers, allegedly at the government’s request, routinely blocked access to websites or certain pages of websites that the government considered objectionable, such as Fergananews.com, Ozodlik.org, and Asiaterra.info. The government blocked several domestic and international news websites and those operated by opposition political parties.

The media law defines websites as media outlets, requiring them to register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Websites were not required to submit hard copies of publications to the government.

According to government statistics, approximately 39 percent of individuals in the country used the internet. Unofficial estimates, especially of internet access through mobile communications devices, were higher. Several active online forums allowed registered users to post comments and read discussions on a range of social problems. To become a registered user in these forums, individuals must provide personally identifiable information. It was not clear whether the government attempted to collect this information, although new provisions of the Law on Information Technologies require internet cafe proprietors to log customers’ browser history.

A decree requires all websites seeking the “.uz” domain to register with the government’s Agency for Press and Information. The decree generally affected only government-owned or government-controlled websites. Opposition websites and those operated by international NGOs or media outlets tended to have domain names registered outside the country.

The government intermittently restricted access to several internet messenger services, sometimes for several months, requiring a proxy server to access services such as Skype, Viber, and Telegram.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government continued to limit academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities occasionally required department head approval for university lectures, and university professors generally practiced self-censorship.

Although a decree prohibits cooperation between higher educational institutions and foreign entities without the explicit approval of the government, foreign institutions often were able to obtain such approval through the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, especially for foreign-language projects. Some school and university administrations, however, continued to pressure teachers and students to refrain from participating in conferences sponsored by diplomatic missions.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government often restricted this right. Authorities have the right to suspend or prohibit rallies, meetings, and demonstrations for security reasons. The government often did not grant the permits required for demonstrations. Authorities subjected citizens to large fines, threats, arbitrary detention, and abuse for violating procedures for organizing meetings, rallies, and demonstrations or for facilitating unsanctioned events by providing space, other facilities, or materials. Organizers of “mass events” with the potential for more than 100 participants must sign agreements with the Ministry of Interior for the provision of security prior to advertising or holding such an event. This regulation was broadly applied, even to private corporate functions.

Authorities dispersed and occasionally detained persons involved in peaceful protests and sometimes pressed administrative charges following protest actions. Authorities repeatedly detained such activists as Elena Urlaeva, Malokhat Eshonkulova, and Chamangul Negmanova for attempting to protest outside government buildings for fair elections and government action to redress citizen grievances. In December, the government did permit Urlaeva to protest outside of government buildings on two occasions without incident.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the law provides for freedom of association, the government continued to restrict this right. The government sought to control NGO activity and expressed concerns about internationally funded NGOs and unregulated Islamic and minority religious groups. The operating environment for independent civil society, in particular human right defenders, remained restrictive. Activists reported ongoing government control and harassment.

The Ministry of Justice, which oversees the registration of NGOs, requires NGOs to obtain the ministry’s approval to hold meetings with nonmembers, including foreigners; to seek the ministry’s clearance on any event materials to be distributed; and to notify the ministry in writing of the content and scope of the events in question.

There are legal restrictions on the types of groups that may be formed, and the law requires that all organizations be registered formally with the government. Authorities used registration requirements to bar foreign NGOs from the country. The law allows for a six-month grace period for new organizations to operate while awaiting registration from the Ministry of Justice, during which time the government officially classifies them as “initiative groups.” Several NGOs continued to function as initiative groups for periods longer than six months.

NGOs intending to address sensitive issues, such as HIV/AIDS or refugee problems, often faced increased difficulties in obtaining registration. The government allowed nonpolitical associations and social organizations to register, but complex rules and a cumbersome bureaucracy further complicated the process and created opportunities for government obstruction. The government compelled most local NGOs to join a government-controlled NGO association that allowed the government considerable oversight over their funding and activities. The government required NGOs to coordinate their training sessions or seminars with government authorities. NGO managers believed this stipulation created a way for the government to require prior official permission for all NGO program activities. The government claimed these regulations were intended to simplify registration requirements and lower registration fees, but independent civil society groups reported these requirements had not simplified registration procedures.

The degree to which NGOs were able to operate varied by region because some local officials were more tolerant of NGO activities, particularly when coordinated with government agencies. Civil society groups reported that authorities imposed restrictions after groups had registered, such as requiring advance permission from the Justice Ministry for many public activities.

The administrative liability code imposes large fines for violations of procedures governing NGO activity as well as for “involving others” in “illegal NGOs”; the law does not specify whether the term refers to NGOs suspended or closed by the government or merely NGOs not officially registered. The administrative code also imposes penalties against international NGOs for engaging in political activities, activities inconsistent with their charters, or activities the government did not approve in advance.

The government continued to enforce the 2004 banking decree, ostensibly designed to combat money laundering, which complicated efforts by registered and unregistered NGOs to receive outside funding. The Finance Ministry required humanitarian aid and technical assistance recipients to submit information about their bank transactions. The Ministry of Justice required NGOs to submit detailed reports every six months on any grant funding received, events conducted, and events planned for the next six months. NGO leaders may be fined for conducting events without explicit permission from the ministry, and the fine was several times higher than for some criminal offenses.

Parliament’s Public Fund for the Support of Nongovernmental, Noncommercial Organizations, and Other Civil Society Institutions continued to conduct grant competitions to implement primarily socioeconomic projects. Some civil society organizations criticized the fund for primarily supporting government-organized NGOs. The law criminalizes membership in organizations the government broadly deemed “extremist.”

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and laws provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights, in particular through the continued requirement for citizens to receive an exit visa for travel outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In-country Movement: Citizens were required to have a domicile registration stamp in their passport before traveling domestically or leaving the country, and the government at times delayed domestic and foreign travel and emigration during the visa application process. Permission from local authorities was required to move to Tashkent City or the Tashkent Region; given the narrow scope of the ground for Tashkent registration, authorities rarely granted such permission without the payment of bribes. Those living and working without Tashkent City or Tashkent Region registration were unable to receive city services and could not legally work, send their children to school, or receive routine medical care.

The government required hotels to register foreign visitors with the government on a daily basis. Foreigners staying in private homes were required to register their location within three days of arrival. Government officials closely monitored foreigners in border areas, but foreigners generally could move within the country without restriction.

Foreign Travel: The government occasionally closed borders around national holidays due to security concerns. The government generally granted the requisite exit visas for citizens and foreign permanent residents to travel or emigrate outside the CIS. Exit visa procedures, however, allow authorities to deny travel based on “information demonstrating the inexpedience of the travel.” According to civil society activists, these provisions were poorly defined and denials could not be appealed. Authorities sometimes interfered in foreign travel if the purpose of the trip was expressly religious in nature. There were reports of significant delays in the issuance of new passports, which reportedly could be reduced with bribes.

The government requires male relatives of women between the ages of 18 and 35 to submit a statement pledging that the women would not engage in illegal behavior, including prostitution while abroad, a regulation the government says is aimed at combating trafficking in persons. Observers noted, however, that the majority of Uzbek trafficking victims abroad were male victims of labor trafficking.

Although the law requires authorities to reach a decision on issuing exit visas within 15 days, the government reportedly delayed exit visas for human rights activists and independent journalists to prevent their travel. Authorities continued to deny exit visas to human rights activists Shukhrat Rustamov, Uktam Pardaev, Elena Urlaeva, Adelaida Kim, Khaitboy Yakubov, and others. Violating rules for exiting or entering the country is punishable by imprisonment of five to 10 years.

While citizens generally could travel to neighboring states, land travel to Afghanistan remained difficult because citizens needed permission from the NSS.

Emigration and Repatriation: The law does not provide for dual citizenship and requires returning citizens to be able to prove they did not acquire foreign citizenship while abroad or face loss of citizenship. Citizens possessing dual citizenship did not have recourse to benefits granted by foreign citizenship while in Uzbekistan but generally traveled without impediment if they followed Uzbek law.

The government noted that citizens residing outside the country for more than six months could voluntarily register with Uzbekistan’s consulates.

According to the 2015 amendments to the Law on Citizenship, the state can revoke citizenship of those citizens who cause harm to the interests of the society and state; engage in activities in favor of a foreign state; or commit crimes against peace and security. Information regarding the implementation and impact of these amendments, including the number of those whose citizenship was revoked was not provided by the government.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

In the absence of a resident Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Program (UNDP) continued to assist with monitoring and resettlement processing of 18 pending (predominantly Afghan) refugee cases involving 27 individuals; such cases predated the closure of the local UNHCR office in 2006. During the year UNDP and temporary duty UNHCR staff processed five cases involving seven persons. Because the UNDP does not process new claims or make refugee status determinations, it referred potential applicants to UNHCR offices in neighboring countries.

The government did not accept UNHCR mandate certificates as a basis for extended legal residence; persons carrying such certificates must apply for either tourist visas or residence permits or face possible deportation. Residence permits were difficult to obtain. The government considered UNHCR mandate refugees from Afghanistan and Tajikistan to be economic migrants, and officials occasionally subjected them to harassment and demands for bribes. Most refugees from Tajikistan were ethnic Uzbeks. Unlike refugees from Afghanistan, those from Tajikistan were able to integrate into the local communities, and the local population supported them.

STATELESS PERSONS

Some refugees from Tajikistan were officially stateless or faced the possibility of becoming officially stateless, as many carried only old Soviet passports rather than Tajik or Uzbek passports. Children born to two stateless parents could receive Uzbek citizenship only if both parents had a residence permit.

Although official data on the number of stateless persons was not available, authoritative human rights activists estimated there were 3,000 stateless persons in Khorezm Province and the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. Most of these individuals reportedly were women who had married and lived in neighboring Turkmenistan prior to the country’s independence in 1991. There also were reports of stateless populations in Sirdaryo and Qashkadaryo Provinces. There were reports of authorities revoking citizenship for ethnic Tajiks on allegations of fraud, even in cases where Uzbek passports had been issued more than a decade ago, rendering such citizens stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While 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, the government in practice did not conduct free and fair elections, severely restricted freedom of expression, and suppressed political opposition. The former president oversaw a highly centralized government through sweeping decree powers, primary authority for drafting legislation, and control over government appointments, most of the economy, and the security forces.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Following elections in March 2015, President Karimov began a fourth consecutive term, despite Article 90 of the constitution that prohibits more than two consecutive terms in office. Karimov passed away on September 2 and a special presidential election took place on December 4. Acting Interim President and Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev won the election with 88 percent of the vote. Mirziyoyev was one of four candidates that ran for election. OSCE/ODHIR has observed six elections in Uzbekistan, however 2016 was the first time the Uzbek government invited OSCE/ODHIR to conduct a full-scope observation mission. According to OSCE/ODHIR, the 2016 presidential election demonstrated that systemic shortcomings in the election system persist and the dominant position of state actors and limits on fundamental freedoms continue to undermine political pluralism. These conditions resulted in a campaign that lacked genuine competition. Furthermore, due to a highly restrictive and controlled media environment, voters did not have access to alternate viewpoints beyond a state-defined narrative. The OSCE/ODHIR report indicated that significant irregularities were noted on election day, including indications of ballot box stuffing and widespread proxy voting. The report also identified an increased transparency in the election, service to disabled voters, and unfettered access for 600 international observers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law allows independent political parties, but the Ministry of Justice has broad powers to oversee parties and to withhold financial and legal support to those they judge to be opposed to the government. There are four registered political parties and four candidates representing each party ran in the December 4 special presidential election. The law makes it difficult for genuinely independent political parties to organize, nominate candidates, and campaign. The law allows the Ministry of Justice to suspend parties for as long as six months without a court order. The government also exercised control over established parties by controlling their financing and media exposure.

The OSCE/ODHIR observation mission found that the campaign lacked competitiveness and voters lacked a genuine choice of political alternatives. Candidates can only be nominated by a registered political party and must meet certain eligibility criteria. Candidate cannot self-nominate. The government lowered the number of supporting signatures needed for candidate registration this year from five percent to one percent of voters nationwide. The OSCE/ODHIR also noted that the campaign was moderately visible, but campaign materials were largely homogenous. There were no debates among the candidates themselves.

The law prohibits judges, public prosecutors, NSS officials, members of the armed forces, foreign citizens, and stateless persons from joining political parties. The law prohibits parties that are based on religion or ethnicity; oppose the sovereignty, integrity, or security of the country, or the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens; promote war or social, national, or religious hostility; or seek to overthrow the government. The law also prohibits the Islamist political organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir, stating it promotes hate and condones acts of terrorism.

The government banned or denied registration to several political parties following the 2005 violence in Andijon. Former party leaders remained in exile, and their parties struggled to remain relevant without a strong domestic base.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. National minorities have full political rights under the Constitution and campaign materials were available in minority languages. The Central Election Commission passed a regulation in 2016, ensuring persons with disabilities could access polling stations and vote.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

In December 2016, the Uzbek parliament approved a new law to fight corruption. The law strengthens criminal penalties for official corruption. Despite some high-level corruption-related arrests, corruption remained endemic, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. According to local observers, prosecutions often targeted potential competitors for economic resources who had lost support among local and national elites, and such prosecutions were not the result of a concerted effort to stamp out corruption.

Corruption: In February Radio Ozodlik, RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, reported that the head of the Ministry of Defense department in Pskent District, Major Sodik Nishanov, was sentenced to four and one-half years in prison. His subordinates, Ibrakhim Kirgizbaev, Jasur Atamuradov, and Ilkhom Amanov, received five and one-half, three, and two years, respectively. According to the radio’s sources, the officers were found guilty of engaging in fraud and taking and receiving bribes.

In May, Ozodlik reported that former Hokim (mayor) of Andijon Nurillo Alimov was sentenced to 18 years in prison for a number of offenses, including abuse of power and bribery.

Interim President Shavkat Mirziyoyev appointed Abdulla Aripov in September as Deputy Prime Minister and in December promoted him to Prime Minister. Aripov had been the subject of criminal charges for corruption in 2012 reportedly for granting a foreign cellular company permits to install antennas and had been dismissed from office by late president Karimov, though some speculate that the charges reflected internal political considerations rather than his complicity or culpability.

Financial Disclosure: Government officials are required to disclose only income from outside employment, and such disclosures were not publicly available.

Public Access to Information: The public did not generally have access to government information, although the government launched an interactive website enabling citizens to file complaints and seek redress for grievances. The government seldom reported information normally considered in the public domain. Many government ministries and bodies had an internet presence that offered some information. In accordance with the law on Openness and Transparency of State Bodies, citizens may attend nonsensitive government meetings. State bodies should make public announcements on their meetings no later than three days prior to the date of the event. Any person then can file a registration request (indicating his full name and address) and attend the meeting if the request is approved. Attending citizens can ask questions related to the topic of the meeting, but there is a ban on video and audio recording.

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

A number of domestic human rights groups operated in the country, although the government often hampered their activities in a variety of ways. The government frequently harassed, arrested, abused, and prosecuted human rights activists. There were continued reports that law enforcement officers strictly controlled activists around the September 1 Independence Day holiday, the December 8 Constitution Day holiday, and the May 13 anniversary of the Andijon events.

The government officially acknowledged two domestic human rights NGOs: Ezgulik and the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan. Ezgulik representatives reported that the authorities’ harassment, intimidation, and threats of judicial proceedings against members continued to hamper their activities throughout the country. Others were unable to register but continued to function at both the national and local levels.

Organizations that attempted to register in previous years and remained unregistered included the Human Rights Alliance, Najot, Humanitarian Legal Center, Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, the Expert Working Group, and Mazlum (Oppressed). These organizations did not exist as legal entities but continued to function, despite difficulty renting offices and conducting financial transactions. They could not open bank accounts, making it virtually impossible for them to receive funds. Unregistered groups were vulnerable to government prosecution. In certain cases, however, government representatives participated with unregistered groups in events.

Government officials spoke informally with domestic human rights defenders, some of whom were able to resolve cases of human rights abuses through direct engagement with authorities if they did not publicize these cases.

Occasional attacks against human rights activists continued. Human rights defenders repeatedly alleged they were subject to spurious criminal and administrative charges and other retribution in response to their activism.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: With the exception of the International Labor Organization (ILO), the government continued to restrict the work of international bodies and severely criticized their human rights monitoring activities and policies.

The OSCE has been able to do limited work on human rights problems since 2006, and the government approved several proposed OSCE projects during the year, including in the “human dimension,” the human rights component of the OSCE’s work.

The government has not permitted UN representatives to monitor human rights problems in the country for more than 10 years, despite numerous requests. The government never responded to a 2006 request by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and 11 other human rights-related UN special mandate holders and working groups still had unanswered applications for entry at year’s end.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The goals of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office included promoting observance and public awareness of fundamental human rights, assisting in shaping legislation to bring it into accordance with international human rights norms, and resolving cases of alleged abuse. The Ombudsman’s Office mediated disputes between citizens who contacted it and made recommendations to modify or uphold decisions of government agencies, but its recommendations were not binding. Families of prisoners of concern reported that the Ombudsman’s Office declined to engage on politically sensitive cases.

The National Human Rights Center (NHRC) is a government agency responsible for educating the public and officials on the principles of human rights and democracy and for ensuring that the government complied with its international obligations to provide human rights information. Observers noted, however, that the NHRC was largely ineffective in this role and that it focused more on defending the government’s record on human rights than on addressing human rights problems.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including rape of a “close relative,” but the criminal code does not specifically prohibit spousal rape, and the courts did not try any cases. Cultural norms discouraged women and their families from speaking openly about rape, and the press rarely reported it.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, which remained common. While the law punishes physical assault, police often discouraged women in particular from making complaints against abusive partners, and officials rarely removed abusers from their homes or took them into custody. Society considered the physical abuse of women to be a personal rather than criminal matter. Human rights contacts, however, reported greater willingness by local police and officials to address reports of domestic violence, including in Jizzakh Province and in the traditionally conservative Fergana Valley. Family members or elders usually handled such cases, and they rarely came to court. Local authorities emphasized reconciling husband and wife, rather than addressing the abuse.

There were no government-run shelters or hotlines for victims of domestic abuse, and few NGOs focused on domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment, but it is illegal for a male supervisor to coerce a woman who has a business or financial dependency into a sexual relationship. Social norms, lack of reporting, and lack of legal recourse made it difficult to assess the scope of the problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. There were reports that government doctors pressured women to accept birth control or employ medical measures, such as sterilization, to end the possibility of pregnancy, purportedly to control the birth rate and reduce infant and maternal mortality. Contacts in the human rights and health-care communities confirmed there was anecdotal evidence suggesting that sterilizations without informed consent occurred, although it was unclear whether the practice was widespread and whether senior government officials directed it.

Contraception generally was available to men and women. In most districts, maternity clinics were available and staffed by fully trained doctors, who gave a wide range of prenatal and postpartum care. There were reports that more women in rural areas than in urban areas gave birth at home without the presence of skilled medical attendants.

Discrimination: Legal status and rights are the same for men and women. The National Women’s Committee is tasked with promoting the legal rights of women. Women historically held leadership positions across many sectors of society, although they were not as prevalent as men, and cultural and religious practices limited their effectiveness. The government provided little data that could be used to determine whether women experienced discrimination in access to employment or credit or were paid less for substantially similar work. The labor code prohibits women from working in many industries open to men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or from one’s parents. The government generally registered all births immediately.

Medical Care: While the government provided equal subsidized health care for boys and girls, those without an officially registered address, such as street children and children of migrant workers, did not have access to government health facilities.

Child Abuse: Society generally considered child abuse to be an internal family matter; little official information was available on the subject.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 17 for women and 18 for men, although a district may lower the age by one year in exceptional cases. The government-run Women’s Committee and neighborhood (mahalla) representatives conducted systematic campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers of child marriage and early births. The committee also held regular public meetings with community representatives and girls in schools to emphasize the importance of education, self-reliance, financial independence, and the right to free choice. In some rural areas, girls as young as 15 were married in religious ceremonies not officially recognized by the state.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law seeks to protect children from “all forms of exploitation.” Involving a child in prostitution is punishable by a fine of 25 to 50 times the minimum monthly salary and imprisonment for up to five years.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The punishment for statutory rape is 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The production, exhibition, and/or distribution of child pornography (involving persons younger than age 21) is punishable by fine or by imprisonment for up to three years.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts or patterns of discrimination against Jews. The Jewish community was unable to meet the registration requirements necessary to have a centrally registered organization, but there were eight registered Jewish congregations. Observers estimated the Jewish population at 10,000, concentrated mostly in Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara. Their numbers continued to decline due to emigration, largely for economic reasons.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but societal discrimination on the basis of disability occurred.

The government continued efforts to confirm the disability levels of citizens who received government disability benefits, claiming it did so to ensure the legitimacy of disability payments. Unconfirmed reports suggested, however, that authorities unfairly reduced benefits to some individuals in the process.

The law allows for fines if buildings, including private shops and restaurants, are not accessible, and activists reported that authorities fined individuals or organizations in approximately 2,500 cases during the year. A 2013 law reduced the fine for failing to create the necessary conditions for persons with disabilities from 6.4 to 9.2 million som ($1,960 to $2,817) to 2.2 million som ($674). Disability activists reported that accessibility remained inadequate, noting, for example, that many of the high schools constructed in recent years had exterior ramps but no interior modifications to facilitate access by wheelchair users.

The Ministry of Health controlled access to health care for persons with disabilities, and the Ministry of Labor facilitated employment of persons with disabilities. No information was available regarding patterns of abuse in educational and mental health facilities.

The labor law states that all citizens enjoy equal employment rights, but disability rights activists reported that discrimination occurred and estimated that 90 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed. The government indicated 17,000 jobs were set aside for persons with disabilities and during the reporting period, the authorities provided employment for over 4,000 disabled citizens. The government mandates that social infrastructure sites, urban and residential areas, airports, railway stations, and other facilities must allow for disabled access, although there were no specific government programs implemented and activists reported particular difficulties with access. Activists also reported instances in which persons with disabilities were not provided sign language interpreters during police investigations and court hearings, though the government did provide Braille ballots during the December election.

According to the government, of the children under 16 with disabilities in the country, 30,122 attended public schools, 6,225 attended specialized schools, and 9,499 were home schooled. Students studied Braille books published during Soviet times. There were computers adapted for people with vision disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country had significant Tajik (5 percent) and Russian (5.5 percent) minorities, as well as smaller Kazakh, Korean, and Kyrgyz minorities. There was also a small Romani (locally known as Lyuli) population, estimated at fewer than 50,000 individuals. Complaints of societal violence or discrimination against members of these groups were rare.

Ethnic Russians and other minorities occasionally expressed concern about limited job opportunities. Officials reportedly reserved senior positions in the government bureaucracy and business for ethnic Uzbeks, although there were numerous exceptions.

The law does not require Uzbek language ability to obtain citizenship, but language often was a sensitive issue. Uzbek is the state language, and the constitution requires that the president speak it. The law also provides that Russian is “the language of interethnic communication.”

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

Sexual relations between men are punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. Although there have not been any known arrests or convictions under this provision since 2003, according to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community, police and other law enforcement personnel used the threat of arrest or prosecution to extract heavy bribes from gay men. According to Ozodlik Radio, RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, a video released in January showing police officers beating a transvestite male allegedly involved in prostitution was distributed through social media outlets and messengers. Ozodlik reported that two police officers were dismissed for abuse of power. In response to questions regarding the case, the government confirmed the “dismissal of interior affairs officials responsible for illegal actions against a perpetrator.” The law does not criminalize same-sex sexual activity between women.

On February 5, Uzbek state-owned First TV channel O`zbekiston broadcast a February 4 speech by then president Islam Karimov at a special session of Tashkent Regional Council of People’s Deputies in which he openly denounced homosexuals and criticized Western culture for “propagating” such lifestyles, claiming “there is something wrong” with them. Ozodlik Radio also reported that Karimov criticized same-sex relationships during the speech.

Same-sex sexual activity was generally a taboo subject in society, and there were no known LGBTI organizations. There were no reports of official or societal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care, but observers attributed the absence of such reports principally to the social taboo against discussing same-sex relationships.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons known to be HIV positive reported social isolation and discrimination by public agency workers, health personnel, law enforcement officers, landlords, and employers after their HIV status became known. The military summarily expelled recruits in the armed services found to be HIV positive. Some LGBTI community activists reported that hospital wards reviewed the personal history of HIV-infected patients and categorized them as being drug addicts, homosexuals, or engaged in prostitution. Those whose files were marked as “homosexual” were referred to the police for investigation, because homosexuality between men is a criminal act. The government’s restrictions on local NGOs left only a handful of functioning NGOs to assist and protect the rights of persons with HIV/AIDS. No credible demographic or health survey data dealing with HIV/AIDS was publicly available.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law generally provides the right of workers to form and join independent unions and bargain collectively. The law does not make clear that only in the absence of a trade union can other bodies elected by workers be given the authority to bargain collectively. The law neither provides for nor prohibits the right to strike. The law prohibits anti-union discrimination. The law on trade unions states that workers cannot be fired due to trade union membership, but it does not clearly state whether workers fired for union activity must be reinstated. Volunteers in public works and workers employed by individuals without documented contracts do not have legal protection.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and there were no independent unions. Article 200 of the Administrative Responsibility Code and article 217 of the Criminal Code provide penalties for violating freedom of association laws equal to five to 10 times the minimum salary. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and the law provided for no penalties for violations of the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. In October, the country ratified ILO Convention 87 (Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize), and amended the law on “professional unions, rights, and guarantees of their activities,” which improved the role of the trade unions in the protection of labor and employees’ social rights. Workers generally did not exercise their right to form and join unions due to fear that attempts to create alternative unions would be quickly repressed. Unions remained centralized and wholly dependent on the government.

The state-run Federation of Trade Unions of Uzbekistan incorporated more than 35,800 primary organizations and 14 regional trade unions; according to official reports, 60 percent of employees in the country participated in the federation. Leaders of the federation were appointed by the President’s Office rather than elected by the union members or board. All regional and industrial trade unions at the local level were state managed.

Unions and their leaders were not free to conduct activities without interference from their employer or from government-controlled institutions. Unions were government-organized institutions with little bargaining power aside from some influence on health and work safety issues, and workers did not exercise collective bargaining rights. For example, the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Finance, in consultation with the Federation of Trade Unions, set wages for government employees. In the emerging private sector, management established wages or negotiated them individually with persons who contracted for employment. There was no state institution responsible for labor arbitration.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except as legal punishment for such offenses as robbery, fraud, or tax evasion or as specified by law. Certain sections of the Criminal Code and Code of Administrative Offenses allow for compulsory labor as a punishment for offenses including defamation; incitement of national, racial, ethnic, or religious enmity; creation or participation in the activity of prohibited social associations and religious organizations; and violation of the procedure for the organization and conducting of assemblies, meetings, street processions, or demonstrations. In multiple instances, the government pursued complaints of forced labor, even those from independent observers, which resulted in prosecutions, administrative penalties, and fines of seven local officials accused of forcing people to work. In 2016 the government made efforts to inform the public about the prohibition against forced labor, including the annual cotton harvest. The ILO verified that the government of Uzbekistan achieved some progress towards the eradication of adult forced labor in the cotton harvest as shown by decreasing numbers of people directly coerced to pick cotton, but effective prevention was irregular and risks of forced labor still remain.

Government-compelled forced labor of adults remained endemic during the annual cotton harvest. The central government continued to demand farmers and local officials fulfill state-assigned cotton production quotas and set insufficiently low prices for cotton and labor to attract voluntary workers, which led to the wide-scale mobilizations of adult laborers and a smaller number of child laborers. The government also continued to conceal possible labor violations in cotton fields by aggressively confronting, harassing, and detaining independent monitors attempting to observe and document the harvest. Adults were expected to pick 120 to 154 pounds per day, with the resulting daily wage between 15,400 to 18,200 som ($4.72 to $5.57) per day. While the earnings’ dollar equivalents were offered at the official government rate, at the prevailing black market rate used in the country due to the difficulty with obtaining official conversion, dollar equivalent earnings were approximately half of those at the official rate. The government for the first time announced that it did not meet its annual quota. Working conditions varied greatly by region and farm. There continued to be scattered reports of inadequate food and lodging, and some students reportedly worked the harvest without access to clean drinking water. The scope of adult mobilizations differed significantly from region to region.

For the third consecutive year, the government effectively forbade the systemic mobilization of children under age 18, although there were isolated reports of some local officials mobilizing classes of students ages 14 to 16 years in the final weeks of the harvest.

Despite official statements that the government would prohibit the mobilization of teachers and doctors in the 2016 harvest, such mobilizations continued. Independent reports suggested that the forced mobilization of adult state workers during the cotton harvest increased during the year to compensate for the loss of underage workers. Authorities continued to expect many teachers and school administrators to participate in the harvest, as either supervisors or cotton pickers. The majority of schools, colleges, and lyceums remained open with a reduced faculty, but there were reports of colleges closing or cancelling classes in certain regions due to staffing shortages. Similar conditions prevailed in the medical sector, as hospitals and clinics were understaffed for much of the cotton season. The loss of public-sector workers during the cotton harvest adversely affected communities, as medical procedures often were deferred and essential public services delayed.

There were isolated reports stating that local officials forced farmers to cultivate silk cocoons and, separately, that local officials forced teachers, students (including children), private businesses employees, and others to work in construction and other forms of non-cotton agriculture and to clean parks, streets, and buildings.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum working age at 16 and provides that work must not interfere with the studies of those younger than 18. The law establishes a right to part-time light work beginning at age 15, and children with permission from their parents may work a maximum of 24 hours per week when school is not in session and 12 hours per week when school is in session. The law does not allow children under age 15 to be involved with “light work,” even if it does not interfere with education or hinder the health or development of the child, but this provision was not always observed. Children between ages 16 and 18 may work 36 hours per week while school is out of session and 18 hours per week while school is in session. Decrees stipulate a list of hazardous activities forbidden for children younger than age 18 and prohibit employers from using children to work under specified hazardous conditions, including underground, underwater, at dangerous heights, and in the manual harvesting of cotton, including cotton harvesting with dangerous equipment. Children were employed in agriculture, in family businesses such as bakeries and convenience stores, and as street vendors.

The law does not explicitly provide authority for inspectors from the Ministry of Labor to enforce the child labor laws, which is a shared responsibility of the Ministry of Labor, the prosecutor general, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Interior’s general criminal investigators. The Office of the Prime Minister took the lead role in coordinating enforcement of labor decrees to keep children out of cotton fields and in mobilizing health and education workers. Local officials often reportedly participated by forming monitoring groups to ensure that parents and schools did not allow their children to pick cotton. It was unclear whether the Ministry of Interior conducted inspections in the agricultural sector. The law allows for a fine in the amount of one to three minimal monthly salaries for those using child labor that could “harm the child’s health, safety or morals.” There were no known prosecutions for child labor during the year.

During the year the government conducted its own monitoring for child labor in the cotton sector using ILO methodology in Navoi, Surkhandaryo, and Khorezm regions, and an ILO-led mission monitored the harvest in the remaining regions and the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. The ILO mission concluded that there was no systemic use of child labor in the harvest, but certain risks of forced labor remain, although a significant number (up to two/thirds) of the cotton pickers work voluntarily and only a minority is recruited involuntarily.

Some students as young as age 10 still worked in the cultivation and picking of cotton; however, unlike in previous years, their presence was the result of localized or individual occurrences rather than nationwide mobilization. The government continued to mobilize third-course college and lyceum students, sometimes for weeks at a time, resulting in the disruption of classes. Most third-course students were generally age 18 or older. There were reports, however, that this practice resulted in the incidental mobilization of 17-year-old students in the same class. Officials at some universities sent students to pick cotton for as long as eight weeks, during which time they stayed in tented work camps or schools near the fields a long distance away from the university. Some activists attempting to monitor living conditions for student workers in these areas reported interference by law enforcement officials, including through physical abuse. As in past years, there were individual reports that educational institutions threatened to expel students who did not participate in the harvest or required students to sign statements indicating their “voluntary” participation in the harvest. During the fall harvest, three professional colleges, two schools, and one clinic were closed to the public to provide accommodation for cotton pickers. Upon receiving complaints, the authorities took corrective measures and open the closed clinic and education facilities.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, gender, religion, and language. The labor code states that differences in the treatment of individuals deserving of the state’s protection or requiring special accommodation, including women, children, and persons with disabilities, are not to be considered discriminatory. Laws do not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, age, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, or social origin. HIV-positive individuals are legally prohibited from being employed in certain occupations, including those in the medical field that require direct contact with patients or with blood or blood products, as well as in cosmetology or haircutting. The government generally did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Information on penalties was not readily available. There were no recent reliable data on employment discrimination.

Foreign migrant workers enjoy the same legal protections as Uzbek workers as long as their employers follow all legal procedures for their employment. The law provides for a number of punishments or Uzbek employers who do not follow all legal procedures. Enforcement of employment law was lax, primarily due to insufficient staffing of relevant entities and endemic corruption.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum monthly wage, used primarily to calculate salaries in the public sector as well as various taxes and duties, was 130,240 som ($40) per month between September 2015 and September 2016. On October 1, it increased 15 percent to 149,775 som ($46). (Due to the difficulty in obtaining official conversion, the real earning power of the minimum monthly wage approximately half of that calculated at the official rate.)

According to official sources, approximately 360,000 full-time employees (out of 12 million) received the minimum salary. In 2013 the president signed an amendment to the labor code that raised the minimum monthly salary for full-time employees in the public sector to 230,000 som ($70). There were no official statistics concerning the average monthly wage, but most experts estimated a figure of 780,000 som ($239) before taxes. This level did not include wages in the agricultural sector. Reliable data or estimates on actual average household income were not available.

Officials defined the poverty level as consumption of fewer than 2,100 calories per day, but the government did not publish any income indicators of poverty. According to the government, 17 percent of the population lived below the poverty level, but some unofficial estimates using different indicators put the figure as high as 77 percent.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours and requires a 24-hour rest period. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The law provides overtime compensation as specified in employment contracts or as agreed with an employee’s trade union. Such compensation can be provided in the form of additional pay or leave. The law states that overtime compensation should not be less than 200 percent of the employee’s average monthly salary rate. Additional leave time should not be less than the length of actual overtime work. An employee may not work more than 120 hours of overtime per year, but this limitation was not generally observed, particularly in the public sector. The law prohibits compulsory overtime.

The Ministry of Labor establishes and enforces occupational health and safety standards in consultation with unions. Employers are responsible for ensuring compliance of standards, rules, and regulations on labor protection, as well as obligations under collective agreements. Reports suggested that enforcement was not effective. Although regulations provide for safeguards, workers in hazardous jobs often lacked protective clothing and equipment. Labor inspectors conducted routine inspections of small and medium-sized businesses once every four years and inspected larger enterprises once every three years. Additionally, the ministry or a local governor’s office could initiate a selective inspection of a business, and special inspections were conducted in response to accidents or complaints.

Approximately five to eight labor inspectors staffed offices in each of the country’s 14 administrative units, and there were specialized offices for major industries, such as construction, mining, and manufacturing. Labor inspectors usually focused on the private sector, while inspections of state-owned enterprises were considered pro forma. Penalties reportedly were often selective, and in many cases employers reportedly were able to mitigate penalties through informal agreements with inspectors. According to the law, health and safety standards should be applied in all sectors. The law remained unenforced in the informal economy, where employment was usually undocumented. During the year the Ministry of Labor, in cooperation with the tax authorities, inspected all private clinics to target the widespread practice of employing specialists without employment contracts.

The government agreed on an extension of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Decent Work Country Program until 2020, which would lead to further efforts towards improving working conditions. The most common labor violations were working without contracts (1.9 percent), receiving lower than publicly announced payments (.08 percent), delayed payments (1.3 percent), substandard sanitary or hygienic working conditions (14.5 percent). In 2016, acting on citizen complaints, the authorities took corrective action by mandating that 74 farms must improve the working conditions by providing proper contracts, transportation, better sanitary facilities, meals and drinking water, and timely salary payments.

The law provides that workers may legally remove themselves from hazardous work if an employer fails to provide adequate safety measures for the job, and the employer must pay the employee during the time of the work stoppage or provide severance pay if the employee choses to terminate employment. Workers generally did not exercise this right because it was not effectively enforced and employees feared retribution by employers. The law requires employers to insure against civil liability for damage caused to the life or health of an employee in connection with a work injury, occupational disease, or other injury to health caused by the employee’s performance on the job. In addition the company’s employees have the right to demand and the administration is obliged to provide them with information on the state of working conditions and safety at work, available personal protection means, benefits and compensations. No occupational health and safety violations were reported under the law.

The government and official media did not publish data on the number of employees in the informal economy. Many such employees had official part-time or low-income jobs. There were no effective government programs to provide social protections to workers in the informal economy. Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were most common in the public sector. More specific information on sectors in which violations were common and specific groups of workers who faced hazardous or exploitative working conditions was not available.

Vanuatu

Executive Summary

Vanuatu is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a freely elected government. The president is head of state. Following a snap election in January, which observers considered generally free and fair, parliament elected Charlot Salwai as prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Discrimination and violence against women remained the most significant human rights abuses during the year.

Other human rights problems included police violence, poor prison conditions, an extremely slow judicial process, lengthy pretrial detention, government corruption, commercial sexual exploitation of children, discrimination against persons with disabilities, discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and violence against marginalized persons.

The government made efforts to prosecute and punish abuses by officials, including allegations of police 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 no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical Conditions: As of September the prison system held 192 inmates, including 149 convicted prisoners and 43 pretrial detainees. The maximum prison capacity was 180. There were two female prisoners and one juvenile prisoner (defined by law as persons younger than 16 years). There was a dedicated prison facility for women, but authorities occasionally held men there. Authorities held juveniles in separate cells in adult prisons. Authorities held persons deemed mentally unfit to stand trial, juveniles, and pretrial detainees together with the general prison population. There were no reports of prisoner deaths.

Administration: The law provides for a sentence of supervision, where an offender remains in the community but is required to attend regular meetings with a probation officer and comply with conditions of the sentence, as well as a sentence of community work. This involves a probation officer and a voluntary community justice supervisor (usually a chief, pastor, or community leader) who oversee community work of not more than 400 hours during a probation period of six to 24 months. Under supervised parole the community parole board (a Supreme Court justice and two community members) approves release on parole under specific conditions.

The law mandates the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate complaints of human rights violations. The law does not authorize it to act on its own initiative, but rather to investigate specific complaints received from prisoners relating to such matters. During the year the ombudsperson did not receive any complaints about prisoner treatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. Representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations visited the prisons.

Improvements: Authorities made minor physical improvements at the Luganville Correctional Center, including to the bathrooms and plumbing, fencing, and painting. With support from the New Zealand government, the government is constructing a new prison in Luganville scheduled for completion in early 2017. It has a design capacity for 83 prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions. Citizens brought several civil cases against police, including two in which the court found police guilty of wrongful arrest and false imprisonment. Sixteen additional cases were pending before the court.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Vanuatu Police Force (VPF) maintains internal security, and the Vanuatu Mobile Force (VMF), a paramilitary police unit, makes up the country’s defense force. The commissioner of police heads the police force, including the Police Maritime Wing, Immigration Department, National Disaster Management Office, and National Fire Service.

Civilian authorities did not have effective mechanisms to punish police abuse or corruption but exercised overall control of the force. Allegations of police impunity continued, particularly in the VMF. Political instability led to the sacking of the police commissioner in 2015, and a series of legal cases exacerbated divisions within the police force and further undermined policing capacity. These political and legal battles continued, and a permanent commissioner had not been appointed as of December.

The law mandates the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate complaints of security force abuses. As an additional measure, in 2014 the government established the police Professional Standards Unit (PSU) to investigate allegations of ethics violations and misuse of force. From January to October, the PSU received 108 complaints against 80 officers, leading to 61 criminal charges and 47 internal disciplinary actions. The VPF had 686 officers in total.

Foreign assistance designed to address some of the problems confronting the security forces continued. Assistance projects included recruitment of new officers, establishment of additional police posts on outer islands and in rural areas, and repair and maintenance of police buildings. In 2013 the government signed an agreement with the Australian government to resume the Vanuatu-Australia Police Project. Under the project, three Australian Federal Police advisers worked full-time with the VPF.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

A warrant issued by a court is required for an arrest, although police made a small number of arrests without warrants. Authorities generally observed the constitutional provision to inform suspects of the charges against them.

The criminal procedure code outlines the process for remanding alleged offenders in custody. To remand a person in custody requires a valid written warrant from a magistrate or a Supreme Court justice. Warrants typically are valid for 14 days in the first instance, and the court may extend them in writing. In general the Correctional Services Department’s practice was not to accept any detainee into custody without a valid warrant. A system of bail operated effectively, although some persons not granted bail spent lengthy periods in pretrial detention due to judicial inefficiency. Authorities allow detainees prompt access to counsel and family members. The Public Defender’s Office provides free legal counsel to indigent defendants.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees constituted approximately 20 percent of the prison population. Judges, prosecutors, and police complained about large case backlogs due to a lack of resources and limited numbers of qualified judges and prosecutors. The average length of time spent in remand before a case went to trial was approximately 12 weeks. Problems with detainees convicted but not sentenced for relatively lengthy periods were much less common than in previous years. Sentencing typically followed conviction by four to eight weeks.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There were no reports of persons arrested or detained who were not allowed to challenge the legality of their detention and obtain prompt release if a court found them detained unlawfully.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The judicial system derives from British common law. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. The courts uphold constitutional provisions for a presumption of innocence, a prohibition against double jeopardy, a right to counsel, a right to judicial determination of the validity of arrest or detention, a right to question witnesses and access government-held evidence, a right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, a right to be present, and a right of appeal. The constitution also states that if the accused does not understand the language used in court proceedings, an interpreter must be provided. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

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, including for human rights violations; however, police were often reluctant to enforce domestic court orders, particularly when the orders concerned their own family or clan members. This also contributed to reluctance by women to lodge complaints with police. There was no mechanism to appeal adverse domestic decisions to a regional human rights body.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. In June the Public Service Commission (PSC) announced a new policy that prohibits government workers from accessing social media sites during official hours. Public servants must receive permission from the PSC Secretariat before the Office of the Chief Information Officer enables access. The PSC stated this policy was to increase worker productivity.

Internet access was available and widely used in urban areas, but rural areas remained inadequately served. The International Telecommunication Union estimated 11.2 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of 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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government developed an ad hoc system for providing protection to refugees and granted temporary refugee status and asylum to those seeking it while awaiting resettlement by UNHCR.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: President Baldwin Lonsdale dissolved parliament in November 2015 and called for a snap parliamentary election two months later. Despite time and funding constraints faced by the Electoral Commission, international and domestic observers considered the January 22 snap election free and fair. Of 24 election disputes filed by unsuccessful candidates, the commission dismissed 23 for lack of evidence. One dispute necessitated a recount, which changed the result of the election for that seat. Voter rolls continued to be problematic and larger than would be expected based on population size, but this situation did not appear to have a significant impact on results. Media covered the election freely, and voters could express their preference without fear of intimidation or coercion.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties could operate without restriction but were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities. In its 2014 National Integrity System Assessment, nongovernmental Transparency International stated that the country faced a “crisis in political integrity” due to fragmentation of political parties, continuing instability in government, and deficiencies in the electoral system. Most of the 28 political parties that contested the January election were newly formed.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Traditional attitudes regarding male dominance and customary familial roles hampered women’s participation in political life. No women served in the 52-member parliament, although eight women contested the January election.

In July 2015 parliament finalized amendments to the Municipalities Act, which make permanent the temporary special measures that created reserved seats for women in municipal governments. Both Port Vila and Luganville municipal councils have reserved seats for women, and in 2015 Luganville voters elected a woman to an open seat. Women interested in running for public office received encouragement from the Vanuatu Council of Women and the Department of Women’s Affairs, which also offered training programs.

A small number of ethnic minority persons (non-Melanesians) served in parliament. Prime Minister Charlot Salwai ran unopposed and is from the francophone population.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were isolated reports of government corruption.

The Ombudsman’s Office and Auditor General’s Office are key government agencies responsible for combating government corruption. Transparency International called on the government to implement a national anticorruption policy or to strengthen existing agencies to fight corruption.

Corruption: The law provides for the appointment of public servants based on merit, but political interference at times hampered effective operation of the civil service.

In 2015 the Supreme Court found Speaker of the Parliament Marcellino Pipite and 13 other parliamentarians guilty of accepting bribes of one million vatu ($9,350) from Deputy Prime Minister Moana Carcasses for their agreement to vote out the previous government. The next day Pipite, acting as head of state while the president was traveling abroad, signed a pardon for himself and the others. After President Lonsdale returned home, he revoked the pardon, a decision the Supreme Court upheld. The court sentenced Pipite along with most of the other convicted lawmakers to sentences ranging from three to four years’ imprisonment. In September a court handed down additional sentences of two to four years’ imprisonment to 11 of the 14 parliamentarians for their role in pardoning themselves. No allegations of corruption were brought against the new government, although official corruption continued to occur within ministries and at the provincial level.

Financial Disclosure: Members of parliament and elected members of provincial governments are subject to a leadership code of conduct that includes financial disclosure requirements. They must submit annual financial disclosure reports to the clerk of parliament, who then publishes a list of elected officials who did not comply. The Office of the Ombudsman, which investigates those who do not submit reports, confirmed that some officials did not comply with these requirements. Reports are not made available to the public, and the ombudsperson only has access for investigative purposes.

Public Access to Information: The government passed a Right to Information bill in November, which gives citizens the right to access certain government information. This followed the launch of a Right to Information policy in 2014. Transparency Vanuatu and the government’s chief information officer implemented a “Right to Information” campaign to educate the public about the policy and bill. The campaign objective is to inform citizens of their right to access public information.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: In consultation with other political leaders, the president appoints a government ombudsperson to a five-year term. Since its establishment the Ombudsman’s Office issued a number of reports critical of government institutions and officials; however, it did not have power to prosecute, and the findings of its investigations are not permissible as evidence in court proceedings. The ombudsperson referred cases deemed valid to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for action, but there were few prosecutions.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Although rape is a crime with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, the law does not specifically cite spousal rape, and police frequently were reluctant to intervene in what they considered domestic matters.

Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, was common. According to the 2009 Vanuatu National Survey on Women’s Lives and Family Relationships, 60 percent of women in a relationship experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner in their lifetime. Police reported an increase in the number of cases of violence against women, but most cases, including rape, went unreported to authorities because women, particularly in rural areas, were ignorant of their rights or feared further abuse. A UN report estimated that as few as 2 percent of domestic violence cases were reported to police.

The law criminalizes domestic violence and seeks to protect the rights of women, children, and families. Violators could face maximum prison terms of five years, a maximum fine of 100,000 vatu ($935), or both. The law also calls for police to issue protection orders for as long as there is a threat of violence. A protection order does not require proof of injury. Police have a “no drop,” evidence-based policy under which they do not drop reported domestic violence cases. If the victim later wishes to withdraw a complaint, the victim must go to court to request it be dropped.

There were no government information programs designed to address domestic violence, and media attention to domestic abuse was limited. As part of the New Zealand government’s regional Pacific Prevention of Domestic Violence Program, Radio Vanuatu broadcasted a bimonthly program in which police raised awareness and discussed issues related to domestic violence. The Department of Women’s Affairs played a role in implementing family protection. The Police Academy and the New Zealand government provided training for police in responding to domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

Churches and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operated facilities for abused women. NGOs also played an important role in educating the public about domestic violence and helping women access the formal justice system, but they lacked sufficient funding to implement their programs fully. A UN report noted that 92 percent of women and children who accessed the courts received assistance from an NGO or the police Family Protection Unit.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride-price payments continued to increase in value and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and it was a problem. In April a girl died after she jumped off a moving bus to escape alleged sexual harassment by the bus driver.

Reproductive Rights: According to the country’s family-planning policy guidelines, couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. According to 2016 estimates by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), only 38 percent of women between 15 and 49 years used a modern method of contraception, and 24 percent of women had an unmet need for family planning services. Religious conservatism and sociocultural preference for large families may contribute to low use of family-planning methods. The unmet need for family planning was particularly high among poor and disadvantaged women, and adolescent girls. Although teenage fertility rates declined in the last decade, they remained high in the country. The adolescent birth rate is 78 births per 1,000 girls between 15 and 19 years, according to UNFPA. The Burnet Institute reported that sociocultural norms and taboos around sexual behavior prevented adolescents from accessing sexual and reproductive health services. The institute also reported that costs of services and commodities, as well as limited availability of facilities and service providers, particularly in rural areas, were significant barriers to access.

The country’s geography in relation to service delivery points, both between islands and at remote inland locations, sometimes made it difficult to obtain medical care. Obstacles included lack of adequate roads and the high cost of transport to reach health-care facilities.

Discrimination: The constitution provides women the same personal and religious rights as men. Laws regarding marriage, criminal procedures, and employment further enshrine women’s rights as being equal to those of men. Although the law does not prohibit women from owning or inheriting property or land, tradition generally bars women from land ownership or property inheritance. Many female leaders viewed village chiefs as major obstacles to social, political, and economic rights for women. The country’s nationality law discriminates against citizen mothers who may not alone transmit citizenship to their children.

While women have equal rights under the law, they were only slowly emerging from a traditional culture characterized by male dominance, a general reluctance to educate women, and a widespread belief that women should devote themselves primarily to childbearing. Women experienced discrimination in access to employment, credit, and pay equity for substantially similar work (see section 7.d.). Court fees and transport costs associated with filing court cases affect women’s ability to access the formal justice system. There is also a lack of clear and consistent information on the fundamental rights of women and children and how they can achieve them. The Department of Women worked with regional and international organizations to increase women’s access to the formal justice system and educate women about their rights under the law.

Children

Birth Registration: A citizen father may transmit citizenship to his child regardless of where the child is born. A citizen mother alone may not transmit citizenship to her child, but the child may apply for citizenship at age 18 years. Parents usually registered the birth of a child immediately, unless the birth took place in a very remote village or island. Failure to register does not result in denial of public services.

Education: The government stressed the importance of children’s rights and welfare, but significant problems existed with regard to education. Although the government stated a commitment to free and universal education, school fees were a barrier to school attendance for some children.

School attendance is not compulsory. Boys tended to receive more education than did girls. Although attendance rates were similar in early primary grades, proportionately fewer girls advanced to higher grades. An estimated 50 percent of the population was functionally illiterate.

Child Abuse: Observers did not believe child abuse to be extensive, and the government did little to combat the problem. NGOs and law enforcement agencies reported increased complaints of incest and rape of children in recent years, but no statistics were available. The traditional extended family system generally protected children and played an active role in a child’s development. Virtually no children were homeless or abandoned.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 21 years, although boys as young as 18 years and girls as young as 16 years may marry with parental permission. In rural areas and outer islands, some children married at younger ages. In 2013 UNICEF reported that approximately 21 percent of children married before age 18. There were no government programs aimed at discouraging child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law addresses statutory rape, providing a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment if the child is older than 12 years but younger than 15 years, or 14 years’ imprisonment if the child is younger than 12 years. The law also prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, and the offering or procuring of a child for the purpose of prostitution or pornography.

Child pornography is illegal. The maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment if the child is 14 years or older, and seven years’ imprisonment if the child is younger than 14 years. Under the law the age of consensual sex is 16 years regardless of sex or sexual orientation. Some children younger than 18 years engaged in 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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community was limited to a few foreign nationals, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that Vanuatu was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

No law specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Although parliament passed a building code in 2013 to provide access for persons with disabilities in existing and new facilities, they could not access most buildings. There is a national policy designed to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but the government did not implement it effectively. There was no specific legislation mandating access to information, judicial systems, or communications. Some provinces had care centers, but the government generally relied upon the traditional extended family and NGOs to provide services and support to persons with disabilities. The high rate of unemployment in the general population, combined with social stigma attached to disabilities, meant few jobs were available to persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.). Persons with mental disabilities generally did not have access to services. They usually relied on members of their extended families for assistance. School officials rejected many potential students with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Most of the population is Melanesian, known locally as Ni-Vanuatu. Small minorities of Chinese, Fijians, Vietnamese, Tongans, and Europeans generally were concentrated in two towns and on a few plantations. Most of the land belongs to indigenous tribes, and they may not sell it, although increasingly they leased prime real estate to others. Within the limits of this system of land tenure, there generally were no reports of discrimination against ethnic minorities, although only indigenous farmers may legally grow kava, a native herb, for export.

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

There are no laws criminalizing sexual orientation or same-sex sexual conduct, but there were reports of discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons. LGBTI groups operated freely, but there are no antidiscrimination laws to protect them.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Traditional beliefs in sorcery fueled violence against persons marginalized in their communities. Women were often targets of opportunity. In July two men were assaulted during a traditional court hearing after they were suspected of practicing witchcraft. Media reported that the chief ordered one of the men to leave the village with his family immediately and leave his home and possessions behind. A police investigation was pending at year’s end.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of all workers to form and join independent unions, strike, and bargain collectively. While the law does not require union recognition by the employer or reinstatement of an employee fired for union activity, it prohibits antiunion discrimination once a union is recognized. Unions require government permission to affiliate with international labor federations; the government has not denied any union such permission.

The law prohibits retaliation for legal strikes. The law requires unions to give 30 days’ notice of intent to strike and to provide a list of the names of potential strikers. The minister of labor may prohibit persons employed in essential services from striking. Under law a court may find any person who fails to comply with such a prohibition guilty of an offense; similarly, for strikes in nonessential services, courts may also find workers failing to comply with procedural requirements guilty of an offense. Convictions for such offenses may result in an obligation to perform compulsory labor in public prisons. The International Labor Organization (ILO) called on the government to take the necessary measures in order to verify, both in law and in practice, that the government could impose no sanctions involving compulsory labor for organizing or peacefully participating in a strike.

In the case of private sector employees, complaints of violations of freedom of association are referred to the Department of Labor for conciliation and arbitration. In the public sector, the Public Service Commission handles complaints of violations. Complaints of antiunion discrimination must be referred to the Department of Labor, and several referrals occurred during the year. According to the commissioner for labor, the department had developed a dispute resolution process to manage these grievances.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws without lengthy delays or appeals. Resources and inspections were limited and generally only carried out following complaints. Penalties for violating the law included maximum fines of 100,000 vatu ($935), or imprisonment for a maximum term of three years, or both, and were sufficient to deter violations.

The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the law prohibits slavery and human trafficking. The ILO noted that the law excludes from the definition of forced labor any work or service that forms part of the national civic obligations of citizens, but that the law does not define such work.

The government enforced the law. Penalties for violating the law included fines of 100,000 vatu ($935), or imprisonment for a maximum term of three years, or both, and were sufficient to deter violations. There were no reports such practices occurred.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law establishes the minimum age for employment at 15 years. The law prohibits children younger than age 12 from working outside family-owned agricultural production, where many children assisted their parents. Children ages 12 through 14 years may perform light domestic or agricultural work if a family member works alongside the child, and agricultural work if the community does it collectively. Children younger than 18 years generally may not work on ships; however, with the permission of a labor officer, a child age 15 years may work on a ship. Children younger than 16 years may not work at night, and there are restrictions on night work for children between 16 and 18 years. Although parliament established a minimum age of 15 years for hazardous work, the law does not comply with international standards, because it does not prohibit children between 16 and 17 years from engaging in hazardous work, such as industrial labor and work on ships.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations included maximum fines of 100,000 vatu ($935), or imprisonment for a maximum term of three years, or both, and were sufficient to deter violations.

The department confirmed there were no reported cases of child labor, and department action to address child labor was limited to informal presentations on the topic. There were no credible reports of children employed in agriculture. There were reports children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Laws regarding employment and occupation prohibit discrimination based on sex with respect to pay; the law prohibits women from working in certain sectors of the economy at night. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The law does not prohibit employment discrimination with respect to race, color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, disability, language, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social origin.

Although several laws provide for equal employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, such as the Teaching Services Act and the Maritime Authority Act, the law also provides for removal of persons who hold senior positions in some sectors, usually in public service or on public sector boards, if they have a disability.

The government did not effectively enforce prohibitions on employment discrimination against women, and the law did not specify penalties for such violations.

Discrimination against women was especially common in the attainment of management positions. Persons with disabilities also faced discrimination with respect to employment and occupations. The ILO noted that legislation allowing for the removal of persons with disabilities from some senior positions appeared to reflect an inherent assumption that a person is incapable of holding such a position if they have any form of disability, and encouraged the government to prohibit explicitly discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was 30,000 vatu ($280) per month. According to the Asian Development Bank, 40 percent of all Ni-Vanuatu and 50 percent of the rural population had incomes below the national poverty line. There were no reports that standards regarding minimum wage, hours of work, or safety standards were not respected in the informal sector.

Various legal provisions regulate benefits such as sick leave, paid annual holidays, and other conditions of employment, including a 44-hour maximum workweek that includes at least one 24-hour rest period. The law provides for a premium of 50 to 75 percent more than the normal rate of pay for overtime work. Overtime work should not exceed 56 hours per week.

The law includes provisions for occupational safety standards, which are up-to-date and appropriate for the main sectors. Legal provisions on working conditions and safety standards apply equally to foreign workers and citizens in the formal sector. Safety and health provisions were inadequate to protect workers engaged in logging, agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. Workers are able to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities lacked resources to protect employees in such situations effectively.

Government enforcement of the law could have been more effective, but it lacked resources. The inspectors attached to the Department of Labor were sufficient to enforce compliance. Penalties for violating the law included maximum fines of 100,000 vatu ($935) or imprisonment for a maximum term of three years, or both, and were sufficient to deter violations. The labor commissioner said that most companies complied with the wage rate and inspectors conducted routine inspections to determine that minimum wages were paid.

Many companies in logging, agriculture, construction, and manufacturing did not provide personal safety equipment and standard scaffolding for workers.

Venezuela

Executive Summary

Venezuela is formally a multiparty, constitutional republic, but for more than a decade, political power has been concentrated in a single party with an increasingly authoritarian executive exercising significant control over the legislative, judicial, citizen, and electoral branches of government. Nicolas Maduro won the presidency in 2013 by a 1.5-percent margin amid allegations of pre- and post-election fraud, including government interference, the use of state resources by the ruling party, and voter manipulation. The opposition won in a landslide control of the National Assembly in the December 2015 legislative elections, but the executive branch exercised extensive influence over the judiciary to secure favorable decisions from the Supreme Tribunal of Justice that undermined the National Assembly’s autonomy, ignored the separation of powers, and enabled the president to govern through a series of emergency decrees. The ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) subsequently thwarted opposition efforts to recall the President under terms laid out by the constitution, and gubernatorial elections slated for December 2016 were summarily postponed.

Civilian authorities maintained effective, though politicized, control over the security forces.

Principal human rights abuses reported during the year included systematic, politicized use of the judiciary to undermine legislative branch action, and intimidate and selectively prosecute critics; indiscriminate police action against civilians leading to widespread arbitrary detentions, unlawful deprivation of life, and torture; and government curtailment of freedom of expression and of the press. The government arrested and imprisoned opposition figures and showed little respect for judicial independence or generally did not permit judges to act according to the law without fear of retaliation. At times the government blocked media outlets and harassed and intimidated privately owned television stations, other media outlets, and journalists throughout the year using threats, fines, property seizures, arrests, criminal investigations, and prosecutions.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the media, and government agencies reported extrajudicial killings by police and security forces; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and lack of due process rights that contributed to widespread violence, riots, injuries, and deaths in prisons; inadequate juvenile detention centers; corruption and impunity in the police; arbitrary arrests and detentions; abuse of political prisoners; interference with privacy rights; lack of government respect for freedom of assembly; lack of protection for Colombian migrants; corruption at all levels of government; threats against domestic NGOs; violence against women; employment discrimination based on political preference; and restrictions on workers’ right of association.

The government sometimes took steps to punish lower-ranking government officials who committed abuses, but there were few investigations or prosecutions of senior government officials. Impunity remained a serious concern in the security forces.

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

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

Although the government did not release statistics on extrajudicial killings, NGOs reported that national, state, and municipal police entities, as well as the armed forces and government-supported paramilitary groups, known as “colectivos,” carried out such killings during the year.

There was also no official information available on the number of public officials prosecuted or sentenced to prison for involvement in extrajudicial killings, which, in the case of killings committed by police, were often classified as “resistance to authority.” The NGO Committee for the Families of Victims of February-March 1989 (COFAVIC) continued to report there was no publicly accessible national registry of reported cases of extrajudicial killings.

COFAVIC reported that in 2015 there were 1,396 alleged extrajudicial killings committed by members of security forces, a 37-percent increase over 2014. The national police Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigative Corps (CICPC) reportedly committed 30 percent of the acts, with others committed by regional and municipal police. According to NGOs, prosecutors occasionally brought cases against such perpetrators, but prosecutions often resulted in light sentences, and convictions often were overturned on appeal.

COFAVIC reported cases in all 23 states and the national capital district of what it defined as extrajudicial killings committed by elements within local and state police forces. COFAVIC reported these elements systematically and arbitrarily detained and killed individuals (mainly young men from lower social classes) without any recourse to proper investigation by the government.

The government continued its nationwide anticrime strategy begun in 2015, the Operation for the Liberation and Protection of the People (OLP), characterized by large-scale raids conducted by hundreds of government security agents in neighborhoods allegedly harboring criminals. These operations often resulted in the deaths of suspected criminals. The NGO Venezuela Program for Education/Action on Human Rights (PROVEA) reported that 245 persons were killed during OLP security exercises in 2015.

The government continued to prosecute individuals connected with the 1989 killings in Caracas known as the “Caracazo,” in which the Public Ministry estimated 331 individuals died, and the 1988 El Amparo massacre, in which government security forces allegedly killed 14 persons.

On November 27, the state prosecutor stated the government would charge 11 members of the military for responsibility in the death of 12 civilians following a security raid in October in the coastal state of Miranda. The Defense Ministry declared that it condemned the deaths, as did the National Assembly in a rare, unanimous resolution.

b. Disappearance

There were no substantiated reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

Although the constitution states no person shall be subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, there were credible reports security forces tortured and abused detainees.

There were no reports of any government officials being charged under the law that states an agent or public official who inflicts pain or suffering–whether physical or mental–on another individual to obtain information or a confession, or seeks to punish an individual for an act the individual has committed, may be imprisoned for a maximum of 25 years, dismissed from office, and barred from holding public office for a maximum of 25 years. Prison and detention center officials who commit torture may face a maximum of five years in prison and a maximum fine of 53.5 million bolivars (BsF) ($5.3 million at the official rate, or $80,666 at the secondary Dicom exchange rate as of December 1). The law also includes mechanisms for reparations to victims and their families and creates a special National Commission for Torture Prevention composed of several government ministries.

The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman and the Public Ministry did not publish statistics regarding allegations of torture by police during the year. Several NGOs detailed cases of widespread torture and “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.” The Venezuelan NGO Foro Penal documented more than 138 cases of torture in the country between February 2014 and May 2015. Foro Penal maintained that hundreds of cases were not reported to government institutions because of victims’ fear of reprisal. NGOs detailed reports from detainees whom authorities allegedly sexually abused, threatened with death, and forced to spend hours on their knees in detention centers.

Human rights groups reported that the government continued to influence the prosecutor general and the public defender to conduct investigations selectively and subjectively. No data was available on investigations, prosecutions, or convictions in cases of alleged torture.

Press and NGO reports of beatings and humiliating treatment of suspects during arrests were common and involved various law enforcement agencies and the military. Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners were reported during the year. Two common methods of cruel treatment were the denial of medical care by prison authorities and the remanding of prisoners to long periods in solitary confinement. In the case of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, family members stated that prison authorities held him in solitary confinement for much of his imprisonment, subjected him to strip searches multiple times daily, denied him visitation rights, and occasionally deprived him of reading and writing material. Prison officials also subjected visiting family members to humiliating strip searches.

The NGO Foro Penal reported multiple instances of political prisoners denied adequate medical treatment while in government custody. Foro Penal noted instances where detainees were transferred to a medical facility, where instead of receiving treatment, they were interrogated by security officials.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Most prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to insufficient numbers of staff, who were also poorly trained and allegedly corrupt; weak security; deteriorating infrastructure; severe overcrowding; lack of adequate medical care; and shortages of food and potable water. Armed gangs effectively controlled some prisons in which they were incarcerated.

Physical Conditions: The Ministry of Penitentiary Services reported there were 50,791 inmates in the country’s 58 prisons and penitentiaries and an estimated of 33,000 inmates in police station jails. According to the NGO Venezuelan Observatory for Prisons (OVP), the capacity for penitentiaries was 22,459 inmates, and for police station jails, the capacity was for 5,000 inmates. Overcrowding was 126 percent for penitentiaries and 560 percent for police station jails on average, although the OVP noted that in some jails the overcrowding ranged from 800 to 1,200 percent.

According to OVP reports, records for detainees were not properly maintained and often featured incomplete information. Official figures taken from the Penitentiary Services Ministry’s 2015 annual report estimated 31,503 pretrial detainees and 17,374 convicted prisoners were held in the same facilities. Authorities assigned another 265 individuals to work detachment programs and held 522 individuals in police station facilities not fit to serve as detention centers. Women (2,629 inmates) and men (48,162 inmates) generally were held in separate prison facilities. There was only one penitentiary exclusively for women, and female prisoners in other detention centers were held in annexes or separate women’s departments in otherwise male-only prisons. Security forces and law enforcement authorities often held minors together with adults, even though separate facilities existed. Because institutions were filled to capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions were confined in juvenile detention centers where they were reportedly crowded into small, unsanitary cells.

The CICPC and police station jails and detention centers also were overcrowded, causing many police station offices to be converted into makeshift prison cells. Prisoners reportedly took turns sleeping on floors and office chairs, and sanitation facilities were inadequate or nonexistent. In the temporary detention facility in the downtown Caracas Zona 7 police station, a reported 700 detainees awaiting transport to prisons were held in a facility built for 70. On January 21, Mayor Ramon Muchacho of the Caracas municipality of Chacao declared that Chacao Police Department detention centers were operating at 300 percent of capacity, and temporary facilities were being used for long-term detention due to the lack of space in national penitentiaries. Muchacho highlighted that temporary detention centers lacked the infrastructure and security conditions to handle long-term imprisonment, and that overcrowding limited the fundamental rights for prisoners to receive visitors and legal counsel.

The National Guard and the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace have responsibility for prisons’ exterior and interior security, respectively. The government failed to provide adequate prison security. The OVP estimated a staffing gap of 90 percent for prison security personnel, with only one guard for every 100 inmates, instead of one every 10 as recommended by international standards. The OVP reported 309 prisoner deaths and 1,709 serious injuries in 2014. Most deaths and injuries resulted from prisoner-on-prisoner violence, riots, fires, and generally unsanitary and unsafe conditions. On August 3, seven prisoners at Alayon prison in Maracay died and approximately 60 individuals, three of them police officers, were severely injured when subjects riding motorcycles threw five grenades into the facility. The media reported that after the incident an undetermined number of inmates escaped from the prison.

During the year numerous prison riots resulted in inmate deaths and injuries. On January 11, 50 inmates took 40 persons hostage, including prison guards and staff and visiting family members, in Coro Penitentiary while protesting against food shortages and inadequate health care. The riot lasted for 55 hours and led to 11 injuries, 10 of them prison guards. On August 10, gangs rioted at the San Felix police station jail, leaving two inmates dead and 11 injured. Gang-related violence and alleged extortion by guards and inmates was fueled by trafficking in arms and drugs. NGOs, human rights lawyers, and the press frequently claimed prison gang leaders, rather than government authorities, controlled the penitentiaries and were able to lead organized crime networks based outside the prison system.

On July 15, a new law came into effect limiting cellphone and internet availability inside prisons to prevent inmates from using the technology to engage in criminal activity. The law was not implemented, however; inmates threatened a “full-scale war” if the government limited their ability to communicate.

The NGO A Window to Liberty (UVL) reported that authorities asked family members to provide nonperishable foods to prisoners at police station jails and the Fenix, Rodeo I, Rodeo II, Rodeo III, Yare III, and National Institute of Feminine Orientation penitentiaries due to inadequate provisioning of food by the prison administration. Lack of potable and running water in the 26 de Julio penitentiary led to gastrointestinal and skin diseases for large portions of the inmate population and prison staff.

The government restricted information regarding deaths in prisons from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases, or lack of medical care. A study by the NGO Solidarity Action found prison rules regarding the classification of inmates resulted in the isolation of those with HIV/AIDS in “inadequate spaces without food and medical attention.” The OVP reported a generalized lack of medical care, drugs, equipment, and physicians for prisoners, and reportedly inmates often received the same pills regardless of their symptoms. The OVP reported that due to inadequate nutrition plans and lack of potable water, stomach illnesses were common among inmates. According to the OVP, pregnant women lacked adequate facilities for their medical attention.

Administration: The government’s recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate. Prison authorities did not maintain accurate counts of inmates. According to press reports, the most recent accurate daily counts at the General Penitentiary of Venezuela and the La Planta Penitentiary occurred in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

The National Assembly released a report in May evaluating the use of funds by Minister Varela, noting that the Prisons Ministry had built only two new penitentiaries of 24 planned since 2012. In addition, the ministry’s 2015 annual report indicated that the budget for prisons, managed by the National Penitentiaries Fund (FONEP), had been reduced by 86 percent from 2013 to 2015.

The Ministry of Penitentiary Services did not respond to any of the requests it received from the OVP, UVL, other human rights organizations, inmates, or families regarding inmates or investigations of the harsh conditions that led to hunger strikes or violent uprisings.

Prisoners and detainees generally had access to visitors, but in some cases prison officials harassed or abused visitors. Prison officials imposed significant restrictions on visits to political prisoners. The family of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez denounced mistreatment by prison guards when attempting to visit him in the Ramo Verde Military Prison, including being subjected to strip searches on both entry and exit from the facility.

Independent Monitoring: Human rights observers continued to experience lengthy delays and restrictions in accessing prisons and detention centers. Requests by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit penitentiary centers and interview inmates in confidentiality have been rejected since 2013. More than 300 lay members from the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference of the Roman Catholic Church volunteered in 40 prisons. Although prohibited from formally entering prisons, Catholic laity visited prisoners on family visitation days.

Improvements: In February the Ministry of Penitentiary Services announced closure of the San Antonio Prison in Nueva Esparta after a series of videos were released on social media showing inmates firing weapons to commemorate the death of prison gang leader “El Conejo,” who was killed on January 24. Authorities moved 1,828 prisoners to other government penitentiaries. The ministry implemented educational programs for inmates, although reports from an NGO claimed enrollment was low.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits the arrest or detention of an individual without a judicial order and provides for the accused to remain free while being tried, but individual judges and prosecutors often disregarded these provisions. While NGOs such as Foro Penal, COFAVIC, the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS), Public Space, and PROVEA noted at least 2,000 open cases of arbitrary detentions, authorities rarely granted them formal platforms to present their petitions. Multiple individuals, including American citizens, were arbitrarily detained for extended periods without criminal charges.

In the weeks before a planned opposition rally on September 1, the government initiated a series of arbitrary detentions targeting opposition activists. On August 29, security forces arrested former student leader Yon Goicoechea for allegedly carrying explosives. Authorities held Goicoechea incommunicado for almost three days, and as of December 22, he remained in custody on politically motivated charges.

On September 3, independent journalist Braulio Jatar, a dual Venezuelan-Chilean citizen, was detained by Venezuelan authorities after reporting on an impromptu protest against President Maduro in Villa Rosa, Margarita Island. Jatar was charged with money laundering by a Venezuelan court, and as of December 22, he remained in the custody of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).

On September 19, SEBIN agents arrested Marco Trejo, Cesar Cuellar, and James Mathison without a warrant for producing a short video denouncing military repression. The government alleged the individuals committed a military offense because the video featured actors in military uniforms and charged the three under the military’s code of conduct.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Bolivarian National Guard (GNB)–a branch of the military that reports to both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace–is responsible for maintaining public order, guarding the exterior of key government installations and prisons, conducting counternarcotics operations, monitoring borders, and providing law enforcement in remote areas. The Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace controls the CICPC, which conducts most criminal investigations, and SEBIN, which collects intelligence within the country and is responsible for investigating cases of corruption, subversion, and arms trafficking while maintaining its own detention facilities separate from those of the Ministry of Penitentiary Services. Police include municipal, state, and national police forces. Mayors and governors oversee municipal and state police forces. The Bolivarian National Police (PNB) reports to the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace and had a reported 14,500 officers. According to its website, the PNB largely focused on policing Caracas’ Libertador municipality; patrolling Caracas-area highways, railways, and metro system; and protecting diplomatic missions; the PNB maintained a minimal presence in seven of the country’s 23 states.

Corruption, inadequate police training and equipment, and insufficient central government funding, particularly for police forces in states and municipalities governed by opposition officials, reduced the effectiveness of the security forces. There were continued reports of police abuse and involvement in crime, including illegal and arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and the excessive use of force.

Impunity remained a serious problem in the security forces. The Public Ministry is responsible for initiating judicial investigations of security force abuses. The Office of Fundamental Rights in the Public Ministry is responsible for investigating cases involving crimes committed by public officials, particularly security officials.

According to the Public Ministry’s annual report for 2015, the Office of Fundamental Rights cited 13,911 specific actions taken to “process claims” against police authorities for human rights abuses and charged 959 with violations. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman did not provide information regarding human rights violations committed by police and military personnel, nor did the Attorney General’s Office release data.

State and municipal governments also investigated their respective police forces. By law, national, state, and municipal police forces have a police corps disciplinary council, which takes action against security officials who commit abuses. The National Assembly also may investigate security force abuses.

During the year the government at both the local and national levels took few actions to sanction officers involved in abuses. According to the NGO Network of Support for Justice and Peace, the lack of sufficient prosecutors made it difficult to prosecute police and military officials allegedly involved in human rights abuses. In addition, NGOs reported the following problems contributed to an ineffective judicial system: long procedural delays, poor court administration and organization, lack of transparency in investigations, and impunity of government officials.

The National Experimental University for Security (UNES), tasked with professionalizing law enforcement training for the PNB and other state and municipal personnel, had centers in Caracas and five other cities. UNES requires human rights training as part of the curriculum for all new officers joining the PNB, state, and municipal police forces. Members of the PNB and state and municipal police also enrolled for continuing education and higher-learning opportunities as part of the Special Plan of Police Professionalization at UNES.

Societal violence remained high and continued to increase. The Public Ministry reported 19,453 homicides in 2015, a rate of 63.5 per 100,000 residents. The NGO Venezuelan Observatory of Violence estimated the rate to be higher, with 27,875 homicides, a rate of 90 per 100,000 residents. Criminal kidnappings for ransom were widespread in both urban centers and rural areas. Kidnappings included both “express kidnappings,” in which victims were held for several hours and then released, and traditional kidnappings. The Public Ministry reported 793 cases of kidnapping or extortion in 2015. NGOs and police noted many victims did not report kidnappings to police or other authorities due to fear of retribution or lack of confidence in the police and that the actual occurrence was likely far higher.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

While a warrant is required for an arrest, detention is permitted without an arrest warrant when an individual is caught in the act of committing a crime or to secure a suspect or witness during an investigation. Police often detained individuals without a warrant. The law mandates that detainees be brought before a prosecutor within 12 hours and before a judge within 48 hours to determine the legality of the detention; the law also requires detainees be informed promptly of the charges against them. Authorities routinely ignored these requirements.

Although there is a functioning system of bail, it is not available for certain crimes. Bail also may be denied if a person is apprehended in the act of committing a crime or if a judge determines there is a danger the accused may flee or impede the investigation. The law allows detainees access to counsel and family members, but that requirement was often not met, particularly for political prisoners. The constitution also provides any detained individual the right to immediate communication with family members and lawyers who, in turn, have the right to know a detainee’s whereabouts. A person accused of a crime may not be detained for longer than the possible minimum sentence for that crime or for longer than two years, whichever is shorter, except in certain circumstances, such as when the defendant is responsible for the delay in the proceedings.

Arbitrary Arrest: Foro Penal reported 5,853 cases of arbitrary detention between February 2014 and June 2016. Persons so detained claimed security personnel subjected them to inhuman and degrading treatment and in some cases torture.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was a serious problem. According to the OVP, approximately 79 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. According to the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ), only 17 percent of trials concluded or reached sentencing. The NGO Citizen Observatory of the Penal Justice System attributed trial delays to the shortage of prosecutors and penal judges (4.7 penal judges per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010). The Public Ministry’s 2015 annual report stated it had 346 prosecutors specializing in common crimes who processed more than 556,613 cases during the year.

Cases were often deferred or suspended when pertinent parties, such as the prosecutor, public defender, or judge, were absent. An automated scheduling calendar in use since 2013, which selected dates based on the availability of all pertinent parties and prohibited judges from scheduling more than 10 hearings per day, did not reduce the backlog. In some instances judges scheduled hearings six months from the start of the case.

According to the Public Ministry’s 2015 annual report, the ministry pressed charges in 9.7 percent of the 556,000 cases involving common crimes. The ministry reported the closure of the remainder of the complaints but did not indicate final outcomes. Prisoners reported to NGOs that a lack of transportation and disorganization in the prison system reduced their access to the courts and contributed to trial delays.

On April 11, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional an amnesty law the National Assembly passed in March, which would have provided a framework to release political prisoners.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Individuals under detention may legally challenge grounds for their detention, but the processes were often delayed or tabled, and hearings were postponed, stretching trials for years. On many occasions the right to be judged in liberty for some offenders was not granted, and detainees were not allowed to consult with an attorney or to have access to their case records in order to challenge the detention. There are credible accounts that some detainees were placed on probation or under house arrest indefinitely and thus prevented from challenging their status by the threat of being sent back to detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was significant evidence the judiciary lacked independence. There were credible allegations of corruption and political influence throughout the judiciary. According to reports from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), between 66 and 80 percent of all judges had provisional appointments, and the TSJ Judicial Committee could remove them from office at will. Provisional and temporary judges, who legally have the same rights and authorities as permanent judges, allegedly were subject to political influence from the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace and the attorney general to make progovernment determinations. The ICJ reported a lack of transparency and stability in the assignments of district attorneys to cases and the lack of technical criteria to assign district attorneys to criminal investigations. These deficiencies hindered the possibility of bringing offenders to justice and resulted in a 90-percent rate of impunity for common crimes and a higher percentage of impunity for human rights violation cases.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants are to be considered innocent until proven guilty. The law requires that detainees be informed promptly of the charges against them, and the requirement was generally respected, although in high-profile cases the charges were often dubious, according to international human rights organizations. The law provides for open, public, and fair trials with oral proceedings for all individuals. Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney. Public defenders are provided for indigent defendants, but there continued to be a shortage of such attorneys. Defendants are not provided free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. According to the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, there were approximately 1,500 public defenders. COFAVIC and Foro Penal noted that the government pressured defendants in trials related to the 2014 student protests into utilizing public defenders instead of private defense attorneys with the promise of receiving more-favorable sentences. Additionally, several NGOs provided pro bono counsel to defendants.

While defendants and their attorneys have the right to access government-held evidence, access often was not allowed; in some instances, particularly in politically motivated cases, the court or prosecution did not allow defendants or their attorneys to access such information. Defendants may request no fewer than 30 days and no more than 45 days to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to question adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses. By law defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and plaintiffs have the right of appeal. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

Trial delays were common. Trials “in absentia” are permitted in certain circumstances, although opponents of them claimed the constitution prohibits such trials. The law also states a trial may proceed in the absence of the defense attorney, with a public defender that the court designates. The law gives judges the discretion to hold trials behind closed doors if a public trial could “disturb the normal development of the trial.”

At the September 28 hearing of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, witnesses refused to appear for the prosecution. The legal situation of Afiuni, accused of corruption and abuse of authority for her 2009 decision to conditionally release on limits, remained unresolved. Afiuni continued to be subject to protective measures in place since her release to house arrest in 2011 that mandate she may not leave the country, talk to the media, or use social media, although the law states that such measures may not last more than two years.

The law mandates municipal courts to handle “less serious” crimes, i.e., those carrying maximum penalties of imprisonment for less than eight years. Municipal courts may levy penalties that include three to eight months of community service. Besides diverting some “less serious” crimes to the municipal courts, this diversion also permits individuals accused of “lesser crimes” to ask the courts to suspend their trials conditionally in exchange for their admission of responsibility, commitment to provide restitution “in a material or symbolic form,” community service, and any other condition imposed by the court.

The law provides that trials for military personnel charged with human rights abuses after 1999 be held in civilian rather than military courts. In addition, under the Organic Code of Military Justice, an individual may be tried in the military justice system for “insulting, offending, or disparaging the national armed forces or any related entities.” NGOs expressed concern with the government’s practice of trying civilians under the military justice system for protests and other actions not under military jurisdiction.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government used the judiciary to intimidate and selectively prosecute individuals critical of government policies or actions. The NGO Foro Penal reported that more than 100 political prisoners remained incarcerated as of November. An additional 1,998 individuals were subject to either restricted movement or precautionary measures. In late August security forces detained numerous political activists in the days preceding antiregime demonstration on September 1.

In some cases political prisoners were held in SEBIN installations or the Ramo Verde military prison without an explanation of why they were not being held in traditional facilities. Authorities have denied the ICRC access to these prisoners since 2013.

On June 19, National Guardsmen arrested opposition party (Voluntad Popular) activists Gabriel San Miguel and others at a highway checkpoint in Cojedes State. The men were carrying pro-opposition pamphlets and approximately $3,000 worth of local currency and were traveling to help collect signatures as part of the recall referendum petition drive. SEBIN held the two men in solitary confinement and reportedly interrogated them without legal counsel present. Cojedes Governor Erika Farias accused them of carrying money “to pay mercenaries of destabilization” and blamed them for lootings at local supermarkets. On June 22, authorities charged them with “inciting violence” and money laundering, which could carry a prison sentence of more than 15 years. Authorities released San Miguel, a Spanish-Venezuelan dual national, on September 9 and dropped all charges; the other person, a U.S.-Venezuelan dual national, was released October 18.

Metropolitan Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, arrested in February 2015, remained under house arrest while awaiting trial for alleged participation in a conspiracy to topple the government.

On August 12, a Caracas appeals court upheld the September 2015 conviction of Popular Will (Voluntad Popular) party leader and former Caracas Chacao municipality mayor Leopoldo Lopez on four counts of public incitement, damage to property, fire damage, and association for conspiracy, in a trial that began in 2014. Lopez continued serving a maximum sentence of 13 years and nine months in prison in Ramo Verde Military Prison, where he was held in solitary confinement. The court also denied the appeals of codefendants Christian Holdack and Marco Coello. During the appeal proceedings, as during the previous trial, court officials refused defense lawyers’ requests to allow the media to cover the proceedings and denied admission to international observers.

On August 27, SEBIN agents transferred former San Cristobal mayor Daniel Ceballos from house arrest back to prison, alleging that he had been planning to engage in “destabilizing acts” during a September 1 political demonstration. Authorities had remanded Ceballos to house arrest in August 2015. He continued to await trial on charges of civil rebellion dating to 2014 protests, charges that carry a maximum sentence of 25 years.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

While there are separate civil courts that permit citizens to bring lawsuits seeking damages, there are no procedures for individuals or organizations to seek civil remedies for human rights violations.

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

The constitution provides for the inviolability of the home and personal privacy, but the government generally did not respect these prohibitions. In some cases government authorities infringed on citizens’ privacy rights by searching homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization, seizing property without due process, or interfering in personal communications.

Beginning in August 2015, President Maduro declared 60-day “states of exception” in 23 municipalities bordering Colombia in Zulia, Tachira, Apure, and Amazonas states, thereby suspending the constitutional requirement for authorities to obtain a court order prior to entering a private residence or violating the secrecy of a person’s private communications, among other constitutional rights. These states of exception continued throughout the year.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but the combination of laws and regulations governing libel and media content, as well as legal harassment and physical intimidation of individuals and the media, resulted in significant repression of these freedoms. National and international groups, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the UN Human Rights Committee, Freedom House, the Inter American Press Association, Reporters without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, condemned or expressed concern over government efforts throughout the year to restrict press freedom and create a climate of fear and self-censorship.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law makes insulting the president punishable by six to 30 months in prison without bail, with lesser penalties for insulting lower-ranking officials. Comments exposing another person to public contempt or hatred are punishable by prison sentences of one to three years and fines. PSUV officials threatened violence against opposition figures and supporters, in particular leading up to the opposition’s September 1 march.

Press and Media Freedoms: The law provides that inaccurate reporting that disturbs the public peace is punishable by prison terms of two to five years. The requirement that the media disseminate only “true” information was undefined and open to politically motivated interpretation. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a statement in August expressing serious concern over the continuing erosion of media freedom.

The law prohibits all media from disseminating messages that incite or promote hate or intolerance for religious, political, gender-related, racial, or xenophobic reasons; incite, promote, or condone criminal acts; constitute war propaganda; foment anxiety in the population or affect public order; do not recognize legitimate government authorities; incite homicide; or incite or promote disobedience to the established legal order. Penalties range from fines to the revocation of licenses.

Despite such laws, President Maduro and the ruling PSUV used the nearly 600 government-owned or-controlled media outlets to insult and intimidate the political opposition throughout the year. Maduro regularly referred to Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles using homosexual slurs on live television, while PSUV First Vice President Diosdado Cabello used his weekly television program to bully journalists and media outlets.

The law declares telecommunications a “public interest service,” thereby giving the government greater authority to regulate the content and structure of the radio, television, and audiovisual production sectors. The law provides that the government may suspend or revoke licenses when it judges such actions necessary in the interests of the nation, public order, or security. The law empowers the government to impose heavy fines and cancel broadcasts for violations of its norms; the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) oversees the law’s application.

The government introduced legal actions against high-profile independent media outlets Tal CualEl NacionalEl Nuevo PaisLa Patilla, and Globovision.

The government’s economic policies made it difficult for newspapers to access foreign currency, preventing many newspapers from purchasing critical supplies and equipment necessary for day-to-day business operations. Items that must be imported included ink, printing plates, camera equipment, and especially newsprint. As the government prevented newspapers from purchasing foreign currency, media companies were forced to buy newsprint from the government-run Alfredo Maneiro Editorial Complex, the only company allowed by the government to import it. Consequently, nearly every newspaper in the country reduced pages and news content in an attempt to conserve paper. On March 16, El Carabobeno stopped printing daily newspapers after 82 years in operation, the latest nongovernment-owned media outlet to cease production due to lack of access to dollars to purchase newsprint from the government.

The NGO Public Space reported 144 cases of violations of freedom of expression between January and June, defined as the “obstruction, impediment, or criminalization of the search, receipt, and distribution of information by the media,” noting an increasing trend. The most common violations were aggressions against journalists and censorship. State-owned and state-influenced media provided almost continuous progovernment programming. In addition private and public radio and television stations were required to transmit mandatory nationwide broadcasts throughout the year. According to the online tracking program Citizens Monitoring, run by the civil society network Legislative Monitor, between January and September the government implemented more than 100 hours of national “cadenas” featuring President Maduro, interrupting regular broadcasts. Both Maduro and other ruling-party officials utilized mandatory broadcast time to campaign for progovernment candidates. Opposition candidates generally did not have access to media broadcast time.

The law requires practicing journalists to have journalism degrees and be members of the National College of Journalists, and it prescribes jail terms of three to six months for those practicing the profession illegally. These requirements are waived for foreigners and opinion columnists.

Violence and Harassment: Senior national and state government leaders continued to harass and intimidate privately owned and opposition-oriented television stations, media outlets, and journalists by using threats, property seizures, administrative and criminal investigations, and prosecutions. Government officials, including the president, used government-controlled media outlets to accuse private media owners, directors, and reporters of fomenting antigovernment destabilization campaigns and coup attempts.

IPYS reported 12 assaults on media offices from January to August. In two separate incidents in August, unidentified assailants threw feces at El Nacional’s Caracas headquarters and shot bullets at the offices of Diario de los Andes in Trujillo. According to statistics taken from an El Carabobeno special report, 34 percent of journalists claimed to have been harassed by government officials.

IPYS recorded at least 17 cases of journalists arbitrarily detained from January to August. On September 3, SEBIN agents detained Reporte Confidencial editor and Chilean-Venezuelan dual national Braulio Jatar for disseminating video of residents of Villa Rosa, Nueva Esparta, banging pots and pans in protest during President Maduro’s visit to their community. Authorities charged Jatar with money laundering and using the proceeds to finance terrorism against the Maduro administration. As of December 22, Jatar remained in state custody.

Government officials also harassed foreign journalists working within the country. On August 31, immigration officials detained and deported a Miami Herald journalist despite having permitted him entry into the country the day before to cover planned opposition protests. Reporters from The Washington Post, ABC, Al-Jazeera, Le Monde, National Public Radio, and Colombia’s Caracol Radio and TV were also expelled or denied entry upon arrival in the country during the year.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In its 2015 report, IPYS noted the government’s preference for using legal proceedings, financial sanctions, and administrative actions against unfavorable news outlets instead of incurring the political cost of shutting down them down outright. Members of the independent media stated they regularly engaged in self-censorship due to fear of government reprisals. This resulted in many journalists posting articles to their personal blogs and websites instead of publishing them in traditional media. The NGO Public Space reported that in 2015 there were 47 cases involving censorship.

The government also exercised control over content through licensing and broadcasting requirements. CONATEL acted selectively on applications from private radio and television broadcasters for renewal of their broadcast frequencies. According to Nelson Belfort, former president of the Venezuelan Radio Chamber, and NGO reports, approximately 2,000 radio stations were in “illegal” status throughout the country due to CONATEL having not renewed licenses for most radio stations since 2007.

The government controlled a large portion of the country’s businesses and paid for advertising only with government-owned or government-friendly media.

Libel/Slander Laws: Government officials engaged in reprisals against individuals who publicly expressed criticism of the president or government policy. On April 11, a judge sentenced David Natera, editor of independent newspaper Correo del Caroni, to four years in prison for criminal defamation due to his newspaper’s investigation of corruption at a state-run mining company in Bolivar State. Natera remained free pending appeal but was prohibited from leaving the country and required to appear before court officials every 30 days. In addition, the judge fined Natera BsF 201,249 ($20,124, or $30.34 at the Dicom exchange rate as of December 1) and ordered the newspaper not to publish stories about the case. Correo del Caroni also faced civil penalties stemming from the defamation case, which could result in the confiscation of its office and printing press, according to a statement released by the NGO Public Space.

National Security: The law allows the government to suspend or revoke licenses when it determines such actions to be necessary in the interests of public order or security. The government exercised control over the press through the public entity known as the Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Homeland (CESPPA), established in 2013, which is similar to the government entity Center for National Situational Studies (CESNA), established in 2010. CESNA and CESPPA have similar mandates and are responsible for “compiling, processing, analyzing, and classifying” both government-released and other public information with the objective of “protecting the interests and objectives of the state.”

On May 13, Maduro declared the “state of exception,” citing a continuing economic emergency, and granted himself the power to restrict rights guaranteed in the constitution. The 60-day emergency decree allowed the president to block any action he deemed could “undermine national security” or could “obstruct the continuity of the implementation of economic measures for the urgent reactivation of the national economy.” According to Human Rights Watch, the “state of exception” negatively affected the right to freedom of association and expression. On September 23, the TSJ renewed President Maduro’s decree of a “state of exception.”

Nongovernmental Impact: Widespread violence in the country made it difficult to determine whether attacks on journalists resulted from common criminal activity or whether criminals or others targeted members of the media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The executive branch exercised broad control over the internet through the state-run CONATEL. Free Access reported that CONATEL supported monitoring of private communications and persecution of internet users who expressed dissenting opinions online. According to media reports, users of social networks accused CONATEL of monitoring their online activity and passing identifying information to intelligence agencies, such as SEBIN. According to Free Access, CONATEL provided information to SEBIN, including internet protocol addresses, which assisted authorities in locating the users. Free Access cited arrests of Twitter users during the 2014 protests.

The law puts the burden of filtering prohibited electronic messages on service providers, and it allows CONATEL to order service providers to block access to websites that violate these norms and sanctions them with fines for distributing prohibited messages.

CONATEL’s director William Castillo repeatedly declared in press statements that the government did not actively block websites. Castillo stated CONATEL’s role was to enforce the law and prevent dissemination of illegal information or material unsuitable for children and adolescents. Nevertheless, the government continued to block internet sites that post dollar- and euro-to-bolivar currency exchange rates differing from the government’s official rate. Government-owned internet service provider CANTV facilitated blockages. The government used Twitter hashtags to attain “trending” status for official propaganda and employed hundreds of employees to manage and disseminate official government accounts. At least 65 official government accounts used Twitter to promote the ruling PSUV party.

Intelligence agencies, which lacked independent oversight, conducted surveillance for political purposes. Courts relied on evidence obtained from anonymous “patriotas cooperantes” (cooperating patriots) to persecute perceived opponents of the government, and senior government officials used personal information gathered by cooperating patriots to intimidate government critics and human rights defenders.

CONATEL reported 53 percent of the population used the internet during the year and estimated that 16.2 million citizens connected to the internet five to seven days per week.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were some government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. University leaders and students alleged the government retaliated against opposition-oriented autonomous universities by providing government subsidies significantly below the annual inflation rate to those universities. Autonomous universities, which receive partial funding from the government, received considerably less than the total budgets they requested. Furthermore, budgetary allocations were based on figures not adequately adjusted for inflation and covered expenses only through March.

On May 18, progovernment gangs attacked student protesters at the University of the Andes (ULA) in Merida and set fire to the medical school after students took refuge inside.

On June 14, President Maduro instructed the Education Ministry to implement a new high school curriculum in 127 schools nationwide for the 2016-17 school year. Teachers’ associations criticized the new standards as being a form of political indoctrination, noting the replacement of key subjects such as history and geography with “homeland and civic duties” courses.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government significantly restricted it. The Law on Political Parties, Public Gatherings, and Manifestations and the Organic Law for Police Service and National Bolivarian Police Corps regulate the right to assembly. Human rights groups continued to criticize such laws that enable the government to charge protesters with serious crimes for participating in peaceful demonstrations. Ambiguous language in the laws also allowed the government to criminalize organizations that were critical of the government. Protests and marches require government authorization in advance and are forbidden within designated “security zones.” The opposition held large peaceful protests in September and October.

As part of the “states of exception” in place throughout the year in municipalities bordering Colombia and imposed via the “Economic Emergency Decree,” the government ordered the suspension of the constitutional right to meet publicly or privately without obtaining permission in advance, as well as the right to demonstrate peacefully and without weapons.

Security agencies did not routinely provide sufficient protection for protesters in public rallies or to political leaders sponsoring them. NGOs and political activists cited a widespread fear of repression due to the militarization of the country and the increasing activities of progovernment gangs, (“colectivos,”) against demonstrations.

The government continued repressing protesters and their leaders. On September 3, authorities briefly detained 30 individuals on Margarita Island for heckling President Maduro, after scores of inhabitants protested food shortages by banging pots and pans.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association and freedom from political discrimination, but the government did not respect these rights. Although professional and academic associations generally operated without interference, a number of associations complained the National Electoral Council (CNE), which is responsible for convoking all elections and establishing electoral dates and procedures, and the Supreme Court repeatedly interfered with their attempts to hold internal elections. On July 26, Jorge Rodriguez, the mayor of Libertador municipality in Caracas and PSUV party leader, called on the CNE to dissolve the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition coalition due to alleged fraud committed during its campaign to organize a recall referendum.

The president’s May 13 “state of exception” decree called upon the Foreign Ministry to suspend international funding to NGOs when “it is presumed” that funding is used with “political purposes or for destabilization.” Human Rights Watch pointed out that in a country where authorities routinely accused human rights defenders of destabilizing democracy, this order could effectively shut down or dramatically scale back the operations of NGOs that rely on foreign funding to work independently. As of December 1, there were no reports of the government implementing the threats contained in this decree.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Beginning in August 2015 and continuing during the year, the government implemented OLP security measures and increased the presence of security forces in Tachira State on the Colombian border. Authorities deported more than 1,700 Colombians in early stages of operations, and at least 22,000 more left the country due to fear of security abuses or deportation, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. According to Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office, which investigated 700 cases of deportations, none of the interviewed deportees received a hearing in order to challenge their removal. Many deportees claimed to have had legal permits to live in Venezuela. More than 400 of the Colombians who returned to Colombia had either requested asylum or been granted refugee status by Venezuela, according to the Global Protection Cluster in Colombia.

With the refugee status determination process centralized at the National Refugee Commission (CONARE) headquarters in Caracas, asylum seekers waited as long as three years to obtain a final decision. During this period they had to continue renewing their documentation every three months to stay in the country and avoid arrest and deportation. While travelling to the commission, particularly vulnerable groups, such as women with young children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, faced increased protection risks, such as arrest and deportation, extortion, exploitation, and sexual abuse by authorities at checkpoints and other locations.

In addition to arbitrary deportations, Colombians expelled from the country complained of abuses by security forces. The IACHR reported that many deported Colombians alleged Venezuelan security forces used excessive force to evict them from their homes, which were subsequently destroyed, and that security agents subjected them to physical abuse and forceful separation from their families.

While no official statistics were available, a women’s shelter reported recurring problems with gender-based violence and trafficking of refugee women.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

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

In-country Movement: Following the declaration of a localized “state of exception” in August 2015, the government suspended transit through the national territory, including across international borders, and closed the border with Colombia. In August 2016 the countries negotiated an agreement to reopen the border gradually.

The government deployed thousands of security forces to restrict access to Caracas in the days leading up a major opposition-organized rally on September 1. Citing public safety, the government also routinely shut down public transportation networks on days and in areas where the opposition attempted to hold political rallies.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: According to UNHCR, 98 percent of asylum seekers came from Colombia. UNHCR estimated there were approximately 167,000 Colombian citizens in need of international protection in the country. Most of the Colombians had not accessed procedures for refugee status determination, due to the inefficiency of the process. UNHCR reported only 6,843 persons legally recognized as refugees. The influx of individuals seeking international protection continued through the different border areas until August 2015, when the government began closing key border crossings between Tachira and Zulia states and Colombia as part of the “states of exception” and the OLP. The vast majority of such persons remained without any protection.

On January 12, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman and UNHCR signed an agreement to guarantee refugees’ human rights. The agreement aimed to expand the presence of regional ombudsman offices in the border regions. On May 27, CONARE and UNHCR launched a joint program to better assist refugees’ needs. The program was designed to provide for a more complete registry of refugees, including victims of human trafficking.

Access to Basic Services: Colombian asylum seekers without legal residency permits had limited access to the job market, education, and health systems. The lack of documentation created significant challenges to achieving sufficient protection and long-term integration.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The 1999 constitution, the country’s twenty-sixth since independence, provides citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair elections, but government interference, electoral irregularities, and manipulation of voters restricted the exercise of this right. In January government agencies harassed or fired workers following the December 2015 legislative elections. In June the CNE made available online a database of identifying citizens who had signed a petition requesting a recall referendum against President Maduro. PSUV politicians later used the database to fire or engage in employment discrimination against public employees and to withhold subsidized food benefits under the newly created Local Committees for Supply and Production program.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On December 6, 2015, nationwide legislative elections took place largely peacefully, and the government initially accepted the results. Opposition candidates won 112 seats in the 167-seat National Assembly, while ruling-party PSUV candidates took 55 seats, despite a process that heavily favored the ruling party. The government rejected international election observation by the Organization of American States but permitted an “accompaniment” mission by the Union of South American Nations. Domestic observers reported voting machine failures, ruling-party tents illegally close to the entrance of the polls, improper use of public resources (e.g., state oil company vehicles with campaign slogans and government buses transporting supporters to vote), and press intimidation. In response to losing control of the legislative branch of government for the first time since 1999, the PSUV mobilized to appoint to the Supreme Court 13 new justices and 21 new alternates loyal to the PSUV.

On December 30, 2015, this newly reconstituted TSJ blocked one ruling party deputy-elect and three opposition deputies-elect from Amazonas State from taking office, based on allegations of electoral fraud, a decision that deprived the opposition of its two-thirds super-majority in the legislature. On July 28, the National Assembly, ignoring the TSJ’s decision, swore in the three affected opposition deputies-elect for the second time. The TSJ subsequently ruled that the National Assembly was in contempt and all of its actions and future actions were invalid. In accordance with agreements from the dialogue talks, on November 15, the three opposition deputies from Amazonas State submitted their resignations to Congress. The government subsequently called for new elections in Amazonas State for late December, but the TSJ’s contempt ruling against the National Assembly stood.

On October 20, the CNE suspended a nationwide, constitutionally based recall referendum process against President Maduro; the CNE referred to allegations of fraud in brought by government supporters before several state-level criminal courts. The CNE also declined to organize constitutionally mandated elections in December for the country’s 23 governorships.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Opposition political parties operated in a restrictive atmosphere characterized by intimidation, the threat of prosecution or administrative sanction on questionable charges, and very limited mainstream media access. On September 2, after a series of partisan decisions favoring the ruling PSUV, the TSJ annulled all actions taken by the opposition-dominated National Assembly because of its failure to comply with previous TSJ rulings. Some political organizations reported their main activists and leaders were victims of harassment and violence by the government and progovernment groups.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process. A 2015 regulation requires political parties to put forth gender-balanced slates of candidates for legislative elections. Women held 24 of the 167 seats in the legislature and nine of the more than 30 cabinet-level positions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Some government officials explicitly acknowledged impunity for corruption as a major problem. The government frequently investigated and prosecuted its political opponents on corruption charges to harass, intimidate, or imprison them. The Public Ministry cited numerous examples of investigations, stemming largely from improprieties in the distribution and sale of price-controlled items and in government currency allocations.

Corruption: The government continued a campaign to combat corruption through fast-track authority and executive powers, but critics contended the government’s efforts focused only on low- to mid-level public officials while targeting high-level opposition politicians. The campaign included enforcement against smuggling of goods carried out by private citizens as part of what the government calls the fight against the “economic war” waged by the political opposition and foreign governments. According to the NGO Transparency Venezuela, weak government institutions and a lack of transparency allowed public officials at all levels to participate in corrupt activity with impunity. The National Assembly conducted its own corruption investigations, including against Rafael Ramirez, former head of PDVSA and current Venezuela Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Although well- publicized, these activities yielded no results.

On August 17, a court sentenced two executives of the state-owned airline Conviasa to four and one-half years in prison for their involvement in an overpricing scheme.

Corruption was a major problem in all police forces, whose members were generally poorly paid and minimally trained. There was no information publicly available about the number of cases involving police and military officials during the year, although the Public Ministry publicized several individual cases against police officers for soliciting bribes and other corrupt activities.

In a June 14 report, Transparency Venezuela criticized the widespread practice of nepotism in the government and cited the example of Controller General Manuel Gallindo, who employed at least 13 close family members in his office.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials, as well as all directors and members of the boards of private companies, to submit sworn financial disclosure statements. By law the Public Ministry and competent criminal courts may require such statements from any other persons when circumstantial evidence arises during an investigation. In 2015 (the most recent data available) the Public Ministry cited 19,562 complaints or grievances of corruption, leading to charges against 4,119 individuals.

Public Access to Information: Although the law provides for public access to government information, human rights groups reported the government routinely ignored this requirement. The law requires a government agency to respond to a petition within 20 days of filing. The agency must also notify the applicant within five days of any missing information needed to process the request. Government agencies are subject to sanctions if they do not respond to a request. If the agency rejects the petition, an individual may file another petition or appeal to a higher level within the government agency. The agency must respond to the appeal within 15 days. The Pro Access Coalition, composed of NGOs advocating for the right to access public information, released a study in 2013 noting the government ignored 94 percent of citizen petitions for information, a trend cited as continuing during the year.

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

A variety of independent domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with some government restrictions. Major domestic human rights NGOs conducted investigations and published their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were not cooperative or responsive to their requests. Some domestic NGOs reported government threats and harassment against their leaders, staff, and organizations, in addition to government raids and detentions, but were able to publish dozens of reports during the year. NGOs played a significant role in informing citizens and the international community about alleged violations and key human rights cases.

NGOs asserted the government created a dangerous atmosphere for them to operate. PSUV First Vice President Diosdado Cabello used his weekly talk show to intimidate members of NGOs, including Public Space, PROVEA, and Foro Penal. Several organizations, such as the OVP, PROVEA, Foro Penal, and Citizen Control, reported threats to their staff, conducted electronically or sometimes in person. Human rights organizations claimed they were subject to frequent internet hacking attacks and attempts to violate their e-mail privacy.

The law prohibits domestic NGOs from receiving funds from abroad if they have a “political intent”–defined as those that “promote, disseminate, inform, or defend the full exercise of the political rights of citizens”–or that seek to “defend political rights.” The government threatened NGOs with criminal investigations for allegedly illegally accepting foreign funds. Various government officials accused human rights organizations on national television and media of breaking the law by receiving funding from international donors.

For violations, the law stipulates monetary penalties, a potential five- to eight-year disqualification from running for political office, or both. The law defines political organizations as those involved in promoting citizen participation, exercising control over public offices, and promoting candidates for public office. Although there was no formal application or enforcement of the law, it created a climate of fear among human rights NGOs and a hesitancy to seek international assistance.

In addition to the restrictions placed on fund raising, domestic NGOs also faced regulatory limitations on their ability to perform their missions. The law includes provisions eliminating the right of human rights NGOs to represent victims of human rights abuses in legal proceedings. The law provides that only the public defender and private individuals may file complaints in court or represent victims of alleged human rights abuses committed by public employees or members of the security forces.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government was generally hostile toward international human rights bodies and continued to refuse to permit a visit by the IACHR, which had not visited the country since 2002. The government withdrew from the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights in 2013, but the IACHR continues to receive complaints from citizens and civil society. The government also refused to grant access to the OHCHR to investigate the human rights situation. The IACHR, UNHRC, and other human rights bodies criticized the government’s handling of human rights issues during the year, including a September 29 joint statement by 30 countries at the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In its May report, the Global Alliance of Human Rights Institutions, an international organization of national human rights institutions, recommended downgrading the country’s status and cited the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, also called the Public Defender, for its failure to respond impartially to cases of human rights abuses in 2014. On February 27, President Maduro approved the national Human Rights Plan for 2016-19. Several NGOs criticized the plan, saying that it was produced without consultation. Throughout the year the government gave the plan minimal attention.

The National Assembly’s subcommission on human rights played an insignificant role in human rights debates.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, making it punishable by a prison term of eight to 14 years. Cases often were not reported to police due to fear of social stigma and retribution, particularly in light of widespread impunity. There were no comprehensive or reliable statistics on the incidence of sexual violence, rape, prosecutions, or convictions. A man legally may avoid punishment by marrying (before he is sentenced) the person he raped. Women faced substantial institutional and societal prejudice with respect to reporting rape and domestic violence. The law allows authorities to consider alternative forms of punishment, including work release, for those convicted of various crimes, including rape, if they have completed three-quarters of their sentence.

The law criminalizes physical, sexual, and psychological violence in the home or community and at work. The law punishes perpetrators of domestic violence with penalties ranging from six to 27 months in prison. The law requires police to report domestic violence to judicial authorities and obligates hospital personnel to notify authorities when admitting patients who are victims of domestic abuse. Police generally were reluctant to intervene to prevent domestic violence and were not properly trained to handle such cases. Reportedly, police systematically sent battered women to the Public Ministry without receiving victims’ complaints in cases where extreme physical violence was not visible. The law also establishes women’s bureaus at local police headquarters and tribunals specializing in gender-based violence, and two-thirds of states had specialized courts. According to the Public Ministry’s 2015 annual report, 69 prosecutors were responsible for dealing exclusively with crimes against women.

Violence against women continued to be a serious and underreported problem. There were 121,168 cases involving violence against women according to the Public Ministry’s 2015 annual report, leading to charges in 19,816 cases. According to a report from Attorney General’s Office during the first semester of the year, there were a reported 75 femicides, an increase of 57 percent compared with the same period in 2015.

Many advocates observed there was a lack of public awareness among women regarding resources and support available to prevent and combat domestic violence. The government offered some shelter and services for victims of domestic and other violence, but NGOs provided the majority of domestic abuse support services.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence of one to three years. The law establishes a fine between BsF 3,210 ($321, or $4.84 at the secondary Dicom exchange rate as of December 1) and BsF 6,420 ($642, or $9.68 at the Dicom rate) for employers convicted of sexual harassment. Although allegedly common in the workplace, sexual harassment cases were rarely reported.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. According to UN estimates, the maternal mortality ratio was 95 deaths per 100,000 live births. The main causes of maternal death were hemorrhagic disorders, high blood pressure, and infections. Traditional contraceptives such as condoms and birth control pills were scarce and prohibitively expensive when available. Doctors offered intrauterine devices, but most women could not afford them and opted for sterilization. Some local hospitals offered “sterilization days,” but many women had to wait for months for the procedure because there were limited places at state-led hospitals. Private clinics were extremely expensive, in some cases charging an estimated 12 times the monthly minimum wage.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men under the constitution. Women and men are legally equal in marriage, and the law provides for gender equality in exercising the right to work. The law specifies that employers must not discriminate against women with regard to pay or working conditions. The law also prohibits the requirement of a pregnancy test to qualify for a job and provides six weeks of maternity leave prior to birth and a 20-week period of maternity leave after birth or an adoption, and prohibits an employer from firing either parent for two years after a birth or adoption. Fathers are provided 14 continuous days of paternity leave after the birth of a child. According to the Ministry of Labor and the Confederation of Workers, regulations protecting women’s labor rights were enforced in the formal sector, although according to the World Economic Forum, women earned 36 percent less on average than men doing comparable jobs.

The law provides women with property rights equal to those of men, but women frequently waived these rights by signing over the equivalent of powers of attorney to their husbands.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 92 percent of children under five were registered at birth.

Child Abuse: According to UNICEF and NGOs working with children and women, child abuse, including incest, occurred but was rarely reported. According to a National Institute for Statistics survey, 5 percent of victims of sexual abuse were children. According to the most recent statistics from the Public Ministry, 67 specialized prosecutors were assigned to handle cases involving the protection of children. Although the judicial system acted to remove children from abusive households, the press reported public facilities for such children were inadequate.

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

Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law sexual relations with a minor under age 13 or an “especially vulnerable” person, or with a minor under age 16 when the perpetrator is a relative or guardian, are punishable with a mandatory sentence of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the forced prostitution and corruption of minors. Penalties range from three to 30 years’ imprisonment in the case of sex trafficking of girls; however, the law requires force, fraud, or coercion in its definition of sex trafficking of girls.

The law prohibits the production and sale of child pornography and establishes penalties of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment. There was no publicly available information regarding the number of investigations or prosecutions of cases involving the commercial sexual exploitation of minors or child pornography.

Displaced Children: Leading advocates and the press estimated that 10,000 children lived on the streets. Authorities in Caracas and several other jurisdictions imposed curfews on unsupervised minors to attempt to cope with this problem, but with institutions filled to capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions, such as curfew violations, were confined in inadequate juvenile detention centers.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, including anti-Semitism.

The Confederation of Jewish Associations in Venezuela (CAIV) estimated there were 9,000 Jews in the country. There were no confirmed reports of anti-Semitic acts by the government, but Jewish community leaders expressed concern about anti-Semitic statements made by high-level government officials, and they noted that many other anti-Semitic incidents occurred during the year. The government-sponsored website Aporrea.org often published editorials asserting Venezuelan Zionists were conspiring against the government. On February 15, El Hatillo Mayor David Smolansky denounced a break-in at his house, during which the vandals also left anti-Semitic graffiti. On May 1, the state-owned media outlet Telesur published an article accusing opposition National Assembly deputies of having ties to a right-wing Zionist conspiracy against Latin America.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in education, employment, health care, air travel and other transportation, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services, but the government did not make a significant effort to implement the law, inform the public of it, or combat societal prejudice against persons with disabilities. The law requires that all newly constructed or renovated public parks and buildings provide access, but persons with disabilities had minimal access to public transportation, and ramps were almost nonexistent. Online resources and access to information were generally available to persons with disabilities, although access to closed-captioned or audio-described online videos for persons with sight and hearing disabilities was limited. Separately, leading advocates for persons with hearing disabilities lamented difficult access to public services due to a lack of government-funded interpreters in public courts, health-care facilities, and legal services, as well as a lack of other public accommodations.

The National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (CONAPDIS), an independent agency affiliated with the Ministry for Participation and Social Development, advocated for the rights of persons with disabilities and provided medical, legal, occupational, and cultural programs. The government developed a series of employment fairs to increase the number of persons with disabilities in formal employment sectors, an initiative to help companies meet the legal requirement for 5 percent of employees to be persons with disabilities. According to CONAPDIS, fewer than 20 percent of persons with disabilities who registered with government health programs were fully employed. The state-run Mission for the Children of Venezuela provided monthly subsidies of BsF 600 ($60, or $0.90 at the Dicom exchange rate as of December 1) to heads of households for each child or adult with disabilities they supported.

There were several NGOs dedicated to assisting persons with disabilities with employment, education, and quality of life. The University of Monteavila hosted a research institute focused on the education of persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race. The law prohibits all forms of racial discrimination and provides for a maximum of three years’ imprisonment for acts of racial discrimination. As mandated by law, signage existed outside commercial and recreational establishments announcing the prohibition against acts of racial discrimination. The National Institute against Racial Discrimination worked under the Interior Ministry but did not have its own website or public information portal.

Indigenous People

The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnic origin, and senior government officials repeatedly stated support for indigenous rights. The constitution provides for three seats in the National Assembly for deputies of indigenous origin to “protect indigenous communities and their progressive incorporation into the life of the nation.” Citing allegations of voter fraud, the TSJ annulled the December 2015 election of Amazonas State’s indigenous representative to the National Assembly. The decision left some indigenous communities without representation in the national legislature.

Many of the country’s approximately 800,000 indigenous persons were isolated from urban areas; lacked access to basic health, housing, and educational facilities; and suffered from high rates of disease. The government included indigenous persons in its literacy campaigns, in some cases teaching them to read and write in their native language(s) as well as in Spanish.

NGOs and the press reported local political authorities seldom took account of indigenous interests when making decisions affecting indigenous lands, cultures, traditions, or allocation of natural resources. Indigenous persons called on the government to recognize lands they traditionally inhabited as territories belonging to each respective indigenous group. The National Land Demarcation Commission, charged with implementing a land demarcation agreement reached after a violent 2008 land invasion, provided land titles in several communities, but indigenous groups continued to call for faster implementation of the demarcation process.

Indigenous groups regularly reported violent conflicts with miners and cattle ranchers over land rights. On February 12, Yarabana indigenous group leader Benjamin Perez denounced a violent attack committed against members of his group by illegal miners in Amazonas State.

There were reports of harassment, attacks, and forced evictions against indigenous people living in areas included as part of government mining concessions.

Border disputes with Colombia affected indigenous groups living in border regions. The government insisted the border closures, begun in August 2015 and lifted in August 2016, were necessary to eradicate contraband and violence in the region. One media outlet estimated 600,000 Wayuu families lived on both sides of the border. While the president proclaimed indigenous persons on the border could cross freely, there were many reported cases in which indigenous groups were restricted.

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

The constitution provides for equality before the law of all persons and prohibits discrimination based on “sex or social condition,” but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to a TSJ ruling, no individual may be discriminated against because of sexual orientation, but the ruling was rarely enforced. The media and leading advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons noted that victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation or sexual identity frequently did not report incidents and were often subjected to threats or extortion if they filed official complaints.

Since the law does not define a hate crime, no official law enforcement statistics reflected LGBTI-related violence. Most crimes against LGBTI persons were classified as “crimes of passion,” not crimes of hate. The NGO Citizens’ Association Against AIDS noted that in 28 of 29 cases of LGBTI persons who had been killed between 2004 and 2015, only one perpetrator was sentenced for a crime. Incidents of violence were most prevalent against members of the transgender community. Leading advocates noted that the media underreported most cases of LGBTI-related crime and law enforcement authorities did not properly investigate to determine the motives for such crimes. LGBTI experts also noted an estimated 6,000 same-gender families, with and without children, lacked legal protection.

Local police and private security forces allegedly prevented LGBTI persons from entering malls, public parks, and recreational areas. NGOs reported the government systematically denied legal recognition to transgender and intersex persons by preventing them from obtaining identity documents required for accessing education, employment, housing, and health care. This vulnerability often led transgender and intersex persons to become victims of human trafficking or prostitution.

Psychological, verbal, and physical abuses towards the LGBTI community were common practice in schools and universities, according to leading advocates. No laws or policies protect LGBTI persons against bullying. As a result, according to NGOs, LGBTI students had a higher dropout rate than heterosexual students.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law provides for the equal rights of persons with HIV/AIDS and their families. Nevertheless, leading advocates alleged discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that all private- and public-sector workers (except armed forces members) have the right to form and join unions of their choice, and it provides for collective bargaining and the right to strike. The law, however, places several restrictions on these rights, and in practice, the government deployed a variety of mechanisms to undercut the rights of independent workers and unions. Minimum membership requirements for unions differ based on the type of union. Forming a company union requires a minimum of 20 workers; forming a professional, industrial, or sectoral union in one jurisdiction requires 40 workers in the same field; and forming a regional or national union requires 150 workers. Ten persons may form an employees association, a parallel type of representation the government endorses and openly supports.

The law prohibits “any act of discrimination or interference contrary to the exercise” of workers’ right to unionize. The law requires that all unions must provide the Ministry of Labor a membership roster that includes the full name, home address, telephone number, and national identification number for each union member. The ministry reviews the registration and determines whether the union fulfilled all requirements. Unions must submit their registration by December 31 of the year the union forms; if not received by the ministry or if the ministry considers the registration unsatisfactory, the union is denied the ability legally to exist. The law also requires the presence of labor inspectors to witness and legitimize unions’ decisions before the Ministry of Labor. The International Labor Organization (ILO) raised concerns about the ministry’s refusal to register trade union organizations.

Under the law employers may negotiate a collective contract only with the union that represents the majority of their workers. Minority organizations may not jointly negotiate in cases where no union represents an absolute majority. The law also places a number of restrictions on unions’ ability to administer their activities. For example, the CNE has the authority to administer internal elections of labor unions, federations, and confederations. By law elections must be held at least every three years. If CNE-administered and -certified elections are not held within this period, the law prohibits union leaders from representing workers in negotiations or engaging in anything beyond administrative tasks. The ILO repeatedly found cases of interference by the CNE in trade union elections and called since 1999 to delink the CNE from the union election process.

The law recognizes the right of all public- and private-sector workers to strike, subject to conditions established by law. By law workers participating in legal strikes receive immunity from prosecution, and their time in service may not be reduced by the time engaged in a strike. The law requires that employers reincorporate striking workers and provides for prison terms of six to 15 months for employers who fail to do so. Replacement workers are not permitted during legal strikes. The law prohibits striking workers from paralyzing the production or provision of essential public goods and services, but it defines “essential services” more broadly than ILO standards. The ILO called on the government to amend the law to exclude from the definition of “essential services” activities “that are not essential in the strict sense of the term…so that in no event may criminal sanctions be imposed in cases of peaceful strikes.”

The minister of labor and social security may order public- or private-sector strikers back to work and submit their disputes to arbitration if the strike “puts in immediate danger the lives or security of all or part of the population.” Other laws establish criminal penalties for the exercise of the right to strike in certain circumstances. For example, the law prohibits and punishes with a five- to 10-year prison sentence anyone who “organizes, supports, or instigates the realization of activities within security zones that are intended to disturb or affect the organization and functioning of military installations, public services, industries and basic [mining] enterprises, or the socioeconomic life of the country.” In addition, the law provides for prison terms of two to six years and six to 10 years, respectively, for those who restrict the distribution of goods and for “those…who develop or carry out actions or omissions that impede, either directly or indirectly, the production, manufacture, import, storing, transport, distribution, and commercialization of goods.”

The government restricted the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining through administrative and legal mechanisms. Organized labor activists reported that the annual requirement to provide the Ministry of Labor a membership roster was onerous and infringed on freedom of association; they alleged the ministry removed member names from the rosters for political purposes, particularly if members were not registered to vote with the CNE. Labor leaders also criticized the laborious and costly administrative process of requesting CNE approval for elections and subsequent delays in the CNE’s recognition of such union processes. Additionally, there reportedly was a high turnover of Ministry of Labor contractors resulting in a lack of timely follow-through on union processes.

Labor unions in both the private and public sectors noted long delays in obtaining CNE concurrence to hold elections and in receiving certification of the election results, which hindered unions’ ability to bargain collectively.

The TSJ suspended union elections for the Orinoco Iron Workers Union (Sintraferrominera) three days before the scheduled May 27 vote. The TSJ ruling criticized irregularities in the call for elections, but the media reported that a more likely reason for the suspension was the low support for the PSUV union leader running for re-election. The Venezuelan Unitary Federation of Oil Workers (FUTPV) for Venezuelan Petroleum (PDVSA) workers had scheduled elections for August, but the FUTPV president, who had been due to run for re-election since 2014, again postponed the vote. According to potential opponent Jose Boadas, the government ordered a further delay to avoid “an imminent defeat” of the progovernment candidate and PSUV activist Wills Rangel.

According to PROVEA, “large sectors of national, state, and municipal public administrations and an important number of state enterprises continued to refuse to discuss collective agreements.” According to the Autonomous Front in Defense of Employment, Wages, and Unions (FADESS), there were more than 300 expired public-sector union contracts nationwide. Labor leaders reported the majority of unions that failed to negotiate collective agreements were in the public sector. The Model Contract for Public Administration, which covers approximately three million public workers, was last negotiated in 2004. President Maduro promised it would be finalized in 2013, but no further progress was made during the year. The government did not respond to at least two formal ILO requests for information about reports that the majority of collective bargaining agreements in the public sector had expired but continued to be applied, with the right to collective bargaining denied by authorities due to “overdue elections” (not convoking or concluding the electoral process).

The government continued to support many “parallel” unions, which sought to dilute the membership and effectiveness of traditional independent unions. In general these government-supported unions were not subject to the same government scrutiny and requirements regarding leadership elections. For example, the Socialist Bolivarian Workers’ Central had not held elections since 2011, yet it was regularly accredited to participate in ILO meetings, including for the ILO International Labor Conference in Geneva in June. The government excluded from consideration other, independent union federations, including the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, the General Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, Confederation of Autonomous Unions of Venezuela, and National Union of Workers (UNETE). The ILO expressed continuing concern that the government did not consult with representative worker organizations or accredit their members to the ILO conference. In contrast, the Labor and Trade Union Action Unit, an independent organization of labor federations and other labor groups and movements, was able to meet freely to coordinate interventions for the July meeting, analyze conclusions from the meeting, and discuss follow-up actions.

According to the labor group FADESS, the ministry did not send labor inspectors to opposition-leaning union meetings to witness and legitimize unions’ decisions, as required by law, thus rendering moot decisions by many unions.

The government continued to refuse to adjudicate or otherwise resolve the cases of 19,000 employees of the state oil company, PDVSA, who were fired during and after the 2002-03 strike. The Ministry of Labor continued to deny registration to the National Union of Oil, Gas, Petrochemical, and Refinery Workers (UNAPETROL), a union composed of these workers. Union elections in the state steel conglomerate’s workers’ trade union were suspended in 2014, and the TSJ upheld the suspension in January 2015.

Union leaders in the construction sector were subject to violent attacks–some of which resulted in killings. The lack of effective investigations made determining the motives for such attacks difficult; NGOs alleged the killings were the result of rival attacks over contracts. According to OVCS and PROVEA, the government did not make arrests or prosecute anyone for most violent crimes, including those committed between and against union workers, and few were solved. PROVEA reported that fewer than 5 percent of the cases were investigated. The ILO requested the government establish a national tripartite committee on situations of violence and provide information on the findings of the investigations carried out by the national prosecutor appointed to investigate all cases of violence against trade union leaders and members.

Union leaders were also subjected to harassment and verbal attacks. For instance, on his weekly television show, the former National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello made accusations against leaders from FADESS and the National Association of Autonomous Workers, Entrepreneurs, and Small Business Persons. The ILO raised concerns about violence against trade union members and government intimidation of the Associations of Commerce and Production of Venezuela (FEDECAMARAS).

The OVCS 2015 report on labor conflicts released on May 2 noted there were 969 labor-related protests in 2015. The OVCS’s data revealed that salary increases had been insufficient to offset the impact of high inflation, layoffs, and other deteriorating conditions for workers. The OVCS reported that during the first six months of the year, there were 624 labor rights-related protests related to increased pay and benefits, the need for collective bargaining agreements, and outsourcing and the integration of contract workers. According to media reports, the government blacklisted and punished union leaders and workers for peaceful protests demanding wage increases and better conditions at work.

In practice the concept of striking had been demonized since 2002 and periodically used as a political tool to accuse government opponents of coup plotting or other destabilizing activities. Legal provisions on the right to strike were used to target company management as well as labor leaders. Labor activists were charged under legal provisions on impeding the production, manufacture, import, storing, transport, distribution, and commercialization of goods, as well as under provisions for “instigation to commit a crime,” “blocking public access,” and restriction of the “right to work.” According to some business managers, some union leaders had extraordinary power to cause the arrest and prosecution of business managers for actions that could be considered normal aspects of their jobs. Some companies, especially in the public sector, had multiple unions with varying degrees of allegiance to the ruling party’s version of the “socialist revolution,” which could trigger interunion conflict and strife.

A 2012 law set a May 7 deadline for the incorporation of all contract workers in both the public and private sectors into the companies for which they worked. (The largest number of contract workers is in the public sector.) The media reported concerns that this deadline was not met and that the status of a large percentage of workers was not regularized. While there were no official statistics, media sources estimated that 40 percent of the contractor force had been transitioned into formal positions.

On June 7, dozens of workers from the state-owned electric utility company Corpoelec went on a hunger strike to pressure the government to resume negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement, as well as to protest a prohibition of the right to assembly on Corpoelec premises imposed by Electricity Minister Luis Motta. The collective bargaining negotiations had been suspended since May 3. The secretary general of the Electric Workers Federation (FETRAELEC), Reynaldo Diaz, said the union submitted a proposal of terms for the collective bargaining agreement to Labor Minister Osvaldo Vera on May 9 and had not received a response. After the first six days of the hunger strike, some workers faced health complications, and the strike was halted. FETRAELEC representatives declared they would continue pressuring the government with protests and strikes until the collective bargaining agreement was signed.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits some forms of forced or compulsory labor but does not provide criminal penalties for certain forms of forced labor. The law prohibits human trafficking by organized criminal groups through its law on organized crime, which prescribes 20 to 30 years’ imprisonment for human trafficking carried out by a member of an organized criminal group of three or more individuals. The organized crime law, however, fails to prohibit trafficking by any individual not affiliated with an organized criminal group and fails to prohibit trafficking men. Prosecutors could employ other statutes to prosecute such individuals. The law includes harsher penalties for imposing forced labor on minors. There was no comprehensive information available regarding the government’s enforcement of the law.

On July 19, the Ministry of Labor published Resolution 9855 requiring public- and private-sector businesses to provide male and female workers for 60 to 120 days in order to increase agricultural production. Amnesty International criticized the resolution as effectively amounting to forced labor. The resolution noted that the government would pay workers their normal salary while they participated in the program and that workers would not be fired from their ordinary jobs. The government did not implement the resolution during the year.

There were isolated reports of children and adults subjected to forced labor, particularly in the informal economic sector, in domestic servitude (see section 7.c.), and of Cubans working in government social programs (such as the Mission Inside the Barrio) in exchange for the government’s provision of oil resources to the Cuban government. Indicators of forced labor reported by some Cubans included chronic underpayment of wages, mandatory long hours, limitations on movement, and threats of retaliatory actions to the workers and their families if they left the program.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum employment age at 14 years. Children younger than 14 may work only if granted special permission by the National Institute for Minors or the Ministry of Labor. Such permission may not be granted to minors under the age for work in hazardous occupations that risk their life or health or could damage their intellectual or moral development, but according to the ILO, the government had not made publicly available the list of specific types of work considered hazardous. Children ages 14 to 18 may not work without permission of their legal guardians or in occupations expressly prohibited by the law, and they may work no more than six hours per day or 30 hours per week. Minors under 18 may not work outside the normal workday.

The law establishes fines on employers between BsF 6,420 ($642, or $9.68 at the Dicom exchange rate as of December 1) and BsF 12,840 ($1,284, or $19.36 at the Dicom rate) for each child employed under age 12 or for adolescents between 12 and 14 employed without proper authorization. Anyone employing children under age eight is subject to a prison term between one and three years. Employers must notify authorities if they hire a minor as a domestic worker.

The Ministry of Labor and the National Institute for Minors enforced child labor laws effectively in the formal sector of the economy but less so in the informal sector. No information was available on whether or how many employers were sanctioned for violations. The government also continued to provide services to vulnerable children, including street children, working children, and children at risk of working. There was no independent accounting of the effectiveness of these and other government-supported programs.

Most child laborers worked in the agricultural sector, street vending, domestic service, or in small to medium-size businesses, most frequently in family-run operations. There continued to be isolated reports of children exploited in domestic servitude, mining, forced begging, and commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits employment discrimination for every citizen. Labor law prohibits discrimination based on age, race, sex, social condition, creed, marital status, union affiliation, political views, nationality, disability, or any condition that could be used to lessen the principle of equality before the law. No law specifically prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV/AIDS status. The media and NGOs, such as PROVEA and the Human Rights Center at the Andres Bello Catholic University, reported the government had a very limited capacity to address complaints and enforce the law in some cases and lacked political will in some cases of active discrimination based on political motivations.

On January 3, President Maduro signed a presidential decree to protect government workers and shield them against arbitrary dismissals until 2018. Nevertheless, there were numerous reports of public workers who voted for the opposition in the December 2015 parliamentary elections being fired for “counterrevolutionary” activities. The Food Production and Distribution agency (PDVAL) fired 34 workers in the weeks following the December election and posted a listing referring to the dismissed workers as “traitors.” The decision to disclose their names appeared intended to publicly shame the dismissed workers, goad progovernment loyalists into harassing them, and discourage future antiregime political activities. According to the media, workers at several other government agencies reported harassment, threats of firing, and labor discrimination for political reasons following the December election. Both the Children’s Foundation and a mayor’s office in Tachira State received criticism for alleged discrimination toward opposition voters.

In May, PSUV First Vice President and National Assembly Deputy Diosdado Cabello publicly announced that opposition supporters working for the public administration should leave their positions. In June Cabello called on governors’ offices, mayors’ offices, and ministries to identify employees that did not support President Maduro. Other progovernment politicians threatened to take actions against those who signed a recall referendum petition against Maduro after the CNE publicly disseminated a complete listing of signatories in early June, stating that government supporters should not tolerate opposition supporters working “in the revolutionary government.” Human Rights Watch reported in July that the National Tax Revenue Service (SENIAT) fired dozens of workers nationwide in apparent retaliation for supporting a recall referendum against Maduro. Other government agencies reportedly fired hundreds of other referendum supporters in similar circumstances. The Venezuelan National Petroleum Workers Federation announced on October 20 that PDVSA had rescinded the contracts of 2,000 temporary oil workers for political reasons.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government raised the monthly minimum wage four times between January and October 26, reflecting a 180-percent increase, bringing it to a total of BsF 27,000 ($2,700, or $40.72 at the Dicom exchange rate as of December 1). The minimum wage also included a nonsalary food ticket subsidy of BsF 64,000 ($6,400, or $96.53 at the Dicom rate), bringing the total monthly minimum wage to BsF 91,000 ($9,100, or $137.25 at the Dicom rate). According to the NGO Workers’ Center for Documentation and Analysis, the monthly food basket for a family of five for September cost BsF 465,035 ($46,503, or $701.41 at the Dicom rate), or 7.1 times the minimum wage.

The law sets the workweek at 40 hours (35 hours for a night shift). The law establishes separate limits for “shift workers,” who may not work more than an average of 42 hours per week during an eight-week period, with overtime capped at 100 hours annually. Managers are prohibited from obligating employees to work additional time, and workers have the right to two consecutive days off each week. Overtime is paid at a 50-percent surcharge if a labor inspector approves the overtime in advance and at a 100-percent surcharge if an inspector does not give advance permission. The law establishes that after completing one year with an employer, the worker has a right to 15 days of paid vacation annually. The worker has the right to an additional day for every additional year of service, for a maximum of 15 additional days annually.

The law provides for secure, hygienic, and adequate working conditions. Workplaces must maintain “protection for the health and life of the workers against all dangerous working conditions.” The law obligates employers to pay workers specified amounts for workplace injuries or occupational illnesses, ranging from two times the daily salary for missed workdays to several years’ salary for permanent injuries. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The law covers all workers, including temporary, occasional, and domestic workers. Reportedly, there was some enforcement by the Ministry of Labor of minimum wage rates and hours of work provisions in the formal sector, but 40 percent of the population worked in the informal sector, where labor laws and protections generally were not enforced. The government did not enforce legal protections on safety in the public sector. According to PROVEA, while the National Institute for Prevention, Health, and Labor Security required many private businesses to correct dangerous labor conditions, the government did not enforce such standards in a similar manner in state enterprises and entities. There was no publicly available information regarding the number of inspectors or the frequency of inspections to implement health and safety, minimum wage, or hours of work provisions. Ministry inspectors seldom closed unsafe job sites. Employers may be fined between BsF 12,840 ($1,284, or $19.36 at the Dicom rate) and BsF 38,520 ($3,852, or $58.08 at the Dicom rate) for failing to pay the minimum wage or provide legally required vacation time. Employers are required to report work-related accidents within 24 hours or face fines between BsF 8,132 ($813, or $12.26 at the Dicom rate) and BsF 10,700 ($1,070, or $16.13 at the Dicom rate). There was no information on whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Official statistics regarding workplace deaths and injuries were not publicly available.

Vietnam

Executive Summary

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), and led by General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, President Tran Dai Quang, and Chairwoman of the National Assembly Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan. The most recent National Assembly elections, held on May 22, were neither free nor fair, despite limited competition among CPV-vetted candidates.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The National Assembly delayed the implementation of several laws passed in 2015 affecting the rights of citizens, including a new penal code, criminal procedure code, and law on custody and temporary detention.

The most significant human rights problems in the country were severe government restrictions of citizens’ political rights, particularly their right to change their government through free and fair elections; limits on citizens’ civil liberties, including freedom of assembly, association, and expression; and inadequate protection of citizens’ due process rights, including protection against arbitrary detention.

Other human rights abuses included arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life; police attacks and corporal punishment; arbitrary arrest and detention for political activities; continued police mistreatment of suspects during arrest and detention, including the use of lethal force and austere prison conditions; and denial of the right to a fair and expeditious trial. The judicial system was opaque and lacked independence, and political and economic influences regularly affected judicial outcomes. The government limited freedom of speech and suppressed dissent; exercised control over and censored the press; restricted internet freedom and freedom of religion; maintained often-heavy surveillance of activists; and continued to limit privacy rights and freedoms of assembly, association, and movement. The government continued to control registration of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) closely, including human rights organizations. Authorities restricted visits by human rights NGOs and foreign press agencies that did not agree to government oversight. Corruption remained widespread throughout public-sector institutions, including police. The government maintained limits on workers’ rights to form and join independent unions and did not enforce safe and healthy working conditions adequately. Child labor persisted, especially in agricultural occupations.

The government sometimes took corrective action, including prosecutions, against officials who violated the law, and police officers sometimes acted with 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 multiple reports indicating officials or other agents under the command of the Ministry of Public Security or provincial public security departments committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including reports of at least nine deaths of persons in custody. In most cases authorities either provided little information regarding investigations into these deaths or stated the deaths were the result of suicide or medical problems. In a small number of cases, the government held police officials responsible. Despite guidance from the Supreme People’s Court to charge police officers responsible for causing deaths in custody with murder, such officers typically faced lesser charges.

On March 25, Y Sik Nie died at Cu M’gar district hospital, Dak Lak Province, after more than three months of detention by local police. In December 2015 authorities took Nie to a local police station for theft allegations; his family was not able to visit him until March 25, when a family friend informed them that Nie was in critical condition at a local hospital. When the family arrived at the hospital, they found him dead. The family told media that Nie was a very healthy man before his arrest and that an autopsy indicated injury to his internal organs. Police and hospital staff denied the family access to his medical records. On May 27, Dak Lak provincial authorities announced Nie died of heart failure; Nie’s family disagreed and requested a government investigation into the death.

On July 3, Pham Quang Thien reportedly hanged himself in a detention facility in Thong Nhat district, Dong Nai Province. Authorities took Thien into custody on June 29 for allegedly stealing a tablet computer. Per media reporting, Dong Nai provincial police conducted an autopsy with a representative of Thien’s family present. The examiner concluded Thien died of hanging, but Thien’s family stated they had evidence Thien died from physical assault.

During the year in a small number of cases, the government held security officers responsible for arbitrary deprivation of life. On May 17, the People’s Court of Dong Thap Province convicted Huynh Ngoc Tong, the former vice chief of the Police Investigation Agency of Cao Lanh City, and investigator Pham Xuan Binh of “using corporal punishment” against Nguyen Tuan Thanh. Thanh had died of his injuries sustained while in detention in 2012. The court sentenced Tong to 18 months in prison and Binh to time served in pretrial detention (11 months and 11 days). Both Tong and Binh claimed authorities forced them to confess to the charges.

Do Dang Du’s lawyer and human rights organizations criticized the People’s Court of Hanoi’s decision to sentence Du’s cellmate Vu Van Binh to 10 years in prison for “deliberately inflicting injuries” and causing Du’s death, stating authorities had made Binh a scapegoat. After Du’s death authorities reportedly forced the family to bury his body immediately, and the family alleged Du’s autopsy report failed to include the full extent of his injuries. In October 2015, 17-year-old Do Dang Du reportedly died due to torture while in police custody in Hanoi for allegations of theft.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits physical abuse of detainees, but suspects commonly reported mistreatment and torture by police, plainclothes security officials, and drug-detention center personnel during arrest, interrogation, and detention. Police, prosecutors, and government oversight agencies seldom conducted investigations of specific reports of mistreatment.

In June 2015 the National Assembly released a report describing multiple cases of forced confessions or use of corporal punishment during police investigations from 2011 to 2014. The Ministry of Public Security reported it received 46 complaints of forced confession or use of corporal punishment; of these, authorities substantiated only three, and six remained under investigation.

In November the National Assembly delayed the implementation of the criminal procedure code, passed in November 2015, pending further revisions to the penal code.

Political and religious activists and their families alleged numerous and sometimes severe instances of harassment by Ministry of Public Security officials and agents, ranging from intimidation and insults to more significant abuses, such as physical assault during interrogation or attacks on their homes with rocks by plainclothes police. Activists also reported assaults on them and their families that caused injury and trauma requiring hospitalization. During the year there was at least one credible report that ministry officials and police in a province in the central region of the country physically beat a detained human rights activist and threatened to reveal his sexual orientation to his family members unless he ceased his advocacy activities.

On multiple occasions in January and February, plainclothes police officers in Lam Dong Province reportedly attacked human rights activist and former prisoner of conscience Tran Minh Nhat and his family members with stones, causing head injuries. From January to April, local police reportedly also verbally threatened his family members, prevented him from travelling to receive medical treatment, burned his crops, killed his livestock, and sprayed his house with pesticides.

During the year local police in Pleiku city, Gia Lai Province, reportedly harassed, assaulted, and threatened repeatedly Tran Thi Hong, the wife of imprisoned pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh. On March 30, police temporarily detained Hong and her son and locked them out of their house while they were on their way to meet foreign diplomats. From March to May, Hong reported that Pleiku city police officers assaulted her on three different occasions. On May 27 and 28, police reportedly broke into her home and forced her to attend interrogation sessions at a local police station. Local police also reportedly summoned Hong for questioning every day from June 1 through June 10. Harassment by police, including regular home searches and seizures of her personal property such as her cell phone, continued through July and August.

From April to July, police officers and plainclothes security forces in multiple locations around the country reportedly assaulted individuals attending demonstrations related to an environmental disaster that caused mass fish deaths along the central coastline. These demonstrations coincided with the period preceding National Assembly elections and the visit to the country by a foreign leader. On May 1 and May 8, police in Ho Chi Minh City reportedly detained and assaulted dozens of activists attending or attempting to join environmental demonstrations. On May 8, plainclothes police officers in Hanoi reportedly beat Ha Anh Tu, a person with disabilities, while he was participating in an environmental demonstration. On May 19, Ho Chi Minh City police reportedly assaulted activists Tran Hoang Han, Nguyen Huu Tinh, and Nguyen Phuong. On June 5-6, Ho Chi Minh City authorities reportedly detained, assaulted, and subsequently strip-searched human rights activist Tran Thu Nguyet for taking part in an environmental demonstration. On July 18, police in Phu Xuan Commune, Nha Be District, Ho Chi Minh City, reportedly detained and repeatedly assaulted activist Nguyen Phuong after Phuong participated in environmental demonstrations in May and June (see also section 1.d.).

On July 9, plainclothes security officials reportedly abducted former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Viet Dung at a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, took him to Tan Son Nhat Airport, and forced him to buy a ticket and return to his hometown of Vinh in Nghe An Province. Upon arriving in Vinh, plainclothes police from Nghe An Province confined him in a vehicle for approximately one hour, beating him, threatening to kill him, and questioning him about his activities in Ho Chi Minh City. Dung reportedly had visited Ho Chi Minh City to protest the local government’s plans to demolish the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam’s Lien Tri Pagoda.

There were also numerous reports of police mistreatment and assaults against individuals who were not activists or involved in politics. For example, on March 2, plainclothes police in Hung Yen Province summoned Nguyen Van Manh to police headquarters. Police reportedly questioned Manh about an allegation of theft and subsequently assaulted him, including striking his genitalia with a police baton and crushing his fingers.

On April 4, Ho Chi Minh City police beat fruit vendor Pham Thien Minh Phong to the point of unconsciousness, resulting in brain injury and Phong’s hospitalization. The leadership of the local police unit issued an apology, suspended one of the officers who beat Phong, and stated police would open an investigation into the incident.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were austere but generally not life threatening. Insufficient diet and unclean food, overcrowding, lack of access to potable water, and poor sanitation remained serious problems. According to Amnesty International and former prisoners of conscience, prison authorities singled out political prisoners, particularly in the Central Highlands and sensitive ethnic minority areas, for physical abuse, solitary confinement, denial of medical treatment, and punitive prison transfers.

Physical Conditions: Authorities generally held men and women separately, with some reported exceptions in local detention centers where space was often limited. Authorities also typically utilized separate facilities for holding pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. Although authorities generally held juveniles in prison separately from adults, on rare occasions juveniles reportedly were held in detention with adults for short periods due to lack of space.

Prisoners had access to basic health care, although in many cases officials prevented family members from providing medication to prisoners. Family members of imprisoned activists who experienced health problems claimed medical treatment was inadequate and resulted in greater long-term health complications. Heating and ventilation were inadequate in many prisons.

During the year the family of imprisoned Hoa Hao Buddhist and land rights activist Tran Thi Thuy reported prison officials at An Phuoc Prison in Binh Duong Province had repeatedly denied medical treatment for a tumor on her uterus and an open wound on her abdomen, despite repeated requests. Authorities reportedly told Thuy that she would not receive treatment unless she “confessed” to the crimes for which she was convicted. Police had taken Thuy to a police hospital in September 2015 and in March, but the hospital and prison officers reportedly refused to share Thuy’s medical records with her family. Thuy’s family reported that prison authorities forced her to work under poor conditions and stated family members experienced regular police harassment.

In March prisoners of conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Dinh Nguyen Kha, Tran Vu Anh Binh, and Lieu Ly conducted a 13-day hunger strike at Xuyen Moc prison in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province to protest a prison rule prohibiting inmates from sharing food with each other and from sending and receiving documents to family members. On May 24, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc started a 14-day hunger strike to protest his transfer to a prison in Nghe An Province, significantly further from his family, and to demand a national referendum on the country’s political system.

Serious health conditions exacerbated by poor or delayed medical care, forced prison labor, poor sanitation, and malnutrition caused most deaths in prison. Some prisoners’ family members alleged death resulted from lethal force by authorities (see section 1.a.).

Prisoners generally were required to work but received no wages. Authorities placed prisoners in solitary confinement for standard periods of three months. Some political prisoners reported they experienced solitary confinement more frequently than nonpolitical prisoners. Prison authorities reportedly also placed some transgender individuals in solitary confinement due to confusion over whether to place them in male or female quarters. Ministry of Public Security officials often prohibited reading and writing materials, especially for political prisoners. Family members continued to make credible claims prisoners received extra food or other preferential treatment by paying bribes to prison officials.

Authorities typically sent political prisoners to specially designated prisons that also held regular criminals and, in many cases, kept political prisoners separate from nonpolitical prisoners. Authorities completely isolated some high-profile political prisoners. Activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials assaulted prisoners of conscience to exact confessions or used other means to induce written confessions, including instructing fellow prisoners to assault them or making promises of better treatment.

Some former and existing prisoners of conscience reported prisoners received insufficient food and that of poor quality. Several former prisoners reported they received only two small bowls of rice and vegetables daily, often mixed with foreign matter such as insects or stones.

Administration: There was no active system of prison ombudsmen, but the law provides for oversight of the execution of criminal judgments by the National Assembly, people’s councils, and the CPV’s Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF), an umbrella group that oversees the country’s government-sponsored social organizations.

Authorities limited prisoners to one 30-minute family visit per month and generally permitted family members to give various items, including money, supplemental food, and bedding to prisoners. Family members of political prisoners reported that prison authorities at times revoked visitation rights, often after political prisoners staged hunger strikes or refused to follow instructions. Family members also continued to report government surveillance and harassment by security officials as well as frequent interference with their work, school, and financial activities.

In contrast with normal practice for nonpolitical prisoners, authorities routinely transferred political prisoners to facilities far from their families, making it difficult for family members to visit them. On May 6, the Ministry of Public Security transferred prisoner of conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc from Xuyen Moc Prison in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province to Detention Center 6 in Nghe An Province, nearly 1,000 miles away from his home and relatives in Ho Chi Minh City.

Religious leaders and former prisoners of conscience reported Ministry of Public Security officials did not permit prisoners to conduct religious services or receive visits by religious leaders. Family members and some former prisoners reported certain prison authorities did not permit prisoners to have religious texts while in detention.

Independent Monitoring: Local and regional International Committee of the Red Cross officials neither requested nor carried out prison visits during the year. The government did not allow foreign diplomats or domestic or foreign NGOs to conduct credible monitoring of prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution states that a decision by a court or prosecutor is required for the arrest of any individual, except in the case of a “flagrant offense.” The law allows the government to arrest and detain persons for significant periods of time under vague national security provisions of the penal code, such as the continued pretrial detention since 2015 of Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha for “conducting propaganda against the state” (article 88). The government continued to arrest and detain individuals for peacefully expressing political or religious views under other legal provisions of the penal code, including “causing public disorder” (article 245), “resisting persons on duty” (article 257), or “abusing democratic freedoms” (article 258). Authorities regularly subjected activists and suspected criminals to administrative detention or house arrest.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for internal security and controls the national police, a special national security investigative agency, and other internal security units. Provincial and local-level police often maintained significant discretion in their activities. The Bureau of Investigation of the Supreme People’s Procuracy (national-level public prosecutor’s office) examines allegations of abuse by security forces. Four of 19 members of the Politburo were actual or former Ministry of Public Security officials, compared with three of 16 members of the previous Politburo. The government appointed existing and former Ministry of Public Security officials to a range of senior positions, including President Tran Dai Quang, Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh, Chairman of the Office of the Communist Party Central Committee Nguyen Van Nen, Chief Justice of the Supreme People’s Court Nguyen Hoa Binh, and Acting Chairman of the Government Committee on Religious Affairs Bui Thanh Ha. Former security officials also held key leadership positions in provincial-level government, including Hanoi People’s Committee Chairman Nguyen Duc Trung and Thai Nguyen Province Party Secretary Tran Quoc To.

People’s committees (the executive branch of local governments) had substantial authority over police forces and prosecutors at the provincial, district, and local levels. Although the Supreme People’s Procuracy had authority to investigate security force abuse, police organizations operated with significant discretion, little transparency, and limited public oversight. Police officers sometimes acted with impunity. At the commune level, guard forces composed of residents or members of government-affiliated social organizations commonly assisted police. Police were generally effective at maintaining public order, but other police capabilities, especially investigative, were very limited. Police training and resources, particularly at the local level, were inadequate. Several foreign governments and international organizations continued to assist in training provincial police and prison management officials to improve their professional skills.

A variety of specialized government agencies oversee migration and border enforcement. The Ministry of Public Security’s Department of Immigration Management is responsible for overseeing migration in and out of the country. The military performs public safety functions in border areas. The Ministry of Finance controls the customs agency, and other agencies oversee quarantine and other functions. The official responsibilities, jurisdictions, and command structures of these agencies vary considerably. Border control officers often lacked the capacity to identify and interdict illegal border movements such as trafficking in persons; narcotic drugs and precursor chemicals; and trafficking of wildlife, timber, and counterfeit goods.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law includes provisions related to arrest procedures and the treatment of detainees prior to case adjudication. Police and other investigative agencies usually executed warrants for arrest, custody, and temporary detention. By law police generally need a decision by the People’s Procuracy to arrest a suspect, although in some limited cases they need a court decision. In most cases the People’s Procuracy at the state, provincial, and district levels issued such arrest warrants. Under urgent circumstances, such as when evidence existed a person was preparing to commit a crime or when police caught a person in the act of committing a crime, police could make an arrest without a warrant. In such cases the People’s Procuracy must issue a decision to approve or not to approve the arrest within 12 hours of receiving notice from police.

The People’s Procuracy must issue a decision to initiate a formal criminal investigation of a detainee within three days of arrest; otherwise, police must release the suspect. The law allows the procuracy to request two additional three-day extensions allowing for an extension of the custody time limit to a maximum of nine days.

The law affords detainees access to counsel from the time of their detention, but authorities continued their use of bureaucratic delays to deny timely access to legal counsel. In cases investigated under national security laws, the government has the authority to prohibit access by defense lawyers to clients until after officials complete an investigation and formally charge the suspect with a crime.

By law authorities may keep individuals in detention pending investigation for up to 24 months, in four-month increments, for “especially serious offenses,” including national security cases. During this period of detention, authorities have the discretion to deny family visits or access to counsel. In many such cases, authorities did not provide attorneys access to their clients or the evidence against them until immediately before the case went to trial and without adequate time to prepare their cases. On September 23, blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh stated at his appeals court trial that he learned about the trial only one day prior, from a prison guard. By law authorities must request the local bar association, legal aid center, or the VFF to appoint an attorney for criminal cases involving juveniles, individuals with mental or physical disabilities, and persons formally charged with capital crimes. The National Assembly passed a revised criminal procedure code in November 2015 but delayed its implementation during the year, pending additional revisions to the penal code.

The law requires authorities to inform persons held in custody, accused of a crime, or charged with a crime of their rights under the law, including the right to an attorney. Under most circumstances, once advised, the accused are responsible for obtaining their own attorney. The law obligates defense attorneys to begin the defense of their client from the time authorities issue custody decisions.

Authorities generally provided notification to consular offices of the arrest of foreign nationals but sometimes delayed that notification. Government officials usually provided consular access to arrested or detained foreign nationals but imposed strict conditions on this access, including requiring police and other government officials to be present during meetings between consular officers and the arrested foreign nationals and, on occasion, videotaping these meetings.

The law allows defense counsel to be present during interrogations of their clients. The law also requires authorities to give defense attorneys access to case files and permit them to copy documents. Attorneys were usually able to exercise these rights. Defense lawyers representing politically sensitive detainees reported significant difficulty carrying out their responsibilities and exercising their rights under the law. Many detainees reported limited access to materials and information that would assist in the preparation of their legal defense, including the penal code itself. This was especially the case for detainees held on national security charges.

Police generally informed families of detainees’ whereabouts, but family members could visit a detainee only with the permission of the investigator. During the investigative period, authorities routinely denied detainees access to family members, especially in national security cases. Before a formal indictment, detainees have the right to notify family members, although the Ministry of Public Security held a number of detainees suspected of national security violations incommunicado. Time spent in pretrial detention counted toward time served upon conviction and sentencing.

Authorities continued to deny requests for family visitation to activist Le Thi Thu Ha since her arrest in December 2015. Authorities reportedly allowed the wife of activist Nguyen Van Dai to visit him for the first time on November 3, after Dai had spent nearly 11 months in pretrial detention. Authorities in Nha Trang city did not allow the mother of blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (also known as Me Nam or Mother Mushroom) to visit her in pretrial detention following her October 10 arrest but allowed the mother to deliver food and clothing.

For crimes infringing on national security as well as some exceptionally serious offenses, courts may impose probation or administrative detention upon an individual for a period of one to five years after completion of the original sentence. Terms of the probation typically included confinement to a residence and deprivation of the right to vote, run for office, or perform government or military service.

As of June the country confined approximately 14,000 persons in “compulsory detoxification establishments” (previously referred to as “06” centers or “compulsory treatment institutions”). This was a decline from approximately 40,000 persons in 2008 (when authorities introduced methadone maintenance treatment). There were 123 centers, of which 39 were voluntary treatment centers (including methadone clinics), and the remainder were in the process of transitioning as part of a government initiative to reform the drug treatment system. The law requires a judicial proceeding before sending any individual to a compulsory detoxification establishment. Despite this legal requirement, judicial procedures were often perfunctory, did not occur in the formal judicial system, and “defendants” were not given legal counsel. Authorities continued to send sex workers who used drugs to compulsory detoxification establishments. The Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (hereafter Ministry of Labor) estimated there was a high HIV prevalence rate of 13 percent in such centers. The law also specifies detainees in such establishments may work no more than three hours per day. There continued to be reports that forced labor occurred in at least some of these establishments.

The law allows for bail as a measure to replace temporary detention, but authorities infrequently used it. The law authorizes investigators, prosecutors, or courts to allow for the depositing of money or valuable property in exchange for bail.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly for political activists and individuals protesting land seizures or other injustices, remained a serious problem. Authorities subjected many religious and political activists to varying degrees of arbitrary detention in their residences, in vehicles, at local police stations, at “social protection centers,” or local government offices. Officials also frequently detained human rights activists upon their return from overseas trips.

Police and plainclothes security officers detained or placed under house arrest numerous activists in the days leading up to the May 23-25 visit of a foreign leader to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

On May 24, plainclothes Ministry of Public Security and Hanoi police officers prevented human rights advocate Nguyen Quang A from meeting a foreign leader. The officers surrounded Quang A’s residence to prevent him from leaving, and when Quang A attempted to leave, they forced him into an unmarked vehicle and drove him around the outskirts of the city for several hours. The officers released Quang A after it was clear he would not be able to attend the diplomatic event in time. On a separate occasion, security officials detained blogger and activist Pham Doan Trang at a hostel in Ninh Binh Province while she was on her way to meet the same foreign leader. On May 25, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City detained activist Tran Hoang Phuc at a police station for eight hours to prevent him from taking part in a youth event with a visiting foreign leader. Police reportedly searched his bag and confiscated his cell phone and personal documents.

On multiple occasions in May and June, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City police blocked activists from leaving their homes or detained them in social rehabilitation centers or “social support centers” to prevent or punish attendance at environmental demonstrations. On June 3, Hanoi City police reportedly confined activist and violinist Ta Tri Hai at a social rehabilitation center for sex workers, drug addicts, and homeless persons in Dong Anh District for two days.

On March 24, authorities released prisoner of conscience Dinh Tat Thang after a court in Thanh Hoa Province sentenced him to time served in pretrial detention (seven months and 11 days). In August 2015 police arrested Thang and charged him with “abusing democratic freedoms” for writing public letters criticizing provincial leaders and police.

On December 16, a Thai Binh Province court sentenced democracy activists and former prisoners of conscience Tran Anh Kim and Le Tranh Tung to 13 and 12 years in prison, respectively, with four years of additional probation for each. The court convicted both individuals for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” (article 79 of the penal code) for attempting to create a new political organization, “National Forces Raising the Democratic Flag.”

Authorities also subjected many individuals who were not activists, particularly individuals suspected of crimes, to varying degrees of arbitrary detention. On January 11, police officials in Tinh Bac commune, Son Tinh District, Quang Ngai Province, detained Nguyen Tan Tam on allegations of theft without notifying his family or school. Police then searched Tam’s house and belongings without a search warrant. Tam committed suicide two days later, leaving a letter stating he was innocent. Tam’s family alleged that police had assaulted Tam while in custody and forced him to plead guilty. According to press, police began an investigation into the incident.

Pretrial Detention: The law defines four levels of crimes: less serious offenses, serious offenses, very serious offenses, and especially serious offenses. The allowable time for temporary detention during an investigation varies depending on the level of offense. Activists often reported some of these investigations exceeded these prescribed periods, which ranged from a maximum of four months for less serious offenses to 24 months for the most serious cases. Activists also reported police and prosecutors used lengthy periods of pretrial detention to punish or to pressure human rights defenders to confess to crimes.

In 2014 Ministry of Public Security officials arrested well-known activist blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (also known as Anh Ba Sam) and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy and charged them with “abusing democratic freedoms” (article 258 of the penal code). On March 23, a Hanoi court sentenced Vinh and Thuy to five and three years in prison, respectively, after they had served more than 22 months in pretrial detention, exceeding the maximum length permitted by law for their charges. On September 23, an appeals court upheld their sentences.

Authorities continued to hold activists Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha (since December 2015) in pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained often were not entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release or compensation if detention is found to be unlawful.

Amnesty: The government released two prisoners of conscience under amnesty provisions. On May 17, authorities granted amnesty and early release to Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly approximately three months before the end of his eight-year jail term. On October 7, authorities granted amnesty and early release to land rights activist Nguyen Kim Nhan two months before the end of his five and one-half-year jail term.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for the independence of judges and lay assessors, but the judiciary was not strong and was vulnerable to influence by outside elements such as senior government officials and CPV leadership. During the year there were credible reports that political influence, endemic corruption, and inefficiency strongly distorted the judicial system. Most, if not all, judges were members of the CPV and underwent screening by the CPV and local officials during their selection process to determine their suitability for the bench. The party’s influence was particularly notable in high-profile cases and other instances in which authorities charged a person with challenging or harming the party or state. Trial outcomes were largely predetermined in trials considered politically sensitive.

The law specifies that judges and people’s assessors (trained laypersons who participate in hearings in socialist judicial systems) shall adjudicate independently; prohibits agencies, organizations, and individuals from interfering in trials; and provides that hearings shall be timely and public, that courts shall emphasize the principles of equality before the law and the adversarial process, and that authorities consider the accused innocent until proven guilty. There continued to be a shortage of well-trained and experienced lawyers (including defense lawyers) and judges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution states that all persons are equal before the law, that defendants are innocent until proven guilty, and that they have the right to a defense lawyer and a speedy public trial. The court uses an inquisitorial system, where the judge plays the primary role of asking questions and ascertaining facts in a trial. Prosecution and defense attorneys, and people’s assessors play a limited role. The constitution contains a provision “guaranteeing the adversarial principle in trials,” but the courts had not introduced adversarial procedures into the judicial system. The National Assembly passed a new criminal procedure code in November 2015 but delayed its implementation during the year. Defense lawyers routinely complained that in many of their cases, it appeared judges made a determination of guilt concerning the accused prior to conducting the trial. Trials generally were open to the public, but in sensitive cases judges closed trials or strictly limited attendance.

The People’s Procuracy submits charges against an accused person and serves as prosecutor during trials. Defendants have the right to prompt, detailed information of the charges levied against them, but defendants did not always experience such treatment. Authorities generally upheld the rights of defendants to be present and have a lawyer at trial, although it was not necessarily the lawyer of their choice. The law stipulates that the spoken and written language of criminal proceedings is Vietnamese, but the state provides interpretation if participants in the criminal procedure use another spoken or written language. The government provided a lawyer to defendants unable to afford one only in cases involving a juvenile offender or someone with mental or physical disabilities, or with possible sentences of life imprisonment or capital punishment.

Defense lawyers routinely reported having little time before trials to talk to their clients or examine the evidence against their clients. Although the defendant or defense lawyer has the right to examine evidence and cross-examine witnesses, there were multiple instances in which neither defendants nor their lawyers had access to government evidence in advance of the trial, knowledge of which witnesses would be called, or the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses or challenge statements. A defendant has a right to present a defense, but the law does not expressly state that the defendant has the right to call witnesses. Judges presiding over politically sensitive trials often did not permit defense lawyers and defendants to exercise their rights under the law.

Police routinely interrogated suspects without their attorneys present, and there were many reports that investigators used physical abuse, isolation, excessively lengthy interrogation sessions, and sleep deprivation to compel detainees to confess. In national security cases, judges occasionally silenced defense lawyers who were making arguments on behalf of their clients in court. Convicted persons have the right to at least one appeal. District and provincial courts did not publish their proceedings, but the Supreme People’s Court continued to publish the proceedings of all cases it reviewed.

On March 2, a court in Long An sentenced a 15-year-old boy, Nguyen Mai Trung Tuan, to 30 months in prison for “intentionally inflicting injury on state officials” (article 104 of the penal code). The court reportedly rejected the defense of nine lawyers who represented Tuan pro bono. Local authorities did not allow family members or supporters to enter the courtroom, and they detained activist Le Thi Em during the trial.

There continued to be credible reports that authorities pressured defense lawyers not to take religious or democracy activists as clients. Authorities also restricted, harassed, arrested, disbarred, and, in some cases, detained human rights attorneys who represented political activists. Authorities prohibited lawyers Le Tran Luat, Huynh Van Dong, Le Cong Dinh, Nguyen Van Dai, and Nguyen Thanh Luong from practicing law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government held fewer political prisoners than in previous years due to completion of prison sentences and a trend toward shorter sentences for political prisoners. There were approximately 94 political prisoners as of December 16, compared with approximately 95 political prisoners at the end of 2015. The government asserted there were no political prisoners in the country and did not permit regular access to such persons by international human rights or humanitarian organizations.

During the year the government sentenced 12 activists for peacefully exercising internationally recognized human rights. The government convicted one individual for “causing public disorder” (article 245), three for “abusing democratic freedoms” (article 258), two for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” (article 79), and six for “conducting propaganda against the state” (article 88). In comparison, the government sentenced two activists in 2015.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The 2013 constitution provides that any person illegally arrested and detained, charged with a criminal offense, investigated, prosecuted, brought to trial, or subjected to judgment enforcement illegally has the right to compensation for material and mental damages and restoration of honor. The law provides a mechanism for pursuing a civil action to redress or remedy abuses committed by authorities. Administrative and civil courts heard civil suits, with legal procedures being similar to criminal cases and using members of the same body of judges and people’s assessors to adjudicate the cases. All three systems of courts–criminal, administrative, and civil–continued to be vulnerable to corruption and outside influence, lack of independence, and inexperience. Very few victims of government abuse sought or successfully received redress or compensation through the court system.

Although the law provides for a process for civil redress in cases of human rights violations by a civil servant, there was little effective recourse to civil or criminal judicial procedures to remedy human rights abuses, and few legal experts had relevant experience.

The government continued to prohibit class-action lawsuits against government ministries, thus rendering ineffective joint complaints from land rights petitioners.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Widespread complaints persisted of inadequate or delayed compensation, official corruption, and a general lack of transparency and due process in the government’s process of confiscating land and displacing citizens to make way for infrastructure projects. In 2014 a revised land law went into effect that makes some efforts to address challenges to land expropriation and provides improved procedural transparency. Many still complained the most worrisome clauses and principles remained. The revised law maintains considerable decision-making authority over land pricing, allocation, and land reclamation for local people’s committees and people’s councils, which many asserted contributed to unfair business practices and corruption. Furthermore, many contended that by allowing land seizures for socioeconomic development, as opposed to only for national defense and public welfare, the law fails to provide significant reform.

During the year there were numerous reports of clashes between local residents and authorities at land expropriation sites. Disputes over land expropriation for socioeconomic development projects remained a significant problem, causing public grievances. Many villagers whose land the government forcibly seized protested at government offices for failure to address their complaints. Some coercive land seizures resulted in violence and injuries to both state officials and villagers. There were also reports of suspected plainclothes officers or “thugs” hired by development companies intimidating and threatening villagers or breaking into activists’ homes. Authorities arrested and convicted multiple land rights protesters on charges of “resisting persons on duty” or “causing public disorder.”

In early 2015 local authorities in Ky Anh District, Ha Tinh Province, reportedly denied 155 Catholic students admission to schools near their homes and instructed them to go to schools much farther away. Parishioners alleged local officials tried to force them to leave their homes to seize their land for an economic development project. In July 119 of these students returned to neighborhood schools, and the provincial government directed local authorities to provide supplemental training to help the students catch up with others for the new school year, official press reported.

The number of complaints filed over land disputes increased dramatically in the last decade, constituting 70 to 90 percent of all petitions and complaints, according to government figures.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but the government did not consistently protect these rights, and authorities at times violated these rights.

By law security forces need public prosecutorial orders for forced entry into homes, but Ministry of Public Security agents and local police officers regularly chose not to follow proper procedures to obtain such orders in the cases of activists and instead asked residents’ permission to enter homes with the threat of repercussions for failure to cooperate.

Authorities routinely physically prevented political activists and family members of political prisoners from meeting with foreign diplomats or traveling abroad. Tactics included setting up barriers or guards outside activists’ residences and summoning individuals to local police stations (also see section 1.d).

On February 4, nearly 50 police officers and local officials, both in uniform and plainclothes, from Dong Da District, Hanoi, reportedly broke into the house of labor activist Le Thi Cong Nhan’s mother after verbally reading, but refusing to provide a hard copy of, a search warrant. During the search police officers violently dragged Le Thi Cong Nhan and her sister Le Thi Minh Tam out of the house.

Throughout the year authorities reportedly sought to prevent human rights advocate Nguyen Quang A from meeting foreign officials. On June 2, plainclothes security officials in Hanoi prevented Quang A from meeting a visiting foreign delegation, forcing him into a vehicle, and driving him to a province near the border with China. On August 24, Bac Ninh Province authorities physically prevented Quang A from meeting a foreign diplomat. Local authorities placed a bulldozer in the middle of the street leading to the place where Quang A was staying.

Authorities opened and censored targeted private mail; confiscated packages and letters; and monitored telephone conversations, e-mail, text messages, blogs, and fax transmissions. The government cut telephone lines and interrupted cell phone and internet services of a number of political activists and their family members.

The Ministry of Public Security maintained a system of household registration and block wardens to monitor unlawful activity. While this system was less intrusive than in the past, the ministry closely monitored individuals engaged in, or suspected of engaging, in unauthorized political activities. Family members of activists widely reported incidents of physical harassment, intimidation, and questioning by ministry officials. Such harassment included denying jobs or business opportunities to family members of former or existing prisoners of conscience.

On multiple occasions in January and February, plainclothes police officers in Lam Dong Province reportedly attacked human rights activist and Catholic former prisoner of conscience Tran Minh Nhat and his family members with stones, causing head injuries to multiple individuals. Throughout January to April, local police reportedly also verbally threatened his family members, prevented him from travelling to receive medical treatment, burned his crops, killed his livestock, and sprayed his house with pesticides.

The government continued to encourage couples to have no more than two children. While the law does not prohibit or provide penalties for those having more than two children, some CPV members reported informally administered repercussions, including restrictions on job promotion (see section 6, Women).

CPV membership remained a prerequisite to career advancement for nearly all government and government-linked organizations and businesses. Nevertheless, economic diversification continued to make membership in the CPV and CPV-controlled mass organizations less essential for financial and social advancement.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law state that citizens have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The government continued, however, to use broad national security and antidefamation provisions to restrict these freedoms. The law defines the crimes of “sabotaging the infrastructure of socialism,” “sowing divisions between religious and nonreligious people,” and “propagandizing against the state” as serious offenses against national security. It also expressly forbids “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to violate the interests of the state and social organizations.”

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government continued to restrict speech that criticized individual government leaders; criticized the party; promoted political pluralism or multiparty democracy; or questioned policies on sensitive matters, such as human rights, religious freedom, or sovereignty disputes with China. The government also sought to impede criticism by monitoring meetings and communications of journalists and activists, including in academic institutions.

In August, Hanoi police reportedly detained on multiple occasions Nguyen Van Dien, a member of the Vietnam Path movement, and twice forcibly returned him to his hometown in Yen Bai Province after he rode a bicycle around Hanoi while wearing a shirt with the slogans “Spratly and Paracel islands belong to Vietnam.”

On March 30, the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court sentenced Nguyen Dinh Ngoc (also known as Nguyen Ngoc Gia) to four years in prison and three years of probation for writing articles critical of the state for Dan Lam Bao and Dan Luan blogs in 2014.

The government tolerated limited debate about sensitive political or social topics. It allowed limited discussion in the press and among civil society and religious organizations about key proposed laws at the National Assembly level, such as the draft Law on Belief and Religion, which was passed on November 18, and the draft Law on Associations, which was postponed for further review.

Press and Media Freedoms: The CPV, government, and party-controlled mass organizations exercised legal authority over all print, broadcast, online, and electronic media primarily through the Ministry of Information and Communications, under the overall guidance of the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission. Private ownership or operation of any media outlet remained prohibited, but there were widespread reports of subcontracting to private establishments. Media independent of government authority operated on a limited basis online, primarily via blogs and social media, but independent journalists faced government harassment.

The law allows for the government to punish publishers if they publish “untruthful information” in the fields of statistics; atomic energy; management of prices, charges, fees, and invoices; education; civil aviation; vocational training; hydrometeorology; cartography; and health.

The law limits satellite television access to senior officials, foreigners, luxury hotels, and the press, but persons throughout the country continued to be able to access foreign programming via home satellite equipment or cable. Cable television, including foreign-origin channels, was widely available to subscribers in urban areas.

The government permitted foreign-based outlets (including, but not limited to, the BBC and CNN), although the law requires foreign television broadcasts to run on a 30- to 60-minute delay to enable content monitoring. In practice such channels ran on a 10-minute delay. Viewers reported obstruction of various commentaries, documentaries, and movies on human rights incidents in the country, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Soviet era, or events in China.

Major foreign media outlets reported the government refused to issue visas for reporters who previously covered sensitive political topics, particularly reporters for overseas Vietnamese-language press. Foreign reporters also reported authorities turned them away at airports even if they had valid entry visas.

Violence and Harassment: There continued to be a significant number of reports of security officials attacking, threatening, or arresting journalists and independent bloggers because of their coverage of sensitive stories.

In August police confirmed that former editor in chief of newspaper Nguoi Cao Tuoi Kim Quoc Hoa (also known as Nguyen Quoc Hoa) was free on bail and awaiting investigation. Authorities penalized Hoa for allegedly running a series of investigative articles criticizing the corruption and wrongdoing of high-ranking state officials. In May 2015 authorities charged him with “abusing democratic freedoms” (article 258 of the penal code).

On October 10, police in Nha Trang city arrested blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (also known as Me Nam or Mother Mushroom), charged her with “conducting propaganda against the state” (article 88 of the penal code), and continued to hold her incommunicado in pretrial detention as of the end of the year. On May 15, a plainclothes female police officer in Ho Chi Minh City reportedly beat Quynh and dragged her into a police car, preventing her from taking part in an environmental demonstration. Authorities detained her for 24 hours and subsequently transferred her to her home in Khanh Hoa Province during the night.

On November 2, Ho Chi Minh City police arrested blogger Ho Van Hai and accused him of spreading information and documents on the internet that were against the government, according to media. Police issued a statement stating Hai may have violated article 88 of the penal code (“conducting propaganda against the state”). Four days later police in Ho Chi Minh City arrested activist bloggers Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do and charged them with “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” (article 79 of the penal code).

Foreign journalists noted they continued to be required to notify authorities about travel outside Hanoi when it was to an area considered sensitive, such as the Northwest or Central Highlands, or involved a story the government otherwise might consider sensitive. Numerous foreign journalists reported harassment by security officials, including threats not to renew their visas if they continued to publish stories on “sensitive” topics.

During the visit of a foreign leader in mid-May, authorities ordered a BBC team to halt reporting, reportedly in retaliation for the BBC team meeting with a prominent human rights advocate earlier in the week.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information and Communications and the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission frequently intervened directly to dictate or censor a story. Propaganda officials forced editors for major press outlets to meet regularly to discuss what topics were off-limits for reporting. More often pervasive self-censorship due to the threat of dismissal and possible arrest enabled the party and government to control media content. The government continued its practice of penalizing journalists for failing to self-censor, to include revoking journalists’ press credentials.

In May and June, the Ministry of Information and Communications and party officials penalized Mai Phan Loi, head of the Hanoi Bureau of the Ho Chi Minh City Legal Affairs newspaper, for meeting a visiting foreign leader and for traveling abroad without permission. Loi’s employer summoned him for questioning less than two weeks after he met the foreign leader. On June 20, the ministry revoked Loi’s press credentials, criticizing him for posting a controversial poll on Facebook regarding recent accidental crashes of Vietnamese Navy aircraft. On June 23, Loi’s newspaper fired him. Activists noted that the government aimed to penalize Loi for his advocacy for greater press freedom.

In September the party’s Propaganda and Education Commission directed that news outlets suspend coverage of a major steel industrial project in Ninh Thuan Province to prevent public criticism in the wake of an environmental disaster caused by pollution from a steel plant earlier in the year, according to press.

The law tightly restricts press freedom. Decree 159/2013/ND-CP stipulates fines of 70 million to 100 million Vietnamese dong (VND) ($3,140 to $4,500) for journalists, newspapers, and online media that publish or broadcast information deemed harmful to national interests. The decree authorizes the government to fine journalists and newspapers. The decree establishes fines ranging from five million to 10 million VND ($225 to $450) for journalists who fail to cite their sources of information and for journalists and newspapers that “use documents and materials from organizations and personal letters and materials from individuals.”

Government regulations authorize the information ministry to revoke licenses of foreign publishers, and each foreign publisher must reapply annually to maintain its license. Nonetheless, street peddlers and shops oriented to tourists openly sold foreign-language editions of some banned books. Foreign-language periodicals were widely available in cities, but the government occasionally censored articles.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government continued to exercise various forms of control over internet access. It allowed access to the internet but only through a limited number of internet service providers (ISPs), all of which were fully or substantially state-controlled companies. Despite these controls, internet access and usage continued to grow. According to Internet Live Stats, 52 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2016.

Authorities continued to suppress online political expression through politically motivated arrests and convictions of bloggers as well as through short-term detentions, surveillance, intimidation, and illegal confiscations of computers and cell phones of activists and family members. The government continued to use national security and other vague provisions of the penal code against activists who peacefully expressed their political views online. Political dissidents and bloggers reported the Ministry of Public Security routinely ordered disconnection of their home internet service.

The government sometimes blocked websites it deemed politically or culturally inappropriate, including sites operated by overseas Vietnamese political groups. The government additionally blocked the websites of Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and the BBC Vietnamese news service. State-owned ISPs routinely blocked domestic Vietnamese-language websites that contained content criticizing the CPV or promoting political reform. Some domestic subscribers reported using workarounds, such as virtual private networks, to access blocked sites.

Facebook reported it had 42 million users countrywide. In general authorities did not block access to the site, which gave citizens a space for free and open debate and dialogue. On multiple occasions throughout the year, however, authorities temporarily blocked Facebook to prevent activists from organizing protests over a major fish kill in the central region of the country linked to industrial pollution. The government also monitored Facebook posts and punished activists who used the internet to organize protests.

On August 23, a court in the Khanh Hoa Province sentenced Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy and Nguyen Huu Thien An to three and two years of prison, respectively, for “conducting propaganda against the state” (article 88 of the penal code). Authorities charged Duy with creating a Facebook group to “slander the government.” Duy’s family members reported the court refused to let them visit Duy, send food packages, or provide their own defense lawyer. An was charged with spray-painting an obscenity on the side of a police building and for attending a human rights training event. Duy and An were both associated with the “Zombie Movement,” an online group that formed in 2015 with inspiration from an anticommunist rap song.

The Ministry of Information and Communications required all internet companies, social networking sites, and websites that provided information or commentary about “politics, economics, culture, and society” based in the country to register and obtain an operating license. The ministry also required such owners to submit detailed plans of their content and scope for approval. It used administrative sanctions such as fines and suspensions of operating permits to regulate online activity, including decrees 159 and 174 under the Law on the Handling of Administrative Violations.

Decree 72/2013/ND CP requires all companies and organizations operating websites providing content on “politics, economics, culture, and society” or social networks, including blogging platforms, to register with the government. Under the decree such companies and organizations must locate at least one server in the country to facilitate requests for information from the government and store posted information for 90 days and certain metadata for up to two years. In 2014 the government issued a circular that further outlines the guidelines and implementation of Decree 72. Social network and blog users are required to provide their full name, national identification number, and address before creating an account. According to the circular, in-country general website and social network operators must allow authorities to inspect local servers upon request and must have a mechanism to remove prohibited content within three hours of detection or notification by authorities. During the year representatives of the internet startup community criticized these regulations, which the government had not yet begun enforcing.

During the year the Ministry of Information and Communications issued new regulations restricting media organizations’ use of Facebook forums, which provided users a space for open discussion and debate. On June 26, Document No. 816/PTTH&TTDT required provincial-level offices to increase supervision of websites and social media pages, including those managed by news outlets. Document No. 779/CBC-TTPC, issued July 1, requires that news outlets review their social media pages to prevent user comments aimed at “propaganda and distortion.” This document specifies that newspaper senior staff are responsible for any failures to censor social media content under the control of the media organization.

On September 6, the Ministry of Information and Communications revoked the press credentials of Infonet journalist Luong Tan Huong and Dan Tri (“Intellectual”) journalists Pham Phuc Hung, Le Trinh Truong, and Nguyen Dinh Hung for failing to properly moderate their news organizations’ Facebook forums.

The government forbids direct access to the internet through foreign ISPs, requires domestic ISPs to store information transmitted on the internet for at least 15 days, and requires ISPs to provide technical assistance and workspace to public security agents to allow them to monitor internet activities. The Ministry of Public Security has long required “internet agents,” including cybercafes, to register the personal information of their customers, to store records of internet sites visited by customers, and to participate in government investigations of online activity. Internet cafes continued to install and use government-approved software to monitor customers’ online activities. The Ministry of Public Security enforced these and other requirements and monitored selectively.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Foreign academic professionals temporarily working at universities in the country could discuss nonpolitical topics widely and freely in classes, but government observers regularly attended classes taught by both foreigners and nationals. The government continued to require international and domestic organizations to obtain approval to host conferences involving international sponsorship or participation in advance.

The government continued to prohibit any public criticism of CPV and state policy, including by independent scientific and technical organizations, even when the criticism was for a purely academic audience.

Although the government controlled art exhibits, music, and other cultural activities, it continued to allow artists broader latitude to choose themes for their works. Authorities continued to restrict public art displays and musical performances through requirement of substantial permission procedures. The government allowed universities more autonomy over international exchanges and cooperation programs, but visa requirements for visiting scholars and students remained onerous.

Many activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials threatened university leaders if they did not expel activists from their respective universities, although their political activities were peaceful. Multiple activists also reported academic institutions refused to allow them to graduate due to their human rights advocacy.

On March 20, police in Ho Chi Minh City briefly detained Professor Pham Minh Hoang and 14 students for taking part in a course in which he taught the history of civic rights in the country.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution affords individuals the right to assemble, local authorities routinely inhibited assembly, and the government continued to restrict and monitor all forms of public protest or gathering. Law and regulations require persons wishing to gather in a group to apply for a permit, which local authorities issued or denied without explanation. Only those arranging publicized gatherings to discuss sensitive matters appeared to require permits, and persons routinely gathered in informal groups without government interference. The government generally did not permit demonstrations perceived to be political. The government also restricted the right of certain religious groups, both registered and unregistered, to gather for worship.

The Ministry of Public Security and local police routinely prevented activists from peacefully assembling. There were numerous reports of police dispersing gatherings of anti-China activists, land rights advocates, human rights defenders, bloggers and independent journalists, and former prisoners of conscience. On March 22, one day before the trial of bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh (also known as Anh Ba Sam) and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, the ministry made public a new decree, Circular 13/2016/TT-BCA, which allows security forces to detain individuals gathering or protesting outside of courthouses during trials.

On February 27, authorities in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and other major cities dispersed peaceful demonstrations held by victims of land seizures and other perceived government injustices in commemoration of the “International Day for Vietnam Land Petitioners.” Police reportedly assaulted multiple demonstrators, held them in police custody for hours, and forcibly transported them far away from town centers.

In mid-July authorities prevented multiple demonstrations to celebrate the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s July 12 ruling in favor of the Philippines, and against China, concerning certain issues in the South China Sea. Local authorities in Duong Noi village, Hanoi, reportedly detained multiple land rights protesters, including Dang Bich Phuong, Truong Van Dung, and Nguyen Thuy Hanh, when they sought to join the demonstrations.

On February 20-22, local security forces in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province reportedly harassed individuals attending a cybersecurity training session organized by Reporters Without Borders and Defend the Defenders at Saigon-Binh Chau Resort. Harassment included questioning organizers about permits, verbally threatening participants, cutting power to the conference site, pressuring the hotel to terminate the event contract, and entering the event room and forcing the gathering to disperse.

On March 30, a court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced land rights activists Ngo Thi Minh Uoc, Nguyen Thi Be Hai, and Nguyen Thi Tri to four, three, and three years in prison, respectively, with two years of probation for each. In 2014 police charged them with “conducting propaganda against the state” (article 88 of the penal code) after they staged a demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City demanding that the government return seized land to farmers and criticizing government corruption, China, and CPV slogans.

The government typically allowed groups to assemble for meetings on nonsensitive issues and on occasion allowed larger sensitive gatherings. In August hundreds of persons participated in Pride Walk events for Viet Pride in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. In July and August, local authorities in Nghe An and Phu Yen Provinces largely allowed thousands of Catholics to participate in environmental demonstrations and volunteer activities to press the government to address fish deaths caused by an industrial spill.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution affords individuals the right of association, but the government continued to restrict freedom of association severely and neither permitted nor tolerated opposition political parties. The government prohibited the establishment of private, independent organizations, insisting that persons work within established, party-controlled mass organizations, usually under the aegis of the VFF. Some entities, including unregistered religious groups, operated outside of this framework with little or no government interference, and authorities demonstrated some increased tolerance of independent NGOs. Some registered organizations, including governance and environment-focused NGOs, reported increased scrutiny of their activities due to leadership transitions, the May National Assembly election, and an environmental disaster in the central region in April.

The country’s legal and regulatory framework codifies the primacy of the CPV and establishes mechanisms for restricting freedom of NGOs to act and organize, including restricting freedom of association, assembly, expression, and the press. The government used complex and politicized registration systems for NGOs and religious organizations to suppress unwelcome political and religious participation. Despite these restrictions, the number of independent NGOs continued to grow throughout the year.

Laws and regulations governing NGOs restrict their ability to engage in policy advocacy or conduct research outside of state-sanctioned topics. Decision 97, for instance, which took effect in 2009, prohibits organizations focused on social science and technology from operating in fields such as economic policy, public policy, political issues, and a range of other areas considered sensitive. Authorities also do not permit them to engage in the public distribution of policy advocacy positions.

On March 3, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City prevented the League of Independent Vietnamese Writers from holding its first literary awards ceremony. Local authorities pressured the owner of the venue to withdraw permission, forcing the writers to move the ceremony to a private residence. Authorities also prevented several prominent writers and intellectuals, including Do Trung Quan, Bui Chat, Le Phu Khai, Pham Dinh Trong, and Nguyen Dang Hung, from attending the ceremony.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government imposed some limits on the movement of certain individuals, especially those convicted under national security or related charges or those outspoken in their criticism of the government. The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The government allowed UNHCR fact-finding and monitoring visits, but local authorities closely monitored all aspects of such visits. Some members of ethnic minority groups who fled the Central Highlands for Cambodia or Thailand, some reportedly due to religious persecution, asserted that upon their return, Vietnamese authorities detained and questioned them, sometimes for up to several days. Family members also reported police closely monitored both those who had fled to Cambodia and Thailand, and their relatives.

In-country Movement: Several political dissidents, amnestied with probation or under house arrest, were officially restricted in their movements. These included Le Cong Dinh, Nguyen Phuong Uyen, Nguyen Tien Trung, and Dinh Nhat Uy. The Ministry of Public Security continued to monitor and selectively restrict the movement of prominent activists Nguyen Dan Que, Nguyen Bac Truyen, Pham Ba Hai, Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Hong Quang, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Pham Minh Hoang, Thich Khong Tanh, Duong Thi Tan, Tran Minh Nhat, and Tran Thi Nga, among many others. Many activists reported they resorted to deceptive tactics to avoid travel restrictions. Several activists reported authorities had confiscated their national identification cards, preventing them from traveling domestically by air and from conducting routine administrative matters. Other activists and religious leaders reported increased freedom of in-country movement compared with previous years.

Some activists reported authorities prevented them and their family members from leaving their homes during politically sensitive events (see also section 1.d.).

On April 17, Hanoi authorities reportedly prevented members of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam from meeting at a coffee shop to discuss the upcoming visit of a foreign leader. Plainclothes police blocked members Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Vu Quoc Ngu from departing their homes. Police also detained members for different reasons to prevent their attendance; police detained Pham Chi Dung at the Giang Vo police station, ostensibly for a traffic violation, and authorities detained Bui Minh Quoc at Kim Lien police station to discuss his residential registration.

On May 20, police in Ho Chi Minh City reportedly assaulted and detained for two days former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Viet Dung at Cau Kho ward police station, in District 1. Police forced Dung to return to Nghe An Province on May 22. As soon as he landed in Vinh, the capital of Nghe An Province, local police forced him into a vehicle and assaulted and interrogated him. Local police officials later returned him to his home in Yen Thanh district, Nghe An Province. Ministry of Public Security and police officials reportedly took these actions to prevent Dung from meeting a visiting foreign leader in Ho Chi Minh City.

A government restriction regarding travel to certain areas required citizens and resident foreigners to obtain a permit to visit border areas, defense facilities, industrial zones involved in national defense, areas of “national strategic storage,” and “works of extreme importance for political, economic, cultural, and social purposes.”

Local police required citizens to register when staying overnight in any location outside of their own homes; the government appeared to enforce these requirements more strictly in some Central and Northern Highlands districts. Foreign passport holders must also register to stay in private homes, although there were no known cases of local authorities refusing to allow foreign visitors to stay with friends and family. There were multiple reports of police using the excuse of “checking on residency registration” to intimidate and harass activists and prevent them from traveling outside of their place of registration (see sections 1.c., 1.d., and 1.f.).

In general authorities did not strictly enforce residency laws, and migration from rural areas to cities continued unabated. Moving without permission, however, hampered persons seeking legal residence permits, public education, and health-care benefits.

Foreign Travel: Prospective emigrants occasionally encountered difficulties obtaining a passport; authorities regularly confiscated passports, at times indefinitely. There were multiple reports of individuals who fled abroad via the land borders with Laos or Cambodia because they were unable to obtain passports or exit permission.

The Ministry of Public Security continued to use foreign travel prohibitions against certain activists and religious leaders. Authorities banned and prevented dozens of individuals from traveling overseas or entering the country, withheld their passports on vague charges, or refused to issue passports to certain activists or religious leaders without clear explanation.

Although their probation or prison terms ended, the government continued to prohibit Le Quoc Quan, Nguyen Khac Toan, Pham Ba Hai, Pham Hong Son, Le Thi Kim Thu, Nguyen Hong Quang, and other former prisoners of conscience from receiving a passport and traveling overseas. Authorities also refused to issue passports to the family members of certain activists, including the wife of former prisoner of conscience Le Quoc Quan.

In July and August, authorities at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City separately stopped pastor Pham Ngoc Thach and lawyer Le Cong Dinh and banned them from traveling abroad to attend a human rights conference.

On September 28, authorities at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi banned Defend the Defenders’ leader Vu Quoc Ngu from traveling to a Reporters Without Borders meeting in Paris, citing national security and social order reasons.

Other individuals temporarily detained or harassed upon return from travel abroad included activist Nguyen Anh Tuan; human rights advocate Mai Van Tam; and Vu Minh Khanh, the wife of detained human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai.

Activists and religious leaders reported multiple instances where security authorities had issued passports and allowed foreign travel after refusing to do so for many years. In these instances, however, police required that travelers report on their activities abroad upon their return to Vietnam.

Emigration and Repatriation: The government generally permitted citizens who emigrated to return to visit, but police denied entry visas to and sometimes deported some foreign-based political activists. Ministry of Public Security officials made clear that prisoners of conscience who received temporary suspended sentences to allow for their relocation abroad could have their sentences reimposed if they attempted to return to Vietnam.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Refoulement: According to international human rights NGOs, the government pressured Cambodia and Thailand to return members of Central Highlands ethnic minority groups who had fled to Cambodia or Thailand seeking refugee status and protection from harassment and restrictions on religious freedom by Vietnamese officials. NGOs also reported that Vietnamese security officials, including provincial security agents from Gia Lai Province, visited Bangkok and contacted asylum seekers via Facebook to monitor them and pressure them to return to Vietnam.

In November 2015 a UNHCR spokesperson expressed concern about reports that authorities arrested nine North Korean nationals in October and subsequently transferred them to China, where they were at risk of deportation to North Korea. The spokesperson noted that, if repatriated, the individuals would be at risk of very serious human rights violations.

STATELESS PERSONS

Authorities reported that by 2013 they had naturalized nearly all of the 10,000 individuals who had been stateless and previously resident in Cambodia. UNHCR officials estimated that fewer than 200 persons awaited final approval by the government at year’s end. The government also continued to work to restore citizenship for approximately 800 stateless women who had lost Vietnamese nationality after moving abroad to marry foreigners but had subsequently returned to Vietnam upon losing their foreign citizenship (in many cases due to divorce).

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides the ability to elect directly representatives to the National Assembly, people’s councils, and other state agencies. Under the law National Assembly elections take place once every five years by secret ballot. Although the constitution provides that one may vote at age 18 and run for election to the National Assembly or People’s Council at age 21, the ability of citizens to change their government democratically was severely limited. The CPV screened all candidates through a process overseen by the Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF).

The law requires minimums for the percentage of final candidates for election to the National Assembly who are ethnic minorities (18 percent) and women (35 percent) and to the provincial-level people’s councils who are women (35 percent). The law allows individuals in custody and temporary detention as well as those who are undergoing compulsory educational and drug treatment to vote during elections. The law prohibits individuals who have lost specific “political rights,” typically due to a criminal conviction, from voting or running for office.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent elections to select members of the National Assembly, in May, allowed limited competition among CPV-vetted candidates but were neither free nor fair. The CPV’s VFF chose and vetted all candidates through an opaque, multistage process. CPV candidates won 475 of the 496 seats. The remaining 21 were non-CPV candidates unaffiliated with any party. There were no candidates from a party other than the CPV. The national election committee later disqualified two candidates, one for having dual nationality and another due to a corruption investigation, leaving 494 total National Assembly members at the end of the year.

According to the government, 99 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the May election, a figure activists and international observers considered improbably high. Voters may cast ballots by proxy, and officials charged local authorities with assuring that all eligible voters cast ballots by organizing group voting and verifying that all voters within their jurisdiction had voted. There were numerous reports throughout the country that election officials had stuffed ballot boxes and artificially ensured high turnout.

The law allows citizens to “self-nominate” as National Assembly candidates and submit applications for the VFF election vetting process. In the months leading up to the May National Assembly elections, an informal coalition of legal reformers, academics, activists, and human rights defenders attempted to register as self-nominated, non-CPV, “activist independent” candidates. In contrast to the party’s candidates, these candidates actively used Facebook and social media to advertise their policy platforms. VFF officials refused, however, to allow any activist independent candidates to make the final ballots, and authorities instructed official media to criticize certain activist independent candidates. According to press reports, the VFF allowed two self-nominated candidates on final ballots, but both individuals were party members.

The National Assembly, although largely composed of CPV members, continued to take incremental steps to assert itself as a legislative body and sponsored multiple open forums to debate laws related to human rights and religious freedom.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Chapter I, article 4 of the revised constitution outlines the political role of the CPV. While the article does not detail specific constitutional powers, section 1 asserts the party’s role as “vanguard of the working class and of the Vietnamese nation” and the “leading force in the state and society,” a broad role not given to any other constitutional entity. Section 2 further references the party’s responsibility to the public. Section 3 states that “all Party organizations and members of the Communist Party of Vietnam operate within the framework of the constitution and the laws.” The CPV Politburo functioned as the supreme decision-making body, although technically it reported to the CPV Central Committee. Political opposition movements and other political parties were illegal. Authorities did not permit NGOs to monitor the election process.

The government continued to restrict severely public debate on and criticism of the one-party state. Some groups and individuals, however, openly called for permitting multiparty democracy. Critics discussed the pros and cons of human rights-related laws and provisions, including revisions to the penal code, criminal procedures code, and the new draft laws on associations, access to information, demonstrations, and religion and belief. They also discussed other sensitive political issues, including rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; land rights; and environmental issues.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The law requires 35 percent of final candidates for the National Assembly and provincial people’s councils to be women and 18 percent of final candidates for the National Assembly to be from minority groups. There were 132 women (approximately 27 percent) in the National Assembly; one female minister in the 27-member cabinet; three women in the 19-member Politburo, one of whom was ethnic Thai minority; and four women on the 15-member Supreme People’s Court. Ethnic minorities held 86 seats (approximately 17 percent) in the National Assembly; there was one male minority minister in the cabinet, and no ethnic minorities on the Supreme People’s Court.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Corruption continued to be a major problem despite government leaders’ continued focus on the issue throughout the year. The 2015 Vietnam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index released on August 8 noted that nepotism and bribery in the public sector were prevalent throughout the country, including in the public education, health-care, construction, and government employment sectors. The country’s Provincial Competitiveness Index stated that nearly half (46 percent) of foreign companies cited corruption as their greatest challenge. Corruption also continued to be a problem in land allocation, bidding for construction and infrastructure projects, and official development assistance. In July the World Bank announced it had debarred Thanh Loi Group for four years for misrepresenting bids for two separate projects.

During the year the government’s new leaders initiated new investigations into former administration officials, including former Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang and businesses associated with former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s daughter, Nguyen Thanh Phuong. The government also initiated an investigation into corruption at PetroVietnam Construction (PVC), a state-owned enterprise. In September authorities arrested four executives of the company and issued a warrant for Trinh Xuan Thanh, a former PVC chairman, National Assembly member, and deputy chairman of the People’s Committee (provincial government) of Hau Giang Province. During the last administration, high-profile corruption cases almost exclusively had focused on the banking sector.

On July 19, the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court sentenced Vietnam Construction Bank former chairman Pam Cong Danh to 30 years in prison in connection with a nine trillion VND ($405 million) economic loss to the bank caused by corruption.

Corruption among police remained a significant problem at all levels, and police sometimes acted with impunity. Internal police oversight structures existed but were subject to political influence. Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer found the police force to be the country’s most corrupt institution.

A 2013 anticorruption law allows citizens to complain openly about inefficient government, administrative procedures, corruption, and economic policy, but authorities prohibited attempts to organize disaffected citizens, with corruption protest organizers subjected to arrest and harassment.

Financial Disclosure: The anticorruption law requires senior government officials and National Assembly members to disclose their income and assets and explain changes from the previous year’s disclosure. In 2014 the Politburo issued a directive requiring improved asset declaration by officials holding managerial positions. Additionally, supervisors have the right to question an employee’s disclosure. While the law does not stipulate a penalty for noncompliance, a 2014 decree provides for possible reprimand, warning, suspension, or removal for noncompliant civil servants.

In 2015 the government reported 99 percent of government workers disclosed their finances. Media still questioned the government’s capacity to verify tax returns for its approximately one million workers and highlighted examples of civil servants driving fancy cars or sending children to study overseas on small official salaries. A Government Inspectorate of Vietnam project to create a publicly accessible database including civil servant salaries and properties remained stalled.

Public Access to Information: The constitution states that citizens have the right to access information. In accordance with the law, the Official Gazette published most government legal documents in its daily editions but not party documents such as Politburo decrees. Most government agencies maintained websites in both Vietnamese and English, as did the National Assembly. Decisions of the Supreme People’s Court Council of Judges were generally accessible through the court’s website, although it was difficult for individuals to obtain government information.

Members of the public were able to review budget implementation estimates, which were preliminary numbers within the government’s proposed budget. The public could not review the government’s executive budget proposal prior to final approval.

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

The government did not permit independent, local human rights organizations to form or operate, nor did it tolerate attempts by organizations or individuals to criticize its human rights practices publicly. The government used a wide variety of methods to suppress domestic criticism of its human rights policies, including surveillance, detention, prosecution and imprisonment, interference with personal communications, and limits on exercise of the freedoms of speech, press, and assembly. The government occasionally allowed representatives of international human rights organizations to visit the country but usually strictly controlled their itineraries (see section 1.b.).

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits using or threatening violence against women or taking advantage of a person who cannot act in self-defense. It also criminalizes rape, including spousal rape. The law subjects rapists to two to seven years’ imprisonment. In severe cases of rape, including organized rape, a repeat offense, or extreme harm to a victim, sentences may range from seven to 15 years’ imprisonment. Authorities prosecuted rape cases fully, but the government did not release arrest, prosecution, conviction, or punishment statistics.

Authorities treated domestic violence cases as civil cases, unless the victim suffered injuries involving more than 11 percent of the body. The law specifies acts constituting domestic violence, assigns specific portfolio responsibilities to different government agencies and ministries, and stipulates punishments for perpetrators ranging from warnings and probation to imprisonment for three months to three years.

Domestic violence against women was common. In March, Hanoi Medical University researchers reported the results of a survey in a district of Hanoi showing that 35 percent of pregnant women were victims of domestic violence, mostly at the hands of their husbands. In November 2015 NGOs released two surveys on violence against women and girls. One survey reported 59 percent of married women had suffered physical or sexual abuse at least once in their lives, typically from a male partner or member of the family. Another study revealed 83 percent of women and girls in Hanoi and 91 percent of those in Ho Chi Minh City had experienced at least one form of sexual harassment during their lives. Respondents who were students reported they experienced instances of whistling and teasing, while office worker respondents reported harassment via e-mail and text messages. According to the survey, most harassment occurred on the street.

NGOs and survivor advocates considered many of the legal provisions against domestic violence weak, and the government did not release arrest, prosecution, conviction, or punishment statistics. Social stigma prevented many victims from coming forward, due to fear of harassment from their spouses or family. Officials acknowledged domestic violence as a significant social concern, and the media discussed it openly. While police and legal systems generally remained unequipped to deal with cases of domestic violence, the government, with the help of international and domestic NGOs, continued to train police, lawyers, community advocates, and legal system officials in the law.

Several domestic and international NGOs worked to address domestic violence. Domestic NGOs operated hotlines for victims in major cities. The Center for Women and Development, supported by the Women’s Union, also operated a nationwide hotline, but it was not widely advertised in rural areas. Although rural areas often lacked the financial resources to provide crisis centers and hotlines, a law establishes “reliable residences” to allow women to turn to another family while local authorities and community leaders attempt to confront the alleged abuser and resolve complaints. There were 300 such residences in the country, all established through the Women’s Union at the commune level.

According to a 2015 UN Women Access to Justice report, many remote villages used informal mediation to resolve cases of domestic violence. Often these mediations did not conform to law and resulted in both parties receiving blame, rather than just the perpetrator. Rather than confront social and family stigma as well as economic uncertainty, many women remained in abusive marriages.

The government, with the help of international NGOs, continued to support workshops and seminars aimed at educating women and men about domestic violence and women’s rights and highlighted the problem through public awareness campaigns. The government continued to implement a national action plan to prevent and combat domestic violence through 2020. Local NGOs affiliated with the Women’s Union remained engaged on women’s concerns, particularly violence against women and trafficking of women and children.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Publications and training on ethical regulations for government and other public servants did not mention the problem of sexual harassment.

Victims of sexual harassment may contact social associations such as the Women’s Union to request their involvement. Victims with access to a labor union representative may file complaints with union officers. In serious cases victims may sue offenders under a provision that deals with “humiliating other persons” and specifies punishments that include a warning, noncustodial reform for up to two years, or a prison term ranging from three months to two years. Nevertheless, there were no known prosecutions or sexual harassment lawsuits, and most victims were unwilling to denounce offenders publicly.

Reproductive Rights: The constitution stipulates that society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program.” The law affirms an individual’s right to choose contraceptive methods; access gynecological diagnosis, treatment, and check-ups during pregnancy; and obtain medical services when giving birth at health facilities. The government generally enforced these provisions.

The law states that couples or individuals have the right to give birth to one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. There is no legal provision punishing citizens who have more children than the stipulated number.

The CPV and certain ministries and localities issued their own regulations, applying only to CPV members and government officials, regarding family size. A decree issued by the Politburo subjects CPV members to reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four children, and expels them from the CPV if they have five children. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.

The Population and Reproductive Health Strategy for 2011-20 applies to all citizens and strives to maintain the average number of children per reproductive-age couple at 1.8. The government, primarily through broad media campaigns, maintained its strong encouragement of family planning.

Discrimination: The law provides for gender equality in all aspects of life, but women continued to face societal discrimination. Despite the large body of law and regulation devoted to the protection of women’s rights in marriage and the workplace, as well as provisions that call for preferential treatment, women did not always receive equal treatment in employment, education, or housing, particularly in rural areas.

Gender gaps in education declined, but certain gaps remained. According to a 2013 UN Women-funded report, professional qualifications of female workers were lower than those of male workers. There were substantial differences in the education profile of men and women at postsecondary level. The number of female students enrolled in higher education applied technology programs was much smaller than the number of men enrolled.

Another UN-funded report on social protection for women and girls noted that female migrants working in nonofficial sectors had difficulties accessing standard housing. These women resided in temporary accommodations that were unsafe and lacked basic services.

Although the law provides for equal inheritance rights for men and women, women continued to face cultural discrimination. A son was more likely to inherit property than was a daughter, unless otherwise specified by a legal document. A study conducted in 2014 showed women had less information than men on land access and that a cultural preference for sons over daughters for inheritance was still prevalent, despite the legal mandate that all citizens have equal rights.

The Women’s Union and the government’s National Committee for the Advancement of Women continued to promote women’s rights, including political, economic, and legal equality, and protection from spousal abuse. The Women’s Union also operated microcredit consumer-finance and other programs to promote the advancement of women. The government’s 2011-20 National Strategy Plan for Gender Equality asserts that men and women should have substantive equality in opportunity, participation, and benefits in the political, economic, cultural, and social domains. As of year’s end, however, there was no financial commitment from the government for the implementation of the national program on gender equality for 2016-20. The government passed requirements for gender-based budgeting as part of the budget law for the year.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the Ministry of Health, the national average male-female sex ratio at birth for the first half of the year was 113.4 to 100. The government acknowledged the problem, highlighted reduction of the ratio as a goal in the national program on gender equality, and continued to take steps to address it. In October 2015 the Ministry of Health launched a joint campaign with the UN Population Fund to address the imbalance.

Children

Birth Registration: By law the government considers anyone born to at least one citizen parent to be a citizen, although persons born to non-Vietnamese parents may also acquire citizenship under certain circumstances. Parents did not register all births immediately, sometimes due to a lack of incentive or knowledge of the requirement. The law requires a birth certificate to access public services, such as education and health care, and the choice by some parents, especially ethnic minorities, not to register their children affected their ability to enroll them in school and receive government-sponsored health care.

Education: Education is compulsory, tuition free, and universal through age 14, although many families were required to pay a variety of school fees. Under a government subsidy program, ethnic-minority students were exempt from paying school fees. Nevertheless, authorities did not always enforce the requirement or enforce it equally for boys and girls, especially in rural areas, where government and family budgets for education were limited, and children’s contributions as agricultural laborers were valuable.

Child Abuse: Experts at a Ministry of Labor and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) seminar in April reported 8,200 recorded cases of child abuse across the country between 2011 and 2015, according to official media. Experts at the seminar criticized the government for its lax punishment of violators. NGOs noted the difficulty of obtaining accurate data on the prevalence of child and adolescent sexual abuse, which may be underreported.

On April 4, the government and UNICEF established a new Family and Juvenile Court in Ho Chi Minh City to address the specific needs of children during legal consultations. This court is a model court that the government stated it intended to replicate throughout the country.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for girls and 20 for boys, and the law criminalizes organizing marriage for, or entering into marriage with, an underage person.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children under age 16 is illegal. The law criminalizes all acts of sale or deprivation of liberty of children as well as all acts related to child prostitution and forced child labor. Sentences range from three years’ to life imprisonment, and fines range from five million to 50 million VND ($225 to $2,250). The law also specifies prison sentences for acts related to child prostitution, including harboring prostitution (12 to 20 years), brokering prostitution (seven to 15 years), and buying sex with minors (three to 15 years). The law similarly prohibits all acts of cruel treatment, humiliation, abduction, sale, and coercion of children into any activities harmful to their healthy development and provides for the protection and care of disadvantaged children.

The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. Statutory rape is illegal and may result in life imprisonment or capital punishment. Penalties for sex with minors between the ages of 16 and 18, depending upon the circumstances, vary from five to 10 years in prison. The penalty for rape of a child between ages 13 and 16 carries a sentence of imprisonment from seven to 15 years. If the victim becomes pregnant, the rape is incestuous, or the offender is in a guardianship position to the victim, the penalty increases to 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law considers all cases of having sexual intercourse with children less than 13 years of age rape of children, with sentences including 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment, life imprisonment, or capital punishment. The government enforced the law, and convicted rapists received harsh sentences. The production, distribution, dissemination, or selling of child pornography is illegal and carries a sentence of three to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Displaced Children: Media reported that approximately 21,000 children lived on the streets and sometimes experienced police harassment or abuse.

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 www.travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were small communities of Jewish foreigners in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution provides for the protection of persons with mental and physical disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against or mistreatment of persons with physical and mental disabilities, encourages their employment, and requires equality for them in accommodation, access to education, employment, health care, rehabilitation, local transportation, and vocational training. The government continued to increase coordination with foreign governments, international organizations, NGOs, and private companies to review legal provisions governing implementation of the treaty, conduct feasibility studies, share international best practices, conduct informational workshops, promote the hiring of persons with disabilities, and hold awareness activities.

While the law requires that the construction of new or major renovations of existing government and large public buildings include access for persons with disabilities, enforcement continued to be sporadic, particularly for projects outside of major cities. The Ministry of Construction maintained units to enforce barrier-free codes and provide training on construction codes for inspectors and architectural companies in more than 22 provinces. Some new buildings and facilities in large urban cities included ramps and accessible entries. During the year the Ministry of Transportation’s Civil Aviation Authority installed elevators and accessibility improvements in six airports and started developing additional services for passengers with disabilities.

Access to education for children with disabilities, particularly deaf children and those with intellectual disabilities, remained extremely limited. The Ministry of Education and Training estimated 500,000 children with disabilities had some access to education at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels.

The law promotes and encourages the employment of persons with disabilities; however, social and attitudinal barriers remained problems.

There is no legal restriction on the right to vote for persons with disabilities, although many polling stations were not accessible, especially to persons with physical disabilities.

While the provision of social services to persons with disabilities remained limited, the government made some efforts to support the establishment of organizations of persons with disabilities and consulted them in the development or review of national programs, such as the National Poverty Reduction Program, vocational laws, and various educational policies. The National Coordination Committee on Disabilities, the Vietnam Federation on Disability, and their members from various ministries continued to work with domestic and foreign organizations to provide protection, support, physical access, education, and employment. The government operated a small network of rehabilitation centers to provide long-term, inpatient physical therapy. Several provinces, government agencies, and universities had specific programs for persons with disabilities.

As a result of the country’s accession to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in February 2015, the government increased consultations and cooperation with NGOs and disabled persons organizations, including on preparing the country’s first CRPD report. NGOs reported they continued to face challenges applying for funding for disability-related programs from provincial governments.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits discrimination against ethnic minorities, but societal discrimination against ethnic minorities was longstanding and persistent. Local officials in some provinces, notably in the highlands, acted in contravention of national laws and discriminated against members of ethnic and religious minority groups. Despite the country’s significant economic growth, the economic gap between many ethnic minority communities and ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) communities persisted, although ethnic minority group members constituted a sizable percentage of the population in certain areas, including the Northwest and Central Highlands and portions of the Mekong Delta. Ethnic minority populations also experienced significant health challenges; indicators such as maternal and child mortality were significantly higher in ethnic minority areas, in comparison with urban and coastal areas.

International human rights organizations continued to allege authorities harassed and intimidated members of certain ethnic minority groups, including highlanders collectively described as “Montagnards” and ethnic minority Christians, in the Central Highlands. There were multiple reports that members of these ethnic minority groups fled to Cambodia and Thailand, seeking refugee status and claiming to be the victims of religious persecution. The government claimed these individuals were illegal migrants who left Vietnam in pursuit of economic opportunities. Human rights groups alleged the government pressured Cambodia and Thailand to refuse to grant these individuals refugee or temporary asylum-seeker status and to return them to Vietnam.

The government implemented policies in regions with significant ethnic minority populations through three interagency committees, the steering committees for the Northwest Region, the Central Highlands, and the Southwest Region. The government also continued to monitor certain highland minorities closely, particularly several ethnic groups in the Central and Northwest Highlands.

Authorities continued to imprison, using national security provisions of the penal code and with lengthy prison sentences, multiple ethnic minority individuals allegedly connected to overseas organizations the government claimed espoused separatist aims. In addition, activists often reported an increased presence of Ministry of Public Security agents during sensitive occasions and holidays throughout the region.

The government continued to attempt to address the socioeconomic gap between ethnic minority and ethnic Kinh communities through special programs to subsidize education and health facilities and expand road access and electrification of rural communities and villages. The government also continued to allocate land to ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands through a special program.

The law provides for universal education for children regardless of religion or ethnicity, and members of ethnic minority groups were not required to pay regular school fees. The government operated special schools for ethnic minority children, and there were 300 boarding schools for them in 50 provinces, mostly in the Northwest and Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta, including at the middle- and high-school levels, plus special admission and preparatory programs as well as scholarships and preferential admissions at the university level. The government also worked with local officials to develop local-language curricula, but it appeared to implement this program more comprehensively in the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta and only in limited areas of the Northwest Highlands. There were also a few government-subsidized technical and vocational schools for ethnic minorities.

The government broadcast radio and television programs in ethnic minority languages in some areas. The government required ethnic-majority (Kinh) officials assigned to areas populated predominantly by ethnic minorities to learn the language of the locality in which they worked. Provincial governments continued initiatives designed to increase employment, reduce the income gap between ethnic minorities and ethnic Kinh, and make officials sensitive and receptive to ethnic minority cultures and traditions.

The government granted preferential treatment to domestic and foreign companies that invested in highland areas populated predominantly by ethnic minorities. The government also maintained infrastructure development programs that targeted poor, largely ethnic-minority areas and established agricultural extension programs for remote rural areas.

The National Assembly’s Ethnic Minority Council, along with provincial ethnic minority steering committees, continued to support infrastructure development and address some problems related to poverty reduction and an increase in literacy rates.

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

The law does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Societal discrimination and stigma continued to decrease but remained common, and local media reported general harassment of transgender individuals, including those in custody.

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct. In November 2015 the National Assembly passed a revised civil code with new provisions legalizing transgender individuals’ right to change their sex, access health care, and change their gender identity.

In August nearly 1,000 individuals participated in Pride Walk for Viet Pride in Ho Chi Minh City, and there were Viet Pride celebrations held in 22 cities and provinces, including a bike rally with hundreds of riders in Hanoi.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law provides for the protection of specific rights of persons with HIV/AIDS, including for voluntary testing; confidentiality; the right to education, work, health care, and nondiscrimination; and mechanisms for legal redress in the event of any rights violations.

According to the 2015 Stigma Index study, 11.2 percent of persons with HIV, 16.6 percent of female sex workers, 15.5 percent of persons who inject drugs, and 7.9 percent of men who have sex with men reported having experienced rights violations within the 12 months prior to the survey. Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys taken in 2014 showed stigma and discrimination against HIV-positive persons was widespread, with approximately 70 percent of female respondents reporting having faced some form of stigma and discrimination. Individuals with HIV continued to face barriers accessing and maintaining employment, with 4.2 percent of respondents reporting loss of jobs or income and 6.7 percent reporting prospective employers having refused them employment or job opportunities.

There were no official reported figures for access to HIV treatment or medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse disorders among detainees, most notably at compulsory detoxification centers. As of June the country maintained 14,000 persons in the system of “compulsory detoxification establishments” that, by the Ministry of Labor’s conservative estimate, had a HIV-prevalence rate of 13 percent (also see section 1.d.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution affords the right to association and the right to demonstrate but limits the exercise of these rights, including preventing workers from organizing or joining independent unions of their choice. While workers may choose whether to join a union and at which level (local or “grassroots,” provincial, or national), the law requires every union to be under the legal purview and control of the country’s only trade union confederation, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL).

The law gives the VGCL exclusive authority to give legal recognition to unions and confers on VGCL upper-level trade unions the responsibility to establish workplace unions. The Statutes of Vietnamese Trade Unions (SVTU), which is the VGCL’s charter, establishes the VGCL as the head of the multilevel unitary trade union structure and carries the force of law. The law also stipulates that the VGCL answers directly to the CPV’s VFF, which does not protect trade unions from government interference in or control over union activity.

The law also limits freedom of association by not allowing trade unions the legal right to have full autonomy in the administration of their affairs. The Trade Union Law subjects all workers’ organizations to the organizational structures and rules prescribed by the SVTU, confers on the VGCL the rights and responsibilities of ownership over trade-union property (including the property and capital of all affiliate unions and contributions from union members), and gives the VGCL the right to represent lower-level unions. The law also allows for appointments of trade union leaders and officials, rather than elections by union members.

The law requires that where a workplace trade union does not exist, an “immediate upper-level trade union” must perform the tasks of a grassroots union, even where workers have not so requested or have voluntarily elected not to organize. Such tasks include negotiating collective bargaining agreements and other workplace rules and regulations, participating in the resolution of labor disputes, and engaging in social dialogue and other cooperation with employers. For nonunionized workers to organize a strike, they must request that the strike “be organized and led by the upper-level trade union,” and if nonunionized workers wish to bargain collectively, the upper-level VGCL union must represent them. Neither the law nor related regulations specify the process for workers to request such representation or the minimum number of workers required to make such a request. Only Vietnamese citizens may form or join labor unions by law.

The VGCL has the responsibility for educating workers on their rights and obligations, representing workers (the “labor collective”) in collective bargaining and individual workers’ disputes, holding and leading legal strikes, and working with state agencies on labor relations, occupational health and safety, and other matters. Union dues are mandatory by law for union members and domestic and foreign employers. Union members pay 1 percent of their salary to the union, and employers pay 2 percent for every employee, regardless of whether they are a union member.

Collective labor disputes over rights must go through a conciliation council and, if the council does not resolve the matter, to the chair of the district-level people’s committee. The law allows trade unions and employer organizations to facilitate and support collective bargaining and requires companies to establish a mechanism to enable management and the workforce to exchange information and to consult on subjects that affect working conditions. Regulations require conducting workplace dialogues every three months.

The law stipulates that trade unions have the right and responsibility to organize and lead strikes, and it establishes certain substantive and procedural restrictions on strikes. Strikes that do not arise from a collective labor dispute or do not adhere to the process outlined by law are illegal. The law makes a distinction between “interest-based” (“a dispute arising out of the request of the workers’ collective on the establishment of a new working condition, . . . .in the negotiation process between the workers’ collective and the employers”) and “rights-based” (“a dispute between the workers’ collective with the employer arising out of different interpretation and implementation of provisions of labor laws, collective bargaining agreements, internal working regulations, other lawful regulations and agreements”) disputes. In contravention of international standards, the law forbids strikes over “rights-based” disputes. This includes strikes arising out of economic and social policy measures that are not a part of a collective negotiation process, as they are both outside the law’s definition of protected “interest-based” strikes.

The law prohibits strikes by workers in businesses that serve the public or that the government considers essential to the national economy, defense, public health, and public order. “Essential services” is defined to include enterprises involved in electricity production; post and telecommunications; maritime and air transportation, navigation, and management; public works; and oil and gas production. The law also grants the prime minister the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety. Essential services for which strikes may be restricted are generally limited to those for which a strike would endanger the public’s safety or health.

The law prohibits strikes among workers across different employers, resulting in a ban on sector and industry-level protests and prohibits workers and unions from calling for strikes in support of multiemployer contracts. The law states that the executive committee of a trade union may issue a decision to go on strike only when at least 50 percent of workers support it.

Laws stipulate an extensive and cumbersome process of mediation and arbitration before a lawful strike over an interest-based collective dispute may occur. Before workers may hold a strike, they must submit their claims through a process involving a conciliation council (or a district-level labor conciliator where no union is present). If the two parties do not reach a resolution, unions must submit claims to a provincial arbitration council. Unions (or workers’ representatives where no union is present) have the right either to appeal decisions of provincial arbitration councils to provincial people’s courts or to strike. The law also stipulates strikers may not be paid wages while they are not at work. The law prohibits retribution against strikers. By law individuals participating in strikes declared illegal by a people’s court and found to have caused damage to their employer are liable for damages. Individual workers may take cases directly to the people’s court system, but in most cases they may do so only after conciliation has been attempted and failed.

Provisions of the penal code have the potential to suppress union activity. For example, national security-related article 89 states that “[t]hose who intend to oppose the people’s administration by inciting, involving and gathering many people to disrupt security, oppose officials on public duties, obstruct activities of agencies and/or organizations… shall be sentenced to between five and 15 years of imprisonment.” Under the same article, accomplices face between two and seven years of imprisonment.

The laws include provisions that prohibit antiunion discrimination and interference in union activity. The laws do not distinguish between workers and managers, however, and fail in prohibiting employers’ agents, such as managers who represent the interests of the employer, from participating or interfering in union activity or provide sufficiently dissuasive sanctions for employer interference. Decree No. 95/2013/ND-CP on “administrative sanctions for violations in labor area,” for example, limits applicable sanctions to fines only, and no specific remedies are available.

In October 2015 the government issued Decree 88 regarding administrative sanctions for interference in trade union activities. It specifically imposes fines of between three and 10 million VND ($135-$450) for discrimination against employees who establish or join a trade union or carry out trade union activities, and for any actions that disadvantage the operations of a trade union.

On June 19, the Hai Phong Economic Zone Trade Union and five Korean manufacturing enterprises based in Trang Due Economic Zone signed the country’s first multienterprise collective bargaining agreement negotiated between a group of foreign-invested enterprises and trade unions to decide basic conditions of work, including recognition of union rights. The agreement would likely benefit nearly 2,500 workers through improved recruitment and female worker policies, increased base wages, better bonuses, allowances, leave, and rest time as well as conditions for ensuring trade union operations in the enterprises.

The VGCL reported 177 strikes from January through July, approximately the same level as the same period of 2015. Of those strikes, 69 percent were in foreign direct-investment companies (mainly Korean, Taiwanese, and Japanese companies). None of the strikes followed the authorized conciliation and arbitration process, and thus authorities considered them illegal “wildcat” strikes. The government took no action against the strikers and, on occasion, actively mediated agreements in the workers’ favor. In some cases the government imposed heavy fines on those employers, especially foreign-owned companies that engaged in illegal practices leading to strikes.

A July 2015 report of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and International Finance Corporation’s Better Work Vietnam program noted 62 percent of factories discriminated against or interfered in the activities of the trade union. Similarly, the data revealed that management staff continued to sit on trade union executive committees in approximately 45 percent of factories, which could undermine the function of the union as a legitimate representative voice for the workforce. At the same time, the report noted 7 percent of factories had cases of direct and overt management interference in union activities, and fewer still (eight employers had actually “tried” to interfere) were found to have prevented workers from meeting without management present. There were also credible reports employers used short-term or probationary contracts to avoid certain legally mandated worker benefits, such as unemployment insurance, or to inhibit workers from joining unions.

Multiple international labor NGOs collaborated with the VGCL to provide training to VGCL-affiliated union representatives on labor organizing, collective bargaining, and other trade union issues. Through its participation in an ILO industrial relations program, the VGCL engaged in a new form of bottom-up, worker-centered approach to organizing workers rather than having VGCL leaders determine when and where to form a union. This effort resulted in the formation of multiple new grassroots-established and -led trade unions, including four new unions at four of the Trang Due Economic Zone enterprises that signed the multienterprise collective bargaining agreement in June.

Because it is illegal to establish or seek to establish labor unions independent from the VGCL, there were no government-sanctioned domestic labor NGOs involved in labor organizing. Local labor NGOs, however, supported efforts to raise awareness of worker rights and occupational safety and health issues and to support internal and external migrant workers.

Labor activists and representatives of independent (non-VGCL) worker organizations faced antiunion discrimination. Independent labor activists seeking to form unions separate from the VGCL or inform workers of their labor rights sometimes faced government harassment. On January 17, authorities at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City reportedly detained activist Hoang Duc Binh, a member of the independent labor rights organization Viet Labor Movement, for 10 hours and confiscated his passport, cell phone, and laptop. Authorities pressured him to renounce his membership in Viet Labor and later issued him a notice banning traveling overseas due to security reasons.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor. The labor code’s definition of forced labor, however, does not explicitly include debt bondage. The penal code does not establish a specific offense concerning forced labor, and the decree on administrative sanctions does not provide any penalty for violation of the labor code provisions prohibiting forced labor. A government circular prescribes punishments of between three and 10 years’ imprisonment for labor trafficking. There were no prosecutions of forced labor cases during the year.

NGOs continued to report the occurrence of forced labor of men, women, and children within the country (see also section 7.c.).

Labor recruitment firms, most of which were affiliated with state-owned enterprises, and unlicensed brokers reportedly charged workers seeking international employment higher fees than the law allows, and they did so with impunity. Those workers incurred high debts and were thus more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The constituti