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Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic (CAR) is a presidential republic. Voters elected Professor Faustin-Archange Touadera president in a 2016 run-off election. Despite reports of irregularities, international observers reported the 2016 presidential and legislative elections were free and fair. On February 6, the government and 14 armed groups signed the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation, their eighth peace accord, and President Touadera appointed Firmin Ngrebada as prime minister. An inclusive government was established on March 22 under Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada. National elections are scheduled to take place December 2020.

Police and gendarmes have responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order. The Central African Armed Forces (FACA) have responsibility for maintaining order and border security. The FACA report to the Ministry of Defense. Police and the gendarmerie report to the Ministry of Interior and Public Security. Civilian authorities’ control over the security forces continued to improve but remained weak. State authority beyond the capital improved with the deployment of prefects and FACA troops in the western and southeastern parts of the country; armed groups, however, still controlled significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing institutions, taxing local populations and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary and unlawful killings and forced disappearance by ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups; torture by security forces; arbitrary detention by security forces and armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; violence against and unjustified arrests of journalists; widespread official corruption; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups; trafficking in persons; crimes of violence against women and girls by armed groups, to which the government took increased action, but was often still unable to prevent or prosecute; criminalization of same-sex conduct; and use of forced labor, including forced child labor.

During the year the government started to take steps to investigate and prosecute government officials for alleged human rights abuses, including in the security forces. Nevertheless, a climate of impunity and a lack of access to legal services remained obstacles.

Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups continued. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during the internal conflicts. Both ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka armed groups committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.

Note: This report refers to the “ex-Seleka” for all abuses attributed to the armed factions associated with Seleka, including the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC), the Union for Peace (UPC), and the Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC), which occurred after the Seleka was dissolved in 2013.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press. The government generally respected these rights.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station, such as Radio Centrafrique. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, election process, ex-Seleka, and Anti-balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country.

Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. Freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation by armed groups for expressing opinions opposing their ideologies.

The government monopolized domestic television broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government positions.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports that the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events. The country’s sole university was open.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, including the right to participate in political protests. The government, however, denied most requests to protest that were submitted by civil society groups, citing insecurity in Bangui.

Between April and June, the government repeatedly denied the right to peacefully demonstrate to a platform of civil society and opposition political parties, known as “E Zingo Biani.” On June 15, “E Zingo Biani” attempted to organize a meeting at the UCATEX stadium located in the Combatant district in the eighth constituency of Bangui near the Bangui M’poko Airport. The group submitted a request to the Ministry of Interior and Public Security; however, the request was denied. The Central African police, supported by MINUSCA forces as well as citizens who were part of a proregime paramilitary group called the “Central African Sharks Movement,” led by Heritier Doneng, prevented the demonstration from taking place. The group attempted to circumvent the ban peacefully with a demonstration and a march. Police fired teargas at the demonstrators, several of whom were severely injured. Former minister Joseph Bendounga and two AFP reporters were arrested by the OCRB.

Freedom of Association

A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Armed groups and bandits made in-country movement extremely dangerous. Government forces, armed groups, and criminals alike frequently used illegal checkpoints to extort funds.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Individuals that had fled their countries of origin and had prior criminal records, however, were immediately repatriated.

In June the government celebrated the 36th anniversary of the National Commission for Refugees and gave 42 Rwandan refugees asylum certificates to remain in CAR.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: After several postponements, the country held a constitutional referendum in 2015 followed by the first round of presidential and legislative elections. None of the 30 presidential candidates obtained more than the 50 percent of the votes required to avoid a second round, which was held in February 2016. In January 2016 the Transitional Constitutional Court annulled the December 2015 legislative elections due to widespread irregularities and voter intimidation and fraud and ordered new elections. The rescheduled first-round legislative elections also took place in February 2016, with a second round held in March 2016. The inauguration of President Touadera took place in March 2016.

The National Assembly convened in May 2016; elections for the Senate still had not been held. Central African refugees and members of the diaspora in some neighboring states were able to participate in the elections.

In March the National Assembly convened its first ordinary session and focused on the revision of some provisions within the National Electoral Code. In June the Constitutional Court determined that some provisions of the new Electoral Code were unconstitutional, including the provision on gender parity, and returned it to the National Assembly. In July the National Assembly adopted the new Electoral Code, establishing the legal framework for the presidential, legislative, regional, and municipal elections scheduled for 2020 and 2021.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Five of the 34 cabinet members were women, as was the senior presidential advisor for national reconciliation. There were nine women among the 140 members of parliament. Some observers believed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited the ability of women to participate in political life on the same basis as men.

In 2019, 12 Muslims and seven women were appointed to the Cabinet. Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons prevented them from effectively advocating for their interests in the political sphere.

In March, 14 members of parliament, including three women, were elected to the Executive Bureau for one-year terms. The election of only three women did not comply with the law on parity, which requires there be a minimum of 35 percent representation by women in state and private institutions for a period of 10 years. The 2016 gender equality law also prohibits gender discrimination and provides for an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance. As of year’s end, the National Observatory had not been established.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. In 2017 President Touadera issued a decree appointing members of the High Authority for Good Governance, an independent body mandated by the constitution. It is charged with protecting the rights of minorities and the handicapped, and with ensuring the equitable distribution of natural resource revenues, among other roles.

Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government, and addressing public-sector corruption was difficult in view of limited government capacity.

Corruption: No corruption cases were brought to trial. There were widespread rumors and anecdotal stories of pervasive corruption and bribery. In July a parliamentary commission released a report with allegations of corruption including bribery among members of parliament, ministers, high-ranking civil servants, and Chinese mining companies operating in the prefectures of Ouham-Pende and Ouham. No legal actions were taken by the government.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires senior members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the beginning of their terms to declare publicly their personal assets and income for scrutiny by the Constitutional Court. The constitution specifies that the law determine sanctions for noncompliance. Declarations are public. The constitution requires ministers to declare their assets upon departing government but is not explicit on what constitutes assets or income.

As of September there was no evidence that any ministers declared their assets.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2017 President Touadera signed into law an act establishing an independent National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties (NCHRFL). The commission has the authority to investigate complaints, including the power to call witnesses and subpoena documents. In 2019 the NCHRFL collaborated with the Ministry of Justice, MINUSCA, and the African Union to draft the National Human Rights Policy for CAR. Additionally, the government was setting up the SCC’s victim and witness protection unit with MINUSCA’s assistance (see section 1.e.).

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Domestic violence against women was common, although there are laws and instrument prohibiting violence against women. The government took no known action to punish perpetrators.

Twelve cases of rapes were reported in the city of Berberati. During the year MINUSCA investigated 134 cases of sexual and gender-based violence by armed groups that involved 149 victims. A total of 62 suspected perpetrators were referred to authorities for prosecution. MINUSCA held 13 awareness and sensitization sessions throughout the country that were attended by 675 community members.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls, which is punishable by two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($170 to $1,700), depending on the severity of the case.

Nearly one-quarter of girls and women had been subjected to FGM/C, with variations according to ethnicity and region. Approximately one-half of girls were cut between the ages of 10 and 14. Both the prevalence of FGM/C and support for the practice declined sharply over time.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government did not effectively enforce the law in the areas controlled by armed groups, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime.

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

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

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration could be difficult and less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately. Unregistered children faced restrictions on access to education and other social services. The lack of routine birth registration also posed long-term problems.

Education: Education is compulsory from six to 15 years of age. Tuition is free, but students have to pay for items such as books and supplies and for transportation. The World Bank estimated 30 percent of children did not attend primary school and 22 percent did not attend secondary school. Girls did not have equal access to primary or secondary education. Few Ba’aka, the earliest known inhabitants of the forests in the south, attended primary school. There was no significant government assistance for efforts to increase Ba’aka enrollment.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children younger than 15. The Mixed Unit for the Repression of Violence against Women and the Protection of Children (UMIRR) investigated 2,093 cases of child abuse between June 2017 and August 31, 2019.

In May, 105 children, including 48 girls, were released from unidentified armed groups in towns in the Bangassou and Kaga-Bandoro areas.

In June the FPRC armed group signed an action plan to combat serious violations of the rights of the child including, the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts, killing and maiming of children, abduction, and sexual violence. In March, four armed groups released 202 child soldiers. UNICEF and MINUSCA continued efforts to secure the release of all children that were still retained by this armed group.

In July a 13-year-old girl, accused of practicing witchcraft, was tortured by her father in the village of Kere. As of September the girl remained under protective custody with national police in Bambari.

Domestic abuse, rape, and sexual slavery of women and girls by armed groups threatened their security, and sexual violence was increasingly used as a deliberate tool of warfare. Attackers enjoyed broad impunity. Constitutional provisions for women’s rights were rarely enforced, especially in rural areas. Sexual abuses by UN peacekeeping forces had been documented, but many instances had not been investigated or prosecuted.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. The practice of early marriage was more common in the Muslim community. There were reports during the year of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka members. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: During the year the government cabinet drafted the Child Protection Act. The draft legislation has a series of measures that address the exploitation of minors. The legislation was at the National Assembly for approval ratification at year’s end.

There are no statutory rape or child pornography laws to protect minors. The family code prescribes penalties for the commercial exploitation of children, including imprisonment and financial penalties. The minimum age of sexual consent is 18, but it was rarely observed.

Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see sections 1.g. and 2.d.).

In April MINUSCA and the NGO Justice Rapid Response sponsored a three-day workshop for 26 child protection workers in Bangui. The workshop provided training to strengthen monitoring, investigating, and reporting skills necessary to address crimes against children.

Child Soldiers: Child soldiering was a problem (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: Armed conflict resulted in forced displacement, with the number of persons fleeing in search of protection fluctuating based on local conditions.

The country’s instability had a disproportionate effect on children, who accounted for 64 percent of IDPs, 48 percent of whom were children younger than five, according to a report by the International Organization for Migration. Access to government services was limited for all children, but displacement reduced it further. Nevertheless, according to a humanitarian NGO, an estimated 110,000 displaced and vulnerable children participated in psychosocial activities. UNICEF stated armed groups released 1,954 children in 2018-19.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with both mental and physical disabilities but does not specify other forms of disabilities. It requires that in any company employing 25 or more persons, at least 5 percent of staff must consist of sufficiently qualified persons with disabilities, if they are available. The law states that at least 10 percent of newly recruited civil service personnel should be persons with disabilities. There are no legislated or mandated accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities. In addition, there were no available statistics concerning the implementation of this provision.

The government did not enact programs to ensure access to buildings, information, and communications. The Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection’s Labor Inspectorate has responsibility for protecting children with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Violence by unidentified persons, bandits, and other armed groups against the Mbororo, primarily nomadic pastoralists, was a problem. Their cattle wealth made them attractive targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the north. Additionally, since many citizens viewed them as inherently foreign due to their transnational migratory patterns, the Mbororo faced occasional discrimination with regard to government services and protections. In recent years the Mbororo began arming themselves against attacks from farmers who objected to the presence of the Mbororo’s grazing cattle. Several of the ensuing altercations resulted in deaths.

Indigenous People

Discrimination continued against the nomadic pastoralist Mbororo minority, as well as the forest dwelling Ba’aka. The independent High Authority for Good Governance, whose members were appointed in 2017, is tasked with protecting the rights of minorities and the handicapped, although its efficacy had yet to be proven.

Discrimination against the Ba’aka, who constituted 1 to 2 percent of the population, remained a problem. The Ba’aka continued to have little influence in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of natural resources. Forest-dwelling Ba’aka, in particular, experienced social and economic discrimination and exploitation, which the government did little to prevent.

The Ba’aka, including children, were often coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They were considered slaves by members of other local ethnic groups, and even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far below those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups.

Reports made during the year by credible NGOs, including the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, stated the Ba’aka were effectively “second-class citizens,” perceived as barbaric and subhuman and excluded from mainstream society.

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

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity. The penalty for “public expression of love” between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years or a fine of 150,000 to 600,000 CFA francs ($255 to $1,020). When one of the participants is a child, the adult could be sentenced to two to five years’ imprisonment or a fine of 100,000 to 800,000 CFA francs ($170 and $1,360); there were no reports police arrested or detained persons under these provisions.

While official discrimination based on sexual orientation occurred, there were no reports the government targeted LGBTI persons. Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was entrenched due to a high degree of cultural stigmatization. There were no reports of LGBTI persons targeted for acts of violence, although the absence of reports could reflect cultural biases and stigma attached to being an LGBTI individual. There were no known organizations advocating for or working on behalf of LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS were subjected to discrimination and stigma, and many individuals with HIV/AIDS did not disclose their status due to social stigma.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Violent conflict and instability in the country had a religious cast. Many, but not all, members of the ex-Seleka and its factions were Muslim, having originated in neighboring countries or in the remote Muslim north, a region the government often neglected.

During the worst of the crisis, some Christian communities formed Anti-balaka militias that targeted Muslim communities, presumably for their association with the Seleka. The Interfaith Religious Platform, which includes Muslim and Christian leaders, continued working with communities to defuse tensions and call for tolerance and restraint. Local leaders, including the bishop of Bossangoa, and internationally based academics warned against casting the conflict in religious terms and thus fueling its escalation along religious lines.

Ethnic killings often related to transhumance movements occurred. The major groups playing a role in the transhumance movements were social groups centering on ethnic identity. These included Muslim Fulani/Peul herders, Muslim farming communities, Christian/animist farming communities, and the Kara and Rounga conflict in Birao. Armed group conflict can also devolve into ethnic violence, such as the Kara/Rounga conflict in Birao. In September clashes started between the FPRC fighters from the Goula and Rounga ethnic groups and Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (MLCJ) fighters from the Kara ethnic group following the killing of the son of the sultan of Birao by unidentified assailants. In retaliation the MLCJ fighters ambushed and killed two FPRC combatants. More than 20 individuals were killed, including civilians, and more than 20,000 inhabitants were displaced.

The law outlaws the practice of witchcraft. Conviction of witchcraft is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine from 100,000 CFA francs to one million CFA francs ($170 to $1,700).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except for senior-level state employees, security force members, and foreign workers in residence for less than two years, to form or join independent unions without prior authorization. The labor code provides for the right of workers to organize and administer trade unions without employer interference and grants trade unions full legal status. The law requires union officials be full-time, wage-earning employees in their occupation and allows them to conduct union business during working hours if the employer is informed 48 hours in advance and provides authorization. Substantial restrictions hampered noncitizens from holding leadership positions in a union, despite amendments to the labor code.

The labor code provides that unions may bargain collectively in the public and private sectors.

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

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

The government generally enforced applicable laws and respected laws concerning labor actions. The enforcement of penalties was not sufficient to deter violations. Workers exercised some of these rights, but only a relatively small part of the workforce, primarily civil servants, exercised the right to join a union. While worker organizations are officially outside government or political parties, the government exerted some influence over the leadership of some organizations.

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

Employers subjected men, women, and children to forced domestic labor, agricultural work, mining, market or street vending, and restaurant labor, as well as sexual exploitation. Criminal courts sentenced convicted persons to imprisonment and forced labor, and prisoners often worked on public projects without compensation. This practice largely took place in rural areas. Ba’aka, including children, often were coerced into labor as day laborers, farm hands, or other unskilled labor and often treated as slaves (see section 6). No known victims were removed from forced labor during the year.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

The government did not enforce child labor laws. The government trained police, military, and civilians on child rights and protection, but trainees lacked resources to conduct investigations. The government announced numerous policies related to child labor, including those to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, but there was no evidence of programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including its worst forms. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Child labor was common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas. Local and displaced children as young as seven years old frequently performed agricultural work, including harvesting peanuts and cassava and helping gather items subsequently sold at markets such as mushrooms, hay, firewood, and caterpillars. In Bangui many of the city’s street children worked as street vendors. Children often worked as domestic workers, fishermen, and in mines, often in dangerous conditions. For example, children were forced to work without proper protection or were forced to work long hours (i.e., 10 hours per day or longer). Children also engaged in the worst forms of child labor in diamond fields, transporting and washing gravel as well as mining gold, digging holes, and carrying heavy loads. Despite the law’s prohibition on child labor in mining, observers saw many children working in and around diamond mining fields. No known victims were removed from the worst forms of child labor during the year.

Children continued to be engaged as child soldiers. There were reports of ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka recruiting child soldiers during the year (see section 1.g.).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

It is illegal to discriminate in hiring or place of employment based on race, national or social origin, gender, opinions, or beliefs. The government did not effectively enforce the law, however, if they were rigorously enforced, the laws would be sufficient to deter violations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on disability, age, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases.

Discrimination against women in employment and occupation occurred in all sectors of the economy and in rural areas, where traditional practices that favor men remained widespread.

Migrant workers experienced discrimination in employment and pay.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor code states the minister of labor, employment, and social protection must set minimum wages in the public sector by decree. The government, the country’s largest employer, set wages after consultation, but not negotiation, with government employee trade unions. The minimum wages in the private sector are established based on sector-specific collective conventions resulting from negotiations between employers and workers’ representatives in each sector.

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

The minimum wage applies only to the formal sector, leaving most of the economy without a minimum wage. The law applies to foreign and migrant workers as well. Most labor was performed outside the wage and social security system in the extensive informal sector, especially by farmers in the large subsistence agricultural sector.

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

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

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

The government did not effectively enforce labor standards, and violations were common in all sectors of the economy. The Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection has primary responsibility for managing labor standards, while enforcement falls under the Ministry of Interior and Public Safety and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The government did not have an adequate number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance with all labor laws. Penalties were seldom enforced and were insufficient to deter violations. Employers commonly violated labor standards in agriculture and mining. Salary and pension arrears were problems for armed forces personnel and the country’s approximately 24,000 civil servants.

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

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

The government does not release information on workplace injury and deaths, or other occupational health and safety statistics, and officials failed to respond to International Labor Organization direct requests to provide this information.

Crimea

Read A Section: Crimea

Ukraine

In February 2014 Russian forces entered Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and occupied it militarily. In March 2014 Russia announced the peninsula had become part of the Russian Federation following a sham referendum that violated Ukraine’s constitution. The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 on the “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine” of March 27, 2014, and Resolution 74/168 on the “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine)”of December 9, 2019, called on states and international organizations not to recognize any change in Crimea’s status and affirmed the commitment of the United Nations to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. In April 2014 Ukraine’s legislature (Verkhovna Rada) adopted a law attributing responsibility for human rights violations in Crimea to the Russian Federation as the occupying state. The United States does not recognize the attempted “annexation” of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Russian law has been applied in Ukraine’s Crimea since the Russian occupation and purported “annexation” of the peninsula. For detailed information on the laws and practices of the Russian Federation, see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia.

Executive Summary

A local occupation authority installed by the Russian government and led by Sergey Aksyonov as “prime minister” of the “state council of the republic of Crimea” administers occupied Crimea. The “state council” is responsible for day-to-day administration and other functions of governing. In 2016 Russia’s nationwide parliamentary elections included seats allocated for purportedly annexed Crimea, a move widely condemned by the international community and that contravened the Ukrainian constitution.

Russian government agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Federal Investigative Committee, and the Office of the Prosecutor General applied and enforced Russian law in Crimea as if it were a part of the Russian Federation. 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. Russian authorities maintained control over Russian military and security forces deployed in Crimea.

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

Occupation authorities took few steps to investigate or prosecute officials or individuals who committed human rights abuses, creating an atmosphere of impunity and lawlessness.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Occupation authorities significantly restricted freedom of expression and subjected dissenting voices including the press to harassment and prosecution.

Freedom of Expression: The HRMMU noted occupation authorities placed “excessive limitations on the freedoms of opinion and expression.” Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported the FSB engaged in widespread surveillance of social media, telephones, and electronic communication and routinely summoned individuals for “discussions” for voicing or posting opposition to the occupation.

Occupation authorities often deemed expressions of dissent “extremism” and prosecuted individuals for them. For example, according to press reports, on June 10, the Sevastopol “district court” sentenced the head of the Sevastopol Worker’s Union, Valeriy Bolshakov, to two years and six months of suspended imprisonment for “public calls to extremist activities” for his criticism of occupation authorities on social networks. Bolshakov called to replace the “Putin regime” with a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Occupation authorities harassed and fined individuals for the display of Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar symbols, which were banned as “extremist.” For example, according to NGO reporting, on June 26, the Saky “district court” fined local resident Oleg Prykhodko for “public demonstration of paraphernalia or symbols of extremist organizations.” Prykhodko had displayed Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags on his car. On October 9, authorities arrested Prykhodko during a raid on his home, where they purportedly “found” explosives in his garage, which human rights defenders maintained were planted there. On October 28, authorities charged Prykhodko with terrorism and possession of explosives.

Occupation authorities deemed expressions of support for Ukrainian sovereignty over the peninsula to be equivalent to undermining Russian territorial integrity. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on January 29, occupation authorities charged Crimean Tatar Mejlis member Iskander Bariyev with calling for the violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, in connection with a December 2018 Facebook post in which he called for the “liberation” of Crimea from Russian occupation and criticized repression taking place on the peninsula.

There were multiple reports that occupation authorities detained and prosecuted individuals seeking to film raids on homes or court proceedings. For example, according to press reports, on March 27, a Simferopol court sentenced Crimean Tatar activist Iskender Mamutov to five days in prison for “minor hooliganism” because he filmed security services as they raided Crimean Tatar homes.

During the year occupation authorities prosecuted individuals for the content of social media posts written before Russia began its occupation of Crimea. For example, on July 2, police detained a resident of the town of Sudak, Seyar Emirov, for a video posted on a social network in 2013. The video was of a local meeting of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is legal in Ukraine. The local occupation “court” fined him 1,500 rubles ($23) for “production of extremist material.”

There were reports that authorities prosecuted individuals for their appearance in social media posts that they did not author. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on May 31, a court in Simferopol fined Crimean Tatar activist Luftiye Zudiyeva 2,000 rubles ($30) for being tagged in social media posts in 2014 authored by another person, which authorities alleged also contained banned symbols.

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

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of security forces or police harassing activists and detaining journalists in connection with their civic or professional activities. For example, during the year security forces reportedly harassed, abused, and arrested journalist Yevgeniy Haivoronskiy. Haivoronskiy initially supported the Russian occupation, but in recent years came to oppose it, a position he expressed publicly. On March 6, police raided Haivoronskiy’s home and seized computers and documents. On March 22, the newspaper that published his articles, Primechania, announced it would no longer carry his work due to his pro-Ukrainian position. On March 26, Haivoronskiy was arrested several hours after he gave an interview criticizing occupation authorities and calling for control of the peninsula to be returned to Ukraine. Police alleged he had been using drugs, and a judge sentenced him to 12 days in jail and to undergo drug treatment. Haivoronskiy denied he used drugs and maintained the charge was an effort to frame him in retaliation for his political views. On May 7, a court sentenced him to a further 10 days in jail for refusing a medical examination during the March prison stay. On October 22, police detained Haivoronskiy, reportedly beating him and slamming his head into the side of a police car during detention. The same day a court sentenced him to 15 additional days in jail for failing to complete the drug treatment program ordered by the court in March. On December 31, Russian occupation authorities forcibly removed Haivoronskiy from Crimea to mainland Ukraine.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting. The August UN secretary-general’s special report stated, “In order to avoid repercussions for independent journalistic work, [journalists] frequently self-censored, used pseudonyms and filtered their content prior to publication. Ukrainian journalists, as well as public figures who are perceived as critics of Crimea’s occupation, have faced entry bans issued by FSB and were unable to access Crimea to conduct their professional activities.”

There were reports occupation authorities sought to restrict access to or remove internet content about Crimea they disliked. For example, on February 5, YouTube informed the Crimea-focused website The Center for Journalistic Research, which operated in mainland Ukraine, that it had received a notification from Russian censorship authorities (Roskomnadzor) that material on the Centers YouTube account violated the law. Occupation authorities specifically deemed a documentary about Crimean Tatar political prisoner Emir-Usain Kuku to be “extremist.” YouTube notified the Center that if it did not delete the material, it could be forced to block it. On February 7, Amnesty International released a statement urging YouTube not to block the video, and YouTube did not do so.

Occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcasts, replacing the content with Russian programming. According to Crimean Human Rights Group media monitoring, during the year occupation authorities jammed the signal of Ukrainian radio stations by transmitting Russian radio stations at the same frequencies.

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

Censorship of independent internet sites was widespread (see Internet Freedom).

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, 10 Crimean internet service providers blocked 14 Ukrainian information websites and two social networks during the year, including the sites of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People.

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

The Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service included prominent critics of the occupation on its list of extremists and terrorists. Inclusion on the list prevented individuals from holding bank accounts, using notary services, and conducting other financial transactions. As of October the list included 47 persons from Crimea, including numerous political prisoners and their relatives as well as others reportedly being tried for their pro-Ukrainian political positions, such as Oleh Prykhodko (see Freedom of Expression, above).

Authorities frequently used the threat of “extremism,” “terrorism,” or other purported national security grounds to justify harassment or prosecution of individuals in retaliation for expressing opposition to the occupation. For example, on July 12, according to press reports, a court authorized the in absentia arrest of independent Crimean Tatar journalist Gulsum Khalilova for “participating in an armed formation in the territory of a foreign state” for allegedly joining an armed battalion in Ukraine. Khalilova, who moved to mainland Ukraine, denied having any dealings with armed groups and characterized the case as fabricated in retribution for her independent reporting on the peninsula.

Internet Freedom

Russian occupation authorities restricted free expression on the internet by imposing repressive Russian Federation laws 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 dissenting opinions. According to media accounts, occupation authorities interrogated and harassed residents of Crimea for online postings with pro-Ukrainian opinions (see Censorship or Content Restrictions, above).

More than 30 Ukrainian online outlets were among the hundreds that authorities blocked in Crimea, including several sites that were not on the Russian federal internet block list.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Occupation authorities engaged in a widespread campaign to suppress the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian languages (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

According to the August UN secretary-general’s special report, “public events initiated by perceived supporters of Ukrainian territorial integrity or critics of policies of the Russian Federation in Crimea were reportedly prevented and/or prohibited by occupation authorities.” For example, on August 9, the head of the Zarechenskoye village council denied an application filed by Crimean Tatar activist Kemal Yakubov to hold a public celebration of the Muslim holiday Kurban Bayram. She cited a lack of a support letter from the pro-occupation Administration of Muslims of Crimea as the reason for her denial.

The Crimean Human Rights Group reported Crimeans were regularly charged with administrative offenses for peacefully assembling without permission. For example, on August 21, a court in Sudak convicted environmental activist Igor Savchenko of holding an unauthorized demonstration and fined him 20,000 rubles ($313); Savchenko had organized a demonstration on August 14 against illegal construction on the Meganom Cape.

Occupation authorities brought charges for “unauthorized assemblies” against single-person protests, even though Russian law imposed on Crimea does not require preauthorization for individual protests. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on March 29, police in Simferopol detained Crimean Tatar activist Tair Ibragimov, who was standing alone with a poster that read, “Give 166 children their fathers back!!!,” in protest against the mass arrests of March 27. He was charged with violating regulations on public protest. A court convicted him the same day and fined him 15,000 rubles ($235).

There were reports that authorities used a ban on “unauthorized missionary activity” to restrict public gatherings of members of religious minorities. For example, three administrative cases were initiated against a group of members of the Hare Krishna faith who gathered in a Sevastopol park to sing mantras. On August 6, the Leninskiy “district court” in Sevastopol fined each of them 5,000 rubles ($78) for “unauthorized missionary activity.”

A “regulation” limits the places where public events may be held to 366 listed locations. The HRMMU noted that the “regulation” restricted freedom of assembly to a shrinking number of “specially designated spaces,” a move that appeared “designed to dissuade the exercise of the right of freedom of assembly.”

There were reports of occupation authorities using coercive methods to provide for participation at rallies in support of the “government.” Students, teachers, and civil servants were forced to attend a commemoration event on the day of deportation of the Crimean Tatars organized by occupation authorities in Simferopol on May 18.

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

Freedom of Association

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

Occupation authorities broadly restricted freedom of association for individuals who opposed the occupation. For example, there were numerous reports of authorities taking steps to harass, intimidate, arrest, and imprison members of the human rights group Crimean Solidarity, an unregistered movement of friends and family of victims of repression by occupation authorities (see section 1.d.). During the year the Crimean Human Rights Group documented multiple cases in which police visited the homes of Crimean Solidarity activists to threaten them or warn them not to engage in “extremist” activities. For example, at least seven Crimean Solidarity activists were given such “preventative warnings” on the eve of the May 17 anniversary of the 1944 deportation of the Crimean Tatar people.

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

Occupation authorities did not respect the right to freedom of movement.

In-country Movement: Occupation authorities maintained a state border at the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and Crimea. According to the HRMMU, the boundary and the absence of public transportation between Crimea and mainland Ukraine continued to undermine freedom of movement to and from the peninsula, affecting mainly the elderly, individuals with limited mobility, and young children.

There were reports occupation authorities selectively detained and at times abused persons attempting to enter or leave Crimea. According to human rights groups, occupation authorities routinely detained adult men at the administrative boundary for additional questioning, threatened to seize passports and documents, seized telephones and memory cards, and questioned them for hours. For example, on June 11, the FSB detained activist Gulsum Alieva at the administrative borderline when she was entering the peninsula. They brought the activist to the police station in the nearby town of Armyansk. According to her lawyer, authorities charged Alieva with extremism and released her later the same day.

In other cases, authorities issued entry bans to Crimean Tatars attempting to cross the administrative boundary from mainland Ukraine. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on February 5, occupation authorities at the administrative boundary detained Crimean Tatar Rustem Rashydov, who was seeking to visit his family in Crimea. He was released after being interrogated for 12 hours and given a document stating he was banned from entering the “Russian Federation.”

Occupation authorities launched criminal cases against numerous high-profile Crimean Tatar leaders, including member of the parliament Mustafa Jemilev and Refat Chubarov, the current chairmen of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; by Crimean Tatar activist Sinaver Kadyrov; and by Ismet Yuksel, the general director of the Crimean News Agency.

According to the HRMMU, Ukrainian legislation restricts access to Crimea to three designated crossing points and imposes penalties, including long-term entry bans, for noncompliance. Crimean residents lacking Ukrainian passports, who only possessed Russian-issued Crimean travel documents not recognized by Ukrainian authorities, often faced difficulties when crossing into mainland Ukraine.

Citizenship: Russian occupation authorities required all residents of Crimea to be Russian citizens. Those who refused Russian citizenship could be subjected to arbitrary expulsion. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, during the five years of Russia’s occupation, more than 1,500 Ukrainians were prosecuted for not having Russian documents, and 450 persons were ordered to be deported.

According to the HRMMU, in 2018 “courts” in Crimea ordered deportation of 231 Ukrainian nationals, many of whom were Crimean residents with Ukrainian citizenship, whose residence rights in Crimea were not recognized.

Residents of Crimea who chose not to adopt Russian citizenship were considered foreigners. In some cases they could obtain a residency permit. Persons holding a residency permit without Russian citizenship were deprived of key rights and could not own agricultural land, vote or run for office, register a religious congregation, or register a vehicle. 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.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, Russian authorities prosecuted private employers who continued to employ Ukrainians. Fines could be imposed on employers for every recorded case of employing a Ukrainian citizen without a labor license. Fines in such cases amounted to several million dollars.

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Corruption: There were multiple reports during the year of systemic rampant corruption among Crimean “officeholders,” including through embezzlement of Russian state funds allocated to support the occupation. For example, on April 3, de facto Crimean law enforcement authorities detained the mayor of the city of Yevpatoriya, Andrey Filonov. He was charged with abuse of power that entailed losses for the municipal budget in the amount of 35 million Russian rubles ($5.5 million).

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

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

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

Section 6. Discrimination, 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 the country requires a hospital certificate, which is retained when a birth certificate is issued. Under the occupation regime, new parents could only obtain a Russian birth certificate and did not have access to a hospital certificate. In 2016 the Ukrainian government instituted a process whereby births in Crimea could be recognized with documents issued by occupation authorities.

Institutionalized Children: There were reports occupation 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 10,000 to 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 the occupation, authorities singled out Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians for discrimination, abuse, deprivation of civil liberties and religious and economic rights, and violence, including killings and abductions (also see sections 1.a.-1.d., 1.f., 2.a., 2.b., and 2.d.). The August UN secretary-general’s special report noted a “narrowing of space for manifestations of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar identities and enjoyment of the respective cultures in Crimea. The restrictions have reportedly been closely connected to the suppression of political dissent and alternative political opinion.”

There were reports that government officials openly advocated discrimination against Crimean Tatars. Occupation authorities harassed Crimean Tatars for speaking their language in public and forbade speaking it in the workplace. There were reports teachers prohibited schoolchildren from speaking Crimean Tatar to one another. Crimean Tatars were prohibited from celebrating their national holidays and commemorating victims of previous abuses. For example, on June 26, occupation authorities denied a request by the residents of the town of Oktyabrske to hold a car rally for Crimean Tatar Flag Day. Police arrived at the gathering, informed them the event was unauthorized, and video-recorded those present. According to press reports, as the cars proceeded anyway, they were pulled over four times by police for “document checks.”

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

By the end of 2014, Ukrainian as a language of instruction was removed from university-level education in Crimea. According to the HRMMU, in the 2017-2018 academic year no school provided instruction in Ukrainian, and there were eight available Ukrainian language classes in Russian schools that were attended by 318 children. In 2017 the International Court of Justice ruled on provisional measures in proceedings brought by Ukraine against the Russian Federation, concluding unanimously that the Russian Federation must “ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language.”

Occupation authorities have not permitted churches linked to ethnic Ukrainians, in particular the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to register under Russian law. Occupation authorities harassed and intimidated members of the churches and used court proceedings to force the OCU in particular to leave properties it had rented for years. The largest OCU congregation in Crimea closed on September 23 following a ruling by occupation authorities that the cathedral located in Simferopol must be “returned to the state.” The church was shut down after repeated refusals by the authorities to allow it to register.

Occupation authorities allegedly selectively seized property belonging to ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. According to the August UN secretary-general’s special report, during the year the HRMMU “received information about numerous cases of allocation of land plots to formerly displaced persons in Crimea, including Crimean Tatars, free of charge, as part of plans to legalize the unauthorized appropriation of land or allocation of alternative land plots.”

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

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

Human rights groups and local LGBTI activists reported that most LGBTI individuals fled Crimea after the Russian occupation began. Those who remained lived in fear of abuse due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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

Occupation authorities prohibited any LGBTI group from holding public events in Crimea. According to the HRMMU, LGBTI residents of Crimea faced difficulties in finding a safe environment for gatherings because of occupation authorities’ encouragement of an overall hostile attitude towards the manifestation of LGBTI identity. LGBTI individuals faced increasing restrictions on their right to free expression and assembly peacefully, because occupation authorities enforced a Russian law that criminalizes the so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors (see section 6 of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia). For example, on June 29, the organizers of the theater company Territoria apologized for producing a play that showed two women kissing during a state-sponsored theater festival. High-ranking members of the Russian government called for the company to be prosecuted under the Russian law that prohibits the “propaganda” of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors.

Section 7. Worker Rights

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

Occupation authorities imposed the labor laws and regulations of the Russian Federation on Crimean workers, limited worker rights, and created barriers to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the ability to strike. Trade unions are formally protected under Russian law but limited in practice. As in both Ukraine and Russia, employers were often able to engage in antiunion discrimination and violate collective bargaining rights. The 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 holders of Russian national identification cards were allowed to work in “government” and municipal positions. Labor activists believed that unions were threatened in Crimea to accept “government” policy without question and faced considerable restrictions on advocating for their members.

Although no official data were available, experts estimated there was growing participation in the underground economy in Crimea.

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Ukraine

Libya

Executive Summary

Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) is a transitional government, created by the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement. The 2011 Constitutional Declaration envisions a parliamentary democracy that allows for the exercise of political, civil, and judicial rights. Citizens elected an interim legislature, the Libyan House of Representatives (HoR), in free and fair elections in 2014. The country is in a state of civil conflict. The GNA, headed by Libyan prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj, governed only a limited portion of the country. Parallel, unrecognized institutions in eastern Libya, especially those aligned with the self-styled “Libyan National Army” (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar, continued to challenge the authority of the GNA.

During the year the GNA had limited effective control over security forces, and these forces consisted of a mix of semi-regular units, tribal nonstate armed groups, and civilian volunteers. The national police force, which reports to the Ministry of Interior, has official responsibility for internal security. The armed forces under the Ministry of Defense have the primary mission for external defense, but they also supported Ministry of Interior forces on internal security matters. Civilian authorities had only nominal control of police and the security apparatus, and security-related police work generally fell to disparate informal armed groups, which received salaries from the government and exercised law enforcement functions without formal training or supervision and with varying degrees of accountability.

Conflict heightened during the year among GNA-aligned armed nonstate armed groups and other nonstate actors. The LNA exercised varying levels of control over the majority of Libyan territory at various points during the year. Informal nonstate armed groups filled security vacuums across the country, although several in the west aligned with the GNA as a means of accessing state resources. ISIS-Libya attempted to maintain a presence, although limited, primarily in the southwestern desert region. The UN and international partners were leading efforts to broker a cessation of hostilities in Tripoli and urged stakeholders to return to a UN-mediated political process.

Significant human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings, including of politicians and members of civil society, by armed groups including some aligned with the GNA and the LNA, criminal gangs, and ISIS-Libya; forced disappearances; torture perpetrated by armed groups on all sides; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prison and detention facilities, some of which were outside government control; political prisoners held by nonstate actors; unlawful interference with privacy, often by nonstate actors; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence against journalists and criminalization of political expression; widespread corruption; trafficking in persons; threats of violence against ethnic minorities and foreigners; criminalization of same-sex sexual orientation; and use of forced labor.

Impunity from prosecution was a severe and pervasive problem. Divisions between political and security apparatuses in the west and east, a security vacuum in the south, and the presence of terrorist groups in some areas of the country severely inhibited the government’s ability to investigate or prosecute abuses. The government took limited steps to investigate abuses; however, constraints on the government’s reach and resources, as well as political considerations, reduced its ability or willingness to prosecute and punish those who committed such abuses. Although bodies such as the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General issued arrest warrants and opened prosecutions of abuses, limited policing capacity and fears of retribution prevented orders from being carried out.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various armed groups, including those aligned with the GNA, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists and reporters for political views.

Freedom of Expression: Freedom of speech was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2011.” The HoR, since its election in 2014, and the GNA, since taking its seat in Tripoli in 2016, have done little to lessen restrictions on freedom of speech. Civil society organizations practiced self-censorship because they believed armed groups would threaten or kill activists. Widespread conflict in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.

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

Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech. Armed groups reportedly used social media to target political opponents, incite violence, and engage in hate speech. According to UNSMIL, various news publications and television stations published calls to violence, spread intentionally false news, and permitted ad hominem attacks.

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

Violence and Harassment: The international NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists. Harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings made it nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in areas of conflict. In the first half of the year, UNSMIL reviewed 23 cases of threats, intimidation, and violence against journalists; two cases of unlawful killing; and 10 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention. Journalists were targeted based on their media work or other factors, including tribal affiliation.

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

On January 19, Mohamed Ben Khalifa, an Associated Press photographer, was killed by an airstrike while covering clashes between rival nonstate armed groups south of Tripoli. In response to his death, protests condemning violence against journalists were held in Tripoli, Benghazi, Sebha, and Zuwara, according to the Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press. It is unclear what, if any, efforts authorities took to seek accountability for his death.

On May 2, two Libyan journalists for television broadcaster Libya Al-Ahrar, Mohamed al-Qurj and Mohamed al-Shibani, were abducted while covering the hostilities in Tripoli. Libya Al-Ahrar alleged that LNA-aligned nonstate armed groups were responsible. The journalists were released three weeks later.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship due to the lack of security and intimidation. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing armed groups or political factions.

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

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

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

Internet Freedom

The GNA generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or widely censor online content. Selective filtering or blocking of access did exist, despite the fact that no reliable public information identified those responsible for censorship. There were no credible reports that the GNA restricted or disrupted internet access or monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority during the year.

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

Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial government and nongovernmental communications. Facebook remained the main platform government officials, ministries, and armed groups used to transmit information to the public.

A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to instability, intimidation by armed groups, and the uncertain political situation.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

There were reports of several small public protests in Tripoli and other major Libyan cities, in which participants expressed frustration with civilian casualties and fatalities caused by the continuing conflict and poor service delivery by the national and municipal governments.

Freedom of Association

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

In March the GNA Presidential Council issued a decree to regulate civil society organizations (CSOs). According to human rights organizations, if implemented, the decree would seriously limit space for civil society to operate independently and freely in the country. The decree regulates the work of local and foreign organizations in terms of their establishment, registration, and assembly in a restrictive manner and grants the executive authority broad powers to limit or suspend organizations.

CSOs are required to register with the GNA-affiliated “Civil Society Commission” in Tripoli if they have activities in the west and with an eastern, rival Civil Society Commission in Benghazi if they have activities in the east. In August the Civil Society Commission in Tripoli issued a circular banning members of Libyan organizations from participating in events outside the country without seeking the commission’s approval at least 15 days prior.

UNSMIL reported prolonged detention of, and denial of family visits to, civil society activists held in the Granada detention center in eastern Libya. Threats, including death threats, were made against numerous CSOs because of their human rights activities, and UNSMIL reported that at least three activists have sought sanctuary abroad.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: The GNA did not exercise control over internal movement in the west, although GNA-aligned armed groups set up some checkpoints. The LNA established checkpoints in the east and south. These checkpoints were occasional targets of attacks by terrorist organizations, including a May 18 attack on an LNA checkpoint at the entrance to an oilfield in Zillah, which was claimed by ISIS-Libya.

There were reports that armed groups controlling airports within the country conducted random checks on departing domestic and international travelers, since the country lacked a unified customs and immigration system.

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

If a father’s citizenship is revoked, the citizenship of his children is also revoked. The law does not specify if a mother’s citizenship is also revoked in this case. The law does not specify if only minor children are susceptible to losing their nationality in this way or if loss of nationality would apply to adult children as well.

Non-Arab communities were marginalized under the Arab nationalist Qadhafi regime. Qadhafi revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including minorities such as the Tebu and Tuareg, after the regime returned the Aouzou strip along the Libya-Chad border to Chad in 1994. As a result there were many nomadic and settled stateless persons in the country.

Additionally, due to a lack of state control of the southern borders, a large number of irregular migrants of Tebu background entered the country, some of whom reportedly applied for and obtained documents attesting to nationality, including national identification numbers.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were subjected to unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual exploitation, and other abuses by GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned and other nonstate groups, and criminal organizations (see section 1.d.).

Conditions in government and extralegal migrant detention facilities included severe overcrowding, insufficient access to toilets and washing facilities, malnourishment, lack of potable water, and spread of communicable diseases (see section 1.c.). Many press reports indicated refugees and migrants were summarily tortured in official and unofficial detention centers. According to numerous press reports, nonstate actors routinely held migrants for ransom payments.

UNSMIL reported migrant deaths in GNA detention centers at Tariq al-Sikkah, Qasr Bin Ghashir, Zawiyah, and Sebha.

On September 19, a Sudanese migrant who had been intercepted on a boat off the coast of Libya was shot and killed by Libyan Coast Guard personnel when he resisted being taken to a detention center, according to the IOM.

Armed groups, criminal gangs, and terrorist organizations involved in human smuggling activities targeted migrants. Numerous reports during the year suggested that various human smugglers and traffickers had caused the death of migrants. Hundreds of rescued migrants who were reported to have been sent to detention centers were later determined to be missing. In June OHCHR called on the GNA to launch an investigation to locate these missing persons. On July 25, up to 150 migrants who set sail from the Libyan coast, including women and children, drowned when a wooden boat piloted by smugglers capsized in the Mediterranean. There were no known arrests or prosecutions by the GNA during the year of Libyan nationals engaged in trafficking or human smuggling.

Women refugees and migrants faced especially difficult conditions, and international organizations received many reports of rape and other sexual violence. The OHCHR concluded in a December 2018 report on interviews with 1,300 migrant women and girls that a majority of female migrants in the country were subject to systematic rape by their traffickers and prison guards or witnessed the rape of others. An al-Jazeera investigation concluded in September 2019 similarly documented systematic female and male rape in migrant detention facilities.

Migrants were exploited for forced labor at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, and GNA-aligned armed groups (see section 7.b.).

Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol, although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right of asylum and forbids forcible repatriation of asylum seekers. The GNA has not established a system for protecting refugees or asylum seekers. Absent an asylum system, authorities can detain and deport asylum seekers without their having the opportunity to request asylum. The GNA did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits.

UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies operated within the country and were allowed to assist refugees and immigrants and repatriate those who wish to return to their countries. UNHCR monitored and publicly reported on the situation of refugees and migrants in the country, including those in GNA detention centers. During the year, UNHCR, ICRC, and the IOM provided basic services directly and through local implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers.

In December 2018 UNHCR and the Ministry of Interior began receiving refugees at a new Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in Tripoli, intended to host vulnerable refugees while they awaited resettlement or voluntary repatriation. In July, following an airstrike on the Tajoura migrant detention center in Tripoli, nearly 500 individuals who survived the airstrike spontaneously appeared at the GDF. In September UNSMIL assessed that GDF conditions were overcrowded, contributing to a deteriorating humanitarian situation. On October 2, UNHCR and the Ministry of Interior conducted the first relocation of 15 former Tajoura arrivals to a Community Day Center in Gurji. In November UNHCR reported the GDF hosted 1,200 individuals.

On September 10, the Rwandan government, UNHCR, and the African Union signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish a transit mechanism for refugees and asylum seekers evacuated out of Libya. Under the MOU, Rwanda will receive some refugees and asylum seekers currently held in Libyan migrant detention facilities. The first group of 66 refugees was evacuated to Rwanda on September 26. As of November UNHCR had assisted 2,018 refugees and asylum seekers with leaving Libya, including 1,293 under evacuation programs and another 725 under resettlement programs.

Freedom of Movement: Migrants and refugees are generally considered to be illegally present in Libya and are subject to fines, detention, and expulsion. Migrants attempting sea crossings on the Mediterranean who were later intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard were considered to have violated Libyan law and were often sent to migrant detention facilities in western Libya.

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The Constitutional Declaration provides citizens the ability to change their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot to provide for the free expression of the will of the people.

Elections and Political Participation

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

The term of the HoR has expired; however, the legislative body was recognized as the nation’s legitimate parliament by the Libyan Political Agreement signed in 2015, which created the interim GNA.

In May 2018 leaders of the country’s rival factions agreed to convene parliamentary and presidential elections in December 2018. In November 2018, however, parties delayed the elections to 2019. A Libyan National Conference planned for April in Ghadames was intended to create a roadmap for elections, but on April 4, LNA-aligned forces began their offensive on Tripoli, and the National Conference did not occur.

In March and April, the GNA-aligned Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections (CCMCE) held 22 elections for municipalities in southern and western Libya. Among the 375,296 eligible voters in these municipalities, nearly one-half registered to vote, and of those, 81,281 turned out to vote. Various organizations deployed 343 election observers in 11 of the 22 municipalities. Although voter turnout was not high across the board, domestic observer organizations concluded they were professionally and fairly administered. Elections in 11 municipalities did not go forward due to the conflict, including Kikla, Alsaabaa, South Zawiya, Sabratha, and Surman.

The CCMCE held municipal elections in Sebha in April, electing a new municipal council. LNA-aligned forces had entered the city earlier in the year, and in May a local court annulled the municipal election results. Following an appeal, the court’s decision was overturned in favor of the CCMCE. As of December observers expected a transfer of power to the municipal council elected in April.

LNA-aligned authorities in eastern Libya were seeking to establish a rival counterpart to the CCMCE. LNA-aligned authorities also created new city councils in cities under their control, replacing elected officials with appointed personnel linked to the LNA.

In July the Administrative Chamber of the Tripoli Appeals Court passed a ruling to invalidate a GNA decision that had introduced a list voting system and regulated municipal council elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties proliferated following the revolution, although political infighting among party leaders impeded the government’s progress on legislative and electoral priorities. Amid rising insecurity, public ire fell on political parties perceived to contribute to instability.

The Political Isolation Law (PIL) prohibits those who held certain positions under Qadhafi between 1969 and 2011 from holding government office. Observers widely criticized the law for its overly broad scope and the wide discretion given to the PIL Committee to determine who to exclude from office. The HoR voted to suspend the PIL in 2015, and individuals who served in political and military positions during the Qadhafi era are no longer categorically ineligible from serving in governmental office.

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

The election law provides for representation of women within the HoR; of the 200 seats in parliament, the law reserves 32 for women. There were 21 women in the HoR during the year. The disparity was due to resignations and parliamentary deputies who refused to take their seats in the HoR.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year but, as in 2018, no significant investigations or prosecutions occurred.

The Constitutional Declaration states that the government shall provide for the fair distribution of national wealth among citizens, cities, and regions. The government struggled to decentralize distribution of oil wealth and delivery of services through regional and local governance structures. There were many reports and accusations of government corruption due to lack of transparency in the GNA’s management of security forces, oil revenues, and the national economy. There were allegations that officials in the GNA submitted fraudulent letters of credit to gain access to government funds.

Corruption: Internal conflict and the weakness of public institutions undermined implementation of the law. Officials frequently engaged with impunity in corrupt practices such as graft, bribery, and nepotism. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, including some reports that officials engaged in money laundering, human smuggling, and other criminal activities. The government lacked significant mechanisms to investigate corruption among police and security forces.

Slow progress in implementing decentralization legislation, particularly with regard to management of natural resources and distribution of government funds, led to accusations of corruption and calls for greater transparency.

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

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

Financial Disclosure: No financial disclosure laws, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials.

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

A number of human rights groups encountered government restrictions when investigating alleged abuses of human rights. The GNA and affiliated nonstate armed groups used legal and nonlegal means to restrict some human rights organizations from operating, particularly organizations with an international affiliation.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: UNSMIL maintained an office and staff in Tripoli during the year. UN agency representatives were able to visit some areas of the country, contingent on the permission of government and nonstate actors and on local security conditions.

The GNA was unable to assure the safety of UN officials, particularly in areas of the country not under GNA control, but generally cooperated with UN representatives in arranging visits within the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights, a national human rights institution created by legislative authority in 2011, was not able to operate in the country due to security concerns. The council maintained limited engagement with other human rights organizations and the UN Human Rights Council. It had a minimal presence in Tripoli. Its ability to advocate for human rights and investigate alleged abuses during the reporting period was unclear. The GNA Ministry of Justice has a human rights directorate; however, domestic human rights organizations criticized the body for inactivity.

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

Women

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

There were no reliable statistics on the extent of domestic violence during the year. Social and cultural barriers–including police and judicial reluctance to act and family reluctance to publicize an assault–contributed to lack of effective government enforcement.

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

In a March 29 report, the UN secretary-general stated that migrant women and girls were particularly vulnerable to rape and other forms of conflict-related sexual violence, including forced prostitution and sexual exploitation in conditions amounting to sexual slavery. There were reports of egregious acts of sexual violence against women and girls in government and extralegal detention facilities (see section 2.d., Protection of Refugees).

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There was no available information about legislation on FGM/C. FGM/C was not a socially acceptable practice; however, some of the migrant populations came from sub-Saharan countries where it was practiced.

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

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

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

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

Women faced social forms of discrimination that affected their ability to access employment, their workplaces, and their mobility and personal freedom. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender, there was widespread cultural, economic, and societal discrimination against women. The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of UN Women (UN Women) noted that survey data indicated a significant disparity in earned incomes between men and women, even when controlling for educational attainment.

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

Children

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

Education: The continuing conflict disrupted the school year for thousands of students across the country; many schools remained unopened due to lack of materials, damage, or security concerns. In May al-Jazeera estimated that 120,000 students in Tripoli alone had missed school due to conflict. In July the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted it had received reports of shelling on school buildings. Forced disappearances and internal displacement further disrupted school attendance. As of November, UNSMIL estimated dozens of schools had been destroyed in continuing conflict and nearly 30 other schools had been repurposed as shelters for displaced persons.

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

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

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There was no information available on laws prohibiting or penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of children or prohibiting child pornography. Nor was there any information regarding laws regulating the minimum age of consensual sex.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

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

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Arabic-speaking Muslims of Arab, Amazigh, or mixed Arab-Amazigh ancestry constitute 97 percent of the citizenry. The principal linguistic-based minorities are the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Tebu. With the exception of some Amazigh, who belong to the Ibadi sect of Islam, minority groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim but often identified with their respective cultural and linguistic heritages over Arab traditions.

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

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

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

Ethnic minorities faced instances of societal discrimination and violence. Racial discrimination existed against dark-skinned citizens, including those of sub-Saharan African heritage. Government officials and journalists often distinguished between “local” and “foreign” populations of Tebu and Tuareg in the south and advocated expulsion of minority groups affiliated with political rivals on the basis they were not truly “Libyan.” Some representatives of minority groups, including representatives of Tebu and Tuareg communities, rejected the 2017 draft constitution because of a perceived lack of recognition of the status of these communities, although the draft explicitly protects the legal rights of minority groups. A number of Tebu and Tuareg communities received substandard or no services from municipalities, lacked national identity numbers (see section 2.d.), faced widespread social discrimination, and suffered from hate speech and identity-based violence. Some members of ethnic minority communities in southern and western Libya reported being unwilling to enter certain courthouses and police stations for fear of intimidation and reprisal.

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

Societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons persisted, and official discrimination was codified in local interpretations of sharia. Convictions of same-sex sexual activity carry sentences of three to five years’ imprisonment. The law provides for punishment of both parties.

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

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

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was no available information on societal violence toward persons with HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

The GNA was limited in its ability to enforce applicable labor laws. The requirement that all collective agreements conform to the “national economic interest” restricted collective bargaining. Workers may call strikes only after exhausting all conciliation and arbitration procedures. The government or one of the parties may demand compulsory arbitration, thus severely restricting strikes. The government has the right to set and cut salaries without consulting workers. State penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Employees organized spontaneous strikes, boycotts, and sit-ins in a number of workplaces. In March up to 60 workers at the country’s largest oilfield, al-Sharara, appeared in a video demanding a 67-percent salary increase and timely salary payments. In August the National Oil Corporation requested that the GNA implement a 2013 resolution approving salary increases. The GNA has yet to approve the requested increases.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The GNA, however, did not fully enforce the applicable laws due to its limited capacity. The resources, inspections, and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violators.

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

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits children younger than 18 from employment, except in a form of apprenticeship. The law does prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The government lacked the capacity to enforce the law. No information was available concerning whether the law limits working hours or sets occupational health and safety restrictions for children.

There were reports of children forced into labor or military service by nonstate armed groups. These accounts were difficult to verify due to the absence of independent monitoring organizations and the ongoing hostilities.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Constitutional Declaration provides for a right to work for every citizen and prohibits any form of discrimination based on religion, race, political opinion, language, wealth, kinship, social status, and tribal, regional, or familial loyalty. The law does not prohibit discrimination on age, gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s employment or occupation.

The limitations of the central government restricted its ability to enforce applicable laws. Discrimination in all the above categories likely occurred.

Women faced discrimination in the workplace. Observers reported that authorities precluded hiring women for positions in the civil service. They reported social pressure on women to leave the workplace, especially in high-profile professions such as journalism and law enforcement. In rural areas societal discrimination restricted women’s freedom of movement, including to local destinations, and impaired their ability to play an active role in the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law stipulates a workweek of 40 hours, standard working hours, night shift regulations, dismissal procedures, and training requirements. The law does not specifically prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. There is a national monthly minimum wage. There is not an official poverty income level.

The law provides occupational health and safety standards, and the law grants workers the right to court hearings regarding violations of these standards. The limitations of the GNA restricted its ability to enforce wage laws and health and safety standards. Legal penalties were not sufficient to deter violations of the law.

Certain industries, such as the petroleum sector, attempted to maintain standards set by foreign companies. There was no information available on whether inspections continued during the year. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for occupational safety and health concerns; however, no information was available on enforcement and compliance.

No accurate data on foreign workers were available. Many foreign workers have departed the country due to continuing instability and security concerns.

Mali

Executive Summary

Mali, a constitutional democracy, reelected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to a second five-year term in August 2018. International observers deemed the elections to have met minimum acceptable standards despite some irregularities and instances of violence. Parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for October 2018, were further delayed from June 2019 until at least May 2020, ostensibly to allow time to enact constitutional and electoral reforms.

Security forces include the National Police, the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA), the National Gendarmerie, the National Guard, the General Directorate of State Security (DGSE), and the National Penitentiary Administration (DNAPES). FAMA, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard are administratively under the Ministry of Defense, although operational control of the National Guard and National Gendarmerie is shared with the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection. Police officers have responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order in urban areas, while gendarmes have that responsibility in rural areas. The army occasionally performed domestic security operations in northern areas where police and gendarmes were absent. The National Guard has specialized border security units, which were largely ineffective. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection include maintaining order during exceptional circumstances, such as national disasters or riots. The DGSE has authority to investigate any case and temporarily detain persons at the discretion of its director general. It usually did so only in terrorism and national security cases. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the civilian and military security forces.

As of November 6, the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), a signatory to the Algiers Accord for Peace and Reconciliation, had withdrawn from the national dialogue aimed at implementing the 2015 accord. The CMA signed the accord with the Malian government in 2015, as did the Platform of Northern Militias (Platform)–including the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA), the Arab Movement for Azawad-Platform (MAA-PF), and the Coordination of Patriotic Resistance Forces and Movements (CMFPR). The CMA’s withdrawal, which occurred on September 25, came in response to comments by President Keita that parts of the already signed Algiers Accord could be revisited in the context of the national dialogue. In July the government assisted in brokering signed agreements to “cease hostilities” between a dozen armed groups of the Dogon and Fulani ethnic communities. Intercommunal violence between nomadic Fulani herders and Dogon farmers and hunters increased in the first half of the year, and internal displacement throughout central Mali has more than quadrupled since January 2018.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearance by government forces; torture by government forces; arbitrary detention by government forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; significant acts of corruption; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by nongovernmental armed groups, some of which received support from the government; crimes involving violence against national and ethnic minorities; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons; violence against women and children, which was rarely investigated; slavery and trafficking in persons; and the disregarding of workers’ rights through the use of exploitative labor, including child labor.

The government made little or no effort to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity continued to be a problem. The 2012 coup leader Amadou Sanogo, first arrested in 2013, remained under arrest awaiting trial. Sanogo’s trial began in Sikasso in 2016, but the presiding judge accepted a defense motion to delay the trial until 2017. The case remained pending at the Court of Appeals, awaiting results of a DNA analysis. Impunity for serious crimes committed in the country’s North and Center continued with few exceptions. On September 30, the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided there was sufficient evidence for Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud to stand trial on charges including torture, rape, sexual slavery, and deliberately attacking religious buildings and historic monuments. Al Hassan had been transferred by the government to the ICC following a year of local detention in response to an ICC arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the 2012 occupation of Timbuktu by al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine (“Defenders of the Faith”).

Ethnic militias committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, targeted killings, the destruction of homes and food stores, and the burning of entire villages. Despite the 2015 Algiers Accord for Peace, elements within the Platform–including GATIA, MAA-PF, and the CMFPR–and elements in the CMA–including the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA)–committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Extremist groups, including affiliates of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and the al-Qa’ida coalition Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (translated as the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, JNIM), neither of whom are parties to the peace process, kidnapped and killed civilians and military force members, including peacekeepers.

The French military counterterrorism operation, Operation Barkhane, continued. The operation had a regional focus, undertaking counterterrorism activities in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. Together, those five countries comprise the G5 Sahel, an alliance through which the countries coordinate security, counterterrorism, and development policies. Approximately 2,500 soldiers conducted counterterrorism operations in collaboration with the FAMA in northern Mali. The government, in collaboration with French military forces, conducted counterterrorism operations in northern and central Mali leading to the detention of extremists and armed group elements accused of committing crimes. Accusations against Chadian peacekeepers from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)–including accusations of killings, abductions, and arbitrary arrests in the Kidal region in 2016–remained unresolved. Reports of abuses rarely led to investigations or prosecutions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally restricted those rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government restricted freedom of expression and information, particularly during the April demonstrations of the opposition, civil society, and religious leaders. There was generally good public access to private radio stations and newspapers. When tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets in April, the national media’s coverage was minimal. Various social media platforms, including WhatsApp and Facebook, were also disrupted or restricted during the protest. Internet interruptions also occurred during the same period.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. Former presidential candidate General Moussa Sinko Coulibaly was called in for several hours of questioning at the investigative panel of the gendarmerie following an October 2 tweet perceived to be incendiary and critical of the government.

Violence and Harassment: The media environment in Bamako and the rest of the South was relatively open, although there were sporadic reports of censorship and threats against journalists. Reporting on the situation in the North remained dangerous due to the presence of active armed groups. Journalists had difficulty obtaining military information deemed sensitive by the government and often were unable to gain access to northern locations. As reported in 2018, elections in the country were often accompanied by an uptick in violations of press freedom. The High Authority for Communication, the country’s media regulator, is the only authority with the power to issue legal rulings on media content.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law imposes fines and prison sentences for defamation. On June 4, Karim Keita, legislator, son of the president and chairman of the Defense Committee at the National Assembly, formally lodged a complaint against journalist Adama Drame and radio announcer Mamadou Diadie Sacko (aka Sax) for defamation. They had both accused Karim Keita of orchestrating the January 2016 disappearance of journalist Boubacar Toure. On July 17, the High Instance of the Commune III Tribunal rejected the complaint.

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

Internet Freedom

Private discussion was generally open and free in areas under government control but was more restricted in areas with a militant presence or where intercommunal violence had flared. Disruptions and restrictions of social media platforms as well as internet interruptions occurred during the April 19 protests. The government also restricted social media in 2018 ahead of the first round of the presidential election and subsequent run-off vote.

There were no credible reports suggesting the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. There were numerous internet cafes in Bamako, but home internet access remained limited due to cost. Outside Bamako, access to the internet was very limited.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this freedom. The governor of Bamako used state of emergency powers, in effect since 2015, to reject the formal request of opposition, civil society, and religious leaders to hold a peaceful march on April 5. The march took place despite the denial. Tens of thousands participated in the peaceful demonstration. In October several promilitary, antigovernment demonstrations demanded increased government transparency and support to the FAMA following deadly attacks against military installations.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, although the law prohibits associations deemed immoral. The government generally respected freedom of association, except for that of members of the LGBTI community.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian assistance, including some protection services, to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. Security restrictions and failure to uphold the 2015 Algiers Peace Accord affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

In-country Movement: While in-country movement was not formally restricted, the army and some militias established checkpoints to maintain security, and the unstable security situation limited freedom of movement. The populations of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, and parts of Mopti feared leaving the cities for security reasons, including the threat from IEDs (see section 1.g.). Conditions at the beginning of the year encouraged some refugees and IDPs to return to their homes in the North and the Center, but subsequent incidents of insecurity slowed the rate of returns. The government facilitated travel to the North and the Center for IDPs who lacked the means to pay for their travel.

Police routinely stopped and checked citizens and foreigners to restrict the movement of contraband and verify vehicle registrations. The number of police checkpoints on roads entering Bamako and inside the city increased after a rise in extremist attacks across the country. Journalists often complained that the government, citing security concerns, did not allow them to move freely in the North during military operations.

f. 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. A national committee in charge of refugees operated with assistance from UNHCR. According to UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and the government, by September 30, there were 26,851 registered refugees and 1,000 asylum seekers residing in the country. The majority of refugees were of Afro-Mauritanian origin–expelled from Mauritania in 1989–and their children. At a meeting between UNHCR and ministers from the Economic Community of West African States, the government committed itself to assisting all Mauritanian refugees who wished to integrate locally with a declaration of intention to facilitate their naturalization. In 2015 the government issued birth certificates to nearly 8,000 refugee children born in the country as part of its commitment to facilitate local integration for Afro-Mauritanian refugees, allowing them to access public services, sign employment contracts, buy and sell land, set up companies, and borrow from banks.

As of September 30, UNHCR estimated there were 138,404 Malian refugees registered in neighboring Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. New refugee arrivals continued to increase throughout the year due to the conflict and violence in Mali. Despite security challenges, the government reported 74,205 Malian refugees had returned to Mali from neighboring countries as of September 30.

Temporary Protection: The government’s Office of International Migration is responsible for providing temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The National Commission for Refugees adjudicates refugee or asylum claims and provides temporary protection pending a decision on whether to grant asylum.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) won the presidential election, which was deemed to have met minimum acceptable standards by international observers despite some irregularities and limited violence. One woman was among the 24 candidates who participated in the first round of elections, which were followed by a run-off election between the top two candidates.

The electoral campaign was strongly affected by security conditions in the central and northern regions. Restricted freedom of movement, logistical challenges, and financial limitations prevented many opposition candidates from campaigning in much of the Center and North, while government officials continued to travel to and administer programs in those areas.

Public media coverage of all candidates was generally equal and met standards outlined by the National Committee for Equal Access to State Media. The state media, however, favored the incumbent IBK by covering his actions as a candidate, as president, and of the government and did not cover opposition candidates.

Security incidents and inaccessibility (mostly due to roads washed out after heavy rains) affected 490 polling stations, 2.1 percent of the total, during the runoff vote, according to an August 2018 statement from the Minister of Security and Civil Protection, General Salif Traore. This was down from 869 polling stations or 3.77 percent of all stations affected in the first round of voting in July 2018. Of the 490 closed polling stations nationwide, 440 were in Mopti Region, according to Traore. He reported that 100 of the 440 closed stations in Mopti were unable to open due to lack of accessibility. Voter turnout was 43 percent for the first round of elections and 34.5 percent for the second round.

Legislative elections, originally scheduled to be held in October 2018, were delayed until at least May 2020 after an initial six-month government delay was followed by another one-year extension of the current deputies’ mandate.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation in formal and informal roles. A law passed in 2015 requires that at least 30 percent of the slots on party election lists be reserved for female candidates and that 30 percent of high-level government appointees be women. The law was fully implemented in President Keita’s first cabinet of his second term, in which 11 of 32 ministers were women. In the second cabinet, formed in April, eight of the 38 ministers were women. There were only 14 women in the 147-member National Assembly. There were three women on the 62-member Supreme Court and two women on the nine-member Constitutional Court, including the head of the court.

The National Assembly had at least eight members from historically marginalized pastoralist and nomadic ethnic minorities representing the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. The prime minister’s cabinet included one nomadic ethnic minority member.

Four members of the National Assembly were members of northern armed groups, including two Tuaregs from Kidal associated with the HCUA, one Tuareg from Kidal associated with GATIA, and one member from Gao associated with the MAA. National Assembly members previously allied with Ansar Dine ended their association with the group following the French intervention in 2013.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Corruption in all sectors of the administration was widespread. Authorities did not hold police accountable for corruption. Officials, police, and gendarmes frequently extorted bribes. There were reports of uniformed police or individuals dressed as police directing stopped motorists to drive to dark and isolated locations where they robbed the victims.

In July the general auditor of Mali released its 2018 report on government and public institution waste, fraud, and abuse. The airport of Mali and the office of the mayor of the rural commune of Baguineda were investigated. These two agencies were reported to have lost 2.12 billion CFA (more than five million dollars) in taxpayers’ money in 2018.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires the president, prime minister, and other cabinet members to submit annually a financial statement and written declaration of their net worth to the Supreme Court. The Court of Accounts, a section within the Supreme Court, is responsible for monitoring and verifying financial disclosures. There are no sanctions for noncompliance. The Court of Accounts requires officials to identify all their assets and liabilities when they start and complete their terms and provide yearly updates throughout their tenure. Officials are not required to submit disclosures for their spouses or children. The Central Office to Fight Illicit Enrichment (OCLEI), the agency responsible for receiving financial disclosures, was operational by year’s end, and more than a thousand officials had filed. In September President Keita submitted his annual financial statement and written declaration of net worth to the Supreme Court. Although the constitution calls for financial filings to be made public, this did not occur.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is an independent institution which receives administrative and budgetary assistance from the Ministry of Justice. The government continued to provide the CNDH with headquarters and staff. The adoption of the 2016 law pertaining to the CNDH and its subsequent implementation, allowed the CNDH to make strides toward fulfilling its mandate. The CNDH became more effective and autonomous. The Ministry of Justice decreased control over the CNDH’s budget and the commission’s large membership included civil society representatives. With improved funding and capacity, the CNDH issued statements on several cases of human rights violations including the Ogossagou massacre and conducted investigations into allegations of abuse. In August the CNDH undertook missions in Diema to facilitate the return of displaced victims of hereditary slavery. It also issued a statement to condemn the practice. The current minister of justice, appointed in May, previously served as the president of the CNDH.

The commission of inquiry established by the National Assembly in 2014 to investigate violence between the government and armed groups in Kidal had not released a public report on its findings by year’s end.

The Ministry of Defense established at least three commissions of inquiry in 2014 to investigate forced disappearances perpetrated by the military in 2012. None of the commissions had released any public reports by year’s end.

The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, created in 2015 to accept evidence, hold hearings, and recommend transitional justice measures for crimes and human rights violations stemming from the 2012 crisis, had not initiated any investigations by year’s end.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides a penalty of five to 20 years’ imprisonment for offenders, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape was a widespread problem. Authorities prosecuted only a small percentage of rape cases since victims seldom reported rapes due to societal pressure, particularly because attackers were frequently close relatives, and due to fear of retaliation. No law specifically prohibits spousal rape, but law enforcement officials stated that criminal laws against rape apply to spousal rape. Police and judicial authorities were willing to pursue rape cases but stopped if parties reached an agreement prior to trial.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, was prevalent. A 2012/2013 gender assessment found a vast majority of women in the country suffered from domestic violence and concluded that 76 percent of women thought it was acceptable for a man to beat a woman for burning food, arguing, going out without telling the man, being negligent with children, or refusing to have sexual intercourse. For example, in Bamako, a man stabbed his wife to death before killing himself in September. In October a woman killed her husband in a Bamako neighborhood in retaliation for his previous violence against her. Spousal abuse is a crime, but the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. According to human rights organizations, most cases went unreported as a result of both cultural taboos and a lack of understanding regarding legal recourse. Assault is punishable by prison terms of one to five years and fines of up to 500,000 CFA francs ($830). If premeditated, it is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Police were often reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence. Many women were reluctant to file complaints against their husbands because they feared their husbands would interpret such allegations as grounds for divorce, were unable to support themselves financially, sought to avoid social stigma, or feared retaliation or further ostracism. The governmental Planning and Statistics Unit, established to track prosecutions, did not produce reliable statistics.

According to the UN’s Panel of Experts’ reporting, the Gender-based Violence Information Management System reported 210 cases of conflict-related sexual violence from January to April, including cases of forced marriage, sexual slavery, castration, forced prostitution, and forced pregnancies.

In its August report, the UN Panel of Experts on Mali reported receiving multiple accounts of female migrants being raped during their journey. For example, on May 19, four armed men intercepted a public transport vehicle traveling from Bamako to Timbuktu near Acharane village, stole all the passengers’ belongings, and gang-raped a 20-year-old woman. On August 31, a group of seven individuals harassed and raped a girl in the Nafadji neighborhood in Bamako. Five of the assailants remained in custody, while two fled and were not captured. The case was under investigation. In October, during the second session of the Court of Assizes, cases related to sexual assault and rape were heard; one rape suspect was convicted and received a 20-year sentence.

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

Parents generally had FGM/C performed on girls between the ages of six months and nine years. The most recent comprehensive FGM/C survey, conducted by UNICEF in 2015, indicated that 83 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 were excised, and 74 percent of girls and women in the same age group had at least one daughter who was excised. Government information campaigns regarding the dangers of FGM/C reached citizens throughout the country where security allowed, and human rights organizations reported decreased incidence of FGM/C among children of educated parents.

For more information, see Appendix C.

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

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

Discrimination: The law does not provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, particularly concerning divorce and inheritance. Women are legally obligated to obey their husbands and are particularly vulnerable in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Women had very limited access to legal services due to their lack of education and information as well as the prohibitive cost. The government effectively enforced the law.

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

Women experienced economic discrimination due to social norms that favored men, and their access to education and employment was limited.

The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, the Family, and Children is responsible for ensuring the legal rights of women.

Children

Per 2018 estimates, 57.9 percent of the population of Mali is under 18 years of age. The UN estimated 1.6 million children were in need of humanitarian assistance. According to UNICEF’s data regarding children, repeated attacks have led to death; gunshot or burn injuries; displacement and separation from families; and exposure to violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence; arrests and detention; and psychological trauma. Hundreds of children were also estimated still to be in armed groups, and more than 900 schools remain closed due to insecurity. Children made up 52 percent of IDPs in the country.

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

The government did not register all births immediately, particularly in rural areas. Some organizations indicated there were insufficient registration sites to accommodate all villages, further exacerbating the low registration rates in certain areas. According to UNICEF, the government registered 81 percent of births in 2014. The government conducted an administrative census in 2014 to collect biometric data and assign a unique identifying number to every citizen. The process allowed the registration of children not registered at birth, although the number of new birth certificates assigned was unknown. During the year several local NGOs worked with foreign partners to register children at birth and to educate parents about the benefits of registration. Birth registration also plays an essential role in protecting children, as well as facilitating their release and reintegration if recruited by armed groups or detained. In August the Malian Red Cross in collaboration with MINUSMA facilitated the registration and issuance of birth certificates of 500 children, aged zero to 14 years, in the Kidal and Tin Essako circles in the north.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free universal education, and the law provides for compulsory schooling of children between the ages of six through 15. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Other factors affecting school enrollment included distance to the nearest school, lack of transportation, shortages of teachers and instructional materials, and lack of school feeding programs. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, a cultural preference to educate boys, the early marriage of girls, and sexual harassment of girls.

The conflict resulted in the closure of schools in the regions of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou, and many schools were damaged or destroyed because rebels sometimes used them as bases of operations. MINUSMA reported at least 10 schools were attacked or targeted. Jihadist groups threatened teachers and communities causing, as of July, the closure of over 900 schools during the 2018-19 school year, up from 657 schools in the same period in 2017-18, affecting more than 270,000 students according to UNICEF. At least 60 percent of closed schools were located in Mopti region. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated that 71 percent of primary school-age boys and 63 percent of primary school-age girls were actually enrolled. This dropped to 32 percent and 26 percent, respectively, for secondary school-age children.

Child Abuse: Comprehensive government statistics on child abuse did not exist, but the problem was widespread. Citizens typically did not report child abuse. In the first half of the year, more than 150 children were killed (twice as many as were killed throughout the entirety of 2018), 75 maimed, 39 detained, and 377,000 were in need of increased protection and assistance because of jihadist attacks or intercommunal violence. MINUSMA also reported an increase in grave violations against children, defined as recruitment or use of children as soldiers, killing and maiming of children, rape and other grave sexual violence, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals, or denial of humanitarian access to children. MINUSMA’s third quarterly report, issued in October, identified 284 cases, up from 145 cases in the prior reporting period. Police and the social services department in the Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action investigated and intervened in some reported cases of child abuse or neglect, but the government provided few services for such children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age to marry without parental consent is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. A 15-year-old girl may marry with parental consent if a civil judge approves. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in rural areas, and underage marriage was a problem throughout the country. Girls were also taken as ‘wives’ for combatants and leaders of armed groups. According to 2017 data from the UN Population Fund, 52 percent of women were married by the age of 18 and 17 percent before the age of 15.

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

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation. Penalties for the sexual exploitation of both adults and children are six months to three years in prison and a fine of between 20,000 and one million CFA francs ($33 and $1,661). Penalties for convicted child traffickers are five to 20 years in prison. Penalties for indecent assault, including child pornography, range from five to 20 years in prison. The country has a statutory rape law that defines 18 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The law, which was inconsistent with the legal minimum marriage age of 15 for girls, was not enforced. Sexual exploitation of children occurred. The Division for Protection of Children and Morals of the National Police conducted sweeps of brothels to assure that individuals in prostitution were of legal age and arrested brothel owners found to be holding underage girls. Between January and April, 60 percent of the more than 1,000 victims of gender-based violence (including rape, sexual assault, and physical and psychosocial violence) were girls.

Child Soldiers: According to UNICEF, at least 99 children were identified as associated with armed groups through the year. While hundreds more were estimated to be affiliated with armed groups, no precise data exists. Children may carry arms and be used in combat or be forced to work with an armed group in its operations, acting as spies, messengers, porters, or cooks or cleaning camps, vehicles, and weapons.

A local NGO in Kidal, Solidarite pour le Sahel, identified and admitted 60 children into its protection center in 2018. This included two girls who had been recruited by signatory armed groups in Tessalit, Aguelhok, and Kidal. Children were used mainly as porters, with girls also serving as cooks.

From April 2017 to August, the National Directorate for the Promotion of Children and the Family registered 86 children associated with armed groups. Of these, 29 were identified in 2017, 24 in 2018, and 33 in 2019. The government and national and international NGOs assisted them all. As of September, three children remained at shelter centers in Bamako, Mopti, and Gao, while all others were reunited with their families. Of the children identified during the year 22 were associated with jihadist groups operating in Mopti region, while three were identified in Kidal, one in Timbuktu, and six in Niger.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Some prostitutes and domestic workers practiced infanticide, mainly due to lack of access to and knowledge about contraception. Authorities prosecuted at least five infanticide cases during the year.

Displaced Children: UNICEF reported that, during the first half of the year, it had united 287 unaccompanied children with their caregivers. In October the DNPEF identified 392 displaced children in three Bamako IDP sites.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were fewer than 50 Jews in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law do not specifically protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or in the provision of other state services. There is no law mandating accessibility to public buildings. While persons with disabilities have access to basic health care, the government did not place a priority on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and few resources were available. Many such individuals relied on begging.

Persons with mental disabilities faced social stigmatization and confinement in public institutions. For cases in which an investigative judge believed a criminal suspect had mental disabilities, the judge referred the individual to a doctor for mental evaluation. Based on the recommendation of the doctor, who sometimes lacked training in psychology, the court then either sent the suspect to a mental institution in Bamako or proceeded with a trial.

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

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

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

There were continued reports of slave masters kidnapping the children of their Bellah slaves, who had no legal recourse. Slaveholders considered slaves and their children as property and reportedly took slave children to raise them elsewhere without permission from their parents. The antislavery organization Temedt organized workshops throughout the country to convince communities to abandon the practice of keeping slaves. In July, due to their refusal to continue slavery practices, more than 2,000 families were displaced and prevented from farming and accessing social services in the areas of Diema, Nioro du Sahel, and Yelimane in the Kayes region. Some of the victims were beaten and mistreated. According to reports, 66 villages decided to force people refusing slavery practices to leave these villages. The CNDH and other human rights organization condemned the situation and called on the government to take action. In March the government issued a statement warning against the practice but took no action to establish punishment for practicing slavery.

In September, two men from the town of Kremis in the Kayes Region were forced to flee to Yelimane after they publicly opposed their social status as descendants of slaves. One of them was tied up and publicly humiliated on the orders of the chief of Kremis before he fled.

Intercommunal violence led to frequent clashes between members of the Fulani or Peuhl ethnic groups and, separately, members of the Bambara and Dogon communities for their alleged support of armed Islamists linked to al-Qa’ida. According to HRW, this tension has given rise to ethnic “self-defense groups” and driven thousands from their homes, diminished livelihoods, and induced widespread hunger. Such groups representing these communities were reportedly involved in several communal attacks. Retaliatory attacks were seemingly more frequent and deadly.

In the Center, violence across community lines escalated. Clashes between the Dogon and Fulani communities were exacerbated by the presence of extremist groups and resulted in the death of a large number of civilians. On March 23, in Ogossagou, Mopti region, a group of armed men, allegedly mainly composed of Dogons, killed at least 157 members of Fulani community–including women and 46 children–during the deadliest Malian massacre since 2012. An additional 65 civilians were reported injured and 95 percent of the village burned. As of May, at least 10 suspects had been arrested and a criminal investigation was opened before the Specialized Judicial Unit to Combat Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime.

On June 10, clashes between Dogon hunters and Fulani herders in Sobane Da, Bandiagara Region, a Dogon village, resulted in at least 35 deaths–including children–of members of the Dogon community.

In another example, on August 10, unidentified gunmen attacked the village of Donkono, in the circle of Bankass, Mopti region, killing two civilians, wounding several others, and burning numerous houses.

According to HRW’s December 2018 report, in 2018 there were at least 26 separate attacks against Fulani villages (allegedly by Bambara and Dogon self-defense groups) with at least 156 civilians killed. The report further indicated at least 50 Fulani villagers, including children, remained missing. Similarly, 45 Dogon villagers were killed during 16 attacks allegedly carried out by Islamist armed groups backed by Fulani self-defense groups.

According to MINUSMA’s latest quarterly report, issued in October, there were 331 incidents in which 367 civilians were killed and 221 injured, as well as 63 reported abductions of civilians, compared with the previous period, which registered 245 incidents, 333 civilian fatalities, 175 injuries, and 145 abductions. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported in July that intercommunal conflict in the North, Center, and South had resulted in a level of displacement not seen since 2014. Displacement was estimated at 187,139 individuals, with at least 28,000 new IDPs between May and June–more than double the number recorded in the same period in 2018. A June report stated that during the first six months of the year, nearly 50,000 IDPs fleeing intercommunal violence had been registered in Mopti, Sevare, and Fotama in central Mali, 2,000 of them resulting from the Ogossagou massacre.

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

The law prohibits association “for an immoral purpose.” There are no laws specifically prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

NGOs reported LGBTI individuals experienced physical, psychological, and sexual violence, which society viewed as “corrective” punishment. Family members, neighbors, and groups of strangers in public places committed the majority of violent acts, and police frequently refused to intervene. Most LGBTI individuals isolated themselves and kept their sexual orientation or gender identity hidden. An NGO reported that LGBTI individuals frequently dropped out of school, left their places of employment, and did not seek medical treatment to hide their sexual identity and avoid social stigmatization.

There were no known LGBTI organizations in the country, although some NGOs had medical and support programs focusing specifically on men having sex with men.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS occurred. The government implemented campaigns to increase awareness of the condition and reduce discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Discrimination continued against persons with albinism. Some traditional religious leaders perpetuated the widespread belief that such persons possessed special powers that others could extract by bringing a traditional spiritual leader the blood or head of one. For example, in October a group of people, including the husband, killed an albino pregnant woman in Kita on the orders of a traditional spiritual leader. Two of the perpetrators were arrested. At year’s end, the case remained under investigation at the Kita high instance tribunal. In November 2018 a Malian singer-songwriter and albino activist, Salif Keita, assembled an international forum on protecting albino persons in Africa and dedicated a benefit concert to a five-year-old albino girl who was kidnapped, tortured, and killed in the country in May 2018. Keita noted that men often divorced their wives for giving birth to a child with albinism. Lack of understanding of the condition contributed to such persons’ lack of access to sunblock, without which they were highly susceptible to skin cancer. Keita founded the Salif Keita Global Foundation in 2006, which provided free health care to persons with albinism, advocated for their protection, and provided education to help end their abuse.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Workers, except members of the armed forces, have the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. There are restrictions imposed on the exercise of these rights. The law provides that workers must be employed in the same profession before they may form a union. A worker may remain a member of a trade union only for a year after leaving the relevant function or profession. Members responsible for the administration or management of a union must reside in the country and be free of any convictions that could suspend their right to vote in national elections. The process is cumbersome and time-consuming, and the government may deny trade union registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds.

The minister of labor and public service has the sole authority to decide which union is representative for sectoral collective bargaining and to approve sectoral collective agreements. Employers have the discretionary right to refuse to bargain with representatives of trade unions. The law allows all types of strikes and prohibits retribution against strikers. Unions must exhaust the mandatory conciliation and arbitration procedures set out in the labor code in order to strike legally. Regulations require civil servants and workers in state-owned enterprises to give two weeks’ notice of a planned strike and to enter into mediation and negotiations with the employer and a third party, usually the Ministry of Labor and Public Service. The law does not allow workers in “essential services” sectors to strike, and the minister of labor can order compulsory arbitration for such workers. The law defines “essential services” as services whose interruption would endanger the lives, personal safety, or health of persons; affect the normal operation of the national economy; or affect a vital industrial sector. For example, the law requires striking police to maintain a minimum presence in headquarters and on the street. The government, however, has not identified a list of essential services. Participation in an illegal strike is punishable by harsh penalties, including dismissal and loss of other rights except wages and leave. Civil servants exercised the right to strike during the year.

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

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

Although unions and worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties, they were closely aligned with various political parties or coalitions. The Ministry of Mines intervened to facilitate negotiations between labor and management over the closure of the Morila gold mine. Officials have not renegotiated some collective agreements since 1956.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Forced labor occurred. The law prohibits the contractual use of persons without their consent, and penalties include fines and imprisonment with compulsory hard labor. Penalties can double if a person younger than 15 is involved. Penalties were seldom enforced and therefore were not sufficient to deter violations. According to NGOs, the judiciary was reluctant to act in forced labor cases. The government made little effort during the year to prevent or eliminate forced labor, although it did allocate initial funding to its antitrafficking action plan. A government commission has conducted an inventory of mercury in artisanal gold mines, mapped artisanal gold mines in the auriferous regions of Kayes, Koulikoro, and Sikasso, and created a professional identification card for artisanal gold miners. On September 17, a man in the town of Kremis was publicly assaulted for his opposition to hereditary slavery.

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

The salt mines of Taoudeni in the North subjected men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, to a longstanding practice of debt bondage. Employers subjected many black Tuaregs to forced labor and hereditary slavery, particularly in the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal (see section 6).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor law sets the minimum employment age at 15. No child may work more than eight hours per day under any circumstance. The government prohibits some of the worst forms of child labor. The government’s Hazardous Occupations List prohibits certain activities by children younger than 18. Girls between the ages of 6 and 18 may not work more than six hours per day. The law applies to all children, including those who work in the informal economy and those who are self-employed. Gaps exist in the country’s legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor, and the law does not meet international standards as related to the prohibition of forced labor, the prohibition against using children in illicit activities, and the prohibition of military recruitment by nonstate armed groups.

Responsibility for enforcing child labor laws is shared between the Ministry for the Promotion of Children and Women through the National Committee to Monitor the Fight against Child Labor; the Ministry of Justice through different courts; the Ministry of Security through the Morals and Children’s Brigade of the National Police; the National Social Security Institute through its health service; and the Ministry of Labor and Public Service through the Labor Inspectorate. Interagency coordinating mechanisms were ineffective, inefficient, and cumbersome. Authorities often ignored child labor laws or did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate, and the penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations.

Child labor, particularly in its worst forms, was a serious problem. Child labor was concentrated in the agricultural sector, especially rice and cotton production, domestic services, gold mining, forced begging organized by Quranic schools, and other sectors of the informal economy.

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

Child labor in artisanal gold mining was a serious problem. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, at least 20,000 children worked under extremely harsh and hazardous conditions in artisanal gold mines. Many children also worked with mercury, a toxic substance used in separating gold from its ore.

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

The Ministry of Labor and Public Service conducted few surprise or complaint-based inspections. Insufficient personnel, low salaries, and lack of other resources hampered enforcement in the informal sector. Prosecutors in Bamako had several pending investigations of potential abuse charges against marabouts who used children solely for economic purposes.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and ethnicity (see section 6). The government was the major formal-sector employer and ostensibly paid women the same as men for similar work, but differences in job descriptions permitted pay inequality. There were cases where employers from southern ethnic groups discriminated against individuals from northern ethnic groups.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The official minimum wage allows one to live above the World Bank’s poverty line. Minimum wage requirements did not apply to workers in the informal and subsistence sectors, which included the majority of workers. The government supplemented the minimum wage with a required package of benefits, including social security and health care. In January 2018 the government increased the salaries of public sector workers after coming to a collective bargaining agreement with the largest national workers’ union, the National Workers’ Union of Mali. In August 2018 banks and insurance companies also increased their employees’ salaries.

The legal workweek is 40 hours, except for the agricultural sector, where the legal workweek ranges from 42 to 48 hours, depending on the season. The law requires a weekly 24-hour rest period, and employers must pay workers overtime for additional hours. The law limits overtime to eight hours per week. The law applies to all workers, including migrants and domestics, but it was routinely ignored in the informal sector, which included an estimated 87 percent of workers.

The law provides for a broad range of occupational safety and health standards in the workplace. Workers have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment and to request an investigation by the Social Security Department, which is responsible for recommending remedial action where deemed necessary. Authorities, however, did not effectively protect employees in these situations. With high unemployment, workers often were reluctant to report violations of occupational safety regulations.

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

Working conditions varied, but the worst conditions were in the private sector. In small, family-based agricultural endeavors, children worked for little or no remuneration. Employers paid some domestic workers as little as 7,500 CFA francs ($14) per month. Violations of overtime laws were common for children working in cities and those working in artisanal gold mines or rice and cotton fields. Labor organizations reported employers used cyanide and mercury in gold mines, posing a public health risk to workers exposed to them. Inspectors lacked the resources to assemble credible data on dangerous workplaces.

Syria

Executive Summary

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

The regime’s multiple security branches traditionally operated autonomously with no defined boundaries between their areas of jurisdiction. Military Intelligence and Air Force Intelligence reported to the Ministry of Defense, the Political Security Directorate reported to the Ministry of Interior, and the General Intelligence Directorate reported directly to the Office of the President. The Interior Ministry controlled the four separate divisions of police. Regime-affiliated militia, such as the National Defense Forces (NDF), integrated with other regime-affiliated forces and performed similar roles without defined jurisdiction. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the uniformed military, police, and state security forces but possessed limited influence over foreign and domestic military or paramilitary organizations operating in the country, including Russian armed forces, Iran-affiliated Lebanese Hizballah, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and nonuniformed proregime militias, such as the NDF.

Regime and proregime forces launched major aerial and ground offensives in April to recapture areas of northwest Syria, killing thousands of civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands more to flee. In December these forces launched another large-scale assault. The April assault, involving the use of heavy weapons and chemical weapons, and the December assault that involved heavy weapons, devastated the civilian infrastructure in the affected areas and exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation. Syrian and Russian airstrikes repeatedly struck civilian sites, including hospitals, markets, schools, and farms, many of which were included in UN deconfliction lists. As of December the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported there were 6.2 million internally displaced Syrians, 2.5 million of whom were children, and more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR.

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

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

Regime-linked paramilitary groups reportedly engaged in frequent violations and abuses, including massacres, indiscriminate killings, kidnapping civilians, extreme physical abuse, including sexual violence, and detentions. Regime-affiliated militias, including Hizballah, repeatedly targeted civilians.

Russian forces were implicated in the deaths of civilians resulting from airstrikes characterized as indiscriminate and resulting in the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure, particularly during support of the regime’s military campaign in northwest Syria. These airstrikes destroyed hospitals, shelters, markets, homes, and other integral civilian facilities, damaging medical supplies and equipment and shutting down vital health care networks, and followed a well-documented pattern of attacks with serious and deleterious humanitarian and civilian impacts.

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

Armed terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), committed a wide range of abuses, including massacres, unlawful killings, bombings, and kidnappings; unlawful detention; extreme physical abuse; and forced evacuations from homes based on sectarian identity. Despite the territorial defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in March, ISIS continued to carry out unlawful killings, bombings, and kidnappings, attack members of religious minority groups, and subject women and girls to routine rape, forced marriages, and sex trafficking.

Elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and other minorities that included members of the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG), reportedly engaged in acts of corruption, unlawful restriction of the movement of persons, and arbitrary arrest of civilians, as well as attacks resulting in civilian casualties.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Although the law provides for the “right to access information about public affairs” and bans “the arrest, questioning, or searching of journalists,” press and media restrictions outweighed freedoms. The law contains many restrictions on freedom of expression for the press, including provisions criminalizing, for example, the dissemination of false or exaggerated news that “weakens the spirit of the Nation” or the broadcasting abroad of false or exaggerated news that “tarnishes” the country’s reputation. The law bars publication of content that affects “national unity and national security,” harms state symbols, defames religions, or incites sectarian strife or “hate crimes.” The law further forbids publication of any information about the armed forces.

The regime continued to exercise extensive control over local print and broadcast media, and the law imposes strict punishment for reporters who do not reveal their sources in response to regime requests. Freedom House reported that only a few dozen print publications remained in circulation, reduced from several hundred prior to the conflict. A number of quasi-independent periodicals, usually owned and produced by individuals with regime connections, published during the year. Books critical of the regime were illegal.

The regime owned some radio stations and most local television companies, and the Ministry of Information closely monitored all radio and television news broadcasts and entertainment programs for adherence to regime policies. Despite restrictions on ownership and use, citizens widely used satellite dishes, although the regime jammed some Arab networks.

Violence and Harassment: Regime forces reportedly detained, arrested, and harassed journalists and other writers for works deemed critical of the state as well as journalists associated with networks favorable to the regime. Harassment included intimidation, banning individuals from the country, dismissing journalists from their positions, and ignoring requests for continued accreditation. According to reliable NGO reports, the regime routinely arrested journalists who were either associated with or writing in favor of the opposition and instigated attacks against foreign press outlets throughout the country. The SNHR reported that authorities in February arrested Ahmad Orabi, who worked as a news correspondent for al Ayyam newspaper and Ana Press, despite having previously signed a reconciliation agreement with the regime. In January a U.S. federal court found the regime had perpetrated targeted murder to intimidate journalists, inhibit newsgathering and the dissemination of information, and suppress dissent, and found it liable for the 2012 death of American journalist Marie Colvin. The court ordered the regime to pay $302 million in punitive damages, which it has not paid.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that 26 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants remained imprisoned, although it did not specify by whom, and the CPJ reported that at least five journalists remained missing or held hostage as of November. The reason for arrests was often unclear. RSF reported that at least 25 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants died in regime detention between 2011 and October. For example, in July the CPJ reported that a prison official informed the family of Alaa Nayef al-Khader al-Khalidi in July that the photojournalist died due to torture while in regime custody at Sedayna Prison.

The regime and ISIS routinely targeted and killed both local and foreign journalists, according to the COI, the CPJ, and RSF. The CPJ estimated that 129 journalists were killed since 2011, while RSF estimated more than 260 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants were killed during the same period. The CPJ attributed more than half of journalist deaths between 2011 and 2017 to regime and proregime forces.

During the year the CPJ, RSF, and the SNHR documented the deaths of six journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants. Anas Al-Dyab was killed in a Russian airstrike while documenting the bombardment of Khan Sheikhoun; Amjad Hassan Bakir was killed when a missile struck the Free Idlib Army vehicle in which he was riding as an embedded journalist covering the regime’s offensive in Idlib Governorate; Mohammad Jomaa was killed by a mine in Deir Ezzour in an area that had recently been retaken by the SDF; and Omar Al-Dimashqi was killed by the explosion of an IED placed under his car by an unidentified attacker.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The regime continued to strictly control the dissemination of information, including on developments regarding fighting between the regime and the armed opposition, and prohibited most criticism of the regime and discussion of sectarian problems, including religious and ethnic minority rights. The Ministries of Information and Culture censored domestic and foreign publications prior to circulation or importation, including through the General Corporation for the Distribution of Publications, and prevented circulation of content determined critical or sensitive. The regime prohibited publication or distribution of any material security officials deemed threatening or embarrassing to the regime. Censorship was usually more stringent for materials in Arabic.

Local journalists reported they engaged in extensive self-censorship on subjects such as criticism of the president and his family, the security services, or Alawite religious groups.

RSF reported journalists fled the advance of regime troops, fearing imprisonment as soon as the regime controlled the entire province they were in. RSF assessed that the regime’s persecution of journalists for more than eight years justified their fears, especially as many of them covered the uprising since the outset, helped to document the regime’s human rights violations, and risked severe reprisals if identified with the opposition.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel, slander, insult, defamation, and blasphemy, and the regime continued to use such provisions to restrict public discussion and to detain, arrest, and imprison journalists perceived to have opposed the regime.

National Security: The regime regularly cited laws protecting national security to restrict media criticism of regime policies or public officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: According to Freedom House, media freedom varied in territory held by armed opposition groups, but local outlets were typically under heavy pressure to support the dominant militant faction. The CPJ and RSF reported that extremist opposition groups, such as the HTS, detained and tortured journalists (see section 1.g.) and posed a serious threat to press and media freedoms. The CPJ reported that four members of the HTS abducted Syrian reporter Ahmed Rahal, a reporter for the Syrian pro-civil rights news website Al-Dorar al-Sahmia, after raiding his home in September. The SNHR reported that the family of Samer Saleh al Salloum, an activist responsible for the printing and distribution of al Gherbal political magazine and Zawrak children’s magazine, was informed in August that he had reportedly been executed in detention by the HTS in April.

In July the CPJ reported that the HTS arbitrarily detained Jumaa Haj Hamdou, a reporter for the Syrian pro-civil rights opposition news website Zaman al-Wasl, at his home in western Aleppo. He was not charged and was released after six days. Fathi Ibrahim Bayoud, the editor in chief of Zaman al-Wasl, told the CPJ he believed Hamdou was detained because of his reporting.

Internet Freedom

The regime controlled and restricted access to the internet and monitored email and social media accounts. In Freedom House’s 2019 Freedom on the Net Report, the country remained a dangerous and repressive environment for internet users. Individuals and groups could not express views via the internet, including by email, without prospect of reprisal. The regime applied the law to regulate internet use and prosecute users. The anticybercrime law (also referred to as Law No. 9) increases penalties for cybercrimes, including those affecting the freedom of expression, remained in place. It also mandates the creation of specialized courts and delegates specialized jurists for the prosecution of cybercrimes in every governorate. RSF asserted the law served as a tool for the regime to threaten online freedom. As of late in the year, at least 14 citizen journalists remained imprisoned by the regime, many on charges related to their digital activism. Hackers linked to Iran continued cyberattacks against Syrian opposition groups to disrupt reporting on human rights violations.

The regime interfered with and blocked internet service, text messages, and two-step verification messages for password recovery or account activation. The regime employed sophisticated technologies and hundreds of computer specialists for filtering and surveillance purposes, such as monitoring email and social media accounts of detainees, activists, and others. The regime did not attempt to restrict the security branches’ monitoring and censoring of the internet. The security branches were largely responsible for restricting internet freedom and access; internet blackouts often coincided with security force attacks. The regime censored websites related to the opposition, including the websites of local coordination committees as well as media outlets.

The regime also restricted or prohibited internet access in areas under siege. Regime officials obstructed connectivity through their control of key infrastructure, at times shutting the internet and mobile telephone networks entirely or at particular sites of unrest. There was generally little access to state-run internet service in besieged areas unless users could capture signals clandestinely from rooftops near regime-controlled areas. Some towns in opposition-held areas had limited internet access via satellite connections. Some activists reportedly gained access independently to satellite internet or through second- and third-generation (2G and 3G) cellular telephone network coverage.

The regime expanded its efforts to use social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, to spread proregime propaganda and manipulate online content. Regime authorities routinely tortured and beat journalists to extract passwords for social media sites, and the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group of proregime computer hackers, frequently launched cyberattacks on websites to disable them and post proregime material. In addition to promoting hacking and conducting surveillance, the regime and groups it supported, such as the SEA, reportedly planted malware to target human rights activists, opposition members, and journalists. Local human rights groups blamed regime personnel for instances in which malware infected activists’ computers. Arbitrary arrests raised fears that authorities could arrest internet users at any time for online activities perceived to threaten the regime’s control, such as posting on a blog, tweeting, commenting on Facebook, sharing a photograph, or uploading a video.

Observers also accused the SEA of slowing internet access to force self-censorship on regime critics and diverting email traffic to regime servers for surveillance.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The regime restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities generally did not permit academic personnel to express ideas contrary to regime policy. Authorities reportedly dismissed or imprisoned university professors in regime-held areas for expressing dissent and killed some for supporting regime opponents. Combatants on all sides of the war attacked or commandeered schools. The Ministry of Culture restricted and banned the screening of certain films.

During the conflict students, particularly those residing in opposition-held areas, continued to face challenges in taking nationwide exams. For example, school districts in Dar’a were affected by the influx of new pupils to the governorate due to hostilities, forcing many schools to hire unqualified staff and begin operating in shifts to accommodate all the pupils. The COI reported that thousands of students had to repeat classes and retake examinations as a result. Areas liberated by the SDF from ISIS reopened local schools. In Raqqa city and the surrounding rural regions, more than 130,000 students returned to classes in 322 refurbished buildings and schools previously used or destroyed by ISIS. Many school buildings required extensive repairs, sometimes including clearance of explosive remnants of the war, and administrators required assistance to obtain basic supplies for learning.

The SDF also reportedly imposed penalties for SDF and school administration staff members who enrolled their children in schools that did not use their curriculum.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The regime limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, but the law grants the government broad powers to restrict this freedom.

The Ministry of Interior requires permission for demonstrations or any public gathering of more than three persons. As a rule the ministry authorized only demonstrations by the regime, affiliated groups, or the Baath Party, orchestrating them on numerous occasions.

According to allegations by Kurdish activists and press reporting, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the YPG sometimes suppressed freedom of assembly in areas under their control. Throughout the year inhabitants in Deir Ezzor protested against alleged corruption by SDF officials, lack of access to basic services, reports of forced conscription of youths into the SDF, and lack of information on the status of men and boys detained by the SDF due to suspected affiliations to ISIS following the coalition offensive to liberate Baghuz from ISIS control. Protests generally occurred throughout northeast Syria on a variety of issues without interference from local authorities.

During the year multiple media outlets reported that the HTS increased its repression of civil society activity in August due to widespread protests held in opposition to the group. The SNHR reported that the HTS arrested approximately 182 persons as of August, among them political and media activists, 45 of whom reportedly died in detention.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the freedom of association, but the law grants the regime latitude to restrict this freedom. The regime required prior registration and approval for private associations and restricted the activities of associations and their members. The executive boards of professional associations were not independent of the regime.

The regime often denied requests for registration or failed to act on them, reportedly on political grounds. None of the local human rights organizations operated with a license, but many functioned under organizations that had requisite government registration. The regime continued to block the multiyear effort by journalists to register a countrywide media association. Despite regime efforts, journalists in exile founded the Syrian Journalist Association as an independent democratic professional association in 2012 to empower the role of freedom of the press and expression.

The regime selectively enforced the 2011 decree allowing the establishment of independent political parties, permitting only proregime groups to form official parties (see section 3). According to local human rights groups, opposition activists declined to organize parties, fearing the regime would use party lists to target opposition members.

Under laws that criminalize membership and activity in illegal organizations as determined by the regime, security forces detained hundreds of persons linked to local human rights groups and prodemocracy student groups. The death notices released by the regime shed light on this practice. For example, HRW described the forcible disappearance by the regime during the year of many young protest organizers, civil society leaders, and local coordination committee members. This included Sahar, a community leader and head of the Women’s Affairs Bureau in Daraa, who was detained without cause at a local checkpoint. In several cases documented by HRW, intelligence branches either arrested or repeatedly harassed relatives of civil society activists and people who fled the country to gain information about their wanted family members or force them to return.

The HTS restricted the activities of organizations it deemed incompatible with its interpretation of Islam. HTS forces detained Munawir Hamdeen, a relief worker at the Big Heart organization in Idlib, after severely beating him at his home in 2016. After five months of detention, Hamdeen pleaded guilty to the charge of adultery and was held in detention until August, when his body was found outside the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets) center in Idlib.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of movement “within the territories of the state unless restricted by a judicial decision or by the implementation of laws,” but the regime, ISIS, and other armed groups restricted internal movement and travel and instituted security checkpoints to monitor such travel throughout the regions under their respective control. Regime sieges in Idlib Governorate restricted freedom of movement and resulted in documented cases of death, starvation, and severe malnutrition, while forced evacuations following sieges resulted in mass displacement and additional breakdowns in service provision and humanitarian assistance (see section 1.g.).

In-country Movement: In regime-besieged cities throughout the country, regime forces blocked humanitarian access, leading to severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care, and death. The violence, coupled with significant cultural pressure, severely restricted the movement of women in many areas. Additionally, the law allows certain male relatives to place travel bans on women.

The regime expanded security checkpoints into civilian areas to monitor and limit movement. Regime forces reportedly used snipers to prevent protests, enforce curfews, target opposition forces, and, in some cases, prevent civilians from fleeing besieged towns. The regime also barred foreign diplomats from visiting most parts of the country and rarely granted them permission to travel outside Damascus. The consistently high level and unpredictability of violence severely restricted movement throughout the country.

In areas they still controlled, armed opposition groups and terrorist groups, such as the HTS, also restricted movement, including with checkpoints (see section 1.g.). The COI reported in September it had received accounts of harassment, including of women, arbitrary arrest, unlawful search and seizure of property, and demands for bribes at checkpoints administered by the HTS and other armed actors.

While the Syrian Democratic Council and the SDF generally supported IDP communities in northeast Syria, in July HRW reported that the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria was restricting the movement of more than 11,000 foreign women and children suspected to be affiliated with ISIS in a separate section of the al-Hol IDP Camp. The UN secretary-general also released a report on children and armed conflict stating that 1,248 children of 46 nationalities were deprived of their liberty to move freely by the SDF due to their actual or alleged association with ISIS.

Until the territorial defeat of ISIS in March, ISIS restricted the movement in areas under its control of regime supporters or assumed supporters, especially the Alawite and Shia populations, as well as Yezidi, Christian, and other captives. The Free Yezidi Foundation further reported that Yezidis were held against their will by ISIS. ISIS reportedly did not permit female passengers to traverse territory it controlled unless accompanied by a close male relative.

Foreign Travel: While citizens have the right to travel internationally, the regime denied passports and other vital documents, based on the applicant’s political views, association with opposition groups, or ties to geographic areas where the opposition dominated. The regime also imposed exit visa requirements and routinely closed the Damascus airport and border crossings, claiming the closures were due to violence or threats of violence. Additionally, the regime often banned travel by human rights or civil society activists, their families, and affiliates. Many citizens reportedly learned of the ban against their travel only when authorities prevented them from departing the country. The regime reportedly applied travel bans without explanation or explicit duration, including in cases when individuals sought to travel for health reasons. The regime comprehensively banned international travel of opposition members, often targeting any such individual who attempted to travel. Local media and human rights groups repeatedly stated that opposition activists and their families hesitated to leave the country, fearing attacks at airports and border crossings.

The regime also often refused to allow citizens to return. According to several media outlets, Richard Kouyoumjian, Lebanon’s minister of social affairs, stated in March that the regime accepted less than 20 percent of the refugees who attempted to return to the country from Lebanon.

Syrians born abroad to parents who fled the conflict and remained in refugee camps generally did not have access to Syrian citizenship documents. The regime allowed Syrians living outside of the country whose passports had expired to renew their passports at consulates. Many who fled as refugees, however, feared reporting to the regime against which they may have protested or feared the regime could direct reprisals against family members still in the country.

Women older than 18 have the legal right to travel without the permission of male relatives, but a husband may file a request with the Interior Ministry to prohibit his wife from departing the country.

f. Protection of Refugees

UNHCR maintained that conditions for refugee return to the country in safety and dignity were not yet in place and did not promote, nor facilitate, the return of refugees to the country during the year. Throughout the year, however, the regime and Russia maintained a diplomatic campaign to encourage the return of refugees to Syria. While Russia reportedly was eager to use the return of Syrian refugees as a means to secure international donations for Syria reconstruction efforts, the regime adopted a more cautious approach on promoting the return of refugees, reportedly due to its suspicion that many Syrian refugees supported the opposition.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The regime inconsistently cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The regime provided some cooperation to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Both regime and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths.

Both regime and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the regime has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR and UNRWA were able to maintain limited protection areas for refugees and asylum seekers, although violence hampered access to vulnerable populations. In coordination with both local and international NGOs, the United Nations continued to provide such individuals essential services and assistance.

Employment: The law does not explicitly grant refugees, except for Palestinians, the right to work. While the regime rarely granted non-Palestinian refugees a work permit, many refugees found work in the informal sector as guards, construction workers, street vendors, and in other manual jobs.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows for the issuance of identity cards to Palestinian refugees and the same access to basic services provided to citizens. The regime also allowed Iraqi refugees access to publicly available services, such as health care and education, but residency permits were available only to those refugees who entered the country legally and possessed a valid passport, which did not include all refugees. The lack of access to residency permits issued by authorities exposed refugees to risks of harassment and exploitation and severely affected their access to public services. The approximately 45,000 non-Palestinian refugees and asylum seekers in the country faced growing protection risks, multiple displacements, tightened security procedures at checkpoints, and difficulty obtaining required residency permits, all of which resulted in restrictions on their freedom of movement. The COI reported a rise in sexual- and gender-based violence and child-protection concerns among refugees, including child labor, school dropouts, and early marriages.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, citizens were not able to exercise that ability. Outcomes reflected underlying circumstances of elections that impeded and coerced the will of the electorate.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Municipal elections were held in September 2018 with approximately 40,000 candidates vying for more than 18,000 council seats in areas controlled by the regime. According to media outlets, opposition figures claimed a low turnout because most citizens considered the elections to be of limited value. Opposition sources, according to online media outlet Al-Monitor, alleged the regime forced civil servants to cast their votes. Multiple reports indicated the regime denied access to ballot boxes to voters residing in Daraa Province, which the regime brought under its control earlier in the year following a military offensive. According to observers the results were rigged in favor of the ruling Baath Party. Most of the candidates were either from the Baath Party or associated with it.

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

In 2017 Kurdish authorities held elections for leaders of local “communes” in an effort to establish new governing institutions to augment regional autonomy. The regime does not recognize the Kurdish enclave or the elections. The Kurdish National Council (KNC, a rival to the PYD) called for a boycott, terming the elections “a flagrant violation of the will of the Kurdish people.” Media outlets reported the election was monitored by a small group of foreign experts, including a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which runs the Kurdish Regional Government in neighboring Iraq.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides that the Baath Party is the ruling party and assures that it has a majority in all government and popular associations, such as workers’ and women’s groups. The Baath Party and nine smaller satellite political parties constituted the coalition National Progressive Front. The Baath-led National Progressive Front dominated the 250-member People’s Council, holding 200 of the 250 parliament seats following the 2016 election. A 2011 decree allows for the establishment of additional political parties but forbids those based on religion, tribal affiliation, or regional interests.

Membership in the Baath Party or close familial relationships with a prominent party member or powerful regime official assisted in economic, social, and educational advancement. Party or regime connections made it easier to gain admission to better schools, access lucrative employment, and achieve greater advancement and power within the government, military, and security services. The regime reserved certain prominent positions, such as provincial governorships, solely for Baath Party members.

The regime showed little tolerance for other political parties, including those allied with the Baath Party in the National Progressive Front. The regime harassed parties, such as the Communist Union Movement, Communist Action Party, and Arab Social Union. Police arrested members of banned Islamist parties, including Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria. Reliable data on illegal political parties was unavailable.

The PYD generally controlled the political and governance landscape in northeast Syria while allowing for Arab representation in local governance councils. The PYD, however, maintained overall control of critical decisions made by local councils. PYD-affiliated internal security forces at times reportedly detained and forcibly disappeared perceived opponents.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Although there were no formal restrictions, cultural and social barriers largely excluded women from decision-making positions. The regime formed after the 2014 election included three female members: Vice President Najah al-Attar, Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Nazira Serkis, and Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Rima al-Qadiri. Thirteen percent of the members of parliament elected in 2016 were women. There were Christian, Druze, and Kurdish members of parliament. In 2017 Hammouda Sabbagh became the first Orthodox Christian to be elected speaker of parliament. Alawites, the ruling religious minority, held greater political power in the cabinet than other minorities as well as more authority than the majority Sunni sect did.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the regime did not implement the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of regime corruption during the year. Corruption continued to be a pervasive problem in police forces, security services, migration management agencies, and throughout the regime.

Corruption: Due to the lack of free press and opposition access to instruments of government and media, there was almost no detailed information about corruption, except petty corruption. Freedom House reported that to secure its support base, the regime regularly distributed patronage in the form of public resources and implemented policies to benefit favored industries and companies. Authorities reportedly awarded government contracts and trade deals to allies such as Iran and Russia, possibly as compensation for political and military aid. Basic state services and humanitarian aid reportedly were extended or withheld based on a community’s demonstrated political loyalty to the regime, providing additional leverage for bribe-seeking officials.

For example, President Bashar Assad’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, reportedly was known as “Mr. 5 Percent” or “Mr. 10 Percent,” depending on the size of the deal. As late as 2011, Makhlouf reportedly controlled 60 percent of the country’s economy. The Panama Papers, Swissleaks, and most recently the Paradise Papers chronicled his money-laundering and sanctions-busting activities (see section 1.e., Property Restitution).

Human rights lawyers and family members of detainees stated that regime officials in courts and prisons solicited bribes for favorable decisions and provision of basic services. In a December report, PHR provided the account of Dr. Youssef, a Syrian surgeon arrested on charges of providing “support to terrorists” for offering medical services to protesters who were shot by regime intelligence forces. Youssef was subjected to extensive torture in regime detention and only released after his family bribed regime authorities.

NGOs reported instances of elements affiliated with the SDF engaging in acts of corruption in northeast Syria. The SNHR reported increasing levels of corruption by civil councils in Deir Ezzour, comprised predominantly of SDF officials in northeast Syria, resulting in the unequal distribution of humanitarian assistance to family members of SDF officials and those willing to pay bribes.

Financial Disclosure: There are no public financial disclosure laws for public officials.

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

The regime restricted attempts to investigate alleged human rights violations, criminalized their publication, and refused to cooperate with any independent attempts to investigate alleged violations. The regime did not grant permission for the formation of any domestic human rights organizations. Nevertheless, hundreds of such groups operated illegally in the country.

The regime was highly suspicious of international human rights NGOs and did not allow them into the country. The regime normally responded to queries from human rights organizations and foreign embassies regarding specific cases by denying the facts of the case or by reporting that the case was still under investigation, the prisoner in question had violated national security laws, or, if the case was in criminal court, the executive branch could not interfere with the judiciary. Amnesty International (AI), for example, attempted with little success to engage regime authorities on human rights concerns, including torture and other mistreatment, enforced disappearances, and deaths in custody, through various means since 2011. The regime denied organizations access to locations where regime agents launched assaults on antigovernment protesters or allegedly held prisoners detained on political grounds. The United Nations reported that the regime also actively restricted the activities of humanitarian aid organizations, especially along supply routes and access points near opposition-controlled areas (see section 1.g.).

There were numerous reports the regime harassed domestic human rights activists by subjecting them to regular surveillance and travel bans, property seizure, detention, torture, forcible disappearance, and extrajudicial killings (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). In May, HRW reported on “Samir,” a human rights activist working with the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Swiss Department for Foreign Affairs in Daraa. He left Daraa in January after he found out he was wanted by the Criminal Intelligence branch for working with aid groups and receiving funding from foreign entities for his work in contravention of the Counterterrorism Law of 2012. A contact inside the Military Intelligence branch warned him that authorities intended to arrest him, prompting his immediate departure. A few days later, his family received an official summons from the regime.

Terrorist groups, including ISIS, violently attacked organizations and individuals seeking to investigate human rights abuses or advocating for improved practices. The SDF and other opposition groups occasionally imposed restrictions on human rights organizations or harassed individual activists, in some cases reportedly subjecting them to arbitrary arrest.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The regime continued to deny access for the COI, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to document and report on human rights violations and abuses in the country. It did not cooperate fully with numerous UN bodies, resulting in restrictions on access for humanitarian organizations, especially to opposition-controlled areas.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but the regime did not enforce the law effectively. Rape is punishable by imprisonment and hard labor for at least 15 years (at least nine years in mitigating circumstances), which is aggravated if the perpetrator is a government official, religious official, or has legitimate or actual authority over the victim. Male rape is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The law specifically excludes spousal rape, and it reduces or suspends punishment if the rapist marries the victim. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and other UN agencies, NGOs, and media outlets characterized rape and sexual violence as endemic, underreported, and uncontrolled in the country (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.). Humanitarian organizations reported that women, men, and community leaders consistently identified sexual violence as a primary reason their families fled the country. The COI reported that rape and sexual violence continued to play a prominent role in the conflict and was used to terrorize and punish women, men, and children perceived as associated with the opposition, as did terrorist groups such as the HTS and ISIS. There were instances, comparatively far fewer, of armed opposition groups reportedly raping women and children. The HTS and ISIS also reportedly forced women and girls into sexual slavery.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, but it stipulates that men may discipline their female relatives in a form permitted by general custom. According to a May UNFPA report, violence against women and children was pervasive and increasing due to the conflict and the lack of economic opportunity for men. Victims did not report the vast majority of cases. Security forces consistently treated violence against women as a social rather than a criminal matter. Observers reported that when some abused women tried to file a police report, police did not investigate their reports thoroughly, if at all, and that in other cases police officers responded by abusing the women.

In previous years several domestic violence centers operated in Damascus; the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor licensed them. Local NGOs reported, however, that many centers no longer operated due to the conflict. There were no known government-run services for women outside Damascus. According to local human rights organizations, local coordination committees and other opposition-related groups offered programs specifically for protection of women; NGOs did not integrate these programs throughout the country, and none reported reliable funding.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permits judges to reduce penalties for murder and assault if the defendant asserts an “honor” defense, which often occurred. The regime kept no official statistics on use of this defense in murder and assault cases and reportedly rarely pursued prosecution of so-called honor crimes. There were no officially reported honor killings during the year, but reporting from previous years indicated that honor killings increased since the onset of the crisis in 2011. NGOs working with refugees reported families killed some rape victims inside the country, including those raped by regime forces, for reasons of honor.

The terrorist groups ISIS and the HTS permitted and committed so-called honor killings in territories under their control (see section 1.g.).

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender but does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment. The regime did not enforce the law effectively. Sexual harassment was pervasive and uncontrolled. For example, a 2019 UNFPA report cited an adolescent girl from Idlib who was blackmailed and harassed by a stranger who took revealing photos of her in a changing room and threatened to share them with her family.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization by the regime, but the Free Yezidi Foundation reported that ISIS forced some Yezidi women whom they had impregnated to have abortions (see section 1.g.).

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, nationality, inheritance, retirement, and social security laws discriminate against women. For example, if a man and a woman separately commit the same criminal act of adultery, then by law the woman’s punishment is double that of the man. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses, but the law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony in some cases. Under the law a divorced mother loses the right to guardianship and physical custody of her sons when they reach age 13 and of her daughters at age 15, when guardianship transfers to the paternal side of the family. Personal status laws applied to Muslims are derived from sharia and are discriminatory toward women. Church law governs personal status issues for Christians, in some cases barring divorce. Some personal status laws mirror sharia regardless of the religion of those involved in the case. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. Women cannot pass citizenship to their children. The regime’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except Christians. Accordingly, courts usually granted Muslim women half the inheritance share of male heirs. In all communities, male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they refuse to provide this support, women have the right to sue.

The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.

The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shared responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered.

Women participated in public life and in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported that violence and lawlessness in many regions reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.

The terrorist groups ISIS and the HTS reportedly placed similar discriminatory restrictions on women and girls in the territories they controlled. For example, the International Center for the Study of Radicalism reported in September that the HTS forced women and girls into marriage, imposed a dress code on women and girls, banned women and girls from wearing makeup, required that women and girls be accompanied by a mahram or male member of their immediate family, forbade women from speaking with unrelated men or hosting men who were not their husband, forbade widows from living alone, banned women’s centers, banned meetings with mixed male and female participation, and segregated classrooms. The HTS maintained all-female police units to support the Hisbah in enforcing these regulations, sometimes violently, among women. Summary punishments for infractions ranged from corporal punishment, such as lashing, to execution.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship solely from their father. In large areas of the country where civil registries were not functioning, authorities did not register births. The regime did not register the births of Kurdish noncitizen residents, including stateless Kurds (see section 2.g.). Failure to register resulted in deprivation of services, such as diplomas for high school-level studies, access to universities, access to formal employment, and civil documentation and protection.

Education: The regime provided free public education to citizen children from primary school through university. Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and 12. Enrollment, attendance, and completion rates for boys and girls generally were comparable. Noncitizen children could also attend public schools at no cost but required permission from the Ministry of Education. While Palestinians and other noncitizens, including stateless Kurds, could generally send their children to school and universities, stateless Kurds were ineligible to receive a degree documenting their academic achievement.

The conflict and widespread destruction continued to hamper the ability of children to attend school. In October UNICEF reported that 5.3 million children were in need of humanitarian assistance. UNICEF also reported that fighting destroyed or damaged or that combatants occupied one in every three schools. Approximately 1.75 million children were out of school (among more than 2.6 million Syrian children, including refugees and others in the diaspora); another 1.35 million were at risk for leaving school.

ISIS and the HTS reportedly imposed their interpretation of sharia on schools and discriminated against girls in the territories they controlled. The International Crisis Group reported in March that the HTS continued to segregate classrooms by gender, imposed their curriculum on teachers, and closed private schools and educational centers. Additionally, the STJ reported in March that the HTS Salvation Government banned any students who had previously been granted elementary and middle-school diplomas by the regime from pursuing their high school education in any schools controlled by the HTS.

Child Abuse: The law does not specifically prohibit child abuse, but it stipulates that parents may discipline their children in a form permitted by general custom. According to a 2017 UNFPA report, violence against children, especially girls, was pervasive and increasing due to the conflict and the lack of economic opportunity for men.

NGOs reported extensively on reports of regime and proregime forces, as well as the HTS and ISIS, sexually assaulting, torturing, detaining, killing, and otherwise abusing children (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., and 1.g.). The HTS and ISIS subjected children to extremely harsh punishment, including execution, in the territories they controlled.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 17 for women. A boy as young as 15 or a girl as young as 13 may marry if a judge deems both parties willing and “physically mature” and if the fathers or grandfathers of both parties’ consent. Early and forced marriages were common. CARE reported in March that young women were increasingly vulnerable to forced marriage due to the extreme financial hardships placed upon families while the conflict progressed into its eighth year.

Many families reportedly arranged marriages for girls, including at younger ages than typically occurred prior to the start of the conflict, believing it would protect them and ease the financial burden on the family.

There were instances of early and forced marriage of girls to members of regime, proregime, and armed opposition forces.

In previous years ISIS abducted and sexually exploited Yezidi girls in Iraq and transported them to Syria for rape and forced marriage; many of those Yezidi women and girls remained captive during the year (see section 1.g. and section 6, Women). Even after the territorial defeat of ISIS, the Free Yezidi Foundation reported that Yezidi women and children remained with ISIS-affiliated families in detention camps due to the intense trauma from their treatment under ISIS and out of fear. From 2014 onwards, ISIS began to forcibly marry Sunni (also a minority) girls and women living in territories under its control. Some of those forced to marry ISIS members were adults, including widows, but the vast majority of cases the COI documented revealed that girls between the ages of 12 and 16 were victims of forced marriage. Many women and girls reportedly were passed among multiple ISIS fighters, some as many as six or seven times within two years. The HTS also reportedly forced Druze and other minority women and girls into marriage as well as Sunni women and girls.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates penalties for those found guilty of certain forms of child abuse associated with trafficking crimes, including kidnapping and forced prostitution, both of which carry a penalty of up to three years in prison. The law considers child pornography a trafficking crime, but the punishment for child pornography was set at the local level with “appropriate penalties.” It was also unclear if there had been any prosecutions for child pornography or if authorities enforced the law.

The age of sexual consent by law is 15 with no close-in-age exemption. Premarital sex is illegal, but observers reported authorities did not enforce the law. Rape of a child younger than 15 is punishable by not less than 21 years’ imprisonment and hard labor. There were no reports of regime prosecution of child rape cases.

Child Soldiers: Several sources documented the continued unlawful recruitment and use of children in combat (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: There was a large population of IDP children and some refugee children as well. These children reportedly experienced increased vulnerability to abuses, including by armed forces (see sections 1.c., 1.g., 2.e., and 2.f.).

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

Anti-Semitism

In 2016 NGOs estimated that fewer than 20–perhaps fewer than 10–Jews remained in the country. The national school curriculum did not include materials on tolerance education or the Holocaust. There is no designation of religion on passports or national identity cards, except for Jews. Government-controlled radio and television programming continued to disseminate anti-Semitic news articles and cartoons. The regime-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency frequently reported on the “Zionist enemy” and accused the Syrian opposition of serving “the Zionist project.”

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for assisting persons with disabilities, working through dedicated charities and organizations to provide assistance. During an April briefing with the UN Security Council, Syrian activist Nujeen Mustafa explained that persons with disabilities remained among the most vulnerable and neglected of all displaced persons in the country, particularly in areas of active conflict.

The destruction of schools and hospitals, most often by regime and proregime forces, limited access to education and health services for persons with disabilities, but government and nongovernment social care institutes reportedly exist for blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, and physical and intellectual disabilities. The regime did not effectively work to provide access for persons with disabilities to information, communications, building, or transportation. In its November report, UNFPA detailed how both public and private spaces–including educational institutions, health-care services and religious or cultural buildings–were inaccessible to the elderly and persons with disabilities, leading to further ostracization and deprivation. UNFPA further stated that persons with disabilities were sometimes denied aid, as they could not access it, and some distribution centers required presence in person. UNFPA identified women and adolescent girls with disabilities as being at a dangerously high risk of various forms of violence and exploitation.

According to the COI, on May 13, two men and a child with intellectual disabilities were kidnapped by an armed group when travelling from Afrin to I’zaz. One of those abducted was reportedly found dead a few days later displaying signs of torture, while the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $10,000 for the remaining abductees. The bodies of the second man and child were discovered more than a month later. There was no indication the regime effectively investigated or punished those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The regime actively restricted national and ethnic minorities from conducting traditional, religious, and cultural activities. The Kurdish population–citizens and noncitizens–faced official and societal discrimination and repression as well as regime-sponsored violence. Regime and proregime forces, as well as ISIS and armed opposition forces such as the Turkish-backed FSA, reportedly arrested, detained, tortured, killed, and otherwise abused numerous Kurdish activists and individuals as well as members of the SDF during the year (see section 1.g.).

The regime continued to limit the use and teaching of the Kurdish language. It also restricted publication in Kurdish of books and other materials, Kurdish cultural expression, and at times the celebration of Kurdish festivals.

The Alawite community, to which Bashar Assad belongs, enjoyed privileged status throughout the regime and dominated the state security apparatus and military leadership. Nevertheless, the regime reportedly also targeted Alawite opposition activists for arbitrary arrest, torture, detention, and killing. Extremist opposition groups targeted Alawite communities on several occasions for their perceived proregime stance.

In March the COI reported that armed opposition groups detained hundreds of women and girls belonging to minority groups, particularly Alawites, and used them as bargaining chips for initiating prisoner swaps with regime and proregime forces.

The terrorist groups ISIS and the HTS violently oppressed and discriminated against all non-Sunni Arab ethnic minorities in the territories they controlled (see section 1.g.).

HRW documented multiple instances of Syrian opposition forces “discriminating on ethnic grounds.” HRW reported that TSOs participating in Turkey’s military offensive into northeast Syria “refused to allow the return of Kurdish families displaced by Turkish military operations and looted and unlawfully appropriated or occupied their property.” HRW reported opposition forces systematically blocked Kurdish IDP returns while permitting some Arab IDP returns.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, defined as “carnal relations against the order of nature” and punishable by imprisonment up to three years. In previous years police used this charge to prosecute LGBTI individuals. There were no reports of prosecutions under the law during the year, but NGO reports indicated the regime arrested dozens of LGBTI persons since 2011 on charges such as abusing social values; selling, buying, or consuming illegal drugs; and organizing and promoting “obscene” parties. Local media and NGOs reported instances in which regime and proregime forces used accusations of homosexuality as a pretext to detain, arrest, torture, and kill civilians. The frequency of such instances was difficult to determine, since police rarely reported their rationale for arrests.

Although there were no known domestic NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, there were several online networking communities, including an online LGBTI-oriented magazine. Human rights activists reported there was overt societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of society.

The terrorist HTS regularly detained, tortured, and killed LGBTI individuals in the territories they controlled (see section 1.g.). For example, in August The Guardian newspaper reported that a Syrian transgender woman was arrested by HTS officers barely 110 yards across the border into Idlib after being deported by Turkish authorities. According to a fellow refugee deported on the same bus, the HTS officers went through her cellular telephone, humiliating her about pictures they found. The woman has not been heard from since she was seen forced into the back of a taxi, a bag tied over her head.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but human rights activists believed such cases were underreported and the UN Development Program (UNDP) noted that stigma affected access to health care. The UNDP and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria assessed that the incapability of the health-care sector to identify newly infected persons or offer medical support in a hostile environment posed a major problem and added to the risk of further spread of the disease among the general population.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Yezidis, Druze, Christians, Shia, and other religious minorities were subject to violence and discrimination by ISIS, the HTS, and other extremist groups (see section 1.g.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

While the law provides for the right to form and join unions, conduct legal labor strikes, and bargain collectively, there were excessive restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but also allows employers to fire workers at will.

The law requires all unions to belong to the regime-affiliated General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). The law prohibits strikes involving more than 20 workers in certain sectors, including transportation and telecommunications, or strike actions resembling public demonstrations. Restrictions on freedom of association also included fines and prison sentences for illegal strikes.

The law requires that government representatives be part of the bargaining process in the public sector, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor could object to, and refuse to register, any agreements concluded. The law and relevant labor protections do not apply to workers covered under civil service provisions, under which employees neither have nor are considered to need collective bargaining rights. The law does not apply to foreign domestic servants, agricultural workers, NGO employees, or informal-sector workers. There are no legal protections for self-employed workers, although they constituted a significant proportion of the total workforce. Foreign workers may join the syndicate representing their profession but may not run for elected positions, with the exception of Palestinians, who may serve as elected officials in unions.

The regime did not enforce applicable laws effectively or make any serious attempt to do so during the year. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The Baath Party dominated the GFTU, and Baath Party doctrine stipulates that its quasi-official constituent unions protect worker rights. The GFTU president was a senior member of the Baath Party, and he and his deputy could attend cabinet meetings on economic affairs. In previous years the GFTU controlled most aspects of union activity, including which sectors or industries could have unions. It also had the power to disband union governing bodies. Union elections were generally free of direct GFTU interference, but successful campaigns usually required membership in the Baath Party. Because of the GFTU’s close ties to the regime, the right to bargain collectively did not exist in practical terms. Although the law provides for collective bargaining in the private sector, past regime repression dissuaded most workers from exercising this right.

There was little information available on employer practices with regard to antiunion discrimination. Unrest and economic decline during the year caused many workers to lose their private-sector jobs, giving employers the stronger hand in disputes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and such practices existed. The penal code does not define forced labor. The code states, “those sentenced to forced labor will be strictly required to do work with difficulty on par with their sex, age, and may be inside or outside of the prison.” The penal code allows for forced labor as a mandatory or optional sentence for numerous crimes, such as treason. Authorities may sentence convicted prisoners to hard labor, although according to the International Labor Organization, authorities seldom enforced such a sentence. There was little information available on regime efforts to enforce relevant laws during the year or on the effectiveness of penalties to deter violations.

Terrorist groups, including ISIS and the HTS, reportedly forced, coerced, or fraudulently recruited some foreigners, including migrants from Central Asia, children, and Western women to join them. Thousands of Yezidi women and girl captives of ISIS remained missing and were presumed to have served as sex slaves and in domestic servitude (see section 1.g.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace and prohibits the worst forms of child labor. There was little publicly available information on enforcement of the child labor law. The regime generally did not make significant efforts to enforce laws that prevent or eliminate child labor. Independent information and audits regarding regime enforcement were not available. The minimum age for most types of nonagricultural labor is 15 or the completion of elementary schooling, whichever occurs first, and the minimum age for employment in industries with heavy work is 17. Parental permission is required for children younger than 16 to work. Children younger than 18 may work no more than six hours a day and may not work overtime or during night shifts, weekends, or on official holidays. The law specifies that authorities should apply “appropriate penalties” to violators. Restrictions on child labor do not apply to those who work in family businesses and do not receive a salary.

Child labor occurred in the country in both informal sectors, such as begging, domestic work, and agriculture, as well as in positions related to the conflict, such as lookouts, spies, and informants. Conflict-related work subjected children to significant dangers of retaliation and violence.

Various forces, particularly terrorist groups and regime-aligned groups, continued to recruit and use child soldiers (see section 1.g.).

Organized begging rings continued to subject children displaced within the country to forced labor.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Labor and nationality laws discriminate against women. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shared responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered. Women participated in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported that violence and lawlessness in many regions reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.

The constitution does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Since the law criminalizes homosexuality, many persons faced discrimination due to their sexual orientation.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, and other state services, but the regime did not enforce these provisions effectively. Discrimination occurred in hiring and access to worksites. The law seeks to integrate persons with disabilities into the workforce, reserving 4 percent of government jobs and 2 percent of private-sector jobs for them. Private-sector businesses are eligible for tax exemptions after hiring persons with disabilities.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to certain minority groups (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law divides the public-sector monthly minimum wage into five levels based on job type or level of education, almost all of which fell below the World Bank’s poverty indicator. Benefits included compensation for meals, uniforms, and transportation. Most public-sector employees relied on bribery to supplement their income. Private-sector companies usually paid much higher wages, with lower-end wage rates semiofficially set by the regime and employer organizations. Many workers in the public and private sectors took additional manual jobs or relied on their extended families to support them.

The public-sector workweek was 35 hours, and the standard private-sector workweek was 40 hours, excluding meals and rest breaks. Hours of work could increase or decrease based on the industry and associated health hazards. The law provides for at least one meal or rest break totaling no less than one hour per day. Employers must schedule hours of work and rest such that workers do not work more than five consecutive hours or 10 hours per day in total. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime work.

The regime set occupational safety and health standards. The law includes provisions mandating that employers take appropriate precautions to protect workers from hazards inherent to the nature of work. The law does not protect workers who chose to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety from losing their employment.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and other regulations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work. The Ministries of Health and of Social Affairs and Labor designated officials to inspect worksites for compliance with health and safety standards. Workers could lodge complaints about health and safety conditions with special committees established to adjudicate such cases. Wage and hour regulations as well as occupational health and safety rules do not apply to migrant workers, rendering them more vulnerable to abuse.

There was little information on regime enforcement of labor law or working conditions during the year. There were no health and safety inspections reported, and even previous routine inspections of tourist facilities, such as hotels and major restaurants, no longer occurred. The enforcement of labor law was lax in both rural and urban areas, since many inspector positions were vacant due to the conflict and their number was insufficient to cover more than 10,000 workplaces. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Before the conflict began, 13 percent of women participated in the formal labor force, compared with 73 percent of men. During the year the unemployment rate for both men and women remained above 50 percent, with millions unable to participate in the workforce due to continued violence and insecurity. During the year UNFPA reported that local female employment participation increased in areas such as Damascus, Raqqa, and Daraa, as men were detained or killed.

Foreign workers, especially domestic workers, remained vulnerable to exploitative conditions. For example, the law does not legally entitle foreign female domestic workers to the same wages as Syrian domestic workers. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor oversees employment agencies responsible for providing safe working conditions for migrant domestic workers, but the scope of oversight was unknown. The continued unrest resulted in the large-scale voluntary departure of foreign workers as demand for services significantly declined, but violence and lawlessness impeded some foreign workers from leaving the country.

Ukraine

Read A Section: Ukraine

Crimea

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

Executive Summary

Ukraine is a republic with a semipresidential political system composed of three branches of government: a unicameral legislature (Verkhovna Rada); an executive led by a directly elected president who is head of state and commander in chief, and a prime minister who is chosen through a legislative majority and as head of government leads the Cabinet of Ministers; and a judiciary. On April 21, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected president in an election considered free and fair by international and domestic observers. On July 21, the country held early parliamentary elections that observers also considered free and fair.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for maintaining internal security and order. The ministry oversees police and other law enforcement personnel. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) is responsible for state security broadly defined, nonmilitary intelligence, and counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reports to the Cabinet of Ministers, and the SBU reports directly to the president. The Ministry of Defense protects the country against foreign and domestic aggression, ensures sovereignty and the integrity of national borders, and exercises control over the activities of the armed forces in compliance with the law. The president is the supreme commander in chief of the armed forces. The Ministry of Defense reports directly to the president. The State Fiscal Tax 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 maintained effective control over security forces in the territory controlled by the government.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings; torture and other abuse of detainees by law enforcement personnel; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest and detention; substantial problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including violence against journalists, censorship, and blocking of websites; refoulement; widespread government corruption; and crimes involving violence or threat of violence targeting persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. Human rights groups and the United Nations noted significant deficiencies in investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by government security forces.

In the Russia-induced and -fueled conflict in the Donbas region, Russia-led forces reportedly engaged in killings of civilians; forced disappearances and abductions; torture; unlawful detentions; and committed gender-based violence. Other egregious human right issues in the areas controlled by Russia-led forces included harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; political prisoners; the absence of judicial independence; severe restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet; restrictions on the rights of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; and unduly restricted humanitarian aid.

Significant human rights issues in Russia-occupied Crimea included: abductions; torture and abuse of detainees to extract confessions and punish persons resisting the occupation; unlawful detention; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including for members of the press; restrictions on the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association and religion. Occupation authorities in Crimea continued to engage in violence against and harassment of Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists in response to peaceful opposition to Russian occupation (see Crimea sub-report).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

In the Donbas region, Russia-led forces 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 Expression: With some exceptions, individuals in areas under government control could generally criticize the government publicly and privately and discuss matters of public interest without fear of official reprisal.

The law criminalizes the display of communist and Nazi symbols as well as the manufacture or promotion of the St. George’s ribbon, a symbol associated with Russia-led forces in the Donbas region. On July 16, the country’s constitutional court upheld the ban on displaying communist and Nazi symbols. During the May 9 celebration of World War II Victory Day, police issued 27 administrative offense citations in Odesa, Mykolaiv, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Donetsk Oblasts and detained several individuals in Kyiv, Kryvy Rih, Lviv, and Odesa for carrying banned Soviet symbols.

On October 10, a court in Kryvy Rih convicted a local resident of wearing a T-shirt with the state symbol of the USSR in a public place. The man reportedly wore the shirt at a local shopping center on June 14. He was given a one-year suspended sentence and another year of probation.

The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression against the country, and the government prosecuted individuals under these laws (see “Censorship” and “National Security”).

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The NGO Freedom House rated the country’s press as “partly free.” Independent media and internet news sites were active and expressed a wide range of views. Privately owned media, the most successful of which were owned by influential oligarchs, often presented readers and viewers a “biased pluralism,” representing the views of their owners, favorable coverage of their allies, and criticism of political and business rivals. The 10 most popular television stations were owned by businessmen whose primary business was not in media. Independent media had difficulty competing with major outlets that operated with oligarchic subsidies.

There were reports of continuing state pressure on the National Public Broadcasting Company (UA:PBC), created as a result of a 2014 law to provide an independent publicly funded alternative to oligarch-controlled television channels. On January 31, the supervisory board of UA:PBC announced the removal of the channel’s director, Zurab Alasania. Observers alleged the decision was made because the channel broadcast anticorruption investigations in the pre-electoral period that had been unflattering to then president Petro Poroshenko. According to press reports, the supervisory board’s initial draft decision cited the channel’s failure to cover events favorable to Poroshenko, but the final decision did not contain this language and instead alleged financial mismanagement. Following public outcry, the board announced Alasania would remain in place until May 6. Alasania challenged the board’s decision in court, and on June 19, a Kyiv court ruled the board’s decision was illegal. Alasania was reinstated in his position on July 1. On August 30, the SBI and SBU jointly raided the premises of UA:PBC, several of its regional affiliates, and the home of Alasania, apparently in connection with the allegations of financial mismanagement. The OSCE high representative on freedom of the media expressed concern about the raids and the potential impact of “any pressure on the independence of public media.” “Jeansa”–the practice of planting one-sided or favorable news coverage paid for by politicians or oligarchs–continued to be widespread. Monitoring by the IMI of national print and online media for jeansa indicated a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. The IMI recorded a 22 percent increase of jeansa in the national online media before the parliamentary elections in 13 popular internet media outlets.

“Jeansa”–the practice of planting one-sided or favorable news coverage paid for by politicians or oligarchs–continued to be widespread. Monitoring by the IMI of national print and online media for jeansa indicated a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. The IMI recorded a 22 percent increase of jeansa in the national online media before the parliamentary elections in 13 popular internet media outlets.

Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem. Human rights groups and journalists criticized what they saw as government inaction in solving the crimes as giving rise to a culture of impunity.

According to the IMI, as of September 1, there had been 20 reports of attacks on journalists, including one killing during the year, compared with 22 cases and no killings during the same period in 2018. As in 2018, private, rather than state, actors perpetrated the majority of the attacks. As of September 1, there were 33 incidents involving threats against journalists, as compared with 24 during the same period in 2018. The IMI and editors of major independent news outlets also noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they asserted had the tacit support of the government.

There were multiple reports of attacks on journalists by government officials. For example, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on March 6, officials in the village of Chabany near Kyiv attacked Radio Liberty investigative reporter Kateryna Kaplyuk and cameraman Borys Trotsenko, leaving Trotsenko with a concussion and breaking his camera. The journalists were attempting to interview a village official for an investigation into allegations that officials were allocating state lands for private use, when a group of people that included two deputy mayors of the village, Yuriy Bondar and Volodymyr Chuprin, began shoving and punching them. They filed a police report, and police began an investigation, but no charges had been brought as of November.

There were reports of attacks on journalists by nongovernment actors. For example, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on August 30 in Chernihiv, two unidentified individuals attacked blogger Ihor Stakh. Stakh was later treated for a concussion and required stitches for a cut on his face. The National Union of Journalists made statements indicating its belief that the attack was in retaliation for Stakh’s reporting on local corruption. Stakh reported receiving threats before the attack. Police opened an investigation but as of November had made no arrests.

On July 13, according to press reports, an unknown attacker fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the Kyiv office of pro-Russian television news broadcaster 112 Ukraine, damaging the building but causing no injuries. Police opened an investigation, but no arrests had been made as of October.

There were allegations that the government prosecuted journalists in retaliation for their work (see section 1.e.).

There were reports that government officials sought to pressure journalists through the judicial system, often to reveal their sources in investigations. For example, on February 4, the Pechersk District Court granted the Prosecutor General’s Office access to internal documents and email correspondence of the independent news outlet Novoye Vremya. Prosecutors were seeking to identify a source who spoke to the Novoye Vremya for a 2016 story revealing corruption by a high-ranking prosecutor, alleging that the source violated investigatory secrecy rules.

Journalists received threats in connection with their reporting. For example, according to the Institute for Mass Information, on September 10, journalists of the Chesno civic movement alleged that Member of Parliament Oleksandr Kovalev threatened them in response to news published on their website describing Kovalev’s illegal proxy voting on behalf of other members of parliament. The journalists filed a complaint with law enforcement authorities.

On December 12, police arrested five suspects in the 2016 killing of well-known Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet (see section 1.a.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights organizations frequently criticized the government for taking an overly broad approach to banning books, television shows, websites, and other content (see subsections on National Security and Internet Freedom).

The State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting (Derzhkomteleradio) maintained a list of banned books seen to be aimed at undermining the country’s independence, spreading propaganda of violence, inciting interethnic, racial, religious hostility, promoting terrorist attacks, or encroaching on human rights and freedoms. As of July the list contained 211 titles.

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

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government 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 20, the head of the Presidential Administration, Andriy Bohdan, filed a libel lawsuit against the investigative journalism program Skhemy (Schemes), a joint program by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and UA:PBC. Bohdan clarified on August 23 that he was suing over Schemes’ reports about his repeated travel to visit oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyy abroad, which he asserted were false.

National Security: In the context of the continuing conventional conflict in the Donbas, as well as continuing Russian disinformation and cyber campaigns, authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat, particularly those emanating from Russia and promoting pro-Russian lines.

The government continued the practice of banning specific works by Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russian journalists. According to the State Film Agency, as of mid-September approximately 800 films and television shows had been banned on national security grounds since 2014. In response to Russia’s continued barrage of cyberattacks and disinformation as part of its efforts to destabilize Ukraine, the government maintained its ban on the operations of almost 600 companies and 1,228 persons that allegedly posed a “threat to information and the cyber security of the state.” Among them were two widely used social networks based in Russia and major Russian television channels as well as smaller Russian channels that operated independently of state control.

There were reports that the government used noncompliance with national security-related content bans to pressure outlets perceived as having a pro-Russian editorial policy. For example, on February 7, the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcast imposed a fine on NewsOne TV, a channel owned by associates of Russian-backed Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, for alleged “hate speech and propaganda promoting conflict and national hatred.” According to the National Council, monitoring of NewsOne TV broadcasts from late 2018 to early 2019 revealed “calls for aggressive actions, incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred, and justification of aggression against the territorial integrity” of Ukraine. On July 8, NewsOne announced that it had cancelled a planned July 12 joint live television program with the state-owned Russian television channel Rossiya 24, which is banned in the country, because of threats of violence. The proposed program, announced the day before on Russian state-owned television, was to be called We Have to Talk and would have linked up two studios in Kyiv and Moscow for a purportedly “apolitical” discussion between “everyday people” in the two countries the week ahead of parliamentary elections. The program’s announcement sparked public outrage, a protest outside NewsOne’s offices, and widespread condemnation from officials. On July 8, the prosecutor general called the program “attempted treason” and announced that NewsOne’s leadership had been called in for interrogation, while the SBU issued a warning letter to NewsOne. The National Security and Defense Council convened to discuss the program on July 8, after which the council’s head stated: “State bodies, including the SBU and National Police have received a number of orders, including in regards to defending the information space. Additional details cannot be revealed because of secrecy.” On July 10, the prosecutor general announced that a criminal case had been opened against NewsOne’s owner, Member of Parliament Taras Kozak, for “financing terrorism.” On July 9, Derzhkomteleradio announced it would hold an unscheduled inspection of NewsOne, which it conducted on July 24. On September 10, Derzhkomteleradio filed a lawsuit in a Kyiv district court seeking the revocation of the license, based upon its “incitement to hatred in Ukrainian society.”

On September 26, Derzhkomteleradio ruled that five affiliated media companies of pro-Russian Channel 112 TV violated their license conditions by changing their program concepts without required approvals. As a result of the decision, Channel 112 TV could not be broadcast by digital terrestrial signal in the country, but it was still available on satellite and cable networks. The OSCE representative on freedom of the media expressed concern about the decision, while a coalition of independent Ukrainian media watchdogs issued a statement of support of Derzhkomteleradio’s decision.

On August 19, the Supreme Court upheld a 2018 ban by the Lviv Oblast Council on all Russian-language books, films, and songs, in order to combat “hybrid warfare” by Russia. The Zhytomyr and Ternopil Oblast Councils mirrored this measure on October 25 and November 6, respectively, in 2018. There were no reported attempts at enforcing these bans.

Media professionals continued to experience pressure from the SBU, the military, and other officials when reporting on sensitive issues, such as military losses. For example, on November 6, the Joint Forces Operation (JFO) headquarters refused to accredit photo correspondent Maks Levin because of his reporting from the area of disengagement near Zolote, which the headquarters claimed violated the rules on reporting in the area of JFO in unspecified ways.

Authorities continued to deport and bar entry to foreign journalists on national security grounds. For example, on March 24, the State Border Service denied entry to Marc Innaro, a Moscow correspondent of the Italian public service broadcaster RAI and his colleague, a cameraman, claiming he “frequently engaged in anti-Ukrainian rhetoric in his reports.”

Nongovernmental Impact: There were reports that radical groups committed attacks on journalists. For example, according to press reports, on July 30, approximately a dozen members of the radical group Tradition and Order broke down the door of the state-run Ukrinform news agency in Kyiv and disrupted a press conference by parliamentary candidates who were alleging fraud in the July parliamentary election. They attacked and injured three Ukrinform staff members and poured water and threw eggs around the room. Police opened a criminal investigation into the incident, but as of November no arrests had been made.

The ability to exercise freedom of expression reportedly remained extremely limited in territory controlled by the “DPR” and “LPR.” Based on HRMMU media monitoring, critical independent media on the territory controlled by Russia-led forces was nonexistent. According to CyberLab Ukraine, an independent digital forensic analysis organization, the authorities in the “LPR” blocked more than 50 Ukrainian news outlets.

The HRMMU reported that journalists entering Russia-controlled territory of the “DPR” had to inform the “press center” of the “ministry of defense” about their activities on a daily basis, were arbitrarily required to show video footage at checkpoints, and were accompanied by members of armed groups when travelling close to the contact line.

On October 22, press outlets reported that a “court” in the “DPR” convicted journalist Stanislav Aseyev of espionage on behalf of Ukraine and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. Human rights defenders maintained that the charges were baseless and brought in retaliation for his independent reporting on events in territory controlled by Russia-led forces. Aseyev was released December 29 as part of a Ukraine-Russia prisoner and detainee exchange.

Internet Freedom

Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps during the year to block access to websites based on “national security concerns.”

On March 19, then president Poroshenko endorsed new sanctions approved by the National Security and Defense Council that, among other things, extended sanctions on the Russian company Yandex and its services until 2022. Ukrainian internet providers continued to block websites at government demand based on national security concerns. On February 11, the SBU announced that it intended to block 100 websites that promote Russian interests in the country. As of October, 240 sites were blocked in the country. According to monitoring by CyberLab Ukraine, internet service-provider compliance with the government’s orders to block sites varied greatly. On July 22, the National Security and Defense Council announced it would continue the policy of blocking Russian social networks.

On September 30, a district administrative court in Kyiv dismissed a lawsuit brought by the For Free Net Ukraine Coalition against the Ministry of Information Policy, asking it to disclose the government’s criteria and methodology when creating its lists of internet resources to be banned on national security grounds.

Free speech advocates expressed concern that courts began to block access to websites on grounds other than national security. For example, on July 23, a Kyiv court ruled to block access to 18 websites, including blogging platform enigma.ua, at the request of the Kyiv Oblast prosecutor’s office on vague grounds related to violations of intellectual property rights. The owner of enigma.ua stated that he believed the blocking of his site was in retaliation for its publication of material critical of the country’s security services.

There were reports of the disclosure of personally identifiable information of persons to penalize expression of opinions. Between October 31 and November 5, Andriy Portnov, a former lawmaker and deputy head of former president Viktor Yanukovych’s administration, released personally identifying information of editorial and staff members of the anticorruption television program Schemes, as well as the registration data on 16 vehicles used by staff members of the program, on his Telegram messaging channel. In a November 5 message, Portnov invited anyone who comes across these vehicles to “give a stiff rebuff” to the drivers; he also suggested on October 31 that a driver whose personal data he disclosed was also under surveillance and could be exposed to physical harm. Portnov’s actions were apparently in response to an investigation by Schemes into his relationships with officials currently in the government.

The Myrotvorets (peacemaker) database, which published the personally identifying information of individuals it deemed to be “anti-Ukrainian” online and which reportedly maintained close ties to the country’s security services, published the personal data of journalists and public figures who had been critical of the country’s security services or had made other statements the site considered unpatriotic. On December 10, the database announced it was shutting down its servers to public access, but it noted some officials would continue to have access.

There were reports of cyberattacks on journalists who reported on corruption. For example, according to the Institute for Mass Information, for several weeks in February and March, journalists with the investigative anticorruption television program Schemes reported repeated attempts to hack their social network and messenger accounts.

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

In its annual Freedom on the Net report published in November, Freedom House concluded that internet freedom had improved very slightly after two years of decline. It noted in particular that “the online information landscape is partly censored, with the government blocking Russian and proxy websites, and the Russia-led forces blocking Ukrainian websites in the areas under their control. Implementation of these blocks, however, was lax on both sides, and the digital environment is otherwise vibrant, despite efforts by political actors to manipulate debates through disinformation and paid content. These efforts intensified ahead of the presidential election, held in March and April. Arrests of users were commonplace, primarily as an extension of continuing hostilities between the government in Kyiv and Russian-led forces, as were attacks against online journalists. Adding to these challenges, persistent cyberattacks continued to constrain internet freedom.”

There were reports that the government prosecuted individuals for their posts on social media. For example, according to press reports, on April 16, the SBU searched the home of a man in Odesa, whom they alleged had written posts supporting Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine on social media, and seized computer equipment, mobile devices, and material with banned communist symbols. He was charged with “encroachment on territorial integrity.”

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were reports the government investigated academic personnel for their research. For example, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on April 24, the Lviv regional branch of the SBU announced a check into what it called a “provocative survey” by the respected research institute Kyiv International Institute of Sociology. The opinion poll was commissioned by the independent media outlet Dzherkalo Tyzhnya and included a question that asked residents of “Galicia,” a historical region that spans parts of current Ukraine and Poland, how they viewed the fate of their region after the presidential elections. One of the possible answers was “Galicia should join Poland,” which the SBU viewed as a possible “call to violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”

The government maintained a list of Russian or pro-Russian musicians, actors, and other cultural figures that it prohibited from entering the country on national security grounds.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

During the year citizens generally exercised the right to assemble peacefully without restriction in areas of the country under government control. There were occasional reports of police using excessive force to disperse a protest. On February 9, police clashed with demonstrators, including members of violent radical group C14 and activists from the “Who Ordered Katya Handziuk” civic initiative, in Kyiv protesting at a rally by the Batkyvshchyna political party held because the one of the party’s members was allegedly complicit in the 2018 high-profile killing of activist Kateryna Handziuk (see section 1.a.). Police beat demonstrators, sprayed tear gas, and detained approximately a dozen persons. At the police station, the detained individuals were met by a crowd of supporters, who allegedly attempted to storm the station and attacked and used tear gas against police. Police reported that three officers were injured and hospitalized. An investigation into the actions of both police and the demonstrators continued as of September.

Large-scale LGBTI events including pride marches in Kyiv, Odesa, and Kharkiv took place in largely peaceful manner, protected by thousands of police officers. Police at times did not adequately protect participants from attack before or after these events, and they did not adequately protect smaller demonstrations, especially those organized by persons belonging to minority groups or opposition political movements. For example, according to press reports, organizers of a pride festival in the city of Kriviy Rih cancelled a planned march on July 24, citing the inability of police to guarantee the event’s security around the time of parliamentary elections. On December 24, the Rivne City Council voted to ban the holding of pride marches.

Events organized by women’s rights activists or the LGBTI community were regularly disrupted by members of violent radical groups. For example, on May 8, a group of approximately 10 members of C14 disrupted the gender issues festival Find the Balance in Kryvy Rih, occupying the premises shortly before the beginning of the event, putting up homophobic posters, and insulting the organizers. Police investigated the incident under hooliganism-related charges.

In Russia-controlled territory, the HRMMU observed the absence of free and peaceful assembly and noted, “such a restrictive environment, where dissenting opinions may trigger retaliation, has a long-lasting chilling effect on the population.” The HRMMU also noted the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local “authorities,” often apparently organized by Russia-led forces with forced public participation.

Freedom of Association

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

In June the Constitutional Court invalidated a much-criticized law requiring assets to be reported for civil society organizations and journalists working on anticorruption matters.

Human rights organizations reported a decrease of attacks on activists following a spike in attacks in 2018 (37 attacks during the year, down from 66 in 2018). Some civil society organizations, however, saw the decrease in reported attacks as underreporting by civic activists opting not to submit complaints because they viewed it as a futile gesture that might invite further persecution. International and domestic human rights NGOs remained concerned about the lack of accountability for attacks on members of civil society organizations, which they believed had created a climate of impunity.

There were reports government targeted activists for raids, arrests, or prosecution in retaliation for their professional activity. For example, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on October 4, police raided the home of human rights activist Oleh Tsvily, the head of the NGO Alliance for Ukrainian Unity. They handcuffed him near his apartment and allegedly intentionally banged his head against the steps while bringing him up to his apartment. Police raided his apartment, seized his computer and other devices containing information, but did not arrest Tsvily. Tsvily’s lawyer maintained that law enforcement officials had no court warrant for the search. During the raid police claimed they were investigating Tsvily for purportedly selling drugs on the internet. Tsvily maintained the search and attack was in retaliation for his work exposing torture and abuse in the penitentiary system. A former head of the State Penitentiary Service posted a video of Tsvily’s arrest on his Facebook page with a comment calling Tsvily and other human rights activists “animals” and predicting that Tsvily would be sent to prison for selling drugs.

There were reports that unknown actors made death threats against activists because of their work. For example, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on August 26, unknown persons in Chuhuiv, Kharkiv Region left a coffin, funeral wreath with his name, a note, and an axe wedged into the door of the home of Roman Likhachov, a lawyer and head of the Chuhuiv Human Rights Group. The note read, “if you don’t stop doing stupid things, the next [axe] will be in your head.” Likhachov believed the threats to be linked with his work with a network of anticorruption centers investigating local tax evasion schemes in Chuhuiv involving local authorities and law enforcement as well as the sale of alcohol without a license in a local cafe owned by a city council member.

According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces, domestic and international civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, could not operate freely. Residents informed the HRMMU they were being prosecuted (or feared being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation. The HRMMU also noted civil society organizations run by Russia-led forces, which appeared to require certain persons, such as public-sector employees, to join.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: The government and Russia-led forces strictly controlled movement between government-controlled areas and territories in the Donbas region controlled by Russia-led forces. Crossing the line of contact remained arduous. On July 17, the government adopted new regulations establishing a list of goods prohibited for transfer across the line of contact to replace the list of goods allowed for transfer, thereby providing more flexibility for people to bring items across the line from both sides. Public passenger transportation remained prohibited; private transportation was available at high prices and was generally unaffordable for the majority of people crossing.

Although 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 39,000 individuals crossed the line daily. The HRMMU reported that individuals crossing the line of contact, predominantly the elderly and persons with medical issues, had to spend several hours standing in line. The government required those seeking to cross into government-controlled territory to obtain a pass. The pass system imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, in particular those seeking to receive pensions and government benefits, not distributed in the territory controlled by Russia-led forces. The government attempted to reform a pass system involving an online application process to control movement into government-controlled territory. All passes issued after March 28 had no expiration date, but the measure did little to improve ease of movement across the contact line since many persons in Russia-controlled territory did not have access to the internet to obtain such passes.

Russia-led forces continued to hinder freedom of movement in the eastern part of the country.

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 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. Civil society, journalists, and independent defense lawyers reported that the government made efforts to ease requirements for entering Crimea, improving previously lengthy processes to obtain required permissions that hindered their ability to document and address abuses taking place there.

f. Protection of Refugees

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 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to 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.

Refoulement: There were reports that the government did not provide for protection against the expulsion or return of some 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. There were also allegations that officials deported some individuals to countries where they were at risk of imprisonment without providing an opportunity for them to apply for asylum. For example, on December 12, Azerbaijani blogger Elvin Isayev was removed from Ukraine to Azerbaijan for allegedly violating migration laws. On September 10, before Isayev arrived in Ukraine, the ECHR invoked Rule 39 halting extradition of Isayev from Russia to Azerbaijan after his Russian citizenship had been revoked.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on June 18, the SBU in Kyiv detained Belarussian anarchist Aleksandr Frantskevich when he came to the State Migration Service to extend his permanent residence permit. Frantskevich, who had lived in Kyiv since 2015, was considered by human rights groups to be a former Belarusian political prisoner. SBU officers reportedly forced him into a van, beat and strangled him, and took him to the border with Belarus, where they handed him a document saying that his activities, which were unspecified, were in conflict with the interests of Ukraine’s national security, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and constitutional order, and that he was banned from the country for three years.

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. According to the State Migration Service, the number of refugees and asylum seekers has decreased. The country is a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, the Russian Federation, Bangladesh, Syria, and Iraq.

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

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

Employment: Refugees frequently have a hard time finding employment due to lack of qualifications and language proficiency. Some worked illegally, increasing the 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. A UNHCR report indicated all newly recognized refugees received a one-time grant of approximately 30 hryvnias ($1.26). Some reports, however, indicated the government did not always provide payment.

Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 421. Asylum seekers living outside an official temporary accommodation center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly fined them more than 500 hryvnias ($21) because they lacked registration. According to the State Migration Service, refugees could receive residence registration at homeless shelters for up to six months.

According to UNHCR, gaps in housing and social support for unaccompanied children left many without access to state-run accommodation centers or children’s shelters. Many children had to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation. UNHCR noted a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; as of August 1, authorities had provided complementary protection to 41 persons.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country’s presidential election was held across two rounds, on March 31 and April 21. A joint international election observation mission (IEOM) by the European Parliament (EP), the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA) assessed that the election “was competitive, voters had a broad choice and turned out in high numbers. In the pre-electoral period, the law was often not implemented in good faith by many stakeholders, which negatively impacted the trust in the election administration, enforcement of campaign finance rules, and the effectiveness of election dispute resolution. Fundamental freedoms were generally respected. Candidates could campaign freely; yet, numerous and credible indications of misuse of state resources and vote buying undermined the credibility of the process. The media landscape is diverse, but campaign coverage in the monitored media lacked in-depth analysis and was often biased. Election Day was assessed positively overall and paves the way to the second round. Still, some procedural problems were noted during the count, and conditions for tabulation were at times inadequate.”

The newly elected president disbanded the parliament to call for an early parliamentary election, which was held on July 21. A joint IEOM by OSCE/ODIHR, the OSCE PA, the NATO PA, and the EP assessed that: “fundamental rights and freedoms were overall respected and the campaign was competitive, despite numerous malpractices, particularly in the majoritarian races. Generally, the electoral administration was competent and effective despite short time available to prepare the elections, which were seen as an opportunity to consolidate reforms and changes in politics that Ukrainian voters are hoping for. In sharp contrast, the campaign was marked by widespread vote-buying, misuse of incumbency, and the practice of exploiting all possible legislative loopholes, skewing equality of opportunity for contestants. Intertwined business and political interests dictate media coverage of elections and allow for the misuse of political finance, including at the local level.”

Voting did not take place in either election in Crimea or in parts of Donbas under the control of Russia-led forces.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Communist Party remains banned. On February 2, the Central Election Commission refused to register the Communist Party presidential candidate, Petro Symonenko, stating that his party violates the law banning communist symbols.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Following the July parliamentary election, the proportion of women in the parliament increased from 12 percent to 20 percent.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

The High Anticorruption Court (HACC) started its work on September 5. The HACC’s creation completed the country’s system of bodies to fight high-level corruption, complementing two previously created anticorruption agencies, the National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) and the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor. The new independent anticorruption bodies faced political pressure that undermined public trust, raised concern about the government’s commitment to fighting corruption, and threatened the viability of the institutions.

On February 26, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional an article of the criminal code proscribing criminal liability for illegal enrichment. The decision led NABU to close 65 corruption cases it had been developing against high-level officials. According to legal experts and civil society, elimination of illicit enrichment from the criminal code was a serious setback in the fight against high-level corruption. On November 26, President Zelenskyy signed a law reinstating criminal liability for illicit enrichment of government officials.

Corruption: While the government publicized several attempts to combat corruption, it remained a serious problem for citizens and businesses alike.

On March 5, NABU initiated an investigation into Ihor Hladkovskyy, the son of the former first deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, for large-scale embezzlement. Hladkovskyy reportedly procured military equipment from Russia, which was then sold to Ukraine’s state-run defense enterprise, Ukroboronprom, at several times market rate. The scheme netted about 250 million hryvnias ($10.5 million). The investigation continued as of October.

On July 9, the Malynovsky District Court of Odesa acquitted Odesa mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov of embezzlement. The court moved quickly to hold hearings prior to the establishment of the HACC, experts maintained. The case was appealed and will be heard by the HACC.

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 National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) is responsible for reviewing financial declarations, monitoring the income and expenditures of high-level officials, and checking party finances. Observers increasingly questioned, however, whether the NAPC had the capacity and independence to fulfill this function.

In October the NAPC reported that First Deputy Minister of Culture Svitlana Fomenko declared false information in her 2015 asset declaration. The amount of undeclared income totaled 1.4 million hryvnias ($59,000). Declaration information was transferred to the NABU.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.

Authorities in Russia-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine routinely denied access to domestic and international civil society organizations. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for a human rights ombudsman, officially designated as parliamentary commissioner on human rights.

In March 2018 parliament appointed Lyudmila Denisova parliamentary commissioner on human rights. The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner on Human Rights cooperated with NGOs on various projects to monitor human rights practices in various institutions, including detention facilities, orphanages and boarding schools for children, and geriatric institutions. Denisova took a proactive stance advocating on behalf of political prisoners held by Russia as well as Crimean Tatars, Roma, IDPs, and persons with disabilities.

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

During the year the OHCHR and human rights groups documented fewer incidents of xenophobic societal violence and discrimination, compared with a spike in these incidents in 2018. Civil society groups remained concerned, however, about the lack of accountability for crimes committed by radical groups in cases documented in 2018. During the year members of such groups committed violent attacks on ethnic minorities (especially Roma), LGBTI persons, feminists, and other individuals they considered to be “un-Ukrainian” or “anti-Ukrainian.” The HRMMU noted that the failure of police and prosecutors to prevent these acts of violence, properly classify them as hate crimes, and effectively investigate and prosecute them created an environment of impunity and lack of justice for victims.

There were continued reports that the government provided grant funds to or cooperated with radical groups. For example, according to monitoring by independent investigative media outlet Bellingcat, during the year the Ministry of Youth and Sport awarded 845,000 hryvnias ($35,000) to groups–such as National Corps and C14 that have committed violence against minorities–to run “national-patriotic education projects” for children.

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men or women. The penalty for rape is three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual assault and rape continued to be significant problems.

On January 11, amendments to the criminal code increasing liability for sexual, domestic, and gender-based violence came into force. The amendments expanded the definition of rape and introduced stricter punishment for sexual coercion by up to three years of prison and forced abortion or sterilization by up to five years.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. Spousal abuse was common. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 761 cases of domestic violence were registered during the first nine months of the year. Police issued approximately 44,000 domestic violence warnings and protection orders during the first nine months of the year. Punishment included fines, emergency restraining orders of up to 10 days, ordinary restraining orders from one to six months, administrative arrest, and community service. Human rights groups noted that the ability of agencies to detect and report cases of domestic violence was limited. Human rights groups asserted that law enforcement often did not consider domestic violence to be a serious crime but rather a private matter to be settled between spouses, but they also noted that police were starting to take the problem more seriously.

According to press reports, in early March an intoxicated man stabbed his 25-year-old former wife in Podolsk. The woman managed to run to a hospital, despite being pursued by her former husband. Their seven-year-old daughter witnessed the crime. Odesa police found and detained the perpetrator two days later. He was charged with “intentional infliction of bodily harm.”

According to the NGO La Strada, the conflict in the Donbas region led to a surge in violence against women across the country. Human rights groups attributed the increase in violence to posttraumatic 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 areas controlled by Russia-led forces because they feared sexual abuse.

As of late September the government operated 24 shelters for victims of domestic violence and 21 centers for social and psychological aid across the country for victims of domestic violence and child abuse.

Sexual Harassment: While the law prohibits coercing a person to have sexual intercourse, legal experts stated that safeguards against harassment were inadequate. The law puts sexual harassment in the same category as discrimination and sets penalties ranging from a fine to three years in prison. Women’s rights groups reported continuing and widespread sexual harassment, including coerced sex, in the workplace. Women rarely sought legal recourse because courts declined to hear their cases and rarely convicted perpetrators.

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

Discrimination: While the law provides that women enjoy the same rights as men, women experienced discrimination in employment. According to the government commissioner on gender policy, women on average received 30 percent lower salaries than men. The Ministry of Health maintained a list of 50 occupations that remain prohibited for women.

Children

Birth Registration: Either birth in the country or to Ukrainian parents conveys citizenship. A child born to stateless parents residing permanently in the country is a citizen. The law requires that parents register a child within a month of birth, and failure to register sometimes resulted in denial of public services.

Registration of children born in Crimea or Russia-controlled areas in Donbas remained difficult. Authorities required hospital paperwork to register births. Russia-backed “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. In addition authorities did not recognize documents issued by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea or “authorities” in territories controlled by Russia-led forces. Persons living in Crimea and parts of Russia-controlled Donbas had to turn to Ukrainian courts with birth or death documents issued by occupational authorities in order to receive Ukrainian documents. The courts were obliged to make rulings in 24 hours; these decisions were then carried out by the registry office. Due to the lack of judges in local courts, Ukrainians living in regions occupied by Russia and Russia-led forces faced serious difficulty obtaining Ukrainian documents.

Child Abuse: Penalties for child abuse range from three years to life, depending on severity. The law criminalizes sexual relations between adults and persons younger than 16; violations are punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. A January 11 amendment to the criminal code qualifies sexual relations with a person younger than 14 as rape.

Human rights groups noted authorities lacked the capability to detect violence against children and refer victims for assistance. Preventive services remained underdeveloped. There were also instances of forced labor involving children (see section 7.c.).

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

According to press reports, on May 27, police officers in Zhytomyr Oblast, while visiting the home of local residents, learned that a child was missing. Police uncovered that a few months earlier, the stepfather had hit a child, who fell and died as a result. Both spouses then burnt the body. Authorities detained the parents detained on charges of first-degree murder and removed two other children from the family and placed them in a rehabilitation center.

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

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

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 (IOM) reported that children from socially disadvantaged families and those in state custody continued to be at high risk of trafficking, including for commercial sexual exploitation and the production of pornography. For example, on September 4, the Pechersk District Court in Kyiv authorized the arrest of a Kyiv resident who allegedly produced and disseminated pornography of his two children. An investigation was underway as of October.

Displaced Children: The majority of IDP children were from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, authorities registered more than 240,000 children as IDPs. Human rights groups believed this number was low.

Institutionalized Children: The child welfare system continued to rely on long-term residential care for children at social risk or without parental care, although the number of residential-care institutions continued to drop. Government policies to address the abandonment of children reduced the number of children deprived of parental care. A government strategy for 2017-2026 calls for the transformation of the institutionalized child-care system into one that provides a family-based or family-like environment for children.

Human rights groups and media outlets reported unsafe, inhuman, and sometimes life-threatening conditions in some institutions. Officials of several state-run institutions and orphanages were allegedly complicit or willfully negligent in the sex and labor trafficking of girls and boys under their care.

On August 15, press outlets reported that 20 children between the ages of 10 and 17 from the Batiovo Orphanage in Zakarpattia Oblast reported physical violence and sexual abuse. Local police started an investigation.

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 HYPERLINK “https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html”https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to census data and international Jewish groups, 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 might be higher. Before the conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to VAAD, approximately 30,000 Jews lived in the Donbas region. Jewish groups estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Jews lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.

According to the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG), as in 2018, no cases of suspected anti-Semitic violence were recorded as of October 1. The last recorded anti-Semitic violence against individuals occurred in 2016. The NMRMG recorded approximately 10 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism as of October 1, compared with 11 incidents during the same period in 2018. According to the NMRMG, the drop in violence and anti-Semitic vandalism was due to better police work and prosecution of those committing anti-Semitic acts.

Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv, Lviv, Poltava, and other cities. According to press reports, on September 15, perpetrators vandalized a memorial to more than 55,000 Jews murdered in Bohdanivka in Mykolaiv Oblast. Jewish organizations expressed concern about the continued existence of Krakivsky Market and new construction atop a historic Jewish cemetery in Lviv. There were several anti-Semitic incidents targeting the Babyn Yar memorial reported during the year.

In line with the country’s 2015 decommunization and denazification law, authorities continued to rename communist-era streets, bridges, and monuments. Some were renamed in honor of 20th century Ukrainian nationalists, some of whom were associated with anti-Semitism.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The law requires the government to provide access to public venues, health services, information, communications, transportation, and the judicial system 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.

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

Patients in mental-health facilities remained at risk of abuse, and many psychiatric hospitals continued to use outdated methods and treatments. According to February press reports, patients of a psychiatric institution in Bilopillia in Sumy Oblast complained about cruel and humiliating treatment by staff who allegedly beat and verbally abused them and left them naked for several days. The facility’s administration reportedly forced patients to work on the institution’s cattle farm. The local prosecutor’s office opened an investigation.

Law enforcement generally took appropriate measures to punish those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities.

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

A law adopted in 2017 guaranteed every child with a disability the right to study at regular secondary schools. It called for the creation of inclusive groups in preschool facilities, secondary and vocational schools, and colleges. According to the president’s commissioner for the rights of children, 12,000 children with disabilities went to regular schools within the program of inclusive education.

Persons with disabilities in Russia-controlled areas in the east of the country suffered from a lack of appropriate care.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Mistreatment of members of minority groups and harassment of foreigners of non-Slavic appearance remained problematic. According to the Ethnic Minorities’ Rights Monitoring Group at the Congress of Ethnic Communities of Ukraine, as of October 1, the number of xenophobic incidents (attacks, vandalism, and “public expressions of xenophobia”) totaled 61, compared with 89 during the same period in 2018. Human rights organizations stated the requirement to prove actual intent, including proof of premeditation, to secure a conviction made it difficult to apply the laws against offenses motivated by racial, national, or religious hatred. Police and prosecutors continued to prosecute racially motivated crimes under laws against hooliganism or related offenses.

There were reports of societal violence against Roma. For example, according to press reports, on October 24, an unknown assailant in Zaporizhzhia attacked Romani rights activist Anzhelika Belova with a knife. According to press reports, the attacker followed her home from a supermarket into her apartment building, where he stabbed her. Belova survived, and police arrested the alleged perpetrator. An investigation was under way.

There were reports of attacks on Romani settlements. In one such case, there was an arson attack on a Romani camp on the outskirts of Ivano-Frankivsk on March 25. Ten men dressed in black attacked the settlement and hurled Molotov cocktails at the camp. The ensuing fire damaged two homes. When police arrived, Romani residents refused to file a complaint.

There were multiple reports that members of some radical groups disrupted gatherings related to the rights of Roma. In one example, human rights groups reported that on May 27, a man carrying an ax, two knives, and other weapons attempted to disrupt a briefing of human rights activists about violence against members of the Romani community. He broke into the room and started verbally insulting Romani individuals present. When a press center guard intervened, he threatened those present with two knives and pepper spray. Police responded and removed the perpetrator.

Human rights activists were concerned about the lack of accountability in cases of attacks on Roma documented in 2018. For example, on August 14, a Lviv district court found two high school students guilty of hooliganism for participating in an attack on a Romani camp that resulted in the killing of a man in June 2018. The court sentenced them to four-and-a-half years of prison. The court did not consider racial motivations or hate crime provisions.

In April the Kyiv Oblast Prosecutor’s Office appealed a November 2018 decision of the Holosiivsky District Court in Kyiv dropped charges against C14 leader Serhiy Mazur, the alleged perpetrator in another violent attack against a Romani settlement in Kyiv in April 2018. Court hearings have been postponed six times. Human rights NGOs voiced concerns that impunity for past attacks fueled more violence.

Roma continued to face governmental and societal discrimination and significant barriers accessing education, health care, social services, and employment. According to Council of Europe experts, 60 percent of Roma were unemployed, 40 percent had no documents, and only 1 percent had a university degree. According to the Romani women’s foundation, Chirikli, local authorities erected a number of barriers to prevent issuing national identification documents to Roma. Authorities hampered access to education for persons who lacked documents and segregated Romani children into special schools or lower-quality classrooms.

During the year many Roma fled settlements in areas controlled by Russia-led forces and moved elsewhere in the country. According to Chirikli, approximately 10,000 Roma were among the most vulnerable members of the country’s IDP population. 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

There were reports that police used laws on human trafficking or prostitution as a pretext to target LGBTI persons. For example, on April 20, police in Dnipro raided a gay nightclub. According to the LGBTI rights organization Nash Mir, at around 1 a.m., 20 to 25 police officers burst into the nightclub, forced all those present to lie down on the floor for three hours, and seized all mobile phones and the club’s equipment. Officers reportedly behaved in an aggressive and homophobic way, expressed insults, made jokes related to sexual orientation, and forced two foreigners, who were in the club, to sing loudly the anthem of Ukraine. While the purported grounds for the raid were the prevention of human trafficking, the published police report about the raid contained no evidence of human trafficking but claimed that the club’s owners took money from patrons in exchange for “creating the conditions for disorderly sexual intercourse.” Nash Mir called the police actions “obviously homophobic and illegal.”

There was societal violence against LGBTI persons often perpetrated by members of violent radical groups, and authorities often did not adequately investigate these cases or hold perpetrators to account. The HRMMU noted that attacks against members of the LGBTI community and other minorities were rarely classified under criminal provisions pertaining to hate crimes, which carried heavier penalties. Crimes and discrimination against LGBTI persons remained underreported. For example, according to press reports, on June 23, four unknown men beat two participants in the Kyiv Pride March who were heading home after the event, spraying them with pepper spray, kicking them, and insulting them.

According to the Nash Mir, radical groups consistently tried to disrupt LGBTI events with violence or threats of violence. For example, on April 11, members of radical groups Tradition and Order and Katechon attacked participants of the European Lesbian Conference in Kyiv. Perpetrators broke into the premises and sprayed tear gas, injuring 10 persons. Police intervened and detained the attackers; the attackers were subsequently released, and no charges were filed.

Although leading politicians and ministers condemned attacks on LGBTI gatherings and individuals, officials sometimes made public statements that were homophobic or that called for violence against LGBTI persons. For example, Sumy deputy mayor Maksym Halytsky posted on a social network a picture of a concentration camp with the caption “before long the so-called prides will look like this.” The Prosecutor General’s Office initiated criminal proceedings on charges of “deliberate actions to incite national, racial, or religious hatred, to humiliate national honor and dignity, or to offend the feelings of citizens in the light of their beliefs.”

The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. No law, however, prohibits such discrimination in other areas, and discrimination was reportedly widespread in employment, housing, education, and other sectors.

Transgender persons reported difficulties obtaining official documents reflecting their gender identity, which resulted in discrimination in health care, education, and other areas.

During the year the HRMMU reported that in the Russia-controlled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, social stigma and intolerance based on sexual orientation and gender identity have become more acute, reportedly due to the application of laws criminalizing the “propaganda of same-sex relationships.”

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Stigma and discrimination in health-care centers were barriers to HIV-positive individuals’ receiving medical services. UNICEF reported that children with HIV/AIDS were at high risk of abandonment, social stigma, and discrimination. Authorities prevented many children infected with HIV/AIDS from attending kindergartens or schools. Persons with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination in housing and employment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association as a fundamental right and establishes the right to participate in independent trade unions. The law provides the right for most workers to form and join independent unions, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes. 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 describe 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. For example, the status of trade unions under two laws provides they are considered legal entities only after state registration. Under another law, however, a trade union is considered a legal entity upon adoption of its statute. The inherent conflict between these laws creates obstacles for workers seeking to form trade unions. Unions also reported significant bureaucratic hurdles in the registration process, including the payment of notary fees and requirements to visit as many as 10 different offices. Moreover, independent unions have reported multiple incidents of harassment by local law enforcement officials while navigating the registration process, including atypical and irregular requests for documentation and membership information.

The legal procedure to initiate a strike is complex and severely hinders strike action, artificially lowering the numbers of informal industrial actions. The legal process for industrial disputes requires consideration, conciliation, and labor arbitration allowing involved parties to draw out the process for months. Only after completion of this process can workers vote to strike, a decision that courts may still block. The right to strike is further 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. The government is allowed to deny workers the right to strike on national security grounds or to protect the health or “rights and liberties” of citizens. The law prohibits strikes by broad categories of workers, including personnel in the Office of the Prosecutor General, the judiciary, the armed forces, the security services, law enforcement agencies, the transportation sector, and the public-service sector.

Legal hurdles make it difficult for independent unions that are 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. The legal hurdles resulting from an obsolete labor code hindered the ability of smaller independent unions to represent their members effectively. Authorities did not enforce labor laws effectively or consistently.

Worker rights advocates continued to express concerns about 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 two decades.

Independent union representatives continued to be the subjects of violence and intimidation and reported that local law enforcement officials frequently ignored or facilitated violations of their rights. Worker advocates reported an increase in retaliation against trade union members involved in anticorruption activities at their workplaces.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations were sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to enforce the law sufficiently.

During the year the IOM responded to numerous instances of compulsory labor, to include pornography, criminal activity, labor exploitation, begging, and sexual and other forms of exploitation. IOM Ukraine reported it assisted six children (four female and two male), three of whom were subjected to forced labor or begging. Annual reports on government action to prevent the use of forced labor in public procurement indicated that the government has not taken action to investigate its own supply chains for evidence of modern slavery. Traffickers subjected some children to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

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. Observers reported, however, that the provision of assistance was problematic due to funding shortfalls and high turnover of trained staff. The government continued to rely on international organizations and NGOs with international donor funding to identify victims and provide the vast majority of victim protection and assistance.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for most employment is 16, but children who are 14 may perform undefined “light work” with a parent’s consent. While the law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, it does not always provide inspectors sufficient authority to conduct inspections.

From January to October, the State Service on Labor conducted 2,516 inspections to investigate compliance with child labor laws. The inspections identified 41 organizations engaged in child labor activities. Of these, 14 were in the service sector, five in the industrial sector, five in the agricultural sector, and 17 in other areas. The inspections uncovered 57 cases of undeclared labor and 15 minors receiving undeclared wages. Increased child labor in amber mining was a growing problem, according to reports by international labor groups.

The most frequent violations of child labor laws concerned work under hazardous conditions, long workdays, failure to maintain accurate work records, and delayed salary payments. The government established institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of laws and regulations on child labor. The limited collection of penalties imposed for child labor violations, however, impeded the enforcement of child labor laws.

Penalties for violations of the child labor laws were insufficient to deter violations.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and employment discrimination reportedly occurred with respect to gender, disability, nationality, race, minority status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and HIV-positive status. The agriculture, construction, mining, heavy industry, and services sectors had the most work-related discrimination. The law provides for civil, administrative, and criminal liability for discrimination in the workplace. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Women received lower salaries due to limited opportunities for advancement and the types of industries that employed them. According to the State Statistics Office, men earned on average 23 percent more than women. The gap was not caused by direct discrimination in the setting of wages, but by horizontal and vertical stratification of the labor market: Women were more likely to work in lower-paid sectors of the economy and in lower positions. Women held fewer elected or appointed offices at the national and regional levels. In July government research on women and men in the energy sector was presented to identify possible ways to resolve the problem of gender imbalance in the sector. The research reflected data from 2018 and early 2019 and indicated that, even though the share of women in the sector was gradually growing, women still constituted only 25 to 27 percent of the national oil and gas industry workforce.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The country’s annual budget establishes a government-mandated national minimum wage, which is above the poverty level. Some shadow employees received wages below the established minimum.

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

The law requires employers to provide workplace safety standards. Employers must meet occupational safety and health standards, but at times they ignored these regulations due to the lack of enforcement or strict imposition of penalties. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardizing their continued employment. Employers in the metal and mining industries often violated the rule and retaliated against workers by pressuring them to quit.

Wage arrears continued to be a major problem. A lack of legal remedies, bureaucratic wrangling, and corruption in public and private enterprises, blocked efforts to recover overdue wages, leading to significant wage theft. Total wage arrears in the country fell during the year through September 1 to 2.8 billion hryvnias ($118 million) from 3.6 billion hryvnia ($152 million) in September 2018. The majority of wage arrears occurred in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. The Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine reported that arrears in the coal sector had reached almost 1.3 billion hryvnias ($55 million) in September, compared with arrears of 930 million hryvnias ($39 million) in September 2018. Arrears and corruption problems exacerbated industrial relations and led to numerous protests.

On September 11, the government adopted Resolution No. 838 On issues of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Agriculture. This resolution changed the labor-related authorities of the Ministry of Social Policy and transferred responsibility for employment, labor, and labor migration to the Ministry of Economic Trade, Development, and Agriculture. Moreover, the State Labor Service (Labor Inspectorate) has also been transferred to the Ministry of Economic Trade, Development, and Agriculture.

The government did not always effectively enforce labor law. In 2017 the government adopted a new procedure for state control and supervision of labor law compliance that introduces new forms and rules for oversight of labor law compliance, extends the powers of labor inspectors, amends the procedure for imposing fines for violation of labor law requirements, and introduces specific forms for exercise of control by labor inspectors, namely, inspection visits and remote inspections. The labor inspectorate, however, lacked sufficient funding, technical capacity, and professional staffing to conduct independent inspections effectively.

Labor inspectors may assess compliance based on leads or other information regarding possible unreported employment from public sources. This includes information the service learns concerning potential violations from other state agencies. For example, when tax authorities discover a disparity between a company’s workforce and its production volumes as compared with average data for the industry, they may refer the case to labor authorities who will determine compliance with labor laws.

While performing inspection visits to check potential unreported employment, labor inspectors may enter any workplace without prior notice at any hour of day or night. The law also allows labor inspectors to hold an employer liable for certain types of violations (e.g., unreported employment), empowering them to issue an order to cease the restricted activity. Labor inspectors may also visit an employer to monitor labor law compliance and inform the company and its employees about labor rights and best practices.

In May a court overturned the inspection decree because it found that the Cabinet of Ministers had adopted it in violation of the procedure. The government thereafter adopted a new decree, which once again allowed labor inspectors to carry out labor inspections without notice.

On August 30, Regulation No. 823 of the Cabinet of Ministers (dated August 21, 2019) became effective and brought into force the new Procedure for Exercising State Control over Compliance with Labor Legislation. The procedure expands the list of possible grounds for labor inspections conducted by the State Labor Service, its territorial bodies, and municipalities. It also allows the labor inspector not to report on the inspection visit if there is a suspicion of undeclared work. When inspectors find cases of labor violations, they are authorized to hold the perpetrator liable if there is clear evidence of labor inspection violations.

In September 2018 the Cabinet of Ministers approved a regulation that increased regulatory oversight to monitor and counter “shadow” employment in the informal economy, the widespread practice of paying for labor without an existing employment contract. The regulation compels the State Labor Service, the State Tax Service, the State Pension Fund, and the National Police to review their internal regulations to introduce stricter control measures to combat shadow employment. Agencies are also required to conduct public awareness campaigns to inform employers of the new procedures.

Penalties for violations of workplace safety standards were insufficient to deter violations. The State Labor Inspectorate was responsible for enforcing labor laws. Inspectors were limited in number, funding, and authority to enforce existing regulations. The absence of a coordination mechanism with other government bodies was also significant.

Mineworkers, particularly in the illegal mining sector, faced serious safety and health problems. Operational safety problems and health complaints were common. Lax safety standards and aging equipment caused many injuries on the job.

During the first six months of the year, authorities reported 1,943 individual injuries, including 207 fatalities; 352 injuries to coal miners, including 11 fatalities; 238 injuries in the agro-industrial sector, including 33 fatalities; and 149 injuries in engineering, including nine fatalities.

Despite active fighting close to industrial areas in the government-controlled areas of the Donbas region, enterprises involved in mining, energy, media, retail, clay production, and transportation continued to operate. Fighting resulted in damage to mines and plants through loss of electricity, destroyed transformers, physical damage from shelling, and alleged intentional flooding of mines by combined Russia-led forces. Miners were especially vulnerable, as loss of electrical power could strand them underground. The loss of electrical power also threatened the operability of mine safety equipment that prevented the buildup of explosive gases.

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