An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Afghanistan

Executive Summary

Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch. Parliamentary elections for the lower house of parliament were constitutionally mandated for 2015, but for a number of reasons, were not held until October 2018. Elections were held on October 20 and 21 in all provinces except in Ghazni where they were delayed due to an earlier political dispute and in Kandahar where they were delayed following the October 18 assassination of provincial Chief of Police Abdul Raziq. Elections took place in Kandahar on October 27, but elections in Ghazni were not scheduled by year’s end. Although there was high voter turnout, the election was marred by violence, technical issues, and irregularities, including voter intimidation, vote rigging, and interference by electoral commission staff and police. In some cases, polling stations were forced to close due to pressure from local leaders.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces, although security forces occasionally acted independently.

Human rights issues included extrajudicial killings by security forces; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest; arbitrary detention; criminalization of defamation; government corruption; lack of accountability and investigation in cases of violence against women, including those accused of so-called moral crimes; sexual abuse of children by security force members; violence by security forces against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community; and violence against journalists.

Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses were serious problems. The government did not consistently or effectively prosecute abuses by officials, including security forces.

There were major attacks on civilians by armed insurgent groups and targeted assassinations by armed insurgent groups of persons affiliated with the government. The Taliban and other insurgents continued to kill security force personnel and civilians using indiscriminate tactics such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide attacks, and rocket attacks, and to commit disappearances and torture. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed 65 percent of civilian casualties during the first nine months of the year (1,743 deaths and 3,500 injured) to antigovernment actors. The Taliban and ISIS-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) used children as suicide bombers, soldiers, and weapons carriers. Other antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked government workers, foreigners, medical and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers, and other civilians.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. From January 1 to September 30, UNAMA reported an overall increase in civilian deaths over the same period for 2017, from 2,666 to 2,798. The number of civilian deaths attributed to progovernment forces increased from 560 to 761. The total number of civilian casualties decreased from 8,084 to 8,050.

According to the annual report UNAMA released in February, Afghan Local Police (ALP) in Zurmat District, Paktiya Province, killed a civilian and injured two others during an attempted home invasion and robbery in September 2017. Although the government investigated and prosecuted some cases of extrajudicial killing, an overall lack of accountability for security force abuses remained a problem, particularly with the ALP.

There were numerous reports of politically motivated killings or injuries by the Taliban, ISIS-K, and other insurgent groups. UNAMA reported 1,743 civilian deaths due to antigovernment and terrorist forces in the first nine months of the year. These groups caused 65 percent of total civilian casualties, compared with 64 percent in 2017. On August 15, ISIS-K killed 48 individuals and injured 67 in a bombing that targeted students in a Kabul classroom.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances committed by security forces and antigovernment forces alike.

UNAMA, in its biannual Report on the Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees, reported multiple allegations of disappearances by the ANP in Kandahar.

Two professors, working for the American University of Afghanistan and kidnapped by the Taliban in 2016 in Kabul, remained in captivity.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were numerous reports that government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses.

NGOs reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians. On April 17, the government approved the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, building on the prior year’s progress in passing the Antitorture Law. Independent monitors, however, continued to report credible cases of torture in detention centers.

UNAMA, in its April 2017 Report on the Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees, stated that of the 469 National Directorate for Security (NDS), ANP, and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) detainees interviewed, 39 percent reported torture or other abuse. Types of abuse included severe beatings, electric shocks, prolonged suspension by the arms, suffocation, wrenching of testicles, burns by cigarette lighters, sleep deprivation, sexual assault, and threats of execution.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) stated in its June report on the use of torture in detention centers that of the 621 detainees they interviewed, 79 persons, or 12 percent, reported being tortured, for the purpose of both eliciting confessions as well as punishment. The AIHRC reported that of these 79 cases, the ANP perpetrated 62 cases, with the balance by the NDS and ANDSF.

In November 2016, first vice president General Abdul Rashid Dostum allegedly kidnapped Uzbek tribal elder and political rival Ahmad Ishchi. Before detaining Ishchi, Dostum let his bodyguards brutally beat him. After several days in detention, Ishchi alleged he was beaten, tortured, and raped by Dostum and his men. Dostum returned in July and resumed his duties as first vice president after more than a year in Turkey. As of August there was no progress on the case brought by Ishchi.

There were numerous reports of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment by the Taliban, ISIS-K, and other antigovernment groups. The AIHRC and other organizations reported summary convictions by Taliban courts that resulted in executions by stoning or beheading. According to media reports, Taliban in Kohistan District, Sar-e Pul Province, stoned a man to death in February on suspicion of zina (extramarital sex). There were other reports of ISIS-K atrocities, including the beheading of a 12-year-old child in Darzab District, Jowzjan Province, in April, the beheading of three medical workers in Chaparhar District, Nangarhar Province, in April, and stoning of a man in Nangarhar in February.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were difficult due to overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and limited access to medical services. The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (GDPDC), part of the Ministry of Interior, has responsibility for all civilian-run prisons (for both men and women) and civilian detention centers, including the large national prison complex at Pul-e Charkhi. The Ministry of Justice’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Directorate is responsible for all juvenile rehabilitation centers. The NDS operates short-term detention facilities at the provincial and district levels, usually collocated with their headquarters facilities. The Ministry of Defense runs the Afghan National Detention Facilities at Parwan. There were credible reports of private prisons run by members of the ANDSF and used for abuse of detainees. The Taliban also maintain illegal detention facilities throughout the country. The ANDSF discovered and liberated several Taliban detention facilities during the year and reported that prisoners included children and Afghans accused of moral crimes or association with the government.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons continued to be a serious, widespread problem. Based on standards recommended by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 28 of 34 provincial prisons for men were severely overcrowded. The country’s largest prison, Pul-e Charkhi, held 13,118 prisoners, detainees, and children of incarcerated mothers as of October, 55 percent more than it was designed to hold. In August more than 500 prisoners at Pul-e Charkhi participated in a one-week hunger strike to protest prison conditions, particularly for elderly and ill inmates, and the administration of their cases.

Authorities generally lacked the facilities to separate pretrial and convicted inmates or to separate juveniles according to the seriousness of the charges against them. Local prisons and detention centers did not always have separate facilities for female prisoners.

According to NGOs and media reports, children younger than age 15 were imprisoned with their mothers, due in part to a lack of capacity among Children’s Support Centers. These reports documented insufficient educational and medical facilities for these minors.

Access to food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care in prisons varied throughout the country and was generally inadequate. The GDPDC’s nationwide program to feed prisoners faced a severely limited budget, and many prisoners relied on family members to provide food supplements and other necessary items. In November 2017 the local NGO Integrity Watch Afghanistan reported that Wardak Prison had no guaranteed source of clean drinking water and that prisoners in Pul-e Charkhi, Baghlan, and Wardak had limited access to food, with prisoners’ families also providing food to make up the gap.

Administration: The law provides prisoners with the right to leave prison for up to 20 days for family visits. Most prisons did not implement this provision, and the law is unclear in its application to different classes of prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The AIHRC, UNAMA, and the ICRC monitored the NDS, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Defense detention facilities. NATO Mission Resolute Support monitored the NDS, ANP, and Defense Ministry facilities. Security constraints and obstruction by authorities occasionally prevented visits to some places of detention. UNAMA and the AIHRC reported difficulty accessing NDS places of detention when they arrived unannounced. The AIHRC reported NDS officials usually required the AIHRC to submit a formal letter requesting access at least one to two days in advance of a visit. NDS officials continued to prohibit AIHRC and UNAMA monitors from bringing cameras, mobile phones, recording devices, or computers into NDS facilities, thereby preventing AIHRC monitors from properly documenting physical evidence of abuse, such as bruises, scars, and other injuries. The NDS assigned a colonel to monitor human rights conditions in its facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both remained serious problems. Authorities detained many citizens without respecting essential procedural protections. According to NGOs, law enforcement officers continued to detain citizens arbitrarily without clear legal authority or due process. Local law enforcement officials reportedly detained persons illegally on charges not provided under local criminal law. In some cases authorities improperly imprisoned women because they deemed it unsafe for the women to return home or because women’s shelters were not available to provide protection in the provinces or districts at issue (see section 6, Women). The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter, but authorities generally did not observe this requirement.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Three ministries have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the NDS. The ANP, under the Ministry of Interior, has primary responsibility for internal order and for the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a community-based self-defense force. The Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF), also under the Ministry of Interior, investigates major crimes including government corruption, human trafficking, and criminal organizations. The Afghan National Army, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security, but its primary activity is fighting the insurgency internally. The NDS functions as an intelligence agency and has responsibility for investigating criminal cases concerning national security. The investigative branch of the NDS operated a facility in Kabul, where it held national security prisoners awaiting trial until their cases went to prosecution. Some areas were outside of government control, and antigovernment forces, including the Taliban, oversaw their own justice and security systems.

There were reports of impunity and lack of accountability by security forces throughout the year. According to observers, ALP and ANP personnel were largely unaware of their responsibilities and defendants’ rights under the law. Accountability of the NDS, ANP, and ALP officials for torture and abuse was weak, not transparent, and rarely enforced. Independent judicial or external oversight of the NDS, MCTF, ANP, and ALP in the investigation and prosecution of crimes or misconduct, including torture and abuse, was limited or nonexistent.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

UNAMA, the AIHRC, and other observers reported arbitrary and prolonged detention frequently occurred throughout the country. Authorities often did not inform detainees of the charges against them.

The new Penal Code, which took effect in February, modernizes and consolidates criminal laws incorporating new provisions, including the introduction of alternatives to incarceration for adults. Understanding and knowledge of the new code among justice-sector actors and the public was not widespread, but a UNAMA “Survey and Preliminary Findings on Implementation of the 2017 Penal Code (RPC) in Afghanistan”, conducted between April and July, found that courts generally were applying the new Penal Code and were aware of when it should be applied.

Existing law provides for access to legal counsel and the use of warrants, and it limits how long authorities may hold detainees without charge. Police have the right to detain a suspect for 72 hours to complete a preliminary investigation. If police decide to pursue a case, they transfer the file to the Attorney General’s Office. After taking custody of a suspect, the Attorney General’s Office can issue a detention warrant for up to seven days for a misdemeanor and 15 days for a felony. With court approval, the investigating prosecutor may continue to detain a suspect while continuing the investigation, with the length of continued detention depending on the severity of the offense. The investigating prosecutor may detain a suspect for a maximum of 10 days for a petty crime, 27 days for a misdemeanor, and 75 days for a felony. The prosecutor must file an indictment or release the suspect within those deadlines; there can be no further extension of the investigatory period if the defendant is already in detention. Prosecutors often ignored these limits. In addition there were multiple reports that judges often detained prisoners after sentences were completed because a bribe for release had not been paid. Incommunicado imprisonment remained a problem, and prompt access to a lawyer was rare. Prisoners generally were able to receive family visits.

The criminal procedure code, although rarely used, provides for release on bail. Authorities at times remanded “flight risk” defendants pending a prosecutorial appeal despite the defendants’ acquittal by the trial court. In other cases authorities did not rearrest defendants released pending appeal, even after the appellate court convicted them in absentia.

According to international monitors, prosecutors filed indictments in cases transferred to them by police, even where there was a reasonable belief no crime occurred.

According to the juvenile code, the arrest of a child “should be a matter of last resort and should last for the shortest possible period.” Reports indicated children in juvenile rehabilitation centers across the country lacked access to adequate food, health care, and education. Detained children frequently did not receive the presumption of innocence, the right to know the charges against them, access to defense lawyers, and protection from self-incrimination. The law provides for the creation of special juvenile police, prosecution offices, and courts. Due to limited resources, special juvenile courts functioned in only six provinces (Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Kunduz). Elsewhere, children’s cases went to ordinary courts. The law mandates authorities handle children’s cases confidentially.

Some children in the criminal justice system were victims rather than perpetrators of crime. In the absence of sufficient shelters for boys, authorities detained abused boys and placed them in juvenile rehabilitation centers because they could not return to their families and shelter elsewhere was unavailable.

Police and legal officials often charged women with intent to commit zina (sex outside marriage) to justify their arrest and incarceration for social offenses, such as running away from their husband or family, rejecting a spouse chosen by their families, and fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping to escape an arranged marriage. The constitution provides that in cases not explicitly covered by the provisions of the constitution or other laws, courts may, in accordance with Hanafi jurisprudence (a school of Islamic law) and within the limits set by the constitution, rule in a manner that best attains justice in the case. Although observers stated this provision was widely understood to apply only to civil cases, many judges and prosecutors applied this provision to criminal matters. Observers reported officials used this article to charge women and men with “immorality” or “running away from home”, neither of which is a crime. Police often detained women for zina at the request of family members.

Authorities imprisoned some women for reporting crimes perpetrated against them and detained some as proxies for a husband or male relative convicted of a crime on the assumption the suspect would turn himself in to free the family member.

Authorities placed some women in protective custody to prevent violence by family members. They also employed protective custody (including placement in a detention center) for women who had experienced domestic violence, if no shelters were available to protect them from further abuse. The 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) presidential decree–commonly referred to as the EVAW law–obliges police to arrest persons who abuse women. Implementation and awareness of the EVAW law was limited, however. In March, President Ghani issued a decree amending the new Penal Code to reinforce EVAW as a stand-alone law.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention remained a problem in most provinces. Observers reported some prosecutors and police detained individuals without charge for actions that were not crimes under the law, in part because the judicial system was inadequate to process detainees in a timely fashion. Observers continued to report those detained for moral crimes were primarily women.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter. Nevertheless, lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. Many detainees did not benefit from the provisions of the criminal procedure code because of a lack of resources, limited numbers of defense attorneys, unskilled legal practitioners, and corruption. The law provides that, if there is no completed investigation or filed indictment within the code’s 10-, 27-, or 75-day deadlines, judges must release defendants. Judges, however, held many detainees beyond those periods, despite the lack of an indictment.

Amnesty: In January the government released 75 Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) political detainees as follow-up to a September 2016 peace accord with the HIG that included amnesty for past war crimes for HIG members including its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary continued to be underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained, largely ineffective, and subject to threats, bias, political influence, and pervasive corruption.

Judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were often intimidated or corrupt. In May, UNAMA reported that the Anticorruption Justice Center, established in 2016 to combat corruption, has thus far indicted 142 cases, including charges of misuse of authority, embezzlement, bribery, forgery of documents, and money laundering. Bribery and pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency impaired judicial impartiality. Most courts administered justice unevenly, employing a mixture of codified law, sharia, and local custom. Traditional justice mechanisms remained the main recourse for many, especially in rural areas. Corruption was common within the judiciary, and criminals often paid bribes to obtain their release or a sentence reduction (see section 4).

There was a widespread shortage of judges, primarily in insecure areas, leading to the adjudication of many cases through informal, traditional mediation. A shortage of women judges, particularly outside of Kabul, limited access to justice for women. Many women cannot and do not use the formal justice system because cultural norms preclude their engagement with male officials. Only 234 of 2162, or 12 percent, of judges are women. The formal justice system was stronger in urban centers, closer to the central government, and weaker in rural areas. Courts and police forces continued to operate at less than full strength nationwide. The judicial system continued to lack the capacity to absorb and implement the large volume of new and amended legislation. A lack of qualified judicial personnel hindered the courts. Some municipal and provincial authorities, including judges, had minimal training and often based their judgments on their personal understanding of sharia without appropriate reference to statutory law, tribal codes of honor, or local custom. The number of judges who graduated from law school continued to increase. Access to legal codes and statutes increased, but their limited availability continued to hinder some judges and prosecutors. UNAMA found during an April to July survey that judges did not have sufficient copies of the new Penal Code.

During the year an investigatory committee, formed by President Ghani in 2016, closed its inquiry into the Farkhunda case, which involved the 2015 death of a woman killed by a mob. The committee report described deficiencies in responses by the police, prosecutors, and the courts. The investigation was closed during the year without further action.

In major cities courts continued to decide criminal cases as mandated by law. Authorities frequently resolved civil cases using the informal system, the government mediation mechanism through the Ministry of Justice Huquq office, or, in some cases, through negotiations between the parties facilitated by judicial personnel or private lawyers. Because the formal legal system often was not present in rural areas, local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) were the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes. They also imposed punishments without regard to the formal legal system. UNAMA and NGOs reported several cases where perpetrators of violence against women crimes that included domestic abuse reoffended after their claims were resolved by mediation. For example, UNAMA cited a case where a Taliban court’s mediation sent a victim of spousal abuse back to her home, only for her husband to cut off her nose afterwards.

In some areas the Taliban enforced a parallel judicial system based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments included execution and mutilation. According to media reporting, in February a Taliban court in Obe District, Herat Province, cut off a man’s hand and leg as a sentence for robbery.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary rarely enforced this provision. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. The government formally uses an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence, and those accused have the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although the judiciary did not always respect these rights. Some provinces held public trials, but this was not the norm. The law requires judges to provide five days’ notice prior to a hearing, but this requirement was not always followed.

Three-judge panels decide criminal trials, and there is no right to a jury trial under the constitution. Prosecutors rarely informed defendants promptly or in detail of the charges brought against them. Indigent defendants have the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allow. The judiciary applied this right inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers. Citizens were often unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys are entitled to examine physical evidence and documents related to a case before trial, although observers noted court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial, despite defense lawyers’ requests.

Criminal defense attorneys reported the judiciary’s increased respect and tolerance for the role of defense lawyers in criminal trials, but defendants’ attorneys continued to experience abuse and threats from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.

The criminal procedure code establishes time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when the accused is in custody. The code also permits temporary release of the accused on bail, but this was rarely honored. An addendum to the code provides for extended custodial limits in cases involving crimes committed against the internal and external security of the country. Courts at the Justice Center in Parwan regularly elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the judiciary does not meet the deadlines, the law requires the accused be released from custody. Often courts did not meet these deadlines, but detainees nevertheless remained in custody.

In cases where no clearly defined legal statute applied, or where judges, prosecutors, or elders were unaware of the statutory law, judges and informal shuras enforced customary law. This practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports the government held political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Corruption and limited capacity restricted citizen access to justice for constitutional and human rights violations. Citizens submit complaints of human rights violations to the AIHRC, which reviews and submits credible complaints to the Attorney General’s Office for further investigation and prosecution.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference in matters of privacy, but authorities did not always respect its provisions. The criminal procedure code contains additional safeguards for the privacy of the home, prohibiting night arrests, requiring the presence of a female officer during residential searches, and strengthening requirements for body searches. The government did not always respect these prohibitions.

Government officials continued to enter homes and businesses of civilians forcibly and without legal authorization. There were reports that government officials monitored private communications, including telephone calls and other digital communications, without legal authority or judicial warrant.

Media and the government reported that the Taliban routinely used civilian homes as shelters and bases of operation, including in their attacks on Farah in May and Ghazni in August. There were also reports that the Taliban and ISIS-K used schools for military purposes.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year. The Helmand Peace March Initiative–the “peace tent” protest that launched in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah on March 26 following a deadly car bombing–inspired antiwar demonstrations in at least 16 other provinces, which were largely peaceful.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right to freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. The 2009 law on political parties obliges political parties to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. In 2012 the Council of Ministers approved a regulation requiring political parties to open offices in at least 20 provinces within one year of registration. In 2017 President Ghani signed a decree prohibiting employees and officials of security and judicial institutions, specifically the Supreme Court, Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and National Directorate of Security, from political party membership while government employees. Noncompliant employees could be fired.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. The government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance.

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the right to freedom of movement within the borders of the country. Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces and insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers. The greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country was the lack of security. Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without male consent or a male chaperone.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Internal population movements increased during the year because of armed conflict and an historic drought. Nearly 470,000 individuals were internally displaced from January 1 to September 9. The 250,000 displacements caused by severe drought surpassed by approximately 30,000 the number of those displaced by conflict during the year. Most IDPs left insecure rural areas and small towns to seek relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. All 34 provinces hosted IDP populations.

Limited humanitarian access because of the deteriorating security situation caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs, who continued to lack access to basic protection, including personal and physical security and shelter. Many IDPs, especially in households with a female head, faced difficulty obtaining basic services because they did not have identity documents. Many IDPs in urban areas reportedly faced discrimination, lacked adequate sanitation and other basic services, and lived in constant risk of eviction from illegally occupied displacement sites, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Women in IDP camps reported high levels of domestic violence. Limited opportunities to earn a livelihood following the initial displacement often led to secondary displacement, making tracking of vulnerable persons difficult. Even IDPs who had access to local social services sometimes had less access than their non-IDP neighbors, due to distance from the services or other factors.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country is a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, which guarantee protection of refugees, including nonrefoulement. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees registers, and mitigates protection risks of, approximately 500 refugees in urban areas throughout the country. Although the government has not adopted a draft national refugee law and asylum framework, it allows refugees and asylum-seekers access to education and health care.

Durable Solutions: The government did not officially accept refugees for resettlement, offer naturalization to refugees residing on its territory, or assist in their voluntary return to their homes. Registered refugee returns from Pakistan and Iran slowed to historically low levels during the year, with just 12,052 returns as of September 8, 75 percent less than the same period in 2017 when 48,055 Afghan refugees returned. The International Organization for Migration reported a significant increase in unregistered returnees during the year, with 545,708 in total as of September 8, due in large part to drought and the decline in value of the Iranian rial.

On June 16, the government announced its decision to join the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework as a country of origin. Through its Displacement and Returnees Executive Committee, the government continued to develop policies to promote the inclusion of returnees and IDPs in national programs and to ensure dignified, voluntary repatriations and reintegration.

STATELESS PERSONS

NGOs noted the lack of official birth registration for refugee children as a significant challenge and protection concern, due to the risk of statelessness and potential long-term disadvantage.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Citizens exercised this ability in the 2014 presidential and provincial elections and the 2010 and 2018 parliamentary elections. Violence from the Taliban and other antigovernment groups and widespread allegations of fraud and corruption interfered with, but did not derail, the 2014 presidential elections and 2018 parliamentary elections. The constitution mandates parliamentary elections every five years, but the government’s inability to agree on needed electoral reforms delayed the 2015 elections until 2018. Members of parliament remained in office past the June 2015 expiration of their five-year terms by virtue of a presidential decree.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: National parliamentary elections were held on October 20 and 21 in all but two provinces. Approximately four million out of 8.8 million registered voters cast ballots. Voting was postponed by one week in Kandahar due to an October 18 attack that killed provincial Chief of Police Abdul Raziq. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) had not set a date for parliamentary elections in Ghazni Province at year’s end due to an earlier political dispute and protests that prevented the voter registration process in that province. Although there was high voter turnout, the election was marred by irregularities, including fraudulent voter registration, voter intimidation, vote rigging, such as interference by IEC staff and police, and in some cases, polling stations forced to close due to pressure from local leaders. The Interior Ministry reported 44 people had been charged with “illegal interference in the election and fraud.”

The United Nations reported that groups, primarily the Taliban, used threats, intimidation, and harassment to quell voting. Fifty-six individuals were reportedly killed and 379 injured due to election-related violence, including one bombing in Kabul that killed 18. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that attacks killed at least 10 parliamentary candidates prior to the election, but the motivation for and perpetrators of those attacks was not clear.

A number of technical issues also hindered the voting process, including errors on voter lists, missing voter lists, missing election supplies, and a shortage of poll workers. The last-minute introduction of biometric voter verification devices in the election preparation process caused confusion and contributed to delayed polling and long lines. On December 6, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) invalidated the votes cast in Kabul Province due to complaints of fraud, mismanagement and other voting irregularities and called for a new vote; however, days later the ECC reversed its decision following a series of meetings with the government and the IEC and an agreement from the IEC to share more information from the recount of ballots from Kabul.

The IEC released preliminary parliamentary results for all provinces but Ghazni, Kabul, Nangargar, Baghlan, and Paktia at year’s end.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Political Party Law of 2003 granted parties the right to exist as formal institutions for the first time in the country’s history. Under this law any citizen 25 years or older may establish a political party. The law requires parties to have at least 10,000 members from the country’s 34 provinces to register with the Ministry of Justice, conduct official party business, and introduce candidates in elections. Only citizens who are 18 years or older and have the right to vote can join a political party. Certain members of the government, judiciary, military, and government-affiliated commissions are prohibited from political party membership during their tenure in office.

There were large areas of the country where political parties could not operate due to insurgencies and instability. Political parties played a greater role in the 2014 presidential elections than in previous elections, and the organization, networks, and public support of the parties that supported Abdullah and Ghani contributed to their success as presidential candidates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. The constitution specifies a minimum number of seats for women and minorities in the two houses of parliament. For the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the National Assembly), the constitution mandates that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). In the 2010 parliamentary elections, more women won seats than the minimum outlined in the constitution. The winners of the 2018 parliamentary election have not yet been announced. The constitution also mandates one-half of presidential appointees must be women. It also sets aside 10 seats in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the Kuchi minority (nomads). In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house of the National Assembly), the president’s appointees must include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities. In practice, one seat in the Meshrano Jirga is reserved for the appointment of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this is not mandated by the constitution.

Traditional societal practices continue to limit women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. These factors, in addition to an education and experience gap, likely contributed to the central government’s male-dominated composition. The 2016 electoral law mandates that 25 percent of all provincial, district, and village council seats “shall be allocated to female candidates.” Neither district nor village councils had been established by year’s end.

Women active in government and politics continued to face threats and violence and were targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. No laws prevent minorities from participating in political life, although different ethnic groups complained of unequal access to local government jobs in provinces where they were in the minority. Individuals from the majority Pashtun ethnic group have more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament, but they do not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence specific societal groups have been excluded. In past elections male family members could vote on behalf of the women in their families; however, the 2016 Electoral Law prohibited this practice, and the 2018 parliamentary election was the first where proxy voting for women was illegal.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Reports indicated corruption was endemic throughout society, and flows of money from the military, international donors, and the drug trade continued to exacerbate the problem.

The Construction Sector Transparency Initiative Afghanistan reported that during the last 15 years, many government infrastructure projects did not go through proper legal mechanisms but instead were based on favoritism. The organization estimated total embezzlement in the billions of dollars.

According to prisoners and local NGOs, corruption was widespread across the justice system, particularly in connection with the prosecution of criminal cases and in arranging release from prison. For example, there were multiple reports that judges would not release prisoners who had served their sentences without payment from family members. There were also reports that officials received unauthorized payments in exchange for reducing prison sentences, halting investigations, or dismissing charges outright.

National-level survey data offered a mixed picture of corruption in the justice sector. The World Justice Project’s 2017 Rule of Lawsurvey found moderate improvements in perceptions of government accountability. Nonetheless, experts polled for the report cited corrupt prosecutors as the biggest problem in criminal investigative services and corruption as the largest problem in criminal courts. Respondents to the poll increasingly believed that high-ranking government officials would be investigated for embezzlement, but they also named judges, magistrates, parliamentarians, and local government officials as most likely to be involved in corrupt practices. Respondents also reported widespread bribe taking by government officials and agencies, police, and hospitals.

During the year there were reports of “land grabbing” by both private and public actors. Most commonly, businesses illegally obtained property deeds from corrupt officials and sold the deeds to unsuspecting prospective homeowners who were later prosecuted. Other reports indicated government officials confiscated land without compensation with the intent to exchange it for contracts or political favors. There were reports provincial governments illegally confiscated land without due process or compensation in order to build public facilities.

Corruption: In September the president sent a legislative decree to Parliament to approve a new Anticorruption Law that established an independent Anticorruption Commission to oversee efforts to prevent and mitigate corruption. The new law codifies the June 2016 presidential decree establishing an independent Anticorruption Justice Center (ACJC) with responsibility for prosecuting high-level corruption cases. During the year case progress through the ACJC appeared to stall, despite dramatic increases in the number of prosecutors assigned to the ACJC. ACJC prosecutors receive salary top offs and housing. Nearly half of all ACJC prosecutors and MCTF officers in the anticorruption unit failed polygraph examinations for corruption. In addition, as of September 20, the MCTF had a backlog of more than 120 warrants and notices to appear at the ACJC.

According to various reports, many government positions, up to district or provincial governorships, could be suborned. Governors with reported involvement in corruption, the drug trade, or records of human rights violations reportedly continued to receive executive appointments and served with relative impunity. For example, President Ghani appointed Zia ul-Haq Amarkhel, who was disqualified by the Electoral Complaints Commission for corruption, as special presidential advisor for public and political affairs. Ghani also appointed governor of Herat Mohammad Yusuf Nuristani to the Senate, although he was the target of outstanding ACJC arrest warrants. ACJC prosecutors investigated Nuristani for unlawful land transfers and misuse of authority and obtained the arrest warrants after he failed to appear on summons and ignored subpoenas. Nuristani surrendered himself to authorities in November.

There were allegations of widespread corruption, and abuse of power by officers at the Ministry of Interior. Provincial police reportedly extorted civilians at checkpoints and received kickbacks from the drug trade. Police reportedly demanded bribes from civilians to gain release from prison or avoid arrest. Nearly half of MCTF officers in the anticorruption unit failed corruption polygraph examinations. Senior Ministry of Interior officials also refused to sign off on the execution of arrest warrants. More than 120 unexecuted ACJC arrest warrants were pending as of September. In one case Ministry of Interior officers served as the protective detail of ACJC warrant target Major General Zamari Paikan, and drove him in a Ministry of Interior armored vehicle. The Ministry of Defense also provided protection to Paikan. The ACJC convicted General Paikan in absentia for corruption in December 2017 and sentenced him to 8.5 years imprisonment, but the Ministry of Interior had not arrested him.

Financial Disclosure: The Law on Declaration and Registration of Assets of State Officials and Employees was issued by legislative decree of October 2017. The law established the Administration on Registration and Assets of Government Officials and Employees (Administration) under the Administrative Office of the President. All government officials, employees, and elected officials are required to declare their assets. The Administration was responsible for collecting, verifying, and publishing information from senior government officials. The High Office of Oversight was dissolved in March 2018. Under the law all government officials and employees must submit financial disclosures on all sources and levels of personal income for themselves and their immediate family, annually and when they assume or leave office. Individuals who do not submit forms or are late in submission are subject to suspension of employment, salary, and travel bans. Travel bans were implemented for individuals who did not submit their forms.

During the year the Administration successfully registered assets of nearly 15,000 government employees, a significant increase over past years. Verification of assets continued to be slow and problematic for the Administration due to lack of organized systems in some government offices. Public outreach by the Administration allowed civil society and private citizen the opportunity to comment on individual declarations. As of September only two members of parliament had declared their assets.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Human rights activists continued to express concern that human rights abusers remained in positions of power within the government.

Government authorities undertook efforts in 2017 to amend the penal code and criminal procedure code to facilitate national investigations and prosecutions of atrocity crimes. The new Penal Code incorporates crimes against humanity provisions from the Rome Statute.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitutionally mandated AIHRC continued to address human rights problems, but it received minimal government funding and relied almost exclusively on international donor funds. Three Wolesi Jirga committees deal with human rights: the Gender, Civil Society, and Human Rights Committee; the Counternarcotics, Intoxicating Items, and Ethical Abuse Committee; and the Judicial, Administrative Reform, and Anticorruption Committee. In the Meshrano Jirga, the Committee for Gender and Civil Society addresses human rights concerns.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The EVAW law, as amended during the year by a presidential decree, criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women, including rape; battery or beating; forced marriage; humiliation; intimidation; and deprivation of inheritance. The new Penal Code criminalizes rape of both women and men. The law provides for a minimum sentence of five to 16 years’ imprisonment for rape, or up to 20 years if one or more aggravating circumstances is present. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The new Penal Code also explicitly criminalizes statutory rape and, for the first time, prohibits the prosecution of rape victims for zina (sex outside of marriage). The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for aggression to the chastity or honor of a female “[that] does not lead to penetration to anus or vagina”. Under the law rape does not include spousal rape. Authorities did not always fully enforce these laws.

Prosecutors and judges in remote provinces were frequently unaware of the EVAW law or received pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes, or because some religious leaders declared the law un-Islamic. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal, ranging from imprisonment to extrajudicial killing. In September police in Faryab Province arrested a woman who appeared in an online sex video with a self-proclaimed mullah on charges of zina. The mullah, who remains at large, was suspected of sexual exploitation and rape of several women who came to him for help. Interpretations of sharia also impeded successful prosecution of rape cases.

The new Penal Code criminalizes forced virginity testing under Article 640 except when conducted pursuant to a court order or with the consent of the individual. Awareness and enforcement of this change remained limited. In July the Ministry of Public Health issued a policy prohibiting health clinics and hospitals from performing virginity tests. There were reports police, prosecutors, and judges continued to order virginity tests in cases of “moral crimes” such as zina. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape were often subject to virginity tests.

The penal code criminalizes assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as under the “injury and disability” and beating provisions in the EVAW law. According to NGO reports, millions of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of state, such as the police and justice systems.

Due to cultural normalization and a view of domestic violence as a family matter, domestic violence often remained unreported. The justice system’s response to domestic violence was insufficient, in part due to underreporting, preference toward mediation, sympathy toward perpetrators, corruption, and family or tribal pressure. There were EVAW prosecution units in all 34 provinces, and EVAW court divisions operated at the primary and appellate levels in at least 16 provinces. In August Taliban members shot and killed a woman in Jawzjan Province. According to the governor’s spokesman, the woman had fled some months earlier to a safe house in Sheberghan city due to domestic violence. She returned home after local mediation but was later shot by Taliban members.

Space at the 28 women’s protection centers across the country was sometimes insufficient, particularly in major urban centers, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country. Some women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or being sent back to their family or the perpetrator.

At times women in need of protection ended up in prison, either because their community lacked a protection center or because the local interpretation of “running away” as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are criminal offenses. Running away is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office have issued directives to this effect, but some local authorities continued to detain women and girls for running away from home or “attempted zina”. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes forced, underage, and baad marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. NGOs report instances of baad still practiced, often in more remote provinces. The practice of exchanging brides between families has not been criminalized and remained widespread. In July a man killed a nine-year-old who had been sold to him as a bride for 972,000 Afghanis ($13,500) by her family.

Honor killings continued throughout the year. In April a man stabbed his sister to death in an apparent honor killing in Andkhoy District, Faryab Province, after bringing a knife into a building where she was under protection. In a May report on Mediation of Criminal Offenses of Violence against Women, UNAMA reported documenting 280 instances of murder and honor killing between January 2016 and December 2017 with only 18 percent of these resulting in conviction and imprisonment. The report found that despite the EVAW law, government institutions often pressured victims to resolve their cases through mediation for serious offenses, which the EVAW law prohibits, resulting in impunity for perpetrators.

Sexual Harassment: The 2017 Antiharassment Law went into effect in January and criminalizes all forms of harassment of women and children, including physical, verbal, psychological, and sexual. Under this law all government ministries are required to establish a committee to review internal harassment complaints and support appropriate resolution of these claims. Implementation and enforcement of the law remained limited and ineffective. The AIHRC reported that more than 85 percent of women and children faced various forms of harassment. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced harassment, including groping, catcalling, and being followed. Women with public roles occasionally received threats directed at them or their families.

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

Discrimination: Women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the judicial system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law. Limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected women’s access to and participation in the justice system.

Prosecutors and judges in some provinces continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW law, and judges would sometimes replace those charges with others based on the penal code.

The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupation. Overall, 22 percent of civil servants and 5 percent of security forces were women, including 3,000 female police and 1,400 female soldiers.

Children

Birth Registration: A citizen father transmits citizenship to his child. Birth in the country or to a citizen mother alone does not transfer citizenship. Adoption is not legally recognized.

Education: Education is mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years for primary school and three years for lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. UNICEF reported that 3.7 million children were not in school due to discrimination, poverty, lack of access, and continuing conflict, among other reasons. UNAMA also noted that armed groups tried to restrict girls’ access to education. In February threats forced the closure of girls’ schools in several villages in Farah Province, temporarily denying education to more than 3,500 girls. When the schools reopened 10 days later, the vast majority of the girls were initially afraid to return.

Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, a lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and a lack of nearby schools. An October 2017 Human Rights Watch report observed that the government provided fewer schools for girls than boys and that the lack of basic provisions in many schools for security, privacy, and hygiene, including boundary walls, toilets, and water, also disproportionately affected girls.

Violent attacks on schoolchildren, particularly girls, also hindered access to education, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban and other extremists threatened and attacked school officials, teachers, and students, particularly girls, and burned both boys’ and girls’ schools. There were press reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers and school officials, particularly against boys. The government claimed families rarely pressed charges due to shame and doubt that the judicial system would respond. There were reports that both insurgent groups and government forces used school buildings for military purposes.

Child Abuse: The revised Penal Code criminalizes child abuse and neglect. The penalty for beating, or physically or mentally disciplining or mistreating a child, ranges from a cash fine of 10,000 Afghanis (approximately $130) to one-year in prison as long as the child does not sustain a serious injury or disability. Endangering the life of a child carries a penalty of one to two years in prison or a cash fine of 60,000 to 120,000 Afghanis (approximately $800 to $1,600).

Police reportedly beat and sexually abused children. Children who sought police assistance for abuse also reported being further harassed and abused by law enforcement officials, particularly in bacha bazi (sexual entertainment) cases, deterring victims from reporting their claims. NGOs reported a predominantly punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice throughout the country. Although it is against the law, corporal punishment in schools, rehabilitation centers, and other public institutions remained common.

There were reports some members of the security forces and progovernment groups sexually abused and exploited young girls and boys. During the first six months of the year, UNAMA documented credible reports of five cases of sexual abuse involving six boys, attributed to the Afghan National Police, and Afghan Local Police. In June 2017 in Daikundi Province, an ANDSF commander sexually abused a teenager, who later committed suicide. There were multiple reports of bacha bazi, a practice in which men exploit boys for social and sexual entertainment. According to media and NGO reports, many of these cases went unreported or were referred to traditional mediation, which often allowed perpetrators to reoffend.

The government took steps to discourage the abuse of boys and to prosecute or punish those involved. The new Penal Code criminalizes bacha bazi as a separate crime, and builds on the 2017 Law to Combat Crimes of Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling in Migrants (TIP Law), which includes provisions criminalizing behaviors associated with the sexual exploitation of children. Despite the inclusion of bacha bazi in the Penal Code, as of August there were no convictions under the law.

Early and Forced Marriage: Despite a law setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 for girls (15 with the consent of a parent or guardian or the court) and 18 for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early and forced marriages throughout the country. Under the EVAW law, those who enter into or arrange forced or underage marriages are subject to imprisonment for not less than two years, but implementation of the law was limited. According to a July report, Child Marriage in Afghanistan, by UNICEF and the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, 34 percent of women and 7 percent of men ages 20 to 24 had been married before the age of 18. In 2017 the government launched a five-year National Action Plan to Eliminate Early and Child Marriage.

By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is 16 years of age (or 15 with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates.

There were reports from Badakhshan Province that Taliban militants bought young women to sell into forced marriage. The UN Development Program Legal Aid Grant Facility reported women increasingly petitioned for divorce.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children. In addition to outlawing the practice of bacha bazi, the new Penal Code provides that, “[i]f an adult male has intercourse with a person under the legal age, his act shall be considered rape and the victim’s consent is invalid.” The Penal Code also treats nonstatutory rape of a child as an aggravated form of the offense, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The EVAW Law prescribes a penalty of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for forcing an underage girl into prostitution. Taking possession of a child for sexual exploitation or production of pornographic films or images constitutes trafficking in persons under the 2017 TIP Law regardless of whether other elements of the crime are present.

Child Soldiers: In February 2016 the Law on Prohibition of Children’s Recruitment in the Military became effective. Under the revised Penal Code, recruitment of children in military units carries a penalty of six months to one year in prison. There were reports the ANDSF and progovernment militias recruited and used children in a limited number of cases, and the Taliban and other antigovernment elements recruited children for military purposes (see section 1.g.). Media reported that local progovernment commanders recruited children younger than age 16. The Taliban and other antigovernment groups regularly recruited and trained children to conduct attacks.

Displaced Children: During the year NGOs and government offices reported high numbers of returnee and drought-displaced families and their children in border areas, specifically Herat and Jalalabad. Although the government banned street begging in 2008, NGOs and government offices reported large numbers of children begging and living in the streets of major cities.

Institutionalized Children: Living conditions for children in orphanages were poor. NGOs reported up to 80 percent of children between ages four and 18 years in the orphanages were not orphans but came from families that could not provide food, shelter, or schooling. Children in orphanages reported mental, physical, and sexual abuse and occasionally were victims of trafficking. They did not have regular access to running water, heating in winter, indoor plumbing, health services, recreational facilities, or education. Security forces kept child detainees in juvenile detention centers run by the Ministry of Justice, except for a group of children arrested for national security violations who stayed at the detention facility in Parwan. NGOs reported these children were kept separate from the general population but still were at risk of radicalization.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination against citizens and requires the state to assist persons with disabilities and to protect their rights, including the rights to health care and financial protection. The constitution also requires the state to adopt measures to reintegrate and provide for the active participation in society of persons with disabilities. The Law on the Rights and Benefits of Disabled Persons provides for equal rights to, and the active participation of, such persons in society. Observers reported that both the constitution and disabilities rights law are mostly ignored and unenforced.

Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion due to stigma.

Lack of security remained a challenge for disability programs. Insecurity in remote areas, where a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities lived, precluded delivery of assistance in some cases. The majority of buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities, prohibiting many from benefitting from education, health care, and other services.

In the Meshrano Jirga, authorities reserved two of the presidentially appointed seats for persons with disabilities. Per law, 3 percent of all government positions are reserved for persons with disabilities, but government officials admitted the law was not enforced.

Disability rights activists reported that corruption prevented some persons with disabilities from receiving benefits. There were reports that government officials redirected scholarship funds for persons with disabilities to friends or family through fraud and identity theft. NGOs and government officials also reported that associations of persons with disabilities attempted to intimidate ministry employees in an effort to secure benefits such as apartments.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic tensions between various groups continued to result in conflict and killings. Societal discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued along class, race, and religious lines in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the government frequently assigned Hazara ANP officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior. NGOs also reported Hazara ANDSF officers were more likely than non-Hazara officers to be posted to insecure areas of the country. During the year ISIS-K continued escalating attacks against the Hazara community. Attacks against the Shia, predominantly Hazara, population, resulted in 705 civilian casualties, including 211 deaths between January 1 and September 30. On September 5, another ISIS-K bombing targeting a sports center killed 20. Both attacks took place in the Shia neighborhood of Dasht-e Barchi in Kabul.

Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs and harassment in school, as well as verbal and physical abuse in public places. On July 1, ISIS-K killed 19 people in a Jalalabad suicide bombing targeting the Sikh community. The attack killed the only Sikh candidate for the October parliamentary elections. Ultimately, the Sikh candidate’s son ran in his place. According to the Sikh and Hindu Council of Afghanistan, there were approximately 900 members of the Sikh and Hindu community in the country.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and there were reports of harassment and violence by society and police. The law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Homosexuality was widely seen as taboo and indecent. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community did not have access to certain health services and could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Organizations devoted to protecting the freedom of LGBTI persons remained underground because they could not legally register with the government. Members of the LGBTI community reported they continued to face arrest by security forces and discrimination, assault, rape by society at large.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV/AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to join and form independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and the government generally respected these rights, although it lacked enforcement tools. The law, however, provides no definition of a union or its relationship with employers and members, nor does it establish a legal method for union registration or penalties for violations. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Other than protecting the right to participate in a union, the law provides no other legal protection for union workers or workers seeking to unionize.

Although the law identifies the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled’s Labor High Council as the highest decision-making body on labor-related issues, the lack of implementing regulations prevented the council from performing its function. There was an inspection office within the ministry, but inspectors could only advise and make suggestions. As a result, the application of labor law remained limited because of a lack of central enforcement authority, implementing regulations that describe procedures and penalties for violations, funding, personnel, and political will.

The government allowed several unions to operate, but it interfered with the National Union of Afghanistan Workers and Employees (NUAWE). The government issued a decree in 2016 mandating the nationalization of property belonging to several Afghan trade unions. After international organizations protested the government’s actions in April, police and military raided and sealed NUAWE offices in Kabul and 28 of their regional offices in apparent retaliation. Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were sometimes respected, but most workers were not aware of these rights. This was particularly true of workers in rural areas or the agricultural sector, who had not formed unions. In urban areas, the majority of workers participated in the informal sector as day laborers in construction, where there were neither unions nor collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not sufficiently criminalize forced labor and debt bondage. Men, women, and children are exploited in bonded labor, where an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment is exploited, ultimately entrapping other family members, sometimes for multiple generations. This type of debt bondage is common in the brick-making industry. Some families knowingly sell their children into sex trafficking, including for bacha bazi (see section 7.c.).

Government enforcement of the law was ineffective; resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate; and the government made minimal efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 but permits 14-year-olds to work as apprentices, allows children who are age 15 and older to do light nonhazardous work, and permits children 15 through 17 to work up to 35 hours per week. The law prohibits children younger than age 14 from working under any circumstances. The law also bans the employment of children in hazardous work that is likely to threaten their health or cause disability, including mining and garbage collection; work in blast furnaces, waste-processing plants, and large slaughterhouses; work with hospital waste; drug-related work; security guard services; and work related to war.

Poor institutional capacity was a serious impediment to effective enforcement of the labor law. Deficiencies included the lack of penalty assessment authorization for labor inspectors, inadequate resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations.

Child labor remained a pervasive problem. In May the AIHRC surveyed conditions for children in the workplace and found that 90 percent of employed minor respondents worked more than 35 hours every week and that more than 15 percent reported suffering sexual abuse in the workplace. Child laborers worked as domestic servants, street vendors, peddlers, and shopkeepers. There was child labor in the carpet industry, brick kilns, coalmines, and poppy fields. Children were also heavily engaged in the worst forms of child labor in mining, including mining salt, commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), transnational drug smuggling, and organized begging rings. Some forms of child labor exposed children to land mines. Children faced numerous health and safety risks at work. There were reports of recruitment of children by the ANDSF during the year. Taliban forces pressed children to take part in hostile acts (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination and notes that citizens, both “man and woman”, have equal rights and duties before the law. It expressly prohibits discrimination based on language. The constitution contains no specific provisions addressing discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, or age. The penal code prescribes a term of imprisonment of not more than two years for anyone convicted of spreading discrimination or factionalism.

Women continued to face discrimination and hardship in the workplace. Women made up only 7 percent of the workforce. Many women faced pressure from relatives to stay at home and encountered hiring practices that favored men. Older and married women reported it was more difficult for them than for younger, single women to find jobs. Women who worked reported they encountered insults, sexual harassment, lack of transportation, and an absence of day-care facilities. Salary discrimination existed in the private sector. Female journalists, social workers, and police officers reported they were often threatened or abused. Persons with disabilities also suffered from discrimination in hiring.

Ethnic Hazaras, Sikhs, and Hindus faced discrimination in hiring and work assignments, in addition to broader social discrimination (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for permanent government workers was 6,500 Afghanis ($90) per month. There was no minimum wage for permanent workers in the private sector, but the minimum wage for workers in the nonpermanent private sector was 5,500 Afghanis ($76) per month. According to the Ministry of Economy, 52 percent of the population earned wages below the poverty line of 2,064 Afghanis ($30) per month.

The law defines the standard workweek for both public- and private-sector employees as 40 hours: eight hours per day with one hour for lunch and noon prayers. The labor law makes no mention of day workers in the informal sector, leaving them completely unprotected. There are no occupational health and safety regulations or officially adopted standards. The law, however, provides for reduced standard workweeks for children ages 15 to 17, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and miners and workers in other occupations that present health risks. The law provides workers with the right to receive wages, annual vacation time in addition to national holidays, compensation for on-the-job injuries, overtime pay, health insurance for the employee and immediate family members, and other incidental allowances. The law prohibits compulsory work without establishing penalties and stipulates that overtime work be subject to the agreement of the employee. The law also requires employers to provide day care and nurseries for children.

The government did not effectively enforce these laws. Inspectors had no legal authority to enter premises or impose penalties for violations. Resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations were inadequate and insufficient to deter violations.

Employers often chose not to comply with the law or preferred to hire workers informally. Most employees worked longer than 40 hours per week, were frequently underpaid, and worked in poor conditions, particularly in the informal sector. Workers were generally unaware of the full extent of their labor rights under the law. Although comprehensive data on workplace accidents were unavailable, there were several reports of poor and dangerous working conditions. Some industries, such as brick kiln facilities, continued to use debt bondage, making it difficult for workers to remove themselves from situations of forced labor that endangered their health or safety.

Angola

Executive Summary

Angola is a constitutional republic. In August 2017 the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party won presidential and legislative elections with 61 percent of the vote. MPLA presidential candidate Joao Lourenco took the oath of office for a five-year term in September 2017, and the MPLA retained a supermajority in the National Assembly. Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. The Constitutional Court rejected opposition parties’ legal petitions alleging irregularities during the provincial-level vote count and a lack of transparent decision-making by the National Electoral Commission.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; arbitrary detention by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminal libel and slander; refoulement of refugees to a country where they had a well-founded fear of persecution; corruption, although the government took significant steps to end impunity for senior officials; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving societal violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government took some steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses; however, accountability was limited due to a lack of checks and balances, lack of institutional capacity, a culture of impunity, and widespread government corruption.

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, on June 1, an officer with the Criminal Investigation Services (SIC) shot and killed a robbery suspect in broad daylight while the suspect lay injured on the ground surrounded by SIC officers. A bystander filmed the killing, and the video footage circulated widely on social media. On June 10, the Ministry of Interior, which oversees SIC, ordered an investigation and placed the SIC officer who killed the suspect in preventive detention. Authorities charged him as well as six other officers present at the scene with qualified homicide. The trial of the seven officers continued at year’s end.

In a 2017 report, The Field of Death, journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques stated a SIC campaign of extrajudicial killings of young men in Luanda. According to Marques, many SIC victims were accused of petty criminality or otherwise labeled as “undesirable” by residents of their respective communities. The report stated the national police at times coordinated with SIC officers in the killings. In December 2017 the public prosecutor announced the creation of a commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations, and the investigation continued at year’s end.

On August 14, the Luanda Provincial Tribunal convicted First Sergeant Jose Tadi and sentenced him to 18 years in prison and a fine of one million kwanzas ($3,450) for the 2016 killing of 14-year-old Rufino Antonio during an Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) demolition operation of allegedly unauthorized housing. The court convicted three other FAA soldiers for their involvement in the case and sentenced each of them to one year in prison. In September the family of Rufino Antonio filed a lawsuit against the government for failing to try or hold accountable the FAA commanding officers who oversaw the demolition operation.

At year’s end the Supreme Court had not rendered a decision on the appeal of the 28-year sentence imposed in 2016 on Jose Kalupeteka, leader of the Light of the World religious sect, convicted in connection with the 2015 clashes between members of his group and police that left 13 civilians and nine police officers dead, according to official figures.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but the government did not always enforce these prohibitions. Periodic reports continued of beatings and other abuses of persons on the way to and in police stations during interrogations. The government acknowledged that at times members of the security forces used excessive force when apprehending individuals. Police authorities openly condemned some acts of violence or excessive force against individuals and asked that victims report abuses to the national police or the Office of the Public Defender (Ombudsman).

On April 14, police detained Antonio Castro Cassongo and five other members of the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement (LTPM) during a training workshop led by Cassongo. For several days police failed to acknowledge the whereabouts of the six individuals. After family members and the LTPM reported the disappearances to the press, a municipal police commander in Cafunfo acknowledged authorities had detained the six individuals in Cafunfo prison. They later released all six detainees; however, Cassongo stated that police brutally beat them while in custody.

During the year there were fewer instances in which security forces reacted violently to public demonstrations against the government. The visible presence of security forces was enough to deter significantly what the government deemed unlawful demonstrations. Authorities claimed known agitators, who sought only to create social instability, organized many of the public demonstrations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, a lack of medical care, corruption, and violence.

Physical Conditions: On March 19, Meneses Cassoma, the spokesperson and chief prison inspector for the penitentiary services, acknowledged to the press that overcrowding in prisons was a serious problem.

Authorities frequently held pretrial detainees with sentenced inmates, and short-term detainees with those serving long-term sentences for violent crimes, especially in provincial prisons. Inmates who were unable to pay court-ordered fines remained in prison after completing their sentence.

Prison conditions varied widely between urban and rural areas. Prisons in rural areas were less crowded and had better rehabilitation, training, and reintegration services. Prisons did not always provide adequate medical care, sanitation, potable water, or food, and it was customary for families to bring food to prisoners. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stated prison services were insufficient.

There was no additional information on the killing of prisoner Bruno Marques in March 2017. In 2016 newspaper Novo Jornal published photos taken by Marques that allegedly depicted Viana jail’s deplorable conditions and sick and malnourished prisoners.

On March 18, SIC officers detained Mario Francisco, the director of penitentiary services for Cunene Province, and five other individuals on suspicion of diverting food from Peu Peu prison. In July 2017 the NGO Ame Naame Omunu denounced conditions in Peu Peu prison and filed a complaint with the provincial-level representative of the Ministry of Interior after uncovering the deaths of nine Peu Peu prisoners from unidentified causes. Prison records later identified cases of malnutrition resulting in inmate deaths. Francisco awaited trial and remained released on bail at year’s end.

Administration: The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Some offenders, including violent offenders, reported paying fines and bribes to secure their freedom, but it was unclear how prevalent this practice was.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prisons by independent local and international human rights observers and foreign diplomats. Nevertheless, civil society organizations faced difficulties in contacting detainees, and prison authorities undermined civil society work in the prisons.

Members of opposition parties visited prisons around the country on a regular basis and reported uneven improvements in living conditions and rehabilitation programs. A local NGO that provides pro bono legal services to inmates stated prison officials were trying to improve conditions but that overcrowding limited results. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, ministry representatives made monthly visits to detention centers with representatives of the Office of the Public Defender, the Attorney General’s Office (PGR), and members of the National Assembly to assess prisoners’ living conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces did not always respect these prohibitions. The constitution provides the right of habeas corpus to citizens to challenge their detention before a court.

According to several NGO and civil society sources, police arbitrarily arrested individuals without due process and routinely detained persons who participated, or were about to participate, in antigovernment protests, although the constitution protects the right to protest. While they often released detainees after a few hours, police at times charged them with crimes.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, controlled by the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for internal security and law enforcement. The SIC, also under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for preventing and investigating domestic crimes. The Expatriate and Migration Services and the Border Guard Police, in the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for migration law enforcement. The state intelligence and security service reports to the presidency and investigates sensitive state security matters. The FAA are responsible for external security but also have domestic security responsibilities, including border security, expulsion of irregular migrants, and small-scale actions against Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda separatists in Cabinda.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the FAA and the national police, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The security forces generally were effective, although sometimes brutal, at maintaining stability. There were allegations during the year that the SIC committed extrajudicial killings, at times in coordination with the national police, to combat crime (see section 1.a.). The national police and FAA have internal mechanisms to investigate security force abuses, and the government provided some training to reform the security forces. Impunity for security force abuses remained a problem, however.

Local populations generally welcomed police presence in neighborhoods and on streets as enhancing general safety and security. Nevertheless, police routinely were believed to extort civilians to supplement their income. Corruption and impunity remained serious problems. The national police handled most complaints internally through opaque disciplinary procedures, which sometimes led to formal punishment, including dismissal. They participated in a television series designed to show a gamut of interactions between police and civilians. The goal of the show was to encourage the population to collaborate with police while discouraging security force members’ procurement of bribes or their payment. The national police also utilized social media to communicate with civilians. The PGR has an anticorruption unit, charged with oversight of police wrongdoing. The government disclosed publicly the results of some investigations that led to disciplinary action.

Police participated in professional training provided by national and international organizations that focused on human rights and combatting trafficking in persons.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires a magistrate or judge to issue a warrant before an arrest may be made, although a person caught committing an offense may be arrested immediately without a warrant. Authorities, however, did not always procure warrants before making an arrest.

By law the public prosecutor must inform the detainee of the legal basis for his or her detention within 48 hours. NGO sources reported authorities often did not respect the law. If the public prosecutor is unable to determine whether there is a legal basis for the detention within 48 hours, the prosecutor has the authority to release the person or, depending on the seriousness of the case, require the person to submit to one or more pretrial procedures prescribed by law, such as posting bail, periodic appearance before authorities, or house arrest.

If the public prosecutor determines a legal basis exists for the detention, a person may be held in pretrial detention for up to four months without charge and up to 12 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. Cases of special complexity regarding crimes for which conviction is punishable by eight or more years allow for pretrial detention without charge for up to six months, and up to 14 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. By law the period of pretrial detention counts as time served in fulfillment of a sentence of imprisonment.

The law states that all detainees have the right to a lawyer, either chosen by them or appointed by the government on a pro bono basis. The lack of lawyers in certain provinces at times impeded the right to a lawyer. There was an insufficient number to handle the volume of criminal cases, and the geographical distribution of lawyers was a problem, since most lawyers were concentrated in Luanda. Lawyers and NGOs noted that even in Luanda most poor defendants did not have access to lawyers during their first appearance before a judicial authority or during their trial. When a lawyer is unavailable, a judge may appoint a clerk of the court to represent the defendant, but clerks of the court often lacked the necessary training to provide an adequate defense.

The law allows family members prompt access to detainees, but prison officials occasionally ignored this right or made it conditional upon payment of a bribe. The law requires detainees be held incommunicado for up to 48 hours until being presented to a public prosecutor, except they may communicate with their lawyer or a family member.

A functioning but ineffective bail system, widely used for minor crimes, existed. Prisoners and their families reported that prison officials demanded bribes to release prisoners.

Arbitrary Arrest: Unlawful arrest and detention remained serious problems. The PGR attributed allegations of government wrongdoing on arrest practices made by local and international NGOs to a lack of understanding of national laws. For example, on August 12, authorities detained Joaquim costa Zangui “Lutambi,” a member of the political party Democratic Bloc, in the Viana suburb of Luanda by seizing him as he walked on the street. The Monitoring Group on Human Rights, an NGO, issued an alert several days after his disappearance, and police subsequently acknowledged they took Zangui to Ndalatando prison on suspicion of criminal activity. On September 6, authorities released Zangui.

Pretrial Detention: Excessively long pretrial detention continued to be a serious problem. An inadequate number of judges and poor communication among authorities contributed to the problem. In some cases authorities held inmates in prison for up to two years in pretrial detention. On March 18, the Ministry of Interior reported that approximately 45 percent of the total inmate population were pretrial detainees. The government often did not release detainees confined beyond the legal time limit, claiming previous releases of pretrial detainees had resulted in an increase in crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary. Institutional weaknesses in the judicial system, however, such as political influence in the decision-making process, were problems. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the PGR worked to improve the independence of prosecutors and judges. The National Institute for Judicial Studies conducted capacity-building programs on the importance of an independent judicial system.

There were long trial delays at the Supreme Court. Criminal courts also had a large backlog of cases, which resulted in major delays in hearings.

Informal courts remained the principal institutions through which citizens resolved civil conflicts in rural areas, such as disputes over a bartering deal. Each community in which informal courts were located established local rules, creating disparities in how similar cases were resolved from one community to the next. Traditional leaders (known as “sobas”) also heard and decided local civil cases. Sobas do not have the authority to resolve criminal cases, which only courts may hear.

Both the national police and the FAA have internal court systems that generally remained closed to outside scrutiny. Although members of these organizations may be tried under their internal regulations, cases that include violations of criminal or civil laws may also fall under the jurisdiction of provincial courts. Both the PGR and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights have civilian oversight responsibilities over military courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Although the law provides all citizens the right to a fair trial, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Authorities must inform defendants of the charges levied against them in detail within 48 hours of their detention. Defendants have the right to free language interpretation during all legal proceedings from the moment charged through all appeals. By law trials are usually public, although each court has the right to close proceedings. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney, either chosen by them or appointed by the state, in a timely manner. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, all public defenders are licensed lawyers. Defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers. They may question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law protects defendants from providing self-incriminating testimony. Individuals have the right to appeal their convictions. Authorities did not always respect these trial procedure rights.

A separate juvenile court is designated for children’s affairs. A juvenile court hears cases of minors between the ages of 12 and 16 accused of committing a criminal offense. Minors older than age 16 accused of committing a criminal offense are tried in regular courts. In many rural municipalities, there is no provision for juvenile courts, so offenders as young as 12 may be tried as adults. In many cases traditional leaders have state authority to resolve disputes and determine punishments for civil offenses, including offenses committed by juveniles. The constitution defines traditional authorities as ad hoc units of the state.

The president appoints Supreme Court justices for life terms without confirmation by the National Assembly. The Supreme Court generally hears cases concerning alleged political and security crimes.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Damages for human rights violations may be sought in municipal or provincial courts and appealed to the Supreme Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The constitution recognizes the right to housing and quality of life, and the law states that persons relocated should receive fair compensation. The constitution provides that all untitled land belongs to the state. In 2016 security forces demolished hundreds of allegedly illegal, privately built homes in Zango, a suburban Luanda zone that falls within the restrictive perimeter of the Luanda-Bengo Special Economic Zone. The demolitions displaced thousands of persons and resulted in several deaths. Some persons forced to move did not receive fair compensation, at times due to lack of clear title or permits for the destroyed property. Relocated persons who received housing units often complained their units were located far from their jobs or places of business, or were of substandard quality.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. Civil organizations and politically active individuals, including government critics, members of opposition parties, and journalists, complained the government maintained surveillance of their activities and membership. These groups also frequently complained of threats and harassment based on their affiliations with groups that were purportedly or explicitly antigovernment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but while the government loosened restrictions on these rights during the year, state media continued to be the country’s primary source for news and reflected a progovernment view.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals reported practicing self-censorship but generally were able to criticize government policies without fear of direct reprisal. Social media was widely used in the larger cities and provided an open forum for discussion.

Press and Media Freedom: Private radio and print media criticized the government openly and harshly, but access to private media sources was limited outside of the capital. Journalists routinely complained of lack of transparency and communication from government press offices and other government officials.

The president appoints the leadership of all major state-owned media outlets and state control of these outlets often led to one-sided reporting. State news outlets, including Angolan Public Television (TPA), Radio Nacional, and the Jornal de Angola newspaper, favored the ruling party but increased their coverage of opposition political parties’ perspectives and social problems reflecting poor governance during the year. On January 18, the TPA inaugurated live broadcasts of plenary sessions of the National Assembly. Also in January, the TPA began permitting opposition politicians to comment live on stories featured on the nightly news. Opposition parties, however, received far less overall coverage on state media than did the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported fewer incidents of violence or harassment during the year. On October 19, the board of directors of TV Zimbo dismissed journalist Jorge Eurico allegedly for reporting on an attempted bribery scandal involving senior government officials. Media outlets Club-K and a foreign news organization reported that General Leopoldino Fragoso de Nascimento “Dino,” a major shareholder in TV Zimbo, ordered Eurico’s dismissal. On October 24, Eurico published an opinion editorial denouncing his dismissal from TV Zimbo.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In January 2017 the National Assembly passed a package of five regulatory media laws, one of which established the Regulatory Entity for Social Communication (ERCA), a body mandated to license and delicense journalists and determine what constitutes appropriate media content. At year’s end ERCA remained largely inactive.

Journalists reported practicing self-censorship.

The minister of social communication, the spokesperson of the presidency, and the national director of information maintained significant decision-making authority over media. It was commonly understood these individuals actively vetted news stories in the state-controlled print, television, and radio media and exercised considerable authority over some privately owned outlets. State-controlled media rarely published or broadcast stories critical of the ruling party, government officials, or government policies. Coverage critical of the previous government of Jose Eduardo dos Santos and of senior-level officials who had been dismissed on allegations of corruption increased significantly during the year.

On September 3, the minister of social communication announced that cable provider DStv would start broadcasting two Portuguese-owned television channels, SIC Noticias and SIC Internacional, which Angolan telecommunications operator ZAP, owned by Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of former president Jose Eduardo do Santos, stopped broadcasting in March 2017. Expresso newspaper correspondent in Luanda Gustavo Costa and the president of the Media Institute for Southern Africa-Angola, Alexandre Solombe, stated that ZAP’s decision to cease broadcasting the two channels was in response to their critical reporting on corruption and poverty in the country.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a crime for which conviction is punishable by imprisonment or a fine, and unlike in most cases in which defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, defendants in defamation cases have the burden of proving their innocence by providing evidence of the validity of the allegedly damaging material.

Several journalists in print media, radio, and political blogs faced libel and defamation lawsuits. Journalists complained the government used libel laws to limit their ability to report on corruption and nepotistic practices, while the government assessed that some journalists abused their positions and published inaccurate stories regarding government officials without verifying the facts or providing the accused the right of reply. On July 6, the Provincial Tribunal of Luanda acquitted journalists Rafael Marques and Mariano Bras on charges of defamation and slander for alleging corrupt practices by former attorney general Joao Maria de Sousa. Judge Josina Ferreira Falcao ruled that Marques’ reporting, which Bras had republished, fulfilled the duty of journalism to inform the public and expose suspected wrongdoings.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law mandates ERCA to determine what constitutes appropriate media content, including online content. The government did not, however, restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal oversight. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2017 approximately 14 percent of residents had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly, and the government increasingly respected this right.

The law requires written notification to the local administrator and police three days before public assemblies are to be held. The law does not require government permission to hold public assemblies, but permits authorities to restrict or stop assemblies in public spaces within 109 yards of public, military, detention, diplomatic or consular buildings for security reasons. The law also requires public assemblies to start after 7 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on Saturdays. The government at times prohibited events based on perceived or claimed security considerations. Police and administrators did not interfere with progovernment gatherings. Nonpartisan groups intending to criticize the government or government leaders, however, often encountered the presence of police who prevented them from holding the event. Usually authorities claimed the timing or venue requested was problematic or that the proper authorities had not received notification.

On May 26, in Luanda, police intervened to prevent a group of 20 activists from commemorating the 41st anniversary of a 1977 protest against the MPLA that resulted in the arrest and killings of thousands of individuals. Protesters stated police prevented their access to the protest site and attacked them with dogs and sticks. One protester was badly injured. Opposition parties, UNITA and the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola-Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE), as well as Amnesty International, criticized the police intervention.

Members of LTPM held several protests during the year. On November 17, security forces allegedly fired shots in the direction of LTPM protesters in Cafunfo, Lund Norte province, to disperse them. LTPM and several media sources reported that security forces shot one protester in the leg and detained dozens.

The government at times arbitrarily restricted the activities of associations it considered subversive by refusing to grant permits for organized activities. Authorities generally permitted opposition parties to organize and hold meetings.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the right of association, but the government did not always respect this right (see also section 7.a.). Extensive delays in the NGO registration process continued to be a problem; however, NGOs that had not yet received registration were allowed to operate.

In July 2017 the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional a 2015 presidential decree regulating the operation of NGOs. Civil society had criticized the decree as potentially restrictive and intrusive for including requirements that NGOs obtain approval from the government before the implementation of any project, provide frequent financial reports to the government on NGO activities, and allow local authorities to supervise NGO projects within their municipalities. The government stated this regulation was part of its strategy to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The court ruled that only the National Assembly had jurisdiction to legislate such requirements according to the clearly defined separation of powers in the constitution.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government at times restricted these rights.

The government sometimes cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. As of November 16, UNHCR reported that security forces expelled or voluntarily repatriated an estimated 450,000 irregular migrants. The overwhelming majority of these individuals were Congolese whom authorities expelled or voluntarily repatriated to the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On October 25, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized the government for creating a humanitarian crisis due to the massive influx of people crossing into the unstable Kasai region of the DRC. UNHCR reported that security forces refouled 2,200 registered Congolese refugees as part of the expulsions or voluntarily repatriations. There were other reports throughout the year that Lunda Norte provincial authorities exerted pressure on irregular migrants and refugees to return to the DRC. The government failed to provide adequate protection for asylum seekers and urban refugees.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On September 25, security forces began Operation Transparency, a security campaign directed at irregular migrants working in the diamond-mining region in the northern part of the country. The operation resulted in the expulsion or voluntary repatriation of an estimated 450,000 Congolese irregular migrants and smaller numbers of primarily West African migrants from the country. Multiple sources report security forces committed abuses against these migrants during the campaign.

On November 6, security forces began the nationwide campaign Operation Rescue, a nationwide law enforcement campaign focused on addressing criminality and unlicensed commercial activity. Following a 2016 visit, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, issued a report criticizing the government for its lack of adequate protections for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. Crepeau cited government failure to implement key elements of the 2015 asylum law, which had the effect of impeding refugee and asylum seekers’ access to basic services and documents, such as birth certificates for children of foreign-born parents. NGOs working with refugee and asylum-seeker populations continued to cite security force harassment of and state discrimination against those communities. At year’s end the asylum law remained unimplemented.

In-country Movement: Police maintained roadside checkpoints throughout the country. Reports by local NGOs suggested some police officers extorted money from civilians at checkpoints and during regular traffic stops. Reports from the diamond mining provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul indicated some government agents restricted the movements of local communities.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

In 2017 more than 32,000 Congolese, primarily women and children, fled the Kasai region of the DRC and sought refuge in Lunda Norte Province. During the early days of the refugee influx, the government was the sole provider of life-saving assistance, including food and medical care. The government generally cooperated with UNHCR, the World Food Program, and NGOs to protect and assist the community. At year’s end, however, the government had not formally granted the Kasai refugees prima facie status, despite repeated requests from UNHCR.

Refoulement: On November 16, UNHCR reported the government had forcibly returned 2,200 registered Congolese refugees since the beginning of Operation Transparency on September 25. On February 25-27, the government forcibly returned 52 registered and 480 unregistered Congolese refugees, including 217 children, to the Kasai region of the DRC despite continued reports of violence and inadequate humanitarian conditions in that region. Congolese provincial government leaders made several visits to Lunda Norte during the year and reportedly pressured refugees to return to the DRC.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the law did not function during the year. The 2015 asylum law provides specific procedures for the submission of an asylum application and guidance on the determination of asylum and refugee cases. UNHCR and several NGOs reported that asylum seekers and urban refugees did not have a mechanism to apply for or resolve their status. The 2015 law changed the role of the Committee for the Recognition of the Right to Asylum, the prior implementing mechanism to identify, verify, and legalize asylum seekers, to that of an advisory board; however, at year’s end the government had not put into practice an alternative mechanism to adjudicate asylum and refugee cases in the committee’s place. The law also established the creation of reception centers for refugees and asylum seekers where they are to receive assistance until the government makes a decision on their cases.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees themselves reported restrictions on freedom of movement in Lunda Norte Province. Police arbitrarily arrested or detained refugees and confiscated their registration documents during periodic round ups, particularly in Dundo, the provincial capital. Refugees also reported periodic restrictions on freedom of movement from their resettlement site in Lovua, Lunda Norte Province.

Employment: Formal restrictions on a refugee’s ability to seek employment existed. Regulation 273/13 restricted refugees from obtaining the mandatory business license required to own and operate a business. Refugees often faced difficulty obtaining employment due inability to obtain legal documents required to work in the formal sector. A general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge concerning the rights it was intended to safeguard compounded the difficulties.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with recognized refugee status could at times obtain public services. UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees, however, reported that urban refugees in particular were unable to obtain legal documents following passage of the asylum law and at times faced difficulty accessing public services such as health care and education. Corruption by officials compounded these difficulties.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In August 2017 the government held presidential and legislative elections, which the ruling MPLA won with 61 percent of the vote. In September 2017 the country inaugurated MPLA party candidate Joao Lourenco as its third president since independence.

Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. Opposition parties complained to the Constitutional Court aspects of the electoral process, including the National Electoral Commission’s lack of transparent decision making on key election procedures and perceived irregularities during the provincial-level vote count. The court rejected opposition appeals, citing a lack of evidence. The court concluded that members of the two opposition parties, UNITA and the Social Renewal Party, forged election documents submitted in support of their appeals, a crime for which conviction carries a penalty of two to eight years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine. The court referred the matter to the public prosecutor, but at year’s end there were no additional details on the investigation.

The central government appoints the provincial governors, and the constitution does not specify a timeline for implementing municipal-level elections. On March 22, President Lourenco announced that municipal elections in select municipalities would occur in 2020.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ruling MPLA party dominated all political institutions. Political power was concentrated in the presidency and the Council of Ministers, through which the president exercised executive power. The council may enact laws, decrees, and resolutions, assuming most functions normally associated with the legislative branch. The National Assembly consists of 220 deputies elected under a party list proportional representation system. The National Assembly has the authority to draft, debate, and pass legislation, but the executive branch often proposed and drafted legislation for the assembly’s approval. The MPLA retained its supermajority in the National Assembly in the August 2017 elections; however, opposition parties increased their representation by winning 32 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 20 percent in the 2012 elections.

Political parties must be represented in all 18 provinces, but only the MPLA, UNITA, and CASA-CE, to a lesser extent, had truly national constituencies. By law no political party may limit party membership based on ethnicity, race, or gender.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Of the 220 deputies in the national assembly, 60 were women. There were two female provincial governors, and 12 of 32 cabinet ministers were women. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men. The country has multiple linguistic groups, many of which were represented in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took concrete steps during the year to remove from office, investigate, and prosecute government officials for alleged corrupt practices. During the year President Lourenco dismissed cabinet ministers, provincial governors, senior military officers, and other high-level government officials due to alleged corrupt practices. The PGR launched investigations and brought criminal charges against several of these officials. Official impunity, however, remained a serious problem, and President Lourenco repeatedly stressed that ending impunity for corruption was among his administration’s top priorities.

Corruption: Government corruption at all levels was widespread, and accountability was limited due to inadequate checks and balances, a lack of institutional capacity, and an entrenched culture of impunity. On June 26, the Law on the Repatriation of Capital Assets Domiciled Abroad entered into force, mandating that every Angolan who had in excess of $100,000 undeclared abroad must return and invest the money in the country by year’s end or face criminal penalties. On May 17, the National Assembly passed the law with the votes of 133 MPLA parliamentarians. Opposition parties voted as a block against the bill and, along with civil society, harshly criticized the law as sanctioning impunity by allowing individuals who stole state funds to keep their ill-gotten gains without facing an investigation or criminal penalties if they returned and invested the funds in the country by year’s end.

Several investigations or prosecutions of government officials allegedly involved in corruption were in process at year’s end. For example, on September 22, authorities charged Valter Filipe, the former governor of the National Bank of Angola (BNA), and Jose Filomeno dos Santos, the son of former president dos Santos, with criminal association, money laundering, and influence peddling for the alleged illicit transfer of $500 million from the BNA to a bank in the United Kingdom. On September 21, authorities announced the pretrial detention of former minister of transportation, Augusto Tomas, whom the president fired on June 20, on charges of corruption and money laundering. Tomas remained in pretrial detention at year’s end. On August 13, the Provincial Tribunal of Luanda convicted Angolan General Tax Administration (AGT) administrator, Nicholas da Silva, and four AGT associates on charges of money laundering, tax fraud, and corruption for embezzling collected tax revenue designated for the national treasury. The former AGT officials, first detained in October 2017, received sentences ranging from 3.5 to five years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine.

On July 13, the PGR acknowledged receiving from Portuguese authorities the case file of former Angolan vice president, Manuel Vicente. In January 2017 Portuguese authorities charged Vicente with corruption, money laundering, breach of judicial secrecy, and document forgery but on May 10 announced the transfer of the case to Angolan jurisdiction. The case extended back to 2012, when Vicente was under investigation in Portugal for alleged money laundering and corruption related to both the purchase of a luxury Lisbon apartment for 3.8 million euros ($4.37 million) and the purchase of shares in the Angolan telecommunications company Movicel and bank BES Angola. Portuguese authorities stated Vicente bribed then Portuguese public prosecutor Orlando Figueira to close both investigations with payments amounting to 763,000 euros ($877,000). Angolan authorities continued to review the case file at year’s end.

Government ministers and other high-level officials commonly and openly owned interests in public and private companies regulated by, or doing business with, their respective ministries. Laws and regulations regarding conflict of interest exist, but they were not enforced. Petty corruption among police, teachers, and other government employees was widespread. Police extorted money from citizens and refugees, and prison officials extorted money from family members of inmates.

Financial Disclosure: The law on public probity requires senior government officials to declare their assets to the attorney general. Following his election in August 2017, President Lourenco ordered all presidential appointees to comply with the law, which the previous dos Santos government did not enforce.

According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the financial information of government officials was provided to the appropriate government office. The law treats these reports as confidential. The president, vice president, and president of the National Assembly are exempt from these public probity requirements. Nonexempt government officials are to make a declaration within 30 days of assuming a post and every two years thereafter. The law does not stipulate a declaration be made upon leaving office but states that officials must return all government property within 60 days.

Penalties for noncompliance with the law on public probity vary depending on which section of the law was violated, but they include removal from office, a bar from government employment for three to five years, a ban on contracting with the government for three years, repayment of the illicitly gained assets, and a fine of up to 100 times the value of the accepted bribe. The National Office of Economic Police is responsible for investigating violations of this law, as well as other financial and economic crimes, and then referring them to the Financial Court for prosecution. There were no known cases related to this law during the year.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country. Some of those investigating government corruption and human rights abuses alleged government interference in their activities. Civil society organizations faced difficulties in contacting detainees, and prison authorities undermined civil society work in the prisons.

The Law of Associations requires NGOs to specify their mandate and areas of activity. The government used this provision to prevent or discourage established NGOs from engaging in certain activities, especially those that the government deemed politically sensitive. In July 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled that a 2015 presidential decree to regulate NGO operations was unconstitutional (see section 2.b.).

The government allowed local NGOs to carry out human rights-related work, but many NGOs reported they were forced to limit the scope of their work because they faced problems registering, were subject to subtle forms of intimidation, and risked more serious forms of harassment and closure.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state-funded Interministerial Commission for the Writing of Human Rights Reports includes only representatives from various government ministries. Leading civil society members decided not to participate on the commission because they did not believe it was independent or effective.

The 10th Commission on Human Rights of the National Assembly is charged with investigating citizen complaints of alleged human rights violations and makes recommendations to the National Assembly.

An Office of the Ombudsman existed to mediate between an aggrieved public, including prisoners, and an offending public office or institution. The office did not cover the entire country and had neither decision-making nor adjudicative powers, but it helped citizens obtain access to justice, advised government entities on citizen rights, and published reports. In December 2017 the National Assembly elected Carlos Alberto Ferreira Pinto as ombudsman. Opposition parliamentarians either abstained or voted against Pinto due to his position as an elected member of the National Assembly representing the ruling MPLA party and his membership in the MPLA Central Committee.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment if convicted. Limited investigative resources, poor forensic capabilities, and an ineffective judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights worked with the Ministry of Interior to increase the number of female police officers and to improve police response to rape allegations.

The law criminalizes domestic violence and penalizes offenders with prison sentences of up to eight years and monetary fines, depending on the severity of their crime. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights maintained a program with the Angolan Bar Association to give free legal assistance to abused women and established counseling centers to help families cope with domestic abuse. According to a survey conducted by the country’s National Statistics Institute, one in every five women suffered domestic physical violence “frequently or from time to time” during the year and 31 percent of women ages 15-49 reported experiencing domestic violence at some point in their lives.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were anecdotal reports that some communities abused women and children due to accusations they practiced witchcraft. The Ministry of Culture and the National Institute for Children (INAC) had educational initiatives and emergency programs to assist children accused of witchcraft.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common and not illegal. It may be prosecuted, however, under assault and battery and defamation statutes.

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

Discrimination: Under the constitution and law, women enjoy the same rights and legal status as men. The government, however, did not enforce the law effectively as societal discrimination against women remained a problem, particularly in rural areas. Customary law prevailed over civil law, particularly in rural areas, and at times had a negative impact on a woman’s legal right to inherit property.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work, although women generally held low-level positions.

The Ministry of Social Assistance, Family, and Promotion of Women led an interministerial government information campaign on women’s rights and domestic abuse, and hosted national, provincial, and municipal workshops and training sessions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from one’s parents. The government does not register all births immediately, and activists reported many urban and rural children remained undocumented. During the year the government continued programs to improve the rate of birth registration through on-site registries collocated in maternity hospitals in five provinces and the training of midwives in rural areas to complete temporary registration documents for subsequent government conversion into official birth certificates.

Education: Education is tuition-free and compulsory for documented children through the sixth grade, but students often faced significant additional expenses such as books or fees paid to education officials. When parents were unable to pay the fees, their children were often unable to attend school.

There were reports that parents, especially in more rural areas, were more likely to send boys to school rather than girls. According to UNESCO, enrollment rates were higher for boys than for girls, especially at the secondary level.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Reports of physical abuse within the family were commonplace, and local officials largely tolerated abuse. A 2012 law significantly improved the legal framework protecting children, but problems remained in its implementation and enforcement.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage with parental consent is 15 for girls and 16 for boys. The government did not enforce this restriction effectively, and the traditional age of marriage in lower income groups coincided with the onset of puberty.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: All forms of prostitution, including child prostitution, are illegal. Police did not actively enforce laws against prostitution, and local NGOs expressed concern regarding child prostitution. The law does not prohibit the use, procurement, offering, and financial benefit of a child for the production of pornography and pornographic performances. The law does not criminally prohibit either the distribution or the possession of child pornography. On September 19, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the Association for the Reintegration of Children and Youth in Social Life (SCARJoV), a local NGO, and INAC launched a digital public platform to allow anonymous reporting of images and videos of child pornography and sexual abuse. SCARJoV and IWF explained that experts based in the United Kingdom would scrutinize the video and images, remove them from the internet, and refer suspected cases of abuse to local law enforcement.

Sexual relations between an adult and a child younger than 12 are considered rape, and conviction carries a potential penalty of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment. Sexual relations with a child between the ages of 12 and 17 are considered sexual abuse, and convicted offenders may receive sentences from two to eight years in prison. The legal age for consensual sex is 18. Limited investigative resources and an inadequate judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. There were reports of prosecutions during the year.

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

Anti-Semitism

There is a Jewish community of approximately 500 persons, primarily resident Israelis. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. The constitution grants persons with disabilities full rights without restriction and calls on the government to adopt national policies to prevent, treat, rehabilitate, and integrate persons with disabilities to support their families; remove obstacles to their mobility; educate society regarding disability; and encourage learning and training opportunities for persons with disabilities. In 2016 the Law of Accessibilities entered into force, requiring changes to public buildings, transportation, and communications to increase accessibility for persons with disabilities, but civil society organizations and persons with disabilities reported the government failed to enforce the law and significant barriers to access remained.

On April 22, the Platform for Inclusion, an activist group for persons with disabilities, held a protest in Luanda to raise awareness of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Police, however, intercepted and forbade demonstrators in wheelchairs from using placards and continuing on the planned route. According to Amnesty International, police subjected the protesters to violence. A member of the Platform for Inclusion, Adao Ramos, criticized the government for failing to implement the Law of Accessibilities and provide adequate protection for persons with disabilities. According to police, they halted the protest because the Platform for Inclusion did not comply with the legal requirement to inform authorities 72 hours in advance of a protest.

Persons with disabilities included more than 80,000 survivors of land mines and other explosive remnants of war. The NGO Handicap International estimated that as many as 500,000 persons had disabilities. Because of limited government resources and uneven availability, only 30 percent of such persons were able to take advantage of state-provided services such as physical rehabilitation, schooling, training, or counseling.

Persons with disabilities found it difficult to access public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to find employment or participate in the education system. Women with disabilities were reported to be vulnerable to sexual abuse and abandonment when pregnant. The Ministry of Social Assistance, Families, and Women’s Promotion sought to address problems facing persons with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, and several government entities supported programs to assist individuals disabled by landmine incidents.

On August 23, the National Association of University Students with Disabilities (ANEUD) filed a complaint with the PGR alleging discrimination against students with disabilities in violation of the law. Micael Daniel, the president of ANEUD, stated the Ministry of Education failed to reserve the required 4 percent of university public education slots for persons with special needs during an open competition for university slots. At year’s end the PGR continued to investigate the case.

Indigenous People

The constitution does not specifically refer to the rights of indigenous persons, and no specific law protects their rights and ecosystems. The estimated 14,000 San lacked adequate access to basic government services, including medical care, education, and identification cards, according to a credible NGO. The government permitted businesses and well-connected elites to take traditional land from the San.

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

The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination but does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity. Local NGOs reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals faced violence, discrimination, and harassment. The government, through its health agencies, instituted a series of initiatives to decrease discrimination against LGBTI individuals. During the year the government formally registered Association Iris Angola, the country’s first LGBTI rights NGO. Also during the year, one of the former president’s children announced publicly that he was gay.

Discrimination against LGBTI individuals was rarely reported, and when reported, LGBTI individuals asserted that sometimes police refused to register their grievances. The association continued to collaborate with the Ministry of Health and the National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS to improve access to health services and sexual education for the LGBTI community.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS is illegal, but lack of enforcement allowed employers to discriminate against persons with the condition or disease. There were no news reports of violence against persons with HIV/AIDS. Reports from local and international health NGOs suggested discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS was common. The government’s National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS includes sensitivity and antidiscrimination training for its employees when they are testing and counseling HIV patients.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except members of the armed forces and police, to form and join independent unions. To establish a trade union, at least 30 percent of workers in an economic sector in a province must follow a registration process and obtain authorization from government officials. The law provides for the right to collective bargaining except in the civil service. The law prohibits strikes by members of the armed forces, police, prosecutors and magistrates of the PGR, prison staff, fire fighters, public-sector employees providing “essential services,” and oil workers.

While the law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference, it also places some restrictions on their ability to strike. Before engaging in a strike, workers must make a good-faith effort to negotiate their grievances with their employer. Should they fail to negotiate, the government may deny the right to strike. The government may intervene in labor disputes that affect national security and energy sectors. Essential services are broadly defined, including the transport sector, communications, waste management and treatment, and fuel distribution. In exceptional circumstances involving national interests, authorities have the power to requisition workers in the essential services sector. Collective labor disputes are to be settled through compulsory arbitration by the Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security. The law does not prohibit employer retribution against strikers, and it permits the government to force workers back to work for “breaches of worker discipline” or participation in unauthorized strikes. Nonetheless, the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and stipulates that worker complaints should be adjudicated in the labor court. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security had a hotline for workers who believed their rights had been violated. By law employers are required to reinstate workers who have been dismissed for union activities. There were no known cases of retribution against strikers during the year.

The government generally did not effectively enforce applicable labor laws. Labor courts functioned but were overburdened by a backlog of cases and inadequate resources. The law provides for penalties for violations of the labor code and labor contracts, but the penalties were not an effective deterrent due to the inefficient functioning of the courts.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not generally respected. Government approval is required to form and join unions, which were hampered by membership and legalization issues. In September 2017 the president of the National Union of the Workers in Angola, Manuel Viage, stated that many foreign companies, primarily Chinese-owned, prohibited their workers from joining labor unions under threat of dismissal. Labor unions, independent of those run by the government, worked to increase their influence, but the ruling MPLA continued to dominate the labor movement due to historical connections between the party and labor, and also the superior financial base of the country’s largest labor union (which also constitutes the labor wing of the MPLA). The government is the country’s largest employer, and the Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security mandated government worker wages with no negotiation with the unions.

In April the National Teachers’ Union began a six-day strike to demand higher salaries, step increases, and fewer work hours for primary and secondary schools. There were reports that some government administrators threatened teachers with disciplinary measures, including salary cuts, if they participated in the strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law due in part to an insufficient number of inspectors. Penalties for violations are the same as those for trafficking in persons, ranging from eight to 12 years in prison, and were insufficient to deter violations, primarily due to lack of enforcement.

Forced labor of men and women occurred in fisheries, agriculture, construction, domestic service, and artisanal diamond mining sectors, particularly in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul Provinces. Migrant workers were subject to seizure of passports, threats, denial of food, and confinement. The government continued to make use of a training video for law enforcement and immigration officials that included a short segment on how to identify victims of trafficking, although this was not the sole objective of the film. INAC continued working to reduce the number of children traveling to agricultural areas in the country’s southern regions to work on farms, mostly through community outreach concerning the importance of an education. Forced child labor also occurred.

On July 24, the Union of Fisheries and Derivatives denounced the unfair labor practices of Guanda Pesca, a Chinese and Angolan-administered fishing company. Joaquim de Sousa, the secretary general of the union, harshly criticized the company’s poor operating condition and seven-day work week as akin to modern slavery and threatened to file a criminal complaint. Following the public allegations, Guanda Pesca representatives met with employees and agreed to improve working conditions and decrease working hours.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits children younger than age 14 from working. To obtain an employment contract, the law requires youth to submit evidence they are 14 years of age or older. Children could work from age 14 to 16 with parental permission or without parental consent if they are married and the work did not interfere with schooling or harm the physical, mental, and moral development of the minor. The law also allows orphan children who want to work to get official permission in the form of a letter from “an appropriate institution,” but it does not specify the type of institution. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security; the Ministry of Social Assistance, Families, and Women’s Promotion; the Ministry of Interior; the Ministry of Labor; INAC; and the national police are the entities responsible for enforcement of child labor laws. On June 12, the Ministry of Labor launched the National Action Plan for the Eradication of Child Labor for 2018-2022, which aimed to map the most prevalent zones and types of child labor in the country to strengthen coordination of child labor investigations, prosecutions, and the imposition of criminal penalties. An interministerial commission to combat trafficking in persons was created in 2014 to coordinate enforcement actions. The government had difficulty monitoring the large informal sector, where most children worked.

Inspectors are authorized to conduct surprise inspections whenever they see fit. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. Penalties for not signing a written contract for children age 14 and older is a fine of two to five times the median monthly salary offered by the company. Children older than age 14 who are employed as part of an apprenticeship are also required to have a written contract. The penalty on employers for not having this contract is three to six times the average monthly salary of the company. For children found to be working in jobs categorized as hazardous (which is illegal), the fines are five to 10 times the average monthly salary of the company. Nonpayment of any of these fines results in the accrual of additional fines.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. Child labor, especially in the informal sector, remained a problem. On June 19, INAC filed two complaints against four Chinese companies for violating labor laws and child protection statutes. The first complaint stated that a Chinese cement brick manufacturing company in the northwestern city of Saurimo hired underage children to manufacture bricks and load trucks and paid them very little compensation. At year’s end the case was before the Provincial Tribunal of Lunda Sul. The second INAC complaint was against three Chinese fishing companies–Famao-Lda, Fuhaui Atlantico, and Guanda Pesca-Benguela Province. INAC stated the companies recruited children between the ages of 14 and 17 without parental consent as required by law and employed them in poor conditions for little compensation. The investigation into the complaint was ongoing at year’s end. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security had oversight of formal work sites in all 18 provinces, but it was unknown whether inspectors checked on the age of workers or conditions of work sites. If the ministry determined a business was using child labor, it transferred the case to the Ministry of Interior to investigate and possibly press charges. It was not known whether the government fined any businesses for using child labor. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security, other government agencies, and labor unions implemented a national plan to limit child labor.

Children engaged in economic activities such as agricultural labor on family farms and commercial plantations–particularly in orchards–as well as in fishing, brick making, artisanal mining, charcoal production, domestic labor, and street vending. Exploitive labor practices included involvement in the sale, transport, and offloading of goods in ports and across border posts. Children were forced to act as couriers in the illegal cross-border trade with Namibia. Adult criminals sometimes used children for forced criminal activity, since the justice system prohibits youths younger than 12 from being tried in court.

Street work by children was common, especially in the provinces of Luanda, Benguela, Huambo, Huila, and Kwanza Sul. Investigators found children working in the streets of Luanda, but many returned during the weekends to some form of dwelling in Luanda or outlying cities. Most of these children shined shoes, washed cars, carried water and other goods, or engaged in other informal labor, but some resorted to petty crime and begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred as well.

The government, through INAC, worked to create, train, and strengthen child protection networks at the provincial and municipal levels in all 18 provinces. No central mechanism existed to track cases or provide statistics. The government also dedicated resources to the expansion of educational and livelihood opportunities for children and their families.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, religion, disability, or language, and the government in general effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination, although it does not specifically address political opinion, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity (see section 6). The law provides for equal pay for equal work, and many women held high-level positions in state-run industries and in the private sector or worked in the informal sector. There were no known prosecutions of official or private sector gender-based discrimination in employment or occupation. Women held ministerial posts.

The government did not effectively implement the law. Persons with disabilities found it difficult to gain access to public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to participate in the education system and thus find employment. Reports during the year indicated that persons with albinism also experienced discrimination in employment and access to public services. There were no known prosecutions for discrimination in employment. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A minimum wage for the formal sector exists, and varies by sector. The minimum wage for the formal sector may be updated annually or when the government assesses economic conditions warrant. The minimum wage law does not cover workers in informal sectors, such as street vendors and subsistence farmers.

The standard workweek in the private sector is 44 hours, while in the public sector it is 37 hours. In both sectors the law mandates at least one unbroken period of 24 hours of rest per week. In the private sector, when employees engage in shift work or a variable weekly schedule, they may work up to 54 hours per week before the employer must pay overtime. In the formal sector, there is a prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, defined as more than two hours a day, 40 hours a month, or 200 hours a year. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. By law employers must provide, at a minimum, a 50 percent of monthly salary bonus to employees each year in December and an annual vacation. Workweek standards were not enforced unless employees filed a formal complaint with the Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security. Labor law protected foreign workers with permanent legal status or a temporary work visa.

The government effectively enforced the minimum wage law within the formal labor sector. An employer who violates the minimum wage law faces a penalty of between five and 10 times the applicable sector-specific minimum wage payable to the affected employee. Most workers in the informal sector were not covered by wage or occupational safety standards. An estimated 60 percent of the economy derived from the informal sector, and most wage earners held second jobs or depended on the agricultural or other informal sectors to augment their incomes.

A 2016 presidential decree established minimum employment standards for domestic workers, including national minimum wage protection, an eight-hour work day for domestic workers living outside of their employer’s home, a 10-hour work day for domestic workers living inside their employer’s home, compulsory employer contributions to a domestic worker’s social security protection, and maternity and holiday allowances. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security is charged with implementing and enforcing the law. An insufficient number of adequately trained labor inspectors hampered enforcement efforts. Some companies received advance warning of impending labor inspections.

The labor law requires a safe work environment in all sectors of the economy. Employees have the right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions and may file a formal complaint with the Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security if employers insist they perform hazardous tasks. The government enforced occupational safety and health standards and investigated private company operations based on complaints made by NGOs and labor unions.

Armenia

Executive Summary

Armenia’s constitution provides for a parliamentary republic with a unicameral legislature, the National Assembly (parliament). The prime minister elected by the parliament heads the government; the president, also elected by the parliament, largely performs a ceremonial role. In December 9 snap parliamentary elections, the My Step coalition, led by acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan from the Civil Contract party, won 70 percent of the vote and an overwhelming majority of seats in the parliament. According to the December 10 preliminary assessment of the international election observation mission under the umbrella of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the parliamentary elections were held with respect for fundamental freedoms and enjoyed broad public trust that should be preserved through further election reforms.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Nikol Pashinyan was initially elected by parliament on May 8 following largely peaceful nationwide protests throughout the country in April and May, called the “velvet revolution.” The new government launched a series of investigations to prosecute systemic government corruption, and the country held its first truly competitive elections on December 9.

Human rights issues included torture; harsh and life threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; police violence against journalists; physical interference by security forces with freedom of assembly; restrictions on political participation; systemic government corruption; crimes involving violence or threats thereof targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; inhuman and degrading treatment of persons with disabilities in institutions, including children; and worst forms of child labor.

The new government took steps to investigate and punish abuse, especially at high levels of government and law enforcement. On July 3, the Special Investigative Service (SIS) pressed charges against some former high-ranking officials in connection with their alleged roles in post-election clashes in 2008, when eight civilians and two police officers were killed.

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

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

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

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concerns that the government did not promptly and accurately report incidents of deaths in the army. According to independent (and separate) monitoring of noncombat deaths by the NGOs Peace Dialogue and Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor, there were 24 noncombat deaths reported during the first half of the year. In response to information requested by the NGO Peace Dialogue, the Ministry of Defense reported 31 such incidents for the same period. Human rights NGOs noted that, after years of rejection, the Ministry of Defense became more open following the May change in government in responding to requests for information on the number of deaths in the army. Nevertheless, discrepancies in the government and NGO numbers, partly due to different classification of what constituted military deaths by the Ministry of Defense and civil society, continued to contribute to the overall mistrust of official information.

In an illustrative example, on May 6, the Ministry of Defense reported the death of conscripted soldier Levon Torosyan from a gunshot wound in a military unit located in Tavush region. The 6th Garrison Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee classified the death as suicide and charged Torosyan’s fellow soldier, Valodya Hokhikyan, with insulting Torosyan; Hokhikyan pled guilty. Ruben Martirosyan, an expert from Peace Dialogue, which represented the victim’s family, observed Torosyan’s autopsy and noted the presence of a hemorrhage in his genital area and abrasions on both elbows, inflicted shortly before his death. According to Martirosyan, this and other evidence led him to conclude Torosyan was killed and that the official investigators were covering up the circumstances of the death through pressuring witnesses and falsifying evidence. On August 24, SIS launched a criminal investigation into Martirosyan’s allegations. According to Peace Dialogue, this was the first case in recent years when, parallel to the investigation of a death in the armed forces, a criminal investigation was opened to assess possible violations of the law by the investigative body. Both investigations were ongoing at year’s end.

On May 24, Prime Minister Pashinyan dismissed the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, Movses Hakobyan. Many of the families of soldiers who died under noncombat conditions, who continued to demand investigation of the deaths, alleged that Hakobyan was instrumental in covering up such deaths. According to media reports, law enforcement bodies reopened investigations into some of the older noncombat death cases.

Pashinyan’s government gave new impetus to accountability for the events surrounding the aftermath of the 2008 presidential election, in which eight civilians and two police officers were killed. According to the government, in the period from July 3 until late fall, SIS launched several new criminal cases re-examining these events. The criminal cases entailed charges of overthrowing the constitutional order, abuse and exceeding official authority, torture, complicity in offering a bribe, official fraud, and falsification of evidence connected with the investigation of the 2008 post-election events. High profile suspects in those cases included former minister of defense Mikhail Harutyunyan, former deputy minister of defense Yuri Khachaturov, former chief of presidential staff Armen Gevorgyan, and former president Robert Kocharyan. Kocharyan was charged on July 27 with Article 300.1 of the criminal code, overthrowing the constitutional order, in connection with the March 1 2008 protests. On August 13, the court of appeals released him from pretrial detention. After a Court of Cassation determination that presidential immunity did not apply to his charges, he was arrested again on December 7. The investigations into the cases were ongoing at year’s end.

Concluding a visit from September 15-20, Council of Europe commissioner for human rights Dunja Mijatovic noted the steps taken by the government to finally establish responsibility for the 10 deaths, but stressed that “this should be done carefully and in strict adherence to the principles of rule of law, judicial independence, transparency and guarantees of fair trial, in order to dispel any accusations of alleged revenge politics or selective justice.”

Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, cochaired by France, Russia, and the United States. Violence along the Line of Contact continued, although at lower levels starting in October, after the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders met in Dushanbe. Recurrent shooting and shelling caused casualties and injuries among military and civilians. Following the April 2016 outbreak in violence, the sides to the conflict submitted complaints to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) accusing each other of committing atrocities during that time. The cases remained pending with the ECHR.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices. Nevertheless, there were reports that members of the security forces tortured or otherwise abused individuals in their custody. According to human rights lawyers, while the criminal code defines and criminalizes torture, the relevant provisions do not criminalize inhuman and degrading treatment. There were no convictions of officials who engaged in these practices, although there were several reports of investigations under these charges.

Police abuse of suspects during their arrest, detention, and interrogation remained a significant problem, especially during the largely peaceful “velvet revolution.” For example, on April 23, Hayk Hovhannisyan, a doctor and lecturer at Yerevan State Medical University, was beaten by police officers. According to Hovhannisyan’s account, he was trying to protect students from police violence, when five or six officers dragged him out of a taxi and kicked him in his face and body, resulting in head injuries, a concussion, and a broken cheekbone. Mistreatment occurred in police stations, which, unlike prisons and police detention facilities, were not subject to public monitoring. According to observers, police used arrest as a form of punishment. Criminal justice bodies relied on confessions and information obtained during questioning to secure convictions. According to human rights lawyers, procedural safeguards against mistreatment during police questioning, such as access to a lawyer by those summoned to the police as witnesses, as well as inadmissibility of evidence obtained through force or procedural violations, were insufficient.

According to government statistics, since the 2015 adoption of a new definition of torture in the criminal code, only two cases on charges of torture were sent to the courts.

Human rights lawyers and the ombudsman’s office recorded numerous instances of alleged violations of human rights of protestors, civilians, and journalists, including reports of excessive use of force and beatings by police officers, plainclothes officers, and gangs during the April protests. According to the Ministry of Health, 127 citizens sought medical assistance in the period from April 13-23.

According to official information, the Investigative Committee launched 25 criminal cases into violent incidents that occurred in the period from April 13 to 23. Six of the 25 cases were sent to the courts with charges against nine persons, including Andranik Isoyan, the assistant to former member of parliament (MP) Mihran Poghosyan. One case was suspended, and 14 were merged with other criminal cases. Investigation continued into four cases against 19 persons including the mayor and deputy mayor of Masis. The Masis mayor, Davit Hambardzumyan, was charged with organizing the mass disorders on April 22, when a gang of armed men wearing surgical masks attacked peaceful protesters with stones, batons, and tasers. Hambardzumyan also was charged with hooliganism for another violent incident involving firearms that occurred the same day.

In addition, the SIS investigated two criminal cases regarding violence against protestors during the April 13-23 protests. The investigation of the two cases that included 164 victims, of which 13 were journalists, was in progress at year’s end.

Two criminal cases against three police officers from Abovyan region Arsen Arzumanyan, head of Kotayk branch of police Koyayk regional administration and two police operatives, Areg Torosyan and Arsen Torosyan were sent to the courts on charges of obstructing journalists’ activities. Lieutenant-general Levon Yeranosyan, the former chief of the internal police troops, faced charges of exceeding official authority committed with violence and leading to grave consequences for his role in the violence against protesters. Police conducted 22 internal investigations into police behavior during the April 13-23 protests.

On May 13, the SIS charged the commander of the Yerevan Police Department Escort Battalion, Armen Ghazaryan, with torture for his role in the June 2017 police beatings of four members of the armed group Sasna Tsrer during an altercation. The defendants suffered cuts and bruises on their faces, heads, abdomens, backs, and legs in the beatings. At year’s end the investigation continued.

According to a September 24 statement made by Protection of Rights without Borders, SIS suspended the case examining violence against protesters who were supporting the Sasna Tsrer takeover of the police station in Erebuni in 2016.

On March 21, the office of the ombudsman issued an ad hoc report on the situation in psychiatric institutions noting violations of human rights. Such violations included legal gaps in regulating compulsory treatment, expired medication and absence of alternative treatment options, inappropriate use of means of restraint, lack of specialized personnel, absence of mechanisms for urgent stationary psychiatric assistance, overcrowding, discrimination, inadequate housing and sanitary conditions, inadequate food, lack of exercise, and other problems. On April 23, Dainius Puras, the UN special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, issued a report on his fall 2017 visit to the country. According to the report, the country’s mental health system contained elements of outdated models and practices, including easy and frequent hospitalization of individuals with mental health conditions, overmedication, and long-term confinement for those “chronic patients.” The special rapporteur noted that in a number of the institutions, patients had been confined for long periods, sometimes for 10 to 15 years, not because they needed to be hospitalized but due to the lack of adequate care structures at the community level.

According to the prosecutor general’s office, in 2017 and the first nine months of 2018, 84 patients died in psychiatric institutions. In 80 cases, the causes of death were determined to be various diseases; criminal cases were not launched due to the absence of crimes. In three deaths, criminal cases were initiated on charges of inducing someone to commit suicide, two of which were later dropped due to the absence of a crime. The investigation of the third case was in progress.

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) noted in a 2016 report on its visit to the country that a significant number of patients in two psychiatric clinics appeared to be deprived of their liberty. Although they had signed agreements of voluntary admission, the patients no longer wished to remain in the hospitals.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were marked by poor sanitation, inadequate medical care, and systemic corruption; overcrowding was no longer a problem at the prison level, and was almost resolved at the cell level, but conditions in some cases were harsh and life threatening. Prisons generally lacked accommodations for inmates with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: According to observers, media reports and ad hoc reports of the Prison Monitoring Group (PMG), a coalition of local NGOs, during the year prison conditions continued to remain as described in the 2016 CPT report. The CPT noted material conditions of detention at Nubarashen Prison remained unacceptable. According to the PMG, detention conditions in some cells of the Nubarashen Prison constituted torture and degrading and inhuman treatment. According to the CPT, many cells were damp, affected by mold, poorly lit and ventilated, dirty, and infested with vermin. For most inmates, water was only available at certain hours. Inmates relied on their families for food, bedding, and hygiene items. According to the CPT, similar conditions were observed in other penitentiary establishments.

Human rights observers and the PMG expressed concern about the physical conditions of Armavir penitentiary, the country’s newest prison. The prison did not have an air ventilation or cooling system. PMG monitors who visited the prison on July 13 registered temperatures of 45 degree Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) inside cells, with no constant water supply. According to the PMG, the ventilation and cooling system was removed from the original construction plan due to lack of resources.

According to the PMG, impunity related to the deaths of inmates was one of the most significant human rights problems in prison. In one illustrative case, the penitentiary service of the Ministry of Justice announced that, on August 11, Moldovan citizen Vasile Gruiya was found hanged from his belt in his cell in Armavir Prison. According to the penitentiary service, Gruiya, a detainee, had been aggressive since his admission on August 6 and had attempted self-mutilation. To stabilize him, his mother was allowed to see him and prison psychologists worked with him for three days. According to media reports, Gruiya’s family did not believe that he could have committed suicide, since he was informed that he would be released in a few days. Media also reported Gruiya’s mother claimed her son was killed by another detainee and that he told her he had received death threats. According to official information, the forensic examination of Gruiya’s body discovered numerous injuries inflicted shortly before his death with a blunt object. The criminal investigation into his death was in progress as of year’s end.

The Ombudsman’s Office and the PMG noted the need for better psychological services in prisons. According to statistics published by the PMG, from 2011 to 2017, there were 27 suicides in prison. In 2017, 607 cases of self-mutilation were registered compared with 879 in 2016. The most self-mutilation incidents in 2017 were registered in Nubarashen and Armavir prisons. According to the PMG, the prison administration did not appropriately investigate the cases and did not determine the culpability or negligence of prison staff. In 2017 the PMG made several requests to the Ministry of Justice to allow additional psychologists on its staff to enter prisons but was denied.

On May 3, the SIS announced it charged several employees of the Armavir Prison with torturing a convict, after prison staff had applied physical force to an inmate, but the case was dropped after law enforcement determined the physical force was legitimate.

According to human rights organizations, in addition to the poor physical condition of the facilities, an organized criminal structure dominated prison life. Prison officials reportedly delegated authority to select inmates (called “watchers”) at the top of the informal prison hierarchy and used them to control the inmate population.

Former inmates and many human rights observers raised the problem of systemic corruption and bribery in the penitentiaries. On June 29, a group of convicts addressed a letter to the prime minister, which asserted that corruption continued everywhere in the penitentiary system, with the exception of the Vardashen Prison, which was used primarily for foreigners and former government officials. The letter’s authors claimed that each cell paid bribes that ranged from 300,000 to 600,000 drams ($635 to $1,250) per month to the prison’s administration, local criminal authorities, and others.

There also were reports of medical negligence. In an illustrative example, on February 14, media outlets reported the December 2017 death of convicted prisoner Arega Avetisyan in the Abovyan Prison. Prior to her death the PMG had requested Avetisyan’s release based on health grounds. According to the PMG, Avetisyan suffered a stroke and was given care by another prisoner. After the request, Avetisyan underwent a medical examination that determined her medical condition did not necessitate her release. Authorities opened a criminal case on charges of medical negligence, which was ongoing by year’s end.

There was no progress in investigating the April 2017 death of convicted prisoner Hrachya Gevorgyan in the Armavir Penitentiary.

Health-care services in prisons remained understaffed and poorly equipped, and there were problems with access to specialist care including mental health care. There was also a serious shortage of medication.

According to the PMG and other human rights organizations, LGBTI individuals experienced the worst prison conditions. They were frequent targets of discrimination, violence, psychological and sexual abuse and were forced by other inmates to perform degrading labor. Prison administrators reinforced and condoned such treatment and held LGBTI individuals in segregated cells in significantly worse conditions. The PMG noted that homosexual males or those assumed to be homosexual, those associating with them, and inmates convicted of crimes such as rape, as well as those who refused to live by the “unwritten criminal prison rules” were segregated from other inmates and forced to perform humiliating jobs such as cleaning the toilets, picking up trash for other prisoners, and providing sexual services. The PMG reported a case in the Nubarashen Penitentiary in May when prison staff revealed an LGBTI inmate’s sexual identity to his parents, after which he became depressed and self-mutilated. Despite deteriorating health, he was not provided medical assistance for weeks, and was transferred to the prison hospital penitentiary only after the involvement of the PMG.

Administration: Authorities did not routinely conduct credible investigations nor take action in a meaningful manner to address problems involving the mistreatment of prisoners, disputes and violence between inmates, or widespread corruption.

Convicts and detainees did not always have reasonable access to visitors due to the lack of suitable space for visitations. Heads of prisons and detention facilities arbitrarily used their discretion to deny prisoners and detainees visitation, contact with families, or the ability to receive periodicals.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted domestic and international human rights groups, including the CPT, to monitor prison and detention center conditions, and they did so regularly. Authorities allowed monitors to speak privately with prisoners and permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons and pretrial detention centers. In December 2017, the Minister of Health established a civil society group to carry out monitoring of psychiatric institutions.

There were limits, however, to domestic independent monitoring. The Ministry of Justice continued to deny PMG monitors access to those individuals in whose case the investigation body had put a restriction on communication. The PMG was also unable to check the conditions of confinement for those individuals. The PMG asserted that the restriction was arbitrary and that the investigation body’s decision could not apply to the PMG. There were also restrictions on the PMG’s ability to check food quality in the prisons.

Improvements: In May the parliament approved amendments to the penitentiary code, probation law, the criminal code, and the criminal procedural code to address gaps in the early release program. The amendments, which went into effect on June 23, abolished independent commissions formed to consider requests for early release, transferring their functions to the penitentiary and state probation services. Based on the advisory reports of the two institutions, the court makes the final recommendation on early release. On October 16, a Yerevan trial court made an unprecedented decision to release an inmate, who had been serving a life sentence since 1996, on a 10-year probation. On July 12, parliament adopted changes to the penitentiary code that doubled the number of short- and long-term visits for persons convicted of especially grave crimes and for those serving life sentences. The changes, which came into force on August 4, allowed six short-term and two long-term visits during the year.

During the year the Ministry of Justice Center for Legal Education and Rehabilitation Programs developed and approved, with international funding, an anger management training program for female and juvenile inmates of Abovyan prison. In addition, Abovyan inmates received training in English language, computer literacy, cooking, crochet and felting, therapeutic exercise/yoga, hairdressing, career planning, and entrepreneurship.

On November 1, a decree came into force that allowed inmates deprived of the opportunity to meet with their relatives due to distance or illness to have two 20-minute video calls per month.

On December 16, the government allocated 270 million drams ($556,000) to the Ministry of Justice for correctional facility renovations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, police arbitrarily detained citizens, including during the largely peaceful protests in April and May leading to the “velvet revolution.”

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police force is responsible for internal security, while the National Security Service (NSS) is responsible for national security, intelligence activities, and border control. The SIS is a separate agency specializing in preliminary investigation of cases involving suspected abuses by public officials. The Investigative Committee is responsible for conducting pretrial investigations into criminal cases and incorporates investigative services. Police conduct initial investigations and detentions before turning a case over to the Investigative Committee. The NSS and the police chiefs report directly to the prime minister and are appointed by the president based on the prime minister’s recommendation. The cabinet appoints the SIS and Investigative Committee chiefs based on recommendations from the prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the NSS, the SIS, police, and the Investigative Committee, and the new government took steps to investigate and punish abuse, especially at high levels.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires law enforcement officers to obtain warrants or have reasonable suspicion in making arrests, authorities on occasion detained and arrested suspects without warrants or reasonable suspicion. By law an investigative body must either arrest or release individuals within three hours of taking them into custody. Within 72 hours, the investigative body must release the arrested person or file charges and obtain a detention warrant from a judge. Judges rarely denied police requests for detention warrants or reviewed police conduct during arrests. According to observers, police did not keep accurate records and either backdated or failed to fill out protocols of detention and arrest.

The law requires police to inform detainees of the reasons for their detention or arrest as well as their rights to remain silent, legal representation, and to make a telephone call. Bail was a legal option, and judges employed it at an unprecedented scale following the May change in government. The Helsinki Association and human rights lawyers pointed out that the law does not define a maximum for the amount of bail and reported bureaucratic barriers when individuals sought to get bail money back after release. In practice, the judicial system and law enforcement bodies placed the burden of proof on suspects to demonstrate they did not present a flight risk or would not hamper an investigation, when courts determined the form of pretrial preventive measures.

Defendants were entitled to representation by an attorney from the moment of arrest, and the law provides for a public defender if the accused is indigent. According to human rights observers, few detainees were aware of their right to legal representation. Observers indicated police often avoided granting individuals their due process rights by summoning and holding, rather than formally arresting, them, under the pretext that they were material witnesses rather than suspects. Police were thereby able to question individuals without giving them the benefit of a defense attorney.

In its 2016 report, the CPT reported observing the practice of persons being “invited” (usually by telephone) to come to police stations for what was presented as informal talks. Such talks could last several hours or even days, as the examiners sought to elicit confessions or collect evidence before declaring the persons interviewed a suspect and informing them of their rights.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to international organizations and human rights observers, police and NSS personnel often detained or arrested individuals without a warrant or probable cause. Human rights organizations stated such detentions were often a way to begin an investigation, with authorities hoping the suspect would confess and make further investigation unnecessary.

Between April 16 and April 23, the police detained 1,236 persons, including 121 minors, in connection with the “velvet revolution.” In many cases, individuals were detained simply for being at a certain location, regardless of whether they participated in a protest. In some cases, their rights to legal representation were not respected, and they were held beyond the legal three-hour limit without charges or access to a lawyer. In one high-profile example, on April 22, police arrested members of parliament Nikol Pashinyan, Ararat Mirzoyan, and Sasun Mikayelyan. Pashinyan was taken into custody at an undisclosed location and was released after more than 24 hours on April 23.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a chronic problem. According to the government, as of October 31, 36 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees. Some observers saw police use excessive pretrial detention as a means of inducing defendants to confess or to reveal self-incriminating evidence.

Although the law requires prosecutors to present a well-reasoned justification every two months for extending pretrial custody, judges routinely extended detention on unclear grounds. Authorities generally complied with the six-month limit in ordinary cases and a 12-month limit for serious crimes as the total time in pretrial detention. Once prosecutors forward their cases to court for trial, the law does not provide time limits on further detention but indicates only that a trial must be of “reasonable length.” Prosecutors regularly requested and received trial postponements from judges. Prosecutors tended to blame trial delays on defense lawyers and their requests for more time to prepare a defense. Severely overburdened judicial dockets at all court levels also contributed to lengthy trials.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to legal experts, suspects had no practical opportunities to appeal the legality of their arrests. In cases where the courts ruled on a pretrial detention, another court was unlikely to challenge its ruling.

Amnesty: On November 1, the National Assembly adopted a general amnesty proposed by the government, resulting in the release of 523 convicts from prisons as of November 23.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary did not generally exhibit independence and impartiality. After the May change in government, distrust in the impartiality of judges continued, and some human rights lawyers stated there were no legal safeguards for judicial independence.

Attorneys reported that in the past, the Court of Cassation dictated the outcome of all significant cases to lower-court judges. In February, with implementation of 2015 constitutional amendments, the High Judicial Council (HJC) was formed; on March 5, former Constitutional Court chair Gagik Harutyunyan was elected head of the HJC. Many observers blamed the HJC for abuse of power and for appointing only judges who were connected to the previous ruling party. Attorneys also stated the HJC’s control of the appointments, promotions, and relocation of judges weakened judicial independence.

According to observers, administrative courts had relatively more internal independence but were understaffed, with some hearings scheduled as far ahead as 2020.

Authorities generally complied with court orders.

NGOs reported judges routinely ignored defendants’ claims that their testimony was coerced through physical abuse. Human rights observers continued to report concerns about the reliance of courts on evidence that defendants claimed was obtained under duress, especially when such evidence was the basis for a conviction.

Human rights NGOs highlighted abuses of human rights of persons serving life sentences. According to these NGOs, individuals serving such sentences lacked the opportunity to have their sentences meaningfully reviewed by courts when changes in criminal law could possibly have resulted in less severe punishment. According to human rights groups, one of the greatest obstacles to justice for those serving life sentences was the court-ordered destruction of case files and evidence. This action deprived convicts of the opportunity to have their cases reviewed based on forensic analysis using new technologies, such as DNA testing.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and laws provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not enforce this right.

The law provides for presumption of innocence, but suspects usually did not enjoy this right. During trials authorities informed defendants in detail of the charges against them, and the law required the provision of free language interpretation when necessary. The law requires that most trials be public but permits exceptions, including in the interest of “morals,” national security, and the “protection of the private lives of the participants.” Defendants have the right to counsel of their own choosing, and the law requires the government to provide them with a public defender upon request. A shortage of defense lawyers sometimes led to denial of this right outside of Yerevan.

According to the law, defendants may confront witnesses, present evidence, and examine the government’s case in advance of a trial, but defendants and their attorneys had very little ability to challenge government witnesses or police, while courts tended to accept prosecution materials routinely. In particular, the law prohibits police officers from testifying in their official capacities unless they were witnesses or victims in a case. Judges were reluctant to challenge police experts, hampering a defendant’s ability to mount a credible defense. Judges’ control over witness lists and over the determination of the relevance of potential witnesses in criminal cases also impeded the defense. Defense attorneys complained that judges at times did not allow them to request the attendance at trial of defense witnesses. According to lawyers and domestic and international human rights observers, including the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, the prosecution retained a dominant position in the criminal justice system.

Following the “velvet revolution,” many judges released from pretrial detention many suspects in politically sensitive cases. According to human rights groups, since no other circumstances had changed in their cases, this was an indication that, before the April/May events, judicial decisions to hold those suspects in detention, instead of on bail were politically motivated.

Defendants, prosecutors, and injured parties have the right to appeal a court verdict and often exercised it.

In an illustrative case spanning several years, criminal proceedings against Karen Kungurtsev, who some NGO groups believe is innocent, continued. On July 20, the Cassation Court sent the case back to the trial court and ordered Kungurtsev’s release on bail. In July 2017 the criminal court of appeal had reversed the 2015 acquittal of Kungurtsev on charges of attempted murder of Davit Hovakimyan, sentencing him to seven years in prison. The victim’s family and the Helsinki Association for Human Rights continued to support Kungurtsev’s claim of innocence, asserting that Hovakimyan’s real killer was the son of a NSS official who had used his position to influence police and prosecutors to pin the crime on Kungurtsev.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Following the post “velvet revolution” release of certain individuals considered by some local human rights NGOs to be political detainees, there were no reports of political prisoners or detainees in the country.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Although citizens had access to courts to file lawsuits seeking damages for alleged human rights violations, the courts were widely perceived as corrupt. Citizens also had the option of challenging in Constitutional Court the constitutionality of laws and legal acts that violated their fundamental rights and freedoms. According to lawyers, lower courts did not adhere to precedents set by the Cassation Court, the ECHR, and the Constitutional Court. As a result, lower courts continued to carry out the same legal mistakes.

Citizens who exhaust domestic legal remedies may appeal to the ECHR cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. The government generally complied with ECHR awards of monetary compensation but did not meaningfully review the cases on which the ECHR had ruled. When ruling on a case to which a prior ECHR decision applied, courts often did not follow the applicable ECHR precedent.

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

The constitution prohibits unauthorized searches and provides for the rights to privacy and confidentiality of communications. Law enforcement organizations did not always abide by these prohibitions.

Authorities may not legally wiretap telephones, intercept correspondence, or conduct searches without obtaining the permission of a judge based on compelling evidence of criminal activity. The constitution, however, stipulates exceptions when confidentiality of communication may be restricted without a court order when necessary to protect state security and conditioned by the special status of those in communication. Although law enforcement bodies generally adhered to legal procedures, attorneys claimed judges often authorized wiretaps, the interception of correspondence, and searches without receiving the compelling evidence required by law, rendering the legal procedures largely a formality.

Before the May change in government, there were numerous reports of authorities tapping telephone communications, email, and other digital communications of individuals the government wanted to keep under scrutiny, including human rights defenders, activists, and political figures. According to some human rights observers, authorities maintained “dossiers” of activists, political figures, and others that were used to exert pressure on a person. Following the “velvet revolution,” many activists and human rights defenders expressed their belief that they were no longer under surveillance.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. In some instances, the government restricted those freedoms.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly and after the spring “velvet revolution,” the new government generally respected these rights.

A local NGO, the Armenian Helsinki Committee (AHC), examined the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, especially focusing on the protest period of April-May. The April rallies were unprecedented in terms of the number of participants as compared to rallies held in earlier years, with estimates of 100,000-150,000 protesters at some points. From April 13 to April 15, NGOs reported no instances of police interference with assemblies and marches, but the situation changed after April 16, when in response to Nikol Pashinyan’s call for a “decentralized struggle,” numerous citizens organized and held rallies and marches in various parts of Yerevan as well as in the regions.

AHC found many instances of disproportionate use of force, violence, and abuse of official powers by the police at assemblies from April 16 to April 23. For example, on April 16 and on April 22, members of an unknown police unit threw 11 flash grenades into the crowds without proper warning. As a result, 40 citizens and six police officers sought medical assistance. Reporters from 168?am and Factor.am news websites also sustained injuries.

According to the police report, from April 16 to April 26, 1,283 persons were forcibly brought to police departments, including 1,144 in Yerevan, 918 of whom were also subjected to administrative detention. The majority of the demonstrators were held in administrative detention for no more than three hours, in accordance with the law, although some detainees reported being held longer. Some were brought to police departments but were not allowed to make a phone call. Lawyers who cooperated in a hotline organized by human rights defenders reported in many cases officers prevented them from meeting with their clients. In some cases, obstacles for lawyers to enter police departments were removed after intervention from the ombudsman’s office.

There were incidents of violence by masked assailants. On April 22, for example, more than 50 individuals on Erebuni Street attacked protesters with electroshock weapons, truncheons, and stones and verbally abused them. Many of the attackers wore masks that covered their faces. More than 20 police officers were present when the incident occurred, but did not interfere to stop the assaults. A reporter, a cameraman from Shant TV, and a cameraman from Factor TV were hurt during the incident.

The SIS opened investigations into more than 50 criminal cases of police abuse of power accompanied by violence during the assemblies held from April 13 to May 8. Later, those cases were merged into a single criminal case and an investigative group was established. More than 60 episodes of violence were under investigation within the framework of that criminal case, with reporters, lawyers, and numerous citizens recognized as aggrieved parties.

In November the UN special rapporteur on peaceful assembly and association noted, “Armenia has come a long way with recent reforms and the adoption of new laws that regulate the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; however authorities need to ensure the consistent enforcement of the current regulations.”

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide this right, and the government generally respected it. Under the Law on Public Organizations, in force since February 2017, some NGOs have legal standing to act on behalf of their beneficiaries limited to environmental issues in court. The limitations contradict a 2010 Constitutional Court decision that allowed all NGOs to have legal standing in court.

On October 29, the Ministry of Justice proposed draft amendments to the Law on Public Organizations that generated intense public debate. For example, on November 16, the Transparency International Anticorruption Center (TIAC) released a statement expressing concerns the draft amendments would introduce problematic changes to the reporting requirements for civil society organizations. The draft proposed to toughen the reporting for civil society organizations by extending reporting requirements to all organizations regardless of their sources of funding. In addition, the amendments would require personal information of the donors as well as members, governing bodies, staff and volunteers who have received funding. According to TIAC, the draft would put an unreasonable and disproportionate burden on public organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Authorities cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: While there was no systematic discrimination reported against migrants, refugees, or stateless persons, there were reports of discrimination in the acceptance of applications and in detention of asylum seekers based on the country of origin, race, or religion of the asylum seeker, as well as difficulties with integration.

During the year, 28 foreigners were apprehended for illegal entry after crossing the border via land or air or arriving at the International Airport in Yerevan, an increase from four in 2017. Unlike the previous practice, when authorities detained and sentenced asylum seekers for illegal entry into the country after registering their asylum applications, in a few cases asylum seekers were released from detention. Despite a provision in the law exempting asylum seekers from criminal liability for illegal border crossing, authorities required them to remain in detention pending the outcome of their asylum applications or to serve the remainder of their sentences. Two asylum seekers from Afghanistan, who were detained for illegal border crossing in 2015 and sentenced to three years in prison, were released early and accommodated at a reception center for asylum seekers in mid-September. They were under supervision with mandatory reporting requirements between mid-September and October 6, when the sentence expired.

Foreign Travel: Citizens must obtain exit visas to leave the country on either a temporary or a permanent basis. Citizens could routinely purchase exit visas for temporary travel outside the country within one day of application for approximately 1,000 drams (two dollars) for each year of validity.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

As of 2016, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, approximately 8,400 IDPs of the estimated 65,000 households evacuated in 1988-94 were still living in displacement. Some of the country’s IDPs and former refugees lacked adequate housing and had limited economic opportunities.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law takes into account specific needs of children, persons with mental disabilities and trauma survivors and allows detention centers to receive asylum applications. Refugees who were not ethnic Armenians needed three years of legal residence in the country to be naturalized.

While the overall quality of procedures and decision making for determination of refugee status improved over the last decade, concerns remained regarding adjudication of cases of asylum seekers of certain religious and gender profiles. Security considerations permeated all aspects of the asylum procedure and implementation of refugee policies and the NSS continued to influence asylum decision making by the State Migration Service (SMS).

Shortcomings in asylum procedures included limited state funding for interpreters and deficiencies in capacity of eligibility officers. Enhanced capacity of the judiciary resulted in an increased number of overruled SMS decisions on asylum applications. For the first time since 2009, the Administrative Court issued a judgment overruling an SMS denial of refugee status to a family from Iraq and obliging the SMS to recognize the applicants as refugees. In general, the courts drew more attention to the merit of asylum applications and used country of origin information more systematically.

Authorities continued to offer ethnic Armenians from Syria who remained in the country a choice of protection options, including expedited naturalization, a residence permit, or refugee status. Quick naturalization gave persons displaced from Syria the same legal right to health care and most other social services as other citizens.

Access to Basic Services: Conditions in the only reception center for asylum seekers were below international standards, according to one international NGO, and did not address the needs of persons with specific needs and disabilities. With an increased number of asylum seekers during the year, many from Iran and Afghanistan, the reception center’s capacity was exhausted and there was no alternative solution for accommodation of persons with specific needs and large families. Additionally, the center allegedly did not provide clean lodging, adequate sanitary facilities, or sufficient food and medicine, leading to the prevalence of illness and communicable disease. Many refugees were also unable to work or receive an education while their cases worked their way through the legal system.

Housing allocated to refugees was often in limited supply and in poor condition and remained, along with employment, their greatest concern. Many displaced families relied on a rental subsidy program supported by UNHCR and diaspora organizations. Authorities operated an integration house with places for 29 refugees and offered refugees accommodation free of charge during the first months after they acquired refugee status. Language differences with Syrian-Armenian refugees who spoke a different dialect created barriers to employment and, initially, education.

Durable Solutions: In 2016 the government adopted a concept document outlining its goals concerning the integration of persons granted asylum and refugee status as well as of long-term migrants. According to UNHCR, while in principle the concept would enhance the legal framework for the protection of refugees, it did not go far enough to cover Syrians who had obtained citizenship, thus excluding from the provision of services the majority of displaced Syrians who had arrived in country since the beginning of the conflict. The concept also did not address critical aspects of integration, such as language needs and access to education. The Ministry of Diaspora drafted an integration strategy focused on Syrian-Armenians displaced as a result of the conflict in Syria. UNHCR promoted and advocated for a single policy and comprehensive integration strategy to facilitate integration of all refugees and other displaced persons without discrimination. While the government approved an initial concept on local integration, full implementation remained pending. NGOs partially filled the gap with UNHCR and international donor funding.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to police data, the number of stateless persons by October 29 was 801. The increase was believed to be related to the rising number of citizens renouncing their Armenian citizenship with the aim of obtaining citizenship elsewhere, particularly in the Russian Federation. In addition, authorities considered approximately 1,400 refugees from Azerbaijan to be stateless as of December 2017.

The law provides for the provision of nationality to stateless children born on the country’s territory.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and laws 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.

In April 2017, the country held parliamentary elections, thereby choosing the first legislative body to govern under the new constitution. In conjunction with amendments to the electoral code, this shifted the country from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary republic, eliminating the direct election of the president and mayors of two major cities and introducing a complex proportional electoral system that many characterized as semi-majoritarian. After the end of Serzh Sargsyan’s second presidential term on April 9, the parliament elected him on April 17 as the first prime minister under the new constitution. On April 23, however, Sargsyan resigned following nationwide protests. On May 8, under public pressure, the parliament elected opposition leader and member of parliament Nikol Pashinyan as prime minister.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On December 9, the country held snap parliamentary elections, preceded by a short and heated but free and competitive campaign with generally equal opportunities for contestants. Nikol Pashinyan’s My Step coalition won 70.44 percent of the vote and most seats in Parliament; the Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia parties also won seats, with 8.27 percent and 6.37 percent of the vote, respectively. The OSCE/Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) December 10 preliminary report noted that “early parliamentary elections were held with respect for fundamental freedoms and enjoyed broad public trust that needs to be preserved through further electoral reforms.…The general absence of electoral malfeasance, including of vote-buying and pressure on voters, allowed for genuine competition.” The report noted, however, that although electoral stakeholders did not report any systematic efforts of vote-buying and other electoral malfeasance, several interlocutors alleged that short-term contracting of a number of campaign workers and citizen observers was done, mainly by one contestant, possibly for the purpose of buying their votes.

ODIHR observers stated that “contestants were able to conduct their campaigns freely; fundamental freedoms of association, assembly, expression and movement were fully respected during the campaign.” At the same time they emphasized that disinformation, as well as inflammatory exchanges between some contestants, on social networks, were noted during the campaign. Among the few issues that marred the electoral process, the observers noted that “the integrity of campaign finance was undermined by a lack of regulation, accountability, and transparency. For example, contrary to previous ODIHR and Venice Commission recommendations, organizational expenses such as for office space, communication, transportation, and staff were not considered election-related and therefore could remain unreported, “undermining the transparency of campaign finance.” Other shortcomings highlighted by OSCE observers included the narrow legal standing for submitting electoral complaints, contrary to previous ODIHR and Venice Commission recommendations.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law does not restrict the registration or activity of political parties. Prior to the “velvet revolution,” however, authorities suppressed political pluralism in other ways.

While political pluralism expanded after the May change in government, observers noted increased radicalization in society, reflected most acutely in social media, that shrank the space for criticism of the new government, since any dissent was labeled as “counterrevolutionary” by Civil Contract supporters. Some opposition political actors alleged that the new government directed public pressure against them.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, but the patriarchal nature of society inhibited large-scale participation by women in political life and in decision-making positions in the public sector. Although the percentage of female members of the parliament and the Yerevan City Council increased from 2017, the participation of women remained low in these and other decision making structures. There were no female governors in the country’s 10 regions; the first female mayor was elected on October 21.

The OSCE’s preliminary statement following the December 9 parliamentary elections noted that all candidate lists met the 25 percent gender quota requirement and women accounted for 32 percent of the 1,444 total candidates. OSCE stated, however, that this quota did not ensure the same proportion of representation of women in the parliament, as half of the seats are distributed according to preferential votes. Parties rarely featured women candidates in their campaigns – women only occasionally campaigned on their own and rarely appeared as speakers in rallies observed. Some women candidates were a target of disparaging rhetoric because of their gender.

There are government-mandated seats in the parliament for the country’s four largest ethnic minorities: Yazidi, Kurds, and the Assyrian and Russian communities. Four members of the parliament represented these constituencies.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. Reports continued, however, of systemic corruption, including in all three branches of government. After the May “velvet revolution,” the new government opened investigations to combat corruption that revealed systemic corruption encompassing most areas of public and private life. The SIS launched numerous criminal cases against alleged corruption by former government officials and their relatives, as well as parliamentarians, with cases ranging from a few thousand to millions of U.S. dollars.

Corruption: Numerous media reports revealed systemic corruption in many areas including construction, mining, public administration, the parliament, the judiciary, procurement practices, and provision of grants by the state. There were also allegations of embezzlement of state funds, the involvement of government officials in questionable business activities, and tax and customs privileges for government-linked companies.

According to the prime minister’s anticorruption adviser, between May 7 and August 10, law enforcement bodies and tax services uncovered violations in the amount of 41.7 billion drams (almost $87 million), constituting damages to the state, embezzlement, abuse of official duty, and bribes. Headline cases included tax underpayments and unexplained wealth on the part of parliamentarians, well-connected political figures, or their respective business holdings. In one illustrative case, according to the government, the Yerevan City supermarket chain, affiliated with member of parliament Samvel Alexanyan, was found to have underpaid tens of millions of dollars in taxes.

Other corruption investigations focused on the embezzlement or abuse of state funds, including corruption involving military procurement contracts, community budgets and the distribution of social benefits.

In June, the Ethics Commission for High-ranking Officials published the result of research on conflicts of interest involving high-ranking officials in the 2014-17 period. The commission discovered a total of 709 procurement contracts signed with 91 commercial entities that were linked to officials, more than half of which were single source contracts.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires high-ranking public officials and their families to file annual asset declarations, which were partially available to the public on the internet. According to amendments that entered into effect in July 2017, the Ethics Commission for High-ranking Officials was granted the powers and tools to partially verify the content of the declarations, including access to relevant databases and the mandate to impose administrative sanctions or refer a case to the law enforcement bodies when elements of criminal offences were identified. After the May change in government, the Ethics Commission for High-ranking Officials imposed penalties on officials for filing incomplete or late declarations.

According to a June 2017 law, full verification of the data, as well as other functions aimed at preventing corruption, is to be carried out by the Commission on the Prevention of Corruption. The commission, an autonomous collegial body accountable to the parliament, is authorized to have five members who are appointed for a six-year term. It replaces the Ethics Commission of High-ranking Officials and is broadly empowered to promote official integrity, support development of anticorruption policy, and conduct anticorruption awareness raising and training. While the agency was to have been fully functional by year’s end, it had not been established by then.

In July 2017, a law criminalizing illicit enrichment came into force. Many public officials, including judges and members of parliament and their spouses, disclosed large sums of unexplained income and assets, including large personal gifts and proceeds from providing loans. After the May change in government, authorities initiated several investigations of discrepancies or unexplained wealth identified in these declarations. On August 10, First Deputy Prime Minister Ararat Mirzoyan announced that the government had applied to the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative of the World Bank and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for technical and advisory assistance in recovering assets moved out of the country because of corruption and embezzlement.

In the first criminal case of illicit enrichment, on June 25, Vachagan Ghazaryan, the chief bodyguard of former president Serzh Sargsyan for 20 years, was arrested after law enforcement personnel found more than one million dollars in cash in a nightclub owned by his wife. The NSS also caught Ghazaryan with the equivalent of more than one million dollars in cash in a briefcase and another 50,000 dollars in his car. According to investigators, Ghazaryan intended to obtain additional cash amounting to 1.7 million dollars from his account and 1.4 million dollars from his wife’s account. Ghazaryan claimed he forgot to mention these funds in his required ethics declaration filed in April. According to the NSS, Ghazaryan claimed he withdrew the cash “in order to return it to its owner” but would not reveal the identity of that owner.

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

Following the May change in government leadership, some civil society representatives joined the government. Others, however, continued to serve as watchdogs, scrutinizing the actions of the new government. Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. On November 8, however, Daniel Ionnisyan of the Union of Informed Citizens (UIC) NGO announced via Facebook post that the Investigative Committee had launched a criminal case against one of the UIC’s Fact Investigation Platform (FIP) reporters. The reporter had contributed to an October 18 FIP report on a recorded phone conversation with a public school principal in Hrazdan. The recording revealed that the principal was planning to engage school staff and students in the political rally of an independent mayoral candidate (the son of an MP from My Step party).

After the “velvet revolution,” some Facebook users politically affiliated with the former government and media outlets started a smear campaign against civil society organizations funded by the Open Society Foundation and government officials whom they alleged were directly or indirectly affiliated with the foundation.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Human Rights Defender (the ombudsperson) has a mandate to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms from abuse at all levels of government. Civil society generally approved of the work of the ombudsman’s office during the April-May protests. According to the human rights defender’s website, the office worked 24 hours a day during protests to ensure human rights protections. For the first half of the year, the office reported an unprecedented number of citizen complaints and visits, which it attributed to increased trust in the institution and new public expectations.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense, and conviction carries a maximum sentence of 15 years; general rape statutes applied to the prosecution of spousal rape. Domestic violence was prosecuted under general statutes dealing with violence, although authorities did not effectively investigate or prosecute most allegations of domestic violence. Domestic violence against women was widespread.

There were reports that police, especially outside Yerevan, were reluctant to act in such cases and discouraged women from filing complaints. According to some NGOs representatives, in cases when a woman alleged rape, she was sometimes questioned about her previous sexual experience and subjected to a “virginity test.” In a few cases, if the rape victim was not a virgin, police would dismiss the allegation as unimportant. A majority of domestic violence cases were considered under the law as offenses of low or medium seriousness, and the government did not hire enough female police officers and investigators for field work to address these crimes.

Between 2010 and 2017, the NGO Coalition to Stop Violence against Women recorded the killing of 50 women by an existing or former partner or by a family member. Information on enforcement actions regarding these killings was unavailable by year’s end. In a high profile case, on November 12, 20-year-old Kristine Iskandaryan was beaten to death by her husband. After police learned her husband previously had battered her he confessed and was detained. In the first six months of the year, nine women were killed under such circumstances, but no information became available about whether their cases were investigated.

The Investigative Committee reported investigating 258 cases of domestic violence in the first half of the year, up from 215 in the same period in 2017. Most of the cases were of women abused by a husband or male domestic partner. During the same period, 259 persons were recognized as victims of domestic violence, of which 33 were minors.

NGOs that promoted women’s rights were criticized mostly online for breaking up “Armenian traditional families” and spreading “Western values.”

On July 1, the December 2017 Law on Prevention of Family Violence, Protection of Persons Subjected to Family Violence, and the Restoration of Family Cohesion went into effect. In a March 29 letter to the government, two UN special rapporteurs and a UN working group expressed concerns about the law, including that it is not strong enough to protect those facing domestic violence and that a number of its provisions could contravene the right of women victims of violence to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and could hinder their right to justice and to effective remedies for the harm they had suffered.

According to NGOs, the government lacked resources for the full implementation of the law. Police officers began a training program but did not have adequate training or will to apply the law to perpetrators. There was only one shelter for victims, which did not have the capacity to serve all victims. After the May change in government, NGOs reported the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs took concrete steps to increase cooperation, such as such as funding a second shelter in one of the regions and allowing NGOs to post information on its website.

Several members of parliament continued to voice disapproval of the law, with Tsarukyan bloc member Gevorg Petrosyan calling it an instrument that could be used by “freedom loving women” to get rid of their husbands and “fulfil their fantasies outside of the family.”

Some female politicians, as well as human rights and environmental activists, were subject to gender-biased posts and discriminatory comments in social media.

Sexual Harassment: Although the law addresses lewd acts and indecent behavior, it does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment. Observers believed sexual harassment of women in the workplace was widespread and was not adequately addressed by the government, which did not have a functioning, all-encompassing labor inspectorate or other avenues to report such harassment.

On February 13, Marina Khachatryan, a Yerevan city council member from the opposition Yerkir Tsirani (Apricot Land) party, brought a glass filled with a sample of sewer water that was leaking from the Nubarashen prison into a residential area to a council session. Khachatryan attempted to present the sewer water to then mayor Taron Margaryan to raise awareness of city residents’ complaints that the sewage was harming their community. At Margaryan’s instigation, however, other male council members and staff assaulted Khachatryan, beating and manhandling her while threatening her and using sexual insults. Members of the then ruling Republican Party of Armenia said the response was justified and did not condemn the violence. Law enforcement bodies opened a criminal investigation.

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

Discrimination: Men and women enjoy equal legal status, but discrimination based on gender was a continuing problem in both the public and private sectors. There were reports of discrimination against women with respect to occupation and employment. Women remained underrepresented in leadership positions in all branches and at all levels of government.

The government took no tangible action on a 2015 World Bank study that examined teaching materials and textbooks of high school classes and found the books gave strong preference to men in all forms of representation, including texts and illustrations, while women were less visible or portrayed in stereotypical way.

According to the World Bank 2016 Armenia Country Gender Assessment, the labor market participation gap between men and women was approximately 17 percent. Despite a significant decline in the difference in earnings between men and women, women still earned on average 36 percent less than men. There were few women leaders in the private sector, including in managerial and entrepreneurial positions.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the National Statistical Service, the boy to girl ratio at birth decreased from 114 to 100 in 2014 to 110 to 100 in 2017. The law requires doctors to question women on their motives for seeking an abortion and refuse those driven by gender selection concerns.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from one or both parents. A centralized system generated a medical certificate of birth to make avoidance of birth registration almost impossible. A low percentage of registered births occurred mainly in Yezidi and Kurdish communities practicing homebirths.

Education: Although education is free and compulsory through grade 12, in practice it was not universal. Children from disadvantaged families and communities lacked access to early learning programs, despite government efforts to raise preschool enrollment. According to National Statistics Service, in 2017 nationwide preschool enrolment for children younger than five was 29 percent, but only 17 percent for children in rural communities. Many remote rural communities, especially those with population less than 400, did not have preschools. Enrollment and attendance rates for children from ethnic minority groups, in particular Yezidis, Kurds, and Molokans, were significantly lower than average, and dropout rates after the ninth grade were higher. UNICEF expressed concern about the integration into the local community of an increasing number of refugee children from Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine because of lack of proper support for addressing cultural and linguistic barriers.

According to the Prison Monitoring Group, in the beginning of the year seven juveniles did not have access to education in the Abovyan Penitentiary while they were detained or serving a prison sentence. By December, however, that number had decreased to two.

Child Abuse: According to UNICEF, the lack of official, unified data on violence against children limited the government’s ability to design adequate national responses and preventive measures. There were no official referral procedures for children who were victims of violence, including sexual violence, and referrals were not mandatory for professionals working with children, except for doctors who are required to report any injury of children to police.

The law outlines the roles and responsibilities of police and social services in the early identification and response to violence against children in the family. Although the law went into effect on July 1, the government continued to lack services for victims of domestic violence including women and children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Early marriage of girls was reportedly more frequent within Yezidi communities, but the government took no measures to document the scale or address the practice.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children and provides for prison sentences of seven to 15 years for violations. Child pornography is punishable by imprisonment for up to seven years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

The UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography noted in a February 2016 report that although official statistics showed relatively few cases of sexual exploitation and sale of children, there were numerous undetected and unreported cases caused by gaps in terms of legislation, training, awareness-raising, detection, and reporting.

Institutionalized Children: According to UNICEF and other observers, institutionalized children were at risk of physical and psychological violence by peers and by staff. According to a February 2017 Human Rights Watch report, government policies on deinstitutionalization and inclusive education did not provide rights and benefits to children with disabilities on an equal basis with other children and were discriminatory.

In December 2017 the family code was amended to allow for more family-based alternatives for institutionalized children, such as diversification of foster care and improved provisions on adoption; the amendments entered into force in the middle of the year, resulting in a quadrupling in state funding for foster care. Transformation of residential institutions for children in difficult life circumstances and those without parental care also continued. With the exception of children with disabilities, the number of institutionalized children continued to decrease.

UNICEF expressed concern about inhuman and degrading treatment of persons with disabilities in institutions, including children with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities in specialized institutions, as well as neglect and the use of physical restraints as means of treatment and punishment. There was also concern about the inefficiency and inadequacy of the complaints systems and the lack of monitoring of institutions. There were reports on social media that the government’s closure of boarding schools without the timely establishment of proper alternative social care services and provision of basic necessities jeopardized children’s well-being and access to education.

According to the NGO United Methodist Committee on Relief, deinstitutionalized children in the country were more at risk of being involved in forced begging, forced labor, and trafficking and of being subjected to violence at home. The NGO relayed at least one case where a deinstitutionalized child was forced to beg by his stepfather. The NGO Coalition to Stop Violence against Women reported that, after a child was placed with a host family, the government ceased any real oversight over the child and the family.

In one Yezidi-populated village, parents complained of discrimination by school teachers and a principal toward their children. They also alleged that the school principal and teachers (who were not ethnically part of the Yezidi community) failed to provide children with quality, public education and reportedly used ethnic slurs against the Yezidis.

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

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population at between 500 and 1,000 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts, although after the “velvet revolution” some anti-Semitic comments appeared in social media smearing government representatives and activists. The government did not respond to these slurs.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with any disability in employment, education, and access to health care and other state services, but discrimination remained a problem. The law and a special government decree require both new buildings and those under renovation, including schools, to be accessible to persons with disabilities. Very few buildings or other facilities were accessible, even if newly constructed or renovated. Many public buildings, including schools and kindergartens, were inaccessible. This inaccessibility also deterred persons with disabilities from voting, since these buildings often served as polling stations during elections. According to the OSCE/ODIHR election observation report on the December 9 snap parliamentary elections, 71 percent of polling stations observed were not accessible to persons with physical disabilities or reduced mobility.

Although the law on general education provides for a transition from general education to inclusive education for children with disabilities by 2025, and despite the increasing trend towards inclusive education, many children with disabilities remained in segregated educational settings and did not have access to inclusive education. Many NGOs reported schools lacked physical accessibility and accessible learning materials and made limited effort to provide reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities in mainstream schools. In addition, teachers did not receive adequate training on inclusive education.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities but prior to May failed to carry out this mandate effectively. For example, in September 2017, the government approved a decision to issue vouchers to persons with disabilities to purchase hearing aids and wheelchairs, instead of providing the actual devices. There were reports, however, the vouchers failed to cover the market price of hearing aids and wheelchairs, resulting in financial strain on the persons who needed them.

Persons with all types of disabilities experienced discrimination in every sphere, including access to health care, social and psychological rehabilitation, education, transportation, communication, employment, social protection, cultural events, and use of the internet. Lack of access to information and communications was a particularly significant problem for persons with sensory disabilities. Women with disabilities faced further discrimination, including in social acceptance and access to health and reproductive care, employment, and education, due to their gender.

Hospitals, residential care, and other facilities for persons with more significant disabilities remained substandard.

Disability status determines eligibility for various social benefits. Media reports alleged corruption and arbitrary rulings on the part of the Medical-Social Expertise Commission, a governmental body under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs that determines a person’s disability status. In 2016, the National Security Service arrested and charged the head of the commission, Armen Soghoyan, and 16 other officials with soliciting bribes. The trial of the case was ongoing as of year’s end.

By the year’s end, the Investigative Committee opened 92 criminal cases for corrupt practices in the social security (including disability pensions) provision offices. The committee brought charges against 50 persons.

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

Antidiscrimination laws do not extend protections to LGBTI persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no hate crime laws or other criminal judicial mechanisms to aid in the prosecution of crimes against members of the LGBTI community. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity negatively affected all aspects of life, including employment, housing, family relations, and access to education and health care. Transgender persons were especially vulnerable to physical and psychological abuse and harassment.

During the year the NGO Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK Armenia) documented 15 cases of alleged human rights violations against LGBTI persons, but only four victims sought help from the ombudsperson’s office and none from law enforcement bodies. Three cases were sent to court; the fourth one was dropped because the perpetrator committed suicide.

On August 14, police arrested a suspect after several transgender individuals called to report being attacked at a public park. The same day, police released a video of the transgender persons trying to attack the suspect, who was under arrest at the police station, with the narrator indicating that the attackers were guilty of violence against the police. The video included the names and photos of the transgender individuals. Police arrested the two transgender persons in the video. According to the arrestees’ statements, six police officers beat them and held them in handcuffs over a 72-hour period they spent at the police station. Police later released one of the transgender persons. On August 16, the second transgender person was taken to Nubarashen Prison. The prison administration subsequently sent a letter to the prosecutor general’s office stating that, upon admission to prison, the detainee had signs of physical abuse on his body. The detainee was charged with hooliganism (punishable by up to seven years in prison) and violence against authorities (punishable by up to five years in prison). According to SIS, it had launched a criminal case on charges of torture against the police officers who had allegedly beaten the transgender person. The investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

On August 3, while an LGBTI activist was hosting eight friends in his parents’ house in Shurnukh village, a mob of approximately 30 persons attacked them and chased them out of the village, hitting, kicking, and throwing stones at them while yelling insults. Six of the activists were taken to the hospital. The victims reported the attack to police, who opened a criminal case on charges of beating. In December the police dropped the case based on the November Amnesty, although nobody had been charged within the case, although according to PINK Armenia, the names of the perpetrators, allegedly most of the village residents, were known.

On November 6, the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups and New Generation NGO announced the cancellation of the Forum of LGBT Christians of Eastern Europe and Central Asia to take place in Yerevan November 15-18. The Forum would have brought participants together for networking, discussions, and prayer. After news leaked about the forum, local and Russia-connected bloggers seized on the information to provoke anti-LGBTI sentiment and issue threats of violence and death against the LGBTI community and forum participants. Police officials met with New Generation to discuss security risks facing the organizers and participants. New Generation subsequently cancelled the forum issuing a statement that read in part, “We are deeply distressed and disappointed that political violence, death threats, and vandalism directed at LGBTI people are constituting a genuine threat to the safety of our participants.”

Several international organizations, the Human Rights Defenders Office, and a number of civil society organizations issued statements condemning the violence at Shurnukh. Many more social media posts, however, defended the villagers with messages attacking LGBTI and other minorities. In one Facebook post, Prosperous Armenia parliamentarian Gevorg Petrosyan wrote, “all gays, sectarians, and their defenders should be eradicated from our holy land.”

Openly gay men are exempt from military service. An exemption, however, requires a medical finding based on a psychological examination indicating an individual has a mental disorder; this information appears in the individual’s personal identification documents and is an obstacle to employment and obtaining a driver’s license. Gay men who served in the army reportedly faced physical and psychological abuse as well as blackmail.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

According to human rights groups, persons regarded as vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, such as sex workers (including transgender sex workers) and drug users, faced discrimination and violence from society as well as mistreatment by police. According to a June UN Human Rights Council report by the rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, stigma and discrimination in health-care settings were major barriers to accessing treatment and services for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law protects the right of all workers to form and to join independent unions, except for non-civilian personnel of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies. The law also provides for the right to strike, with the same exceptions, and permits collective bargaining. The law mandates seven day’s notification and mandatory mediation before a strike, as well as the agreement of two-thirds of the workforce obtained in a secret vote. The law stipulates that worker rights may not be restricted because of membership in a union. The list of justifiable grounds for firing a worker, enumerated in the labor code, does not include union activity.

In April 2017 the Health Inspection Body (HIB) of the Ministry of Health was established by government decree to ensure that health and occupational safety requirements for employees were met. While the final composition and scope of HIB’s authority was still under review as of September, the HIB’s charter had limited references to labor legislation and labor rights as well as a limited mandate to carry out inspections to ensure the protection of labor rights for minors, pregnant women, and women breastfeeding or caring for children. There were no other state bodies with inspection responsibilities to oversee and protect the implementation of other labor rights. The government did not effectively enforce laws on freedom of association and collective bargaining, and the government has not established which entity should have responsibility for enforcing these laws.

Labor organizations remained weak because of employer resistance, high unemployment, and poor economic conditions. Employees did not report labor rights violations because of fear of retaliation by employers and usually did not make formal complaints. Labor unions were generally inactive, with those in the mining and chemical industries viewed as co-opted by plant owners. According to domestic observers, the informal consent of the employer was required to establish a formal trade union. After the May change in government, a number of protests occurred throughout the country with employees demanding higher wages and better working conditions In November, the government approved a legislative initiative to amend the law on state pensions. The Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Arsen Manukyan said the bill will attempt to fight extreme poverty among pensioners by raising the pension to the extreme poverty line beginning in 2019.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced and compulsory labor, although no definition of forced labor is provided in the law. While the government effectively prosecuted labor trafficking cases, resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to identify forced labor cases at large due to absence of an effective labor inspection mechanism. Penalties for labor trafficking were sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

There are laws and policies designed to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. In most cases, the minimum age for employment is 16, but children may work from the age of 14 with permission of a parent or a guardian. The law allows children younger than 14 to work in the entertainment sector. The maximum duration of the workweek is 24 hours for children who are 14 to 16 and 36 hours for children who are 16 to 18. Persons younger than 18 may not work overtime, in harmful, strenuous, or dangerous conditions, at night, or on holidays. Authorities did not effectively enforce applicable law. Penalties were insufficient to enforce compliance. The absence of worksite inspections conducted at the national level impeded the enforcement of child labor laws.

According to the Armenian National Child Labor Survey 2015 Analytical Report, conducted by the National Statistical Service and the International Labor Organization, 11.6 percent of children between the ages of five and 17 were employed. Most were involved in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sectors, while others worked in the sectors of trade, repair, transport, storage, accommodation, and food services. Children were also involved in the trade of motor fuel, construction materials, medication, vehicle maintenance and repair works. According to the survey, 39,300 children were employed, of whom 31,200 were engaged in hazardous work, including work in hazardous industries (400 children), in designated hazardous occupations (600 children), work with long hours (1,200 children), work that involved carrying heavy loads and distances (17,200 children) and, other forms of hazardous work (23,600 children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, skin color, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion, political opinion, belonging to a national minority, property status, birth, disability, age, or other personal or social circumstances. Other laws and regulations specifically prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on gender. The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were no effective legal mechanisms to implement these regulations, and discrimination in employment and occupation occurred based on gender, age, presence of a disability, sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS status, and religion, although there were no official or other statistics to account to the scale of such discrimination. Administrative penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Women generally did not enjoy the same professional opportunities or wages as men, and employers often relegated them to more menial or low-paying jobs. While providing for the “legal equality” of all parties in a workplace relationship, the labor code does not explicitly require equal pay for equal work. According to World Bank data released in 2016, more than one-half of women with intermediary education and one-third of women with advanced education did not participate in paid work. According to the 2017 World Bank study, Leveling the STEM Playing Field for Women, “cultural stereotypes about the work women should engage in and their responsibilities at home present the strongest barrier to equality between women and men” in the country. Women also represented a larger share of the registered unemployed, and it took them a longer time to find work. According to a gender gap study by the UN Population Fund, Diagnostic Study of Discrimination against Women, released in 2016, the gap between average salaries of men and women in all economic spheres was almost 36 percent.

Many employers reportedly practiced age and gender discrimination, most commonly requiring job applicants to be of a specific gender, age, and appearance. Such discrimination appeared to be widespread, but there were no reliable surveys, and authorities did not take any action to mitigate it. Vacancy announcements specifying young and attractive women for various jobs were common. Unemployed workers, particularly women, who were older than 40 had little chance of finding jobs appropriate to their education or skills. LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, as well as pregnant women also faced discrimination in employment. Religious minorities faced discrimination in public employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The established monthly minimum wage was above the poverty income level. The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, 20 days of mandatory paid annual leave, and compensation for overtime and nighttime work. The law prohibits compulsory overtime in excess of four hours on two consecutive days and limits it to 180 hours in a year. The government established occupational and health standards by decree.

Authorities did not effectively enforce labor standards in either the formal or the informal sectors. According to lawyers, workers’ rights remained unprotected due to the absence of a viable labor inspection regime, lack of independent trade unions, and overloaded administrative courts dockets that could only address new cases more than a year after they were filed.

Many employees of private companies, particularly in the service and retail sectors, were unable to obtain paid leave and were required to work more than eight hours a day without additional compensation. According to representatives of some employment agencies, many employers also hired employees for an unpaid and undocumented “probationary” period of 10 to 30 days. Often employers subsequently dismissed these employees, who were then unable to claim payment for the time they worked because their initial employment was undocumented.

Managers of enterprises that were the primary employers in certain poor geographic areas frequently took advantage of the absence of alternative jobs and did not provide adequate pay or address job safety and environmental concerns. Nearly half of all workers found employment in the informal sector, where they were vulnerable to employer abuse and without governmental protection. According to media reports, after the new government’s anticorruption efforts, large supermarket chains began to officially register their workers, leading to drastic increases in the number of registered employees without additional hiring.

On November 30, the Helsinki Committee of Armenia NGO presented the results of a study on labor rights of teachers working in public schools conducted in the period from October 2017 to May that found problems with working conditions in terms of safety and health. Some teachers said they did not feel protected from psychological pressure in the school by administration and those teachers hired to work through nepotism. Approximately half of the teachers had to find students to enroll in the schools and some ensured the participation of children in political events. The vast majority of teachers never united for voicing and solving their problems. The majority of teachers said they had never applied with their problems to the Trade Union for Education and Science, which most were a member of, a mandatory requirement. According to the teachers, the least protected teachers in their schools were representatives of religious minorities, LGBTI teachers, and former convicts.

On June 4, a number of women working night shifts at Sanitek Waste Management Company sent a letter to the prime minister stating that the company violated their labor contracts, exploited them, and abused their working hours. According to the letter, employees working eight hours at night did not receive their salary as provided in their contracts, could not take annual leave nor the required four days of rest during the month, did not know how much territory they were supposed to clean, and did not receive overtime pay for night work. While there were consistent reports of labor law violations over the years at Sanitek, there were no reports that authorities imposed penalties on the company or that the company had made an effort to improve working conditions. Safety and health conditions remained substandard in numerous sectors, and according to official information there were at least 23 fatal workplace incidents during the first nine months of the year. In light of high unemployment in the country, workers generally did not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety. Authorities offered no protection to employees in these situations, and employees generally did not report violations of their rights.

In a separate case, employees and contractors of a mining company found themselves unable to work because of road closures by protestors. The ongoing, multi-month road closures resulted in a halt to operations that subsequently led to the termination of approximately 1,400 employees and contractors.

Azerbaijan

Executive Summary

The Azerbaijani constitution provides for a republic with a presidential form of government. Legislative authority is vested in the Milli Mejlis (National Assembly). The presidency is the predominant branch of government, exceeding the judiciary and legislature. The election observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that the April 11 presidential election took place within a restrictive political environment and under a legal framework that curtailed fundamental rights and freedoms, which are prerequisites for genuine democratic elections. National Assembly elections in 2015 could not be fully assessed due to the absence of an OSCE election observation mission, but independent observers alleged numerous irregularities throughout the country.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group. Violence along the Line of Contact continued, although at lower levels starting in October, after the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders met in Dushanbe.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killing; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; criminalization of libel; physical attacks on journalists; arbitrary interference with privacy; interference in the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association through intimidation; incarceration on questionable charges; harsh physical abuse of selected activists, journalists, and secular and religious opposition figures; blocking of websites; restrictions on freedom of movement for a growing number of journalists and activists; refoulement; severe restrictions on political participation; systemic government corruption; police detention and torture of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals; and worst forms of child labor, which the government made minimal efforts to eliminate.

The government did not prosecute or punish most officials who committed human rights abuses; impunity remained a problem.

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

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

There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

In July and August, the government announced that security services had killed five individuals who allegedly resisted police during their arrest. The authorities claimed the individuals were involved in the July 3 attempted murder of Ganja mayor Elmar Valiyev and the subsequent July 10 killing of two police officers. Human rights defenders alleged the five individuals had not resisted arrest and that police and state security services planned the killings in advance.

On September 26, Teymur Akhundov died in the Gazakh Police station after he was summoned for questioning. Akhundov’s family alleged his death was caused by physical abuse by police.

On September 13, State Border Service private Huseyn Gurbanov died under unclear circumstances. Authorities stated he committed suicide, but family members publicly alleged members of his unit killed him during a hazing ritual.

Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, cochaired by France, Russia, and the United States. Violence along the Line of Contact continued, although at lower levels starting in October, after the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders met in Dushanbe. Recurrent shooting and shelling caused casualties among military and civilians. Following the April 2016 outbreak in violence, the sides to the conflict submitted complaints to the ECHR accusing each other of committing atrocities during that time. The cases remained pending with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

As of November 20, local human rights organizations reported at least 31 noncombat-related deaths in security forces, including suicides and soldiers killed by fellow service members.

b. Disappearance

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

The State Committee on the Captive and Missing reported that 3,868 citizens were registered as missing because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) processed cases of persons missing in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and worked with the government to develop a consolidated list of missing persons. According to the ICRC, more than 4,496 persons remained unaccounted for because of the conflict.

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

While the constitution and criminal code prohibit such practices and provide for penalties for conviction of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, credible allegations of torture and other abuse continued. Most mistreatment took place while detainees were in police custody, where authorities reportedly used abusive methods to coerce confessions.

On July 18, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published reports of six visits it conducted to the country between 2004-17. In the reports the CPT stated its overall impression of the situation in the country was that torture and other forms of physical mistreatment by police and other law enforcement agencies, corruption in the entire law enforcement system, and impunity remained systemic and endemic. The 2017 CPT delegation reported receiving numerous credible allegations of severe physical abuse that it stated could be considered torture, such as truncheon blows to the soles of the feet and infliction of electric shocks. The goal of the alleged abuse reportedly was to force the detainees to sign a confession, provide other information, or accept additional charges. In contrast to previous visits, the delegation also reported receiving allegations of what it termed “severe ill treatment/torture” by the State Customs Committee, the State Border Service, and the Armed Forces.

In January 2017 authorities arrested prominent blogger and Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) chairman Mehman Huseynov in the Nizami district of Baku for allegedly resisting police. In a news conference the following day, he stated police tortured him while he was in their custody. The head of Nizami police pressed charges against Huseynov for criminal defamation; in March 2017 a Baku court convicted him and sentenced him to two years in prison (see section 1.c., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

There were also reports of torture in prisons. In one example, media reported family member claims that in April imprisoned deputy head of the Muslim Unity Movement Abbas Huseynov was severely beaten and left chained in an isolation cell in Gobustan Prison. He was subsequently chained to an iron post in the prison yard, exposed to the elements, from morning until night. This followed media and human rights lawyers’ reports in August 2017 of Huseynov’s torture in the same prison. Authorities did not investigate the allegations.

Authorities reportedly maintained an implicit ban on independent forensic examinations of detainees who claimed mistreatment and delayed their access to an attorney–practices that opposition figures and other activists stated made it easier for officers to mistreat detainees with impunity. Authorities reportedly delayed the forensic examination of Yunus Safarov for 21 days after photos showing marks of severe abuse on his body were circulated in social media immediately after his arrest on charges of attempted murder of the then Ganja mayor.

On March 31, police from the Antitrafficking Department (ATD) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs detained youth activist Fatima Movlamli, who at that time was 17 years old and a legal minor. They held her incommunicado for five days on the premises of the Baku ATD, during which time they slapped her around the head and shoulders and threatened to rape her if she did not sign a document acknowledging she was involved in prostitution.

Local observers again reported bullying and abuse in military units during the year. For example, on August 3, private Fahmin Abilov committed suicide after reportedly suffering abuse. His commanding officer and two privates were arrested in connection with his death. The Ministry of Defense maintained a telephone hotline for soldiers to report incidents of mistreatment to hold unit commanders responsible.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to a reputable prison-monitoring organization, prison conditions were sometimes harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, deficient heating and ventilation, and poor medical care. Detainees also complained of inhuman conditions in the crowded basement detention facilities of local courts where they awaited trial. They reported those facilities lacked ventilation and proper sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held men and women together in pretrial detention facilities in separate blocks but housed women in separate prison facilities after sentencing. Local NGO observers reported female prisoners typically lived in better conditions than male prisoners, were monitored more frequently, and had greater access to training and other activities, but that women’s prisons still suffered from many of the same problems as prisons for men. The Ministry of Justice reported that during the year five children less than three years of age lived in adult prison facilities with their incarcerated mothers. Convicted juvenile offenders may be held in juvenile institutions until they are 20 years old.

While the government continued to construct new facilities, some Soviet-era facilities still in use did not meet international standards. Gobustan Prison, Prison No. 3, Prison No. 14, and the penitentiary tuberculosis treatment center reportedly had the worst conditions.

Human rights advocates reported guards sometimes punished prisoners with beatings or by holding them in isolation cells. Local and international monitors reported markedly poorer conditions at the maximum-security Gobustan Prison.

Prisoners at times claimed they endured lengthy confinement periods without opportunity for physical exercise. They also reported instances of cramped, overcrowded conditions; inadequate ventilation; poor sanitary facilities; inedible food; and insufficient access to medical care. An example of the latter was the denial of timely eye surgery by Baku prison authorities for Mahammad Ibrahim, an opposition Popular Front Party senior advisor, causing permanent damage to his sight. On September 29, just one day prior to his expected release, he was charged by prison officials with illegal possession of a knife, a violation that carries the possibility of up to six additional months of imprisonment. Another Popular Front Party member, Elnur Farajov, died on August 10 from cancer shortly after his release from prison. Family members said he was not properly treated for the disease while incarcerated.

Former prisoners and family members of imprisoned activists reported prisoners often had to pay bribes to meet visiting family members, watch television, use toilets or shower rooms, or to receive food from outside the detention facility. Although the law permits detainees to receive daily packages of food to supplement the food officially provided, authorities at times reportedly restricted access of prisoners and detainees to family-provided food parcels. Some prisons and detention centers did not provide access to potable water.

Administration: While most prisoners reported they could submit complaints to judicial authorities and the Ombudsman’s Office without censorship, prison authorities regularly read prisoners’ correspondence, monitored meetings between lawyers and clients, and restricted some lawyers from bringing documents in and out of detention facilities. While the Ombudsman’s Office reported conducting systematic visits and investigations into complaints, activists reported the office was insufficiently active in addressing prisoner complaints by, for example, failing to investigate allegations of torture and abuse, such as those made by Muslim Unity Movement deputy chair Abbas Huseynov and N!DA activist Ilkin Rustamzade.

Authorities at times limited visits by attorneys and family members, especially to prisoners widely considered to be incarcerated for political reasons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some prison visits by international and local organizations, including the ICRC. Authorities generally permitted the ICRC access to prisoners of war and civilian internees held in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as to detainees held in facilities under the authority of the Ministries of Justice and Internal Affairs and the State Security Services.

The ICRC conducted regular visits throughout the year to provide for protection of prisoners under international humanitarian law and regularly facilitated the exchange of messages between them and their families to help them re-establish and maintain contact.

A joint government-human rights community prison-monitoring group known as the Public Committee was allowed access to prisons without prior notification to the Penitentiary Service. On some occasions, however, other groups that reportedly gave prior notification experienced difficulty obtaining access.

Improvements: On July 18, the CPT reported a presidential executive order had resulted in some improvements, mainly in reducing prison overcrowding. The CPT noted, however, that the national and international minimal standard for living space per inmate had not yet been achieved in pretrial facilities visited in October 2017, especially in Shuvalan and Ganja.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, the government generally did not observe these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service are responsible for security within the country and report directly to the president. The Ministry of Internal Affairs oversees local police forces and maintains internal civil defense troops. The State Security Service is responsible for domestic matters, and the Foreign Intelligence Service focuses on foreign intelligence and counterintelligence issues. NGOs reported both services detained individuals who exercised their rights to fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. The State Migration Service and the State Border Service are responsible for migration and border enforcement. Activists reported the State Border Service played a role in facilitating detentions at the border of some who exercised their rights to fundamental freedoms.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the State Security Service, and the Foreign Intelligence Service. The government lacked effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse; widespread corruption resulted in limited oversight, and impunity involving the security forces was widespread.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law provides that persons detained, arrested, or accused of a crime be accorded due process, including being advised immediately of their rights and the reason for their arrest. In cases deemed to be politically motivated, due process was not respected, and accused individuals were convicted under a variety of spurious criminal charges.

According to the law, detainees are to be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest, and the judge may issue a warrant placing the detainee in pretrial detention, placing the detainee under house arrest, or releasing the detainee. In practice, however, authorities at times detained individuals held for longer than 48 hours for several days without warrants. The initial 48-hour arrest period may be extended to 96 hours under extenuating circumstances. During pretrial detention or house arrest, the Prosecutor General’s Office is to complete its investigation. Pretrial detention is limited to three months but may be extended by a judge up to 18 months, depending on the alleged crime and the needs of the investigation. There were reports of detainees not being informed promptly of the charges against them.

A formal bail system existed, but judges did not utilize it during the year. The law provides for access to a lawyer from the time of detention, but there were reports that authorities frequently denied lawyers’ access to clients in both politically motivated and routine cases. For example, media outlets reported that a lawyer was not able to gain access to Popular Front Party members Agil Maharremov, Ruslan Nasirli, and Babek Hasanov for days following their initial detention. Access to counsel was poor, particularly outside of Baku. Although entitled to legal counsel by law, indigent detainees often did not have such access.

Human rights defenders stated that many of the more than 60 individuals detained after the attempted assassination of the mayor of Ganja and subsequent killing of two police officers in July were denied access to legal representation.

Police at times held politically sensitive and other suspects incommunicado for periods that ranged from several hours to several days. In March human rights defenders reported police illegally held youth activist Fatima Movlamli, a legal minor at the time, incommunicado for five days in the Baku Antitrafficking Department Crime before releasing her without charge. On May 12, Popular Front Party supporter Saleh Rustamov was detained and held incommunicado for 15 days.

Prisoners’ family members reported that authorities occasionally restricted visits, especially to persons in pretrial detention, and withheld information about detainees. Days sometimes passed before families could obtain information about detained relatives. Authorities reportedly used family members as leverage to put pressure on individuals to turn themselves in to police or to stop them from reporting police abuse. Family members of Popular Front Party activists Babek Hasanov, Ruslan Nasirli, and Agil Maharramov stated in November that, contrary to the law, authorities had prohibited all contact with their relatives since police detained them in May for alleged illegal entrepreneurship and money laundering. Human rights defenders stated the charges and isolation from family was punishment for their political activities.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities often made arrests based on spurious charges, such as resisting police, illegal possession of drugs or weapons, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, abuse of authority, or inciting public disorder. Local organizations and international groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized the government for arresting individuals exercising their fundamental rights and noted that authorities frequently fabricated charges against them.

In a high-profile example, on June 4, shortly after completing a degree program abroad and returning to the country, lawyer Emin Aslanov was arrested by police and held incommunicado for a day at the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Main Department to Combat Organized Crime. He was sentenced to 30 days of administrative detention on charges of resisting police, but activists stated the arrest and detention were due to his past human rights work.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities held persons in pretrial detention for up to 18 months. The Prosecutor General’s Office routinely extended the initial three-month pretrial detention period permitted by law in successive increments of several months until the government completed an investigation.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis, length, or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. The judiciary did not rule independently in such cases, however, and in some cases the outcomes appeared predetermined.

Amnesty: On May 24, the president pardoned 634 prisoners, but human rights defenders considered few to be political prisoners, with the exceptions of Popular Front Party member Elnur Farajov, writer Saday Shakarli, and 10 religious activists.

There were reports authorities required prisoners to write letters seeking forgiveness for past “mistakes” as a condition of their pardon.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, judges did not function independently of the executive branch. The judiciary remained largely corrupt and inefficient. Many verdicts were legally insupportable and largely unrelated to the evidence presented during the trial. Outcomes frequently appeared predetermined. Courts often failed to investigate allegations of torture and inhuman treatment of detainees in police custody.

The Ministry of Justice controlled the Judicial Legal Council. The council appoints a judicial selection committee (six judges, a prosecutor, a lawyer, a council representative, a Ministry of Justice representative, and a legal scholar) that administers the judicial selection examination and oversees the long-term judicial training and selection process.

Credible reports indicated that judges and prosecutors took instruction from the presidential administration and the Ministry of Justice, particularly in cases of interest to international observers. There were credible allegations judges routinely accepted bribes.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law requires public trials except in cases involving state, commercial, or professional secrets or confidential, personal, or family matters. The law mandates the presumption of innocence in criminal cases. It also mandates the right of defendants to be informed promptly of charges; to a fair, timely, and public trial (although trials can be closed in some situations, for example, cases related to national security); to be present at the trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); to provide adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; to confront witnesses and present witnesses’ evidence at trial; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Both defendants and prosecutors have the right to appeal. Authorities did not respect these provisions in many cases that were widely considered to be politically motivated.

Judges at times failed to read verdicts publicly or explain their decisions, leaving defendants without knowledge of the reasoning behind the judgment. Judges also limited the defendant’s right to speak. For example, in the third appeal ruling of Ilgar Mammadov, the judge did not explain the court’s rationale for releasing him on August 13 with two years’ probation when he had only 18 months of his sentence remaining.

Authorities sometimes limited independent observation of trials by having plainclothes police and others occupy courtroom seats and, in some cases, by refusing entry to observers. For example, the Baku Grave Crimes Court allowed only restricted access to the hearings of activist Orkhan Bakhishli. Information regarding trial times and locations was generally available, but in some political cases, hearings were canceled at the last minute and rescheduled with limited notice.

Although the constitution prescribes equal status for prosecutors and defense attorneys, judges often favored prosecutors when assessing motions, oral statements, and evidence submitted by defense counsel, without regard to the merits of their respective arguments. Judges also reserved the right to remove defense lawyers in civil cases for “good cause.” In criminal proceedings judges may remove defense lawyers because of a conflict of interest or if a defendant requests a change of counsel.

The law limits representation in criminal cases to members of the country’s progovernment Collegium (bar association). The number of defense lawyers willing and able to accept politically sensitive cases continued to shrink due to various measures taken by authorities, including by the collegium’s presidium, its managing body. Such measures–which included disciplinary proceedings resulting in censure and sometimes disbarment–intensified during 2017-18. For example, on June 11, the collegium voted to expel lawyer Irada Javadova after she voted against disbarring human rights attorney Yalchin Imanov in 2017. The collegium suspended human rights lawyers Fakhraddin Mehdiyev on January 22, Asabali Mustafayev and Nemat Karimli on April 23 for one year, and Agil Layij for six months on October 30. The collegium officially reprimanded lawyer Fuad Aghayev on July 10.

Other punitive tools employed by authorities against lawyers included correctional labor and financial penalties. For example, on November 23, the Binagadi district court fined and sentenced lawyer and human rights defender Aslan Ismayilov to one year of corrective labor for hooliganism after he allegedly slammed a door in the courtroom. Ismayilov was fined and sentenced to one and a half years corrective labor by the Sabayil district court for alleged criminal slander in a separate case July 31. Ismayilov stated the sentences were meant to punish him for his investigations of government corruption in the health sector.

Some activists estimated the number of remaining lawyers willing to take politically sensitive cases to be as low as four or five. The majority of the country’s human rights defense lawyers were based in Baku, which made it difficult for individuals living outside of Baku to receive timely and quality legal service.

Amendments to the law on legal representation came into force on February 5. The law previously permitted nonbar lawyers to represent clients in civil and administrative proceedings. Under the amended law, however, only members of the bar association are able to represent citizens in any legal process. Representatives of the legal community and NGOs criticized the amended law, asserting it had reduced citizens’ access to legal representation and further empowered the bar association to prevent human rights lawyers from representing individuals in politically motivated cases by limiting the number of human rights lawyers who are bar members in good standing.

During the year the collegium held examinations for lawyer-candidates and increased its membership from 900 to 1,500. Human rights defenders asserted new members were hesitant to work on human rights-related cases for fear they would be sanctioned by the collegium. Some activists and lawyer-candidates stated the examination process was biased and that examiners failed candidates who had previously been active in civil society on various pretexts.

The constitution prohibits the use of illegally obtained evidence. Despite some defendants’ claims that police and other authorities obtained testimony through torture or abuse, human rights monitors reported courts did not investigate allegations of abuse, and there was no independent forensic investigator to substantiate assertions of abuse.

Investigations often focused on obtaining confessions rather than gathering physical evidence against suspects. Serious crimes brought before the courts most often ended in conviction, since judges generally sought only a minimal level of proof and collaborated closely with prosecutors.

With the exception of the Baku Court of Grave Crimes, human rights advocates also reported courts often failed to provide interpreters despite the constitutional right of an accused person to interpretation. Courts are entitled to contract interpreters during hearings, with expenses covered by the state budget.

There were no verbatim transcripts of judicial proceedings. Although some of the newer courts in Baku made audio recordings of some proceedings, courts generally did not record most court testimonies, oral arguments, and judicial decisions. Instead, the court recording officer generally decided the content of notes, which tended to be sparse.

The country has a military court system with civilian judges. The Military Court retains original jurisdiction over any case related to war or military service.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Political prisoners and detainees are entitled to the same rights as other prisoners, although restrictions on them varied. According to OC Media, political prisoners faced special prohibitions on reading and communication with their families. Authorities provided international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners and detainees.

In addition to the presidential pardon on March 24, on April 5, the Supreme Court conditionally released journalist Aziz Orujov, who was convicted in December 2017 for illegal entrepreneurship and abuse of office. On August 13, the Sheki Court of Appeals conditionally released the chairman of the opposition Republican Alternative Party, Ilgar Mammadov. Mammadov had been incarcerated since 2013 despite rulings by the ECHR in 2014 and 2017 that his initial detention was illegal and that he had been denied a fair trial. On October 31, Ilgar Mammadov submitted a cassation appeal requesting full acquittal.

Nongovernmental estimates of political prisoners and detainees ranged from 128 to 156 at year’s end. According to human rights organizations, dozens of government critics remained incarcerated for politically motivated reasons as of November 23. The following individuals were among those widely considered political prisoners or detainees (also see sections 1.c., 1.d., 1.f., 2.a., 3, and 4).

On January 12, the Balakan District Court sentenced Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli to a six year prison term. Authorities reportedly abducted Mukhtarli in Georgia on May 30 and subsequently arrested him in Azerbaijan on smuggling and related charges, which were widely considered politically motivated. On April 24, the Sheki Court of Appeals upheld the verdict. On September 18, the Supreme Court rejected Mukhtarli’s appeal of the verdict.

On January 23, the Gazakh District Court sentenced deputy chairperson of the opposition Popular Front Party Gozel Bayramli to three years imprisonment on charges of attempted smuggling of currency across the border. Human rights defenders stated the case was politically motivated and that authorities punished Bayramli for her role in organizing authorized political demonstrations. On April 20, the Ganja Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.

On May 5, the Shirvan Criminal Court sentenced the leader of the local branch of the opposition Musavat Party, Alikram Khurshudov, to five years in prison on charges of hooliganism. On August 31, the Shirvan Court of Appeal reduced his sentence to four and half years. Human right defenders asserted the charges were politically motivated.

On March 1, the Supreme Court rejected the appeals of Muslim Unity Movement leader Taleh Bagirzada, his deputy, Abbas Huseynov, and 16 other persons. The court also rejected the appeal of Fuad Gahramanli, one of three deputy chairs of the secular opposition Popular Front Party, on March 1. In January 2017 the Baku Grave Crimes Court had sentenced Bagirzada and Huseynov to 20 years in prison. Sixteen other persons associated with the case received prison terms ranging from 14 years and six months to 19 years on charges including terrorism, murder, calling for the overthrow of the government, and inciting religious hatred. In a related case Gahramanli was sentenced to 10 years in prison in January 2017. Human rights defenders asserted the government falsified and fabricated the charges to halt the spread of political opposition in the country. In July 2017 the Baku Court of Appeal upheld the verdicts.

On June 25, the Supreme Court rejected the second appeal of prominent blogger and IRFS chairman Mehman Huseynov. In March 2017 a Baku court convicted him and sentenced him to two years in prison for alleged defamation. On August 24, a Baku Court rejected Mehman Huseynov’s request for early release. On October 17, Baku Court of Appeals upheld this verdict.

On March 6, The Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Fuad Ahmadli. In June 2017 the Baku Grave Crimes Court sentenced Ahmadli, a member of the Youth Committee of the Popular Front Party, to four years’ imprisonment for alleged abuse of office and purportedly illegally accessing private information at the mobile operator where he worked. The Baku Court of Appeals upheld the verdict in August 2017. Human rights defenders stated he was punished for participating in protest actions and for criticizing the government on social media.

Other individuals considered by activists to be political detainees included Popular Front Party members Vidadi Rustamli, Agil Maharramov, Ruslan Nasirli, Babek Hasanov, party supporter Saleh Rustamov, and exiled Musavat Party activist Azad Hasanov.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have the right to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. All citizens have the right to appeal to the ECHR within six months of exhausting all domestic legal options, including an appeal to and ruling by the Supreme Court.

Citizens exercised the right to appeal local court rulings to the ECHR and brought claims of government violations of commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights. The government’s compliance with ECHR decisions was mixed; activists stated the government generally paid compensation but failed to release prisoners in response to ECHR decisions.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

NGOs reported authorities did not respect the laws governing eminent domain and expropriation of property. Homeowners often reported receiving compensation well below market value for expropriated property and had little legal recourse. NGOs also reported many citizens did not trust the court system and were, therefore, reluctant to pursue compensation claims.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary invasions of privacy and monitoring of correspondence and other private communications. The government generally did not respect these legal prohibitions.

While the constitution allows for searches of residences only with a court order or in cases specifically provided for by law, authorities often conducted searches without warrants. It was widely reported that the State Security Service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs monitored telephone and internet communications, particularly those of foreigners, prominent youth active online, some political and business figures, and persons engaged in international communication. There were indications the postal service monitored certain mail for politically sensitive subject matter.

Police continued to intimidate, harass, and sometimes arrest family members of suspected criminals, independent journalists, and political opposition members and leaders, as well as employees and leaders of certain NGOs. For example, Elnur Seyidov, the brother-in-law of opposition Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli, remained incarcerated since 2012 on charges widely viewed as politically motivated. Murad Adilov, the brother of journalist and Popular Front Party activist Natig Adilov, was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to six years in prison.

There were several examples of the use of politically motivated incarceration of relatives as a means of putting pressure on exiles. For example, in February authorities arrested and sentenced to administrative detention the nephews of exiled activist Ordukhan Temirkhan; some of his other relatives had been sentenced to administrative detention in 2017.

There were also reports authorities fired individuals from their jobs or had individuals fired in retaliation for the political or civic activities of family members inside or outside the country. For example during the year there were reports that Popular Front Party members were fired from their jobs after participating in a peaceful protest.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government severely restricted freedom of peaceful assembly. Authorities at times responded to peaceful protests and assemblies by using force and detaining protesters. The law permits administrative detention for up to three months for misdemeanors and up to one month for resisting police. Punishment for those who failed to follow a court order (including failure to pay a fine) may include fines of 500 to 1,000 manat ($290 to $580) and punishment of up to one month of administrative detention.

While the constitution stipulates that groups may peacefully assemble after notifying the relevant government body in advance, the government continued to interpret this provision as a requirement for prior permission. Local authorities required all rallies to be preapproved and held at designated locations. Most political parties and NGOs criticized the requirements as unacceptable and characterized them unconstitutional. Authorities throughout the country routinely ignored applications for public rallies, effectively denying the freedom to assemble.

Activists stated that police routinely arrested individuals who peacefully sought to exercise their fundamental freedoms on false charges of resisting police that consistently resulted in periods of administrative detention up to 30 days. A total of 18 individuals were detained and sentenced to 15 to 30 days of administrative detention for their participation in government authorized opposition rallies on March 10, March 31, and April 14. Activists also stated that, as of April 15, more than 100 Popular Front party members were summoned or harassed by police and warned about participating in opposition demonstrations. In another high-profile example, Azer Gasimli and four other activists of the opposition Republican Alternative Party were arrested, charged with resisting police, and sentenced to administrative detention for their role in organizing an unauthorized march in the center of Baku on May 28 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the founding of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. Police summoned dozens of other participants and warned them not to take part in similar future events.

The government also prevented opposition groups from gathering to visit culturally important sites, a practice authorities previously permitted. For example, on November 17, police detained approximately 50 opposition activists, including PFP Chairman Ali Kerimli and NCDF Chairman Jamil Hasanli, for attempting to hold a procession through Martyr’s Alley to commemorate National Revival Day. Most activists were released the same day, but Kerimli and approximately eight others were held incommunicado until November 19, when Kerimli and five others were released with fines and three PFP activists were sentenced to 20 days of administrative detention.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the law places some restrictions on this right, and amendments enacted during 2014 severely constrained NGO activities. Citing these amended laws, authorities conducted numerous criminal investigations into the activities of independent organizations, froze bank accounts, and harassed local staff, including incarcerating and placing travel bans on some NGO leaders. Consequently, a number of NGOs were unable to operate.

A number of legal provisions allow the government to regulate the activities of political parties, religious groups, businesses, and NGOs, including requiring NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice if they seek “legal personality” status. Although the law requires the government to act on NGO registration applications within 30 days of receipt (or within an additional 30 days, if further investigation is required), vague, onerous, and nontransparent registration procedures continued to result in long delays that limited citizens’ right to associate. Other laws restrict freedom of association, for example, by requiring deputy heads of NGO branches to be citizens if the branch head is a foreigner.

Laws affecting grants and donations imposed a de facto prohibition on NGOs receiving cash donations and made it nearly impossible for them to receive anonymous donations or to solicit contributions from the public.

In 2014 the president approved a number of amendments to the administrative code and the laws on NGOs, grants, and registration of legal entities that imposed additional restrictions on NGO activities and closed several loopholes for the operations of unregistered, independent, and foreign organizations. The legislation also introduced some restrictions on donors. For example, foreign donors were required to obtain preapproval before signing grant agreements with recipients. The laws make unregistered and foreign NGOs vulnerable to involuntary dissolution, intimidated and dissuaded potential activists and donors from joining and supporting civil society organizations, and restricted their ability to provide grants to unregistered local groups or individual heads of such organizations.

In January 2017 the Cabinet of Ministers issued new regulations for establishing a “single window” mechanism to streamline the grant registration process. According to the new procedures, obtaining grant registration processes for multiple agencies were merged. The new procedures were not fully implemented, however, further reducing the number of operating NGOs.

In 2016 the Ministry of Justice adopted rules on monitoring NGO activities. The rules authorize the ministry to conduct inspections of NGOs, with few provisions protecting their rights, and provide the potential of harsh fines if they do not cooperate.

The far-reaching investigation opened by the Prosecutor General’s Office in 2014 into the activities of numerous domestic and international NGOs and local leadership remained open during the year. As a result a number of NGOs were unable to operate, the bank accounts of several NGOs remained frozen, and some NGO leaders were still prohibited from leaving the country.

The government continued to implement rules pursuant to a law that requires foreign NGOs wishing to operate in the country to sign an agreement and register with the Ministry of Justice. Foreign NGOs wishing to register a branch in the country are required to demonstrate they support “the Azerbaijani people’s national and cultural values” and commit not to be involved in religious and political propaganda. The decree does not specify any time limit for the registration procedure and effectively allows for unlimited discretion of the government to decide whether to register a foreign NGO. As of year’s end, no foreign NGOs had been able to register under these rules.

NGO representatives stated the Ministry of Justice did not act on submitted applications, particularly those from individuals or organizations working on issues related to democratic development. Some experts estimated up to 1,000 NGOs remained unregistered.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected many of these rights but continued its practice of limiting freedom of movement for at least 20 opposition figures, activists, and journalists.

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

Foreign Travel: Authorities continued to prevent a number of opposition figures, activists, and journalists from traveling outside the country. Examples included Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli (banned from traveling since 2006), the head of the Republican Alternative Party Assembly, Azer Gasimli, investigative journalist and activist Khadija Ismayilova, lawyers Intigam Aliyev, Asabali Mustafayev, and Emin Aslanov, and at least 15 freelance journalists who filed material with Meydan TV. A travel ban was imposed on Republican Alternative Party chairman Ilgar Mammadov following his conditional release from prison on August 13 (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). In August authorities lifted the travel ban on human rights activist Ogtay Gulaliyev that had been in place since 2011.

The law requires men of draft age to register with military authorities before traveling abroad. Authorities placed some travel restrictions on military personnel with access to national security information. Citizens charged with or convicted of criminal offenses but given suspended sentences also were not permitted to travel abroad.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The Azerbaijani State Committee for Refugee and IDP Affairs reported 641,890 registered IDPs in the country, including persons in IDP-like situations, as of year’s end. UNHCR reported 620,422 registered IDPs in the country during the year. The vast majority fled their homes between 1988-93 as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

IDPs had access to education and health care, but their unemployment rate was higher than the national average. Some international observers stated the government did not adequately promote the integration of IDPs into society.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: There were press reports that Turkish citizens were transferred from Azerbaijan to Turkey–where they were detained by Turkish authorities–without due process. Citing Turkish media sources, Turan reported February 22 that Azerbaijani officials facilitated the detention and extradition to Turkey of Ayhan Seferoglu and Erdogan Taylor, both of whom had worked as teachers in Azerbaijan, despite Azerbaijani court rulings in their favor. After his detention, Serfoglu’s Azerbaijani wife reportedly asked the Azerbaijan State Migration Service to grant her husband political asylum; authorities subsequently informed Serfoglu’s Azerbaijani wife that the application had been rejected. Turkish authorities reportedly alleged Seferoglu and Taylor were followers of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. According to an April 18 Meydan TV report, Azerbaijani authorities also rendered three such Turkish citizens back to Turkey in 2017 in a similar manner.

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 some refugees through the Refugee Status Determination Department at the State Migration Service, which is responsible for all refugee matters. Although UNHCR noted some improvements, the country’s refugee-status determination system did not meet international standards. International NGOs continued to report the service remained inefficient and did not operate transparently.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: According to UNHCR, the country did not allow Russian citizens who fled the conflict in Chechnya access to the national asylum procedure. UNHCR noted, however, that the country tolerated the presence of Chechen asylum seekers and accepted UNHCR’s role in providing for their protection and humanitarian needs.

Access to Basic Services: The estimated 1,131 refugees (a number that includes state-recognized refugees and those recognized as such only by UNHCR) in the country lacked access to social services. Many IDP and refugee children also enrolled at ordinary schools in numerous regions throughout the country.

Temporary Protection: The government did not provide temporary protection to asylum seekers during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR statistics, there were 3,585 persons in the country under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate at the end of 2016, the most recent year for which data was available. According to the State Migration Service, 291 foreigners and stateless persons were granted citizenship during the year. The vast majority of stateless persons were ethnic Azerbaijanis from Georgia or Iran. NGOs stated there were many other undocumented stateless persons, with estimates ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands.

While the law provides for the right to apply for stateless status, some persons could not obtain the documentation required for the application and, therefore, remained formally unrecognized. The law on citizenship makes it difficult for foreigners and stateless persons to obtain citizenship.

For the most part, stateless persons enjoyed freedom of movement within the country. Stateless persons were not, however, issued travel documents or readmitted to Azerbaijan if they left the country. The law permits stateless persons access to basic rights, such as access to health care and employment. Nevertheless, their lack of legal status at times hindered their access to these rights.

The constitution allows citizenship to be removed “as provided by law.” During the year the government had stripped 85 persons of citizenship. On October 4, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights published a written statement noting the government’s 2015 deprivation of journalist Emin Huseynov’s citizenship should be viewed “as part of a broader pattern of intimidation of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan.”

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, the government continued to restrict this ability by interfering in the electoral process. While the law provides for an independent legislative branch, the National Assembly exercised little initiative independent of the executive branch.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On February 5, the president issued a decree advancing the presidential election from October to April 11. Opposition parties boycotted the election, blaming a noncompetitive environment and insufficient time to prepare. According to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) mission that observed the election, the presidential election took place in a restrictive political environment and under a legal framework that curtailed fundamental rights and freedoms that are prerequisites for genuine democratic elections. ODIHR concluded that, in the absence of pluralism, including in the media, the election lacked genuine competition. International and local observers reported widespread disregard for mandatory procedures, lack of transparency, and numerous serious irregularities, such as ballot box stuffing and carousel voting, on election day.

The OSCE/ODIHR cancelled its observation of the 2015 National Assembly elections when the government refused to accept its recommended number of election observers. Without ODIHR participation, it was impossible to assess properly the fairness of the elections. Independent local and international monitors who observed the election alleged a wide range of irregularities throughout the country, including blocking observers from entering polling stations, ballot stuffing, carousel voting, and voting by unregistered individuals; opposition monitors also alleged such irregularities. The country’s main opposition parties boycotted the election.

Following a 2016 referendum, constitutional amendments extended the presidential term from five to seven years and permitted the president to call early elections if twice in one year legislators passed no-confidence measures in the government or rejected presidential nominees to key government posts. The amendments also authorized the president to appoint one or more vice presidents, designating the senior vice president as first in the line of presidential succession. In February 2017 the president appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, as first vice president. While observers from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly reported the referendum was well executed, independent election observers identified numerous instances of ballot stuffing, carousel voting, and other irregularities, many of which were captured on video. They also observed significantly lower turnout than was officially reported by the Central Election Commission.

Political Parties and Political Participation: While there were 55 registered political parties, the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party dominated the political system. Domestic observers reported membership in the ruling party conferred advantages, such as preference for public positions. The National Assembly has not included representatives of the country’s main opposition parties since 2010.

During the year authorities continued to take various measures to prevent the Republican Alternative Movement from incorporating itself as a political party. For example, in October and November 2017, the Baku City Executive Authority denied the group’s repeated requests for space to hold a party congress and reportedly ordered private venues to refuse to rent space to the group. On April 7 and 8, the group held an online party congress and subsequently announced its transformation into a political party, acknowledging the online congress would not meet government requirements for registration.

The Popular Front Party was initially denied a venue for its party congress by the Baku City Executive Authority. After losing a court challenge, the city provided a venue on April 1.

Opposition members were more likely than other citizens to experience official harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention. Members of opposition political parties continued to be arrested and sentenced to administrative detention after making social media posts critical of the government or participating in peaceful rallies (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly). Human rights defenders estimated at least 60 individuals associated with opposition political parties were detained and sentenced to administrative detention under these circumstances during the year.

According to domestic NGOs, at least 15 opposition party members were considered to be political detainees or prisoners, including the head of the Shirvan branch of the Musavat Party, Alikram Kurshudov, and all three deputy chairs of the Popular Front Party, Gozel Bayramli, Fuad Gahramanli, and Seymur Hezi.

Opposition parties continued to have difficulty renting office space, reportedly because property owners feared official retaliation. Regional opposition party members often had to conceal the purpose of their gatherings and held them in teahouses and other remote locations. Opposition parties also faced formal and informal financing obstacles. For example, authorities continued to limit their financial resources by punishing those who provided material support, firing members of opposition parties, and by employing economic pressure on their family members.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The first lady also held the appointed position of first vice president. The head of the State Committee for Family, Women, and Children Affairs, a cabinet-level position, was female, and 16.8 percent of members of the National Assembly were women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the government made some progress in combatting low-level corruption in provision of government services, there were continued reports of corruption by government officials including those at the highest levels.

Transparency International and other observers described corruption as widespread during the year. There were reports of corruption in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. For example, in six reports on visits to the country released on July 18, the CPT noted that corruption in the country’s entire law enforcement system remained “systemic and endemic.” In a report on its October 2017 visit to the country, for example, the CPT cited the practice of law enforcement officials demanding payments in exchange for dropping or reducing charges or for releasing individuals from unrecorded custody.

There were continued reports authorities targeted some whistleblowers seeking to combat government corruption. Several articles appeared the week of December 17 in government-influenced media outlets claiming that international award-winning investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova had received 500,000 euros ($575,000) from “Western sources.” On December 21, Baku Economic Court ordered her to pay 45,143 manat ($26,409) of RFE/RL’s alleged tax debt, despite RFE/RL’s tax exempt status as a nonprofit entity. Ismayilova’s reporting on elite corruption was widely considered the reason for such targeting, which also included her imprisonment from 2014 to 2016, subsequent travel ban, and frozen bank accounts since 2017.

Corruption: On April 15, the Council of Europe issued a report of its Independent Investigation Body on allegations of corruption within the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly. The findings indicated strong suspicion that certain current and former members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) had engaged in illicit activities, such as the giving and receiving of bribes, to inappropriately influence processes related to Azerbaijan within the Council of Europe and PACE. PACE consequently censured 13 members for accepting gifts and bribes from the government, stripping their voting rights, and removing them from current and future leadership positions on PACE committees.

Reports continued of high-level corruption. For example, in April investigative journalists published an article asserting that the children of the president and the minister of emergency situations used dozens of offshore companies to obscure their investments in luxury properties, businesses, and high-end hotels in Europe and the Middle East.

As of year’s end, there were no indications that the government had taken any steps to investigate a September 2017 report by the NGO Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which alleged that high-level officials benefited from a money-laundering scheme worth the equivalent of $2.9 billion between 2012 and 2014. Reports continued that the families of several high-level officials were beneficiaries of monopolies. During the year authorities initiated some criminal cases related to bribery and other forms of government corruption, but few senior officials were prosecuted. The Anticorruption Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office stated that during the year, it had opened 57 criminal cases in relation to corruption cases, but no senior officials were prosecuted.

There was widespread belief that a bribe could obtain a waiver of the military service obligation, which is universal for men between the ages of 18 and 35. Citizens also reported military personnel could buy assignments to easier military duties for a smaller bribe.

The government continued a well-publicized program to decrease corruption at lower levels of public administration. The State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations service centers functioned as a one-stop location for government services, such as obtaining birth certificates and marriage licenses, from nine ministries.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires officials to submit reports on their financial situation, and the electoral code requires all candidates to submit financial statements. The process of submitting reports was complex and nontransparent, with several agencies and bodies designated as recipients, including the Anticorruption Commission, the National Assembly, the Ministry of Justice, and the Central Election Commission, although their monitoring roles were not well understood. The public did not have access to the reports. The law permits administrative sanctions for noncompliance, but there were no reports that such sanctions were imposed.

The law prohibits the public release of the names and capital investments of business owners. Critics continued to state the purpose of the law was to curb investigative journalism into government officials’ business interests.

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

The government continued to impose severe restrictions on the operations of domestic and international human rights groups. Application of restrictive laws to constrain NGO activities and other pressure continued at the high level of recent years. Leading human rights NGOs faced a hostile environment for investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Activists also reported that authorities refused to register their organizations or grants and continued investigations into organizations’ activities. As a result some human rights defenders left the country or remained unable to carry out their professional responsibilities due to various government obstacles, such as failure to return confiscated case files and office equipment of Intigam Aliyev, the travel bans on Intigam Aliyev and Asabali Mustafayev, and frozen bank accounts.

While the government communicated with some international human rights NGOs and responded to their inquiries, on numerous occasions it criticized and intimidated other human rights NGOs and activists. The Ministry of Justice continued to deny registration or placed burdensome administrative restrictions on human rights NGOs on arbitrary grounds.

Government officials and state-dominated media outlets engaged in rhetorical attacks on human rights activists (and political opposition leaders; see section 3), accusing them of attempting to destabilize the country and working on behalf of foreign interests.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government objected to statements from international bodies, criticizing what authorities called interference in the country’s internal affairs. For example, government officials and members of the National Assembly criticized the OSCE/ODIHR assessment of the presidential election, stating it had been written in advance of the election to smear the country (see section 3).

Government Human Rights Bodies: Citizens may appeal violations committed by the state or by individuals to the ombudsman for human rights for Azerbaijan or the ombudsman for human rights of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. The ombudsman may refuse to accept cases of abuse that are more than a year old, anonymous, or already being handled by the judiciary. Human rights NGOs criticized the Ombudsman’s Office as lacking independence and effectiveness in cases considered politically motivated.

Human rights offices in the National Assembly and the Ministry of Justice also heard complaints, conducted investigations, and made recommendations to relevant government bodies.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Spousal rape is also illegal, but observers stated police did not effectively investigate such claims.

The law establishes a framework for the investigation of domestic violence complaints, defines a process to issue restraining orders, and calls for the establishment of a shelter and rehabilitation center for survivors. Some critics of the domestic violence law asserted that a lack of clear implementing guidelines reduced its effectiveness. Activists reported that as a result, police continued to view domestic violence as a family issue and did not effectively intervene to protect victims.

The State Committee for Family, Women, and Children Affairs (SCFWCA) continued their activities against domestic violence by conducting public awareness campaigns and working to improve the socioeconomic situation of domestic violence survivors. For example, during the year the SCFWCA organized an awareness campaign against domestic violence as part of a “16 Days against Gender Based Violence” campaign. Activities included the placement of advertising on billboards and public transportation, handing out pamphlets in urban centers, and holding conference with stakeholders to discuss the problem.

The government provided limited protection to women who were victims of assault. The government and an independent NGO each ran a shelter providing assistance and counseling to victims of trafficking and domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The government rarely enforced the prohibition of sexual harassment. The SCFWCA worked extensively to organize events that raised awareness of sexual harassment and domestic violence. For example, on August 6 and 7, the SCFWCA organized a workshop on combatting domestic violence in Goychay.

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

Discrimination: Although women nominally enjoyed the same legal rights as men, societal and employment-based discrimination was a problem. According to the State Statistical Committee, there was discrimination against women in employment, including wide disparities in pay and higher rates of unemployment.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The gender ratio of children born in the country during the year was 114 boys for 100 girls, according to the SCFWCA. Local experts reported gender-biased sex selection was widespread, predominantly in rural regions. The SCFWCA conducted seminars and public media campaigns to raise awareness of the problem.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country or from their parents. Registration at birth was routine for births in hospitals or clinics. Some children born at home were not registered.

Education: While education was compulsory, free, and universal until the age of 17, large families in impoverished rural areas sometimes placed a higher priority on the education of boys and kept girls in the home to work. Social workers stated that some poor families forced their children to work or beg rather than attend school.

Child Abuse: While there are penalties for sexual violence against children and child labor, the law does assign punishment for domestic and other violence specifically against children. To address the problem of child abuse, the SCFWCA organized multiple events. Between May and August, the State Committee held meetings with public servants on combatting gender discrimination and child abuse in Sheki, Shamakhi, Gakh, Goygol, Shamkir, Gadabay, Lankaran, Jalilabad, and Lerik.

Early and Forced Marriage: According to UNICEF’s 2016 State of the World’s Children report, 11 percent of girls in the country were married before their 18th birthday. The law provides that a girl may marry at the age of 18 or at 17 with local authorities’ permission. The law further states a boy may marry at the age of 18. The Caucasus Muslim Board defines 18 as the minimum age for marriage as dictated by Islam. In August activists reported the rape of a 14-year-old girl in Lerik and her family’s subsequent plans to marry her to the rapist. According to media reports, authorities did not investigate the case.

The law establishes fines of 3,000 to 4,000 manat ($1,750 to $2,340) or imprisonment for up to four years for conviction of the crime of forced marriage with an underage child. Girls who married under the terms of religious marriage contracts were of particular concern, since these were not subject to government oversight and do not entitle the wife to recognition of her status in case of divorce.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Recruitment of minors for prostitution (involving a minor in immoral acts) is punishable by up to eight years in prison. The law prohibits pornography; its production, distribution, or advertisement is punishable by three years’ imprisonment. Statutory rape is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

Displaced Children: In past years a large number of internally displaced children lived in substandard conditions and, in some cases, were unable to attend school. Significant government investment in IDP communities has largely alleviated these problems. Some civil society representatives working with street children reported boys and girls at times engaged in prostitution and street begging.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community was estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000 individuals. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the government did not enforce these provisions effectively.

A common belief persisted that children with disabilities were ill and needed to be separated from other children and institutionalized. A local NGO reported there were approximately 60,000 children with disabilities in the country, of whom 6,000 to 10,000 had access to specialized educational facilities while the rest were educated at home or not at all. The Ministries of Education and Labor and Social Protection of the Population continued efforts to increase the inclusion of children with disabilities into regular classrooms, particularly at the primary education level. No laws mandate access to public or other buildings, information, or communications for persons with disabilities, and most buildings were not accessible. Conditions in facilities for persons with mental and other disabilities varied. Qualified staff, equipment, and supplies at times were lacking.

During the year the government funded construction projects to make large sections of downtown Baku’s sidewalks wheelchair accessible. As a result persons with disabilities affecting mobility were better able to navigate the city.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Individuals with Armenian-sounding names were often subjected to additional screening at border crossings and were occasionally denied entrance to the country. Civil society activists stated an entire generation had grown up listening to hate speech against Armenians. Some groups, including Talysh in the south and Lezghi in the north, reported the government did not provide official textbooks in their local native languages.

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

Antidiscrimination laws exist but do not specifically cover LGBTI individuals.

In September 2017 police conducted raids on the LGBTI community, arresting and detaining more than 83 men presumed to be gay or bisexual as well as transgender women. Media and human rights lawyers reported that police beat detainees and subjected them to electric shocks to obtain bribes and information about other gay men. Detainees were released after being sentenced to up to 30 day of administrative detention and/or fined up to 200 manat ($117). During the year some victims of the raids filed cases against state in the ECHR, which remained pending at year’s end.

A local NGO reported there were numerous incidents of police brutality against individuals based on sexual orientation and noted that authorities did not investigate or punish those responsible. Men who acknowledged or were suspected of being gay during medical examinations for conscription were subjected to rectal examinations and often found unqualified for military service on the grounds that they were mentally ill. There were also reports of family based violence against LGBTI individuals, hate speech against LGBTI persons, and hostile Facebook postings on personal online accounts.

Activists reported that LGBTI individuals were regularly fired by employers if their sexual orientation/gender identity became known.

LGBTI individuals generally refused to file formal complaints of discrimination or mistreatment with law enforcement bodies due to fear of social stigma or retaliation. Activists reported police indifference to investigating crimes committed against LGBTI individuals.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Civil society representatives reported discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV and AIDS were prevalent throughout society. The government continued to fund an NGO that worked on health issues affecting the LGBTI community.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join independent labor unions. Uniformed military and police and managerial staff are prohibited from joining unions. While the law provides workers the right to bargain collectively, unions could not effectively negotiate wage levels and working conditions because government-appointed boards ran major state-owned firms and set wages for government employees.

The law provides most private sector workers the right to conduct legal strikes but prohibits civil servants from striking. Categories of workers prohibited from striking include high-ranking executive and legislative officials; law enforcement officers; court employees; fire fighters; and health, electric power, water supply, telephone, railroad, and air traffic control workers.

The law prohibits discrimination against trade unions and labor activists and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law also prohibits retribution against strikers, such as dismissal or replacement. Striking workers who disrupt public transportation, however, could be sentenced to up to three years in prison.

The government did not effectively enforce laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Administrative penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. There were some additional restrictions in practice, such as increased bureaucratic scrutiny of the right to form unions and conduct union activities.

Most unions were not independent, and the overwhelming majority remained tightly linked to the government, with the exception of some journalists’ unions. The Azerbaijan Trade Unions Confederation (ATUC) was the only trade union confederation in the country. Although ATUC registered as an independent organization, some workers considered it closely aligned with the government. ATUC reported it represented 1.6 million members in 27 sectors. Both local and international NGOs claimed that workers in most industries were largely unaware of their rights and afraid of retribution if they initiated complaints. This was especially true for workers in the public sector.

Collective bargaining agreements were often treated as formalities and not enforced. Although the labor law applies to all workers and enterprises, the government may negotiate bilateral agreements that effectively exempt multinational enterprises from it. For example, production-sharing agreements between the government and multinational energy enterprises did not provide for employee participation in a trade union. While the law prohibits employers from impeding the collective bargaining process, employers engaged in activities that undercut the effectiveness of collective bargaining, such as subcontracting and using short-term employment agreements.

The state oil company’s 65,200 workers were required to belong to the Union of Oil and Gas Industry Workers, and authorities automatically deducted union dues (2 percent of each worker’s salary) from paychecks. Many of the state-owned enterprises that dominated the formal economy withheld union dues from workers’ pay but did not deliver the dues to the unions. Employers officially withheld one-quarter of the dues collected for the oil workers’ union for “administrative costs” associated with running the union. Unions and their members had no means of investigating how employers spent their dues.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except in circumstances of war or in the execution of a court decision under the supervision of a government agency. Penalties for violations, including imprisonment, were generally sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources and inspections were inadequate, due in part to a moratorium on all routine and unannounced labor inspections.

Broad provisions in the criminal code provide for the imposition of compulsory labor as a punishment for expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social, or economic system. During the year the International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts noted its concern with a growing trend to use various provisions of the criminal code to prosecute journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, and others who expressed critical opinions, under questionable charges which appeared politically motivated, resulting in long periods of corrective labor or imprisonment, both involving compulsory labor.

During the year there were isolated reports that some public-sector employees and a small number of university students outside of the capital were mobilized and forced by local officials to participate in the autumn cotton harvest. There were also reports of workers–including migrant workers–subjected to conditions of forced labor in the construction industry, forced, begging by children, and forced domestic servitude. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported it identified five cases of forced labor during 2017, the latest year for which such data were available.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

In most cases the law permits children to work from the age of 15 with a written employment contract; children who are 14 may work in family businesses or, with parental consent, in daytime after-school jobs that pose no hazard to their health. Children less than the age of 16 may not work more than 24 hours per week; children who are 16 or 17 may not work more than 36 hours per week. The law prohibits employing children under the age of 18 in difficult and hazardous conditions and identifies specific work and industries in which children are prohibited, including work with toxic substances and underground, at night, in mines, and in nightclubs, bars, casinos, or other businesses that serve alcohol.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child labor and setting a minimum age for employment. The government maintained a moratorium on routine and unannounced inspections, which prevented effective enforcement of child labor laws. Resources and inspections were inadequate, and penalties for violations, including fines, did not always deter violations. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of Population was only permitted to conduct inspections based on complaints.

There were few complaints of abuses of child labor laws during the year, although there were anecdotal reports of child labor in agriculture, in restaurants and wedding halls, forced begging, and street work, such as in bazaars/markets, auto garages and car washes, and also selling fruit and vegetables on roadsides throughout the country. In agriculture there were anecdotal reports of children working in the production of fruits, vegetables, and, to a lesser extent, involved in producing, tea, rice, and cotton. There were also reports of children subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children, and section 7.b.).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, but the government did not always enforce the law effectively. Penalties for discrimination in employment existed under various articles and laws, were patchwork in nature, and did not effectively deter discrimination in all its forms. The law excludes women from certain occupations with inherently dangerous conditions, such as working underground in mines.

Employers generally hesitated to hire persons with disabilities, and workplace access was limited. Discrimination in employment and occupation also occurred with respect to sexual orientation. LGBTI individuals reported employers found other reasons to dismiss them because they could not legally dismiss someone because of their sexual orientation. Women were underrepresented in high-level jobs, including top business positions. Traditional practices limited women’s access to economic opportunities in rural areas. According to the State Statistics Committee of Azerbaijan, in 2017 the average monthly salary for women was 335.7 manat ($197), while the average monthly salary for men was 663.1 manat ($390).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

On January 1, the national minimum wage was increased from 116 manat ($68) per month to 130 manat ($77). The minimum wage was below the poverty level (minimum living standard) for able-bodied persons, which was increased on January 1 from 155 manat ($91) to 173 manat ($101). Experts stated that government employers complied with the minimum wage law, but that it was commonly ignored in the gray economy. The law requires equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, age, or other classification, although women’s pay lagged behind that of men.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek. Workers in hazardous occupations may not work more than 36 hours per week. Information was not available on whether local companies provided the legally required premium compensation for overtime, although international companies generally did. There is no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime. The law provides equal rights to foreign and domestic workers.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on acceptable conditions of work, and penalties as described in the law did not deter violations.

In November 2017 the government extended its moratorium on scheduled and unannounced labor inspections until 2021. Although inspectors were still permitted to inspect private sector workplaces after receiving a complaint and government-owned workplaces, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security did not report any inspections during the year. The ministry reportedly maintained the full staff of inspectors.

Inspection of working conditions by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection’s labor inspectorate was weak and ineffective due to the moratorium. There were too few ministry labor inspectors to monitor worksites, and penalties for violations were seldom enforced. Although the law sets health and safety standards, employers widely ignored them. Violations of acceptable conditions of work in the construction and oil and gas sectors remained problematic.

Local human rights groups, including the Oil Workers Rights Defense Organization, an NGO dedicated to protecting worker rights in the petroleum sector, maintained that employers, particularly foreign oil companies, did not always treat foreign and domestic workers equally. Domestic employees of foreign oil companies reportedly often received lower pay and worked without contracts or private health care insurance. Some domestic employees of foreign oil companies reported violations of the national labor code, noting they were unable to receive overtime payments or vacations.

According to official statistics, 53 workers died on the job during the year, including five deaths in the oil and gas sector. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety, but there is no legal protection of their employment if they did so. In June there were reports that approximately 200 workers in cotton fields in Saatli, Terter, Imishli, and Yevlakh were poisoned by pesticides. The Prosecutor General’s Office launched a criminal case and arrested at least 10 individuals.

The ATUC reported good cooperation with Russian and Georgian authorities on measures to protect Russian and Georgian migrant workers’ rights and the safety of working conditions.

Burma

Executive Summary

Burma has a quasi-parliamentary system of government in which the national parliament selects the president and constitutional provisions grant one-quarter of parliamentary seats to active-duty military appointees. The military also has the authority to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs, and border affairs and one of two vice presidents, as well as to assume power over all branches of the government should the president declare a national state of emergency. In 2015 the country held nationwide parliamentary elections that the public widely accepted as a credible reflection of the will of the people. The National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi was the civilian government’s de facto leader and, due to constitutional provisions preventing her from becoming president, remained in the position of state counsellor. During the year parliament selected NLD member Win Myint to replace Htin Kyaw as president, and the country held peaceful and orderly by-elections for 13 state and national offices.

Under the constitution, civilian authorities have no authority over the security forces; the armed forces commander in chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, maintained effective control over the security forces.

Independent investigations undertaken during the year found evidence that corroborated the 2017 ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Rakhine State and further detailed the military’s killing, rape, and torture of unarmed villagers during a campaign of violence that displaced more than 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh. Some evidence suggested preparatory actions on the part of security forces and other actors prior to the start of violence, including confiscation of knives, tools, iron, and other sharp objects that could be used as weapons in the days preceding attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). An additional 13,764 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh between January and September. The government prevented assistance from reaching displaced Rohingya and other vulnerable populations during the year by using access restrictions on the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies. The military also committed human rights abuses in continuing conflicts in Kachin and Shan States.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful and arbitrary killings by security forces; torture; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; arbitrary arrest and prosecution of journalists and criminalization of defamation; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including arrests of peaceful protesters and restrictions on civil society activity; restrictions on religious freedom; significant restrictions on freedom of movement, in particular for Rohingya; corruption by some officials; unlawful use of child soldiers by the government; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats targeting members of national, ethnic, and religious minorities; and the use of forced and child labor. Consensual same-sex acts among adults remained criminalized, although those laws were rarely enforced.

Although the government took some limited actions to prosecute or punish officials responsible for abuses, the vast majority of such abuses continued with impunity.

Some nonstate groups committed human rights abuses, including killings, unlawful use of child soldiers, forced labor of adults and children, and failure to protect civilians in conflict zones. These abuses rarely resulted in investigations or prosecutions.

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

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

There were many reports security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see also section 1.g.).

Security forces used excessive and sometimes lethal force against civilians. On

January 16, police in Mrauk-U shot and killed seven and injured 12 Rakhine demonstrators who were protesting a decision by officials to cancel an annual event in commemoration of the anniversary of the end of the Arakan Dynasty. Police beat demonstrators–some of whom threw stones and attempted to take over a government administrative building–in addition to firing live rounds into the crowd.

There were several documented extrajudicial killings of Rohingya in Rakhine State during the year and several documented assaults by police against unarmed Rohingya.

On April 5, government soldiers shot and killed the environmental rights activist and community leader Saw O Moo in Karen State. The military stated that Saw O Moo, who was riding a motorcycle with a Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) fighter, was suspected of involvement in planning attacks. His family and other activists denied this claim and said he was only giving a ride to the KNLA fighter.

With additional, albeit still limited, access to northern Rakhine State granted by the government during the year, Amnesty International reported that Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) fighters were almost certainly responsible for a massacre of 53 Hindu villagers in Kha Maung Seik Village, Maungdaw Township, in August 2017.

The trial of four people charged in the death of Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer and adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi who was assassinated outside Rangoon’s international airport in January 2017, continued as of October. Civil society groups and religious groups noted Ko Ni’s death had a chilling effect on lawyers working for constitutional reform and accountability for military abuses, as well as on Muslims fighting for improved treatment.

Arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflict also occurred (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances by security forces.

There was no action taken during the year or additional information regarding the whereabouts of Rohingya men ages 15 to 40 who were reportedly arrested in 2017 by police without charges or warrants due to purported links to ARSA, several of whom reportedly were not heard from since their arrest.

Disappearances related to internal conflict also occurred (see section 1.g.).

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

The law prohibits torture; however, members of security forces reportedly tortured and otherwise abused prisoners, detainees, and other citizens and stateless persons in incidents not related to armed conflict. Such incidents occurred, for example, in Rakhine and Kachin States. The government did not launch any investigation into reports of sexual violence by the military in prior years.

Security forces reportedly subjected detainees to harsh interrogation techniques designed to intimidate and disorient, including severe beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep. Human rights groups continued to report incidents of torture in ethnic minority areas. Authorities generally took no action to investigate incidents or punish alleged perpetrators.

At least two contingents of Border Guard Police (BGP) in northern Rakhine State in August 2017 tortured and otherwise abused 25 Rohingya men and boys, according to a report released during the year by Amnesty International. Torture included severe beatings, burnings, and sexual violence lasting several days or even weeks. One Rohingya teenager described being beaten severely while hung from a chain attached to the ceiling, first with a hard plastic stick, and then with gloves filled with nails.

On August 21, Human Rights Watch reported that the BGP apprehended and tortured six Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh in 2017 and had since returned to Rakhine State. Authorities, accusing them of illegal border crossing, tried the refugees in Burmese, which they did not understand, and sentenced them to four years in prison.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The Ministry of Home Affairs operates the prison system and continued during the year to significantly restrict access by international organizations–other than the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)–to prison and detention facilities generally. The military also operates detention facilities and did not permit access. There were continued reports that conditions in prisons and labor camps were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to overcrowding, degrading treatment, and inadequate access to medical care and basic needs, including food, shelter, and hygiene, although observers noted some minor improvement in more centrally located prisons.

Physical Conditions: The Department of Corrections under the Ministry of Home Affairs operated an estimated 47 prisons and 48 labor camps, officially called “agriculture and livestock breeding career training centers” and “manufacturing centers,” according to the government. More than 20,000 inmates were serving their sentences in these labor camps across the country. Authorities reportedly sent prisoners whose sentences did not include “hard labor” to labor camps in contravention of the law and rented out prisoners as labor to private companies. In spite of reforms in recent years, conditions at these camps remain life threatening for some, especially at 18 camps where prisoners work as miners.

A prominent human rights group estimated there were more than 90,000 prisoners; women and men were held separately. Overcrowding was reportedly a serious problem in many prisons and labor camps; a human rights group reported that occupancy at the country’s largest prison was more than double capacity. Some prisons held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. Authorities held some political prisoners separately from common criminals, but political prisoners whom authorities arrested for problems related to land rights were generally held together with common criminals.

Medical supplies and bedding were often inadequate. Bedding sometimes consisted of a single mat, wooden platform, or laminated plastic sheet on a concrete floor. Prisoners did not always have access to potable water. In many cases family members had to supplement prisoners’ official rations with medicine and basic necessities. Inmates reportedly paid wardens for necessities, including clean water, prison uniforms, plates, cups, and utensils.

Detainees were unable to access adequate and timely medical care. Prisoners suffered from health problems, including malaria, heart disease, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, skin diseases, and stomach problems, caused or exacerbated by unhygienic conditions and spoiled food. Former prisoners also complained of poorly maintained physical structures that provided no protection from the elements and had rodent, snake, and mold infestation.

There were reports of custodial deaths due to health problems associated with prison conditions and lack of adequate and timely medical care.

Prison conditions in Rakhine State were reportedly among the worst, with hundreds of Rohingya arbitrarily detained in prison and nonprison facilities, denied due process, and subjected to torture and abuse by Rakhine State prison and security officials.

Administration: Some prisons prevented full adherence to religious codes for prisoners, ostensibly due to space restrictions and security concerns. For example, imprisoned monks reported authorities denied them permission to observe Buddhist holy days, wear robes, shave their heads, or eat on a schedule compatible with the monastic code. Citing security considerations, authorities denied permission for Muslim prisoners to pray together as a group, as is the practice for Friday prayers and Ramadan. Prisoners and detainees could sometimes submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship or negative repercussions. The ICRC followed up with relevant authorities on allegations of inappropriate conditions.

Independent Monitoring: Although the ICRC had unfettered access to prisons, prisoners, and labor camps, it did not have access to military detention sites. The ICRC reported its findings through a strictly confidential bilateral dialogue with prison authorities. These reports were neither public nor shared with any other party.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law does not specifically prohibit arbitrary arrest, and the government continued to use the Unlawful Associations Act to arrest persons, often in ethnic and religious minority areas, on an arbitrary basis.

The law allows authorities to extend sentences after prisoners complete their original sentence. The law allows authorities to order detention without charge or trial of anyone they believe is performing or might perform any act that endangers the sovereignty and security of the state or public peace and tranquility. The civilian government and the military continued to interpret these laws broadly and used them arbitrarily to detain activists, student leaders, farmers, journalists, political staff, and human rights defenders.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Home Affairs is generally responsible for the country’s internal security, with oversight of the Myanmar Police Force (MPF) and the General Administration Department, which has a role in security planning as part of its overall civil administrative responsibilities. The home affairs ministry is led by an active-duty military general who is nominated by the armed forces commander in chief in accordance with the constitution.

In conflict and some cease-fire areas, and in northern Rakhine State, representatives from the Ministry of Border Affairs, also led by an active-duty military general appointed by the commander in chief, have significant roles in security planning, as does the military itself. In these areas, lines of authority for internal security may be blurred. During the operations in northern Rakhine State beginning in August 2017, military commanders assumed primary control over all security arrangements and appeared to wield considerable operational influence over the BGP, which is administratively part of the MPF.

The MPF is a national police force with approximately 80,000 police officers. While the MPF continued to make progress in developing baseline capacity, there were still significant gaps in expertise and resources that posed challenges to building a force that effectively serves the public. The MPF specialized units devoted to counternarcotics, antitrafficking in persons, and other transnational crimes continued to make progress in developing operational and investigative capacity.

There were continued reports during the year of harassment and extortion of Rohingya by the BGP, including through surprise raids of private homes, usually with the involvement of the military, to inspect whether residents present matched official household lists. Such lists were often lost or damaged, and as a result these raids sometimes resulted in arbitrary detentions. The BGP also used excessive force. For example, BGP forces on June 28 shot an 11-year-old Rohingya boy in the leg near the border with Bangladesh without provocation while the boy was gathering firewood.

Civil society groups noted corruption remained a concern and that the MPF’s Special Branch continued to engage in surveillance and monitoring. Security forces continued to intimidate civilians through physical abuse and threats to livelihoods. Legal mechanisms exist to investigate abuses by security forces but were seldom used and generally perceived to be ineffective.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

While the law generally requires warrants for searches and arrests, personnel from the Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs and police reportedly conducted searches and made arrests at will.

Except in capital cases, the law does not grant detainees the right to consult an attorney or, if indigent, to have one provided by the state. The government amended the legal aid law in May to provide the public access to fair and equal legal aid based on international standards and to ensure legal aid workers could operate independently and with legal protection, but by year’s end the legal aid system was not yet operational.

There is a functioning bail system, but bribery was a common substitute for bail. Bail is commonly offered in criminal cases, but defendants were often required to attend numerous pretrial hearings before bail was granted. In some cases the government held detainees incommunicado and refused detainees the right to consult a lawyer promptly.

There were reports of suspects in custody dying as a result of mistreatment by police. On September 26, Aung Aung, a taxi driver who was arrested September 12 with two men accused of theft, died after allegedly being beaten by police during his detention. The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission opened an investigation in the case.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrests, including detention by the military in conflict areas.

In May the military in northern Rakhine State rounded up dozens of Rohingya, almost all of them young men, who had previously fled to Bangladesh and returned informally. These Rohingya were processed for illegal entry into Burma and subsequently pardoned, allegedly on condition that they agree to be processed through the government’s official repatriation process.

Pretrial Detention: By law authorities may hold suspects in pretrial detention for two weeks (with a possible two-week extension) before bringing them before a judge or informing them of the charges against them. Lawyers noted police regularly detained suspects for the legally mandated period, failed to lodge a charge, then detained them for a series of two-week periods with trips to the judge in between. Judges and police sometimes colluded to extend detentions. According to lawyers, arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detentions resulted from lengthy legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, widespread corruption, and staff shortages. Periods of detention prior to and during trials sometimes equaled or exceeded the sentence that would result from a guilty conviction.

Amnesty: On April 17, President Win Myint pardoned and the government released 8,541 prisoners, including 36 whom the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma considered political prisoners. The majority of the pardoned political prisoners were arrested under the Unlawful Associations Act on charges of affiliation with ethnic armed groups. The president also nullified a previous condition of political prisoners’ release under which they could be forced to serve the remaining prison term if convicted of any crime in the future.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law calls for an independent judiciary, although the government appeared to manipulate the courts for political ends and sometimes deprived citizens of due process and the right to a fair trial, particularly regarding the freedom of expression. High-ranking officials, including President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, spoke publicly regarding pending trials during the year.

The criminal justice system was overburdened by a very high number of cases lodged against small-time drug users, which constituted an estimated 40 to 50 percent of caseloads in the courts. Corruption remained a significant problem. According to civil society organizations, officials at all levels received illegal payments at all stages of the legal process for purposes ranging from influencing routine matters, such as access to a detainee in police custody, to substantive decisions, such as fixing the outcome of a case.

The military and the government, directly or indirectly, were able to exert influence over the outcome of cases, often through overly broad or arbitrary application of legislation on speech or association. In one high-profile case, two Reuters journalists were convicted under a colonial-era law for reporting work in spite of exculpatory evidence presented during trial and procedural irregularities (see section 2.a.).

The attorney general of Yangon Region, one judge, and four other judicial officials were charged with corruption during the year (see section 4).

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but it also grants broad exceptions, effectively allowing the government to violate these rights at will. In ordinary criminal cases, the court generally respected some basic due process rights such as the right to an independent judiciary, public access to the courts, and the right to a defense and an appeal. In practice, defendants do not enjoy the rights to presumption of innocence; to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them; to be present at their trial; to free interpretation; or, except in capital cases, to consult an attorney of their choice or have one provided at government expense. There is no right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, but defense attorneys in criminal cases generally had 15 days to prepare for trial. Defendants have the right to appeal judgments. In May the Union Attorney General’s Office adopted a fair trial standards manual, but because of the low standard of legal education, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges were often unfamiliar with precedent, case law, and basic legal procedures. No legal provision allows for coerced testimony or confessions of guilt by defendants to be used in court; nonetheless, authorities reportedly engaged in both. There were reports of coercion to plead guilty despite a lack of evidence with promises of reduced sentences to defendants who did so.

Ordinary criminal cases were open to the public, but in practice members of the public with no direct involvement in a case were denied entry to courts. There is no right to confront witnesses and present evidence, although defense attorneys could sometimes call witnesses and conduct cross-examinations. Prodemocracy activists generally appeared able to retain counsel, but defendants’ access to counsel was often inadequate. There were reports of authorities not informing family members of the arrests of persons in a timely manner, not telling them of their whereabouts, and often denying them the right to see prisoners in a timely manner. Local civil society groups noted the public was largely unaware of its legal rights, and there were too few lawyers to meet public needs.

The government retained the ability to extend prison sentences under the law. The minister of home affairs has the authority to extend a prison sentence unilaterally by two months on six separate occasions, for a total extension of one year.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government continued to detain and arrest journalists, activists, and critics of the government and the military. According to civil society groups that use a definition of political prisoners that includes those who may have engaged in acts of violence and excludes some charges related to freedom of expression and religion, there were 36 convicted political prisoners, 53 political prisoners in pretrial detention or detained with trials in process, and 216 individuals released on bail while facing trial for political charges as of September. These numbers did not include detainees and prisoners in Rakhine State, estimated to be in the hundreds, many of whom likely meet the definition of political prisoner.

The former child soldier Aung Ko Htway, who was arrested in August 2017 for defaming the military following an interview he gave to an international media outlet detailing his experience as a former child soldier, was given a two-year prison sentence on March 29. He received an additional six-month sentence for contempt of court.

Many released political prisoners experienced significant surveillance and restrictions following their release, including an inability to resume studies undertaken prior to incarceration, secure travel documents, or obtain other documents related to identity or ownership of land.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

No specific mechanisms or laws provide for civil remedies for human rights violations; however, complainants may use provisions of the penal code and laws of civil procedure to seek civil remedies. Individuals and organizations may not appeal an adverse decision to regional human rights bodies.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Under the constitution, the state owns all land; however, the law allows for registration and sale of private land ownership rights. Authorities and private-sector organizations perpetrated land grabs during the year, and restitution for past and recent land grabs was very limited.

The law provides for compensation when the government acquires land for a public purpose; however, civil society groups criticized the lack of safeguards in the law to provide payment of fair market compensation and said that compensation was infrequent and inadequate in such cases.

The government can also declare land unused and assign it to foreign investors or designate it for other uses. There is no provision for judicial review of land ownership or confiscation decisions; administrative bodies subject to political control by the national government make final decisions on land use and registration. Researchers and civil society groups had concerns that land laws facilitate land confiscation without providing adequate procedural protections. In some cases of land confiscation, compensation was inadequate or not provided, and advance notice was not given.

The 2016 land use policy emphasizes the recognition, protection, and registration of legitimate land tenure rights of small-holders, communities, ethnic nationalities, women, and other vulnerable groups. It also includes the recognition, protection, and ultimate registration of customary tenure rights, which previously were not legally recognized. In September parliament passed and the president signed amendments to the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Act that featured limited protections for land “defined in accordance with cultural and traditional systems of local ethnic nationalities.” On November 9, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that, effective from that date, small-holders have six months to register their land or risk becoming a trespasser on their own land; if rigorously enforced, this order could result in millions of people losing rights of access to their lands.

Civil society groups, however, raised concerns that laws continued not to recognize rights in traditional collective land ownership and shifting cultivation systems, which are particularly prevalent in areas inhabited by ethnic minority groups. Parallel legal frameworks and traditional forms of land tenure in areas controlled by ethnic groups in Kachin, Mon, Kayin, and Shan States were not recognized by the government. Ethnic and civil society groups staged protests during the year in Kachin and Kayin States, Mandalay Division, and elsewhere over the government’s land policies.

Observers were concerned that the law could be used to prevent displaced Rohingya, who had security of tenure over lands in northern Rakhine State that were burned by the military, from returning to those lands or receiving adequate compensation from the government. Government officials stated that burned land would revert by law back to the government, without clarifying if such land would be returned to those who previously had security of tenure. There was no systematic effort to document the security of tenure Rohingya previously enjoyed over land from which they were displaced since August 2017.

Following the military campaign in Rakhine State, authorities bulldozed village remains, demolished structures, and cleared vegetation, to reshape some former Rohingya villages and replace former establishments with security bases and other structural developments.

The law requires that land be returned if not used productively within four years, but civil society groups reported land taken by the military was left unused for much longer periods and that there was little progress in returning other land confiscated by the government.

The General Administration Department under the Ministry of Home Affairs oversees land return. Adequate compensation was not provided to the many farmers and rural communities whose land was confiscated without due process during the former military regime, including by the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, the Myanmar Ports Authority, and the military itself.

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

The law protects the privacy and security of the home and property, but observers said these protections were poorly enforced.

The law does not protect the privacy of correspondence or other communications of citizens, and activists reported authorities had expanded surveillance of civil society organizations’ operations.

Some activists reported the government systematically monitored the travel of citizens and closely monitored the activities of politically active persons, while others reported they did not experience any such invasions of privacy. The government reportedly conducted surveillance in some circumstances by using the Special Branch police, official intelligence networks, and other administrative procedures (see section 2.d.).

The law restricts the ability of Buddhist women to marry non-Buddhist men by imposing a requirement of public notification prior to any such marriage and allowing for objections to the marriage to be raised in court, although this law was rarely enforced.

In January state-run newspapers made public the names of more than 1,400 individuals, including children, whom the government allegedly deemed to be terrorists, the families of terrorists, or sympathizers of terrorist groups. No information was provided regarding how such determinations were made and whether the individuals in question were formally charged or in detention, wanted for prosecution, or sought for questioning. There did not appear to be any formal judicial process involved. Observers noted publishing such a list put the individuals at risk of harm.

In Rakhine State local authorities prohibited Rohingya families from having more than two children, although this prohibition was inconsistently enforced. Also in Rakhine State, local authorities required members of the Rohingya minority to obtain a permit to marry officially, a step not required of other ethnicities. Waiting times for the permit could exceed one year, and bribes usually were required. In 2016 the BGP in Buthidaung Township issued instructions to village administrators outlining additional requirements for members of the Rohingya community to obtain a permit to marry. Unauthorized marriages could result in prosecution of Rohingya men under the penal code, which prohibits a man from “deceitfully” marrying a woman, and could result in a prison sentence or fine.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides the right to peaceful assembly, although this right was not always respected in practice. Restrictions remained in place in 11 Rangoon townships on all applications for processions or assemblies. Some civil society groups asserted these restrictions were selectively applied and used to prevent demonstrations against the government or military. Farmers and social activists continued to hold protests over land rights and older cases of land confiscation throughout the country, and human rights groups continued to report cases in which the government arrested groups of farmers and those supporting them for demanding the return of confiscated land. Many reported cases involved land seized by the military under the former military regime and given to private companies or persons with ties to the military.

Local government officials in Yangon Region, Kayah State, and elsewhere required civil society organizations to apply for advance permission before holding meetings and other functions in hotels and other public venues. Officials forced venues to cancel civil society events where such permission was not obtained. Officials in Mandalay Division and Kayah State required civil society organizations to request advance permission from the local government to meet with diplomats.

At least 42 persons were arrested in May for their participation in peaceful antiwar protests in Rangoon, Mandalay, and other cities. Three people who were arrested for their participation in a related poetry reading were sentenced on September 19, two with fines of 20,000 kyats ($13) and one opting to serve 15 days in prison instead of paying the fine.

Following a peaceful protest on July 3 against the erection of a statue of the Burmese independence hero General Aung San, in Loikaw, Kayah State, 16 demonstrators were arrested; 11 of those 16 faced charges under Sections 505(b) for distributing pamphlets related to the protest. The trial continued as of October.

Common charges used to convict peaceful protesters included criminal trespass, violation of the Peaceful Assembly and Processions Act, and violation of Section 505(b) of the penal code, which criminalizes actions the government deemed likely to cause “an offense against the State or against the public tranquility.”

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the constitution and laws allow citizens to form associations and organizations, the government sometimes restricted this right.

In June the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee ordered local branches of the organization commonly known as Ma Ba Tha to remove signs using that name, following a 2017 ban on the use of the name after which the organization formally rebranded itself the Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation. Some of its members, including Wirathu, were sanctioned in 2017 for inflaming tensions towards the Muslim community using ultranationalist rhetoric. Some local branches of the organization continued to use the name on their signs in spite of the ban, and as of October no action had been taken against them.

The law on registering organizations stipulates voluntary registration for local NGOs and removes punishments for noncompliance for both local and international NGOs. Some NGOs that tried to register under this law found the process extremely onerous.

Activists reported civil society groups, community-based organizations, and informal networks operated openly and continued to discuss openly human rights and other political problems. They reported, however, that state surveillance of such operations and discussions was common and that government restrictions on meetings and other activity increased during the year.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law does not explicitly and comprehensively protect freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Laws provide rights for citizens to settle and reside anywhere in the country “according to law.” Laws related to noncitizens empower the president to make rules for requiring registration of foreigners’ movements and authorize officials to require registration for every temporary change of address exceeding 24 hours.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government committed widespread and systematic abuses against the Rohingya population (see Stateless Persons).

In-country Movement: Regional and local orders, directives, and instructions restrict freedom of movement.

The government restricted the ability of IDPs and stateless persons to move. While a person’s freedom of movement generally derived from possession of identification documents, authorities also considered race, ethnicity, religion, and place of origin as factors in enforcing these regulations. Residents of ethnic-minority states reported the government restricted the travel of, involuntarily confined, and forcibly relocated IDPs and stateless persons.

Restrictions on in-country movement of Rohingya were extensive. Authorities required the Rohingya, a largely stateless population, to carry special documents and travel permits for internal movement in five areas in Rakhine State where the Rohingya primarily reside: Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Kyauktaw, and Sittwe. Township officers in Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships continued to require Rohingya to submit a “form for informing absence from habitual residence” for permission to stay overnight in another village and to register on the guest list with the village administrator. Obtaining these forms and permits often involved extortion and bribes.

Restrictions governing the travel of foreigners, Rohingya, and others between townships in northern Rakhine State varied, depending on township, and generally required submission of a document known as “Form 4.” A traveler could obtain this form only from the township Immigration and National Registration Department (INRD) and only if that person provided an original copy of a family list, temporary registration card, and two guarantors. Travel authorized under Form 4 is generally valid for two to four weeks. The cost to obtain the form varied from township to township, with required payments to village administrators or to the township INRD office in amounts ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 kyats ($32 to $64). The government removed the Form 4 requirement between Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships in late 2017, only for individuals in possession of formal identity documents, although other formal and informal local restrictions on movement remained in place. Change of residency from one village or township to another in northern Rakhine State required permission from the INRD or the township, district, and state officials. While Rohingya could change residency, the government would not register them on a new household registration list in that new location. This practice effectively prevented persons from changing residency.

International and local humanitarian staff required travel authorizations from the union and state level to operate in Rakhine State. Local staff had to submit travel applications two weeks in advance, and they were often denied. Humanitarian access to northern Rakhine State was suspended entirely in August 2017; however, during the course of 2018, the Red Cross Movement, World Food Program, and several other organizations regained some degree of access. Media and human rights professionals were routinely denied access to Rakhine State.

Travel restrictions effectively prevented Rohingya from northern Rakhine State from traveling to other parts of the state, including the capital of Sittwe, and outside the state.

In May, Hla Phyu was arrested and convicted of false representation after attempting to leave an IDP camp in Rakhine State, where she had been living since her displacement during violence in 2012, and travel to Rangoon. The 23-year-old teacher, who is Muslim, had previously applied for official permission to travel without success, and eventually traveled without receiving permission. She was sentenced to a year in prison with hard labor.

There were reports of regular, unannounced nighttime household checks in northern Rakhine State and in other areas.

Foreign Travel: The government maintained restrictions preventing foreign travel of political activists, former political prisoners, and some local staff of foreign embassies. While some administrative restrictions remained, local organizations reported encountering far fewer delays and restrictions. Stateless persons, particularly Rohingya, were unable to obtain documentation necessary for foreign travel.

Exile: There was a sizeable diaspora, with some citizens choosing to remain outside the country after years of self-imposed exile. During the year the government encouraged exiles to help rebuild their country, and some returned home; however, the government appeared to maintain an opaque “black list” of individuals, including some from the exile community, who were prohibited from entering the country.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR did not register any asylum seekers during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

The vast majority of Rohingya were stateless. Following the forced displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh in 2017, an estimated 520,000 to 600,000 Rohingya remained in Rakhine State. There were likely significant numbers of stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality throughout the country, including persons of Chinese, Indian, and Nepali descent.

Provisions of the Citizenship Law contributed to statelessness. Following the entry into force of the 1982 law and procedures, the government released a list of 135 recognized “national ethnic groups” whose members are automatically full citizens. This list excluded the Rohingya, and subsequent actions by the government rendered the vast majority of the Rohingya ethnic minority stateless. The law defines “national ethnic group” only as a racial and ethnic group that can prove origins in the country dating back to 1823, the year prior to British colonization. Several ethnic minority groups, including the Chin and Kachin, criticized the classification system as inaccurate. While the majority of the country’s inhabitants automatically acquired full citizenship under these provisions, some minority groups, including the Rohingya; persons of Indian, Chinese, and Nepali descent; and “Pashu” (Straits Chinese), some of whose members had previously enjoyed citizenship in the country, are not included on the government’s list. The Rohingya and others are technically eligible for full citizenship via standard mechanisms unrelated to ethnicity, but they must go through a special process with additional scrutiny that in practice requires substantial bribes to government officials to access the government’s family records or to ensure officials formally accept a citizenship application for processing. This process generally results in naturalized citizenship without the complete set of rights associated with full citizenship. The law does not provide protection for children born in the country who do not have a “relevant link” to another state.

The name Rohingya is used in reference to a group that self-identifies as belonging to an ethnic group defined by religious, linguistic, and other ethnic features. Rohingya maintained they have resided in what is now Rakhine State for generations. In 2016 the government established a policy of using “Muslims in Rakhine State” to refer to the population, although military officials and many government officials, particularly in Rakhine State, continued to use the term “Bengali,” which is considered a pejorative. This term is still used on identification documents. The government offers a citizenship verification process to Rohingya to determine who qualifies for citizenship on the basis of mechanisms in the 1982 law that provide pathways to citizenship other than being a member of a national ethnic race. The Rohingya community participated in this process in a limited manner. The government no longer requires all participants to identify as “Bengali” as a condition of participating in the process, nor does it require applicants to list their race or religion on forms in the earliest phases of the process, although implementing officials reportedly continued to require participants to identify as “Bengali.” Those who are verified as a citizen (of whatever type) would have “Bengali” listed as their race on their citizenship scrutiny card. This process and the separate national verification process were not seen as credible by the Rohingya community, in part because many continued to be told they were required to apply as “Bengali,” because the few Rohingya who received national verification cards or citizenship through these processes did not receive significant rights and benefits, and because the government implemented the process in a coercive manner. For example, there were reported cases that a government official required Rohingya to have a national verification card to go fishing or access a bank account. The government continued to call on Rohingya to participate, but many of them expressed the need for more assurances about the results of the process. Many said they were already citizens and expressed fear the government would either not affirm their citizenship or would provide a form of lesser citizenship–naturalized rather than full–thereby formalizing their lack of rights.

According to the Citizenship Law, two lesser forms of citizenship exist: associate and naturalized. According to other legal statutes, these citizens are unable to run for political office; serve in the military, police, or public administration; inherit land or money; or pursue certain professional degrees, such as medicine and law. According to the Citizenship Law, only the third generation of associate or naturalized citizens are able to acquire full citizenship.

Rohingya experienced severe legal, economic, and social discrimination. The government required them to receive prior approval for travel outside their village of residence; limited their access to higher education, health care, and other basic services; and prohibited them from working as civil servants, including as doctors, nurses, or teachers. Authorities singled out Rohingya in northern Rakhine State to perform forced labor and arbitrarily arrested them. Authorities required Rohingya to obtain official permission for marriages and limited the registration of children to two per family, but local enforcement of the two-child policy was inconsistent. For the most part, authorities registered additional children beyond the two-child limit for Rohingya families, yet there were cases of authorities not doing so.

Restrictions impeded the ability of Rohingya to construct houses or religious buildings.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through elections held by secret ballot, although certain provisions prevent it from being a fully representational system and assuring the free expression of the will of the people. Constitutional provisions grant one-quarter of all national and regional parliamentary seats to active-duty military appointees and provide the military with the authority to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs–which has responsibility for subnational governance as well as police, prisons, and other matters–and border affairs, and indefinitely assume power over all branches of the government should the president declare a national state of emergency. A separate constitutional provision prohibits persons with immediate relatives holding foreign citizenship from becoming president. Amending the constitution requires more than 75 percent approval by members of parliament, giving the military effective veto power over constitutional amendments.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: International organizations reported the country conducted its November by-elections for 13 national- and state-level offices in accordance with generally accepted democratic principles. Observers considered the 2015 national election to be generally reflective of the will of the people, notwithstanding some structural shortcomings. Observers raised concerns that 25 percent of seats in parliament were reserved for unelected military officers; potential Muslim candidates were disqualified by their political parties on an apparently discriminatory basis; almost all members of the Rohingya community, many of whom voted in elections prior to 2015, were disenfranchised; and the government canceled voting in some conflict-affected ethnic minority areas. The NLD, chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, won more than 77 percent of the contested 1,150 seats at the state, regional, and union levels in the 2015 election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Opposition parties and civil society organizations continued to exercise their rights to assemble and protest.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Nevertheless, women and minorities continued to be underrepresented in government. Aung San Suu Kyi was the only woman in a cabinet of 24 ministers serving at the national level. The representation of women at both the national and the state and regional levels was more than 10 percent among elected representatives. Women led two subnational governments, including the chief ministers of Kayin State and Tanintharyi Region.

As of October, five chief ministers of the seven ethnic states belonged to the ethnic groups of their states, including the chief minister of Rakhine State; one of two union-level vice presidents belonged to the Chin ethnic minority group and one belonged to the Mon ethnic group. The representation of ethnic minority parliamentarians from ethnic minority political parties at both the national, state, and regional level was approximately 9 percent. These figures from all levels did not account for ethnic minority members of the NLD (which included numerous ethnic members) or the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Rohingya continued to be excluded from the political process, because their political rights (whether to vote or run for office) remained severely curtailed since the vast majority are stateless. Although Rohingya comprised approximately one-third of the total population in Rakhine State and clear majorities in some voting districts at the time of the 2015 national election, there were no Rohingya representatives in the state parliament, and most Rohingya-majority areas were represented by an ethnic Rakhine nationalist party.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government continued efforts to curb corruption. Although anecdotal reports suggested corruption among elected officials declined significantly since 2016, the government’s anticorruption efforts remained limited in some parts of the government, including the General Administration Department, which falls under the authority of the Minister of Home Affairs, an active-duty general who is appointed by the military per the constitution.

Corruption: Corruption remained a problem, particularly in the judiciary. Police reportedly often required victims to pay substantial bribes for criminal investigations and routinely extorted money from the civilian population. The government took some steps to investigate and address corruption of government officials.

In May, Minister of Finance Kyaw Win resigned while under investigation by the Anticorruption Commission. The investigation did not lead to charges.

In September the Yangon Region Attorney General and five other officials, including a judge, were arrested and charged with taking 70 million kyats ($45,500) in bribes to drop charges against three men accused of killing a popular comedian in January. The case continued as of October.

In October the Anticorruption Commission chairman stated his commission has no authority to investigate corruption in the military.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials were not subject to public financial disclosure laws. The law requires the president and vice presidents to furnish a list of family assets to the speaker of the joint houses of parliament, and the law requires persons appointed by the president to furnish a list of personal assets to the president. The government did not make the reports available to the public.

Civil servants cannot accept gifts worth more than 25,000 kyats ($16). The rules also require civil servants to report all offers of gifts to their supervisors, whether or not they are accepted.

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

The government did not fully allow domestic human rights organizations to function independently. Human rights NGOs were able to open offices and operate, but there were some reports of harassment and monitoring by authorities, and that authorities sometimes pressured hotels and other venues not to host meetings by activists or other civil society groups.

Human rights activists and advocates, including representatives from international NGOs, continued to obtain short-term visas that required them to leave the country periodically for renewal. The government continued to monitor the movements of foreigners and interrogated citizens concerning contacts with foreigners.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: As of year’s end, the government had not agreed to the opening of an Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). While formally allowing OHCHR staff to maintain a nominal presence in country, the government delayed visa issuance for some OHCHR staff members and continued to require travel authorization for travel to Rakhine State and conflict areas.

On September 17, the UN Fact-Finding Mission, established by the UN Human Rights Council, published its final report on the country, which detailed atrocities committed by the military in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States, as well as other areas, and characterized the “genocidal intent” of the military’s 2017 operations in Rakhine State. The government denied the Fact-Finding Mission permission to enter the country and publicly disavowed the report.

The government continued not to allow the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to enter the country, but permitted UN special envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener, who was appointed in April, to enter the country on multiple occasions and meet with officials, including Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief Minh Aung Hlaing.

The ICRC had full access to independent civilian prisons and labor camps. The government also allowed the ICRC to operate in ethnic-minority states, including in Shan, Rakhine, and Kachin States.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission investigated some incidents of gross human rights abuses. In some prominent cases, it called on the government to conduct investigations into abuses, and in October it called on the government to facilitate the repatriation of Rohingya from Bangladesh. It also conducted investigations into police mistreatment of detainees (see section 1.d., Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees). Its ability to operate as a credible, independent mechanism remained limited. The commission supported the development of human rights education curricula, distributed human rights materials, and conducted human rights training.

On July 30, the government announced the formation of the Commission of Enquiry (COE) for Rakhine State, headed by Rosario Manalo, a former deputy prime minister of the Philippines. The four-person COE did not release any findings as of October. Previous government-led investigations into reports of widespread abuses by security services against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State in 2016 yielded no findings of guilt or accountability and were criticized by international observers as deeply flawed.

The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, established by Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016 and led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, released its final report in August 2017, prior to the ARSA attacks in northern Rakhine State. Observers questioned the government’s claim to have implemented 81 of 88 recommendations in the Advisory Commission’s final report as of October.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal but remained a significant problem, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. Spousal rape is not a crime unless the wife is younger than 14 years. Police generally investigated reported cases of rape, but there were reports police investigations were not sensitive to victims. Civil society groups continued to report police in some cases verbally abused women who reported rape, and women could be sued for impugning the dignity of the perpetrator.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious problem. Abuse within families was prevalent and considered socially acceptable. Spousal abuse or domestic violence was difficult to measure because the government did not maintain comprehensive statistics and victims typically did not report it, although the government attempted to document cases and stated cases were on the rise. Laws prohibit committing bodily harm against another person, but there are no laws specifically against domestic violence or spousal abuse unless the wife is younger than 14. Punishment for violating the law includes sentences ranging from one year to life in prison, in addition to possible fines. Overlapping and at times contradictory legal provisions complicated implementation of these limited protections.

The United Nations, media, and NGOs during the year documented the widespread use of rape and sexual violence by the military in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States since at least 2011. The military rejected all allegations that rape was an institutionalized practice in the military.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code prohibits sexual harassment and imposes a maximum of one year’s imprisonment and a fine for verbal harassment and a maximum of two years’ imprisonment and a fine for physical contact. There was no information on the prevalence of the problem because these crimes were largely unreported. Local civil society organizations reported police investigators were not sensitive to victims and rarely followed through with investigations or prosecutions.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. In 2015, however, the government enacted the Population Control and Health Care Law, which contains provisions that, if enforced, could impose coercive birth-spacing requirements. Under the law the president or the national government may designate “special regions” for health care following consideration of factors such as population, natural resources, birth rates, and food availability. Once a special region is declared, the government allows the creation of special health-care organizations to perform various tasks, including establishing regulations related to family planning methods. The government has not designated any such special regions since the law’s enactment.

A two-child local order issued by the government of Rakhine State pertaining to the Rohingya population in two northern townships remained in effect, but the government and NGOs reported it was not consistently enforced (see section 1.f.).

Discrimination: By law women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, including property and inheritance rights and religious and personal status, but it was not clear the government enforced the law. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but it was not clear the formal sector respected this requirement. NGOs reported some sectors, such as the garment industry, did not comply. Poverty affected women disproportionately. The law governing hiring of civil service personnel states nothing shall prevent the appointment of men to “positions that are suitable for men only,” with no further definition of what constitutes positions “suitable for men only.”

Customary law was widely used to address issues of marriage, property, and inheritance, and it differs from the provisions under statutory law.

Children

Birth Registration: The 1982 Citizenship Law automatically confers full citizenship status to 135 recognized national ethnic groups as well as to persons who met citizenship requirements under previous citizenship legislation. Moreover, the government confers full citizenship to second-generation children of both parents with any citizenship, as long as at least one parent has full citizenship. Third-generation children of associate or naturalized citizens can acquire full citizenship. Residents derive full citizenship through parents, both of whom must be one of the 135 officially recognized “national races.” Under the law the government does not officially recognize Rohingya as an ethnic group.

A prominent international NGO noted significant rural-urban disparities in birth registration. In major cities (e.g., Rangoon and Mandalay), births were registered immediately. In larger cities parents must register births to qualify for basic public services and obtain national identification cards. In smaller towns and villages, however, birth registration often was informal or nonexistent. For the Rohingya community, birth registration was a significant problem (see section 2.d.). The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State noted in its interim report nearly one-half of all residents in Rakhine State lacked birth documentation and recommended the government introduce a comprehensive birth registration campaign.

A birth certificate provided important protections for children, particularly against child labor, early marriage, and recruitment into the armed forces and armed groups. Sometimes a lack of birth registration, but more often a lack of availability, complicated access to public services in remote communities.

Education: By law, education is compulsory, free, and universal through the fourth grade. The government continued to allocate minimal resources to public education, and schools charged informal fees.

Education access for internally displaced and stateless children remained limited.

Child Abuse: Laws prohibit child abuse, but they were neither adequate nor enforced. NGOs reported corporal punishment was widely used against children as a means of discipline. The punishment for violations is a maximum of two years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of 10,000 kyats ($6.30). There was anecdotal evidence of violence against children occurring within families, schools, in situations of child labor and exploitation, and in armed conflict. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement continued its child protection programs. In Rakhine State continued violence left many families and children displaced or with restrictions on their movement, and this dislocation at times exposed them to an environment of violence and exploitation. Armed conflict in Kachin and Shan States had a similar adverse effect on children in those areas.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates different minimum ages for marriage based on religion and gender: The minimum age for Buddhists is 18 years, and the minimum age for Christians is 16 for boys and 15 for girls, but child marriage still occurred. According to the 2014 census, more than 13 percent of women married between ages 15 and 19. There were no reliable statistics on forced marriage. Child marriage remained a problem in rural areas.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Children were subjected to sex trafficking in the country, and a small number of foreign child-sex tourists exploited children. The law does not explicitly prohibit child-sex tourism, but it prohibits pimping and prostitution, and the penal code prohibits sex with a minor younger than 14 years. The penalty for the purchase and sale of commercial sex acts from a child younger than 18 is 10 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits pornography and specifies a penalty of two years’ minimum imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 kyats ($6.30). If a victim is younger than 14, the law considers the sexual act statutory rape. The maximum sentence for statutory rape is two years’ imprisonment when the victim is between 12 and 14, and 10 years’ to life imprisonment when the victim is younger than 12.

Displaced Children: The mortality rate of internally displaced children in conflict areas was significantly higher than in the rest of the country (see section 2.d.). The United Nations estimated that 53 percent of the 128,000 IDPs in Rakhine State are children; the vast majority of this population is Rohingya. The UN estimated that 46 percent of the 98,000 IDPs in Kachin State are children and 48 percent of the 8,500 IDPs in northern Shan State are children.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was one synagogue in Rangoon serving a small Jewish congregation. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, hearing, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in air travel and other forms of transportation, but it directs the government to assure that persons with disabilities have easy access to public transportation. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

Civil society groups reported that children with disabilities often attended school through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other persons, and many never attended school due to stigma and lack of any accommodation for their needs.

According to the Myanmar Physical Handicap Association, a significant number of military personnel, armed group members, and civilians had a disability because of conflict, including because of torture and landmine incidents. There were approximately 12,000 amputees in the country–two-thirds believed to be landmine survivors–supported by five physical rehabilitation centers throughout the country. Persons with disabilities reported stigma, discrimination, and abuse from civilian and government officials. Students with disabilities cited barriers to inclusive education as a significant disadvantage.

Military veterans with disabilities received official benefits on a priority basis, usually a civil service job at equivalent pay, but both military and ethnic-minority survivors in rural areas typically did not have access to livelihood opportunities or affordable medical treatment. Official assistance to nonmilitary persons with disabilities in principle included two-thirds of pay for a maximum of one year for a temporary disability and a tax-free stipend for permanent disability. While the law provides job protection for workers who become disabled, authorities did not implement it.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities constituted 30 to 40 percent of the population. The seven ethnic minority states composed approximately 60 percent of the national territory, and significant numbers of minorities also resided within the country’s other regions. Wide-ranging governmental and societal discrimination against minorities persisted, including in areas such as education, housing, employment, and access to health services. International observers noted significant wage discrepancies based on religious and ethnic backgrounds were common.

Burmese generally remained the mandatory language of instruction in government schools. The government’s National Education Strategic Plan, released in April 2017, did not cover issues related to mother-tongue instruction. In schools controlled by ethnic groups, students sometimes had no access to the national curriculum. There were very few domestic publications in indigenous-minority languages.

Tension between the military and ethnic minority populations, while somewhat diminished in areas with cease-fire agreements, remained high, and the military stationed forces in some ethnic groups’ areas of influence and controlled certain cities, towns, and highways. Ethnic armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organization and the Karen National Union, pointed to the increased presence of army troops as a major source of tension and insecurity. Reported abuses included killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, and rapes of members of ethnic groups by government soldiers. Some groups also committed abuses (see section 1.g.).

The Rohingya in Rakhine State faced severe discrimination based on their ethnicity. Most Rohingya faced extreme restrictions on their ability to travel, avail themselves of health-care services, engage in economic activity (see section 7.d.), obtain an education, and register births, deaths, and marriages (see section 2.d.). Most of those displaced in 2012 remained confined to semipermanent camps with severely limited access to education, health care, and livelihoods.

The military and other security forces committed widespread atrocities against Rohingya villagers starting in August 2017 that were documented during the year, including extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, arbitrary arrest, and burning of hundreds of villages, religious structures, and other buildings. These atrocities and associated events forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh as of September and constituted ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.

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

Political reforms in recent years made it easier for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community to hold public events and openly participate in society, yet discrimination, stigma and a lack of acceptance among the general population persisted. Consensual same-sex sexual activity remains illegal under the penal code, which contains a provision against “unnatural offenses” with a penalty of a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Laws against “unnatural offenses” apply equally to both men and women; these laws were rarely enforced. LGBTI persons reported police used the threat of prosecution to extort bribes. While the penal code is used more for coercion or bribery, LGBTI persons, particularly transgender women, were most frequently charged under so-called shadow and disguise laws. These laws use the justification that a person dressed or acting in a way that is perceived as not being in line with their biological gender is in “disguise.” According to a report by a local NGO, transgender women reported higher levels of police abuse and discrimination than other members of the LGBTI community.

In March, authorities in Rangoon used the “unnatural offenses” law to charge an openly gay restaurant owner for allegedly sexually assaulting a male member of his staff. The case was pending at year’s end.

There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment. LGBTI persons reported facing discrimination from medical-care providers.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The constitution provides for the individual’s right to health care in accordance with national health policy, prohibits discrimination by the government on the grounds of “status,” and requires equal opportunity in employment and equality before the law. Persons with HIV/AIDS could theoretically submit a complaint to the government if a breach of their constitutional rights or denial of access to essential medicines occurred, such as antiretroviral therapy, but there were no reports of individuals submitting complaints on these grounds. There are no HIV-specific protective laws or laws that specifically address the human rights aspects of HIV.

There were continued reports of societal violence and discrimination, including employment discrimination, against persons with HIV/AIDS. Negative incidents such as exclusion from social gatherings and activities; verbal insults, harassment, and threats; and physical assaults continued to occur. Laws that criminalize behaviors linked to an increased risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS remain in place, directly fueling stigma and discrimination against persons engaged in these behaviors and impeding their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services.

High levels of social stigma and discrimination against female sex workers and transgender women hindered their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and social protection services. Police harassment of sex workers deterred the workers from carrying condoms.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were reports of other cases of societal violence, and anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination persisted. Members of Buddhist nationalist groups, including members of Ma Ba Tha, continued to denigrate Islam and called for a boycott of Muslim businesses.

Muslim communities complained about unequal treatment by police, pressures to practice Islam in private, difficulty in obtaining citizenship cards, close monitoring of their travel by local government, and restrictions on education opportunities. In addition some Muslims reported discrimination by private parties in renting housing. Religious groups noted the January 2017 assassination of Ko Ni had a chilling effect on Muslims fighting for improved treatment under the law (see section 1.a.).

Anti-Muslim hate speech, and in particular anti-Rohingya hate-speech, was prevalent on social media, in particular Facebook, the most popular social media platform in Myanmar. Independent reporting indicated that the military, using false accounts, was also responsible for generating and promulgating hate speech content.

Multiple sources noted restrictions against Muslims and Christians impeded their ability to pursue higher education opportunities and assume high-level government positions and that Muslims were unable to invest and trade freely.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law permits labor organizations to demand the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity, but it does not explicitly prohibit antiunion discrimination in the form of demotions or mandatory transfers, nor does it offer protection for workers seeking to form a union. The law does not provide for adequate protections for workers from dismissal before a union is officially registered.

Laws prohibit personnel of the defense services, armed forces, and police force from forming unions. The law permits workers to join unions only within their category of trade or activity, and the definition of trade or activity lacks clarity. Basic labor organizations must have a minimum of 30 workers and register through township registrars with the chief registrar’s Office of the Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Population (Ministry of Labor). Township labor organizations require a minimum of 10 percent of relevant basic labor organizations to register; regional or state labor organizations require a minimum of 10 percent of relevant township labor organizations. Each of these higher-level unions must include only organizations within the same trade or activity. Similarly, federations and confederations also require a minimum number of regional or state labor organizations (10 percent and 20 percent, respectively) from the next lower level in order to register formally. The law permits labor federations and confederations to affiliate with international union federations and confederations.

The law provides for voluntary registration for local NGOs, including NGOs working on labor issues. Organizations that choose to register are required to send organizational bylaws and formation documents to the government. Broader restrictions on freedom of assembly remained in place (see section 2.b.).

The law gives unions the right to represent workers, to negotiate and bargain collectively with employers, and to send representatives to a conciliation body or conciliation tribunal. The law permits unions to assist in individual disputes and individual employment agreements. The law does not contain detailed measures regarding management of the bargaining process, such as a duty to bargain in good faith, a period for bargaining, registration, or extension or enforcement of collective agreements. The National Tripartite Dialogue Forum (NTDF), with representatives of government, business, and labor, met three times during the year. The NDTF consults with parliament on revising legislation on freedom of association, collective bargaining, and dispute settlement resolution.

The law stipulates that disputes in special economic zones be settled in accordance with original contracts and existing laws. Under the law on special economic zones, the government appointed a labor inspector for each such zone and established zonal tripartite committees responsible for setting wage levels and monitoring the ratio of local and foreign labor.

The law provides for the right to strike in most sectors, with a majority vote by workers, permission of the relevant labor federations, and detailed information and three days’ advance notice provided to the employer and the relevant conciliation body. The law does not permit strikes or lockouts in essential services. For “public utility services” (including the transport; cargo and freight; postal; sanitation; information, communication, and technology; energy; petroleum; and financial sectors), lockouts are permitted with a minimum of 14 days’ notice provided to the relevant labor organizations and conciliation body. Strikes in public utility services require generally the same measures as in other sectors, but with 14 days’ advance notice and negotiation between workers and management before the strike takes place to determine maintenance of minimum service levels. The law prohibits strikes addressing problems not directly relevant to labor issues.

The law provides for a framework for the settlement of individual and collective disputes at the enterprise, township, regional, and national levels through conciliation or arbitration, but it lacks sufficient mechanisms for enforcement. The penalty for noncompliance with the settlement agreements called for in the law can be a fine of up to one million kyats ($650).

Labor groups reported their biggest challenge remained labor organizations’ inability to register at the national level, a prerequisite for entering labor framework agreements with multinational companies, due to the registration requirements under the law. In addition the International Labor Organization (ILO), labor activists, and media continued to report concerns employers subsequently fired or engaged in other forms of reprisal for workers who formed or joined labor unions. Trade unions reported cases in which criminal charges were filed against workers for exercising their right to strike. Labor organizations also reported local labor offices imposed unnecessary bureaucratic requirements for union registration that were inconsistent with the law.

Workers and workers’ organizations continued to report they generally found the Ministry of Labor to be helpful in urging employers to negotiate, but there were consistent reports of employers ignoring the negotiated agreements or engaging in other forms of antiunion discrimination.

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law permits labor organizations to demand the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity, but it does not explicitly prohibit antiunion discrimination in the form of demotions or mandatory transfers, nor does it offer protection for workers seeking to form a union. The law does not provide for adequate protections for workers from dismissal before a union is officially registered.

Laws prohibit personnel of the defense services, armed forces, and police force from forming unions. The law permits workers to join unions only within their category of trade or activity, and the definition of trade or activity lacks clarity. Basic labor organizations must have a minimum of 30 workers and register through township registrars with the chief registrar’s Office of the Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Population (Ministry of Labor). Township labor organizations require a minimum of 10 percent of relevant basic labor organizations to register; regional or state labor organizations require a minimum of 10 percent of relevant township labor organizations. Each of these higher-level unions must include only organizations within the same trade or activity. Similarly, federations and confederations also require a minimum number of regional or state labor organizations (10 percent and 20 percent, respectively) from the next lower level in order to register formally. The law permits labor federations and confederations to affiliate with international union federations and confederations.

The law provides for voluntary registration for local NGOs, including NGOs working on labor issues. Organizations that choose to register are required to send organizational bylaws and formation documents to the government. Broader restrictions on freedom of assembly remained in place (see section 2.b.).

The law gives unions the right to represent workers, to negotiate and bargain collectively with employers, and to send representatives to a conciliation body or conciliation tribunal. The law permits unions to assist in individual disputes and individual employment agreements. The law does not contain detailed measures regarding management of the bargaining process, such as a duty to bargain in good faith, a period for bargaining, registration, or extension or enforcement of collective agreements. The National Tripartite Dialogue Forum (NTDF), with representatives of government, business, and labor, met three times during the year. The NDTF consults with parliament on revising legislation on freedom of association, collective bargaining, and dispute settlement resolution.

The law stipulates that disputes in special economic zones be settled in accordance with original contracts and existing laws. Under the law on special economic zones, the government appointed a labor inspector for each such zone and established zonal tripartite committees responsible for setting wage levels and monitoring the ratio of local and foreign labor.

The law provides for the right to strike in most sectors, with a majority vote by workers, permission of the relevant labor federations, and detailed information and three days’ advance notice provided to the employer and the relevant conciliation body. The law does not permit strikes or lockouts in essential services. For “public utility services” (including the transport; cargo and freight; postal; sanitation; information, communication, and technology; energy; petroleum; and financial sectors), lockouts are permitted with a minimum of 14 days’ notice provided to the relevant labor organizations and conciliation body. Strikes in public utility services require generally the same measures as in other sectors, but with 14 days’ advance notice and negotiation between workers and management before the strike takes place to determine maintenance of minimum service levels. The law prohibits strikes addressing problems not directly relevant to labor issues.

The law provides for a framework for the settlement of individual and collective disputes at the enterprise, township, regional, and national levels through conciliation or arbitration, but it lacks sufficient mechanisms for enforcement. The penalty for noncompliance with the settlement agreements called for in the law can be a fine of up to one million kyats ($650).

Labor groups reported their biggest challenge remained labor organizations’ inability to register at the national level, a prerequisite for entering labor framework agreements with multinational companies, due to the registration requirements under the law. In addition the International Labor Organization (ILO), labor activists, and media continued to report concerns employers subsequently fired or engaged in other forms of reprisal for workers who formed or joined labor unions. Trade unions reported cases in which criminal charges were filed against workers for exercising their right to strike. Labor organizations also reported local labor offices imposed unnecessary bureaucratic requirements for union registration that were inconsistent with the law.

Workers and workers’ organizations continued to report they generally found the Ministry of Labor to be helpful in urging employers to negotiate, but there were consistent reports of employers ignoring the negotiated agreements or engaging in other forms of antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Laws prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor and provide for the punishment of persons who impose forced labor on others, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.

The law provides for criminal penalties for forced labor violations; penalties differ depending on whether the military, the government, or a private citizen committed the violation. Prosecution of military perpetrators occurs under either the military or penal code. Civilian perpetrators may be subject to administrative action or criminal proceedings under the penal code. The maximum penalty under the penal code is 12 months in prison; under the military code it is seven years in prison. International observers deemed the penalties sufficient to deter forced labor.

The government continued to implement some aspects of the ILO action plan to eliminate forced labor and in January extended the Supplementary Understanding with the ILO, which provides for a complaint mechanism for victims of forced labor through the end of the year. The government also signed a memorandum of understanding with the ILO in January to create an action plan to eliminate forced labor, which provides for an additional complaint mechanism as well as training and awareness-raising activities on forced labor.

The ILO reported it continued to receive complaints of forced labor, although the number was decreasing overall. Though the military and the government received complaints logged by the complaints mechanism, there was no evidence that they took enforcement action to address concerns. There was no evidence that the government prosecuted soldiers in civilian courts for recruitment or use of child soldiers.

Reports of forced labor occurred across the country, including in conflict and cease-fire areas, and the prevalence was higher in states with significant armed conflict. Forced labor reports included forced portering and activities related to the military’s “self-reliance” policy. Under the self-reliance policy, military battalions are responsible for procuring their own food and labor supplies from local villagers–a major factor contributing to forced labor and other abuses.

Prisoners in the country’s 48 labor camps engaged in forced labor (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).

The ILO received reports of forced labor in the private sector, including excessive overtime with or without compensation by workers at risk of losing their jobs and also by bonded labor. Domestic workers also remained at risk of domestic servitude.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for work in shops, establishments, and factories is 14 years; the law establishes special provisions for “youth employment” for those older than 14. Employees from 16 to 18 must have a certificate to authorize them to carry out “work fit for an adult.” The law prohibits employees younger than 18 from working in a hazardous environment, but the government has not finalized a hazardous work list enumerating occupations in which child labor is specifically prohibited.

Trained inspectors from the Factories and General Labor Laws Inspection Department monitored the application of these regulations, including with regard to child labor, but their legal authority only extends to factories. In addition inspectors were hindered by a general lack of resources. A child-labor working group met regularly, chaired by the minister of labor with representatives from government departments, the private sector, labor unions, and civil society. On February 5 the government formed the National Committee for the Elimination of Child Labor and tasked a working group to draft a national plan of action to implement ILO Convention 182 on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor.

The Ministry of Labor worked with other ministries to collect better data on existing child labor and continued a campaign directed at parents to raise awareness of the risks of child labor and provide information on other education options available to children. The Ministry of Labor engaged with the Ministry of Education on two programs, one aimed at bringing children out of the workplace and putting them in school, and another to support former child soldiers in pursuit of classroom education or vocational training. The labor ministry supported vocational schools to train young workers for jobs in nonhazardous environments.

The criminal penalties for recruiting child soldiers for military officials under martial law range from dismissal from service and imprisonment in civil prison to a fine of seven days’ pay (see section 1.g.). For civilians the law outlines penalties for child recruitment from a minimum 10 years’ to a maximum of life imprisonment. Penalties under the law and their enforcement for other child labor violations were insufficient to deter violations.

Child labor remained prevalent and highly visible. Children were at high risk, with poverty leading some parents to remove them from schools before completion of compulsory education. In cities children worked mostly as street vendors or refuse collectors, as restaurant and teashop attendants, and as domestic workers. Children also worked in the production of garments.

Children often worked in the informal economy, in some instances exposing them to drugs and petty crime, risk of arrest, commercial sexual exploitation, and HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (also see section 6).

Children were vulnerable to forced labor in teashops, agriculture, and begging. In rural areas children routinely worked in family agricultural activities, occasionally in situations of forced labor.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not specifically prohibit employment discrimination.

Women remained underrepresented in most traditionally male-dominated occupations (mining, forestry, carpentry, masonry, and fishing) and were effectively barred from certain professions.

There were reports government and private actors practiced anti-Muslim discrimination that impeded Muslim-owned businesses’ operations and negatively affected their ability to hire and retain labor, maintain proper working standards, and secure public and private contracts. There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, including the denial of promotions and firing of LGBTI persons. Activists reported job opportunities for many openly gay and lesbian persons were limited, and they noted a general lack of support from society as a whole. Activists reported that in addition to general societal discrimination, persons with HIV/AIDS faced employment discrimination in both the public and private sectors, including suspensions and the loss of employment following positive results from mandatory workplace HIV testing.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government raised the official minimum daily wage to 4,800 kyats ($3.15) from 3,600 kyats ($2.40), effective in May. The minimum wage covers a standard eight-hour workday across all sectors and industries and applies to all workers except for those in businesses with fewer than 15 employees. The law requires the minimum wage to be revised every two years. Labor unions and activists criticized the raise in the minimum wage as too small for workers to keep up with the rising cost of living.

The law requires employers to pay employees on the date the salary is due for companies with 100 or fewer employees. For companies with more than 100 employees, the employer is required to pay employees within five days from the designated payday. Overtime cannot exceed 12 hours per workweek, should not go past midnight, and can exceed 16 hours in a workweek only on special occasions. The law also stipulates that an employee’s total working hours cannot exceed 11 hours per day (including overtime and a one-hour break). The law applies to shops, commercial establishments, and establishments for public entertainment.

The Labor Dispute Law stipulates the terms and conditions required for occupational safety, health, welfare, and productivity, but information was limited about whether workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

The Ministry of Labor’s Factories and General Labor Laws Inspection Department oversees labor conditions in the private sector. Both resources and capacity constrained enforcement. The number of labor law inspectors and factory inspectors under the ministry was insufficient to address adequately occupational safety and health standards, wage, salary, overtime, and other issues. In certain sectors other ministries regulated occupational safety and health laws (e.g., the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation).

In January the government and the ILO held the Third Labor Stakeholders’ Forum under the auspices of the multistakeholder Initiative to Promote Fundamental Labor Rights and Practices in Myanmar. The forum brought together more than 200 participants from the public and private sectors to discuss labor rights and various labor problems, including addressing freedom of association and collective bargaining, strengthening labor dispute settlement, and strengthening local capacity and institutions.

Enforcement of the laws generally took place in the public sector, but frequent violations occurred in private enterprises. Workers continued to submit complaints to relevant government agencies and the dispute settlement mechanism. Workers’ organizations alleged government inspections were rare and often announced with several days’ notice that allowed factory owners to bring facilities–often temporarily–into compliance. Corruption and bribery of inspectors reportedly occurred.

The social security board covers all employees in companies with more than five employees, with the exception of six sectors (government, international organizations, seasonal farming and fisheries, construction, nonprofit organizations, and domestic work). In practical terms the board covered primarily industrial zones, the location of the majority of registered workers, and therefore supported less than 1 percent of individuals involved in workplace accidents or casualties. While the board provided hospitals and clinics, it did not keep independently verifiable statistics on accidents or workplace violations. Observers assumed workers in other sectors of the economy had even less support, and no statistics on accidents or workplace violations were available.

Burundi

Executive Summary

The Republic of Burundi is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected government. The 2018 constitution, promulgated in June following a May referendum, provides for an executive branch that reports to the president, a bicameral parliament, and an independent judiciary. In 2015 voters re-elected President Pierre Nkurunziza and elected National Assembly (lower house) members in elections boycotted by nearly all independent opposition parties, who claimed Nkurunziza’s election violated legal term limits. International and domestic observers characterized the elections as largely peaceful but deeply flawed and not free, fair, transparent, or credible. There were widespread reports of harassment, intimidation, threatening rhetoric, and some violence leading up to the referendum and reports of compulsion for citizens to register to vote and contribute financially to the management of the elections planned for 2020.

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

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; arbitrary arrest and politicized detention by the government; prolonged pretrial detention; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; threats against and harassment of journalists, censorship through restrictive legislation, internet site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, including elections that were not found to be genuine, free, or fair; corruption; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence against women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, minority groups, and persons with albinism; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and use of forced or compulsory or worst forms of child labor.

The reluctance of police and public prosecutors to investigate and prosecute and of judges to hear cases of government corruption and human rights abuse in a timely manner resulted in widespread impunity for government and National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) officials.

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

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often against perceived supporters of the political opposition or those who exercised their lawful rights. The banned NGO Ligue Iteka, which continued operating from outside the country, documented 309 killings by the end of September, many allegedly committed by agents of the security services or members of the Imbonerakure. The assessments of Ligue Iteka and other human rights groups differed on the number of killings for which agents of the state or ruling party were likely responsible. Responsibility for arbitrary killings and exact statistics were difficult to determine due to the government’s restrictions on human rights monitors and civil society organizations (CSOs) and refusal of access to international bodies. Investigations and prosecutions of government officials and members of the ruling party who allegedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings were rare.

The 2018 report of the UN Commission of Inquiry (UN COI), whose members were denied access to the country by the government but who conducted interviews with more than 400 witnesses living in exile, restated its conclusions from the previous year and found “reason to believe that arbitrary killings remain a widespread practice in Burundi” and that members of the National Intelligence Service (SNR), police, and Imbonerakure were mostly responsible for these killings. The UN COI reported that the practice of hiding bodies, including by weighing them down with stones and throwing them into rivers or by transporting them from one province or district to another to make it difficult to identify victims, persisted. As previously reported the UN COI noted that when bodies are found, they are often buried without an investigation. The commission stated that killings were increasingly taking place in a clandestine fashion rendering documentation more difficult. The report stated that the UN COI received no reports of killings on a scale commensurate with those in 2015 and 2016, with the exception of a May 11 armed group attack in Cibitoke province of a more severe nature. The report also stated that the UN COI had reasonable grounds to believe that crimes including killings, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, and political persecution amounted to crimes against humanity. NGOs also reported numerous cases of extrajudicial killings committed by police, SNR, and military personnel, sometimes with involvement of local government officials. Local and international organizations also charged that members of the Imbonerakure were responsible for some unlawful killings, including summary executions.

Human rights organizations documented violence, including alleged killings, in advance of the May referendum. Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented the death of Simon Bizimana on March 14 following his arrest and alleged torture during a month-long detention in prison for refusing to register as a voter, which by law is not a crime. During a video, in which Bizimana was questioned by a government official prior to his arrest, he stated he would not participate in elections due to reasons of religious conscience. A hospital certificate stated that the cause of death was malaria, but witness accounts alleged his condition worsened following beatings with iron rods inflicted by police. HRW also documented the killing on February 24 of Dismas Sinzinkayo, a member of the nonrecognized Forces Nationales de Liberation party led by Agathon Rwasa (FNL-Rwasa), by members of the Imbonerakure following his refusal to show proof of voter registration. On May 13, during the two-week official campaign period before the referendum, a violent confrontation between members of Imbonerakure and FNL-Rwasa supporters in Kirundo province resulted in the death of two FNL-Rwasa members.

Burundian armed opposition groups, primarily operating from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), conducted periodic cross-border forays into Burundi that resulted in killings. On May 11, an armed group crossed the border from the DRC and attacked the town of Ruhagarika in Cibitoke province, killing 26, including women and children. The government stated that some victims were burned alive. Following the incident, the government established a domestic investigative commission, but as of November it had not publicly released its findings. On September 26, police announced the arrest of an alleged leader of the May 11 attack. The individual, Dismas Ndayisaba, stated that he was a member of the armed group RED-Tabara and that the attack was ordered by Alexis Sinduhije, an opposition figure in exile associated with RED-Tabara. Spokespersons for Sinduhije denied the accusation.

As of mid-October there were at least 48 grenade attacks throughout the country, resulting in at least 17 fatalities. It was often difficult to identify perpetrators and motives behind the attacks. While some attacks specifically targeted police and other members of the security services with apparent political motives, others were likely motivated by personal or business vendettas. Responsibility for attacks was often unclear.

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports that individuals were victims of politically motivated disappearances after they were detained by elements of the security forces or in kidnappings where the identities of the perpetrators were not evident.

In September the UN COI reported that the phenomena of arbitrary arrest and detention, including in secret locations, the concealment of bodies, and the impunity prevailing in the country continued to create a climate of secrecy conducive to enforced disappearance. The report also noted the persistence of allegations that individuals were arrested by members of the security services and killed “without, in certain cases, their bodies being found.” Members of the Imbonerakure, SNR, and police continued to be responsible for most of the disappearances. The 2018 UN COI report stated that commission members had received information regarding cases of alleged forced disappearances for which insufficient details were available to document the cases.

The September report found reason to believe that Bonaventure Havyarimana, Egide Habonimana, Lionel Hafashimana, Emmanuel Nyabenda, and Benius Mbanyenimanga were subjected to forced disappearance following their detention by members of the SNR on March 2. All five were members of the suspended opposition party Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD). The report stated that SNR agents demanded ransoms from the victims’ relatives for their release and that they were allegedly killed despite payment of ransom.

Jean Bigirimana, a journalist for independent newspaper Iwacu, was abducted from his car in 2016. Bigirimana’s spouse was present at the abduction and stated publicly that SNR officers were responsible. As of October his whereabouts remained unknown. According to media reports, his spouse received several anonymous death threats in 2017 and subsequently fled the country with her children; the family continued to receive threats during the year.

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

The constitution and penal code prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there were numerous reports government officials employed these practices. NGOs reported cases of torture committed by security services or members of the Imbonerakure. As of September Ligue Iteka reported 200 such cases, the majority allegedly committed by members of the Imbonerakure. According to HRW some Burundian refugees in other countries testified they had fled the country after they or their family members suffered rape and other sexual violence, torture, and illegal detention by members of the security forces.

In its 2018 report, the UN COI reported that torture and ill-treatment persisted and the methods employed remained consistent, while observing an “evolution in the profile of victims and perpetrators, as well as the goals pursued.” The report stated that since 2017 members of the Imbonerakure were the most frequent perpetrators of acts of torture but reported continued allegations of acts of torture by police officers, agents of the SNR, and Burundian National Defense Forces (BNDF) to a lesser extent. The report described acts of torture as primarily punitive, and aimed particularly at perceived political opponents. According to the UN COI, victims were beaten or kicked or were struck with stones, sticks, rods, metal bars or rifle butts, or were attacked with sharp objects such as machetes or knives. Some victims were burned with heated metal rods, including some who were tied up or handcuffed. In a number of cases, these acts were accompanied by death threats, intimidation, and verbal abuse.

Most such acts of torture and ill-treatment occurred in places of detention, including police or SNR holding cells, the Mpimba central prison in Bujumbura, and unofficial places of detention such as private homes. Several victims described conditions of detention in prisons and police cells that constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. For example, representatives of the nonrecognized FNL-Rwasa party and the Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of political independents with which it was associated stated that security service members tortured detained members of the party, including individuals who participated in campaign activities prior to the May constitutional referendum.

Sexual violence remained pervasive and was often used as a means of torture to obtain information or confessions from detainees, although the COI and other observers assessed a trend toward sexual violence by government agents or members of the Imbonerakure being committed in private residences rather than in detention sites. A May report by HRW documented testimonies from Burundian refugees in Uganda and Tanzania that included accounts of acts of sexual violence committed by members of the Imbonerakure against political opponents in 2017 and during the year. Rape was also committed while police officers or members of the Imbonerakure arrested a victim’s spouse or relative accused of belonging to an opposition party.

The country has contributed peacekeepers to the African Union Mission in Somalia since 2008 and to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) since 2014. As of October there were almost 800 Burundian personnel serving in MINUSCA. The United Nations received three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) against three members of the Burundian military contingent serving with MINUSCA as of September, including one allegation of the rape of a minor. The allegations were pending investigation as of September. Burundian authorities were also investigating other SEA allegations against MINUSCA peacekeepers from Burundi referred to them by the United Nations in 2016 and 2015, in compliance with requirements of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons were overcrowded, and conditions remained harsh and sometimes life threatening. Conditions in detention centers managed by the SNR and in local “lock-ups” managed by police generally were worse than in prisons, and there were allegations that police and members of the SNR committed acts of torture, beating, and mistreatment of detainees. Prisons did not meet the standards established by the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules).

Physical Conditions: The Office of Penitentiary Affairs reported that, as of September, there were 10,373 inmates, including 4,745 pretrial detainees, in 11 prisons, the majority of which were built before 1965, with the capacity to accommodate 4,194 inmates. Of the 10,373 inmates, 560 were women and 125 were juveniles. As of October authorities held 117 juveniles (most but not all of whom had been convicted; others were awaiting trial) in two juvenile rehabilitation facilities that opened in 2015; they were allowed to participate in recreational activities and received psychosocial support and preparation for eventual return to their families and communities. In addition, there were 82 children living with their incarcerated mothers. The most crowded prisons were Muramvya (30 miles from Bujumbura), where the inmate population was at 721 percent of capacity and Mpimba (in Bujumbura) which was at 513 percent of capacity. No information was available on the number of persons held in detention centers managed by the SNR or in communal jails operated by police. There was a prison for women in Kayanza. Authorities commonly held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. No data were available on the number of deaths in detention, reports of abuse by guards, or prisoner-on-prisoner violence. There were reports of physical abuse by government officials, lack of adequate medical treatment, and prolonged solitary confinement.

Prisons did not have adequate sanitation systems (toilets, bathing facilities), drinking water, ventilation, or lighting. Prisons and detention centers did not have facilities for persons with disabilities.

According to government officials and international human rights observers, many prisoners suffered from intestinal illnesses and malaria (which were also pervasive in the country’s general population). An unknown number died from disease. Each inmate received approximately 12 ounces of manioc and 12 ounces of beans daily; rations also included oil and salt on some days. Authorities expected family and friends to provide funds for all other expenses. Each prison was required to employ at least one qualified nurse and received at least one weekly visit by a doctor, but positions were sometimes vacant and prisoners did not always receive prompt access to medical care; inmates with serious medical conditions were sent to local hospitals.

Administration: Prison authorities allowed prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but they rarely investigated prisoners’ complaints. There were credible reports of mistreatment of prisoners, but no record that abusers were punished. Visitors were authorized to see prisoners in most cases.

Independent Monitoring: The 2018 UN COI report documented the continued existence of numerous secret, unofficial detention facilities, including one located in the headquarters of the SNR. No independent monitors were allowed to visit these secret facilities. The September 2016 UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) report concluded there were “reasonable grounds to believe” security forces and Imbonerakure had established 13 places of detention that were denied or unacknowledged by the prosecutor general, according to victims UNIIB had interviewed. In its response to the UNIIB report, the government challenged UNIIB’s “reasonable grounds to believe” there were unacknowledged detention centers by asserting there was no tangible evidence to support the allegations.

The government permitted visits requested by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the African Union, and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (CNIDH). Monitors visited known official prisons, communal jails, and SNR detention centers regularly. Monitoring groups had complete and unhindered access to those prisoners held in known detention facilities. Since the government’s 2016 decision to suspend official cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) local office, the OHCHR was not allowed to conduct prison visits.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not observe these prohibitions. The law provides for a fine of 10,000 Burundian francs ($5.65) and imprisonment of 15 days to one year for any member of the security forces found guilty of involvement in arbitrary arrest. Human rights groups reported numerous arbitrary arrests and detentions, including some involving the participation of Imbonerakure members. The UN COI described an ongoing trend of arbitrary arrests and detentions during the period of its mandate, starting in 2015, but it did not provide statistics. As of September Ligue Iteka documented 1,182 cases it deemed to be arbitrary arrests but was not able to document the subsequent disposition of all cases. Although regulations obligated government officials to notify family members of an arrest and allow communication, there were documented cases wherein families of arrested individuals did not receive timely notification or were not allowed contact with detainees.

Among other reasons for arbitrary arrests or detentions, police arrested persons on accusations of “undermining state security, participation in armed banditry, holding illegal meetings, illegal detention of weapons, or simply because they were traveling to or from other provinces or neighboring countries,” according to the OHCHR.

In 2017 there were reportedly 15 cases of children detained for “participation in armed groups, participation in an insurrectional movement, or illegal possession of arms,” all receiving legal assistance through CSOs. Some of those detained were subsequently convicted and sentenced. Those convicted were placed in government-run rehabilitation centers in Ruyigi and Rumonge provinces for children in conflict with the law and received psychosocial support, recreational activities, and preparation for eventual return to their families and communities. As of October, 14 of the 15 children arrested in 2017 were released; one was serving a sentence at the center in Rumonge. There were no further reports of children arrested under these provisions as of October.

NGOs reported numerous cases of individuals arrested without due process and accused of being part of or intending to join the armed opposition. Members of the nonrecognized FNL associated with National Assembly First Vice President Agathon Rwasa (FNL-Rwasa), and his Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of political independents, stated that security service members arrested party members in retaliation for their political activism and membership in the party, including for political activities during the official campaign period before the May constitutional referendum. Authorities charged some of those identified with the FNL with threats to state security, participation in rebellion, or illegal possession of firearms.

In July 2017 Germain Rukuki, a former employee of the banned NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture-Burundi, was arrested by SNR officials and subsequently transferred to Ngozi Prison. Rukuki was accused of acts against state security and rebellion; international and local human rights organizations criticized the nature of his detention and the charges against him as politically motivated. On April 26, Rukuki was convicted and sentenced to 32 years’ imprisonment, which he appealed. As of November his appeal was in progress. In June Rukuki broke his leg during a volleyball game in prison; he requested and was allowed access to medical treatment at a hospital in Ngozi. During his recovery following his operation, he was returned to prison; Rukuki and his lawyers argued that he needed more time for recovery in hospital. His lawyers applied for a provisional release on humanitarian grounds, but it was not granted.

In November 2017 Nestor Nibitanga, a human rights monitor and former representative of the banned NGO Burundian Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detainees was arrested in Gitega and accused of acts against state security. On January 3–he was denied bail and on August 13–Nibitanga was convicted of the charges against him and sentenced to five years in prison; his lawyer stated that Nibitanga would appeal.

In June 2017 Emmanuel Nshimirimana, Aime Constant Gatore, and Marius Nizigiyimana, all employees of the NGO Speech and Action for the Raising of Consciousness and the Evolution of Mentalities (PARCEM) in Muramvya province were arrested and similarly charged with acts against state security. In March they were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Their lawyers appealed the conviction; a hearing scheduled in July was postponed and had not been held by year’s end.

Numerous reports from human rights activists continued to detail instances in which persons arrested allegedly had to pay bribes to be released. The amount demanded typically ranged from 5,280 to 52,800 Burundian francs ($3 to $30). A September 2017 Amnesty International report recounted instances wherein persons arrested by security forces or detained by members of the Imbonerakure were subjected to extortion and asked to pay between 200,000 and two million Burundian francs ($115 to $1,150). The 2017 UN COI report stated that members of the SNR, police, judiciary, and Imbonerakure often demanded large sums of money for the release of detainees or for their transfer to official prisons.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, which is under the Ministry of Public Security’s authority, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The armed forces, which are under the Ministry of Defense’s authority, are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. The SNR, which reports directly to the president, has arrest and detention authority. Members of the Imbonerakure, who have no official arrest authority, were involved in or responsible for numerous detentions and abductions, according to reporting by multiple human rights organizations, and the Imbonerakure regularly took over the role of state security agents. In such cases Imbonerakure members often turned over arrested individuals to members of the official security services, but in some cases harassed or committed acts of violence against detained individuals without subsequently turning them over. The September report of the UN COI stated that the SNR and police continued to be the principal perpetrators of human rights violations but highlighted the increasing role played by members of the Imbonerakure. The UN COI found that impunity for these crimes was widespread and perpetuated by the lack of an independent judiciary.

The 2005 constitution provides for equal numbers of Hutu and Tutsi in the military, police, and the SNR to prevent either of these ethnic groups from having disproportionate power that might be used against the other. The SNR, however, did not achieve equilibrium between Hutu and Tutsi members, as a large majority remained Hutu; a slight majority of the police were Hutu. The May constitutional referendum removed the SNR from the security services subject to ethnic quotas but maintained the quotas for other institutions; it also maintained a clause providing for a review of the quotas by the Senate at a future date. The composition of the BNDF remained close to the quota requirement.

Police were often poorly trained, underequipped, underpaid, and unprofessional. Local citizens widely perceived them as corrupt, often demanding bribes and engaging in criminal activity. The Anticorruption Brigade, which reports to the minister in Charge of Good Governance in the Office of the President, is responsible for investigating police corruption but was widely perceived to be ineffective.

A significant proportion of police were former rebels. Approximately 85 percent of police received minimal entry-level training but had no refresher training in the past five years, while 15 percent received no training. Wages were low and petty corruption widespread.

Police were heavily politicized and responsive to the CNDD-FDD. Police officials complained that members of the Imbonerakure had infiltrated their ranks. CSOs claimed the weaponry carried by some supposed police officers was not in the official arsenal. Some police officers prevented citizens from exercising their civil rights and were implicated in or responsible for summary executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and sexual violence. The September UN COI report stated that the Antiriot Brigade and the Protection of Institutions unit continued to be significant perpetrators of grave violations of human rights since 2015. The government rarely investigated and prosecuted these cases, which resulted in widespread police impunity and politicization.

In its response to the 2017 UN COI report, the government admitted that, “certain elements of the security forces have overstepped the framework of their competencies.” The government stated they had been held accountable by the justice system but provided no supporting documentation.

Mixed security committees, whose members came from local government, regular security services, and the citizenry, operated in towns and villages throughout the country. Local government authorities designed the committees to play an advisory role for local policymakers and to flag threats and incidents of criminality for local administration. Members of the Imbonerakure frequently occupied positions on the mixed security committees that were reserved for local citizenry, giving them a strong role in local policing, which permitted the ruling party to harass and intimidate opposition members and those perceived to favor the opposition on the local level. Government officials and a spokesperson for the CNDD-FDD confirmed that Imbonerakure members participated in mixed security committees. The mixed security committees remained controversial because lines of authority increasingly blurred between Imbonerakure members and police. Imbonerakure members reportedly detained individuals for political or personal reasons, despite having no legal powers of arrest; beat, extorted, tortured, and killed persons with impunity; and often handed individuals over to the SNR or police, indicating evidence that authorities knew of and failed to punish their conduct. According to reports by multiple human rights groups, Imbonerakure members set up roadblocks in many provinces, sometimes detaining and beating passersby and extorting money or stealing their possessions.

Independent observers generally regarded the BNDF as professional and politically neutral. The 2017 UN COI report, however, reported that military personnel were implicated in summary executions, arbitrary arrests, and torture; although the most recent COI report clarified the responsibility of BNDF members for torture in particular as “of a lesser measure.” Among the units involved in grave violations of human rights, the commission identified the Special Brigade for the Protection of Institutions, the Combat Engineer Battalion (Camp Muzinda), and the Support Battalion of the First Military Region (Camp Muha) in Bujumbura. The commission and other organizations reported that major decisions, including those that have given rise to gross violations of human rights, were allegedly made through parallel chains of command reporting to senior government and ruling party leadership.

The SNR’s mandate is to provide both external and internal security. It often investigated certain opposition political party leaders and their supporters. Many citizens perceived the SNR as heavily politicized and responsive to the CNDD-FDD. The UN COI and NGOs asserted SNR officials committed acts of torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary arrest and detention.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Arrests require warrants issued by a presiding magistrate, although police may arrest a person without a warrant by notifying a police supervisor in advance. Police have seven days to finish their investigation and transfer suspects to appear before a magistrate but may request a seven-day extension if they require additional investigation time. Police rarely respected these provisions and routinely violated the requirement that detainees be charged and appear before a magistrate within seven days of arrest.

A magistrate must either order the release of suspects or confirm the charges and continue detention, initially for 14 days, and for an additional seven days if necessary to prepare the case for trial. Magistrates routinely failed to convene preliminary hearings, often citing their heavy case backlog or improper documentation by police. The CNIDH identified some cases of prisoners held in detention without a preliminary hearing or in excess of the statutory limits for preventive detention in previous years but did not report publicly on the issue during the year. Officials acknowledged that the legal system struggled to process cases in a timely fashion and that lengthy pretrial detentions were common. A UN human rights team that visited SNR facilities in Bujumbura in 2016 reported that 25 of the 67 detainees they saw had been kept in custody beyond the prescribed maximum time. Due to suspension of the OHCHR’s memorandum of understanding in October 2016, it has been unable to verify conditions since then. There were reportedly instances in which police did not comply with magistrates’ orders to release suspects in detention, even when there was insufficient evidence to merit charges.

Lack of transportation for suspects, police, and magistrates was a frequently cited reason for the failure to convene preliminary hearings. This was a particular problem in the six provinces without prisons, where lack of transport prevented the transfer of suspects from the site of detention to the provincial court with jurisdiction over the case.

Judges have authority to release suspects on bail but rarely used it. They may also release suspects on their own recognizance and often did so. Suspects may hire lawyers at their own expense in criminal cases, but the law does not require legal representation, and the government did not provide attorneys for those unable to afford one. Prisons have solitary confinement facilities, and detainees were sometimes held in solitary confinement for long periods. Authorities on occasion denied family members prompt access to detainees, particularly those detainees accused of opposing the government.

The law provides for prisoners to have access to medical care and legal assistance. The SNR denied to lawyers access to detainees held at its headquarters in Bujumbura. The ICRC continued to have access to official prisons and detention centers. Several credible organizations, however, reported that the SNR, police, senior officials of the government, and other security organizations maintained clandestine holding cells to which no independent monitors, including the ICRC, were granted access. The September report of the UN COI documented continued cases of torture and mistreatment that occurred in secret, unofficial detention centers where national and international observers had no access.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law provides for a fine of 10,000 Burundian francs ($6) and imprisonment of 15 days to one year for security force members found guilty of arbitrary arrest. There was no evidence that this law had ever been applied. NGOs reported numerous instances of alleged arbitrary arrests wherein no underlying offense in law existed; Ligue Iteka alleged 1,182 such cases as of September. Comprehensive data were not available on the subsequent handling of the cases. Authorities released many within a day or two of their detention.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem. The law specifies authorities may not hold a person longer than 14 days without charge. As of September, according to the director of prison administration, 47 percent of inmates in prisons and detention centers were pretrial detainees. The average time in pretrial detention was approximately one year, according to the Office of Penitentiary Affairs, and authorities held some without charge. Some persons reportedly remained in pretrial detention for nearly five years. In some cases the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Inefficiency and corruption among police, prosecutors, and judicial officials contributed to the problem. For example, authorities deprived many persons of their legal right to be released on their own recognizance, because public prosecutors failed to open case files or files were lost. Others remained incarcerated without proper arrest warrants, either because police failed to complete the initial investigation and transfer the case to the appropriate magistrate or because the magistrate failed to convene the required hearing to rule on the charges.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release if found to have been unlawfully detained. There was no record that any person was able to challenge their arrest on these grounds during the year.

Amnesty: On January 31, a presidential decree announced an amnesty of prisoners who were serving sentences of less than five years and halving the sentences of others. The government announced the amnesty would affect approximately 2,000 prisoners; as of October, the government stated that 2,611 had been released under the decree. Some of those released, including members of opposition political parties, were reported to have been subsequently rearrested. The decree specifically excluded those imprisoned for the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, armed robbery, illegal possession of firearms, threatening the internal or external security of the state, voluntary homicide, being a mercenary, cannibalism, and all other crimes committed in association with organized gangs. In September civil society organizations raised concerns with Ombudsman Edouard Nduwimana that a number of persons who received presidential pardons or who finished their sentences remained in prison. Human rights activists claimed that there were delays in the release of some prisoners eligible under the decree, and members of the banned MSD party stated that more than 100 members of their party who met the degree criteria had not been released as of October.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, there were instances when authorities subjected members of the judiciary to political influence or bribery to drop investigations and prosecutions, predetermine the outcome of trials, or avoid enforcing court orders. According to the UN COI, the rules of criminal procedure were rarely observed. Warrantless arrests of political opponents were routinely carried out, pretrial detentions were illegally extended, and judges used confessions obtained under torture as a basis for convicting defendants.

The September report of the UN COI stated there was a long-standing lack of judicial independence. The executive branch frequently interfered with politically sensitive cases to protect members of the CNDD-FDD and the Imbonerakure by issuing orders to have them acquitted or released, or to have opponents of the government convicted and imprisoned. Prosecutors and members of the security services sometimes ignored court orders for the release of detainees after judges had determined that there were no legal grounds for holding them.

There were allegations the public prosecutor willfully ignored calls to investigate senior figures within the security services and national police. Serious irregularities undermined the fairness and credibility of trials, and the failure to prosecute members of the security forces accused of abuse created an atmosphere of impunity.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

By law defendants are presumed innocent. Panels of judges conduct all trials publicly. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges and free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, if necessary, although these rights were not always respected. Defendants have the right to a fair trial without undue delay and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, although this did not always occur. Defendants have a right to counsel but not at the government’s expense, even in cases involving serious criminal charges. Few defendants had legal representation because few could afford the services of a lawyer. Some local and international NGOs provided legal assistance to some defendants. Defendants have a right to defend themselves, including questioning prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, calling their own witnesses, and examining evidence against them. Defendants also may present evidence on their own behalf and did so in the majority of cases. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law extends the above rights to all citizens.

The right to a fair trial was often violated. The September UN COI report stated judges often accepted and based decisions on evidence collected through acts of torture. In January 2017, 20 individuals accused of participating in an armed group attack on the Mukoni military camp in Muyinga province were tried, convicted, and received prison sentences in an expedited procedure in the Superior Court of Muyinga. They were reportedly tried without access to counsel, and the court reportedly did not take into account signs that some had been subjected to torture. According to HRW those standing trial had badly swollen hands and feet, many were limping, one had his arm in a sling, and another vomited blood during the trial. The judge denied a defendant’s request that the trial be postponed because he had been tortured, and wanted to be treated before presenting his defense. The defendants were convicted and sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment and each fined five million Burundian francs ($2,900), approximately 10 times the average annual income in the country, with an increase of the sentences to 55 years in prison if they failed to pay the fine.

All defendants, except those in military courts, have the right to appeal their cases to the Supreme Court. The inefficiency of the court system extended the appeals process for long periods, in many cases for more than a year.

Procedures for civilian and military courts are similar, but military courts typically reached decisions more quickly. The government does not provide military defendants with attorneys to assist in their defense, although NGOs provided some defendants with attorneys in cases involving serious charges. Military trials generally are open to the public but may be closed for reasons such as national security or when publicity might harm the victim or a third party; for example, cases involving rape or child abuse. Defendants in military courts are entitled to only one appeal.

While many of the above rights were often violated, no rights were systematically denied to persons from specific groups.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

No verifiable statistic was available on the number of political prisoners or detainees; an estimate was unavailable due to the government’s suspension of the OHCHR’s activities and refusal to cooperate with or allow the UN COI access to the country. In 2016 the OHCHR estimated there were more than 500 political prisoners or detainees, but independent observers estimated that the number of political prisoners remained in the hundreds. The government denied it held persons for political reasons, citing instead acts against state security, participation in a rebellion, or inciting insurrection. Human rights groups stated that these charges were often a pretext for repressing members of political opposition parties and human rights defenders. Before, during, and after the campaign for the May constitutional referendum, members of opposition parties, particularly FNL-Rwasa, reported numerous instances of their members being detained for political activity. Some of those detained were subsequently released, some charged, and some remained in lengthy pretrial detention. In September 60 prisoners went on a hunger strike in response to a statement by the minister of justice claiming that there were no political prisoners in the country.

The UN COI reported that political opponents were often treated unfairly, they were arrested without warrants, and their rights were routinely violated during both the pretrial and trial stages, particularly through restrictions on access to counsel or obstruction of the work of counsel.

The director of prison affairs said he could not identify political prisoners, as they were incarcerated on charges just like ordinary criminals. In some cases, however, political prisoners were confined in separate cells.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations and may appeal decisions to an international or regional court. In 2016, five civil society organizations that the government closed in October 2016 contested the decision in the East African Court of Justice. As of November the case remained in process. In January the court denied an application by the complainants for a preliminary injunction overruling their closure pending the outcome of the case. In denying the application, the court concluded that the complainants had not demonstrated that their closure caused irreparable damage.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In the wake of violence and repression, fear, hunger, insecurity, abuse, and severe economic hardship following the 2015 political crisis and harvest failures in early 2017, more than 400,000 Burundians fled to neighboring states, primarily Tanzania. As of November more than 54,000 had returned primarily from Tanzania through a formal process organized by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. There were reports that in some instances government officials and private citizens seized land owned or legally occupied by departing refugees since 2015, which complicated the reintegration of some of those who returned during the year. Some returnees also found that their houses were destroyed, either due to natural conditions or to intentional property destruction. In general, however, government officials prevented the occupation of lands belonging to refugees. Government officials cited specific instructions from President Nkurunziza in a 2015 speech to provide for the integrity of refugees’ property.

The National Commission for the Land and Other Properties (CNTB) was established in 2006 to resolve land ownership conflicts, particularly between returning refugees who had fled successive waves of conflict in the country and those who had remained. Land disputes were frequently a source of conflict given small plot sizes and the reliance of the vast majority of citizens on subsistence agriculture, and many government officials and civil society actors considered land conflict to be the top cause of killings in the country. In 2015 the president suspended the implementation of all decisions to expropriate taken by the CNTB due to violence associated with land disputes in Makamba province. The CNTB’s reported practice of generally restoring lands to returning refugees from Burundi’s past conflicts, many of whom were ethnic Hutu, led to accusations of ethnic favoritism. In January 2017 the president lifted the suspension, and the CNTB continued its work to resolve land ownership conflicts.

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

The constitution and law provide for the right to privacy and require search warrants, but authorities did not always respect these rights. The legislature passed into law a revised Criminal Procedures Code, which was officially promulgated in May. The revised law provided for warrantless searches when security services suspect acts of terrorism, fraud, trafficking in persons, illegal possession of weapons, trafficking in or consumption of drugs, or “infractions of a sexual nature.” The law requires that security services provide advance notice to prosecutorial officials but does not require approval. Human rights groups raised concerns that the breadth of exceptions to the warrant requirement and the lack of protections provided for in the law created risks of abuse. They also noted that by law warrants may be issued by a prosecutorial official without reference to a judicial authority, limiting judicial oversight of the decisions of police and prosecutors.

Police, SNR agents, and Imbonerakure members–sometimes acting as mixed security committees–set up roadblocks and searched vehicles for weapons. They conducted search-and-seizure operations throughout the year, with a particularly high number of reported searches in the weeks leading up to the May referendum. During these searches security agents seized weapons and household items they claimed could be used to supply an insurgency, including large cooking pots and mosquito nets. Members of the security forces also sought bribes in many instances, either during searches or in lieu of a search.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government severely restricted this right (see section 1.d.). The law requires political parties and large groups to notify the government with details prior to a public meeting and at least four days prior to a proposed demonstration, and allows the government to prohibit meetings or demonstrations for reasons of “public order.” When notified, authorities in most cases denied permission for opposition members to meet or demonstrate and dispersed meetings already underway. By contrast, supporters of the CNDD-FDD and government officials were regularly able to meet and organize demonstrations on short notice; these demonstrations were frequently large and included participation by senior officials.

Freedom of assembly was significantly restricted in the wake of the failed coup attempt in 2015, and these restrictions largely remained in place, with some notable exceptions. Members of the wing of the nonrecognized FNL-Rwasa and the Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of independents stated that government officials harassed or arrested supporters for holding unauthorized meetings. Other political parties generally reported being unable to hold party meetings or conduct political activities outside Bujumbura, except during the official campaign period before the May referendum. Some opposition party members cited greater leeway, however, to conduct political meetings, such as party conferences than in the preceding three years. In September the FRODEBU-Sahwanya party conducted a congress in Bujumbura followed by a series of meetings in regions around the country; however, the party continued to be unable to conduct public events outside of Bujumbura.

During the official May 1-14 campaign period before the referendum, the Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of independents led by Rwasa and some other opposition parties conducted large rallies throughout the country to publicize their opposition to, and advocate for votes against, the proposed constitutional changes. The events were widely publicized in media sources, through social media, and online, and there were no apparent constraints on Rwasa’s public discourse, which was critical of the government. There were some reports that individuals attending rallies subsequently faced arrest or harassment by government officials, security services, and members of the Imbonerakure.

Outside of the official campaign period, opposition actors continued to be restricted from conducting most political activities, and members of the Imbonerakure and security services arrested, harassed, and in some cases committed violence against individuals they alleged opposed passage of the referendum. Although government officials stated that restrictions on political speech outside of the campaign period were consistent with the Burundian Electoral Code, no such limitations were applied to government officials and members of the CNDD-FDD party, who between December and May conducted numerous events and media appearances, during which they promoted the referendum and the proposed constitutional changes.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association within the confines of the law, but the government severely restricted this right.

In January 2017 the government enacted a law constricting the liberties of international NGOs. The law includes requirements that international NGOs deposit a portion of their budgets at the Bank of the Republic of Burundi and that they maintain ethnic and gender balances in the recruitment of local personnel. The law contains several clauses that give the government considerable control over NGO selection and programming. In November 2017 an international NGO was instructed to suspend its agricultural programs due to a disagreement with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock on program design; in September the NGO was reinstated following lengthy negotiations with the government. In December 2017 another international NGO was expelled for allegedly distributing rotten seeds.

On September 27, the government’s National Security Council announced a three-month suspension of international NGOs as of October 1. On October 2, the minister of the interior clarified that the government was suspending their operations until the NGOs provided documents demonstrating compliance with the country’s NGO and banking laws. The minister required NGOs to submit a copy of their cooperative agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a memorandum of understanding with the appropriate technical ministry, a certification of compliance with banking regulations, and a plan to comply with the law’s ethnic and gender balances within three years. He stated that the ministry would review the files of each NGO as soon as it received their submissions, but that NGOs failing to provide documents within three months would be closed. Many organizations viewed the suspension as a politically motivated restriction on civil space. The suspension had an immediate and significant impact on NGO operations, including on the provision of basic services. Some international NGOs were allowed to continue medical and education programs during the suspension. As of mid-November the government had lifted the suspension on 38 NGOs, while the majority were either awaiting response to their compliance documents or still in the process of completing them.

In January 2017 the government also enacted laws governing domestic CSOs. The law requires CSOs to register with the Ministry of the Interior (or with provincial governments if they operate in a single province), a complex process that includes approval for an organization’s activities from the Ministry of the Interior and other ministries depending on their areas of expertise. There is no recourse when authorities deny registration. Registration must be renewed every two years. The law provides for the suspension or permanent closure of organizations for “disturbing public order or harming state security.”

In 2016 the government permanently banned five CSOs that it claimed were part of the political opposition. In 2016 the government announced its intention to ban Ligue Iteka, the country’s oldest human rights organization, for “sow(ing) hate and division among the population following a social media campaign created by the International Federation of Human Rights and Ligue Iteka in which a mock movie trailer accused the president of planning genocide.” The ban took effect in January 2017; Ligue Iteka continued to operate from Uganda and report on conditions in Burundi. At year’s end there were no further reported closings of domestic CSOs.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

In-country Movement: According to several news sources, the government enforced the use of “cahiers de menage,” booklets that listed the residents and domestic workers of each household in some neighborhoods of the capital. In numerous instances police arrested persons during neighborhood searches for not being registered in household booklets. Persons who attempted to cross the border to flee violence and reach refugee camps were sometimes stopped and turned back by police, the SNR, or Imbonerakure members. Stateless persons also faced restrictions on movement, because in addition to lacking identification documents, they may not apply for driver’s licenses and may not travel freely throughout the country.

The government strongly encouraged citizens to participate in community-level work projects every Saturday morning and imposed travel restrictions on citizens from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Authorities required permits for movement outside of one’s community during those hours, and police enforced the restrictions through roadblocks. There were reports that members of the Imbonerakure compelled individuals to engage in community work. Persons could obtain waivers in advance, and persons performing physical exercise were generally considered exempt. Foreign residents were exempt.

During the February 8-17 voter registration period organized by the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), government officials, members of the security services, and members of the Imbonerakure pressured citizens to register as voters. In some instances this pressure included denial of freedom of movement to citizens who did not provide proof of registration, including denial of access to market areas. In July, as the government sought what it termed “contributions” from citizens, there were also reports that citizens who did not demonstrate proof of payment faced restrictions on freedom of movement from members of the Imbonerakure and local officials.

Local governments established checkpoints on roads throughout the country on a widespread basis officially for the collection of transit taxes on drivers and passengers; the checkpoints were often manned by police or members of the Imbonerakure. Checkpoints were also established for security purposes. There were frequent allegations that those staffing the checkpoints sought bribes before allowing vehicles to proceed. In some instances members of the Imbonerakure were accused of using the checkpoints to deny free movement to individuals for political reasons, such as failing to demonstrate proof of voter registration or proof of contributions for the funding of elections, for refusal to join the ruling party, or for suspicion of attempting to depart the country in order to seek refugee status.

Foreign Travel: The price of a passport was 235,000 Burundian francs ($133). Authorities required exit visas for foreign nationals who held nonofficial passports and who did not hold multiple-entry visas; these visas cost 48,000 Burundian francs ($28) per month to maintain. The majority of foreign nationals held multiple-entry visas and were no longer subject to this requirement. Stateless persons may not apply for a passport and may not travel outside the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) counted approximately 151,520 IDPs as of September. According to the IOM, 74 percent were displaced due to natural disasters while 26 percent were displaced for political or social reasons. Some IDPs reported feeling threatened because of their perceived political sympathies. Some IDPs returned to their homes, but the majority remained in IDP sites or relocated to urban centers. The government generally permitted IDPs at identified sites to be included in programs provided by UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations, such as shelter and legal assistance programs.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees.

UNHCR estimated 68,748 refugees were in the country as of September, with a further 5,148 in the process of seeking asylum. Of the refugees, approximately 68,200 were Congolese, including arrivals during the year; 4,371 of those in the process of seeking asylum were also Congolese. Continuing violence in the DRC prevented their return. Efforts to resettle Congolese refugees in third countries, begun in 2015, continued.

Employment: The employment of refugees was subject to restrictions. The government is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Related to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees, but with a reservation regarding the employment of refugees that meant Burundian nationals had preferred access to employment opportunities. In 2016 the government committed to lifting these reservations, but as of October had not taken steps to do so.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees residing in camps administered by the government and the United Nations and its partners received basic services. The large percentage of refugees residing in urban areas also accessed services, such as education, health care, and other assistance offered by humanitarian organizations.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately 4,400 persons during the year. These individuals were primarily Congolese who crossed into the country from Lake Tanganyika in order to avoid fighting on the Fizi peninsula in January and did not subsequently seek refugee status but returned to the DRC during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR an estimated 974 persons at risk of statelessness lived in the country. All were from Oman, were awaiting proof of citizenship from the government of Oman, and had lived in Burundi for decades. Most of those who remained at risk of statelessness had refused an offer of Burundian citizenship from the government if they could not get Omani citizenship. Stateless persons face limited freedom of movement because they were ineligible for driver’s licenses and passports.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The country held legislative, communal, and presidential elections during 2015, but the international community and independent domestic organizations widely condemned the process as deeply flawed. Several progovernment CSOs observed and validated the elections. The UN Electoral Mission in Burundi was the sole international observer of the voting; the African Union (AU) and the EU declined to participate in the process. Intimidation, threats, and bureaucratic hurdles colored the campaigning and voting period, resulting in low voter turnout and a boycott by most opposition parties.

In December 2017 the government announced a referendum campaign for several constitutional amendments and repressed opposition activity related to the amendments. On May 17, the referendum took place. During the months leading up to the referendum, there were widespread instances of harassment, intimidation, threatening rhetoric, and some violence against real or perceived opponents of the amendments. There were widespread reports that citizens were forced to register as voters during the February voter registration period and make financial contributions to preparations for 2020 elections, including through acts of violence and denial of basic services. The vote itself was largely peaceful but opposition parties charged irregularities including the expulsion of accredited monitors from voting stations and during the vote tabulation process. The Constitutional Court rejected an appeal by the Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of independents to contest the results provided by the CENI. No country or international organization officially observed the referendum, but a range of CSOs mostly representing progovernment viewpoints did observe the elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: During 2015 the government held four separate elections, including for communal councils and the National Assembly (June), president (July), the Senate (July), and village councils (August). Citing their inability to campaign fairly and freely, most opposition parties called on their adherents to boycott the elections. The CNDD-FDD won absolute majorities in the National Assembly and Senate.

The EU’s election observation mission reported that sufficient conditions for credible elections were not met. The AU also declined to send observers because the conditions were not conducive to credible, transparent, free, and fair elections. According to the International Crisis Group, CENI and the Ministry of the Interior created bureaucratic obstacles to opposition parties, including failing to recognize party leadership, refusing to permit legal party meetings, and favoring CNDD-FDD loyalists for positions on provincial and communal election committees.

In December 2017 President Nkurunziza announced a referendum to amend the constitution. During the speech he warned that opposition to holding the referendum was a “red line,” while stating that opponents of the constitutional changes would be able to make their case. Several government and ruling party officials subsequently made statements threatening individuals opposed to the referendum. In a December 2017 speech in Cibitoke province, Sylvestre Ndayizeye, a senior leader of the Imbonerakure, reportedly called on his colleagues to “identify and subdue” those who opposed the campaign. In April a video circulated on social media networks of a CNDD-FDD party official in Muyinga province, Melchiade Nzopfabarushe, threatening to kill opponents of the referendum and dispose of their bodies in Lake Tanganyika. Nzopfabarushe was arrested, charged with making violent threats and threats to state security, convicted, and sentenced to three years in prison on April 30. In June, following the referendum, his sentence was reduced on appeal and he was released from prison. Human rights activists reported other instances of party or government officials using violent rhetoric with no apparent repercussions.

There were numerous reports of members of the security services and the Imbonerakure arbitrarily arresting, harassing, or committing violence against individuals suspected of campaigning against the referendum, including supporters of opposition parties. In May HRW issued a report that documented human rights violations that targeted individuals who refused to contribute funds to finance the referendum vote and the 2020 elections or for not belonging to the ruling party. HRW stated that impunity for these acts was widespread and encouraged further abuse. The number of arrests of opposition members increased significantly in the months preceding the vote, although in many cases those arrested were released shortly thereafter.

In 2017 the government began a campaign to generate citizen contributions to a fund for elections, with the intention of domestically financing future elections. In December 2017 the government released a decree formalizing the campaign, under which amounts were to be automatically deducted from the salaries of civil servants. Deductions began in January. The decree specified that contributions from other citizens were to be voluntary but identified recommended contribution levels for salaried employees and for farmers. Beginning in July 2017, however, and increasing significantly following an announcement by the minister of the interior in June of relaunching efforts to generate contributions from citizens, government officials and members of the Imbonerakure pressured citizens to donate. There were reports of violence, harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and denial of freedom of movement of citizens who failed to demonstrate proof of payment.

There were widespread reports of compulsion for citizens to participate in the February 8-17 voter registration period, during which voters registered for both the referendum and 2020 elections. Members of the security services, local officials, and members of the Imbonerakure allegedly committed acts of violence, denied basic services, and denied of freedom of movement to citizens who could not demonstrate proof of registration. This included the arrest, alleged torture, and death of Simon Bizimana (see section 1.a). Members of the Imbonerakure closed a market in Makamba commune on February 12 and Rumonge commune on February 13, in each instance forcing vendors and customers to demonstrate proof of voter registration before being allowed to conduct business. There were numerous reports of school administrators threatening discipline against secondary school students who would be of voting age either for the referendum or by 2020 and who failed to register.

Political Parties and Political Participation: According to the law, to qualify for public campaign funding and compete in the legislative and presidential elections, parties needed to be “nationally based,” i.e. ethnically and regionally diverse, and demonstrate in writing they were organized and had membership in all provinces. The Ministry of the Interior recognized 32 political parties. Other de facto parties–including the FNL-Rwasa and Union for National Progress, led by Evariste Ngayimpenda–were officially unrecognized. These two unrecognized parties worked together in the form of a coalition of independent candidates called Amizero Y’Abarundi, which held 22 of the 121 seats in the National Assembly and five of the 21 seats on the Council of Ministers due to power-sharing provisions in the 2005 constitution. The revised constitution promulgated in June officially banned such coalitions and included other constraints on independent candidates for future elections, although Amizero Y’Abarundi continued to function and maintained its legislative and ministerial positions. As a result of this change, on September 14, Amizero Y’Abarundi leader Agathon Rwasa announced that he was seeking official accreditation for a new political party, the National Front for Liberty-Amizero Y’Abarundi. On November 8, the Ministry of the Interior responded with a letter stating that the proposed party acronym and insignia were too similar to those of an existing registered party, violating the law on political parties. On November 12, Rwasa filed an updated application; according to the 2011 law regulating political parties, the government was required to respond within two months.

Other parties, such as the Union for Peace and Development, were recognized by the Ministry of the Interior but were unable to operate due to intimidation and suppression by the government. In April 2017 the minister of the interior suspended the MSD. In August 2017 the minister filed a motion with the Supreme Court to ban the MSD permanently, accusing the party of support for acts of violence and creating a paramilitary wing in violation of the law on political party activities. The president of the MSD, Alexis Sinduhije, was associated with the armed opposition group Resistance for a State of Law in Burundi (RED-Tabara) and was captured on video advocating violence against the government. As of October the case remained pending without an official ruling from the court. The government issued arrest warrants for some members of the opposition group National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Accord and the Rule of Law, whom it accused of participation in the 2015 failed coup.

Ministry of the Interior interference in opposition party leadership and management contributed significantly to the weak and fractured nature of opposition parties. The government stated that the law allows only legally constituted political parties, coalitions of political parties, and independent candidates to run for office and that unrecognized leaders of parties and political actors not associated with a party could play no role in the political process. Two nonrecognized parties were able to compete with constraints through the Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of independents. Other parties not recognized by the government, however, were largely unable to conduct political activities. The constitution’s ban on coalitions for independents further constrained the options of nonrecognized parties and risked disenfranchising them.

The constitution also included measures increasing restrictions on independent candidates, including a measure that prevented individuals from running as independents if they claimed membership in a political party within the previous year or if they had occupied a leadership position in a political party within the previous two years. The constitution also provided that independent candidates for the National Assembly must receive at least 40 percent of the vote in their district in order to be elected, a standard that did not apply to candidates representing political parties.

The new constitution removed provisions included in the 2005 constitution and the 2000 Arusha Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation that provided for representation in the Council of Ministers on a proportional basis for political parties or coalitions of independents that received at least 5 percent of the national vote in legislative elections. These provisions were intended to facilitate consensus-based decision making in the aftermath of the country’s 1993-2005 civil war. The revised constitution replaces one of the two vice president positions with a prime minister who has more authority than does a vice president. Under the constitution, the president has the authority to name a vice president who must be of a different ethnicity and party, a prime minister, and cabinet ministers. Whereas the previous vice president positions oversaw different ministerial portfolios, all ministers would report to the prime minister under the constitution while the vice president position would have more limited authority. As of November the revised executive structure had not been implemented, and government officials stated that it would be put in place following the elections in 2020.

Individuals often needed membership in, or perceived loyalty to, a registered political party to obtain or retain employment in the civil service and the benefits that accrued from such positions, such as transportation allowances, free housing, electricity, water, exemption from personal income taxes, and interest-free loans. During the year there were reports of individuals facing harassment, arbitrary arrest, and violence, including torture and killings, for refusing to join the CNDD-FDD at the hands of members of the Imbonerakure, government officials, or other ruling party supporters. These reports, along with the pressure placed on citizens to register as voters or to provide contributions for elections, led some observers to suggest that the space for citizens to support an opposition party or be apolitical was diminishing, constituting an impingement on freedom of expression and association.

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

The constitution reserves 30 percent of positions in the National Assembly, Senate, and Council of Ministers for women, and government institutions hired persons after the elections to meet gender, as well as ethnic, quota requirements. The 2017 international NGO law extended this quota to NGO employment as well. Women were not well represented in political parties and held very few leadership positions. Some observers believed that traditional and cultural factors kept women from participating in politics on an equal basis with men.

The constitution provides for representation in all elected and appointed government positions for the two largest ethnic groups. The Hutu majority is entitled to no more than 60 percent of government positions and the Tutsi minority to no less than 40 percent. The law designates three seats in each chamber of parliament for the Twa ethnic group, which makes up approximately 1 percent of the population.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, yet corruption remained a very serious problem. The government did not fully implement the law, and some high-level government officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The constitution provides for the creation of a High Court of Justice to review accusations of serious crimes against high-ranking government officials. The anticorruption law applies to all other citizens, but no high-ranking person has stood trial for corruption.

Corruption: The public widely viewed police to be corrupt, and petty corruption involving police was commonplace. There were also allegations of corruption in the government, including incidents related to lack of transparency of budget revenue related to gasoline importation; to the management of public tenders and contracts, including in the health sector; and to the distribution of the country’s limited foreign currency reserves to finance imports. The Burundian Revenue Office (OBR) has an internal antifraud unit, but observers accused OBR officials of fraud.

The state inspector general and the Anticorruption Brigade, which reported to the Minister in Charge of Good Governance in the Office of the President, were responsible for investigating government corruption. There is also a designated anticorruption general prosecutor and an anticorruption court. The Anticorruption Brigade has the authority to investigate, arrest, and refer offenders to the anticorruption general prosecutor.

In view of the lengthy backlog of cases in the Anticorruption Court and the difficulty of obtaining convictions, the Anticorruption Brigade often resorted to enforcing the law through out-of-court settlements in which the government agreed not to prosecute if the offending official agreed to reimburse the money stolen.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires financial disclosure by elected officials and senior appointed officials once every five years, but it does not require public disclosure. The Supreme Court receives the financial disclosures. By law the president, two vice presidents, and cabinet ministers are obligated to disclose assets upon taking office, but the nonpublic nature of the disclosure means compliance with this provision could not be confirmed. No other officials are required to disclose assets.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups struggled to operate in the face of governmental restrictions, harassment, and repression. In January 2017 the government enacted laws governing domestic CSOs that made it difficult for many organizations to conduct their work. The law required registration of CSOs with the Ministry of the Interior, a complex process that includes approval for an organization’s activities from the ministry and other ministries depending on their areas of expertise. Registration must be renewed every two years, and there was no recourse in cases where registration was denied. The law provides for the suspension or permanent closure of organizations for “disturbing public order or harming state security,” which was broadly interpreted.

Many human rights defenders who had fled the country in 2015 remained outside the country at year’s end. Those who remained in the country were subjected to threats, intimidation, and arrest. The cases of Germain Rukuki, Nestor Nibitanga, and three members of PARCEM, who were convicted and sentenced to jail during the year, were emblematic of the judicial threats faced by human rights monitors from both recognized and nonrecognized organizations.

In October 2016 the government banned five CSOs led by opponents to the president having a third term and in January 2017 banned Ligue Iteka. Ligue Iteka and other organizations without official recognition continued to monitor the human rights situation. Members of both recognized and nonrecognized organizations reported being subjected to harassment and intimidation and took measures to protect the identities of their employees and their sources.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: On December 5, the government requested that the OHCHR close its office in Burundi, abrogating the 1995 memorandum of understanding under which the OHCHR worked in the country. The government cited the existence of national institutions as evidence that the OHCHR office was no longer necessary. The OHCHR began preparations for closing the office. The government had suspended cooperation with the office in October 2016 in response to UNIIB’s report that found “reasonable grounds to believe” security forces and Imbonerakure had established multiple detention facilities that were unacknowledged by the prosecutor general, and included allegations that senior leaders were personally complicit in human rights violations. Although the OHCHR maintained its office, it reduced personnel in country. The OHCHR’s monitoring activities were curtailed substantially and its access to government institutions was limited. In September 2017, days before a separate UN body presented a final report on Burundi to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, a group of armed men broke into and began to search the OHCHR’s offices in Bujumbura before departing after a security guard activated an alarm. According to the OHCHR, the men did not take any confidential or otherwise valuable information. The government initially denied the attacks occurred and then announced a police investigation, which had not produced any public results as of December.

The UN Human Rights Council created the three-member UN COI in 2016 to investigate human rights violations since 2015; its mandate was renewed in September 2017 and again in September. The government refused to allow commission members to enter the country following the publication of the 2016 UNIIB report, and did not respond substantively to any requests for information from the commission. In September the commission delivered its annual report, finding there was reason to believe that grave violations of human rights and crimes against humanity continued to be committed in the country, including extrajudicial killings, systematic torture, sexual violence, and political persecution. The UN COI reported these violations were primarily attributable to state officials at the highest level and to senior officials and members of the SNR, police, BNDF, and Imbonerakure. Government officials dismissed the allegations, claimed that the report was “defamatory,” accused the members of the COI of serving foreign interests to undermine the country’s sovereignty, and threatened to file defamation charges against them. In October the country’s ambassador to the United Nations engaged in an ad hominem attack on the chair of the Commission, comparing him to a participant in the slave trade. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared the commission members, who had never had access to the country, persona non grata. Following the release of the report, government officials and CNDD-FDD leaders organized nonviolent protests criticizing Western countries, the United Nations, and commission members, during which participants chanted slogans condemning the COI members.

In September 2017 the Human Rights Council voted to request that the OHCHR send a team of three experts to Burundi for a technical assistance mission, with unclear terms of reference. In March the OHCHR identified a four-person team composed of officials recruited from other UN agencies with expertise on technical assistance in governance and the rule of law. The government granted visas for the experts and all but one member of the team traveled to Bujumbura, where they began preparing to conduct their mission. On April 19, however, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the OHCHR mission that long-term visas for the experts had been cancelled and instructed them to depart the country. The government gave no reason for the decision.

In 2016 the AU announced it would send 100 human rights monitors and 100 military monitors to the country and stated that the Burundian president supported the deployment. Approximately 40 human rights monitors and eight military monitors deployed in 2016 remained in the country until September, when the number was reduced due to a gap in financing. In November the AU Peace and Security Council voted to extend the mission with reduced staffing levels. According to the AU, the monitors were limited in what they could do because the government had yet to agree on a memorandum of understanding for the monitors. The monitors advocated to the government for improvements on human rights and rule of law issues, with particular regard to the cases of jailed human rights defenders, including Germain Rukuki and Nestor Nibitanga; attended court proceedings in sensitive cases; and conducted prison visits. Although no memorandum of understanding on their status in the country was concluded with the government as of September, the monitors had free access to the country. The government did not grant permission for the rest of the monitors to enter the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Parties to the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement of 2000 committed to the establishment of an international criminal tribunal, which had yet to be implemented, and a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was passed into law in April 2014. In 2014 parliament appointed 11 commissioners in a vote boycotted by the opposition. In November the parliament approved a law that extended the TRC’s term for four years, subject to renewal, and expanded the previous 1962-2008 temporal mandate as far back as 1885 and instructed the commission to consider “the role of the colonizer in cyclical violence” in Burundi. The law expanded the commission to 13 members; on November 22, new commissioners were appointed. Between becoming operational in 2016 and November, the TRC has gathered testimony and conducted outreach activities under its mandate to investigate and establish the truth regarding serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations committed in the country. The TRC is also mandated to establish individual responsibilities and those of state institutions, individuals, and private groups.

By September the TRC deployed teams to gather depositions in every province and created an online deposition form, collecting more than 60,000 testimonies. Based on testimony, the commission provisionally identified thousands of mass graves of varying size throughout the country dating from the time of its mandate, as well as numerous allegations of killings, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and violations of due process rights. The TRC also conducted archival research, with open access to the archives of most state institutions except those of the SNR. Following the conclusion of the formal testimony-gathering phase, the TRC conducted a series of workshops to consider questions of legal analysis and historiography as it prepared for the drafting of its reports and for public events featuring witness testimony regarding abuses as well as exemplary stories of courage. Some CSOs and opposition political figures raised concerns that, given ongoing human rights violations, political tensions, a climate of fear and intimidation, fears of retribution for testimony, and restrictions on freedom of expression, conditions were not conducive for an impartial or effective transitional justice process. CSOs cited concerns that the participation of ruling party members in deposition gathering teams could reduce the willingness of some Burundians to testify or share fully their stories. The TRC sought to limit such risks by creating balanced teams and excluding potential members subject to derogatory allegations. The operating environment did not change during the year.

A lack of funding and qualified experts adversely affected the TRC’s ability to operate. Some of the TRC commissioners were perceived by some CSOs as representing the interests of the ruling party and therefore not impartial. The 2014 law creating the TRC provided for the appointment of an advisory board of eminent international persons, but none was appointed; the 2018 law eliminated the advisory board while stating that the commission could seek advice from international experts.

Ombudsman Edouard Nduwimana’s mandate included monitoring prison conditions and encouraging interreligious dialogue. During the year he also focused on dialogue with opposition political parties both inside and outside the country.

The CNIDH, a quasigovernmental body charged with investigating human rights abuses, exercised its power to summon senior officials, demand information, and order corrective action. In 2016 the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) provisionally downgraded CNIDH’s accreditation due to concerns regarding its independence. In February GANHRI confirmed its decision, suspending CNIDH’s right to participate fully in global meetings with counterparts. The CNIDH, which also monitored the government’s progress on human rights investigations, did not regularly release its findings to the public.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, with penalties of up to 30 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits domestic abuse of a spouse, with punishment if convicted ranging from fines to three to five years’ imprisonment. The government did not enforce the law uniformly, and rape and other domestic and sexual violence continued to be serious problems.

In 2016 the government adopted a law that provides for the creation of a special gender-based crimes court, makes gender-based violence crimes unpardonable, and provides stricter punishment for police officers and judges who conceal violent crimes against women and girls. As of October the special court had not been created, and no police or judges had been prosecuted under the law.

The Unit for the Protection of Minors and Morals in the National Police is responsible for investigating cases of sexual violence and rape, as well as those involving the trafficking of girls and women. The government, with financial support from international NGOs and the United Nations, continued civic awareness training throughout the country on domestic and gender-based violence and on the role of police assistance. Those trained included police, local administrators, and grassroots community organizers. The government-operated Humura Center in Gitega provided a full range of services, including legal, medical, and psychosocial services, to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. As of early September, the center had received 627 cases of sexual and gender-based violence and domestic violence.

The 2018 UN COI report stated that officials and members of the Imbonerakure were responsible for cases of sexual violence, including cases in which women were targeted because they or relatives were supporters of the political opposition. Credible observers stated many women were reluctant to report rape, in part due to fear of reprisal or social stigma.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including the use of threats of physical violence or psychological pressure to obtain sexual favors. Punishment for conviction of sexual harassment may range from a fine to a prison sentence of one month to two years. The sentence for sexual harassment doubles if the victim is younger than 18. The government did not actively enforce the law. There were reports of sexual harassment but no data on its frequency or extent.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal status for women and men, including under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Women continued to face legal, economic, and societal discrimination, including with regard to inheritance and marital property laws.

By law women must receive the same pay as men for the same work, but they did not (see section 7.d.). Some employers suspended the salaries of women on maternity leave, and others refused medical coverage to married female employees. The government provided only limited resources to enforce labor laws in general and did not enforce antidiscrimination laws effectively.

On June 26, the minister of education released a guidance letter stating that female primary and secondary school students who became pregnant or were married during the course of their studies would not be allowed to reintegrate into the formal education system, but could pursue vocational training. This provision also applied to male students believed to have had sexual intercourse leading to pregnancy, but did not affect married male students. Prior to this guidance, female students who became pregnant were required to seek the permission of the Ministry of Education to re-enter school and then transfer to a different school, leading to high dropout rates; male students were not subject to this requirement. On July 27, the minister revoked the guidance and announced the establishment of a committee to facilitate the reintegration of students, including pregnant students, who “face any challenges during the academic year.” As of September the committee was in the process of determining its terms of reference.

In May 2017 President Nkurunziza signed into law regulations requiring unmarried couples to legalize their relationships through church or state registrations. The Ministry of the Interior subsequently announced that couples who did not marry before the end of 2017 could face fines of 50,000 francs ($29), based on the provisions of the criminal code against unmarried cohabitation and that children born out of wedlock would not be eligible for waivers on primary school fees and other social services. The campaign was subsequently extended into 2018, and there were no reports of the threatened consequences being implemented. Government officials continued campaigns during the year to implement the president’s decree.

Children

Birth Registration: The constitution states that citizenship derives from the parents. The government registers, without charge, the births of all children if registered within a few days of birth and an unregistered child may not have access to some public services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Education is tuition-free, compulsory, and universal through the primary level, but students are responsible for paying for books and uniforms. Secondary students must pay tuition fees of 12,000 Burundian francs ($6.75) per quarter; secondary school is not compulsory. Throughout the country provincial officials charged parents informal fees for schooling at all levels.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits violence against or abuse of children, with punishment ranging from fines to three to five years’ imprisonment, but child abuse was a widespread problem. The penalty for conviction of rape of a minor is 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment.

The traditional practice of removing a newborn child’s uvula (the flesh that hangs down at the rear of the mouth) continued to cause numerous infections and deaths of infants.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for girls and 21 for boys. Forced marriages are illegal and were rare, although they reportedly occurred in southern, more heavily Muslim, areas. The Ministry of the Interior continued an effort to convince imams not to officiate over illegal marriages. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The penalty for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children is 10 to 15 years in prison and a fine of between 500,000 and 2,000,000 Burundian francs ($283 and $1,130). The law punishes conviction of child pornography by fines and three to five years in prison. There were no prosecutions during the year.

Women and girls were smuggled to other countries in Africa and the Middle East, sometimes using falsified documents, putting them at high risk of exploitation.

Displaced Children: Thousands of children lived on the streets throughout the country, some of them HIV/AIDS orphans. The government provided street children with minimal educational support and relied on NGOs for basic services, such as medical care and economic support. Independent Observers reported that children living on the streets faced brutality and theft by police and judged that police were more violent toward them during the 2015 political unrest than previously. A government campaign to “clean the streets” by ending vagrancy and unlicensed commerce, begun in 2016, resulted in the detention of hundreds of persons living or working on the streets. The Council of Ministers approved a roadmap in 2017 for ending vagrancy that would require the return of detained children and adults to their communes of origin; as of October this provision was not implemented. The government established a goal of having no children or adults living on the streets by the end of 2017, but did not meet the goal. Arbitrary arrests and detentions of persons including children living on the streets continued.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

No estimate was available on the size of the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but the government did not promote or protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Although persons with disabilities are eligible for free health care through social programs targeting vulnerable groups, authorities did not widely publicize or provide benefits. Employers often required job applicants to present a health certificate from the Ministry of Public Health stating they did not have a contagious disease and were fit to work, a practice that sometimes resulted in discrimination against persons with disabilities.

No legislation mandates access to buildings, information, or government services for persons with disabilities. The government supported a center for physical therapy in Gitega and a center for social and professional inclusion in Ngozi for persons with physical disabilities.

Indigenous People

The Twa, the original hunter-gatherer inhabitants of the country, numbered an estimated 80,000, or approximately 1 percent of the population, according to the OHCHR. They generally remained economically, politically, and socially marginalized. By law local administrations must provide free schoolbooks and health care for all Twa children. Local administrations largely fulfilled these requirements. The constitution provides for three appointed seats for Twa in each of the houses of parliament, and Twa parliamentarians (including one woman) hold seats.

In June a representative of a Twa rights organization stated in the newspaper Iwacu that several Twa had been victims of vigilante killings during the year after being accused, justly or unjustly, of crimes by other citizens. Although the organization did not suggest complicity by government authorities or security services, the representative stated that some local officials had questioned the need for investigating the killings since the victims were accused of criminal acts.

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

In 2009 consensual same-sex conduct was criminalized. Article 567 of the penal code penalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations by adults with up to two years in prison if convicted. There were no reports of prosecution for same-sex sexual acts during the year. There were cases, however, of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and demands for bribes by police officers and members of the Imbonerakure targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals.

The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care, and societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was common.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Criminals sometimes killed persons with albinism, particularly children, for their body parts to be used for ritual purposes. Most perpetrators were reportedly citizens of other countries who came to kill and then departed the country with the body parts, impeding government efforts to arrest them. According to the Albino Women’s Hope Association chairperson, society did not accept persons with albinism, and they were often unemployed and isolated. Women with albinism often were “chased out by their families because they are considered as evil beings.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions. A union must have at least 50 members. There is no minimum size for a company to be unionized. The minister of labor has the authority to designate the most representative trade union in each sector. Most civil servants may unionize, but their unions must register with the Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security (Labor Ministry), which has the authority to deny registration. Police, the armed forces, magistrates, and foreigners working in the public sector may not form or join unions. Workers younger than age of 18 must have the consent of their parents or guardians to join a union.

The law provides workers with a conditional right to strike after meeting strict conditions; it bans solidarity strikes. The parties must exhaust all other means of resolution (dialogue, conciliation, and arbitration) prior to a strike. Intending strikers must represent a majority of workers and give six days’ notice to the employer and the Labor Ministry, and negotiations mediated by a mutually agreed party or by the government must continue during the action. The ministry must determine whether the sides have met strike conditions, giving it, in effect, veto power over strikes. The law permits requisition of essential employees in the event of strike action. The law prohibits retribution against workers participating in a legal strike.

The law recognizes the right to collective bargaining, excluding measures regarding public sector wages, which are set according to fixed scales following consultation with unions. If negotiations result in deadlock, the labor minister may impose arbitration and approve or revise any agreement. There are no laws that compel an employer to engage in collective bargaining. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. The law allows termination of workers engaged in an illegal strike and does not specifically provide for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources for inspection and remediation were inadequate, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

The government placed excessive restrictions on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and sometimes interfered in union activities. In the wake of participation by union members in antigovernment demonstrations in 2015, unions were subject to similar pressures and restrictions as other elements of civil society. These measures led to a significant reduction in union activism.

Most unions were public-employee unions, and virtually no private sector workers were unionized. Since most salaried workers were civil servants, government entities were involved in almost every phase of labor negotiations. The principal trade union confederations represented labor interests in collective bargaining negotiations, in cooperation with individual labor unions.

Most laborers worked in the unregulated informal economy and were not protected. According to the Confederation of Burundian Labor Unions, virtually no informal sector workers had written employment contracts.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The penalty for conviction of forced labor trafficking is between five and 10 years’ imprisonment. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources for inspections and remediation were inadequate, and the penal code did not specify penalties. Workplace inspectors had authority to impose fines at their own discretion, but there were no reports of prosecutions or convictions.

Children and young adults were coerced into forced labor on plantations or small farms in the south, small-scale menial labor in mines, carrying river stones for construction in Bujumbura, or engaging in informal commerce in the streets of larger cities (see section 7.c.).

The government encouraged citizens to participate in community work each Saturday morning from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Governors of various provinces sporadically fined residents who failed to participate, and members of the Imbonerakure or police sometimes harassed or intimidated individuals who did not participate.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, but does not generally apply to children working outside of formal employment relationships. The law states that enterprises may not employ children younger than 16, with exceptions permitted by the Labor Ministry. These exceptions include light work or apprenticeships that do not damage children’s health, interfere with their normal development, or prejudice their schooling. The minister of labor permitted children who were 12 years old and above to be employed in “light labor,” such as selling newspapers, herding cattle, or preparing food. The legal minimum age for most types of “nondangerous” labor varies between ages 16 and 18. The law prohibits children from working at night and limits them to 40 hours’ work per week. The law makes no distinction between the formal and informal sectors.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for the enforcement of laws on child labor and had many instruments for this purpose, including criminal sanctions, fines, and court orders. The ministry, however, did not effectively enforce the law, primarily due to a dearth of inspectors and inadequate resources, such as insufficient fuel for vehicles. As a result the ministry enforced the law only when a complaint was filed. Fines were not sufficient to deter violations. During the year authorities did not report any cases of child labor in the formal sector, nor did they conduct surveys on child labor in the informal sector.

In rural areas children younger than age 16, often responsible for contributing to their families and their own subsistence, were regularly employed in heavy manual labor during the day, including during the school year, especially in agriculture. Children working in agriculture could be forced to carry heavy loads and use machines and tools that could be dangerous. They also herded cattle and goats, which exposed them to harsh weather conditions and forced them to work with large or dangerous animals. Many children worked in the informal sector, such as in family businesses, selling in the streets, and working in small local brickworks. There were instances of children being employed as beggars, including forced begging by children with disabilities.

In urban areas child domestic servants were often isolated from the public. Some were only housed and fed instead of being paid for their work. Some employers who did not pay the salaries of children they employed as domestic servants accused them of stealing, and children were sometimes imprisoned on false charges. Child domestic workers could be forced to work long hours, some employers exploited them sexually, and girls were disproportionately impacted.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution recognizes workers’ right to equal pay for equal work. The constitution does not specifically prohibit discrimination against a particular group but rather provides for equal rights. Authorities reported no violations concerning discrimination. Much of the country’s economic activity took place in the informal sector, where protection was generally not provided. Some persons claimed membership in the ruling party was a prerequisite for formal employment in the public and private sectors. Members of the Twa ethnic minority, who in many cases lacked official documentation, were often excluded from opportunities in the formal economy. Women were excluded from some jobs, and in October a government decree prohibited women from participating in traditional drumming groups. Persons with albinism reportedly experienced discrimination in employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There are official minimum wages established by a 1988 decree of 160 Burundian francs per day ($0.09) in urban areas and 105 francs per day ($0.06) in rural areas. These rates were not consistent with labor market realities and were not enforced; somewhat higher minimum wages prevailed. In Bujumbura the informal minimum wage for unskilled workers was approximately 3,000 Burundian francs ($1.70) per day, less than the World Bank’s international poverty rate of $1.90. In rural areas the informal daily minimum wage was 2,000 Burundian francs ($1.13) plus lunch. According to the World Bank, 73 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. More than 90 percent of the working population worked in the informal economy; minimum wage law did not apply to the informal sector, where wages were typically based on negotiation and reflected prevailing average wages.

The labor code limited working hours to eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, but there are many exceptions, including national security, guarding residential areas, and road transport. Security companies received guidance from the Labor Ministry allowing workweeks of 72 hours for security guards, not including training. A surcharge of 35 percent for the first two hours and 60 percent thereafter must be paid for those workers eligible for paid overtime. Workers are supposed to receive 200 percent of their base salary for working weekends and holidays, but only become eligible for this supplement after a year of service. There is no legislation on mandatory overtime. Breaks include 30 minutes for lunch as a generally observed practice, but there is no legal obligation. Foreign or migrant workers are subject to the same conditions and laws as citizens.

The labor code establishes appropriate occupational safety and health standards for the workplace. Many buildings under construction in Bujumbura, however, had workforces without proper protective equipment, such as closed-toe shoes, and scaffolding built of wooden poles of irregular length and width.

The Labor Inspectorate in the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the laws on minimum wages and working hours as well as safety standards and worker health regulations. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Although workplaces rarely met safety standards or protected the health of workers sufficiently, there were no official investigations, no cases of employers reported for violating safety standards, and no complaint reports filed with the Labor Inspectorate during the year. There were no data on deaths in the workplace. Workers were allowed to leave the work site in case of imminent danger without fear of sanctions.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency.  The country has a multiparty system of government, but the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has remained in power since its creation in 1985.  In practice the president retains the power to control legislation.  On October 7, citizens reelected CPDM leader Paul Biya president, a position he has held since 1982.  The election was marked by irregularities, including intimidation of voters and representatives of candidates at polling sites, late posting of polling sites and voter lists, ballot stuffing, voters with multiple registrations, and alleged polling results manipulation.  On March 25, the country conducted the second senate elections in its history.  They were peaceful and considered generally free and fair.  In 2013 simultaneous legislative and municipal elections were held, and most observers considered them free and fair.  New legislative and municipal elections were expected to take place during the year; however, in consultation with the parliament and the constitutional council, President Biya extended the terms of office of parliamentarians and municipal councilors for 12 months, and general elections were expected to take place in fall 2019 or early 2020.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces, including police and gendarmerie.

The sociopolitical crisis that began in the Northwest and Southwest Regions in late 2016 over perceived marginalization developed into an armed conflict between government forces and separatist groups.  The conflict resulted in serious human rights violations and abuses by government forces and Anglophone separatists.

Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings by security forces as well as armed Anglophone separatists; forced disappearances by security forces, Boko Haram, and separatists; torture by security forces and Anglophone separatists; prolonged arbitrary detentions including of suspected Anglophone separatists by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; violence and harassment targeting journalists by government agents; periodic government restrictions on access to the internet; laws authorizing criminal libel; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers by the government; restrictions on political participation; violence against women, in part due to government inaction; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by Anglophone separatists, government-supported vigilance committees, and Boko Haram; violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and criminalization of consensual same-sex relations; child labor, including forced child labor; and violations of workers’ rights.

Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses in the security forces and in the public service, it did not often make public these proceedings, and some offenders, including serial offenders, continued to act with impunity.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of official duties.

In July, Human Rights Watch reported that, during government operations in 12 villages in the Northwest and Southwest Regions between January and April, government security forces shot and killed more than a dozen civilians, including at least seven persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities who had difficulty fleeing.  On May 25, in Menka-Pinyin, Santa Subdivision of the Northwest Region, elements of the Gendarmerie, the 51st Motorized Infantry Brigade, and the Special Operations Group of the National Police carried out a raid on a location believed to harbor Anglophone activists, killing 27 persons, according to official sources.  Security forces battling Anglophone secessionists in the Northwest and Southwest Regions allegedly killed two clerics.  Anglophone separatists attacked and killed several dozen civilians considered loyal to the central government and members of defense and security forces in these two regions.  According to the government’s Emergency Humanitarian Assistance Plan, as of June 11, the death toll attributed to separatists within defense and security forces was 84, including 32 members of defense forces, 42 gendarmes, seven policemen, two prison guards, and one Eco-guard, some of whom were mutilated or decapitated and their bodies exhibited on social media.  Civilian victims included the following:  the chief of Esukutan in Toko Subdivision of the Southwest Region, murdered on February 5; the divisional officer for Batibo in the

Northwest, abducted on February 11 and subsequently killed; and Ashu Thomas Nkongho, discipline master of the government bilingual high school in Kossala, Meme Division of the Southwest Region, killed on school premises on April 25.  Unidentified gunmen killed a local chief in a church and a priest, supposedly because of their alleged opposition to secession by the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued killing civilians, including members of vigilance committees, which were organized groups of local residents cooperating with government forces in the fight against Boko Haram, and members of defense and security forces in the Far North Region.  According to the L’Oeil du Sahel newspaper, as of June 30, at least 153 civilians and 12 members of defense and security forces had been killed in the attacks.

b. Disappearance

Government security forces were widely believed to be responsible for disappearances of suspected Anglophone separatists, with reports of bodies dumped far from the site of killings to make identification difficult.  According to credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the government did not readily account for some of the activists arrested in connection with the Anglophone crisis.  Family members and friends of the detainees were frequently unaware of the missing individuals’ location in detention for a month or more.  For example, authorities held incommunicado Ayuk Sisiku Tabe, the “interim president” of the so-called Republic of Ambazonia, along with 46 other Anglophone separatists, from January 29 until late June when they were allowed to meet with their lawyers and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

In an August 24 release, Ekombo Favien, vice president of human rights NGO

Frontline Fighters for Citizen Interests (FFCI), announced the disappearance of FFCI national president Franklin Mowha.  According to the release, Mowha arrived in Kumba, Southwest Region, on August 2 to monitor human rights abuses.  He was last seen leaving his hotel room on August 6.  Ekombo indicated that authorities had previously targeted Mowha on several occasions because of his human rights reporting.

Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped civilians, including women and children, during numerous attacks in the Far North Region.  According to L’Oeil du Sahel, as of June 30, at least 51 civilians had been victims of Boko Haram abductions, and some of them remained unaccounted for.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports that security force members beat, harassed, or otherwise abused citizens, including separatist fighters.  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which security forces severely mistreated suspected separatists and detainees.

Amnesty International reported in July 2017 on the cases of 101 individuals whom security forces allegedly tortured between March 2013 and March 2017 in detention facilities run by the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) and the General Directorate of Counter Intelligence (DGRE).  While most of the cases documented involved persons arrested in 2014 and 2015 and allegedly tortured between 2014 and 2016, Amnesty International asserted that the practice continued into 2017.  It stated that torture took place at 20 sites, including four military bases, two intelligence centers, a private residence, and a school.  Specific sites named in the report included the BIR bases in Salak, Kousseri, and Kolofata in the Far North Region, and DGRE facilities in Yaounde.  As of October the government had not shared results of its internal investigations but claimed it had investigated some, if not all, of the allegations.

Human Rights Watch documented the case of 22-year-old Fredoline Afoni, a thirdyear student at the Technical University of Bambili whom security forces beat to death on January 29.  Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline was home near Kumbo in the Northwest Region when he received a telephone call requesting that he pick up luggage at a nearby junction.  Once at the location, persons dressed in civilian clothes forcefully took him away by truck.  A truck belonging to the gendarmerie subsequently drove through the same junction with Fredoline sitting in the back, naked and handcuffed, with signs of having been badly beaten.  Individuals reportedly appeared at a relative’s home and collected Fredoline’s laptop and cell phone.  Fredoline’s uncle subsequently discovered that he was in gendarmerie custody.  The uncle reportedly told Human Rights Watch that he discovered the victim’s naked and decaying corpse outside the local mortuary three days later.  After a postmortem examination, the medical professional who examined the body told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline died as a result of his beatings.

Social media diffused a video in June showing security force members at the

Cameroon Protestant College of Bali in the Northwest Region forcing two girls to crawl through the mud while referring to them as Ambazonian spies.  Media reports indicated that the gendarmes were arrested and placed in detention and were awaiting trial by the military tribunal, but there was no further information on the case.

Press reporting indicated there were cases of rape and sexual abuse by persons associated with the government and separatists in Anglophone regions.  For example, there were credible reports that on July 3, during security operations in Bamenda, Northwest Region, first-class soldier Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim he called aside for a routine national identity check.  The soldier was arrested, although there was no further information on the case.

During the year the United Nations reported that it received five allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Cameroon deployed in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  Three cases alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship, transactional sex), and three cases sexual abuse (rape), one of which involved minors.  Several allegations each referred to more than one alleged perpetrator, more than one victim, or both.  Investigations both by the United Nations and the government were pending.  Interim action by the United Nations was taken in one case.  Nine allegations reported previously were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions:  Overcrowding remained a significant problem in most prisons, especially in major urban centers.  Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons, where the number of inmates was as much as five times the intended capacity.  Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children.  Authorities often held detainees in pretrial detention and convicted prisoners together.  In many prisons toilets were nothing more than common pits.  In some cases women benefitted from better living conditions, including improved toilet facilities and less crowded living quarters.  Authorities claimed to hold sick persons separately from the general prison population, but this was often not the case.

According to prison administration officials, the country had 79 operational prisons, with an intended capacity of 17,915 but which held close to 30,000 inmates as of June.  For example, the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, was initially designed to accommodate 150 inmates.  Successive expansions raised the capacity to 500 inmates.  As of June 19, the prison held 1,600 inmates, more than two-thirds of whom had not been convicted of any crime.  A third of the inmates were awaiting trial, hearings had begun for another third, and one-third had been convicted.

The quality of food, access to potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate.  As a result illness was widespread.  Malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other untreated conditions, including infections, parasites, dehydration, and diarrhea, were rampant.  The number of deaths associated with detention conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities was unknown.

Physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were problems.  Corruption among prison personnel was reportedly widespread.  Visitors were at times forced to bribe wardens to be granted access to inmates.  Prisoners bribed wardens for special favors or treatment, including temporary freedom, cell phones, beds, and transfers to less crowded areas of the prisons.  Due to their inability to pay fines, some prisoners remained incarcerated after completing their sentences or after they had received court orders of release.

Administration:  Independent authorities often investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.  Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel; without authorization, they had to bribe prison staff to communicate with inmates.  In addition visits to Boko Haram suspects were highly restricted.  Some detainees were held far from their families, reducing the possibility of visits.  Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to observe their religions without interference.

As in 2017, authorities allowed NGOs to conduct formal education and other literacy programs in prisons.  At the principal prison in Edea, Littoral Region, the NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture sponsored a Literacy and Social Reintegration Center that provided primary and lower secondary education to inmates.  Because of the sociopolitical unrest in the Southwest Region, Human IS Right, a Buea-based civil society organization, and the NGO Operation Total Impact discontinued their formal education and reformation education program in the principal prisons in Buea and Kumba.  The central prison in Garoua, North Region, continued to run a full-cycle primary school.

Independent Monitoring:  Unlike in the previous year, the government restricted international humanitarian organizations’ access to prisoners in official prisons.

For example, as of June authorities had not allowed the ICRC access to its target prisons and detention centers.  On July 3, however, the ICRC was able to visit the 47 Anglophone separatists repatriated from Nigeria, and some of the detainees delivered messages through the organization to their families.  The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) and the Commissions for Justice and Peace of the Catholic archdioceses also conducted prison visits but were denied access to some detention centers.  In January NCHRF members visited prisons in Monatele in the Center Region; Bertoua, Doume, and AbongMbang in the East Region; and Maroua in the Far North Region.  The NCHRF reported that it did not have access to some prisons in Yaounde, including those hosting the 47 suspected separatists repatriated from Nigeria.  The NCHRF also alleged authorities did not grant access to a victim who was shot and admitted at the Yaounde Emergency Center.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide the right to challenge the lawfulness in court of an arrest or detention.  The law states that, except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest shall disclose their identity and inform the person arrested of the reason.  The law also provides that persons arrested on a warrant shall be brought immediately before the examining magistrate or the president of the trial court who issued the warrant, and that the accused persons shall be given reasonable access to contact their family, obtain legal advice, and arrange for their defense.  The law provides that any person who has been illegally detained by the police, the state counsel, or the examining magistrate may receive compensation.  On several occasions the government did not respect these provisions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, DGRE, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Territorial Administration, and, to a lesser extent, presidential guard are responsible for internal security.  The Ministry of Defense–which includes the gendarmerie, army, and the army’s military security unit–reports to the Office of the Presidency, resulting in strong presidential control of security forces.  The army is responsible for external security, while the national police and gendarmerie have primary responsibility for law enforcement.  Historically the gendarmerie has responsibility in rural areas.  Increasingly in the Anglophone regions, responsibility for security in the rural areas is left to another security force, the BIR.  The BIR falls outside the purview of conventional forces.  The national police–which includes public security, judicial, territorial security, and frontier police–reports to the General Delegation of National Security (DGSN), which is under the direct authority of the presidency.  The government took some steps to hold police accountable for abuses of power.  Police remained ineffective, poorly trained, and corrupt.  Impunity continued to be a problem.

Civilian authorities maintained some control over the police and gendarmerie, and the government had some mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.  The DGSN and gendarmerie investigated reports of abuse and forwarded cases to the courts.  Lesser sanctions were handled internally.  The DGSN, Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Justice stated that members of security forces were sanctioned during the year for committing abuses, but few details were known about investigations or any subsequent accountability.

The national gendarmerie and the army have special offices to investigate abuse.  The secretary of state for defense and the minister delegate at the presidency are in charge of prosecuting abusers.  The minister delegate of defense refers cases involving aggravated theft, criminal complicity, murder, and other major offenses to the military courts for trial.

In March authorities opened an investigation into the case of taxi driver Jean Nga Mvondo, who died a few hours after the Ngousso gendarmerie brigade in Yaounde released him from detention.  Pending the outcome of the investigation, on March 23, the secretary of state in charge of the National Gendarmerie (SED) relieved the brigade commander of his duties.

As reported above, on July 24, the minister delegate for defense announced that the gendarmerie in Bamenda, Northwest Region, arrested first class soldier Mbita Arthur and referred him to the office of the Bamenda military court prosecutor.  The minister also promised to take disciplinary action against the soldier in accordance with the law.  Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim on July 23.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain a warrant before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement.  The law provides that detainees be brought promptly before a magistrate, although this often did not occur.  Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once.  This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought.  Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods.  The law also permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days by administrative authorities such as governors and civilian government officials serving in territorial command.  The law provides for access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both.  Contrary to the wide-reaching antiterror law, civilian law prohibits incommunicado detention, but it occurred, especially in connection with the sociopolitical unrest in the two Anglophone regions.  The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal, and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected.  On August 8, Supreme Court Chief Judge Daniel Mekobe Sone commissioned the first members of the Compensation Commission for Illegal Detention, a body created to provide citizens with recourse if they believe they were wrongfully detained.

Arbitrary Arrest:  Police, gendarmes, BIR soldiers, and government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado.  “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless they paid a bribe, continued.  There were several reports by media and NGOs that police or gendarmes arrested persons without warrants on circumstantial evidence alone, often following instructions from influential persons to settle personal scores.  There were also credible reports that police or gendarmes arbitrarily arrested persons during neighborhood sweeps for criminals and stolen goods or arrested persons lacking national identification cards, especially in connection with the Anglophone crisis and the fight against Boko Haram.

There were credible reports that authorities held some suspects in the Anglophone crisis for long periods without notifying them of the charges.  For example, authorities detained Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, the president of the Anglophone separatist movement, and 46 others incommunicado and without official charge for close to six months.  The suspects were arrested in Nigeria on January 5 and extradited to Cameroon on January 25.  Defense lawyers considered the arrest and extradition illegal and filed an application for immediate release with the Mfoundi High Court in Yaounde.  On August 30, the judge dismissed the application on procedural grounds.  The court eventually heard the case on November 1 and delivered a verdict denying the release of Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and the nine other leaders of the Anglophone separatist movement on November 15.

Pretrial Detention:  The law provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years to appear in court.  No comprehensive statistics were available on pretrial detainees.  According to prison authorities, as of June the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, housed approximately 1,600 inmates, two-thirds of whom were pretrial detainees and appellants.  Some pretrial detainees had been awaiting trial for more than two years.  The increase in pretrial prison populations was due in large part to mass arrests of Anglophone activists and persons accused of supporting Boko Haram, staff shortages, lengthy legal procedures, lost files, administrative and judicial bottlenecks, including procedural trial delays, corruption, negligence, and court fees.

The NGO Human IS Right documented the case of 24-year-old Beng Pascal Ngong, who was detained without judgement at the Buea Central Prison for more than 26 months.  Police arrested Beng in 2015 for allegedly not possessing a national identity card, an offense punishable with imprisonment from three to 12 months, a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($85 to $170), or both.  Following a habeas corpus request filed by the NGO Human IS Right, judicial authorities ultimately released Beng on March 21, after more than double the duration of the sentence he would have served had he been prosecuted and convicted.  Until his release Beng Pascal had never appeared before a judge.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law ostensibly provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary is under and often controlled by the president and, by proxy, the ruling party.  Individuals reportedly accused innocent persons of crimes, often due to political motivations, or caused trial delays to settle personal scores.  Authorities generally enforced court orders.

Musa Usman Ndamba, the national vice president of the Mbororo Social and

Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), was prosecuted for

“propagation of false information” and “false oath,” although he submitted strong evidence that he was not associated with the offense.  He continued to suffer judicial harassment by Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, a businessman and member of the central committee of the ruling CPDM, who pressured the court to continue to hear the case after various instances in which it had been dismissed.  On May 11, the Court of First Instance in Bamenda sentenced Usman Ndamba to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($850) after more than 60 hearings that began in 2013.  Human rights defenders believed Danpullo used the judicial system to discourage Usman Ndamba from defending the rights of the minority Mbororo community of nomadic cattle herders.

Despite the judiciary’s partial independence from the executive and legislative branches, the president appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them at will.  The court system is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice, which in turn is under the president.  The constitution designates the president as “first magistrate,” thus “chief” of the judiciary, making him the legal arbiter of any sanctions against the judiciary.  The constitution specifies the president is the guarantor of the legal system’s independence.  He appoints all judges, with the advice of the Higher Judicial Council.  While judges hearing a case are technically to be governed only by the law and their conscience as provided for by the constitution, in some matters they are subordinate to the minister of justice or to the minister in charge of military justice.  With approval from the minister of justice, the Special Criminal Court may drop charges against a defendant who offers to pay back the money he is accused of having embezzled, which essentially renders the act of corruption free of sanctions.

Military courts may exercise jurisdiction over civilians for offenses including the following:  offenses committed by civilians in military establishments; offenses relating to acts of terrorism and other threats to the security of the state, including piracy; unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation and oil platforms; offenses relating to the purchase, importation, sale, production, distribution, or possession of military effects or insignia as defined by regulations in force; cases involving civil unrest or organized armed violence; and crimes committed with firearms, including gang crimes, banditry, and highway robbery.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public hearing, without undue delay, in which the defendant is presumed innocent, but authorities did not always respect the law.  Criminal defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter.  Many pretrial suspects were treated as if they were already convicted, frequently held in the same quarters as convicted criminals, and denied visits.  Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice, but in many cases the government did not respect this right, particularly in cases of individuals suspected of complicity with Boko Haram or Anglophone separatists.  When defendants cannot pay for their own legal defense, the court may appoint counsel at the public’s expense; however, the process was often burdensome and lengthy, and the quality of legal assistance was poor.  Authorities generally allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf.  Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.  Defendants may appeal convictions.  In at least one case, authorities did not give the victim a chance to confront the offender and present witnesses and evidence to support his case.

In August the High Court for Mfoundi in Yaounde allegedly released a person suspected of trafficking in persons who had been in pretrial detention since 2016.  The victim, Lilian Mbeng Ebangha, returned from Kuwait in 2015 and filed a lawsuit against her alleged trafficker, a pastor of Shiloh Liberation Ministries International.  After preliminary investigations the case was sent to trial in 2016 and thereafter had more than 20 adjournments.  Each time a hearing was scheduled in Yaounde, Ebangha travelled from Douala to attend.  The alleged offender was released in August or September, but it was unconfirmed whether there was a court decision on the matter.  The victim stated that her trafficker had called her to inform her of his release.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of newly identified political prisoners or detainees, and no statistics were available on the number of political prisoners.  Previously reported political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in SED facilities.

Some were allegedly held at DGRE facilities and at the principal prisons in Yaounde.  The government did not permit access to such persons on a regular basis, or at all, depending on the case.

Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in detention.  In May 2016 the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to 20 years.  In June 2016 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision qualifying Marafa’s detention “a violation of international laws” and asked the government to immediately free and compensate him for damages suffered.  The United Nations noted there were multiple irregularities in the judicial procedure.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights violations through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options, however, involved lengthy delays.  Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies.  There were no reports that the government had failed to comply with civil case court decisions pertaining to human rights.  A number of labor rights-related cases involving government entities were ongoing as of the end of August.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government continued to compensate relocated families over the past few years in connection with infrastructure projects, including the Kribi Sea Port and the Yaounde-Douala highway projects.  There were no reported developments in the cases of corrupt officials who had misappropriated money the government had earmarked for compensation previously.  There was no report of intentional targeting of particular groups for discriminatory treatment.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, these rights were subject to restriction for the “higher interests of the state,” and there were credible reports police and gendarmes abused their positions by harassing citizens and conducting searches without warrants.

The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant only if pursuing a person suspected of or seen committing a crime.  Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision and entered private homes without warrant whenever they wished.

An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer, may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this practice occurred.

Police and gendarmes sometimes sealed off a neighborhood, systematically searched homes, arrested persons, sometimes arbitrarily, and seized suspicious or illegal articles.  For example, in the early hours of July 10, police and gendarmes conducted a cordon-and-search operation in the neighborhoods of Ndobo at Bonaberi in the Douala IV Subdivision, Littoral Region, arrested dozens of individuals, and detained those found in possession of, or consuming, narcotics.  On July 26, police conducted a similar operation in the neighborhood of Biyem Assi in Yaounde 6 Subdivision.  They searched houses, requested residents to produce receipts for appliances found in their possession and in some cases confiscating those for which the occupants could not produce receipts, and arrested dozens of individuals.  In both cases security forces detained citizens without national identity cards until their identities could be established.  The areas in question have a high concentration of Anglophones, and most of the individuals arrested in the July 10 and 26 incidents were Anglophones.  Anecdotal reports suggested that with the protracted insecurity in some regions, authorities often forcefully accessed private communications and personal data by exploiting the telephones and computer devices of targeted individuals, during both cordon-andsearch and regular identity-control operations.

On September 28 police and gendarmes conducted raids in various neighborhoods in Yaounde.  Police raided neighborhoods with heavy Anglophone populations, setting up temporary checkpoints and requesting citizens to provide identification.  Some individuals were required to enter a security vehicle and were brought to local police stations, where their identities were verified once more before being released.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited and restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government often restricted this right.  The law requires organizers of public meetings,

demonstrations, and processions to notify officials in advance but does not require prior government approval of public assemblies, nor does it authorize the government to suppress public assemblies that it has not approved in advance.  Nevertheless, officials routinely asserted the law implicitly authorizes the government to grant or deny permission for public assemblies.  The government often refused to grant permits for gatherings and used force to suppress assemblies for which it had not issued permits.  Authorities typically cited “security concerns” as the basis for deciding to block assemblies.  The government also prevented civil society organizations and political parties from holding press conferences.  Police and gendarmes forcibly disrupted meetings and demonstrations of citizens, trade unions, and political activists throughout the year, arrested participants in unapproved protests, and blocked political leaders from attending protests.

On March 9, in Yaounde, police arrested approximately 20 women who participated in a rally, holding up a banner that read, “Stand Up for Cameroon.”  According to the organizers of the rally, including Edith Kabang Walla, the president of the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP), the event was aimed to call attention to the deteriorating sociopolitical situation in the country.  Police released the women after keeping them for a few hours at the judicial police’s regional headquarters.

Authorities also banned some political rallies.  In April the divisional officer of Fokoue in Menoua Division, West Region, banned a meeting meant to encourage voter registration by the CRM opposition party.  The CRM claimed they notified the divisional officer that they were organizing an event on April 11.  This event would have been 10th in a series organized in conjunction with Elections Cameroon, the organization that oversees and administers elections, to encourage more persons to register to vote.  The divisional officer initially told CRM leaders the meeting might not be authorized because April 11 was a market day.  On April 9, he reportedly changed his mind and instead referred CRM’s leaders to the mayor, whom he said had control over the market place.  Organizers said they had contacted the mayor, who said she had planned to conduct a tax collection exercise in the market that day and turned down the request.  Further, in June the mayor of Bagangte banned a rally by the CRM at the local ceremonial ground and reportedly justified his decision by saying that the ceremonial ground was meant only for exceptional events and official ceremonies.  CRM officials said the ruling CPDM held a meeting at the venue a few days earlier.  Authorities also banned rallies by the CRM in Baham and Bandjoun in the West Region.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the law also limits this right.  On the recommendation of the senior divisional officer, the Ministry of Territorial Administration may suspend the activities of an association for three months on the grounds that the association is disrupting public order.  The minister may also dissolve an association if it is deemed a threat to state security.  National associations may acquire legal status by declaring themselves in writing to the ministry, but the ministry must explicitly register foreign associations and religious groups.  The law imposes heavy fines for individuals who form and operate any such association without ministry approval.  The law prohibits organizations that advocate a goal contrary to the constitution, laws, and morality, as well as those that aim to challenge the security, territorial integrity, national unity, national integration, or republican form of the state.

Conditions for recognition of political parties, NGOs, or associations were complicated, involved long delays, and were unevenly enforced.  This resulted in associations operating in legal uncertainty, their activities tolerated but not formally approved.

Unlike in 2017 the government did not ban any organizations during the year.  On July 18, however, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji unilaterally designated three political figures as spokespersons for three opposition political parties, disregarding these parties’ own hierarchies and internal elections.  The minister stated the three parties, the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP), the

Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC), and the African Movement for a New Independence and Democracy (Manidem), were suffering from persistent internal crises.  He urged administrative command officers nationwide to authorize only events organized by the appointees.  On July 20, all three appointed leaders joined 17 other nominally “opposition” leaders to rally with their parties behind President Biya for the October 7 presidential election.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.  President Biya and the majority CPDM party, however, exerted strong influence over key elements of the political process, including the judiciary and Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), the election organizing body.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections:  In the senate and presidential elections held during the year, the

CPDM garnered the majority of votes, except in the Northwest, where it lost to the Social Democratic Front (SDF).  The CPDM remained dominant in state institutions, partially due to strategic redrawing of voter districts, use of government resources for campaigning, interference with the right of opposition parties to organize and publicize views during electoral campaigns, and privileges associated with belonging to the ruling party.

The country conducted a presidential election on October 7, against the backdrop of protracted sociopolitical unrest in the two Anglophone regions and insecurity in the Far North due to attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA.  Eight candidates took part in the election; a ninth dropped out just before election day to support a rival opposition candidate.  The election was marred by irregularities, including intimidation of voters and representatives of candidates at polling sites, late posting of polling sites and voter lists, ballot stuffing, voters with multiple registration, and a lack of transparency in the vote tallying process.  In the countdown to the election, government-sponsored media outlets CRTV and Cameroon Tribune produced three times as much programming for the president as for the other eight candidates; in addition the ruling party violated the electoral code by blanketing cities with larger than regulation-sized campaign posters.  While not illegal under law, government workers and financial resources were committed to supporting the incumbent’s campaign.  President Biya was re-elected with 71.28 percent of votes cast.

On March 25, the country held its second senate elections.  The ruling CPDM won 63 of the 70 elected seats, while the opposition SDF won seven elected seats.  The president, in accordance with the constitution, appointed an additional 30 senators, including 24 from the CPDM, two from the National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP), and one each from four other nominal opposition parties, including Union of the People of Cameroon (UPC), National Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ANDP), Movement for the Defense of the Republic

(MDR), and Cameroon National Salvation Front (FSNC).  Overall, seven political parties were represented in the senate.  The March 25 senate elections were considered peaceful and within the boundaries of the legal framework that heavily favors the ruling party.

In 2013 the country held simultaneous legislative and municipal elections, with 29 parties participating in the legislative elections and 35 in the municipal elections.  The CPDM won 148 of 180 parliamentary seats and 305 of 360 municipal council positions.  New legislative and municipal elections were expected during the year.  In July the parliament adopted, and the president promulgated, a law to extend the term of office of members of the National Assembly by one year.  On July 11, the president signed a decree extending the term of office of municipal councilors for 12 months, effective from October 15.

Political Parties and Political Participation:  As of September the country had 305 registered political parties.  Membership in the ruling political party conferred significant advantages, including in the allocation of key jobs in state-owned entities and the civil service.  The president appoints all ministers, including the prime minister, the governors of each of the 10 regions, and important lower-level members of the 58 regional administrative structures.  The president also appoints 30 of the 100 senators, and most of the appointees were from the ruling party.

Human rights organizations and opposition political actors considered the drawing of voter districts and distribution of parliamentary or municipal councilors’ seats unfair, stating that it is not fair to begin with and does not take changes in population into account.  Consequently, smaller districts sometimes were allocated more seats than more populated constituencies.  Managers of state-owned companies and other high-level government officials used corporate resources to campaign for candidates sponsored by the ruling party in both senate and presidential elections to the detriment of the other candidates.  Traditional rulers, who receive salaries from the government, openly declared their support for President Biya prior to the presidential election.  Further, authorities frequently sought excuses not to grant opposition parties permission to hold rallies and meetings, while the ruling CPDM held meetings at will.

Participation of Women and Minorities:  No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process.  The law provides that lists of candidates for legislative and municipal elections should take into account the sociological components of the constituency, including gender.  Cultural and other factors, however, reduced women’s political participation compared to that of men.

Women remained underrepresented at all levels of government.  Two women submitted their candidacy for the October 7 presidential election, but neither met the requirements.  Women occupied 26 of 374 council mayor positions; 81 of 280 parliamentary seats; 11 of 63 cabinet positions; and other senior level offices, including territorial command and security and defense positions.  With the voting age set at 20, youth older than age 18 and younger than 20 are not allowed to vote.  The minority Baka, a nomadic Pygmy people, were not represented in the senate, national assembly, or higher offices of government.

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 often used it to settle political scores.  The penal code identifies different offenses as corruption, including influence peddling, involvement in a prohibited employment, and nondeclaration of conflict of interest.  Reporting of corruption is encouraged through exempting whistleblowers from criminal proceedings.  Corruption in official examinations is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, fines up to two million CFA francs ($3,400), or both.  During the year the National Anti-Corruption Commission (CONAC) instituted a toll-free number to encourage citizens to denounce acts of corruption of which they were victims or witnesses.  In addition there were a number of organizations under a common platform known as the National Platform of Cameroonian Civil Society Organizations, which under the 2018 Finance Law was provided a budget of 150 million CFA francs ($255,000).  The funds were to permit the organization to monitor the implementation of projects by government entities to confirm that resources disbursed are used appropriately.  Nevertheless, corruption remained pervasive at all levels of government.  The judiciary was not always free to independently investigate and prosecute corruption cases.

Corruption:  The government continued Operation Sparrow Hawk, which was launched in 2006 to fight corruption, including embezzlement of public funds.  As in the previous year, the Special Criminal Court (SCC) opened new corruption cases and issued verdicts on some pending cases.  On May 4, the SCC placed Emmanuel Lebou, Hamadou Haman, and Aïssatou Boullo Bouba in pretrial detention at Yaounde Central Prison.  Authorities accused the three officials from the ministries of finance and communication of fraudulent manipulation of government payrolls, including payments of fictitious salaries and other allowances, which resulted in losses worth hundreds of millions of CFA francs (several thousand dollars).  In August the SCC delivered its verdict in the prosecution case against Doumana Louis Roger, the former transport delegate for the Northwest Region, and Ayafor Mefor Quita Fozo, a contractor with the Ministry of Transport.  They were under prosecution since 2016 for misappropriating fiscal revenues at the Northwest Regional Delegation of Transport in Bamenda.  The accused were sentenced to 15 and 10 years in prison, respectively, and were required to pay jointly more than 156 million CFA ($265,000) to the public treasury.

Financial Disclosure:  The constitution requires senior government officials, including members of the cabinet, to declare their assets, but a law passed to implement this provision had itself never been implemented.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases.  Overturning an earlier decision not to allow them back in the country, the government issued visas to allow Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch personnel to return to present their reports on human rights abuses to the government and to hear its views.  As in previous years, however, government officials impeded the effectiveness of many local human rights NGOs by harassing their members, limiting access to prisoners, refusing to share information, and threatening violence against NGO personnel.  Human rights defenders and activists received anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and email.  The government took no action to investigate or prevent such occurrences.  The government criticized reports from international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Crisis Group, accusing them of publishing baseless accusations with the intention of discrediting the government and military.  Despite these restrictions, numerous independent domestic human rights NGOs continued operations to the best of their ability, although many reported that government threats and intimidation limited their ability to operate in the country.

There were several reports of intimidation, threats, and attacks aimed at human rights activists, including members of the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa (REDHAC), Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme (NDH), the Mandela Center, and Front Line Fighters for Citizens’ Interests (FFCI), among others.  FFCI executive president Franklin Mowha was reported missing as of August 6 while he was on a business trip to the Southwest Region.  FFCI officials and Mowha’s family members alleged that authorities were informed but failed to investigate the case.  As of late October, his family members did not have any information concerning his whereabouts and feared he might have been killed.

Government Human Rights Bodies:  The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) is an independent, government-funded institution for consultation, monitoring, evaluation, dialogue, concerted action, promotion, and protection of human rights.  The NCHRF was established by a 1990 presidential decree and was subsequently given more powers following the passage of a 2004 law.  The NCHRF, however, is limited to making recommendations to competent authorities and can take no action itself.  The commission publishes yearly reports on the human rights environment and may engage in research, provide education, coordinate actions with NGOs, and visit prisons and detention sites.  NGOs, civil society, and the general population considered the NCHRF dedicated and effective, albeit inadequately resourced and with insufficient ability effectively to hold human rights violators to account.  Its budget was far smaller than that of most other agencies with comparable status, such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission and Election Cameroon.

The National Assembly’s Constitutional Laws, Human Rights and Freedoms, Justice, Legislation, Regulations, and Administration Committee was adequately resourced and reviewed the constitutionality of proposed legislation, but it was not an effective check on the ruling party’s initiatives.  The parliament generally failed to address the Anglophone crisis, resulting in a protest by opposition Social Democratic Front representatives during the March ordinary session of parliament.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence:  The law criminalizes rape of men and women and provides penalties of between five and 10 years of imprisonment for convicted rapists.  Police and courts, however, rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since victims often did not report them.  The law does not address spousal rape.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C):  The law protects the bodily integrity of persons, and the 2016 penal code prohibits genital mutilation of all persons.  Whoever mutilates the genitals of another person is subject to a prison sentence of from 10 to 20 years, or imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice for commercial purposes or the practice causes death.  FMG/C remained a problem, but its prevalence remained low.  As in the previous year, children were reportedly subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions and among the Choa and Ejagham ethnic groups.

According to the Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, the government fully adopted a UN General Assembly resolution on the intensification of the global action aimed at eliminating FGM/C.  For more than 10 years, the government has carried out initiatives to end FGM/C.  These include granting support for the socioeconomic reconversion of male and female excision practitioners and creating local committees to fight against the phenomenon in areas of high prevalence, such as the Southwest and Northern Regions.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices:  Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of their deceased husband’s relatives to secure continued use of property left by the husband, including the marital home.  To protect women better, including widows, the government included provisions in the 2016 penal code outlawing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the other spouse.

Sexual Harassment:  The law prohibits sexual harassment.  Offenders can be imprisoned for periods of six months to one year and may be fined between 100,000 and one million CFA francs ($170 and $1,700).  If the victim is a minor, the penalty can be between one to three years in prison.  If the offender is the victim’s teacher, they may be sentenced to between three and five years in prison.  Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread, and there were no reports that anyone was fined or imprisoned for sexual harassment.

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

Discrimination:  The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for women and men; in practice, however, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men.  Although local government officials including mayors claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of denying women the right to own land, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions.  The government did not implement any official discriminatory policy against women in such areas as divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owing or managing business or property, education, the judicial process, and housing.  Although women and men have equal employment rights, fewer women occupied positions of responsibility.  Furthermore, anecdotal reports suggest some gender discrimination occurred in places of employment, especially in the private sector.

Children

Birth Registration:  Children derive citizenship through their parents, and the responsibility to register birth falls upon parents.  Many births go unregistered because children are not always born in health facilities, and many parents face challenges in reaching local government offices.

Education:  The law provides for tuition-free compulsory primary education but does not set an age limit.  The law punishes any parent with sufficient means who refuses to send his or her child to school with a fine between 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($85 and $850).  The punishment is imprisonment from one to two years in cases in which the offense is repeated.  Children were generally expected to complete primary education at age 12.  Secondary school students had to pay tuition and other fees in addition to buying uniforms and books.  This rendered secondary education unaffordable for many children.

During the year numerous separatist attacks on the education sector in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, including arson attacks on school facilities and physical assaults on administrative staff, faculty and students, disrupted the normal operation of schools.  Many students and teachers were absent during the 2017-18 school year.  According to estimates by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 42,500 children were still out of school as of May.

In June, UNICEF reported that at least 58 schools in the Northwest and Southwest

Regions had been damaged since the beginning of the crisis in 2016.  Human Rights Watch documented 19 threats or attacks on schools and 10 threats or attacks on education personnel.

In September individuals believed to be Anglophone separatists perpetrated a series of attacks aimed at disrupting the start of the 2018-19 school year in certain localities of the Northwest and Southwest Regions.  During the night of September 1, the headmaster of the Bamali primary school in Ngoketunjia Division in the Northwest Region was killed.  On September 3, separatists abducted six students from the Presbyterian Girls Secondary School in Bafut, Mezam Division in the Northwest Region, along with their principal.  They later released the students and principal, who had been subjected to torture.  On September 4, a dozen individuals stormed a high school in Kumbo, Bui Division, in the Northwest Region and vandalized the administrative building, forcing teachers and students to run for safety.  On the same day, St Joseph’s Secondary School in Fako Division in the Southwest Region was attacked.

Child Abuse:  The law prohibits various forms of child abuse, including but not limited to assault, indecency, kidnapping, forced labor, rape, sexual harassment, and cloud on parentage, which refers to a situation where one parent refuses to disclose the identity of the other parent to the child.  Penalties for the offenses range from 10,000 CFA francs ($17) for forced labor to imprisonment for life in the case of assault leading to death or grievous harm.  Despite these legal provisions, child abuse remained a problem.  Children continued to suffer corporal punishment, both within families and at school.  In addition Boko Haram continued to abduct children and used them as suicide bombers.  Press reports cited cases of child rape and the kidnapping of children for ransom.  In its April 20 edition, Mutation Daily reported that Reseau National des Associations de Tantines (RENATA), an association working with girls who have become mothers due to early pregnancy, had received 18 reports of sexual abuse of minors since January.

Early and Forced Marriage:  The minimum legal age for marriage is 18.  Despite the law, according to UNICEF’s March 2018 child marriage data, 31 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18, and of these, 10 percent were married before they turned 15.  The law punishes anyone who compels an individual to marry with imprisonment of from five to 10 years, and with fines between 25,000 and one million CFA francs ($42.50 to $1,700).  By law mitigating circumstances may result in a reduction in punishment, but the final penalty may not be less than a two-year prison sentence.  The court may also take custody from parents who give away their underage children in marriage.  Despite these legal provisions, a number of families reportedly tried to marry off their girls before age 18.  To tackle the issue, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Family (MINPROFF) organized sensitization campaigns to warn of the problems of early and forced marriages.  MINPROFF conducted these campaigns nationally around major commemorative days, such as the International Day of the Girl Child and International Women’s Day.  At the local level, MINPROFF established women’s empowerment centers in most divisions where grassroots sensitization activities took place.

Sexual Exploitation of Children:  The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography.  A conviction, however, requires proof of a threat, fraud, deception, force, or other forms of coercion.  Penalties include imprisonment of between 10 and 20 years and a fine of between 100,000 and 10 million CFA francs ($170 to $17,000).  The law does not specifically provide a minimum age for consensual sex.  According to anecdotal reports, children younger than age 18 were exploited in commercial sex, especially by restaurant and bar promoters, although no statistics were available.

Child Soldiers:  The government did not recruit or use child soldiers, but government-affiliated civil defense forces employed child soldiers.  Boko Haram continued to use child soldiers, including girls, in its attacks on civilian and military targets.  There were also some reports that Anglophone separatists in the Southwest and Northwest Regions used children to combat government defense and security forces.  In presenting the government humanitarian emergency action plan in July, the prime minister stated that separatists were recruiting children into their ranks and forcing them to fight after consuming drugs and undergoing cultlike rituals.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities:  There were no reports of infanticide of children with disabilities.  According to human rights activists and media outlets, including newspapers Le Messager, Mutations, and Nouvelle Expression, local residents found the head of a decapitated child in a garbage bin on August 27 in the Yaounde neighborhood of Mvog Ebanda, commonly known as “Eleveur.”  Investigations led to the identification of the mother of the child as the perpetrator of the crime.

Displaced Children:  Many displaced children continued to live on the streets of major urban centers, although the trend was in decline as a result of stringent security measures and the amended penal code that criminalizes vagrancy.  According to the International Organization for Migration, approximately 65 percent of IDPs in Far North Region were children younger than 18.  These children faced many challenges, including limited access to school, health, and protection.  In addition thousands of children were negatively impacted by the humanitarian crisis in the Northwest and Southwest.  These children faced significant violations of their rights by armed forces and nonstate armed actors alike.  The government had not established structures to ensure that internally displaced children were protected from forceful recruitment by nonstate armed groups and terrorist organizations.

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/InternationalParentalChildAbduction/forproviders/legalreportsanddata.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no known reports of antiSemitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution protects the rights of all persons, including persons with disabilities.  A 2010 law provides additional protection to persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities.  The protections under the law cover access to education and vocational training, employment, health services, information and cultural activities, communications, buildings, sports and leisure, transportation, housing, and other state services.  Public education is tuition-free for persons with disabilities and children born of parents with disabilities.  Initial vocational training, medical treatment, and employment must be provided “when possible,” and public assistance “when needed.”  The government did not enforce all these provisions effectively in the past.  On July 26, the prime minister issued a decree spelling out a framework for implementing the 2010 law.

There were no reports of police or other government officials inciting, perpetrating, or condoning violence against persons with disabilities during the reporting period.  The majority of children with disabilities attended school with nondisabled peers.  The government introduced inclusive education in many schools and reviewed the curriculum of teacher training colleges to include training in inclusive education skills.  Other children with disabilities continued to attend specialized schools such as the Bulu Blind Center in Buea and the Yaounde Special School for Hearing Impaired Children (ESEDA).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The population consists of more than 275 ethnic groups.  Members of the president’s Beti/Bulu ethnic group from the South Region held many key positions and were disproportionately represented in the government, state-owned businesses, and security forces.

Indigenous People

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Baka, including Bakola and Bagyeli, resided primarily in (and were the earliest known inhabitants of) the forested areas of the South and East Regions.  The government did not effectively protect the civil or political rights of either group.  Logging companies continued to destroy their naturally forested land without compensation.  Other ethnic groups often treated the Baka as inferior and sometimes subjected them to unfair and exploitative labor practices.  The government continued long-standing efforts to provide birth certificates and national identity cards to Baka.  Most Baka did not have these documents, and efforts to reach them were impeded by the difficulty in accessing their homes deep in the forest.

There were credible reports from NGOs that the Mbororo, itinerant pastoralists living mostly in the North, East, Adamawa, and Northwest Regions, were subject to harassment, sometimes with the complicity of administrative or judicial authorities.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity, including between adults, is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence lasting between six months and five years and a fine ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs ($34 to $340).

LGBTI rights organizations such as the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS

(CAMFAIDS), Humanity First Cameroon, Alternatives Cameroon, National Observatory of the Rights of LGBTI Persons and Their Defenders, and others reported several arrests of LGBTI persons.  LGBTI individuals received anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and email, including of “corrective” rape, but authorities did not investigate allegations of harassment.  Civil society members stated there were also cases where LGBTI individuals underwent corrective rape, sometimes through the facilitation of the victim’s own family.  Police were generally unresponsive to requests to increase protection for lawyers who received threats because they represented LGBTI persons.  Both police and civilians reportedly continued to extort money from presumed LGBTI individuals by threatening to expose them.

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care.  The constitution provides for equal rights for all citizens.  In practice, however, security forces sometimes harassed persons on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including individuals found with condoms and lubricants.  This practice and the fear it generated in turn restricted access to HIV/AIDS services.  Anecdotal reports also suggested some discrimination occurred in places of employment with respect to sexual orientation.

In an April 25 release, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights

Defenders, in partnership with the World Organization against Torture and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), denounced the arrest and arbitrary detention of five staff members of the association Avenir Jeune de l’Ouest (AJO).  AJO promoted the rights of LGBTI persons with HIV and sex workers in the West Region.  According to the release, men in civilian clothing from the territorial police, on April 20, arrested the executive director and two other members of AJO, including a care worker, as they were leaving the organization’s premises.  On April 21, two additional care workers from the organization were arrested at their places of residence.  Police did not have warrants and took the five members of AJO to the Dschang central police station, where they experienced poor detention conditions on charges related to consensual same-sex conduct.  In connection with this incident, 18 other men were arrested.  For the first time in many years, authorities in the West Region introduced the prospect of forced anal exams for the 23 arrestees.  The men were ordered to undergo such exams, but after intense advocacy by the lawyer representing the men, together with diplomatic pressure, the matter was dropped.  The men did not have access to their lawyers until April 24.

In a midterm report covering the period from January to May, Alternatives Cameroon recorded 64 cases of violence against LGBTI individuals, including three cases of arbitrary detention, 30 cases of psychological violence, one case of sexual violence, 18 cases of physical violence, and 12 cases of blackmail and extortion.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons afflicted with HIV or AIDS often suffered social discrimination and were isolated from their families and society due to social stigma and lack of education on the disease.

As in the previous year, while there were no specific cases of discrimination to highlight in employment, anecdotal reports indicated some discrimination occurred with respect to HIV status, especially in the private sector.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Several cases of vigilante action and other attacks were reported during the year.  Several arson attacks were recorded, involving the destruction of both public and private property.  On January 21, in Nkambe, in the Donga and Mantung Division of Northwest Region, unidentified men set the dormitory section of St Rita’s Secondary School on fire after the management defied the school boycott called for by separatists in the Anglophone regions.

On April 28, on the outskirts of Muyuka, Southwest Region, three gunmen on motorbikes shot and killed Sophie Mandengue Maloba, a pregnant schoolteacher.  The incident occurred three days after a similar attack on a school in Kumba took place where assailants riding motorcycles shot and killed the discipline master of the government bilingual high school and chopped off three fingers of a student.

The October presidential election triggered a wave of ethnic-tinged hate speech on social media after Cameroon Renaissance Movement candidate Maurice Kamto prematurely announced he won the election.  These attacks mostly split along tribal lines, with Kamto’s Bamileke and President Biya’s Beti ethnic groups the primary targets.

The law provides for sentences of between two and 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of between 5,000 and 100,000 CFA francs ($8.50 and $170) for witchcraft.  There were no reported arrests or trials for alleged witchcraft reported during the year.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes.  This does not apply to groups including defense and national security personnel, prison administration civil servants, and judicial and legal personnel.  The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

Statutory limitations and other practices substantially restricted these rights.  The law does not permit the creation of a union that includes both public- and privatesector workers or the creation of a union that includes different, even if closely related, sectors.  The law requires that unions register with the government, permitting groups of no fewer than 20 workers to organize a union by submitting a constitution and by-laws; founding members must also have clean police records.  The law provides for heavy fines for workers who form a union and carry out union activities without registration.  More than 100 trade unions and 12 trade union confederations operated, including one public-sector confederation.  Trade unions or associations of public servants may not join a foreign occupational or labor organization without prior authorization from the minister responsible for “supervising public freedoms.”

The constitution and law provide for collective bargaining between workers and management as well as between labor federations and business associations in each sector of the economy.  The law does not apply to the agricultural or informal sectors, which included the majority of the workforce.

Legal strikes or lockouts may be called only after conciliation and arbitration procedures have been exhausted.  Workers who ignore procedures to conduct a legal strike may be dismissed or fined.  Before striking, workers must seek mediation from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security at the local, regional, and ministerial levels.  Only if mediation fails at all three levels can workers formally issue a strike notice and subsequently strike.  The law allowing persons to strike does not apply to civil servants, employees of the penitentiary system, or workers responsible for national security, including police, gendarmerie, and army personnel.  Instead of strikes, civil servants are required to negotiate grievances directly with the minister of the appropriate department in addition to the Minister of Labor and Social Security.  Arbitration decisions are legally binding but were often unenforceable if one party refused to cooperate.

Employers guilty of antiunion discrimination are subject to fines of up to approximately one million CFA francs ($1,700).

Free Industrial Zones are subject to labor law, except for the following provisions: the employers’ right to determine salaries according to productivity, the free negotiation of work contracts, and the automatic issuance of work permits for foreign workers.

The government and employers did not effectively enforce the applicable legislation on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.  Penalties for violations were rarely enforced and were ineffective as a deterrent.  Administrative judicial procedures were infrequent and subject to lengthy delays and appeals.  The government and employers often interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations.  The government occasionally worked with nonrepresentative union leaders to the detriment of elected leaders, while employers frequently used hiring practices such as subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.  Blacklisting of union members, unfair dismissal, promotion of employer-controlled unions, and threatening workers trying to unionize were common practices.

Collective agreements are binding until after a party has given three months’ notice to terminate.  Workers’ representatives alleged that the minister of labor and social security often negotiated collective agreements with trade unionists who had nothing to do with the sectors concerned and did not involve trade union confederations that prepared the draft agreements.  Following staff representative elections conducted during the year, Syndicat National Libre des Dockers et Activites Connexes du Cameroun (Free National Union of Dockers and Related Activities of Cameroon-SYNALIDOACC) won 14 of the 20 dockers’ delegate seats, thus becoming the majority union at the Douala Sea Port, under the leadership of Voundi Ebale Jean Pierre.  Oumarou Mouansie, the former dockers’ spokesperson, refused to transfer leadership to the new team.  The minister of labor and social security did not involve Voundi in the process leading to the new collective agreement.  Unionized members of the new team alleged they were victims of discrimination by the Douala Autonomous Port (PAD) authorities, especially in terms of job assignments.

For example, the government continued to undermine the leadership of the Confederation Syndicale des Travailleurs du Cameroun (CSTC), one of the 12 trade union confederations elected in 2015, by continuing to cooperate with former leaders of the CSTC.  Jean Marie Zambo Amougou, the former leader, continued to use the title “President of the CSTC” despite a January 2017 court decision ordering him to stop doing so with immediate effect.  Despite the court decision, the minister of labor and social security continued to view Zambo Amougou as the official representative of the CSTC.  The minister reportedly invited him to meetings and sent all CSTC correspondence to Amougou to the detriment of CSTC’s legitimate leader, Andre Moussi Nolla, and other new leaders, and in spite of multiple complaints by the CSTC.  The CSTC tabled the issue before the administrative court in Yaounde early in the year.  During a June 15 hearing session, the administrative tribunal declined jurisdiction to hear and rule on the case.

As in 2017, trade unionists reported on officials prohibiting the establishment of trade unions in the officials’ private businesses, including Fokou, Afrique Construction, Eco-Marche, and Quifferou, or otherwise hindering union operations.  Some companies based in Douala II, IV, and V and in Tiko (Southwest Region), retained 1 percent of unionized workers’ salaries as union dues but refused to transfer the money to trade unions.

As in 2017, many employers frequently used hiring practices such as subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.  Workers’ representatives stated most major companies, including parastatal companies, engaged in the practice, citing the electricity company Energy of Cameroon, the water company Camerounaise des Eaux, cement manufacturer Cimencam, Guinness, Aluminum Smelter (Alucam), and many others.  Subcontracting was reported to involve all categories of personnel, from the lowest to senior levels.  As a result workers with equal expertise and experience did not always enjoy similar advantages when working for the same business; subcontracted personnel typically lacked a legal basis to file complaints.

A number of strikes were announced during the year.  Some were called off after successful negotiation, some were carried out without problems, while others faced some degree of repression.  Workers’ grievances generally involved poor working conditions, including lack of personal protective equipment, improper implementation of collective agreements, and nonpayment of salary arrears or retirement benefits.  Workers also often complained of illegal termination of contracts, lack of salary increases, and failure of employers to properly register employees and pay the employer’s contribution to the National Social Insurance Fund, which provides health and social security benefits.

In April 2017 the government delegate to the Douala City Council suspended 11 workers’ representatives affiliated with the Wouri Divisional Union of Council Workers following a strike they held that same month.  Employees of the City Council in Douala demanded health insurance for themselves and their immediate relatives.  The government delegate fired the complainants but was overruled by the minister of labor and social security.  The government delegate, however, did not reinstate the employees in their positions.  In February the workers staged a hunger strike requesting their reinstatement and 10 months’ arrears, but the strike failed to bring about a positive outcome.  On September 27, the Littoral Court of Appeals delivered a verdict requesting that the government immediately reinstate and pay the salaries of the 11 workers’ representatives.  The court threatened to impose a fine of 20,000 CFA francs ($34) per day for any delay.  As of midNovember, the 11 workers’ representatives had not been reinstated, nor had they received their salaries following the court’s decision.

Dockers from PAD staged a series of strikes on February 13, June 22, and June 25, after unsuccessful negotiations with authorities.  The dockers first went on strike in May 2017 and reached a poststrike agreement with their employer, the Groupement Professionnel des Acconiers du Cameroun (GPAC), to improve working conditions.  Because their employer did not fulfill promises made, the dockers went on strike again on June 22 and were dispersed with tear gas.  They staged yet another strike on June 25, despite a strong deployment of security forces, to denounce what they referred to as an “advanced state of slavery” imposed by their employer.  Specific grievances included the lack of salary increases, insurance coverage, family allowances, and fair distribution of work, among others.  Anecdotal evidence suggested that a few striking dockers sustained injuries.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced and compulsory labor.  The law prohibits slavery, exploitation, and debt bondage and voids any agreement in which violence was used to obtain consent.  Violations of the law are punishable by prison terms of five to 20 years and fines ranging from 10,000 to 10 million CFA francs ($17 to $17,000).  In cases of debt bondage, penalties are doubled if the offender is also the guardian or custodian of the victim.  The law also extends culpability for all crimes to accomplices and corporate entities.  Although the statutory penalties are fairly severe, the government did not enforce the law effectively, due to lack of knowledge of trafficking and limited labor inspection and remediation resources.  In addition, due to the length and expense of criminal trials and the lack of protection available to victims participating in investigations, many victims of forced or compulsory labor resorted to accepting amicable settlement.

There continued to be anecdotal reports of hereditary servitude imposed on former slaves in some chiefdoms in the North Region.  Many Kirdi, whose ethnic group was heavily of Christian and traditional faiths and who had been enslaved by the Muslim Fulani in the 1800s, continued to work for traditional Fulani rulers for compensation, while their children were free to pursue schooling and work of their choosing.  Kirdi were also required to pay local chiefdom taxes to Fulani, as were all other subjects.  The combination of low wages and high taxes, although legal, effectively constituted forced labor.  While technically free to leave, many Kirdi remained in the hierarchical and authoritarian system because of a lack of viable options.

In the South and East Regions, some Baka, including children, continued to be subjected to unfair labor practices by Bantu farmers, who hired the Baka at exploitive wages to work on their farms during the harvest seasons.  The NGO Mandela Center documented the case of Mohounga Paul Alias, who resided in a Baka camp, died in December 2017 after he fell from the roof of a Bantu family house in an attempt to escape from captivity.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and sets 14 as the minimum age of employment.  The law prohibits children from working at night or longer than eight hours per day, it and enumerates tasks children younger than 18 cannot legally perform, including moving heavy objects, undertaking dangerous and unhealthy tasks, working in confined areas, and prostitution.  Employers are required to train children between ages 14 and 18.  Because compulsory education ends at age 12, children who are not in school and not yet 14 are particularly vulnerable to child labor.  In addition laws relating to hazardous work for children younger than age 18 are not comprehensive, since they do not include prohibitions on work underwater or work at dangerous heights.  The government, however, earmarked funds for the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to revise the hazardous work list during the year.  The law provides penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment for those who violate child labor laws.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security are responsible for enforcing child labor laws through site inspections of registered businesses.  The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors.  Authorities did not allocate sufficient resources to support an effective inspection program.  Fines were not sufficient to deter violations, and court action was often ineffective, but workers’ organizations reported child labor was not a major problem in the formal sector.

The use of child labor, including forced labor, in informal sectors remained rampant.  UNICEF’s 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated that 47 percent of children ages five to 14 were engaged in labor.  Children working in agriculture frequently were involved in clearing and tilling the soil and harvesting crops, such as bananas and cocoa.  In the service sector, children worked as domestic servants and street vendors.  Children, including refugee children from the Central African Republic, worked at artisanal mining sites under dangerous conditions.  Children were also forced to beg by adults, often by their parents to provide additional income for the household.  According to anecdotal reports, child labor, especially by refugee children, was prevalent in the building construction sector.  Chinese firms based in the country also reportedly used local child labor in the manufacture of children’s shoes.  In March 2017 the government convened a three-day assessment of the 2014-17 Decent Work Country Program and provided training to labor inspectors, including on child labor issues.  During the year the government also increased the number of labor inspectors from 132 to 286, but this number was still insufficient for the size of the workforce.

Parents viewed child labor as both a tradition and a rite of passage.  Relatives often brought rural youth, especially girls, to urban areas to exploit them as domestic helpers under the pretense of allowing them to attend school.  In rural areas many children began work at an early age on family farms.  The cocoa industry and cattle-rearing sector also employed child laborers.  These children originated, for the most part, from the Far North, North, Adamawa, West, and Northwest Regions.

The Ministry of Social Affairs, in collaboration with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and the national police, continued to implement activities to sensitize parents to the negative impact of child labor.  In June authorities in Kribi, in the Ocean Division of the South Region, conducted an operation leading to the identification of at least 21 children, ages six to 13 years, who were selling items on the city’s streets.  Police took the children to the Kribi central police station, where they registered and held the children until they could notify the parents.  Police interrogated the parents, informed them of the risks to which their children were exposed, and warned them they would be prosecuted if the children returned to the streets.  The operation was in line with a decision taken two years earlier by the senior divisional officer for Ocean Division to ban commercial activities by children in his jurisdiction.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law contains no specific provisions against discrimination, but the constitution in its preamble provides that all persons shall have equal rights and obligations and that every person shall have the right and the obligation to work.  Discrimination in employment and occupation allegedly occurred with respect to ethnicity, HIV status, disability, gender, and sexual orientation, especially in the private sector.  Ethnic groups often gave preferential treatment to members of their respective ethnic group members in business and social practices, and persons with disabilities reportedly found it difficult to secure and access employment.  There were no reliable reports of discrimination against internal migrant or foreign migrant workers, although anecdotal reports suggested such workers were vulnerable to unfair working conditions.  The government took no action to eliminate or prevent discrimination and kept no records of incidents.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage in all sectors is 36,270 CFA francs ($62) per month, greater than the World Bank’s international poverty line of $1.90 per day.  Premium pay for overtime ranges from 120 to 150 percent of the hourly rate, depending on the amount of overtime and whether it is weekend or late-night overtime.  Despite the minimum wage law, employers often negotiated with workers for lower salaries, in part due to the extremely high rate of underemployment in the country.  Salaries lower than the minimum wage remained prevalent in the public-works sector, where many positions required unskilled labor, as well as in the domestic work sector, where female refugees were particularly vulnerable to unfair labor practices.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours in public and private nonagricultural firms and a total of 2,400 hours per year, with a maximum limit of 48 hours per week in agricultural and related activities.  There are exceptions for guards and firefighters (56 hours a week), service-sector staff (45 hours), and househ