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Afghanistan

Executive Summary

The United States has not recognized the Taliban or another entity as the government of Afghanistan. All references to “the pre-August 15 government” refer to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. References to the Taliban reflect events both prior to and after August 15.

Prior to August 15, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan had a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch. The country held presidential elections in September 2019 after technical problems and security threats compelled the Independent Election Commission to reschedule the election multiple times. The commission announced preliminary election results on December 22, 2019, indicating that President Ashraf Ghani had won, although runner-up and then chief executive Abdullah Abdullah disputed the results, including after official results were announced February 18, 2020. Both President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah declared victory and held competing swearing-in ceremonies on March 9, 2020. Political leaders mediated the resulting impasse, resulting in a compromise on May 17, 2020, in which Ashraf Ghani retained the presidency, Abdullah was appointed to lead the High Council for National Reconciliation, and each of them was to select one-half of the cabinet members.

Under the pre-August 15 government, three entities shared responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the National Directorate of Security. The Afghan National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, had primary responsibility for internal order and for the Afghan Local Police, a community-based self-defense force with no legal ability to arrest or independently investigate crimes. Civilian authorities under the Ghani administration generally maintained control over the security forces, although security forces occasionally acted independently and committed numerous abuses. After August 15, security forces largely disbanded. The Taliban began to recruit and train a new police force for Kabul and announced in early October that the force had 4,000 persons in its ranks. The Taliban instructed pre-August 15 government employees to return to work, and the Ministry of Interior formally invited former police officers to return; however, returns were slow due to fear of retaliation and lack of salary payments.

The Taliban culminated its takeover on August 15 when Kabul fell to their forces. On September 7, the Taliban announced a so-called interim government made up almost entirely of male Taliban fighters, clerics, and political leaders, hailing from the dominant Pashtun ethnic group. As of December, the Taliban had announced most of its “interim cabinet” but had not outlined steps or a timeline to establish a new permanent government. The Taliban is a Sunni Islamist nationalist and pro-Pashtun movement founded in the early 1990s that ruled much of the country from 1996 until October 2001. The Taliban promoted a strict interpretation of Quranic instruction according to the Hanafi school of Sunni jurisprudence, seeking to eliminate secular governance.

Peace negotiations between representatives of the Ghani administration and the Taliban continued until August as the Taliban consolidated control over territory, but the talks failed to yield a political settlement or unity government. Throughout the year armed insurgents attacked Ghani administration forces, public places, and civilians, killing and injuring thousands of noncombatants. On August 15, as the Taliban approached Kabul, President Ghani fled the country, prompting an immediate collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, and a political vacuum. Vice President Amrullah Saleh left the country shortly after as well.

Significant human rights issues occurred before and after August 15. Details of which group or groups perpetuated these human rights issues are addressed throughout the report. The human rights issues included credible reports of: killings by insurgents; extrajudicial killings by security forces; forced disappearances by antigovernment personnel; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces; physical abuses by antigovernment entities; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances and abductions, torture and physical abuses, and other conflict-related abuses; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers and sexual abuse of children, including by security force members and educational personnel; serious restrictions on free expression and media by the Taliban, including violence against journalists and censorship; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on the right to leave the country; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on and harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to cases of violence against women, including domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation; violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; violence by security forces and other actors against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct; severe restrictions on workers’ freedom of association and severe restrictions by the Taliban on the right to work for women; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses were common. The pre-August 15 government did not consistently or effectively investigate or prosecute abuses by officials, including security forces. After taking over, the Taliban formed a commission to identify and expel “people of bad character” from its ranks. On December 25, a Taliban spokesperson told media that the group had expelled 1,985 individuals, and that those accused of corruption and robbery had been referred to legal authorities. Local and provincial Taliban leaders formed similar commissions and reported rooting out corrupt members. Little information was available regarding how individuals were identified, investigations were conducted, or what their outcomes were.

On September 27, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court filed an application for an expedited order seeking authorization to resume the investigation of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the country. The investigation had been deferred due to a request from the pre-August 15 government. The International Criminal Court prosecutor stated that the Taliban takeover represented a significant change of circumstances affecting the ongoing assessment of the pre-August 15 government’s deferral request. The prosecutor determined that there was no prospect of genuine and effective domestic investigations within the country of crimes defined by Article 5 of the Rome Statute. The prosecutor announced that if he receives authorization to resume investigations, he intends to focus his efforts on crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban and ISIS-K, a terrorist group based in Salafist ideology that is an affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham and which is active in South and Central Asia.

Taliban elements attacked religious leaders who spoke out against them, particularly between the February 2020 signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement and the August 15 Taliban takeover. During the year many Islamic scholars were killed in attacks for which no group claimed responsibility. Nonstate and armed groups, primarily the Taliban and ISIS-K, accounted for most child recruitment and used children younger than 12 during the year. Insurgent groups, including the Taliban, used children as suicide bombers. Antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked government workers, foreigners, medical and nongovernmental organization workers, and other civilians. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported thousands of civilian casualties in the first nine months of the year due to clashes between government and antigovernment actors. Many of these casualties were attributed to antigovernment actors; however, the Taliban did not claim responsibility for civilian casualties. The Taliban referred to suicide attacks as “martyrdom operations.” The Taliban engaged in targeted killings of perceived opponents in areas controlled by the pre-August 15 government and in reprisal killings as it moved across the country. After August 15, senior Taliban leadership announced a wide-ranging general amnesty that prohibited reprisals, including against officials and others associated with the pre-August 15 government, for actions before the Taliban takeover; however, credible reports were received of retaliatory acts, including extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, both before and after this announcement.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports that the pre-August 15 government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Attorney General’s Office maintained a specialized office to investigate cases involving the Ministry of Interior and its agencies, including the Afghan National Police. The Ministry of Defense maintained its own investigation and prosecution authority at the primary and appellate level; at the final level, cases were advanced to the Supreme Court.

Pajhwok News reported that on April 9 security forces manning a checkpoint in Uruzgan Province shot and killed a 10-year-old boy as he passed through the area. The father called on authorities to arrest his son’s killers and bring them to justice. There was no indication that authorities investigated the crime or brought charges against the officers involved.

Media published videos of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) personnel allegedly killing a suspected Taliban sympathizer in Paktika on July 8 by forcing him to sit on an improvised explosive device (IED) and then detonating it. According to the reports, the suspected Taliban sympathizer was a local construction worker who was nearby when the IED was discovered. He was reportedly beaten by Afghan National Police and anti-Taliban militia members before being handed over to the ANDSF. According to the reports, a Defense Ministry spokesperson denied that the incident took place and called the videos “Taliban propaganda.”

After August 15, there were numerous reports of reprisal killings by Taliban fighters as they consolidated control of the country. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) received credible reports of more than 100 individuals associated with the previous administration and its security forces as being killed, tortured, or disappeared following the Taliban leadership’s August announcement of a general amnesty. Taliban leaders denied these incidents reflected an official policy and claimed many were attributed to personal disputes. According to BBC news, Taliban fighters executed two senior police officials – Haji Mullah Achakzai, the security director of Badghis Province and Ghulam Sakhi Akbari, security director of Farah Province.

A November report by HRW documented “the summary execution or enforced disappearance of 47 former members of the ANDSF – military personnel, police, intelligence service members, and paramilitary militia – those who had surrendered to or were apprehended by Taliban forces between August 15 and October 31, 2021.” Senior Taliban leaders declared a general amnesty and forbade reprisals, although reports persisted of local Taliban leaders engaging in such actions.

In November the Taliban conducted a crackdown in ISIS-K’s stronghold province of Nangarhar, reportedly sending more than 1,300 additional fighters. These fighters arrested, killed, or disappeared scores of suspected ISIS-K collaborators in the campaign. Sources in Nangahar reported observing dozens of decapitated bodies of alleged ISIS-K sympathizers in the crackdown’s aftermath.

Thousands of those who worked for or supported the pre-August 15 government or foreign entities, as well as members of minority groups, sought to flee the country on or after August 15 due to fear of reprisals. Others left their homes to hide from Taliban conducting house-to-house searches for government officials. Unknown actors carried out numerous targeted killings of civilians, including religious leaders, journalists, and civil society advocates (see section 1.g.).

In March, three women working for a television station in Jalalabad were killed in two incidents. Mursal Wahidi was killed as she walked home while Sadia Sadat and Shahnaz were killed in a separate incident on the same night, also while returning home from work. ISIS-K militants claimed responsibility for the attacks.

On May 8, a car bomb attack outside the Sayed ul-Shuhuda school in Kabul resulted in 300 casualties – mostly schoolgirls – including 95 killed. No group claimed responsibility. The attack occurred in a western district of the capital where many residents are of the mostly Hazara ethnic community.

On September 4, Taliban gunmen killed a pregnant policewoman in front of her family, according to the victim’s son. She had worked in Ghor prison and was eight months pregnant when she died. The Taliban spokesperson denied the accusation.

b. Disappearance

Both the pre-August 15 government security forces and the Taliban were responsible for forced disappearances.

UNAMA reported that the Taliban carried out abductions with 40 civilian casualties resulting from those abductions in the first six months of the year, a slight decrease from the same period in 2020 (see section 1.g.).

There were reports of enforced disappearances by the pre-August 15 government that included transnational transfers from the country to Pakistan, according to an August UN Human Rights Council report for the period of May 2020 to May 2021.

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

Although the 2004 constitution and law under the pre-August 15 government prohibited such practices, there were numerous reports that government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the security forces of the pre-August 15 government used excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians. Despite legislation prohibiting these acts, independent monitors including UNAMA continued to report credible cases of torture in government detention centers.

There were numerous reports of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment by the Taliban, ISIS-K, and other antigovernment groups. UNAMA reported that punishments carried out by the Taliban included beatings, amputations, and executions. The report showed that the Taliban held detainees in poor conditions and subjected them to forced labor.

On September 25, the Taliban hung a dead body in the central square in Herat and displayed another three bodies in other parts of the city. A Taliban-appointed district police chief in Herat said the bodies were those of four kidnappers killed by police that day while securing the release of two abductees.

On October 5, the Taliban hung the bodies of two alleged robbers in Herat, claiming they had been killed by residents after they attempted to rob a house.

Impunity was a significant problem in all branches of the pre-August 15 government’s security forces. Accountability of National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghan National Police (ANP), and Afghan Local Police (ALP) officials for torture and abuse was weak, not transparent, and rarely enforced. There were numerous reports that service members were among the most prevalent perpetrators of bacha bazi (the sexual and commercial exploitation of boys, especially by men in positions of power). In May the minister of justice and head of the Trafficking in Persons High Commission reported on government efforts to stop trafficking in persons and bacha bazi, providing a readout of investigations and prosecutions, but he listed no prosecutions of security officers. The pre-August 15 government did not prosecute any security officers for bacha bazi.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons run by the pre-August 15 government were harsh due to overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and limited access to medical services despite the heightened risk of COVID-19. The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (GDPDC), part of the Interior Ministry, was responsible for all civilian-run prisons (for both men and women) and civilian detention centers. The Ministry of Justice’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Directorate was responsible for all juvenile rehabilitation centers. The NDS operated short-term detention facilities at the provincial and district levels, usually colocated with its headquarters facilities. The Ministry of Defense ran 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 maintained illegal detention facilities throughout the country prior to their takeover, with credible reports describing beatings at makeshift prisons.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons continued to be a serious, widespread problem under the pre-August 15 government. According to UNAMA, in April at least 30 of 38 prisons nationwide had exceeded full capacity, with an average occupancy rate close to 200 percent. After the Taliban took over Kabul, many prisons were emptied as nearly all prisoners escaped or were released. The two largest prisons – Pul-e-Charkhi in Kabul and Parwan at Bagram – remained largely empty as of December.

Pre-August 15 government 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, pre-August 15 government authorities held children younger than age 15 in prison with their mothers, due in part to a lack of capacity of separate 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 under the pre-August 15 government. The pre-August 15 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.

Pre-August 15 authorities were not always able to maintain control of prisons. Dozens of prisoners escaped a Badghis central prison in July when the Taliban breached the province’s capital city. The Taliban reportedly paid off prison employees to facilitate the escape of inmates. An estimated 5,000 Taliban militants were imprisoned in provincial capitals before the Taliban took over in July and August, all of whom were released by August 15. In addition to their own imprisoned fighters, the Taliban released thousands more from prisons like Parwan and Pul-e-Charkhi, including members of ISIS-K and al-Qa’ida.

The ISIS-K suicide bomber who carried out an attack at Kabul airport in late August killing dozens of local citizens (and 13 U.S. service members) was among the thousands of prisoners released by the Taliban from Parwan Prison at Bagram Air Base just 11 days before the bombing.

Administration: In the pre-August 15 government, authorities conducted some investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. 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 Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), UNAMA, and the International Committee of the Red Cross monitored pre-August 15 government ministries, including the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defense, and NDS detention facilities. The NATO Resolute Support Mission monitored the NDS, the ANP, and Defense Ministry facilities until the start of the drawdown of NATO forces early in the year. 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 documenting physical evidence of abuse, such as bruises, scars, and other injuries.

After the Taliban takeover, the UN Security Council unanimously agreed on September 17 to renew the UNAMA mandate for another six months in an effort to continue its in-country activities, including strengthening capacity in the protection and promotion of human rights such as the protection of children affected by armed conflict and prevention of child soldier recruitment.

On September 18, the AIHRC stated their facilities and assets had been commandeered by Taliban forces, thereby rendering the commission unable to fulfill its duties to protect and monitor human rights in the country’s prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The 2004 constitution in effect until the August 15 Taliban takeover prohibited arbitrary arrest and detention, but both remained serious problems. In the pre-August 15 period, 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 without regard to substantive procedural legal protections. Local law enforcement officials reportedly detained persons illegally on charges that lacked a basis in applicable criminal law. In some cases authorities improperly held women in prisons 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 provided 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 stipulation.

There were reports throughout the year of impunity and lack of accountability by security forces by both the pre-August 15 government and the Taliban. According to observers, ALP and ANP personnel under the pre-August 15 government were largely unaware of their responsibilities and defendants’ rights under the law because many officials were illiterate and lacked training. Independent judicial or external oversight of the NDS, Major Crimes Task Force, the ANP, and the ALP in the investigation and prosecution of crimes or misconduct was limited or nonexistent. (See also section 1.g.)

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

UNAMA, the AIHRC, and other observers reported that, under both the pre-August 15 government and the Taliban, arbitrary and prolonged detention occurred throughout the country, including persons being detained without judicial authorization. Pre-August 15 government authorities often did not inform detainees of the charges against them.

Justice-sector actors and the public lacked widespread understanding and knowledge of the law in effect under the pre-August 15 government. The law details due-process procedures for the use of warrants, periods of detention, investigations, bail, and the arrest of minors. Special juvenile courts with limited capacity operated in a few provinces. Some women and children caught in the criminal justice system were victims rather than perpetrators of crimes. In the absence of sufficient shelters for boys, authorities detained abused boys, many of whom were victims of bacha bazi. Authorities often placed these abused boys in juvenile rehabilitation centers because they faced violence should they return to their families, and no other shelter was available. Police and legal officials often charged women (but not the men who were involved) 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, fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping to escape an arranged marriage.

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 retributive violence by family members. They also employed protective custody (including placement in detention centers) 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, obliged police to arrest persons who abuse women. Implementation and awareness of the EVAW law was limited, however.

On November 23, the Taliban’s so-called prime minister Akhund instructed the Taliban to respect and protect the rights of detained persons under sharia, including by limiting the duration of detention. Still, UNAMA continued to receive reports of detainees not being brought before courts or dispute resolutions following this announcement.

Arbitrary Arrest: Under the pre-August 15 government, 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.

HRW reported that between August 15 and October 1, the Taliban arrested at least 32 journalists. Most were given warnings regarding their reporting and released, but some were beaten. In a September 10 statement, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that on September 7 and 8, the Taliban beat and detained protesters, including women, and up to 20 journalists, two of whom were beaten severely.

Between August 15 and December 14, UNAMA documented nearly 60 apparently arbitrary detentions, beatings, and threats of activists, journalists, and staff of the AIHRC, attributed to the Taliban.

There were reports throughout the country in July, August, and September of the Taliban conducting raids on homes and establishments and the detention of citizens as political reprisals, despite assurances from senior Taliban leaders beginning in August that nobody would be harmed and that they did not seek to take revenge. UNAMA documented 44 cases of temporary arrests, beatings, threats and intimidation between August 15 and December 31, 42 of which were attributed to the Taliban.

In November a former senior security official reported the deputy chief of the National Directorate of Security in Bamiyan, a former district police chief, the security chief of a copper mine, a former district governor, and a community activist had all been arrested by the Taliban and that their status and location were unknown.

The Afghanistan Journalists Center reported that Taliban security forces searched the home of independent television network owner Aref Nouri without a warrant on December 26 and took Nouri to an undisclosed location for two days. A Taliban spokesperson said that the detention was unrelated to Nouri’s media activities.

Reports in October described Taliban-defined “law enforcement” as lacking in due-process protections, with citizens detained on flimsy accusations and treated harshly while in detention.

In November and December, Taliban intelligence officials targeted Ahmadi Muslims for arrest. According to reports from international Ahmadiyya organizations, the detainees were physically abused and coerced into making false “confessions of being members of ISIS-K.” As of December the Taliban had released some of the Ahmadis while others remained in detention. Some of the released minors reported that their release was conditioned upon “repenting” their Ahmadiyya beliefs and attending a Taliban-led madrassa every day.

Pretrial Detention: The constitution in effect under the pre-August 15 government provided a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter. Nevertheless, lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Many detainees did not benefit from the provisions of the law because of a lack of resources, limited numbers of defense attorneys, unskilled legal practitioners, and corruption. The law provided 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.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution under the pre-August 15 government provided for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was 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. Corruption was considered by those surveyed by the World Justice Project 2021 report to be the most severe problem facing criminal courts.

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 in the judiciary, and often criminals paid bribes to obtain their release or a sentence reduction (see section 4).

Because the formal legal system often did not exist 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 that included domestic abuse reoffended after their claims were resolved by mediation.

In areas they controlled throughout the year, the Taliban enforced a judicial system devoid of due process and based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments included execution and mutilation.

Trial Procedures

The constitution under the pre-August 15 government provided 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 used an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens were entitled to the presumption of innocence, and the accused had the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although the judiciary did not always respect these rights. This law also required judges to provide five days’ notice prior to a hearing, but judges did not always follow this requirement, and many citizens complained that legal proceedings often dragged on for years.

Under the pre-August 15 government, three-judge panels decided criminal trials, and there was 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 had the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense; however, the judiciary applied this right inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers and a lack of resources. Citizens were often unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys were 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.

The pre-August 15 constitution stipulates that a translator appointed by the Court shall be provided if a party in a lawsuit does not know the language of the court proceeding, but it does not clearly indicate whether the court must pay for the translator.

By comparison, citizens all have the right to a fair trial, which includes both the right to defense counsel and the right to an interpreter or translator if needed. But on defense counsel, the right to “free” and state-appointed counsel is limited to “indigent” defendants, not to ones who can otherwise afford to pay.

Prior to August 15, 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 law under the pre-August 15 government established time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when the accused was in custody. The law also permitted temporary release of the accused on bail, but this was rarely applied. The law provided 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 Province regularly elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the judiciary did not meet the deadlines, the law required 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.

According to HRW, the Taliban established its own courts in areas under its control prior to August 15 that relied on religious scholars to adjudicate cases or at times referred cases to traditional dispute resolution mechanisms. Taliban courts prior to August 15 included district-level courts, provincial-level courts, and a tamiz, or appeals court, located in a neighboring country.

According to HRW, the Taliban “justice system” was focused on punishment, and convictions often resulted from forced confessions in which the accused was abused or tortured. At times the Taliban imposed corporal punishment for serious offenses, or hudud crimes, under an interpretation of sharia.

In October the Taliban appointed a new “chief justice” but largely retained members of the pre-August 15 government’s judicial bureaucracy and appeared to maintain many related processes. The “chief justice” was quoted in October as stating that the Taliban would follow the country’s 1964 constitution with modifications for Islamic principles. The Taliban have not subsequently elaborated on this statement, and it remained unclear the degree to which prior elements of the legal system and constitution remain in effect. Reports described the Taliban’s approach to law enforcement as lacking procedural protections, and many Taliban fighters were undisciplined and frequently detained on criminal charges. At least 60 Taliban militants were reportedly held in a section of Pul-e-Charkhi Prison after August 15 for crimes such as raiding homes at night and robbery, according to one news report.

On November 22, the Taliban issued a decree declaring that the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association would come under control of the Ministry of Justice. On November 23, more than 50 armed Taliban gunmen forcibly took over the organization’s headquarters and ordered staff to stop their work. Taliban Acting “Justice Minister” Abdul Hakim declared that only Taliban-approved lawyers could work in their Islamic courts, effectively revoking the licenses of approximately 2,500 lawyers.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports the pre-August 15 government held political prisoners or political detainees.

The Taliban detained government officials, individuals alleged to be spying for the pre-August 15 government, and individuals alleged to have associations with the pre-August 15 government.

Amnesty: In August the Taliban announced a general amnesty for those who worked for or were associated with the pre-August 15 government and those who had fought against the Taliban, saying they had been pardoned. Nonetheless, there were numerous reported incidents of Taliban reprisal killings throughout the year (see section 1.a.).

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Corruption and limited capacity restricted citizen access to justice for constitutional and human rights abuses. Prior to August, citizens could submit complaints of human rights abuses to the AIHRC, which reviewed and submitted credible complaints to the Attorney General’s Office for further investigation and prosecution. Some female citizens reported that when they approached government institutions with a request for service, government officials, in turn, demanded sexual favors as a quid pro quo.

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

The law under the pre-August 15 government prohibited arbitrary interference in matters of privacy, but authorities did not always respect its provisions. The law contained 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.

Pre-August 15, government officials entered 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.

Likewise, numerous reports since August indicated that the Taliban entered homes and offices forcibly to search for political enemies and those who had supported the NATO and U.S. missions. On December 29, the Taliban’s “interim minister for the propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice” decreed all Taliban forces would not violate anyone’s privacy, including unnecessary searches of phones, homes, and offices, and that any personnel who did would be punished.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

Internal conflict that continued until August 15 resulted in civilian deaths, abductions, prisoner abuse, property damage, displacement of residents, and other abuses. The security situation deteriorated largely due to successful insurgent attacks by the Taliban and terrorist attacks by ISIS-K. ISIS-K terrorist attacks continued to destabilize the country after August 15, and Taliban efforts to defeat the terrorist group resulted in numerous violent clashes. According to UNAMA, actions by nonstate armed groups, primarily the Taliban and ISIS-K, accounted for most civilian deaths although civilian deaths decreased dramatically following the Taliban’s territorial takeover in August.

Killings: UNAMA counted 1,659 civilian deaths due to conflict from January 1 to June 30, and 350 from August 15 to December 31. Pro-Islamic Republic forces were responsible for 25 percent of pre-August 15 civilian casualties: 23 percent by the ANDSF, and 2 percent by progovernment armed groups such as militias. Antigovernment elements were responsible for 64 percent of the total pre-August 15 civilian casualties: 39 percent by the Taliban, 9 percent by ISIS-K, and 16 percent by undetermined antigovernment elements. UNAMA attributed 11 percent of pre-August 15 civilian casualties to “cross fire” during ground engagements where the exact party responsible could not be determined and other incident types, including unattributable unexploded ordnance and explosive remnants of war.

During the year antigovernment forces, including the Taliban, carried out numerous deadly attacks against religious leaders, particularly those who spoke out against the Taliban. Many progovernment Islamic scholars were killed in attacks for which no group claimed responsibility. On January 24, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Maulvi Abdul Raqeeb, a religious scholar, imam, and teacher. On March 3, Kabul University professor and religious scholar Faiz Mohammad Fayez was shot and killed on his way to morning prayers. On March 31, the ulema council chief in northern Takhar Province, Maulvi Abdul Samad Mohammad, was killed in a bomb blast when an explosive attached to his vehicle detonated.

On May 8, an elaborate coordinated attack on Sayed ul-Shuhuda girls’ school in Kabul deliberately targeted its female students in a mostly Hazara neighborhood, killing at least 90 persons, mostly women and girls. The Taliban denied responsibility, but the pre-August 15 government blamed the killings on the Taliban, calling the action “a crime against humanity.”

On June 12, a religious scholar in Logar Province, Mawlawi Samiullah Rashid, was abducted and killed by Taliban gunmen, according to a local Logar government official. In June, according to NGO HALO Trust, gunmen attacked a compound in Baghlan Province killing 10 de-miners. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack in which there were indications the gunmen may have sought to target Hazaras specifically. Taliban fighters killed nine ethnic Hazara men from July 4 to 6 after taking control of Ghazni Province, according to Amnesty International. On July 22, the Taliban executed a popular comedian from Kandahar, Nazar Mohammad, after beating him, according to HRW. After a video of two men slapping and abusing him appeared in social media, the Taliban admitted that two of their fighters had killed him.

A former police chief of Kandahar and a member of the High Council on the National Reconciliation on August 4 stated that the Taliban had killed as many as 900 individuals in Kandahar Province in the preceding six weeks.

On August 24, Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights, stated during the 31st Special Session of the Human Rights Council that her office received credible reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses in many areas under effective Taliban control.

An ISIS-K suicide bombing outside the Kabul Airport on August 26 killed more than 180 persons, including 169 civilians in a large crowd seeking to flee the country. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack.

Taliban fighters allegedly engaged in killings of Hazaras in Daykundi Province on August 30; the Taliban denied the allegations.

On September 6, Taliban fighters in Panjshir reportedly detained and killed civilians as a part of their offensive to consolidate control over the province. Reports of abuses remained unverified due to a Taliban-imposed blackout on internet communications in the province. According to Amnesty International, on the same day, the Taliban conducted door-to-door searches in the village of Urmaz in Panjshir to identify persons suspected of working for the pre-August 15 government. Taliban fighters executed at least six civilian men, with eyewitnesses saying that most had previously served in the ANSDF, but none were taking part in hostilities at the time of the execution.

Antigovernment groups regularly targeted civilians, including using IEDs to kill or maim them. UNAMA reported the use of nonsuicide IEDs by antigovernment elements as the leading cause of civilian casualties in the first six months of the year.

A bomb attack targeting Taliban leadership at a mosque in Kabul on October 3 killed at least five civilians at the memorial service for the mother of Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid.

ISIS-K launched several attacks on mosques in October. The attacks targeted the Shia community, killing dozens of worshipers in Kunduz, Kandahar. No group claimed responsibility for two attacks on December 10 in western Kabul targeting predominantly Shia Hazara neighborhoods.

On November 2, ISIS-K suicide blasts and gunfire at the main military hospital in Kabul left at least 20 persons dead and dozens more injured.

On November 3, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders and 11 other thematic UN special rapporteurs stated that Afghan human rights defenders were under direct threat by the Taliban, including gender-specific threats against women, beatings, arrests, enforced disappearances, and killings. The report noted that defenders described living in a climate of constant fear, with the most at-risk groups being defenders documenting alleged war crimes; women defenders, in particular criminal lawyers; cultural rights defenders; and defenders from minority groups. The Taliban raided the offices of human rights and civil society organizations, searching for the names, addresses, and contacts of employees, according to the report.

According to the UN secretary-general’s report on the situation in the country, eight civil society activists were killed (three by the Taliban, three by ISIS-K, and two by unknown actors between August and December 31.

Abductions: The UN secretary-general’s 2020 Children and Armed Conflict Report, released in June, cited 54 verified incidents of the Taliban abducting children. Of those, 42 children were released, four were killed, and the whereabouts of eight children remained unknown.

Child Soldiers: Under the pre-August 15 government’s law, recruitment of children in military units carried a penalty of six months to one year in prison. The Children and Armed Conflict Report verified the recruitment and use of 196 boys, of whom 172 were attributed to the Taliban and the remainder to pre-August 15 government or progovernment forces. Children were used in combat, including attacks with IEDs. Nine boys were killed or injured in combat. Insurgent groups, including the Taliban and ISIS-K, used children in direct hostilities, to plant and detonate IEDs, carry weapons, surveil, and guard bases. The Taliban recruited child soldiers from madrassas in the country and Pakistan that provide military training and religious indoctrination, and it sometimes provided families cash payments or protection in exchange for sending their children to these schools. UNAMA verified the recruitment of 40 boys by the Taliban, the ANP, and progovernment militias half in the first half of the year. In some cases the Taliban and other antigovernment elements used children as suicide bombers, human shields, and to place IEDs, particularly in southern provinces. Media, NGOs, and UN agencies reported the Taliban tricked children, promised them money, used false religious pretexts, or forced them to become suicide bombers. UNAMA reported the ANDSF and progovernment militias recruited and used 11 children during the first nine months of the year, all for combat purposes. Media reported that local progovernment commanders recruited children younger than age 16. NGOs reported security forces used child soldiers in the practice of bacha bazi.

The country remained on the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List in the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Interior took steps to prevent child soldier recruitment by screening for child applicants at ANP recruitment centers, preventing 187 child applicants from enrolling in 2020. The pre-August 15 government operated child protection units (CPUs) in all 34 provinces; however, some NGOs reported these units were not sufficiently equipped, staffed, or trained to provide adequate oversight. The difficult security environment in most rural areas prevented oversight of recruitment practices at the district level; CPUs played a limited oversight role in recruiting. Recruits underwent an identity check, including an affidavit from at least two community elders that the recruit was at least 18 years old and eligible to join the ANDSF. The Ministries of Interior and Defense also issued directives meant to prevent the recruitment and sexual abuse of children by the ANDSF. Media reported that in some cases ANDSF units used children as personal servants, support staff, or for sexual purposes. Pre-August 15 government security forces reportedly recruited boys specifically for use in bacha bazi in every province of the country.

While the pre-August 15 government protected trafficking victims from prosecution for crimes committed because of being subjected to trafficking, there were reports the government treated child former combatants as criminals as opposed to victims of trafficking. Most were incarcerated alongside adult offenders without adequate protections from abuse by other inmates or prison staff.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: After the August 15 Taliban takeover, there were fewer security and security-related incidents throughout the rest of the year. According to UNAMA, between August 19 and December 31, the United Nations recorded 985 security-related incidents, a 91 percent decrease from the same period in 2020. Security incidents also dropped significantly as of August 15 from 600 to less than 100 incidents per week. Available data indicated that armed clashes also decreased by 98 percent as of August 15 from 7,430 incidents to 148; airstrikes by 99 percent from 501 to three; detonations of IEDs by 91 percent from 1,118 to 101; and killings by 51 percent from 424 to 207.

The security environment continued to make it difficult for humanitarian organizations to operate freely in many parts of the country through August. Violence and instability hampered development, relief, and reconstruction efforts throughout the year. Prior to August 15, insurgents, such as the Taliban, targeted government employees and aid workers. NGOs reported insurgents, powerful local elites, and militia leaders demanded bribes to allow groups to bring relief supplies into their areas and distribute them. After the Taliban takeover, a lack of certainty regarding rules and the prevalence of conservative cultural mores in some parts of the country restricted operation by humanitarian organizations.

The period immediately following the Taliban takeover in mid-August was marked by general insecurity and uncertainty for humanitarian partners as Taliban operations included searches of NGO office premises, some confiscation of assets and investigation of activities. According to UNAMA, challenges to humanitarian access increased from 1,104 incidents in 2020 to 2,050 incidents during the year, the majority occurring in the pre-August 15 period at the height of fighting between the Taliban and government forces.

The cessation of fighting was associated with a decrease in humanitarian access challenges with only 376 incidents reported between September 17 and December 17, according to UNAMA. The initial absence of a clear Taliban policy on humanitarian assistance; lack of awareness of the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence; sweeping albeit varied restrictions on women in the workplace; access problems; and banking challenges were also significant impediments to aid groups’ ability to scale up response operations.

After mid-August, geographic access by humanitarian implementing partners improved significantly, allowing access to some rural areas for the first time in years. Taliban provincial and local leaders expressed willingness to work with humanitarian partners to address obstacles to the principled delivery of humanitarian assistance. In September the Taliban provided written and oral assurances to humanitarian partners and increasingly facilitated access for the provision of humanitarian goods and services from abroad and within the country. Nonetheless, impediments to the full participation of women in management, delivery, and monitoring of humanitarian assistance programs remained a concern.

In October a Taliban official reportedly declared a prominent U.S.-based humanitarian aid organization an “enemy of the state.” Taliban forces occupied the organization’s Kabul offices, seized their vehicles, and warned that NDS officials were determined to “punish” the organization on alleged charges of Christian proselytization. Faced with mounting hostility and threats to arrest staff, the organization suspended its operations. The organization’s Kabul offices remained occupied by the Taliban.

In its campaign leading up to the August 15 takeover, the Taliban also attacked schools, radio stations, public infrastructure, and government offices. An explosives-laden truck destroyed a bridge in Kandahar’s Arghandab district on March 23. While the blast inflicted no casualties, part of the bridge used to connect the district with Kandahar city was destroyed. Sediq Sediqqi, Ghani’s deputy minister of interior affairs for strategy and policies, accused the Taliban of destroying the bridge, which Taliban spokesperson Mujahid denied.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provided for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the pre-August 15 government sometimes restricted this right. Following August 15, the Taliban used force against protesters and journalists and suppressed political discussion and dissent. Journalists reported a chilling effect on free speech and press in the country as a result of the Taliban’s policies, particularly following media reports of torture of two local journalists covering women’s protests after the Taliban takeover. The Taliban announced restrictive media regulations in September and additional guidelines in November, in line with the Taliban’s strict interpretation of sharia.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution provided for freedom of speech under the pre-August 15 government. There were reports that the pre-August 15 government officials at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the pre-August 15 government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial governments was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Implementation of a law that provides for public access to government information remained inconsistent, and media reported consistent failure by the pre-August administration to meet the requirements of the law. Pre-August 15 government officials often restricted media access to official government information or simply ignored requests for information. UNAMA, HRW, and Reporters without Borders reported the government did not fully implement the law, and therefore journalists often did not receive access to information they sought. Furthermore, journalists stated pre-August 15 government sources shared information with only a few media outlets.

On September 16, Reporters Without Borders said that 103 journalists signed a joint statement asking the international community to take urgent action to help protect press freedom in the country. The journalists pled for international action to guarantee the protection of female journalists who sought to continue their work, resources for local media outlets to remain open, and material assistance for those who have fled abroad.

Reporters Without Borders and the Afghan Independent Journalists Association reported that approximately 200 media outlets have shut down, leaving almost 60 percent of journalists unemployed. Various factors, including financial constraints, fear, and departure of staff, also contributed to closures.

Violence and Harassment: Pre-August 15 government officials and private citizens used threats and violence to intimidate independent and opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out against impunity, crimes, and corruption by powerful local figures. The Taliban insurgency continued to threaten, attack, and kill journalists and media organizations. The Taliban warned media would be targeted unless they stopped broadcasting what it called “anti-Taliban statements.” Increased levels of insecurity until August 15 created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not the specific targets of violence. Media advocacy groups reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms in both print and social media to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation, especially after the Taliban takeover in August.

Many media workers fled to safe havens starting in January after the Taliban launched a campaign of violence against journalists in late 2020, as reported by UNAMA and independent media. Taliban violence continued to escalate against journalists throughout the year, and frequent reports of attacks continued after their occupation of the country in August. According to the UNESCO observatory of killed journalists, seven journalists were killed between January 1 and August 8, including four women.

On January 1, gunmen in Ghor Province opened fire on the car of journalist Bismillah Adil, killing him in an attack for which no one has claimed credit. On February 25, gunmen stormed Adil’s family home and killed three of his family members and wounded five children.

On June 3, unidentified assailants in Kabul detonated an explosive device attached to a van in which Ariana News TV Kabul anchor Mina Khairi was a passenger, killing her and two family members. An Ariana News TV manager said other station employees had received threats.

In response to increased concern regarding the targeting of journalists following the Taliban’s takeover in August, the UN Human Rights Council held an emergency session, and a group of UN human rights experts convened to issue a statement through the OHCHR. On September 3, the statement called on all member states to provide urgent protection to Afghan journalists and media workers who fear for their lives and are seeking safety abroad. Many of those journalists who remained in the country ceased their work and reported living in hiding to avoid targeted attacks. According to an al-Jazeera report in October, more than 30 instances of violence and threats of violence were reported by the Afghanistan National Journalists Union. Many journalists fled the provinces to Kabul and others departed the country.

Journalists faced the threat of harassment and attack by ISIS-K, the Taliban, and pre-August 15 government-linked figures attempting to influence how they were covered in the news. With the Taliban takeover of the country, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) in September reported numerous instances of Taliban physical violence against and detention of journalists, warning that an entire generation of reporters was at risk in the country.

On September 7, Taliban fighters detained a freelance photographer after he covered a protest in the western city of Herat, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At the end of the year, he had not been released.

On September 8, according to the CPJ, the Taliban detained and later released at least 14 journalists covering protests in Kabul. According to media sources, at least nine of the journalists were subjected to violence during their arrests or detention.

On September 18, an unidentified man shot journalist Mohammad Ali Ahmadi after accusing him of working for an “American radio station.” Ahmadi, a reporter and editor with national radio broadcaster Salam Watandar in Kabul, was shot twice in the leg and hospitalized.

CPJ reported in October that Taliban fighters assaulted at least three journalists covering a women’s protest in Kabul for demanding “work, bread, and education.” The fighters also attacked a photographer working with a French news agency, who captured some of the violence on camera.

According to UNAMA, two journalists were killed after August 15 – one by the ISIS-K and another by unknown actors.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Most requests for information from journalists who lacked influential connections inside the pre-August 15 government or international media credentials were disregarded, and government officials often refused to release information, claiming it was classified.

On September 19, the Taliban issued a set of 11 media directives including a requirement that media outlets prepare detailed reports in coordination with the new “governmental regulatory body.” The directives prohibit media from publishing reports that are “contrary to Islam,” “insult national figures,” or “distort news content.” The directives also included prohibitions on “matters that could have a negative impact on the public’s attitude or affect morale should be handled carefully when being broadcast or published.” Journalists in Kabul reported being turned away from covering events of interest and being told to obtain individual permits from local police stations with jurisdiction over the area of reporting activity.

Tolo TV, a commercial television station broadcasting programming through major cities across the country, scaled back programming in September in an act of self-censorship with the Tolo TV CEO, saying, “we had to sacrifice music for survival,” with the process of self-censorship entailing the elimination of Turkish soap operas, adding programming featuring women scarved, and replacing musical programming with religious chants.

Journalists called the restriction and censorship of information by the Taliban the primary obstacle to reporting and said many media organizations stopped their activities in an act of self-censorship after the collapse of the pre-August 15 government.

The Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice announced eight restrictive “religious guidelines” on November 21, including one recommending that women should not appear in television dramas or entertainment programs and another indicating that female journalists should wear head coverings. As of December the guidelines were not being enforced consistently.

Libel/Slander Laws: The pre-August 15 government’s laws prescribed prison sentences and fines for defamation. Pre-August 15 authorities sometimes used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained pre-August 15 government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the relevant law to avoid disclosing information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Throughout the year some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the Taliban and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. Insurgent groups coerced media agencies in insecure areas to prevent them from broadcasting or publishing advertisements and announcements of the security forces, entertainment programming, music, and women’s voices.

Women in some areas of the country said their freedom of expression in choice of attire was limited by conservative social mores and sometimes enforced by the Taliban in insurgent-controlled areas as well as by religious leaders.

Internet Freedom

The pre-August 15 government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media to spread its messages.

There were many reports of Taliban attempts to restrict access to information.

During its offensive on Panjshir in August and September, the Taliban shut down the internet in the province to restrict the transmission of information regarding fighting and communication between residents and the outside world. Reports indicated that, with limited exceptions in the days before the Taliban seized control in Kabul, access to the internet remained available throughout the country, including access to social media and messaging apps such as Twitter and WhatsApp. On September 9, the Taliban reportedly turned off internet service in parts of Kabul following a series of large anti-Taliban and anti-Pakistan street demonstrations.

Human rights groups encouraged human rights defenders to delete or modify their online presence to minimize the risk that the Taliban would link them to the former regime or NATO forces.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Academic freedom was largely exercised under the pre-August 15 government. In addition to public schooling, there was growth in private education, with new universities enjoying full autonomy from the government. Both government security forces and the Taliban took over schools to use as military posts.

The expansion of Taliban control in rural areas before the group’s takeover left an increasing number of public schools outside of pre-August 15 government control. The Taliban operated an “education commission” in parallel to the pre-August 15 Ministry of Education. Although their practices varied among areas, some schools under Taliban control reportedly allowed teachers to continue teaching but banned certain subjects and replaced them with Islamic studies; others provided only religious education, and only for male students.

In September the Taliban announced it would review subjects to be taught to ensure compliance with the Taliban interpretation of sharia, while also committing in October and November not to change the curriculum to a madrassa-style education. Public universities did not open for the academic year starting in September and remained closed as of December.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provided for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights; however, the pre-August 15 government limited these freedoms in some instances. The Taliban generally did not respect freedom of peaceful assembly and association, although they allowed some limited protests and demonstrations to take place without interference.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The pre-August 15 government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year; however, police sometimes fired live ammunition into the air when attempting to break up demonstrations. On January 29, at least 10 civilians were killed and 20 others injured when police fired upon a protest in the Behsud district of Maidan Wardak Province, according to Etilaatroz news. The Ministry of Interior stated the protesters were armed. On June 8, the Badakhshan Province governor allegedly ordered police to shoot demonstrators who had entered the governor’s compound, resulting in four deaths.

Protests and rallies were also vulnerable to attacks by ISIS-K and the Taliban. The August Taliban takeover prompted numerous, small-scale protests by women demanding equal rights, participation in government, and access to education and employment. Taliban fighters suppressed several women’s protests by force.

In the weeks immediately following the August 15 Taliban takeover, several peaceful protests were staged in cities throughout the country, primarily by women activists, without interference by the Taliban. Further protests were increasingly met with resistance and violence by the Taliban, however, and as of December the Taliban suppressed protests against the group and its policies.

On September 5, a march by dozens of women towards the presidential palace calling for the right to work was broken up by the Taliban with tear gas and pepper spray. In a similar incident three days later in Kabul, the Taliban reportedly used whips and batons to suppress a group of women demonstrating for equal rights. On September 8, the Taliban issued instructions banning unauthorized assemblies, motivating civil society, particularly women, to shift their efforts behind closed doors and to online platforms. The UN Human Rights Commission stated on September 10 that peaceful protests in many parts of the country were met with an increasingly violent response by the Taliban after their takeover. The Taliban frequently used force to suppress protests, including firing live ammunition overhead to disperse crowds.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provided for the right to freedom of association, and the pre-August 15 government generally respected it. The pre-August 15 government’s law on political parties required political parties to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. The same law prohibited employees and officials of security and judicial institutions, specifically the Supreme Court, Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and NDS, from political party membership. Noncompliant employees were subject to dismissal.

After August 15, the Taliban generally did not respect freedom of association.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The pre-August 15 government’s law provided for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The pre-August 15 government generally respected these rights. The Taliban generally respected these rights for citizens with sufficient identity documentation, including passports, but they prevented certain political figures associated with previous administrations from travelling abroad. Restrictions were also placed on women’s in-country movements.

In-country Movement: The pre-August 15 government generally did not restrict the right to freedom of movement within the borders of the country. Social custom limited women’s free movement in some areas without a male family member’s consent or a male relative chaperone (mahram). Prior to August 15, the greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country remained the lack of security. Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces and insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers. Prior to August 15, the Taliban regularly blocked highways completely or imposed illegal taxes on those who attempted to travel.

Through the year, Taliban checkpoints increasingly dotted the main highways leading in and out of Kabul, since many outposts were abandoned by pre-August 15 government security forces. Media workers and officials of the pre-August 15 government avoided in-country travel because they feared being identified by the Taliban and subjected to reprisals.

After the Taliban takeover in August, intercity travel was generally unobstructed. On December 26, the Taliban announced that women could not engage in long-distance travel without a mahram. Within populated areas, women could move more freely, although there were increasingly frequent reports of women without a mahram being stopped and questioned.

Foreign Travel: The country’s neighbors closed land borders to regular traffic after the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August, and travel by air decreased significantly due to capacity constraints and lack of functionality at the country’s airports. The Taliban stated they do not want citizens to leave the country but that those with foreign travel authorization and required documentation would be allowed to depart; Taliban leaders stated the right to travel is guaranteed by Islam. Enforcement of these “regulations” was inconsistent. Citizens with passports and visas for third countries were generally permitted to depart the country, and Pakistan was allowing pedestrians from Kandahar Province to cross into Pakistan and back for trade and day labor using only identity cards. The Taliban prevented certain political figures associated with previous administrations from travelling abroad due to concerns regarding possible political activities abroad. After August 15, most airlines flying commercial routes to and from Kabul International Airport cancelled flights, although Afghan airlines (Ariana and Kam) continued to fly commercial routes. Damaged equipment at Kabul International Airport limited aircraft takeoffs and landings to daylight hours under visual flight rules, which also required clear weather; these limitations made insurance costs for airlines prohibitive to operate and prevented the return of many commercial routes that existed prior to August 15.

In October the Taliban stated they would resume issuing passports, ending a months-long suspension that had diminished the limited ability of citizens to depart the country. According to local media, more than 170,000 passport applications received in August and September remained unadjudicated as of December 31. In December the Taliban announced that passport offices had opened in 25 provinces. Anecdotal reports suggested passports were not always issued impartially but rather reserved for individuals whom the Taliban deemed “unproblematic” or who could pay substantially higher prices for the passport. Some individuals associated with the previous administration reported being detained and beaten following their visit to passport offices.

In October Taliban authorities closed the Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing into Pakistan. After a 27-day closure, the crossing reopened to pedestrians and trade. After the reopening, Pakistan reportedly permitted Kandahar tazkira (national identification card) holders – as well as individuals with medical reasons but without documentation – to cross the border.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Internal population movements continued because of armed conflict and natural disasters, including avalanches, flooding, and landslides. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that widespread intense fighting between pre-August 15 government security forces and the Taliban between May and August forced approximately 250,000 citizens to flee their homes. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated a total of 669,682 persons were displaced between January and December 19, of whom 2 percent were displaced following August 15. Most internally displaced persons (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. UNHCR estimated that 158,000 displaced persons returned home since fighting subsided following the Taliban takeover in August.

Limited humanitarian access due to the poor security situation caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs, who continued to lack access to basic protection, including personal 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 at constant risk of eviction from illegally occupied displacement sites, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. in IDP sites 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 concerns were increasingly reported to humanitarian partners, with growing protection needs for persons with disabilities, the elderly, female-headed households, and sexual and gender minorities. By October, food shortages and lack of access to basic services contributed to a widespread humanitarian crisis, with millions of individuals lacking basic life necessities as the country faced the onset of winter. The economic and liquidity crisis since the Taliban takeover, lower agricultural yield due to drought conditions, unreliable electricity supply and deteriorating infrastructure, and the continuing COVID-19 pandemic all combined to worsen the humanitarian crisis.

f. Protection of Refugees

The pre-August 15 government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to IDPs, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. The Taliban has cooperated to a limited extent with UNHCR, the IOM, or other humanitarian organizations. On September 13, UN Refugee Commissioner Filippo Grandi visited the country and met with the Taliban’s so-called interim minister of refugees and repatriation affairs Khalil-ur-Rahmen Haqqani. In an interview with the Washington Post, Grandi noted that humanitarian access had increased since August due to the cessation of hostilities and improved security.

Access to Asylum: The pre-August 15 government did not create a legal and programmatic framework for granting asylum or refugee status and had not established a legal framework for providing protection to refugees. Since the takeover, the Taliban also have not created a legal and programmatic framework for granting of asylum or refugee status.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The pre-August 15 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. The Taliban’s “Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation Affairs” repatriated approximately 4,000 IDPs to their communities of origin, although the IOM estimated there were more than five million IDPs in the country. “Interim Minister” Khalil Haqqani told al-Jazeera that the Taliban had a plan to return all IDPs to their homes, assist in repairing damaged homes, and designate provincial support zones to assist returnees.

The IOM estimated that all returning migrants required humanitarian assistance. Between January and September, the IOM recorded a total of 866,889 undocumented Afghans returning or being deported from Iran and Pakistan. In the same time period, the IOM recorded 40,089 assisted returnees. UNHCR reported the number of registered refugees returning remained lower than in 2020, mainly due to the Taliban takeover. The country lacked the capacity to reintegrate successfully large numbers of returnees due to continuing insecurity, poor development, and high unemployment, exacerbated by COVID-19. Insecurity and lack of services meant most recent returnees could not return to their places of origin. While numbers of deportations or spontaneous voluntary returns were trending upwards, the seizure of Kabul by the Taliban in August disrupted accurate tracking of returnees.

g. Stateless Persons

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The 2004 constitution 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. The right to vote may be stripped for certain criminal offenses. Violence from the Taliban and other antigovernment groups interfered with, but did not prevent, the most recent presidential election, held in 2019. In September, after the Taliban takeover, the Taliban’s so-called chief justice was quoted as saying that the country would follow the 1964 Constitution with modifications until it drafted a replacement document. There was no further clarification, leaving uncertain whether there would be future elections or other democratic processes. The Taliban announced on December 27 that it was disbanding the Independent Election Commission, the Electoral Complaints Commission, and the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, stating they were “unnecessary for current conditions.”

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Elections were last held in 2019, and President Ghani’s second five-year term began in April 2020. President Ghani fled the country on August 15 as the Taliban approached Kabul. First Vice President Amrullah Saleh under President Ghani announced a government in exile in September. In September the Taliban’s spokesperson said future elections would be considered in the process of establishing a new constitution.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Under the pre-August 15 government, the constitution granted parties the right to exist as formal institutions. The law provided that any citizen 25 years old or older may establish a political party. The same law required parties to have at least 10,000 members nationwide to register with the Ministry of Justice, conduct official party business, and introduce candidates in elections. Only citizens 18 years old or older and who have the right to vote were permitted to join a political party. Certain members of the government, judiciary, military, and government-affiliated commissions were prohibited from political party membership during their tenure in office.

Before August 15, in large areas of the country, political parties could not operate due to insecurity. After August 15, the Taliban engaged with some political parties, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami. Senior leaders of other key parties left the country as the Taliban seized Kabul, including most notably the predominantly ethnic Tajik Jamiat Islami, the predominantly ethnic Hazara Hezb-e Wahdat, the predominantly Pashtun Islamic Dawah Organization, and the predominantly ethnic Uzbek Junbish-i-Milli. Taliban representatives reportedly maintained communication with those parties, but their ability to operate in the country was limited.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws under the pre-August 15 government prevented women or members of religious or ethnic minority groups 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 largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, had more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament, but they did not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence authorities purposely excluded specific societal groups from political participation.

The 2004 constitution specified 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 mandated that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). The Independent Election Commission finalized 2018 parliamentary election results in May 2019, and 418 female candidates contested the 250 seats in the Wolesi Jirga in the 2018 parliamentary election. In Daikundi Province a woman won a seat in open competition against male candidates, making it the only province to have more female representation than mandated by the constitution. The constitution also mandated one-half of presidential appointees must be women. It also set aside 10 seats in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the nomadic Kuchi minority. In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house), the president’s appointees were required to include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities, and one-half of the president’s nominees were required to be women. One seat in the Meshrano Jirga and one in the Wolesi Jirga were reserved for the appointment or election of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this was not mandated by the constitution.

In many regions traditional societal practices limited women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. The 2016 electoral law mandated that 25 percent of all provincial, district, and village council seats “shall be allocated to female candidates.” Neither district nor village councils were established by year’s end.

Women active in government and politics before August 15 continued to face threats and violence and were targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

In September the Taliban announced a “caretaker government,” dominated by ethnic Pashtun members with no women and only a few members of minority groups, none at the cabinet level. In late December the Taliban announced that a second member of the Hazara minority had been appointed to the government, this time as deputy minister for economic affairs.

On September 17, the Taliban closed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and announced that the reconstituted “Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” would be housed in its building. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was founded in 2001 with a mandate to “implement government’s social and political policy to secure legal rights of women in the country.” The ministry often struggled with a lack of influence and resources.

According to media reports, the Taliban repressed members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community and would not allow members of historically marginalized minority groups to participate in ministries and institutions (see section 6).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law under the pre-August 15 government provided criminal penalties for corruption by government officials. The pre-August 15 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. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Local businessmen complained that government contracts were routinely steered to companies that paid a bribe or had family or other connections to a contracting official.

According to prisoners and local NGOs, corruption was widespread across the justice system during the pre-August 15 government, particularly regarding the prosecution of criminal cases and in arranging release from prison. There were reports officials received unauthorized payments in exchange for reducing prison sentences, halting investigations, or dismissing charges outright.

Freedom House reported extensive corruption in the judiciary, with judges and lawyers often subject to threats and bribes from local leaders or armed groups.

During the year there were reports of “land grabbing” by both private and public actors, including the Taliban. 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: Under the pre-August 15 government, the Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC) had jurisdiction over corruption crimes allegedly committed by high-ranking government officials. Between January 2020 and February 2021, a total of 10 military officials of the rank of general were tried by the ACJC Primary Court. The ACJC Primary Court conducted trials in 95 cases involving 384 defendants. The court convicted 302 defendants, acquitted 77, and returned cases of two defendants to the prosecutor for further investigation. Since August the ACJC ceased to operate.

In January, three parliamentarians were arrested for bribery. Per parliamentary rules, the members were released from detention. They were indicted in February and convicted in a trial during which the defendants were absent but represented by counsel. The court sentenced each to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of three million afghanis ($40,000). The Senate wrote to the Supreme Court committing not to arrest the defendants pending their appeal to the ACJC appellate court. The defendants neither surrendered nor were arrested.

Local news agencies reported in February that the pre-August 15 government Ministry of Interior had removed 321 personnel from their posts as a part of the ministry’s campaign against extortion on the country’s highways. Also in February the Attorney General’s Office stated three members of the Meshrano Jirga were sentenced to prison for corruption.

Violent attacks by insurgents against judges, prosecutors, and prison officials made members of the judicial sector increasingly fearful in carrying out their duties. Justice-sector professionals came under threat or attack for pursuing certain cases, particularly corruption or abuse-of-power cases against politically or economically powerful individuals.

According to various reports, many pre-August 15 government officials, including district or provincial governors, ambassadors, and deputy ministers, were suborned. Pre-August 15 government officials with reported involvement in corruption, the drug trade, or records of human rights abuses reportedly continued to receive executive appointments and served with relative impunity. 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. Senior Interior Ministry officials of the pre-August 15 government also refused to sign the execution of arrest warrants.

The Taliban announced anticorruption policies following their takeover, including creating commissions in Kabul and at the provincial level to identify corrupt or criminal officials and taking a hardline stance against bribery. The Taliban launched a commission through the “Ministry of Defense” to identify members who were flouting the movement’s directives. A ministry spokesman stated that 2,840 Taliban members were dismissed on charges of corruption and drug use. Reporting from multiple local businessmen revealed that cross-border trading had become much easier under Taliban stewardship with elimination of the “gifts” usually required for Customs officials.

On December 8, Taliban officials in Herat announced that 100 Taliban security personnel were arrested and dismissed on charges of misconduct and illegal activity. They also reported a revenue of 100 million afghanis ($1.3 million) collected over three months due to reduced corruption. Local Taliban leaders in Balkh began investigations into allegations of corruption involving disability benefits, and leaders in Nangarhar established special units to prevent the illegal occupation of land and deforestation.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

As the conflict intensified in the lead-up to the Taliban takeover, the pre-August 15 government came under increasing criticism for being either incapable or unwilling to act upon reports of human rights abuses, especially regarding targeted killings by the Taliban of journalists and civic activists. Media also came under increasing pressure to restrict coverage of the government’s responsibility for civilian victims of the conflict.

Since their takeover in August, the Taliban has intervened in the operations of international and nongovernmental organizations. Staff from several organizations reported the Taliban asked that staff obtain a security clearance from them and pay a 30 percent tax on salaries received by employees.

On September 15, Taliban falsely claiming to be acting under the authority of the Ministry of Interior conducted a search of the country office premises of an international NGO dedicated to the promotion of rule of law in Kabul, seizing assets and stating an intent to return to conduct further searches.

International NGOs reported in August and September that the Taliban conducted house-to-house searches for pre-August 15 government officials and others who worked for international and human rights organizations.

The Taliban takeover and the ensuing turmoil created an immediately nonpermissive environment for many international and nongovernmental entities, including human rights organizations. Historic Taliban practices and post-August 15 actions created a climate of uncertainty and fear, which curtailed the work of journalists, civic activists, and human rights defenders, many of whom left the country due to retaliation. Investigations and reports by journalists and human rights organizations, however, continued to bring to light human rights abuses and atrocities, including allegations of summary executions of persons associated with the previous government, as well as extrajudicial killings of journalists and activists. Taliban authorities often denied that those abuses were taking place.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Under the 2004 constitution, the pre-August 15 government was required to support the AIHRC. The AIHRC highlighted human rights problems, but it received minimal government funding and relied almost exclusively on international donor funds. Three Wolesi Jirga committees dealt with human rights: the Gender, Civil Society, and Human Rights Committee; the Counternarcotic, 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 addressed human rights concerns. The Taliban takeover effectively curtailed almost all AIHRC operations and the operation of the pre-August 15 government’s parliament.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Implementation and awareness of a government decree regarding violence against women remained a serious problem under the pre-August 15 government. The decree criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women, including rape, battery or beating, forced marriage, humiliation, intimidation, and deprivation of inheritance. The law criminalizes rape against both women and men. The law provides for a minimum sentence of five to 16 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape, or up to 20 years if one or more aggravating circumstances are present. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The law criminalizes statutory rape and prohibits the prosecution of rape victims for zina. The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for conviction of “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. Pre-August 15 government authorities did not always enforce these laws, although the government was implementing limited aspects of the decree, including through dedicated prosecution units. Women and girls with disabilities were at increased risk for sexual abuse.

Prosecutors and judges in rural areas were frequently unaware of the decree 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 survivors faced stringent or violent societal reprisal, ranging from imprisonment to extrajudicial killing.

The law criminalizes forced gynecological exams, which acted as “virginity tests,” except when conducted pursuant to a court order or with the consent of the subject. Awareness and enforcement of the restrictions on forced gynecological exams remained limited. There were reports police, prosecutors, and judges continued to order the exams in cases of “moral crimes” such as zina. Pre-August 15 government doctors, frequently men, conducted these exams, often without consent. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape were often subjected to the exams.

The law for the pre-August 15 government criminalized assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as under the “injury and disability” and beating provisions in the relevant decree. According to NGO reports, millions of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, and other individuals. The AIHRC announced that of 3,477 cases of violence against women recorded with its organization in the first 10 months of 2020, 95.8 percent of cases involved a family-member perpetrator and that the home environment was the most dangerous place for women in the country. State institutions, including police and judicial systems, failed to adequately address such abuse. Lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced women to spend more time at home, reportedly resulting in increased incidence of domestic violence as well as additional stress on already limited victim-support systems. One such incident included a man from Paktika Province who cut off his wife’s nose with a kitchen knife in May. The woman, who regularly faced physical abuse by her husband, was reportedly seeking to leave the abusive relationship when her husband attacked her.

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, a preference for mediation, sympathy toward perpetrators, corruption, and family or tribal pressure. According to an HRW report published in August, there were dedicated prosecution units in all 34 provinces as of March and specialized courts – at least in name – with female judges in 15 provinces, and dedicated court divisions expanded to operate at the primary and appellate levels in all 34 provinces.

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, under the pre-August 15 administration. 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 to the perpetrator. Cultural stigmatization of women who spent even one night outside the home also prevented women from seeking services that may bring “shame” to herself or her family.

At times, women in need of protection ended up in prison, either because their community lacked a protection center or because “running away” was interpreted as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are criminal offenses. Running away from home is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office issued directives to this effect, but some local authorities continued to detain women and girls for running away from home or “attempted zina.” The pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families (see also section 6, Children, Child, Early, and Forced Marriage).

On September 19, Taliban gunmen entered a women’s shelter in Kabul by force, interrogated staff and residents for several hours and forced the head of the shelter to sign a letter promising not to allow the residents to leave without Taliban permission. The Taliban told the shelter operator they would return married shelter residents to their abusers and marry the single residents to Taliban soldiers.

Additionally, sources in September reported the Taliban were conducting “audits” of women’s shelters and women’s rights organizations, including those that provided protection services. These audits were enforced with intimidation through the brandishing of weapons and threats of violence. Equipment, including computers, paper files, and other documentation, was confiscated, and staff reported being aggressively questioned regarding their activities and possible association with the United States. Essential service providers either reduced or ceased their services altogether, citing fear of putting battered women, an already vulnerable demographic, at greater risk of violence and harm.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Under the 2004 constitution, 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 reported instances of baad were still practiced, often in rural areas. The practice of exchanging brides between families was not criminalized and remained widespread. “Honor killings” continued throughout the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law under the pre-August 15 government criminalized all forms of harassment of women and children, including physical, verbal, psychological, and sexual harassment. By 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 under the pre-August 15 government remained limited and ineffective. Media reported that the number of women reporting sexual harassment increased compared with prior years, although some speculated this could be an increased willingness to report cases rather than an increase in the incidence 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.

Prior to the August 15 Taliban takeover, businesswomen faced a myriad of challenges from the “traditional” nature of society and its norms regarding acceptable behavior by women. When it was necessary for a businesswoman to approach the government for some form, permit, or authorization, it was common for a male functionary to ask for sexual favors or money in exchange for the authorization.

After the Taliban takeover, most women-led businesses suspended operations due to the ongoing liquidity crisis and fear of violating Taliban edicts against women in the marketplace.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Under the pre-August 15 government, married couples had the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The Family Law (2019), which was in effect by promulgation of a presidential proclamation (although parliament never passed it), outlines individuals’ rights to reproductive health. There were no recent, reliable data regarding reproductive rights. According to the 2015 Afghanistan Demographic and Health Survey, only 5 percent of women made independent decisions concerning their own health care, while 44 percent reported that their husbands made the decisions for them.

According to UNICEF, more than 50 percent of girls in the country started their period without knowing what to expect or understanding why it was happening, and 30 percent of female students in the country were absent during menstruation because schools did not have adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities.

Having a child outside of wedlock is a crime according to the pre-August 15 government’s penal code and is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment for both men and women. Mothers faced severe social stigma for having a child out of wedlock, even when the pregnancy was a result of rape. Abortion or ending a pregnancy was classified as a crime under the law and was punishable by three months’ to one year’s imprisonment.

Women must obtain their husband’s consent to use contraception under the law. Barriers impacting reproductive health care or obstetrical care included many men preventing their wives from receiving care from male doctors or from having a male doctor in attendance at the birth of a child. Sources in October reported continued availability of contraceptives after the Taliban takeover of Kabul.

Persons with disabilities faced increased barriers to reproductive health resources as a result of decreased access to transportation, education, and social support. LGBTQI+ persons, already disadvantaged prior to August 15, faced further barriers to accessing reproductive health resources after the Taliban takeover. The already fragile community, which provided some resources to its members, largely disintegrated as members either fled the country or went into deep hiding. Widespread discrimination and abuse prevented most members from seeking reproductive or sexual-health assistance from all but the most trusted confidants.

Families and individuals in cities generally had better access to information than did those living in rural areas. According to the United Nations, the rate of contraceptive use among married women was 35 percent for those living in urban areas compared with 19 percent in rural areas. According to the pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Public Health, while there was wide variance, most clinics offered some type of modern family planning method.

The World Health Organization reported that the country had 638 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017 (the last year of reported data). A survey conducted by the Central Statistics Organization in the provinces of Bamyan, Daikundi, Ghor, Kabul, Kapisa, and Parwan concluded that many factors contributed to the high maternal death rate, including early pregnancy, narrowly spaced births, and high fertility. Some societal norms, such as a tradition of home births and the requirement for some women to be accompanied by a male relative to leave their homes, led to negative reproductive health outcomes, including inadequate prenatal, postpartum, and emergency obstetric care. Access to maternal health care services was constrained by the limited number of female health practitioners, including an insufficient number of skilled birth attendants. Additionally, the conflict environment and other security concerns limited women’s safe access to health services of any kind.

Since their takeover, the Taliban permitted women to continue their roles as health practitioners, but many women were afraid to return to work due to safety and security concerns related to the Taliban’s stated policies restricting women in the workplace. After August 15, the ever-smaller number of qualified female health practitioners steeply increased the risk of poor health outcomes for women.

Discrimination: Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the justice 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. Women do not have equal legal rights, compared to men, to inherit assets as a surviving spouse, and daughters do not have equal rights, compared to sons, to inherit assets from their parents. By law women may not unilaterally divorce their husbands but must obtain their husband’s consent to the divorce, although men may unilaterally divorce their wives. Many women petitioned instead for legal separation. According to the family court in Kabul, during the year women petitioned for legal separation twice as frequently as in the previous year.

Prosecutors and judges in some provinces continued to be reluctant to use the decree related to domestic violence, and judges sometimes replaced those charges with others based on other legal provisions.

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.

After August 15, the Taliban prohibited most female government employees from working, although the Taliban claimed they continued to pay their salaries. Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AWCCI) executives sought meetings with the Taliban-controlled Ministry of Economy after the takeover to get clarity on whether the Taliban would allow the estimated 57,000 women-led private businesses in the country to remain open. The AWCCI stated they failed to get a formal meeting with high-level Taliban decisionmakers but were assured informally that women would be allowed to work “if that work conformed with Islamic law.”

Prior to August 15, in the Taliban-controlled areas of the country many women and girls could not decide whom they would marry or at what age, or object to beatings by their husbands. In Jowzjan’s Darzab district, a Taliban commander raped and killed a 16-year-old girl when the family refused to allow her to marry a Taliban fighter.

On April 28, the Taliban published an article, “Feminism as a Colonial Tool,” on its website, accusing the West of using feminism to justify its “invasion, subjugation and bullying of Muslims.” The article asserted the “man-made” concept of women’s rights has “destructive effects on human society” and that women’s rights must be defined by Islam.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Ethnic tensions continued to result in conflict and killings. Societal discrimination against Hazaras continued in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the pre-August 15 government frequently assigned Hazara police officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior.

ISIS-K continued attacks against Shia, predominately Hazara, communities. On October 8, an ISIS-K suicide bomber killed at least 50 members of the minority Shia community at a mosque in Kunduz. On October 15, a suicide bomber attack targeting a Shia community mosque in Kandahar killed more than 30 worshippers. Following attacks and threats, Taliban security forces augmented protective operations at Shia mosques.

Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs, harassment in school, and verbal and physical abuse in public places. The pre-August 15 government delivered meals and aid to approximately 200 Afghan Sikh and Hindu families who returned from India in mid-May after facing financial hardship and COVID outbreaks in India. The government also directed increased security for the Sikh and Hindu communities and the deputy minister of Haj and religious affairs said in June that the ministry had undertaken 14 reconstruction projects for temples in view of their central role in the community. With the Taliban takeover, many of the estimated several hundred Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in the country may have fled to India and other countries.

According to HRW, Taliban representatives in early October forcibly displaced hundreds of Hazara families from southern Helmand Province to the northern Balkh Province, in part to distribute land to their own supporters. The Taliban carried out the evictions at gunpoint and with little notice, preventing families from taking their belongings or finishing harvesting their crops. An HRW report stated that the largest displacements took place in 15 villages in Daikundi and Uruzgan Provinces where the Taliban evicted at least 2,800 Hazara residents in September.

UNHCR reported that approximately 40 percent of Afghan arrivals to Iran were Hazaras.

In December senior Taliban representatives held a series of engagements with Shia Hazara leaders. On December 26, “interim Deputy Prime Minister” Maulavi Mohammed Abdul Kabir hosted a meeting of Shia leaders from around the country, and “interim Deputy Foreign Minister” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai spoke at a December 29 meeting of the Shia Ulema Council in Kabul. In these meetings the Taliban officials expressed their commitment to provide security for all citizens and a desire to avoid sectarian division.

In November and December, Taliban intelligence officials targeted Ahmadi Muslims for arrest. According to reports from international Ahmadiyya organizations, the detainees were physically abused and coerced into making false “confessions” of being members of ISIS-K and subsequent releases required recanting their faith. In October Sikhs reported harassment by armed Taliban representatives at their central temple in Kabul. In late November more than 80 Sikhs and Hindus departed for India.

After August 15, ISIS-K’s heightened activity further increased the targeting of non-Sunni groups. At least four attacks by ISIS-K targeted Shia and Hazara communities between October and December.

Religion and ethnicity in the country were often closely linked, making it difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity. Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and other non-Muslim minorities reported continued harassment and repression under both the pre-August 15 government and the Taliban.

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

Children

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

Education: Under the pre-August 15 government, education was mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years in primary school and three years in lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. UNICEF reported that approximately 3.7 million children, 60 percent of them girls, were not in school due to discrimination, poverty, lack of access, continuing conflict, and restrictions on girls’ access to education in Taliban-controlled areas, among other reasons. Under the pre-August 15 government, only an estimated 16 percent of the country’s schools were for girls, and many of them lacked proper sanitation facilities. 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 education director in Jawzjan Province said in March that Taliban militants stopped an estimated 20,000 female students from studying beyond sixth grade. Even before their takeover of Kabul, in Taliban-controlled districts within the provinces of Kunar, Helmand, Logar, and Zabul, the Taliban had largely prohibited women and girls from attending school as provincial education officials attempted in vain to negotiate with the Taliban for girls to have access to education.

Violent attacks on schoolchildren, particularly girls, hindered their 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. In February Taliban militants set fire to a girls’ school in Takhar Province, burning all equipment, books, and documents.

There were reports that both insurgent groups and government forces used school buildings for military purposes. School buildings were damaged, and students were injured in Taliban attacks on nearby government facilities.

Following their takeover, the Taliban severely restricted or prohibited female education across all age levels, citing a need to ensure proper facilities were in place for segregated education in line with the Taliban’s interpretation of sharia.

The Taliban’s lack of a clear education policy regarding women’s ability to teach and girls’ ability to attend schools, combined with nonpayment of teachers’ salaries, led to low enrollment rates even where schools were open.

In September the Taliban stated that girls would be able to go to school in line with Islamic law, without further clarifying how it would respect their access to education. According to UNICEF, the Taliban instructed primary schools in late August to reopen for both girls and boys.

On September 18, the new Taliban ministry of education issued a statement resuming secondary education for boys but gave no indication as to when girls might return to classes. As of December schools in nine of the country’s 34 provinces – Balkh, Jawzjan, Samangan, Kunduz, Urozgan, Ghazni, Faryab, Zabul, and Herat – had allowed girls to attend secondary school before closing for the winter break, according to UNICEF and other reports. In December the Taliban asserted that this number had grown to 12 provinces and pledged that all girls could return to school in March 2022 after the break.

As of December all public universities remained closed. Several private, all-female universities reopened for fall classes in October.

Taliban leaders stated they were committed to allowing girls and women access to education through the postgraduate level, although only in accordance with their interpretation of sharia and within the confines of Afghan culture, which includes segregation of genders and strict behavioral and dress codes.

On November 16, the head of the so-called Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice stated there was no theological basis in Islam for preventing girls and women from having access to all levels of education. Other Taliban representatives expressed the group’s intent to provide educational access at all levels to women and girls. At year’s end many Afghan girls remained excluded from the educational system.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse and neglect. The penalty for beating, or physically or mentally disciplining or mistreating a child ranges from a fine of 10,000 afghanis ($130) to one year in prison if the child does not sustain a serious injury or disability. Conviction of endangering the life of a child carries a penalty of one to two years in prison or a fine of 60,000 to 120,000 afghanis ($780 to $1,560).

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 cases, which deterred child victims from reporting their claims.

In 2020, the most recent year data were available, there was an uptick in arrests, prosecutions and prison sentences given to perpetrators of bacha bazi, including members of the military and security forces. Kandahar’s governor sent seven members of the ANP suspected of sexually abusing and killing a 13-year-old boy in Kandahar to trial in Kabul. One of the seven was given the death penalty, and the others were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on charges including rape, as well as bacha bazi (two of them received sentences of 30 years’ imprisonment and the other four were sentenced to 24 years’ imprisonment).

Despite consistent reports of bacha bazi perpetrated by the Afghan National Army, the ANP, and ALP officials, the government has only once (in September 2020) prosecuted officials for bacha bazi. The government denied that security forces recruited or used child soldiers. Some victims reported that authorities perpetuated abuse in exchange for pursuing their cases, and authorities continued to arrest, detain, and penalize survivors.

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 pre-August 15 government military and progovernment groups sexually abused and exploited young girls and boys. UNAMA reported children continued to be subjected to sexual violence by parties to the conflict at an “alarming rate.” According to media and NGO reports, many of these cases went unreported or were referred to traditional mediation, which often allowed perpetrators to reoffend. There were press reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers and school officials, particularly against boys. The pre-August 15 government claimed families rarely pressed charges due to shame and doubts that the judicial system would respond.

On May 4, the pre-August 15 government’s Minister of Justice and head of the Trafficking in Persons High Commission, Fazil Ahmad Mannawi, shared the pre-August 15 government’s statistics on trafficking in persons for the year 2020: He reported that the ministry arrested 70 suspects, the Attorney General’s Office launched investigations of 50 suspects, and courts were reviewing 235 cases of trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants, and bacha bazi at the end of 2020. Six hundred victims were provided with medical, psychological, and educational services in 2020. The pre-August 15 government held more than 200 trafficking-in-persons awareness-training sessions for more than 8,000 citizens, government officials, and ANDSF personnel. There was an increase of bacha bazi cases investigated, prosecuted, and convicted.

The pre-August 15 government took steps to discourage the abuse of boys and to prosecute or punish those involved. The pre-August 15 government’s law criminalizes bacha bazi as a separate crime and builds on a 2017 trafficking-in-persons law that includes provisions criminalizing behaviors associated with the sexual exploitation of children. The law details the punishment for authorities of security forces involved in bacha bazi with an average punishment of up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Although no police officer had ever been prosecuted for bacha bazi, eight officers were arrested during the year in connection with bacha bazi incidents and charged with “moral crimes,” sodomy, or other crimes.

The pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Interior operated CPUs throughout the country to prevent the recruitment of children into the ANP, although the CPUs played a limited oversight role in recruiting. Nevertheless, recruitment of children continued, including into the ANP, the ALP, progovernment forces, and the Taliban. Additionally, the government did not have sufficient resources to reintegrate children into their families once they had been identified by the CPUs.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Despite a law under the pre-August 15 government setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 years for girls (15 years with the consent of a parent or guardian or the court) and 18 years for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early and forced marriages throughout the country. A 2017 UNICEF study found that 28 percent of women were married by age 18. Those convicted of entering into or arranging forced or underage marriages are subject to at least two years’ imprisonment; however, implementation was limited. By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is age 16 (or 15 with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates.

After the August takeover by the Taliban, due to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country, widespread reports surfaced suggesting that some families were selling their young children, usually daughters for early marriage, to afford food.

Societal pressures and the Taliban practice of arranging marriages for widows forced women into unwanted marriages. HRW conducted telephone interviews with residents in Herat in September and found that women in Taliban-controlled areas increasingly felt pressured to marry for their own safety in view of restrictions upon their movements and activities imposed by the Taliban.

On August 13, the Taliban entered Herat, seizing government offices and the police station. A Taliban fighter reportedly threatened to kill a widowed mother of five if she did not marry him, and she was forced to do so in September with the consent of a mullah. She has said that her life is a nightmare and “it is like he is raping me every night.”

On December 3, Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhunzada announced a public decree banning the forced marriage of women. The decree set out the rules governing marriage and property for women, stating that women should not be forced into marriage and widows should have a share in their late husband’s property. The decree mandated that courts should consider these rules when making decisions, and religious affairs and information ministries should promote these rights.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The pre-August 15 government criminalized sexual exploitation of children. In addition to outlawing the practice of bacha bazi, a practice common in parts of the country in which men exploit boys for social and sexual entertainment, the law provides that, “[i]f an adult male has intercourse with a person younger than the legal age, his act shall be considered rape and the victim’s consent is invalid.” In the case of an adult female having intercourse with a person younger than the legal age, the law considers the child’s consent invalid, and the woman may be prosecuted for adultery. The law prescribes a penalty of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for forcing an underage girl into commercial sexual exploitation. Taking possession of a child for sexual exploitation or production of pornographic films or images constitutes trafficking in persons under the Trafficking in Persons law regardless of whether other elements of the crime are present.

Displaced Children: NGOs and government offices reported high numbers of returnee families and their children in border areas, specifically Herat and Jalalabad. The pre-August 15 government attempted to follow its policy and action plan for the reintegration of Afghan returnees and IDPs, in partnership with the United Nations; however, the government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, many of them unaccompanied minors, remained limited, and it relied on the international community for assistance. 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 as many as 80 percent of children between ages four and 18 in orphanages were not orphans but from families unable to provide them with food, shelter, schooling, or all three. 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-care 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, the country’s primary military prison. 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/reported-cases.html

Anti-Semitism

There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts. The one confirmed Afghan Jew residing in the country departed the country when the Taliban took over Kabul.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, difficulty in acquiring government identification required for many government services and voting, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion due to stigma. The government did not provide government information and communication in accessible formats.

The World Institute on Disability (WID) estimated that 90 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed as a result of entrenched social biases and faced barriers to accessing public services including health and education. According to WID, persons with disabilities also faced barriers to accessing education, transportation, and health care.

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

Before the August takeover, the Taliban attacked the Special Olympics headquarters in Kabul with at least two separate bombing attempts. On August 15, Taliban gunmen entered the headquarters and seized the office director’s laptop and credentials, prompting the director to flee the country due to repression.

The 2004 constitution prohibited 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 government to adopt inclusive measures and provide for the active participation in society of persons with disabilities. The law under the pre-August 15 government also provides for equal rights to, and the active participation of, persons with disabilities. Observers reported that both the constitutional provisions and disability rights law were mostly ignored and unenforced.

In the Meshrano Jirga, authorities reserved two of the presidentially appointed seats for persons with disabilities. By law, 3 percent of all government positions are reserved for persons with disabilities, but pre-August 15 government officials acknowledged the law was not enforced.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV or AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS. While the law allows for the distribution of condoms, the pre-August 15 government restricted distribution to married couples.

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

LGBTQI+ individuals reported they continued to face arrest by security forces and discrimination, assault, and rape. There were reports of harassment and violence of LGBTQI+ individuals by society and police. Same-sex sexual conduct was widely seen as taboo and indecent. LGBTQI+ individuals did not have access to certain health-care services and could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Organizations devoted to protecting the freedom of LGBTQI+ persons remained underground because they could not legally register with the government. Registered organizations working on health programs for men who have sex with men faced harassment and threats by the Ministry of Economy’s NGO Directorate and NDS officials.

The Taliban takeover of the country increased fears of repression and violence among LGBTQI+ persons, with many individuals going into hiding to avoid being captured by the Taliban. Many fled the country after the takeover. After the takeover, LGBTQI+ persons faced increased threats, attacks, sexual assaults, and discrimination from Taliban members, strangers, neighbors, and family members.

Members of the LGBTQI+ community reported being physically and sexually assaulted by Taliban members, and many reported living in physically and economically precarious conditions in hiding. In July a Taliban judge stated that gay men would be subject to death by stoning or crushing. In August a gay man was reportedly tricked into a meeting by two Taliban members and then raped and beaten. There were also reports from members of civil society that LGBTQI+ persons were outed purposely by their families and subjected to violence to gain favor with the Taliban. There were reports of LGBTQI+ persons who had gone missing and were believed to have been killed.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Under sharia, conviction of same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death, flogging, or imprisonment. Under the law, sex between men is a criminal offense punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and sex between women with up to one year of imprisonment. Individual Taliban members have made public statements confirming that their interpretation of sharia allows for the death penalty for homosexuality.

The law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQI+ persons faced societal and governmental discrimination both before and after the Taliban takeover.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The pre-August 15 government’s 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, provided no definition of a union or its relationship with employers and members, nor did it establish a legal method for union registration or penalties for violations. The law did 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 provided no other legal protection for union workers or workers seeking to unionize. International NGOs noted that unions were largely absent from the informal and agricultural sectors, which accounted for the majority of Afghan workers.

Although the law identifies the Labor High Council in the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (Ministry of Labor) as the highest decision-making body on labor-related matters, the lack of implementing regulations prevented the council from performing its function. The ministry contained an inspection office, but labor inspectors could only advise and make suggestions. Inspectors lacked the authority to enter workplaces freely, conduct inspections, and assess fines for violations. As a result, application of the 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 Taliban’s so-called interim minister of labor and social affairs has not made any statements on workers’ unions since he assumed the office.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law narrowly defines forced labor and does not sufficiently criminalize forced labor and debt bondage. Men, women, and children were exploited in bonded labor, where an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment was used to entrap other family members, sometimes for multiple generations. This type of debt bondage was common in the brickworks industry. Some families knowingly sold their children into sex trafficking, including for bacha bazi (see section 7.c.).

Government enforcement of the labor law was ineffective; resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate; and the government made minimal efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

Men, women, and children (see section 7.c.) were exploited in bonded and forced labor. Traffickers compelled entire families to work in bonded labor, predominantly in the carpet and brickmaking industries in the eastern part of the country and in carpet weaving countrywide. Some women who were sold to husbands were exploited in domestic servitude by their husbands. Men were subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture and construction.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 but permits 14-year-old children to work as apprentices, allows children ages 15 and older to do light, nonhazardous work, and permits children 15 to 17 to work up to 35 hours per week. The law prohibits children younger than 14 from working under any circumstances. The law was openly flouted, with poverty driving many children into the workforce. 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. The Taliban made no public statements on child labor and has not purported to alter the existing labor law, but reports indicated that child labor continued in poverty-stricken areas.

Poor institutional capacity was a serious impediment to effective enforcement of the law. Labor inspectors had legal authority to inspect worksites for compliance with child-labor laws and to impose penalties for noncompliance. But deficiencies included the lack of authority to impose penalties for labor inspectors, inadequate resources, labor inspector understaffing, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations.

Child labor remained a pervasive problem. Most victims of forced labor were children. Child laborers worked as domestic servants, street vendors, peddlers, and shopkeepers. There was child labor in the carpet industry, brick kilns, coal mines, and poppy fields. Children were also heavily engaged in the worst forms of child labor in mining, including mining salt; commercial sexual exploitation including bacha bazi (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 (see section 1.g.). Taliban forces pressed children to take part in hostile acts (see section 1.g.).

Some children were forced by their families into labor with physical violence. Families sold their children into forced labor, begging, or sex trafficking to settle debts with opium traffickers. Some parents forcibly sent boys to Iran to work to pay for their dowry in an arranged marriage. Children were also subject to forced labor in orphanages run by NGOs and overseen by the government.

According to the International Labor Organization and UNICEF, millions more children were at risk of child labor due to COVID-19 because many families lost their incomes and did not have access to social support. Child labor was a key source of income for many families and the rising poverty, school closures, and decreased availability of social services increased the reliance on child labor. Many children already engaged in child labor experienced a worsening of conditions and worked longer hours, posing significant harm to their health and safety. Aid and human rights groups reported child labor laws were often violated, and noted that children frequently faced harassment and abuse and earned very little or nothing for their labor. In November UNICEF reported 9.7 million children needed humanitarian assistance and that child labor was likely to increase as humanitarian coping mechanisms were exhausted. The number of child laborers increased both due to general impoverishment of families and the arrival of more IDPs, according to a December statement by a Social Affairs Directorate officer in Herat Province.

Gender inequities in child labor were also rising, since girls were particularly vulnerable to exploitation in agriculture and domestic work. The UN Security Council reported that nine violent attacks against schools occurred between April 1 and June 30. Poverty and security concerns frequently led parents to pull girls out of school before boys, further increasing the likelihood that girls could be subjected to child labor.

In August international aid organizations noted that, without sufficient humanitarian aid, families would be forced to resort to child labor and child marriage. In November UN officials noted that a worsening economic situation was leading households to resorting to dangerous practices, such as child labor and early marriage, in order to survive.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The 2004 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 law prescribes a term of imprisonment of not more than two years for anyone convicted of spreading discrimination or factionalism, which was commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. A 2018 law criminalizes physical, verbal, and nonverbal harassment, punishable with a fine, but the law remained largely ineffective due to underreporting.

Under the pre-August 15 government, women faced discrimination and hardship in the workplace. Women made up only 22 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. Gender-based violence escalated with targeted killings of high-profile women in the public sector. Salary discrimination existed in the private sector. Men earned 30 percent more on average in the same occupations as women and 3.5 times more in agriculture and forestry, where women occupied two-thirds of the workforce. Female journalists, social workers, LGBTQI+ persons, and police officers reported they were often threatened or abused. Persons with disabilities also suffered from discrimination in hiring.

The pre-August 15 government’s Ministries of Labor and Public Health jointly adopted a regulation listing 244 physically arduous and harmful occupations prohibited to women and children, of which 31 are identified as the worst forms of child labor that are prohibited to children younger than 18. Under the regulation, it is not permissible for women and children to engage in types of work that are physically arduous, harmful to health, or carried out in underground sites, such as in the mining sector.

In September the Taliban-appointed “Kabul mayor” instructed the city’s female staff (amounting to approximately one-third of Kabul’s 3,000 municipal employees) to stay at home, with the exception of women whose jobs could not be replaced by men. Taliban leaders stated they would implement their version of sharia, prohibiting women from working alongside men, but gave no indication when female employees would be able to return to work. A similar Taliban ruling kept public universities from opening in September, as they were not configured to meet the Taliban’s gender-segregation standards, which effectively barred women from obtaining a secondary education, disenfranchising them from professional employment.

In October, media reported Taliban representatives stated women would continue to work at police stations and in passport offices. The Taliban further stated they were trying to provide working conditions for women in the sectors where they were needed, according to Islamic law. Taliban representatives also stated women were banned from most employment while saying women could keep their jobs only if they were in a role a man could not fill. In a December 16 interview, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claimed no women had been fired from public-sector jobs and that they continued to receive salaries at home.

As of December the UN OCHA mapped the agreements between aid agencies and the Taliban in each of the country’s 34 provinces, showing where female staff members would be permitted to work. The document, reviewed by HRW, indicated that, as of October 28, Taliban representatives in only three provinces had provided a written agreement unconditionally permitting women aid workers to do their jobs. Ethnic Hazaras, Sikhs, and Hindus faced discrimination in hiring and work assignments, in addition to broader social discrimination (see section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law for the pre-August 15 government established a minimum wage of 6,000 afghanis ($78) per month for permanent (unlimited duration, paid leave) government employees and 5,500 afghanis ($71) per month for workers in the nonpermanent private sector (fixed-term contracts, temporary agency work and casual or seasonal work). The country did not have minimum wage rules for permanent workers in the private sector. In 2020 the Ministry of Economy established a poverty line of two dollars per day. The afghani devalued from 77 afghanis per U.S. dollar to more than 105 afghanis per U.S. dollar from June to year’s end, putting all minimum wage earners below the poverty line.

The law for the pre-August 15 government defined 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 government regulated night and overtime work. Night work (between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.) qualified production workers for a 25 percent increase in wages; service and administrative workers earned a 15 percent increase. Overtime work earned employees a 25 percent increase in wages for the hours worked, 50 percent if those hours were during a public holiday. 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 requires employers to provide day care and nurseries for children.

The Ministry of Labor, in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior, was responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. The Ministry of Labor was responsible for conducting inspections and responding to complaints; the Interior Ministry would enforce the law with fines and prison sentences. In 2020 the government did not report the number of labor inspectors; however, as of December 2018 the Labor Ministry had 27 inspector positions, 21 of which were filled. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the size of the country’s workforce, which included more than 7.9 million workers. According to the International Labor Organization’s technical advice of a ratio approaching one inspector for every 40,000 workers in less developed economies, the country should employ more than 200 labor inspectors. Government officials and NGOs acknowledged the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Officials within the Ministry of Labor indicated that labor inspections took place only in Kabul. Ministry inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections but could not initiate sanctions or assess penalties themselves. The Labor Ministry would pass findings to the Interior Ministry, whose prosecutors would decide how and whether to prosecute. No data were available on Labor Ministry funding or the number of inspections conducted during the year.

The pre-August 15 government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws. Neither the Ministry of Labor nor the Ministry of Interior made data available on penalties assessed for violation of labor laws, making comparisons with similar crimes (fraud) impossible. Media reporting suggested the Labor Ministry had focused its inspections on public organizations, ignoring worksites in the private sector as well as in the informal economy. International NGOs and Afghan media reported that violations of wage, hour, and overtime laws were especially prominent in the brickmaking and carpet-making sectors.

Occupational Safety and Health: The country has no occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations or officially adopted standards. There were no government inspectorates to investigate unsafe conditions or respond to workers’ complaints. Workers could not remove themselves from health-endangering situations without risking their employment.

The law provides for reduced standard workweeks for children ages 15 to 17, pregnant women, nursing mothers, miners, and workers in other occupations that presented health risks. Inspectors for compliance for reduced hours for at-risk employees were the same as those responsible for wage enforcement. The pre-August 15 government did not effectively enforce wage, workweek, or OSH laws. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance, and inspectors have no legal authority to impose penalties for violations. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties for violations were nonexistent.

With no formal OSH laws in place, the government did not track sector-specific deaths and injuries. Media reports suggested that workers in the construction, metalworking, and mining industries were especially vulnerable to death or injury, because adherence to OSH principles was not compulsory.

Informal Sector: Even before August 15, employers often chose not to comply with the pre-August 15 government labor requirements and often 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. In October the UN secretary-general noted 80 percent of the country’s economy was informal, with women dominating the informal economy. Workers in the informal sector were covered by minimum wage and workweek-hour laws, but informal workers were generally unaware of the full extent of their labor rights.

The pre-August 15 government did not provide additional social protections for workers in the informal economy. The Labor Ministry, however, was responsible for the operation of Child Protection Action Network (CPAN) units, a coalition of government agencies, NGOs, and community and religious leaders designed to combat child labor which occurred primarily in the informal sector. CPAN units received complaints of child labor, investigated, and referred cases to NGO and government shelters that provided social services. CPAN operated in 171 districts and processed more than 3,500 cases in 2020. No data were available on cases during the year or whether CPAN would continue under the Taliban.

Albania

Executive Summary

The Republic of Albania is a parliamentary democracy. The constitution vests legislative authority in the unicameral parliament (the Assembly), which elects both the prime minister and the president. The prime minister heads the government, while the president has limited executive power. On April 25, the country held parliamentary elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found that the elections were generally well organized, voters had a choice of candidates who were able to campaign freely, and the Central Election Commission adequately managed its obligations. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe report, however, highlighted several deficiencies, including vote buying, leaking of sensitive personal data, and significant advantage gained by the ruling party due to incumbency.

The Ministry of Interior oversees the Guard of the Republic and the State Police, which includes the Border and Migration Police. The State Police are primarily responsible for internal security. The Guard of the Republic protects senior state officials, foreign dignitaries, and certain state properties. The Ministry of Defense oversees the armed forces. The State Intelligence Service is responsible to the prime minister, gathers information, and carries out foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were some allegations of abuses by members of the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: problems with the independence of the judiciary as it continued to undergo vetting; restrictions on free expression and the press; and pervasive corruption in all branches of government and municipal institutions.

Impunity remained a problem, although the Specialized Anticorruption Body and anticorruption courts made significant progress during the year in investigating, prosecuting, and convicting senior officials and organized criminals.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

In December 2020, State Police shot and killed a man in Tirana who was violating a COVID-19 curfew. The officer who shot him was arrested, tried, and convicted for the killing. The minister of internal affairs resigned following protests in response to the killing. There were no other reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Civilian law enforcement agencies such as the State Police investigated whether civilian security force killings were justifiable and pursued prosecutions for civilian agencies. Military law enforcement conducted investigations of killings by the armed forces.

The Office of the Ombudsman reported that the high number of persons taken into custody by police resulted in overcrowding of detention facilities. For example, on December 9 and 13, police temporarily detained 357 persons, 126 of them minors, during street protests following the December 20 police shooting death of the unarmed man in Tirana breaking COVID curfew.

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such actions, there were allegations that police sometimes abused suspects and prisoners. For example, the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) reported a case of physical abuse of a minor while in police detention. Medical staff did not report the corroborating physical examination showing bruising to the head and arm to the prosecutor’s office. Responding to the incident, the general director of police mandated training focused on criminal procedural rights of juveniles.

Prisoners engaged in hunger strikes on several occasions in 2020 to protest COVID restrictions limiting contacts with outside visitors, new legislation tightening prisoner privileges in high-security regimes, and allegations of corruption related to the quality of food, and access to medicine.

The Ministry of Interior’s Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints (SIAC) received complaints of police abuse and corruption that led to investigations of police actions. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent, constitutional entity that serves as a watchdog over the government, reported that most cases of alleged physical or psychological abuse during the year occurred during arrest and interrogation, especially in cases of public protest.

The government made greater efforts to address police impunity, most notably in the single case of excessive use of deadly force. The SIAC recorded an increase in the number of investigations, prosecutions, and sanctions against officers for criminal and administrative violations. The December 2020 deadly police shooting of a COVID curfew violator who fled arrest led to widespread protests, some violent. The officer involved was arrested soon after the shooting and was convicted of homicide in July, receiving a 10-year prison sentence, reduced from 15 years due to his guilty plea.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Poor physical conditions in some prisons and a lack of medical care, particularly for mental-health conditions, were serious problems, as was corruption. Conditions remained substandard in some police detention facilities in remote locations.

The General Directorate of Prisons issued several decisions to manage the spread of COVID-19 within the penitentiary system. The AHC reported that in March through May 2020, authorities identified 21 cases of positive infection in prisons, while from July 2020 to February 2021, 140 cases were reported. Only five cases were treated in civil COVID medical treatment facilities, Covid 1 and Covid 2. Shen Koll prison in Lezhe and the Prisons’ Hospital in Tirana dedicated some of their facilities to treating COVID-19 patients only. Authorities continued to prohibit meetings with families. In October 2020, inmates at the Peqin and Shen Koll prisons and their families protested the restrictions on visits.

Physical Conditions: While overcrowding was not a problem in most facilities, the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) and the Office of the Ombudsman reported overcrowding in the Zaharia prison in Kruje, the Jordan Misja prison, and the Durres prison. The General Directorate of Prisons reported sporadic overcrowding in several other prisons as populations fluctuated. Prison facilities in Kruja, Durres, Rrogozhina, Saranda, Lezha, Kukes, Ali Demi and Tepelena were reported by the Office of the Ombudsman and the AHC to have urgent infrastructure problems.

The Office of the Ombudsman and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report that authorities held inmates with mental disabilities in regular prisons, where access to mental health care was inadequate. Since 2018 the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health have tried to accommodate Zaharia inmates and detainees in the prison in Lezha. The AHC and the ombudsman reported the government had not completed turning buildings in the Lezha prison into a special medical institution to which Zaharia inmates could be transferred, in part due to anti-COVID restrictions. In November 2020 the Ministry of Justice announced it was constructing a prison for inmates older than 60 with a capacity of 120 beds that was to be completed in 2022. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture visited the country on November 23-26 to assess progress on closing the Zaharia facility and transferring forensic psychiatric patients to a specialized forensic psychiatric facility. Following the visit, the minister of justice announced the government had closed the Zaharia prison, and the 319 inmates there were transferred to the reconstructed Shen Kolli prison blocks.

Except for regional facilities in Tirana (excluding its commissariats, which are smaller units falling under regional police directorates) Gjirokaster, Kukes, Fier, and Korca, conditions in facilities operated by the Ministry of Interior, such as police stations and temporary detention facilities, did not meet the required standards. Some detention facilities in remote areas were unheated during the winter and lacked basic hygienic amenities and sanitizers as measures against COVID-19. Facilities were cramped, provided limited access to toilets, and had little or no ventilation, natural light, or beds and benches. Camera monitoring systems were nonexistent or insufficient in most police stations. The ombudsman reported that detention facilities operated by the Interior Ministry were overcrowded due to the increased number of arrests during the year and because of delays in the admission of new inmates in the penitentiary system. The ombudsman reported a high percentage of prison inmates were pretrial detainees. Criminal proceedings were generally delayed by shortages of judges resulting from the high number of those who failed vetting and were not yet replaced.

Administration: The ombudsman reported that prison and police officials generally cooperated with investigations. The General Directorate of Prisons received 20,065 complaints and requests through August, mostly regarding employment decisions, health-care services, and COVID-related prohibitions on in-person inmate contact with family and visitors that continued to July. The ombudsman received 60 complaints from detainees and inmates through August but did not refer any cases for prosecution.

In 2020 the Berat prison director was suspended and later dismissed following charges of abuse of duty and corruption. Through August the General Directorate of Prisons reported that it had carried out disciplinary proceedings against 112 prison staff and had fired 26.

Through August four inmates remained under a legal regime adopted in July 2020 to minimize communications between organized crime and gang members in prison and their outside contacts, to prevent them from running criminal organizations while incarcerated.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed local and international human rights groups, media, and international bodies such as the Committee for the Prevention of Torture to monitor prisons and detention facilities.

Improvements: The ombudsman and the AHC confirmed an overall decrease during the year in prison overcrowding due to new infrastructure and amnesties. Nevertheless, some penitentiary facilities were still overcrowded.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law and constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these prohibitions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires that, except for arrests made during the commission of a crime, police arrest a suspect on criminal grounds with a warrant issued by a judge and based on sufficient evidence. There were no reports of secret arrests. The law provides that police must immediately inform a prosecutor of an arrest. The prosecutor may release the suspect or petition the court within 48 hours to hold the individual further. A court must also decide within 48 hours whether to place a suspect in detention, require bail, prohibit travel, or require the defendant to report regularly to police.

By law and based on a prosecutor’s request, the court has 72 hours to review pretrial detention status of a court-ordered arrest. Police may detain rather than formally arrest a suspect for a period not exceeding 10 hours. The ombudsman and the AHC found several procedural irregularities with the detention of individuals for longer than 10 hours, mainly following the December 2020 protests.

The constitution requires authorities to inform detainees immediately of their rights and the charges against them. The law provides for bail, and a system was operational; police frequently released detainees without bail, on the condition that they report regularly to the police station. Courts also often ordered suspects to report to police or prosecutors on a weekly basis. While the law gives detainees the right to prompt access to an attorney, at public expense if necessary, the ombudsman reported instances of interrogations taking place without the presence of legal counsel. The AHC and the ombudsman expressed concerns regarding the absence of family members during medical examinations and the absence of legal counsel and a psychologist during preliminary investigation processes involving minors.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. The government generally observed these prohibitions.

Pretrial Detention: While the law requires completion of most pretrial investigations within three months, a prosecutor may extend this period. The law provides that pretrial detention should not exceed three years. Extended pretrial detention often occurred due to delayed investigations, defense mistakes, or the intentional failure of defense counsel to appear. The law authorizes judges to hold offending attorneys in contempt of court. Limited material resources, lack of space, poor court-calendar management, insufficient staff (including judges who had failed vetting and had not yet been replaced), and the failure of attorneys and witnesses to appear prevented the court system from adjudicating cases in a timely fashion. As of July pretrial detainees accounted for just over 51 percent of the prison and detention center population.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political pressure, intimidation, corruption, and limited resources prevented the judiciary from functioning fully, independently, and efficiently. Court hearings were generally open to the public unless COVID-19 restrictions did not allow for journalists or the public to enter court premises. In such cases, media submitted complaints to the court, which reviewed them on a case-by-case basis and generally allowed journalists and the public to attend hearings if the case was of interest to the general public.

The government continued to implement an internationally monitored process to vet judges and prosecutors and dismiss those with unexplained wealth or ties to organized crime. As of September, 42 percent of the judges and prosecutors vetted had failed and been dismissed, 36 percent passed, and 22 percent resigned or retired. During the year the number of vetted Supreme Court judges grew to fill nine of the 19 seats on the court. Assignments of vetted judges were sufficient to establish administrative, civil, and penal colleges and allow courts to begin adjudicating cases. The Supreme Court, however, must have at least 10 judges to be able to elect the remaining three Constitutional Court judges. As of July 31, the Supreme Court had a backlog of 36,608 cases pending adjudication.

The politicization of past appointments to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court at times threatened to undermine the independence and integrity of these institutions.

The implementation of justice reform provisions led to a pause in normal disciplinary processes while the country established independent disciplinary bodies. From January through September 8, the country’s High Justice Inspectorate received 875 complaints that resulted in the issuance of 740 decisions on archiving and 120 decisions on the verifications of complaints. It also administered 24 disciplinary investigations, nine of which were carried over from the previous Inspectorate at the High Judicial Council. The High Justice Inspectorate also submitted nine requests for disciplinary proceedings against magistrates to the High Judicial Council and High Prosecutorial Council.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty. It provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult an attorney. If they cannot afford one, an attorney is to be provided at public expense. The law provides defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and access to interpretation free of charge. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. The government generally respected these rights, although trials were not always public and access to an attorney was at times problematic. To protect the rights of defendants and their access to the evidence against them, a prosecutor must petition a preliminary hearing judge and make a request to send the case to trial.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

While individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, instances of judicial corruption, inefficiency, intimidation, and political tempering were reported. Courts took steps to address the problem by using audio-recording equipment. Despite having a statutory right to free legal aid in civil cases, NGOs reported that very few individuals benefitted from such aid during the year. To address the problem, the Ministry of Justice established the Free Legal Aid Directorate, law clinics at state universities, an online platform during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a telephone line to request free legal aid. The ongoing vetting process and legal mechanisms put in place by the high justice inspector to regulate the disciplining of judges also aimed to mitigate such problems.

Claimants who had exhausted remedies in domestic courts could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In many cases, authorities did not enforce ECHR rulings. The Office of the Ombudsman expressed concern about the country’s low rate of compliance with judicial decisions and its failure to execute the final rulings of courts and the ECHR. The ombudsman cited the state attorney’s reporting that millions of euros in compensation had yet to be paid by the government to successful complainants.

Persons who were political prisoners under the former communist regime continued to petition the government for compensation. The government did not make progress on disbursing compensation during the year. The Institute for Activism and Social Change and the Authority for Information on Former State Security (Sigurimi) Files raised concerns regarding unresolved missing persons cases dating from the former communist regime.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The Office of the Ombudsman and NGOs reported that property rights remained problematic, particularly the prolonged compensation process and low levels of compensation for expropriated property. Thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era remained unresolved with the Agency for the Treatment of Property and were sent back to the claimants to pursue their cases in court. Claimants may appeal to the ECHR after exhausting domestic legal recourse, and many cases were pending ECHR review. The ombudsman reported that as of March, more than 66 cases against the state were before the ECHR, involving millions of euros in claims. The ombudsman reported that the government owed millions of euros for judgements since 2015. The ombudsman reported that because of the ECHR judgement in the 2018 case Sharxhi et al vs. Albania, among others, the government owed more than 13.4 million euros ($15.4 million) to plaintiffs. The ombudsman and the AHC alleged that the Cadaster Office was unresponsive to inquiries, hampering administrative investigations of property rights. In December the government announced a two-year project to digitize all property archives, enabling online access.

The country endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. It does not have any restitution or compensation laws relating to Holocaust-era confiscation of private property. Under the law, religious communities have the same restitution and compensation rights as natural or legal persons. The government reported no property claims had been submitted by victims of the Holocaust.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website at: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The constitution and laws prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but there were reports that the government failed to respect those prohibitions. During the year’s parliamentary election campaign, it emerged that a database with the personal information and contact details of approximately 900,000 citizens as well as their likely voter preferences, leaked into the public domain, potentially making voters vulnerable to pressure. A criminal investigation was launched by the Specialized Anticorruption Body (SPAK).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government usually respected these rights, although defamation is a criminal offense. There were reports that the government, businesses, and criminal groups sought to influence media in inappropriate ways.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

In-country Movement: To receive government services, citizens changing place of residence within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many individuals could not provide documentation and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means or necessary information to register.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

In August the government, in coordination with private organizations, began accepting Afghan evacuees seeking protection following the change of the Afghanistan government. Over 2,400 Afghans were subsequently granted temporary protection status by the Albanian government.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

In February a new law on asylum was adopted (Asylum Law no. 10/121) that extended the deadlines for granting or denying asylum requests from 51 days to six months from the date of application, with potential for three-month extensions up to 21 months, under certain circumstances.

As of August 31, five persons had applied for asylum with the Directorate for Asylum, Foreigners, and Citizenship. UNHCR supported the appeals of four rejected asylum applicants.

Police allowed UNHCR, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the NGO Caritas to monitor the access of arrivals to national procedures and return of persons to countries from which they arrived. Monitors reported prescreening procedures were often curtailed, raising concerns about access to asylum and identification of potential victims of trafficking. The ombudsman and Caritas were also allowed to monitor the detention of migrants.

UNHCR reported some cases of border police returning migrants to Greece despite indicating an intention to seek asylum. Authorities detained 6,521 irregular migrants who entered the country between January and August, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; most of those who did not request asylum were deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation.

Migrants who claimed asylum were housed at the Babrru National Reception Center for Asylum Seekers. Many of the irregular migrants placed in Babrru were later apprehended again attempting to cross into Montenegro and Kosovo rather than remaining in the country to pursue asylum requests. Karrec and Babrru centers faced funding constraints. In late 2020 UNHCR supported rehabilitation of a portion of Babrru capable of accommodating 30 asylum seekers and unaccompanied and separated children. In August the Ministry of Interior redistributed funds in the state budget, allocating approximately 56,500 euros ($65,000) for refurbishment and increasing reception capacity.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law limits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or being granted refugee status. UNHCR reported that one asylum request had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which included Greece.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: NGOs reported concerns regarding the unaccompanied foreign and separated children who faced increased risk of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation due to lack of strong protection system. The NGO Nisma ARSIS supported six cases of unaccompanied children who arrived in the country during the year through September.

NGOs considered the migrant detention facility in Karrec to be unsuitable for children and families. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, sending them instead to the open asylum-seekers facility in Babrru.

Employment: Under the new law on asylum, refugees may seek employment authorization. If no decision has been communicated within nine months, employment authorization is automatically granted.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance.

g. Stateless Persons

Police reported no stateless persons in the country as of August.

According to UNHCR statistics, approximately 700 persons at risk of statelessness were identified under the agency’s statelessness mandate as of November. Of these, approximately 380 were registered with the National Register of Civil Status. The government does not have data regarding the total number of stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country. The 2021 Law on Foreigners establishes a statelessness determination procedure. UNHCR and its partners provided technical support to the government with the implementation of the law.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national parliamentary elections were held on April 25. An International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) was formed as a common endeavor of the OSCE Office for Democracy and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In its final report on the elections, the IEOM reported the elections were generally well organized and noted the Central Election Commission (CEC) “managed to adequately fulfill most of its obligations, including complex new ones related to electronic voter identification. Overall, the election administration at all levels enjoyed the trust of stakeholders.” The IEOM reported, “the ruling party derived significant advantage from its incumbency, including through its control of local administrations, and from misuse of administrative resources. This was amplified by positive coverage of state institutions in the media.” The mission also highlighted several deficiencies, including credible allegations of pervasive vote buying by political parties and the leaking of sensitive personal data. The report found that journalists remained vulnerable to pressure and corruption.

Local elections took place in 2019. The main opposition party and others boycotted the elections, alleging government collusion with organized crime to commit electoral fraud. The OSCE election observation mission reported that, because of the boycott, “voters did not have a meaningful choice between political options” and “there were credible allegations of citizens being pressured by both sides.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Media outlets reported allegations of the use of public resources for partisan campaign purposes in the 2021 parliamentary elections, and there were reports of undue political influence on media. There were also reports of limited access to voting for persons with disabilities.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials and prohibits individuals with criminal convictions from serving as mayors, parliamentarians, or in government or state positions, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Corruption was pervasive in all branches of government, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Through September, the Special Prosecution Office against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) announced that it had opened investigations and brought charges against several public officials, including former ministers, mayors, sitting judges and prosecutors, former and sitting judges of the Constitutional Court’s Vetting Appeal’s Chamber, former judges of the Supreme Court, and officials in the executive branch. As of September, one judge, two prosecutors, one mayor, and the former procurement director at the Ministry of Interior were indicted on abuse of office or corruption charges.

The constitution requires judges and prosecutors to undergo vetting for unexplained wealth, ties to organized crime, and professional competence. The Independent Qualification Commission conducted vetting, and the Appeals Chamber reviewed contested decisions. The International Monitoring Operation, composed of international judicial experts, oversaw the process. As of November, 125 judges and prosecutors were dismissed, 103 confirmed, while 48 others had resigned rather than undergo vetting. As of July, 173 judges and prosecutors were dismissed, 148 confirmed, while 89 others had resigned or retired.

Several government agencies investigated corruption cases, but limited resources, investigative leaks, real and perceived political pressure, and a haphazard reassignment system hampered investigations.

Corruption: Between January and June, the Prosecutor General’s Office managed a total of 41 cases, including 25 cases carried over from 2020, nine new cases, five dismissed cases, and two cases on which court proceedings had not started.

From January to August, SPAK prosecuted 606 cases, of which 264 were newly registered (218 cases on corruption charges and 46 on organized crime), and 133 persons were charged (84 on corruption charges and 49 on organized crime). A total of 127 persons were convicted. The value of assets confiscated by court ruling was estimated at more than 70 million euros ($80.5 million). While prosecutors made significant progress in pursuing low- to mid-level public corruption cases, the prosecution rate for high-ranking officials remained low. The Supreme Court was reviewing cases against a former minister of interior (found guilty of abuse of office for facilitating international drug trafficking) and a vetting official (found guilty of forging documents). The appellate court was reviewing the case of a former prosecutor general found guilty by a trial court on charges of asset concealment. The case against a former minister of defense on corruption charges was also reopened.

The High Inspectorate for the Declaration of Assets and Conflict of Interest reported that through August, it had referred four new cases for prosecution, involving one member of parliament, one mayor, one general director of public administration, and one prosecutor. Charges included refusing to declare assets, hiding assets, or falsifying asset declarations; money laundering; and tax evasion.

Police corruption remained a problem. Through August the SIAC received 1,155 complaints which were within the jurisdiction of the service and entered them into the SIAC Case Management System. Most of the complaints alleged a failure to act, violation of standard operating procedures, abuse of office, arbitrary action, police bias, unfair fines, and passive corruption. SIAC referred to the prosecution 149 cases involving 215 officials. The Office of the Ombudsman also processed complaints against police officers, mainly concerning problems with arrests and detentions.

Police did not always enforce the law equitably. Personal associations, political or criminal connections, deficient infrastructure, lack of equipment, and inadequate supervision often influenced law enforcement. Authorities continued to address these problems by renovating police facilities, upgrading vehicles, and publicly highlighting anticorruption measures. The government established a system for vetting security officials and, as of November 2019, had completed vetting 32 high-level police and SIAC leaders.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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 generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is the main independent constitutional institution for promoting and enforcing human rights. It is authorized by law to monitor and report on prisons and detention centers and conduct administrative investigation of complaints from citizens. Although the Ombudsman’s Office lacked the power to enforce decisions, it acted as a monitor of alleged human rights abuses, and institutions made efforts to meet its recommendations.

The Assembly has committees on legal issues, public administration, and human rights that review the annual report of the Office of the Ombudsman. The committee was engaged and effective in legislative matters.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime; the law also includes provisions on sexual assault. Penalties for rape and sexual assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the penalty is three to 10 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Authorities did not disaggregate data on prosecutions for spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities often did not consider it a crime.

The law on domestic violence extends protection to victims in a relationship or civil union and provides for issuance of a protective order that automatically covers children as well. In November 2020 parliament amended the law to provide for ordering the abuser to leave the premises of the victim. Police operated an automated application issuance process within the police case management system that allowed for rapid issuance of protective orders and produced a record of orders issued. A National Strategy for Gender Equality 2021-2030 and its action plan were adopted in June and focused on the empowerment of women and the advancement of gender equality.

In April the Ministry of Health and Social Protection approved a protocol for operating shelters for victims of domestic violence and trafficking during the COVID-19 pandemic. The protocol provides services to victims of domestic violence and trafficking while following guidance on social distancing. The ministry posted a video message reminding citizens to report any case of suspected domestic violence and provided a hotline and police number on its web page.

As of August, police reported 33 cases of alleged sexual assault. NGOs reported high levels of domestic violence against women, and police reported 3,563 cases of domestic violence as of August. In 2,205 cases, a protection order was issued. As of August, 13 women had been killed by their partners.

State Social Services reported that 30 women and 33 children were accommodated in the national reception center for victims of domestic violence as of August. Social Services also reported there were 25 other centers around the country to deal with domestic violence cases with counseling and long-term services. State Social Services faced challenges in terms of employment and education because 75 percent of domestic violence survivors were from rural areas and did not have appropriate education. The government also operated a crisis management center for victims of sexual assault at the Tirana University Hospital Center.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but officials rarely enforced it. The commissioner for protection from discrimination generally handled cases of sexual harassment and could impose fines. Police reported 33 cases of sexual harassment as of August.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

While there are no legal barriers to access to contraceptives, which were provided free of charge to insured women, women and girls often did not use this right for a variety of reasons, including fear of stigma from health-care service providers and members of their community. Some women and girls, particularly those living in remote, rural areas, faced significant challenges in accessing essential sexual and reproductive health services. Women from disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as women with disabilities, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community, Roma, and Balkan-Egyptian women, were often unaware of their rights to reproductive health services.

The Ministry of Health and Social Protection operated the Lilium Center in Tirana with the support of the UN Development Program (UNDP) to provide integrated services to survivors of sexual violence. The center was in a hospital setting and provided health-care services, social services, and forensic examinations at a single location by professionals trained in cases of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was prescribed or offered within the first five days after abusive sexual intercourse or rape; the contraceptive was suggested to be given as soon as possible to maximize effect. From its creation in 2018 through July, the center provided services to 85 survivors. Survivors in remote areas of the country did not have many options for assistance and support in their areas. Unless they were identified by authorities and brought to Tirana, they could only be referred to shelters for victims of trafficking.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women were underrepresented in many fields at the highest levels. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, although many private employers did not fully implement this provision. In many communities, women experienced societal discrimination based on traditional social norms subordinating women to men.

There were reports of discrimination in employment. Through August the commissioner for protection from discrimination managed 94 cases of employment discrimination, 74 of which were against public entities and 21 against private entities. The complaints alleged discrimination based mainly on political affiliation, health conditions, or disability. The commissioner ruled in favor of the employee in 16 cases, 15 of which were against public entities and one against private entities. Through August the commissioner had received 17 complaints of discrimination based on gender and ruled in favor of the employee in two cases. Through August the commissioner found five cases of discrimination on grounds of disability.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to official figures, in 2020 the ratio of boys to girls at birth was 107 to 100. There were no government-supported efforts to address the imbalance.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

There were allegations of discrimination targeting members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, including in housing, employment, health care, and education. The antidiscrimination commissioner issued a monitoring report with a special focus on children in the education system in December 2020. It concluded that children with disabilities and from the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities continued to face discrimination in education.

As of August the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received 26 complaints of discrimination on grounds of race and ethnicity, ruling in favor of the complainant in four cases. In one case, the commissioner ruled against a Tirana bank and its contracted security company for discriminating against Romani bank customers. The bank appealed the commissioner’s discrimination decision to the court.

The government has a law on official minorities but has not passed all the regulations needed for its implementation. The law provides official minority status for nine national minorities without distinguishing between national and ethnolinguistic groups. The government defined Greeks, Macedonians, Aromanians (Vlachs), Roma, Balkan-Egyptians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Serbs, and Bulgarians as national minorities. The law provides for minority language education and dual official language use for the local administrative units in which minorities traditionally reside or in which a minority makes up 20 percent of the total population. The ethnic Greek minority complained regarding the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek communities outside communist-era “minority zones.”

Children

Anti-Semitism

Reports indicated there were 40 to 50 Jews resident in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Nevertheless, employers, schools, health-care providers, and providers of other state services at times engaged in discrimination. The law mandates that public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government only sporadically enforced the statutes. In May the government adopted the National Action Plan on Disability 2021-2025, with the accessibility component as one of the main priorities.

As of August the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received 33 complaints of alleged discrimination against individuals with disabilities and ruled in favor of the complainants in five cases. In one case the commissioner ruled against the local post office for lacking accessibility. There were no known reports of violence, harassment, or physical abuse against those with disabilities.

The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies lacked funding to implement their programs adequately. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were in facilities that lacked accessibility or other accommodations. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection (Ministry of Health) improved building accessibility in 28 health centers and to the newly restored post-earthquake schools with the support of the UNDP. A December 2020 report by the antidiscrimination commissioner concluded that only 60 percent of schools in the country were partially or fully accessible to children with disabilities.

The government provided targeted funding for social-care service projects to persons with disabilities in the municipalities of Librazhd, Lushnje, Lezha, Rrogozhina, Kavaja and Tirana, funding day-care centers, mobile services for children with disabilities, and integrated community services for children and young individuals with disabilities. During the year parliament adopted law 82/2021, On official translation and the profession of official translator, that defines the role of sign language interpreters and provides the right to interpretation for official business.

The Ministry of Health reported that 697 unemployed disabled individuals were registered with the employment offices as of April. Only 18 persons with disabilities were employed as of July, while 58 received vocational training.

The number of children with disabilities in public education increased in the 2020-21 academic year. During the year, 4,131 students with disabilities attended classes in nonspecialized public and private educational institutions starting from preschool. During the year approximately 11.5 percent of children with disabilities enrolled in preuniversity education attended special education institutions.

OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights reported that most polling stations for the April 25 elections visited by the monitoring team were not barrier free for persons with physical disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against individuals with HIV or AIDS. The Association of People Living with HIV or AIDS reported that stigma and discrimination caused individuals to avoid getting tested for HIV, leading to delayed diagnosis and consequently delayed access to care and support. Persons with HIV or AIDS faced employment discrimination and issues with professional reintegration, and children living with HIV faced discrimination in school. The Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS reported service delays and other problems after the Infectious Disease Clinic was converted into a COVID-response hospital.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Enforcement of the law was generally weak. The National Action Plan for LGBTI concluded in 2020, and a new one for 2021-27 was being drafted. As of August, the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received seven cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or both. Most cases were under review. In one case, the commissioner ruled against a Tirana taxi company that had refused services to transgender persons. The company had yet to respond to the commissioner. Reports indicated that LGBTQI+ persons continued seeking asylum in EU countries.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are among the classes protected by the country’s hate crime law. Despite the law and the government’s formal support for rights, public officials sometimes made homophobic statements. Some incidents of hate speech occurred online and in the media after an LGBTQI+ activist suggested changing the law to enable registering the children of LGBTQI+ couples. NGOs filed the case with the antidiscrimination commissioner and the ombudsperson. Government institutions did not react to the controversy.

Several persons were arrested for physically assaulting a transgendered person. As of August, the shelter service NGO Streha had assisted 72 LGBTQI+ youths facing violence or discrimination in their family and community. The Ministry of Health increased support to the shelters by covering the costs of shelter staff salaries. Other shelter costs, including food, medication, and shelter rent, remained covered by donors.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law and related regulations and statutes provide the right for most workers to form independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law prohibits members of the military and senior government officials from joining unions and requires that a trade union have at least 20 members to be registered. The law provides the right to strike for all workers except indispensable medical and hospital personnel, persons providing air traffic control or prison services, and fire brigades. Strike action is prohibited in “special cases,” such as a natural catastrophe, a state of war, extraordinary situations, and cases where the freedom of elections is at risk.

The law provides limited protection to domestic and migrant workers. Labor unions were generally weak and politicized. Workers who engage in illegal strikes may be compelled to pay for any damages due to the strike action.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources for conducting inspections and remedying violations were not adequate. The labor inspectorate inspected 8 percent of businesses in the country. Penalties were rarely enforced and were not commensurate with those under other laws related to the denial of civil rights. Of 45 fines that were imposed, only 17 were collected as of July. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Arbitration procedures allowed for significant delays that limited worker protections against antiunion activity.

Civilian workers in all fields have the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively, and the law establishes procedures for the protection of workers’ rights through collective bargaining agreements. Unions representing public-sector employees negotiated directly with the government. Effective collective bargaining remained difficult because employers often resisted union organizing and activities. In this environment, collective bargaining agreements, once reached, were difficult to enforce.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not always effectively enforce the law. Lack of coordination among ministries and the sporadic implementation of standard operating procedures hampered enforcement. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes but were seldom enforced. Some law enforcement organizations and the victim advocates at the prosecutors’ offices received training in a victim-centered approach to victims of human trafficking. The government continued to identify victims of forced labor and prosecuted and convicted a small number of traffickers.

The Labor Inspectorate reported no cases of forced labor in the formal sector during the year. (See section 7.c. for cases involving children in forced labor in the informal sector.) Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits most of the worst forms of child labor, but gaps exist in the legal framework, such as lack of prohibitions for using children in illicit activities. The law sets the minimum age of employment at 16 but allows children at the age of 15 to be employed in “light” work that does not interfere with school. Children younger than 18 may generally only work in jobs categorized as “light.” Children may work up to two hours per day and up to 10 hours per week when school is in session, and up to six hours per day and 30 hours per week when school is not in session. Children who are 16 or 17 may work up to six hours per day and up to 30 hours per week if the labor is part of their vocational education. By law the State Inspectorate for Labor and Social Services (SILSS) under the Ministry of Finance and Economy is responsible for enforcing minimum age requirements through the courts, but it did not adequately enforce the law. Penalties for violations were rarely assessed and were not commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Labor inspectors investigated the formal labor sector, whereas most child labor occurred in the informal sector. Children engaged in gathering recyclable metals and plastic, small-scale agricultural harvesting, selling small goods in the informal sector, serving drinks and food in bars and restaurants, the clothing industry, and mining. There were reports that children worked as shop vendors, vehicle washers, textile factory workers, or shoeshine boys. The number of children engaged in street-related activities (such as begging or selling items) increased during the summer, particularly around tourist areas. The NGO Nisma ARSIS reported an increasing number of children in street situations used for drug distribution.

Children were subjected to forced begging and criminal activity. Some children begging on the street were second- or third-generation beggars. Research suggested that begging started as early as the age of four or five. While the law prohibits the exploitation of children for begging, police generally did not enforce it, although they made greater efforts to do so during the year. In several cases, police detained parents of children found begging in the street and referred children for appropriate child services care. The State Agency on Children ’s Rights continued to identify and manage cases of street children identified by mobile identification units.

In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the government’s statistical agency and the International Labor Organization estimated that 54,000 children were engaged in forced labor domestically. An estimated 43,000 children worked in farms and fishing, 4,400 in the services sector, and 2,200 in hotels and restaurants. Nearly 5 percent of children were child laborers. The State Agency for Protection of Children Rights identified 166 children in street situations as of June.

SILSS did not carry out inspections for child labor unless there was a specific complaint. Most labor inspections occurred in shoe and textile factories, call centers, and retail enterprises; officials found some instances of child labor during their inspections. As of July, SILSS reported 91 children younger than 18 registered to work, of whom 40 were employed in manufacturing enterprises and 42 in the hotel, bar, and restaurant industry.

The NGO Terre des Hommes reported that the COVID-19 pandemic may have worsened child labor violations. Restriction of movement and other measures against COVID-19 produced new exploitation trends, such as door-to-door begging and afternoon and night street work.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws prohibit employment discrimination based on race, skin color, gender, age, physical or mental disability, political beliefs, language, nationality, religion, family, HIV or AIDS status, or social origin. The government did not enforce the law, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other laws related to denials of civil rights. The commissioner for protection from discrimination reported that most allegations of discrimination involved race, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability.

There are laws prohibiting women from engaging in work that requires lifting more than 44 pounds.

According to the labor force survey, women were less likely to participate in the labor market. The participation in the labor force of women between the ages of 15 and 64 decreased slightly, from 61.6 percent in 2019 to 61.2 percent in 2020. The most common reasons given for nonparticipation in the paid labor market included school attendance (20.9 percent) or unpaid housework (18.8 percent). For men not active in the paid labor market, 25.7 percent cited school attendance and 0.6 percent cited housework as the reason.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Algeria

Executive Summary

Algeria is a multiparty republic whose president, the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members and the prime minister, who is the head of government. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune won the 2019 presidential election, which followed mass popular demonstrations (known as the Hirak) throughout 2019 calling for democratic reforms. Observers characterized the elections as well organized and conducted without significant problems or irregularities, but they noted restrictions on civil liberties during the election period and lack of transparency in vote-counting procedures. The country held a constitutional referendum in November 2020, followed by legislative elections on June 12. Official voter turnout was 23 percent, the lowest in the country’s history for a parliamentary election.

The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the 200,000-member General Directorate of National Security or national police, under the Ministry of Interior, share responsibility for maintaining law and order. The army is responsible for external security and has some domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by members of the security forces; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary and impartiality; unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminal defamation laws, unjustified arrests of journalists, government censorship and blocking of websites; substantial interference with freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, including squelching a resumption of the Hirak and overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; restrictions of religious freedom; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence against women; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish public officials who committed human rights abuses, especially corruption. The General Directorate of National Security conducted investigations into allegations of mistreatment and took administrative actions against officers it deemed to have committed abuses. The Ministry of Justice reported no prosecutions or convictions of civil, security, or military officials for torture or other abusive treatment. Impunity for police and security officials remained a problem.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits torture and prescribes prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for government agents found guilty of torture. Human rights activists reported police occasionally used excessive force against suspects, including protesters exercising their right to free speech, that could amount to torture or degrading treatment.

On January 26, authorities transferred political activist and prominent Hirak detainee Rachid Nekkaz from Kolea prison in Tipaza (30 miles from Algiers) to Labiod Sidi Cheikh prison (450 miles from Algiers) and placed him in solitary confinement despite Nekkaz’s suffering from prostate cancer and liver complications. On February 19, authorities released Nekkaz and other Hirak detainees ahead of the Hirak movement’s two-year anniversary. Authorities prevented Nekkaz from leaving Algeria on March 27 and arrested him twice in May for traveling within the country.

On February 2, during university student Walid Nekkiche’s trial for allegedly “distributing and possessing leaflets undermining the interest of the country,” “participating in a conspiracy to incite citizens to take up arms against the State,” “organizing secret communication with the aim of undermining national security,” and “undermining security and national unity,” Nekkiche accused intelligence officers of torture during the 14 months he spent in pretrial detention. Abdelghani Badi, Nekkiche’s lawyer, said the intelligence services forced Nekkiche to undress and then raped him. The public prosecutor’s office ordered an investigation into Nekkiche’s claims, although no details of the investigation were released by year’s end.

On March 2, Hirakist Sami Dernouni testified that he suffered mistreatment and torture while in the custody of the intelligence service in Algiers. Dernouni faced charges of “inciting an illegal gathering,” “undermining national unity,” and “undermining national security.” Dernouni’s lawyer, Fellah Ali, said the intelligence services forced Dernouni to undress, before beating and shocking him. Authorities denied his request to seek medical care for his injuries.

On April 3, authorities arrested 15-year-old Said Chetouane and several other youths during a Hirak protest. Upon his release, Chetouane publicly accused the police of sexual assault. The DGSN launched an investigation into Chetouane’s claims, accusing the other arrested youth of manipulating Chetouane, and stated authorities would publicize the investigation’s results, if the prosecutor approves. Authorities have not yet publicized the investigation’s findings.

The Ministry of Justice did not provide figures concerning prosecutions of police officers for abuse during the year. Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) asserted that impunity in security forces was a problem.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were some significant reports of mental and physical abuse in detention centers that raised human rights concerns. Human rights lawyers and activists also expressed concern with prisons’ COVID-19 management.

The penal code prohibits the detention of suspects in any facilities not designated for the alleged crime. The local prosecutor has the right to visit detention facilities at any time.

Physical Conditions: The Ministry of Justice reported a total prisoner population of 94,749 individuals as of September and an average overcrowding rate of 19 percent, and stated it balanced the prison population across facilities to alleviate overcrowding. Convicted terrorists had the same rights as other inmates but were held in higher security prisons based on the danger they posed.

Prison authorities separated vulnerable persons but provided no consideration for sexual orientation. There were no legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons in prison, but authorities stated civil protections extend to all prisoners regardless of gender orientation.

The government used specific facilities for prisoners younger than age 27. The Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate for Prison Administration and Resettlement (DGAPR) maintained different categories of prisons that also separated prisoners according to the lengths of their sentences. The Ministry of Justice stated cell sizes exceeded international standards under the UN’s Nelson Mandela Rules. Some observers, including government-appointed human rights officials, attributed overcrowding in pretrial detention facilities to continued overuse of pretrial detention.

Authorities generally transferred pretrial detainees, after presenting them before the prosecutor, to prisons rather than holding them in separate detention facilities. The government stated pretrial detainees were normally held in cellblocks separate from those that confined the general prison population.

Administration: The DGSN reported it conducted investigations into 210 allegations of mistreatment and took administrative actions against officers it deemed to have committed abuses, including suspensions and termination. Religious workers reported they had access to prisoners during the year, and authorities allowed detainees access to religious observance. The DGSN reported it conducted four human rights-focused training sessions for 237 police officers during the year.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local human rights observers to visit prisons and detention centers. ICRC staff visited prisons, police, and gendarme stations under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, and an administrative detention center operated by the Ministry of Interior. The ICRC hosted training sessions on human rights standards related to arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures for judicial police from the DGSN and National Gendarmerie, as well as for judges.

Improvements: During the year the Ministry of Justice reported it opened two new prisons, bringing the total number of prisons to 51, and the new prisons provided better detention conditions in line with international standards. The new prison in Messerghine reduced overcrowding at the nearby Oran prison. The ministry also reported that it renovated and reopened the prison in Sfisef, which it closed in December 2020 for renovations. The Ministry of Justice reported the government included prisoners in their nationwide COVID-19 vaccination campaign, and that the ministry, in coordination with the Ministry of Health, trained prison medical staff in COVID-19 vaccination and treatment, electrocardiogram use, and emergency first response. The DGAPR also increased weekly bank-transfer limits from 2,500 dinars ($19) to 4,500 dinars ($34) , permitting prisoners more money to purchase staple goods in the prison, and expanded public telephone use in 93 prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. A detainee has the right to appeal a court’s pretrial detention order and, if released, seek compensation from the government. Nonetheless, overuse of pretrial detention remained a problem. The government increasingly used pretrial detention after the beginning of the Hirak popular protest movement in 2019. The Ministry of Justice reported that, as of September, 19 percent of the prisoners were in pretrial detention. Security forces routinely detained individuals who participated in unauthorized protests. Arrested individuals reported that authorities held them for four to eight hours before releasing them without charges.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

According to the law, police must obtain a summons from the prosecutor’s office to require a suspect to appear in a police station for preliminary questioning. With this summons, police may hold a suspect for no more than 48 hours. Authorities also use summonses to notify and require the accused and the survivor to attend a court proceeding or hearing. Police may make arrests without a warrant if they witness the offense. Lawyers reported that authorities usually carried out procedures for warrants and summonses properly.

If authorities need more than 48 hours to gather additional evidence, they may extend a suspect’s time in police detention with the prosecutor’s authorization in the following cases: if charges pertain to an attack on data processing systems, they may extend the time in detention once; if charges relate to state security, they may do so twice; for charges concerning drug trafficking, organized and transnational crime, money laundering, and other currency-related crimes, they may do so three times; and for charges related to terrorism and other subversive activities, they may do so five times for a maximum of 12 days. The law stipulates detainees should immediately be able to contact a family member, receive a visit, or contact an attorney.

The law provides detainees the right to see an attorney for 30 minutes if authorities extend the time in detention beyond the initial 48-hour period. In these cases authorities permit the arrested person to contact a lawyer after one-half of the extended time has expired. Prosecutors may apply to a judge to extend the period before arrested individuals can have access to an attorney. The court appearance of suspects in terrorism cases is public. At the end of the detention, the detainee has the right to request a medical examination by a physician of choice within the jurisdiction of the court. Otherwise, the judicial police appoint a doctor. Authorities enter the medical certificate into the detainee’s file.

In nonfelony cases and in cases of individuals held on terrorism charges and other subversive activities that exceed a 12-day period plus any authorized extension, the law calls for the release of suspects on provisional liberty, referred to as “judicial control,” or release on own recognizance while awaiting trial. Under provisional liberty status, authorities subject suspects to requirements such as reporting periodically to the police station in their district, stopping professional activities related to the alleged offense committed, surrendering all travel documents, and, in some terrorism-related cases, residing at an agreed-upon address. The law provides that foreigners may be required to furnish bail as a condition of release on provisional liberty status, while citizens may be released on provisional liberty without posting bail.

Judges rarely refused requests to extend pretrial detention. During the year the Ministry of Justice reported an average pretrial detention of four months. The defendant has the right to request compensation if a court overturns the detention. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and abused them physically and mentally.

Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities used vaguely worded provisions such as “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “insulting a government body” to arrest and detain individuals considered to be disturbing public order or criticizing the government. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations criticized the law prohibiting unauthorized gatherings as a significant source of arbitrary arrests intended to suppress political activism. Police arrested protesters throughout the year for violating the law against unregistered public gatherings.

According to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), at least 74 persons were arbitrarily detained for expressing their opinion, and 48 of them were in pretrial detention as of May 5. On March 5, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported on the use of arbitrary arrest to suppress peaceful demonstrations and highlighted those hundreds of individuals arrested since the Hirak protests resumed in February.

Local and international organizations reported arbitrary detention and prosecution of human rights activists Said Boudour, Jamila Loukil, and Kaddour Chouicha. According to press reports, on March 12, police beat Chouicha and his son during a protest, and one police officer tried to strangle Chouicha’s son. Chouicha and Loukil also accused police of violence during an arrest in April. Boudour claimed police physically assaulted him during his arrest on April 23.

On April 20, the police arrested Nacer Meghnine, head of Hirak-affiliated youth and cultural NGO SOS Bab El-Oued, and placed him in pretrial detention. The DGSN called SOS Bab El-Oued a “criminal organization” and accused Meghnine of “acts of incitement and receiving foreign funding from a diplomatic mission of a major country.” The police stated the NGO used foreign funding to purchase equipment used to produce “provocative films” and “publications used during Hirak demonstrations.” Authorities seized 677 posters, seven computers, one camera, three scanners, and 12 printers. On September 26, the Bab-El Oued court sentenced Meghnine to eight months in prison.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. Nongovernmental observers believed pretrial detainees were a significant portion of the total detainee and prisoner population but did not have specific statistics. According to the Ministry of Justice’s figures, 19 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention, and of those, 7 percent were under preliminary investigation.

The law limits the grounds for pretrial detention and stipulates that before it can be imposed, a judge must assess the gravity of a crime and whether the accused is a threat to society or a flight risk. Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. Human rights activists and attorneys, however, asserted that some detainees were held without access to lawyers.

The law prohibits pretrial detention for crimes with maximum punishments of less than three years’ imprisonment, except for infractions that resulted in deaths or to persons considered a “threat to public order.” In these cases the law limits pretrial detention to one month. In all other criminal cases, pretrial detention may not exceed four months. Amnesty International alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals on security-related charges for longer than the 12-day prescribed period.

On January 6, authorities at El-Harrach prison transferred three Hirak detainees – Mohamed Tadjadit, Noureddine Khimoud, and Abdelhak Ben Rahmani – to a hospital. The detainees had begun a hunger strike in December 2020, to protest the extension of their pretrial detention. On January 21, authorities convicted and released the three men, as they served their full sentences while in pretrial detention. On March 26, Tadjadit was among the 190 demonstrators arrested during a Hirak protest in Algiers, and although police released most of those arrested later that same day, Tadjadit was one of eight remanded into custody.

On September 22, the court of Dar El-Beida sentenced Major General Ali Ghediri – a candidate in the 2019 presidential election – to four years in prison after the court convicted Ghediri of “participating in times of peace to an endeavor aimed at weakening the morale of the National People’s Army.” The prosecutor initially requested a 10-year sentence and expressed his hope that the “severe sentence will serve as an example.” In February the Indictment Chamber at the Court of Algiers rejected Ghediri’s request for release from pretrial detention, and during his sentencing, Ghediri questioned the length of his pretrial detention, which was 832 days at that time.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary was not always independent or impartial in civil matters and lacked independence according to some human rights observers. Some alleged family connections and status of the those involved influenced decisions. While the constitution provides for the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government, the executive branch’s broad statutory authorities limited judicial independence. The constitution grants the president authority to appoint all prosecutors and judges. These presidential appointments are not subject to legislative oversight but are reviewed by the High Judicial Council, which consists of the president, minister of justice, chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court, 10 judges, and six individuals outside the judiciary who the president chooses. The president serves as the president of the High Judicial Council, which is responsible for the appointment, transfer, promotion, and discipline of judges.

In May the Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSM) removed National Union of Judges president Saad Eddine Merzouk for “violating an obligation of confidentiality.” The CSM suspended Merzouk in 2019 for supporting the Hirak movement. In May the CSM filed suit against Prosecutor Sid-Ahmed Belhadi for sharing pictures of himself and Merzouk on social media. In 2020 Belhadi requested that the courts release Hirak demonstrators. In May the CSM also suspended judge Fatma Zohra Amaili for alleged “insults on social networks.”

In September, President Tebboune appointed Tahar Mamouni as Supreme Court first president, replacing Abderrachid Tabi after his appointment as minister of justice. Tebboune also appointed 15 new appeal courts presidents, 20 attorneys general, and 20 administrative courts presidents. Tebboune did not indicate if the High Judicial Council reviewed his decision.

On November 18, according to media reports, authorities arrested and placed Judge Chentouf El Hachemi, president of the Court of Oran, in pretrial detention for allegedly accepting a bribe. Media also reported that the Ministry of Justice promoted El Hachemi to his position, despite facing previous disciplinary actions. El Hachemi presided over several high-profile corruption cases.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but authorities did not always respect legal provisions that protect defendants’ rights. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to be present and consult with an attorney provided at public expense if necessary. Most trials are public, except when the judge determines the proceedings to be a threat to public order or “morals.” The penal code stipulates that defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial but may be tried in absentia if they do not respond to a summons ordering their appearance. Courts tried defendants without legal representation and denied defendants’ requests to delay court proceedings when their lawyers were not present.

Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The testimony of men and women has equal weight under the law.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

International and local observers alleged that authorities occasionally used antiterrorism laws and restrictive laws on freedom of expression and public assembly to detain political activists and outspoken critics of the government.

According to the CNLD, more than 200 political prisoners associated with the Hirak protest movement were in government detention during the year, an increase from 61 in 2020. In June the CNLD reported more than 300 prisoners of conscience. They included journalists, activists, lawyers, opposition figures, and Hirak protesters. International human rights organizations and local civil society groups repeatedly called on the government to release all political prisoners. In September 2020 former minister of communication and government spokesperson Ammar Belhimer stated there were no political detainees in the country.

On May 4, authorities sentenced Amira Bouraoui, founder of two opposition movements (Barakat “Enough” and al-Muwatana “Citizenship”), to four years imprisonment. She had initially received a one-year prison sentence in June 2020 on charges of “inciting an unarmed gathering, offending Islam, offending the President, publishing content which may harm national unity, publication of fake news that may harm safety and public order, and undermining the lives of others,” and the sentence was increased on appeal.

On May 24, authorities sentenced Hirak activist Slimane Hamitouche, a codefendant in the high-profile prosecution of Reporters Without Borders journalist Khaled Drareni, to one year in prison on “illegal assembly and incitement to illegal assembly” charges.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may bring lawsuits, and administrative processes related to amnesty may provide damages to the victims or their families for human rights abuses and compensation for alleged wrongs. Individuals may appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, but their decisions cannot be legally enforced.

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

The constitution provides for the protection of a person’s “honor” and private life, including the privacy of home, communication, and correspondence. According to human rights activists, citizens widely believed the government conducted frequent electronic surveillance of a range of citizens, including political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists. Security officials reportedly visited homes unannounced and conducted searches without a warrant. The government charged the Ministry of National Defense cybercrime unit with coordinating anticybercrime efforts and engaging in preventive surveillance of electronic communications in the interests of national security, but it did not provide details regarding the limits of surveillance authority or corresponding protections for persons subject to surveillance. The Ministry of Justice stated the agency was subject to all existing judicial controls that apply to law enforcement agencies. In 2019 the government moved the agency from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Defense. A new decree allowed authorities to conduct domestic surveillance and required internet and telephone providers to increase cooperation with the Defense Ministry.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. Independent media outlets regularly criticized and satirized government officials and policies, but the government on some occasions restricted these rights. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and significant funding of public-sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

Freedom of Expression: While public debate and criticism of the government were widespread, journalists and activists were limited in their ability to criticize the government on topics crossing unwritten “red lines.” Authorities arrested and detained citizens for expressing views deemed damaging to state officials and institutions, including the use of the Berber flag during protests, and citizens practiced self-censorship in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech regarding security force conduct during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in place, although the government stated there had never been an arrest or prosecution under the law. A separate law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for publications that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings.

Authorities have summoned, arrested, and prosecuted journalist Mustapha Bendjama in at least six different cases for charges such as “offense to public bodies” and “undermining national unity.” On June 27, the court in Annaba convicted Bendjama, and the judge sentenced him to two months in prison and 2,500 dinars ($19) fine.

Police arrested former parliamentarian Nordine Ait-Hamouda on June 26 in Bejaia for making “inappropriate statements towards various important national figures.” On August 29, authorities released Ait-Hamouda from El-Harrach prison after two months of incarceration. The Court of Ruisseau in Algiers granted Ait-Hamouda’s provisional release, pending the completion of the investigation and determination of the trial date.

On June 30, security personnel arrested Fethi Ghares, national coordinator of the opposition party Democratic and Social Movement and searched his home. His wife, Messaouda Cheballah, posted a live video of her husband’s arrest and denounced the police’s “indiscreet search of her belongings.”

NGOs reported in 2020 that they stopped holding events outside private locations due to longstanding government suppression and pressure on owners of public gathering spaces.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controlled public advertising for print media, and most daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. Press outlets reported taking extra caution before publishing articles critical of the government or government officials due to fear of losing revenue from ANEP. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. ANEP stated its support for a pluralistic press and freedom of information and noted that it funded opposition newspapers.

In April 2020 parliament adopted amendments to the penal code that criminalize spreading “false news” that harms national unity. Penalties for convictions under the bill, which does not distinguish among news reports, social media, and other media, include prison terms of two to five years and fines. Civil society groups reported that the amendments gave authorities excessive power to prosecute activists and human rights defenders.

On May 10, authorities found journalist Khellaf Benhedda guilty in absentia and fined him 100,000 dinars ($750) for an “offense to the President.”

On May 14, police arrested Maghreb Emergent journalist Kenza Khatto during a Hirak march in Algiers on charges of “incitement to unarmed gathering,” “contempt of police,” and “noncompliance with the instruction of the wali (governor) of Algiers on the ban of marches.”

On May 18, authorities placed journalist El Kadi Ihsane, director of Radio M and Maghreb Emergent websites, on probation. The judge issued a travel ban and confiscated Ihsane’s passport. According to Radio M, authorities charged Ihsane with “undermining national security and territorial unity” and “sharing publications undermining national interest.” The CNLD said the charges emanated from a complaint filed by the Minister of Communication Ammar Belhimer.

On September 6, authorities arrested Hassan Bourras at his home in El Bayadh and charged him with “belonging to a terrorist organization,” “conspiracy against the security of the State to change the system of governance,” and “use of technical and media tools to enlist individuals against the authority of the State.” Bourras is a well known human rights’ activist with the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH). According to the CNLD, authorities transferred Bourras on September 12 to a court in Algiers, which ordered him into pretrial detention.

On September 12, police arrested Mohamed Mouloudj, a reporter for Liberte, and raided his home. On September 14, the Sidi M’hamed Court in Algiers placed Mouloudj in custody and charged him with spreading false news, harming national unity, and belonging to a terrorist group. The court placed him in pretrial detention which was ongoing at year end.

Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio stations. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration regarding the difficulty of receiving information from public officials. Except for several daily newspapers, most print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.

Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the ministry did not accredit most foreign media. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be citizens and prohibit them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation. According to Reporters without Borders, the government intimidated activists and journalists. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation from the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (ARAV) for criticism of the government. According to state-run Algerie Presse Service (APS), in March, Algerian authorities warned France 24 to tone down its “biased Hirak coverage.”

On June 13, Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer cancelled France 24’s accreditation for its “clear and repeated hostility towards our country and its institutions.” Upon the withdrawal of France 24’s accreditation, several foreign news outlets said all journalists in Algeria – both foreign and local – faced bureaucratic hurdles and must navigate murky procedural processes to operate.

In June the ARAV suspended El Hayet TV for one week after it broadcast an interview with Nordine Ait Hamouda, the founding member of the opposition party Rally for Culture and Democracy and son of independence war hero Colonel Amirouche Ait Hamouda. During the interview, Nordine Ait Hamouda called several Algerian historical figures “traitors.” The interview prompted the Ministry of Communication to summon El Hayet TV director Habet Hannachi to the ARAV headquarters to explain his decision to broadcast the controversial interview. On June 26, authorities arrested Ait Hamouda and placed him in pretrial detention, although authorities granted his provisional release on August 29 pending trial on charges of “attacking symbols of the nation and the revolution.”

On July 31, the ARAV withdrew the accreditation of Saudi-funded al-Arabiya TV for “propagating misinformation.” In a statement the Ministry of Communication stated al-Arabiya failed to “respect the rules of professional ethics and practiced media misinformation and manipulation.”

On August 16, the Ministry of Communication announced “the immediate and final closure” of the private television channel Lina TV at the request of the ARAV. Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer stated the ARAV had previously warned Lina TV for its “noncompliance with ethical principles.” Belhimer characterized the channel as a “danger to national unity.” The Ministry added that Lina TV did not have the required accreditation to operate.

On August 23, the Ministry of Communication suspended the private progovernment television channel El Bilad TV for one week. The ARAV based its decision on “noncompliance with the requirements of public order” and due to legal proceedings against Ayoub Aissiou, a station shareholder who also owns El Djazairia One. The government accused Aissiou of violating the law on broadcast activity, which forbids holding shares in more than one television station.

On August 23, the Ministry of Communication shut down the private television channel El Djazairia One, after the ARAV recommended its immediate closure. On August 24, officials at the ARAV said El Djazairia One’s owners violated the law on audiovisual activity by purchasing shares in more than one television channel. The station’s owners, brothers Ayoub and Tayeb Aissiou, were close associates of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Bouteflika-era prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia.

On August 24, the ARAV censured state-run EPTV after one of its reporters said the suspects arrested for lynching Djamel Bensmail were charged with belonging to a “terrorist region” instead of a “terrorist organization.” The ARAV stated this was “an unforgivable breach,” prompting EPTV to apologize and discipline the reporter.

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and stated the definitions in the law failed to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but a serious misdemeanor that carries a fine. The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials. Defamation laws specify that former members of the military who make statements deemed to have damaged the image of the military or to have “harmed the honor and respect due to state institutions” may face prosecution.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.”

Internet Freedom

The government monitored certain email and social media sites.

Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and email. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.

There was some disruption of communication prior to planned antigovernment demonstrations during the year, namely internet shutdowns, the blocking of access to certain online news sites and social media platforms, and the restricting or censorship of content. When the Hirak protests resumed in February, parts of the country experienced internet outages during the demonstrations.

The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of internet service providers (ISPs) to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance to prevent terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.

By law ISPs face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

For a fifth year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school examinations. The decision was in response to previous leaks of examination materials, which were posted on social media.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Academic seminars generally occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for all religious publications. The law gives authorities broad power to ban books that run counter to the constitution, “the Muslim religion and other religions, national sovereignty and unity, the national identity and cultural values of society, national security and defense concerns, public order concerns, and the dignity of the human being and individual and collective rights.” It further prohibits books that “make apology for colonialism, terrorism, crime, and racism.”

Importers must submit to the ministry the title, author’s name, editor’s name, edition, year, International Standard Book Number, and number of copies to be imported. Importers of books covering the “national movement and the Algerian Revolution” must submit the entire text of the books for review, including a secondary review by the Ministry of the Moudjahidine (veterans of the revolution). The Ministry of Culture can also require a full content review of books on other topics if it chooses. The ministry has 30 days to review the importation application; in the absence of a response after 30 days, the importer may proceed with distribution of the publication. After deciding, the ministry notifies the customs service of the decision to allow or ban the importation of the publication. Appeals may be made to the ministry, with no independent or judicial review provided for in the decree.

A 2017 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran stated, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious and public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.” The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days. A nonresponse after this period is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.

On April 23, authorities sentenced Sufi Muslim academic Said Djabelkheir to three years in prison and a fine of 50,000 dinars ($375) for “offense to the precepts of Islam,” based on his personal Facebook account publications regarding Islamic rituals and theology. Djabelkheir wrote that the sacrifice of sheep predates Islam and denounced child marriage. He said authorities did not inform him or his lawyers ahead of the court proceedings. Djabelkheir appealed the conviction and was free on bail pending the appeal.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government curtailed this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the local governor, who is appointed by the national government, before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding organizers’ publicity and outreach efforts. The DGSN reported it arrested 10,943 protesters during the year, up from 3,017 protesters arrested in 2020. Of those, authorities interviewed and released 9,900 protesters, typically on the same day as the arrest. Of the remainder, police charged 545, and the remaining 489 were placed in pretrial detention. The Hirak protest movement, which began in 2019, consisted of mass, peaceful protest marches taking place every Tuesday and Friday in many locations throughout the country. The protests paused with the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020.

On February 22 and 26, Hirak marches resumed in cities throughout the country, with thousands of demonstrators returning to the streets to commemorate the movement’s two-year anniversary. Student protests also resumed their weekly Tuesday marches on February 23 in Algiers, but by May they had largely ceased.

On April 3, police arrested 23 Hirak protesters on alleged charges of “holding an unarmed gathering or protest.” The court placed them in pretrial detention on April 5. On April 14, El Harrach prison officials relocated the detainees to the hospital after they engaged in a hunger strike because, they asserted, they were arbitrarily detained.

On April 28, police arrested Kaddour Chouicha, a university professor and vice president of the LADDH, and journalist Jamila Loukil, as they left an Oran court following a hearing on “unarmed assembly” charges.

In May security forces further increased arrests and use of force against Hirak protesters, drawing negative international attention and condemnation from human rights groups. Amnesty International said authorities’ “illegal and constant use of violence…against demonstrators” was unacceptable and called for the government to allow peaceful protests without resorting to force, and for the government to release prisoners of conscience.

On May 5, according to purported official documents leaked on social media, authorities asked the police to intervene – using force, if necessary – to maintain public order during demonstrations. On May 7, Hirakists unexpectedly changed their usual procession route, prompting the Ministry of Interior to issue a communique on May 9 requiring the organizer to provide names, start and stop times, routes, and slogans in advance of marches. When the Hirak protests resumed, some public transportation was not operational on Fridays, which Hirakists claimed was another mechanism the government used to prevent protesters from gathering.

On May 14 and 21, police blocked Hirak protests in Algiers and several other cities and arrested many protesters including journalists, politicians, and academics. The CNLD reported that police arrested more than 800 demonstrators nationwide. Marches took place without incident in Tizi Ouzou and Bejaia, while in Bouira the protest turned violent after police intervened to prevent the march. The Ministry of Interior denied receiving a request for the May 21 Hirak march; however, a group of pro-Hirak lawyers publicized the protest request, which bore signatures from wilaya (state) officials.

On May 21 and May 25, security forces created new checkpoints in locations throughout Algiers to prevent protesters from reaching Hirak rally points or changing their protest routes. Police checked identification documents and individuals who did not reside in Algiers were arrested and taken to various police stations throughout the city. Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering. NGOs reported instances of not receiving the written authorization in time to hold planned meetings. NGOs reported that the government threatened hotel and restaurant owners with penalties if they rented rooms to NGOs without official authorization. In most cases the NGOs continued to hold their meetings and police came to the hotels to end the gatherings.

Throughout the year police dispersed unauthorized gatherings or prevented marching groups of protesters from demonstrating. Police typically dispersed protesters shortly after a protest began and arrested and detained organizers for a few hours.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government restricted this right.

The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered, organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines and individuals may face up to six months’ imprisonment.

According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation are entitled to receive a response within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for provincial-level associations, and 30 days for communal organizations. While the Ministry of Interior oversees the accreditation process for most associations, the president of a local assembly approves applications for communal associations. Although the Ministry of Interior is responsible for authorizing associations, the government stated COVID-19 spurred the ministry to relax registration rules, specifically for health-care charities operating on the local level, as these organizations were better positioned to assist during the pandemic.

The Ministry of Interior may deny a license to or dissolve any group regarded as a threat to the government’s authority or to public order, and on several occasions it failed to grant in an expeditious fashion official recognition to NGOs, associations, religious groups, and political parties. According to the ministry, organizations receive a receipt after submitting their application for accreditation and after the relevant time frame based on the type of association, this slip is legally sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space. The law does not explicitly include this provision. If the application is approved, the ministry issues a final accreditation document.

Many organizations reported they never received a deposit slip and that even with the receipt, it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without formal accreditation. Other organizations reported they never received any written response to their application request even after calling the ministry and trying to register at local police stations. The ministry maintained that organizations that were refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified period could appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.

On October 13, an administrative court ruled in favor of the Ministry of Interior’s request to dissolve the Youth Action Rally, a prominent civic association. The Ministry of Interior stated the group’s political activities violated its bylaws, which its leaders denied, contending that authorities targeted the association because of its support for the Hirak movement.

The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 117,801 local and 1,799 regional NGOs registered as of September, including 5,864 new local NGOs and 52 new national NGOs. Unlicensed NGOs remained active, but rarely received government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.

According to the Ministry of Interior, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government significantly eased local association requirements, giving local organizations the space to operate. The government determined local civil society organizations, specifically health-care-related charities, were better positioned to assist locally than the federal government. The Ministry of Interior relaxed its registration rules, allowing local governments to authorize local associations, resulting in more than 1,000 new local charity associations. National associations must still submit their applications to the Ministry of Interior for authorization.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted the exercise of these rights.

In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” Citing the threat of terrorism, the government prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states that citizens have the right to enter and exit the country. The law does not permit those younger than 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women younger than 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women older than 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft who had not completed their military service to leave the country without special authorization. The government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated 90,000 migrants enter the country annually, and the Ministry of Interior reported approximately 100,000.

According to UNHCR’s September report on refugees in Algeria and Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, there were 7,830 refugees in urban areas, 2,450 asylum seekers in urban areas, and an estimated 90,000 “vulnerable” Sahrawi refugees. The government protected a significant number of refugees in five large refugee camps in Tindouf and ran two other smaller camps near Tindouf, one surrounding a women’s boarding school, and another used for administrative purposes. UNHCR reported many Sahrawi refugees lost their jobs and other sources of income due to COVID-19. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees.

As of September, UNHCR continued registering asylum seekers, determining refugee status, issuing documentation, and advocating for the adoption of legislation to protect persons in need of international protection. Despite the ongoing border closures, asylum applications rose during the year, with 1,570 recorded in the first half of the year, an increase of 20 percent compared with 2020, due to the progressive easing of COVID-19 restrictions. UNHCR monitored and advocated for the release of refugees.

Access to Asylum: While the law generally provides for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. From the beginning of January to June, UNHCR recommended 35 refugees for resettlement to France, Canada, and Sweden, and submitted 41 refugees for resettlement to Canada and Sweden during the same period. UNHCR assisted eight refugees to depart Algeria for family and educational reasons. UNHCR reported the majority of its registered refugees came from Syria, the Palestinian Territories, Yemen, Mali, and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into Algeria across the Mali border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements.

In 2019 the National Human Rights Council stated the government had dedicated 1.6 billion dinars ($12 million) to ensure the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations (to include accommodation, food, clothing, health care, medicines, and transportation). Authorities conducted repatriations in coordination with consular officials from the migrants’ countries of origin, but the migrants were not permitted to challenge their removal. The government stated it maintained a policy of not removing migrants registered with UNHCR, and that in a few cases it worked with UNHCR to return registered refugees who were mistakenly removed. Air Algerie signed an agreement with the IOM agreeing to provide charter flights for humanitarian supplies and migrants returning voluntarily.

Since January the NGO Alarme Phone Sahara (APS) reported the government deported 18,749 individuals from Algeria to Niger, an increase from 4,722 individuals in 2020. APS reported two types of deportation convoys from Algeria to Niger: official deportation convoys and nonofficial deportation convoys. Official deportations from Algeria to Niger take place pursuant to a 2014 bilateral agreement for the deportation of Nigerien nationals. According to APS, however, Algeria also deports numerous nationals from other countries to Niger in nonofficial convoys, and the Nigerien authorities lacked the power or the will to stop this practice. Convoys also left citizens of various nationalities near Assamaka where they must walk the last 10 to 15 miles into Nigerien territory. APS reported the IOM, Doctors without Borders, and Nigerien security forces looked for deportees lost in the desert. According to APS, deportees includes nationals from Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Togo.

In April the NGO Doctors Without Borders reported that authorities forcibly returned more than 4,000 migrants to Niger. Many migrants travelled on trucks that returned them to Agadez, a Nigerien city that has become a crossroads on the migration route.

On September 29, APS reported that the country deported 894 individuals in a nonofficial convoy to the Assamaka border post.

On October 1, APS reported an additional 1,275 individuals in an official convoy were transported to the Assamaka border post.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported refugees and migrants traversing land routes to and through the country continued to risk death, kidnapping, sexual- and gender-based violence, physical abuse, and other violence.

Employment: The government does not formally allow refugee employment; however, many worked in the informal market and were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status in the country. Other migrants, asylum seekers, and Malians and Syrians who had a “special status” with the government, relied largely on remittances from family, the support of local family and acquaintances, and assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five camps administered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) near the city of Tindouf. The POLISARIO (through the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society), UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, and partner NGOs provided basic services including food aid, primary health care, and primary and secondary education. The Algerian government invested heavily in developing the camps’ infrastructure and also provided free secondary and university educations, as well as advanced hospital care, to Sahrawi refugees. The remote location of the camps and lack of government presence resulted in a lack of access by police and courts. Other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had access to free public hospitals, but independent NGOs reported instances of migrants being turned away.

School administrators must allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported some children had trouble integrating into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools due to language barriers or cultural differences. NGOs also indicated that some migrants were denied treatment at health-care facilities.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees have not sought local integration or naturalization during their over 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and the Polisario Front continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara. The IOM led an Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration program to help migrants return to their homes willingly with economic and social support, including personalized professional training and other socioeconomic assistance. Although the government was not a financial donor to the initiative, it did cooperate.

Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians and Malians.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

On March 10, President Tebboune enacted a new electoral law. Typically, new laws must obtain parliamentary approval, but on February 18, Tebboune dissolved parliament’s lower house, thus necessitating the law’s promulgation via decree.

The new law outlines a significant procedural change to the way voters elect members of parliament. Under the previous system, electors voted for a political party’s candidate list rather than for individual candidates, and the candidates on the top of the list would obtain a seat in parliament. The government stated it made the change as part of its efforts to fight corruption. Opposition parties from across the political spectrum criticized the electoral law for creating a more complex process for qualifying for the ballot, as well as for establishing an electoral-monitoring body whose members would be appointed by the president and parliament, which is controlled by a coalition headed by the president’s party.

Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution to limit the president to two five-year terms. The new 2020 constitution maintains term limits. The National Independent Authority for Elections (ANIE), established in 2019 to replace the High Independent Election Monitoring Body, is responsible for organizing the election and voting processes, monitoring elections, and investigating allegations of irregularities.

Recent Elections: In November 2020 the country held a constitutional referendum. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as restrictions on political party activities inhibited the activity of opposition groups. The referendum passed with 66.8 percent support and 23.7 percent turnout, according to the ANIE.

On June 12, the country held legislative elections. Official voter turnout was 23 percent, the lowest in the country’s history for a parliamentary election. The vote was the first held under the new electoral law. The new parliament did not have an established opposition party presence, as traditional opposition parties chose to boycott. After the polls closed, Mohamed Charfi, head of the ANIE, announced an “average final turnout rate” of 30.2 percent based on the average turnout percentage in each of the country’s 58 wilayas (states) – not of the percentage of all eligible voters who cast their ballots.

On November 27, the country held local elections and municipal level elections for wilaya (state) and commune-level legislative bodies, plus mayors. The ANIE announced a final turnout rate of 36 percent for municipal elections and 34.9 percent for provincial elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Ministry of Interior must approve political parties before they may operate legally.

Opposition political parties claimed they did not have access to public television and radio. Occasionally security forces dispersed political opposition rallies and interfered with the right to organize. Since taking office in 2019, Tebboune’s government has blocked foreign funding and pressured media to limit government criticism. The government used COVID-19 restrictions to prevent political opposition meetings; however, the National Liberation Front and the Democratic National Rally continued to meet despite restrictions.

The law prohibits parties based on religion, ethnicity, gender, language, or region, but there were various political parties commonly known to be Islamist, notably members of the Green Alliance. According to the Ministry of Interior, in September there were 72 registered political parties, one more than in 2020. Parties must hold a party congress to elect a party leader and confirm membership before the Ministry of Interior counts them as a registered party.

The law does not place significant restrictions on voter registration.

Membership in the Islamic Salvation Front, a political party banned since 1992, remained illegal. The law also bans political party ties to nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting requirements. By law political parties may not receive direct or indirect financial or material support from any foreign parties. The law also stipulates resources from party members’ domestic contributions, donations, and revenue from party activities, in addition to possible state funding, must be reported to the Ministry of Interior. President Tebboune publicly stated his administration was revising political funding laws and that the new constitution would change campaign finance and funding laws.

On April 22, the Ministry of the Interior initiated legal action against the opposition party Union for Change and Progress (UCP). Authorities alleged that the UCP and its president Zoubida Assoul, who was also a lawyer and political activist, lacked legal status. The UCP denied these accusations and said it followed the law on political parties. On May 2, the Interior Ministry requested that the Council of State temporarily suspend the UCP, pending a legal ruling on its outright dissolution.

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

The electoral law eliminated gender quotas in parliament, and women’s representation in parliament fell from 120 to 34. During the 2017 legislative election campaign, the regulatory election body that preceded the ANIE sent formal notices asking parties and individuals to display candidates’ photos on posters. The ANIE did not require female candidates to use their photos on the campaign posters and ballots for this year’s legislative election for cultural and religious reasons.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Authorities continued their anticorruption campaign against political, military, and security officials, as well as prominent business leaders from the Bouteflika era.

The law provides for criminal penalties of two to 10 years in prison for official corruption, but the government did not fully implement the law. Although President Tebboune’s administration has emphasized rooting out corruption, corruption remained a problem. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: On May 3, the Ministry of Justice released a progress report on the government’s efforts to recover funds embezzled during former president Bouteflika’s tenure. According to the report, the government successfully recovered 52 billion dinars ($390 million) in assets, 39 billion dinars ($293 million), $214 million, and two million euros ($2.2 million). The government also seized vehicles, plots of land, residences, and businesses. The report accounted for assets recovered in the country but not funds or assets located abroad, primarily in Europe.

On August 28, President Tebboune amended the process for pursuing corruption-related charges or investigating corruption-related offenses against local officials. The Ministry of Interior must first authorize security services to pursue legal proceedings in corruption cases. Lawyers claimed the president’s executive order violates the penal code stipulating the public prosecutor is the “sole authority to assess whether or not to initiate investigative or legal proceedings.”

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic human rights groups operated with varying degrees of government restriction and cooperation. The law requires all civil associations to apply for operating permission, and at year’s end several major civil associations remained unrecognized but tolerated.

Amnesty International maintained an office and actively reported on human rights matters, but it did not receive official authorization to operate from the Ministry of Interior. Amnesty International has received authorization to open a bank account, although the organization awaits final documentation from the government to open the account.

Although the government did not renew the accreditation of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, the organization had members countrywide, received independent funding, and was one of the most active independent human rights groups. The Algerian League for Human Rights, a separate but licensed organization based in Constantine, had members throughout the country monitoring individual cases.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated budget restrictions and time constraints delayed the visit of several UN delegations in charge of human rights but asserted that the country responds to all UN requests stemming from special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council.

The government officially recorded 3,200 forced disappearances during the 1990s and noted families remained dissatisfied with the government’s official response surrounding the disappearances of their family members. The government reported the working group was tasked with addressing questions posed by the families of “the disappeared.” The Foreign Affairs Ministry asserted the working group took on the role of a UN investigative body, which was outside its mandate and ran contrary to the country’s constitution. The ministry added that it extended invitations to the working group in 2014 and again in 2015, but UN financial and scheduling constraints delayed their visit. The ministry claimed the United Nations would not be able to visit until at least 2023 due to continued financial and scheduling issues.

The country joined the Human Rights Council in 2014 but continued to deny requests for visits from the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions (pending since 1998) and counterterrorism and human rights (pending since 2006), the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (pending since 2009), and the UN Security Council Mali Panel of Experts on Sanctions (since 2016). The Foreign Ministry stated that even during the 1990s, the country did not record many extrajudicial executions, but the perception caused numerous human rights groups to request special rapporteurs.

On March 5, Rupert Colville, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), called on authorities to put an end to violence against peaceful demonstrators of the Hirak movement. Colville expressed OHCHR’s concern regarding the deteriorating human rights situation in the country and the continued and increasing crackdown on Hirak members, as “authorities are responding in the same repressive manner seen in 2019 and 2020.”

In May, OHCHR urged authorities to stop using violence to disperse peaceful Hirak demonstrations. OHCHR also urged authorities to stop arbitrarily arresting and detaining protesters for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and peaceful assembly. OHCHR called on authorities to conduct “prompt, impartial and effective investigations into all allegations of human rights violations and to ensure that the victims obtain reparations.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Council (CNDH) has budget autonomy and the constitutional responsibility to investigate alleged human rights abuses, officially comment on laws the government proposes, and publish an annual report that is submitted to the president, the prime minister, and the two speakers of parliament. The CNDH releases the report to the public. The CNDH reported representation in 1,548 communes and five regional delegations located in Chlef, Biskra, Setif, Bechar, and Bejaia. The CNDH reported it had 123 local volunteers and 245 representatives.

The CNDH reported COVID-19 hampered its activities. Nevertheless, the CNDH noted that during the year it had conducted prison visits; ensured children were connected to their schools and facilitated distance learning; held sessions with the Danish Human Rights Institute, the Arab League, and Penal Reform International; interceded to guarantee that all citizens had equal access to health care; signed a convention with the Republic Ombudsman; and took steps to set up a database to track human rights-related statistics.

Between January 1 and September 30, the CNDH reported receiving 943 requests for assistance, examined 473 of them, and completed 46. The CNDH stated 424 remained under review. A CNDH representative reported the organization’s focus during the year was on health measures, especially for vulnerable groups such as the elderly and migrants.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution allows for the right of workers to join and form unions of their choice, provided they are citizens. The country has ratified the ILO’s conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these conventions fully. It was unclear whether the government enforced applicable laws commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. The law requires that workers obtain government approval to form a union, and the Ministry of Labor must approve or disapprove a union application within 30 days. To form a union, an applicant must be Algerian by birth or have held Algerian nationality for 10 years. The law also provides for the creation of independent unions, although the union’s membership must account for at least 20 percent of an enterprise’s workforce. Unions have the right to form and join federations or confederations, and the government recognized four confederations. Unions may recruit members at the workplace. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of employers’ antiunion practices.

The law permits unions to affiliate with international labor bodies and develop relations with foreign labor groups. For example, the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), which represented most public-sector workers, is an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation. Nevertheless, the law prohibits unions from associating with political parties and receiving funds from foreign sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage in illegal activities. The government may invalidate a union’s legal status if authorities perceive its objectives to be contrary to the established institutional system, public order, good morals, law, or regulations in force.

The law provides for collective bargaining by all unions, and the government permitted the exercise of this right for authorized unions. Nevertheless, the UGTA remained the only union authorized to negotiate collective bargaining agreements during the annual tripartite meeting. Other authorized unions can bargain with specific ministries but are excluded from the tripartite meeting.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes, and workers exercised this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce. The decision to strike must be approved by majority vote of workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on several grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore, all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offered to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions reached in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an agreement, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained during public-sector service strikes, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services included banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days’ to two months’ imprisonment. The law protects union members from discrimination or dismissal based on their union activities. Penalties for abusing union members’ rights are not sufficient to deter abuses. The law says any firing or other employment action based on discrimination against union members is invalid. The government did not effectively enforce these laws.

The government reported 99 registered trade unions and 59 employers’ organizations, up from 91 and 47, respectively, in 2020. Many trade unions remained unrecognized by the government; they identified delayed processing and administrative hurdles as the primary obstacles to establishing legal status. The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations reiterated in 2017 that the lengthy registration process seriously impeded the establishment of new unions.

Attempts by new unions to form federations or confederations suffered similar challenges. Representatives of the National Autonomous Union for Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP) stated that the union continued to function without official status.

The government continued to deny recognition to the General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA), an independent trade union confederation that includes public and economic-sector unions and committees. CGATA membership included workers from unions representing government administrators, diplomatic personnel, state electricity and gas employees, university professors, public transport and postal workers, and lawyers. The confederation also included migrants working in the country. In 2019 authorities shut down CGATA’s offices and authorities arrested and jailed an executive member of CGATA, Kaddour Chouicha. On April 29, authorities arrested Chouicha, journalists Jamila Loukil and Said Boudour, and 12 others on charges of “enlistment in a terrorist or subversive organization active abroad or in Algeria.” The court in Oran heard the case on May 18 but did not notify the defendants’’ lawyers. The court granted Chouicha and Loukil’s provisional release and placed Boudour under judicial supervision.

SNAPAP and other independent unions faced government interference throughout the year, including official obstruction of general assembly meetings and police harassment during sit-in protests. Furthermore, the government restricted union activities and the formation of independent unions in certain critical public services sectors, such as oil and gas and telecommunications. The International Trade Union Confederation reported that judicial abuse of trade union leaders had intensified.

On April 5, authorities arrested Mourad Ghedia, president of the SNAPAP/CGATA Justice Sector Workers. A judge placed Ghedia in pretrial detention. Ghedia did not have access to a lawyer, and the judge did not inform him of the charges.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

NGOs reported that irregular migrants sometimes worked in forced labor and that their lack of work permits made them more vulnerable to exploitation. For example, migrant women were subjected to debt bondage as they worked to repay smuggling debts through domestic servitude, forced begging, and exploitation. Construction workers and domestic workers were reportedly vulnerable. Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit and criminalize all the worst forms of child labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law prohibits employment by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations, yet the country has not determined by national law or regulation the types of work that are hazardous for children. Under the law there is no legislative provision prohibiting the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for the production and trafficking of drugs. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers younger than 19 from working at night. The ILO noted, however, that the country’s standard of “night” for children is only eight hours, less than the 11 hours recommended by the ILO.

Although specific data were unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sales market, often in family businesses. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and refers violators to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections and, in some cases, investigated companies suspected of hiring underage workers. The ministry’s Labor Inspector Service in 2019 conducted 124,698 inspections and reported 10 children were found working illegally but did not provide updated statistics for the year. The Ministry of Labor attributed the low figure to the fact that most children worked in the informal economy, and inspections were limited to registered businesses. Monitoring and enforcement practices for child labor were ineffective.

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and Women led a national committee composed of 12 ministries and NGOs that meets yearly to discuss child labor issues. The committee was empowered to propose measures and laws to address child labor as well as conduct awareness campaigns.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment, salary, and work environment based on age, gender, social and marital status, family links, political conviction, disability, national origin, and affiliation with a union. It was not clear whether penalties for violations were commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference. The law restricts women from working during certain hours of the day and does not permit women to work in jobs deemed arduous. In addition to the legislative provisions in force, employers must ensure that the work entrusted to women, minors, and persons with disabilities does not “require an effort exceeding their strength.”

Men held a large percentage of positions of authority in government and the private sector, and women reported facing employment discrimination with job offers being extended to less qualified male applicants. Although the law states women should receive a salary equal to men, leaders of women’s organizations reported discrimination was common and that women were less likely to receive equal pay for equal work or promotions, particularly in the private sector.

Few businesses abided by the law requiring that they reserve 1 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported that the government did not enforce payment of fines for failing to abide by the law. The government usually highlighted its efforts in March to coincide with the National Day of the Disabled. The ministry, however, reported it had increased efforts to enforce the 1 percent quota during the year. The ministry reported it inspected 276 businesses, encompassing 88,718 workers, to verify compliance with the 1 percent quota. The ministry issued 44 formal notices to 68 noncompliant employers for failure to adhere to the quota.

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment based on sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, or religion. The government did not adequately enforce the law, since discrimination reportedly existed, specifically against migrant workers in the informal economy who lacked a legal means to address unfair working conditions. Particularly vulnerable were women, girls, and young men from sub-Saharan Africa who were lured into the country to accept jobs in restaurants and hair salons but were subjected to forced labor conditions. NGOs reported instances in which unaccompanied migrant girls were exploited as domestic workers and were known to be loaned out to families for extended periods to work in homes or exploited as prostitutes.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: A tripartite social pact among business, government, and the official union established a national, monthly minimum wage which is above the poverty income level. In June 2020 President Tebboune directed the Ministry of Labor to increase the monthly minimum wage. He also eliminated tax obligations for low-income workers.

The standard workweek was 40 hours, including one hour for lunch per day. Half of the lunch hour is considered compensated working time. Employees who worked longer than the standard workweek received premium pay on a sliding scale from time-and-a-half to double time, depending on whether the overtime occurred on a normal workday, a weekend, or a holiday. It was unclear whether penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with OSH experts and not the worker based on hazards inherent to the nature of work. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and not the worker. It was not clear whether the law provides workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face such conditions, they may renegotiate their contracts or, failing that, resort to the courts. While this legal mechanism existed, the high demand for employment in the country gave an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws. It was unclear whether penalties for violations were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.

Informal Sector: The government’s labor laws do not formally allow refugee employment or adequately cover migrant laborers; therefore, many economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere who worked in the informal sector, primarily in construction and as domestic workers, were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status.

The government requires employers to declare their employees to the Ministry of Labor and to pay social security benefits. The government allowed undeclared workers to gain credit for social security and retirement benefits for time spent in the informal economy if they repay any taxes owed after registering. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Labor Ministry did not employ sufficient inspectors.

The government prioritized pregnant women and women raising children, as well as individuals with chronic illnesses and those with health vulnerabilities, for exceptional leave. In 2020 authorities extended exceptional leave to the private sector.

On August 8, the government increased the unemployment allowance. The government set an age limit for qualified job seekers and introduced a system to control unemployment cards.

Andorra

Executive Summary

The Principality of Andorra is a constitutional, parliamentary democracy. Two coprinces, the president of France and the Spanish bishop of Urgell, serve with joint authority as heads of state. In 2019 the country held free and fair multiparty elections for the 28 seats in parliament (the General Council of the Valleys), which selects the head of government. Having won a majority in parliament, the Democrats for Andorra formed a coalition with Liberals of Andorra and Committed Citizens, and elected Xavier Espot Zamora from the Democrats for Andorra head of government.

The country’s only security forces are the police, prison officers, traffic police, and forestry officials. The national police maintained internal and external security. The Ministry of Justice and Interior maintained effective civilian control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires warrants for arrest. Police may legally detain persons for 48 hours without a hearing, and police generally observed this time limit. A judge has up to 24 hours to charge or release the detainee. Police promptly informed detainees of charges against them. Authorities generally respected these rights. A bail system exists. The law provides detainees the right to legal counsel from the moment of arrest. Persons charged with a crime may choose their own lawyers or accept one designated by the government.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides that the duration of provisional detention may not exceed four months. The judge may, by means of a reasoned decision, extend its duration for the same amount of time. The duration of the provisional detention may not exceed half the maximum penalty prescribed by the criminal code for the offenses for which it has been ordered. According to the law, once the case has been sent to court, the duration of the pretrial detention cannot exceed six months (minor offenses) or 12 months (serious offenses). As of September prisoners were in pretrial detention on average for 392 days. The slow pace of the justice system and lack of human resources often resulted in lengthy detentions beyond the period stipulated by law.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and receive prompt, detailed notification of the charges against them. Trials are fair and public. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult in a timely manner with an attorney of their choice. If a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the government must appoint a public attorney. Defendants and their attorneys have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The government provides an interpreter, if needed, from the moment of being charged through all appeals. Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Plaintiffs may bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the European Court of Human Rights. The national ombudsman also serves to protect and defend basic rights and public freedom on behalf of citizens.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the government temporarily canceled cultural events or limited number of attendees to protect public health in accordance with the law.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government temporarily restricted large gatherings and public assemblies according to the law.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees, preferring to deal with refugees on an ad hoc basis. There is a lack of domestic legislation on asylum seekers and refugees and, in particular, on measures to protect unaccompanied and refugee children. The law, however, provides for a residency and work permit issued under the country’s temporary and transitional protection regime. The law provides for the temporary protection of asylum seekers and allows their entry, stay, and right to work for a two-year period, renewable for six additional months. After this period the beneficiary can either return to the country of origin, go to a third country, or stay in Andorra if the individual complies with all the immigration requirements. The government and the Community of Sant’Egidio maintained a humanitarian corridor from French and Spanish airports for refugees to enter the country. In June a Syrian family of three arrived in the country. Since the start of the corridor in 2018, eight Syrian refugees received legal, medical, psychological, social, and educational assistance.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides for housing, as well as access to social services, health care, and education. The government provided these benefits to the incoming refugees and Sant’Egidio refugees with the support of the Andorran Red Cross, Caritas, and the Association Open-Open Them (Associacio Obrim, Obrim-les).

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and the 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: Observers considered parliamentary elections held in 2019 to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Citizens were ethnically and linguistically homogeneous but, as of the end of the year, represented only 48.7 percent of the country’s population. Most of the population consisted of immigrants, largely from Spain, Portugal, and France. The law requires 20 years of residency for naturalization. Because only citizens have the right to hold official positions, there were no members of minorities in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. Officials infrequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman’s main function is to defend and oversee the fulfillment and application of the rights and liberties included in the constitution and to ensure the public sector adheres to constitutional principles. The Ombudsman’s Office also covers all cases of discrimination in the private sector as well as in the protection of the rights of minors and persons with disabilities and protection against racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and intolerant attitudes. The Ombudsman’s Office is independent from other institutions and provides its functions free of charge to interested persons.

The ombudsman enjoyed the government’s cooperation, operated without government interference, had adequate resources, published an annual report to parliament with recommendations, and was considered effective.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of either gender, including spousal rape, both of which are punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. It penalizes domestic physical or psychological violence with a prison sentence of up to three years. Authorities enforced the law effectively.

The Service for the Assistance of Victims of Gender Violence of the government’s Area of Equality Policies in the Ministry of Social Affairs, Youth, and Equality assisted 62 new survivors from January to June. The service also continued to support some of the 236 persons from the previous year. The service provided comprehensive medical and psychological help as well as legal assistance to survivors of gender violence and domestic violence. Additionally, the government temporarily placed abused women and their children in a shelter, in a hotel, or with voluntary foster families. The national hotline for survivors continued to function as a 24-hour service. Survivors of domestic and gender-based violence could also report abuse by saying the words “purple code” to hospital workers or law enforcement agents to activate all relevant assistance protocols. Survivors could also request help from the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) Andorran Women’s Association (ADA), and Accio Feminista Andorra, with which the Ministry of Social Affairs, Youth, and Equality has a memorandum of understanding that establishes a survivor’s assistance collaboration framework.

The Area of Equality Policies, an entity of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Youth, and Equality, promoted and developed programs to prevent and fight against gender and domestic violence as well as any other forms of inequality. The area, in coordination with the University of Andorra, trained on gender violence more than 200 professionals including social workers in the national and municipal administrations, lawyers, psychologists, and law enforcement agents. At high schools the area also organized training workshops on gender violence, harassment, and equality.

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women the government launched an awareness campaign with other national institutions, including the ombudsman, law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and civil society organizations.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment under the provisions for other sexual aggressions, punishable by three-months’ to three years’ imprisonment. As of September, no cases were reported to authorities. Survivors were reluctant to file a complaint due to fear of reprisal.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of governmental authorities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law also prohibits discrimination privately or professionally with fines up to 24,000 euros ($27,600). The government enforced the law effectively.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, place of origin, political opinions, color, or creed. There were no reports of governmental or societal violence or discrimination against members of racial, ethnic, or national minorities during the year.

Children

Birth Registration: According to the law, citizenship is acquired at birth in the following circumstances: a child is born in the country to an Andorran parent or born abroad to an Andorran parent born in the country; a child is born in the country if either parent was born in the country and is living there at the time of birth; or a child is born in the country and both parents are stateless or of unknown identity. A child of foreign parents may acquire Andorran nationality by birth in the country if at the time of birth one of the parents completed 10 years in the country. Otherwise, the child may become a citizen before attaining the age of majority or a year after reaching the age of majority if his or her parents have been permanently resident in the country for 10 years or if the person can prove that he or she has lived in the country permanently and continuously for the previous five years. In the meantime, the child has a provisional passport.

Children are registered at birth.

Child Abuse: The law punishes child abuse with three months’ to six years’ imprisonment. The government’s Specialized Child Protection Team, consisting of three social workers, five psychologists, and three social educators, intervened in situations where children and young persons were at risk or lacked protection, and it collected data on cases of child abuse. As of September, authorities assisted 349 minors at risk, of whom 25 lived in a shelter designated for them.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is 16 for girls and boys and as young as 14 with judicial authorization.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalty for statutory rape is 15 years’ imprisonment, the same as for rape in general. The law bans slavery and servitude with a maximum of 12 years’ imprisonment and trafficking in persons for the purpose of slavery and servitude with a maximum of six years. As of September, authorities identified 14 possible survivors of child sexual abuse.

The law punishes anyone who manages or finances premises used for prostitution; who aids, abets, or fosters prostitution; or who incites through violence, intimidation, or exploitation another person to engage in prostitution.

Child pornography is illegal and carries a prison sentence of up to four years. The minimum age of sexual consent is 14 years.

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

Anti-Semitism

Unofficial estimates placed the size of the Jewish community at 100 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that Andorra was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

Although parliament approved in October 2020 a reform to the education law reaffirming the inclusion of students with disabilities in the public school system at all grade levels, NGOs continued to call for effective implementation of an inclusive educational system.

National civil society organizations continued to identity as the primary concerns for persons with disabilities universal accessibility to private and public spaces, and entry into the workforce.

The Service for Personal Autonomy within the Ministry of Social Affairs, Youth, and Equality received requests for psychological, social, and legal assistance from persons with disabilities and their families.

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

The law considers sexual orientation an “aggravating circumstance” for crimes motivated by hate or bias. There were few cases of violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Youth, and Equality received requests for psychological, social, and legal assistance from individuals based on their gender identity or expression. NGOs called for appropriate training on transsexuality, especially for professionals working with children, including medical professionals, teachers, and civil servants. Complaints on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity may be brought before the civil and administrative courts. Civil society saw a need for the government to improve its sensitivity to problems of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex community.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for workers to form and join independent trade unions. The law also regulates the relations between trade unions and employer associations as well as mechanisms of collective conflict. The law provides for the rights to bargain collectively and to strike. Alternate dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation and arbitration exist. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

While the government effectively enforced the law, the county’s main union Unio Sindical d’Andorra (USdA) criticized the law, alleging it does not effectively protect workers, especially those with short-term contracts. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic increased the vulnerability of some workers who had precarious contract terms. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other laws involving the denial of civil liberties.

The government and employers respected freedom of association. Collective bargaining did not occur during the year. There were no official reports of or investigations into any antiunion discrimination. Workers continued to be reluctant to admit to union membership due to fear of retaliation by their employers and arbitrary dismissal.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for similar crimes.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits children younger than age 14 from working and all of the worst forms of child labor. Children ages 14 or 15 may work up to two months per year during school holidays following strict regulations contained in the law. The law limits work by children who are ages 14 or 15 to no more than six hours per day, limits work by children ages 16 or 17 to eight hours per day, provides for safety restrictions, restricts the types of work children may perform, and outlines other conditions. According to the law, children may not work overtime, work overnight, or work in dangerous occupations, especially in the construction sector. The law provides for protection of children from exploitation in the workplace. Penalties were commensurate with those for other similar crimes. The government effectively enforced the law.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, and the government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate with other laws related to civil rights. Some cases of discrimination against persons with disabilities, persons based on sexual orientation, and women occurred with respect to employment or occupation. Discrimination against persons with disabilities existed in the form of social and cultural barriers, as well as disadvantages in the labor market. The Ministry of Social Affairs favored the hiring of persons with disabilities and promoted the Network of Inclusive Businesses. Member companies received fiscal and social incentives for participating.

Women represented 49 percent of the workforce. The law requires equal pay for equal work. No cases were filed during the year, but the ADA and trade union representatives from the USdA reported cases of gender discrimination, especially relating to unequal salaries for the same work and workplace bullying. Victims were reluctant to file a complaint due to fear of reprisal from employers. The government’s Department of Statistics estimated that women earned on average 20 percent less than men for comparable work. In the financial sector, this percentage increased to 28 percent. The government tried to combat pay discrimination in general, and it applied pay equality within the government.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum wage was above the poverty level but not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The national ombudsman reported that the minimum wage was not enough to make housing affordable. The government generally enforced minimum wage laws. The number of individuals living in a vulnerable situation increased because of the medical crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government enacted legislation creating mechanisms to assist companies and workers to deal with the economic impact of COVID-19. In an April study by the Social Observatory of Andorra, 38 percent of the population reported having financial difficulties. Youth and women as well as temporary workers were among the most vulnerable groups.

Workers may work up to two overtime hours per day or 15 hours per week, 50 hours per month, and 426 hours per year. Penalties for wage and overtime violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The Labor Inspection Office, within the Ministry of Presidency and Economy, has the authority to levy sanctions and fines against companies violating standards and enforced compliance. The office had enough inspectors and resources to enforce compliance. Inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections.

Occupational Safety and Health: The responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts, not the worker. The law covers agricultural, domestic, and migrant workers. The Labor Inspection Office has the authority to levy sanctions and fines against companies violating standards and enforced compliance. The office had enough inspectors and resources to enforce compliance. Inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections. Inspections for occupational safety and health were conducted by the same inspectors under the same authorities as wage and hours. The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws, and the penalties for violations were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

As of the end of August, the Labor Inspection Office had received 41 complaints. In 2020 the Andorran Social Security Fund had registered 5,870 workplace accidents, which led to 4,563 persons on sick leave from their workplace for an average of 24 days. One death was registered.

Angola

Executive Summary

Angola is a constitutional republic. In August 2017 the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola party won presidential and legislative elections with 61 percent of the vote. The ruling party’s presidential candidate Joao Lourenco took the oath of office for a five-year term in September 2017, and the party 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.

The national police, controlled by the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for internal security and law enforcement. The Criminal Investigation Services, also under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for preventing and investigating domestic crimes. The Expatriate and Migration Services and the Border Guard Police within the Ministry of Interior are responsible for law enforcement relating to migration. The state intelligence and security service reports to the presidency and investigates state security matters. The Angolan Armed Forces are responsible for external security but also have domestic security responsibilities, including border security, expulsion of irregular migrants, and small-scale actions against groups such as the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda separatists in Cabinda. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government security forces; forced disappearance; cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence or unjustified arrests against journalists and criminal libel laws; interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.

The government took significant steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses as well as those who were involved in corruption. Nevertheless, accountability for human rights abuses was limited due to a lack of checks and balances, lack of institutional capacity, a culture of impunity, and government corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

The government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings and sometimes used excessive force in maintaining stability. The national police and Angolan Armed Forces have internal mechanisms to investigate security force abuses.

On January 30, the National Police reported that in the village of Cafunfo, a rich diamond area in Lunda Norte Province, 300 individuals armed with sticks, machetes, and firearms tried to forcibly enter a police station. This provoked local police to use deadly force resulting in six deaths, 20 injured, and more than two dozen arrests. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media sources framed the attack as a peaceful demonstration protesting the lack of access to water, education, and social services and reported much higher (unsubstantiated) death tolls. The group was organized by the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement, which seeks independence for the region. The government viewed the clash as an armed insurrection and justified the use of force in self-defense.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

On January 30, following clashes between protesters and security forces in Cafunfo, there were varying reports of missing persons. The opposition parties National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE), and Partido de Renovacao Social (Social Renewal Party) reported 10 persons missing. Amnesty International released unconfirmed reports alleging many missing activists were killed and their bodies thrown into the Cuango River. A respected journalist who visited Cafunfo between March and June reported that six persons involved in the clash were missing.

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 both on the way to and inside 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.

On April 17, the Movement of Angolan Students (MEA) organized a protest against increased public university fees. According to the students, police dispersed demonstrators with tear gas and beatings. In a press note, MEA’s national secretary Laurindo Mande accused the police of violence against the students that resulted in 20 injuries and several detentions.

On July 1, a group of teachers in the city of Uige staged a protest demanding paid leave and back pay for examination subsidies they alleged had not been paid since 2019. Protest organizers reported that police used tear gas and violence to disperse the crowd, resulting in several injuries, three of which were serious; 12 teachers and one journalist were detained by police, and several demonstrators had their property seized or destroyed.

Security forces sometimes used excessive force when enforcing restrictions to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has held security forces accountable for these abuses in several cases and provided some training to reform the security forces.

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: Prisons had a total capacity for 21,000 inmates but held approximately 25,000 inmates, with approximately 10,000 of those inmates held in pretrial detention. The prison system held an excessive number of prisoners in pretrial detention due to a backlog of criminal cases in the court system.

Authorities frequently held pretrial detainees with sentenced inmates. Authorities also held 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 or while awaiting release warrants issued by higher courts. Many prisoners were held in pretrial detention longer than permitted under law, which ranges from four to 14 months depending on the severity and complexity of the alleged crime. Some offenders, including violent offenders, reported paying fines and bribes to secure their freedom, but it was unclear how prevalent this practice was.

On April 26, the director of the Nkiende penitentiary in Mbanza Congo, Zaire Province, said that the facility was overcrowded with more than double its capacity of 250 inmates and was housing 511 persons at the time.

Prison conditions varied widely between urban and rural areas. Prisons in rural areas were less crowded and had better rehabilitation, training, and reintegration services. There were no reports of deaths in prisons, but there were reports of inmates getting sick due to the poor conditions of the prisons, including with COVID-19. 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 NGOs stated prison services were insufficient.

In Caboxa jail, Bengo Province, there were reports from inmates and their relatives of episodes of violence against inmates that included beatings. There were also reports that jail officials forbade family members from bringing food and toiletries, relegating inmates to purchase provisions from a small shop inside the jail. Those without money faced illness and malnutrition. Bengo provincial officials disputed these claims, noting the jail had its own poultry and livestock farm.

On May 12, the Multisectorial Commission for Prevention and Combat of COVID-19 in Cuando Cubango Province reported that there were 284 positive cases in the jail in Menongue, the provincial capital. The jail was built to accommodate 500 inmates but held more than 800. The authorities isolated the site for institutional quarantine and released those who had already served their sentences.

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

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 by impeding their ability to enter 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. 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, and members of the National Assembly to assess prisoners’ living conditions. Members of the National Assembly conducted independent visits to prisons. On May 13, parliamentarians visited Luzia jail in Lunda Sul Province, where inmates complained about several cases of excessively long pretrial detention.

Improvements: The COVID-19 vaccination campaign covered facilities in Bengo, Lunda-Sul, and Huambo provinces. On August 24, approximately 900 inmates were vaccinated in Caboxa jail.

During the year seven videoconference rooms, called Virtual Parlors, were installed in three jails in Luanda and in one in Bengo allowing inmates to have virtual contact with their relatives and lawyers. The UN Development Program financed the project, implemented by the Human Rights Center of the Catholic University and the Penitentiary Services.

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.

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 prosecutors must inform detainees of the legal basis for their detention within 48 hours. NGO sources reported authorities often did not respect the law. If prosecutors are unable to determine whether there is a legal basis for the detention within 48 hours, prosecutors have the authority to release the person from detention. Depending on the seriousness of the case, prosecutors may require the detained person to submit to one or more pretrial procedures prescribed by law, such as posting bail, periodic appearance before authorities, or house arrest.

If prosecutors determine a legal basis exists for the detention, a detained 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 matter. 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 geographic 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.

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.

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 allows detainees to 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.

In March 2020 prison authorities suspended all visits to detainees and inmates due to the “state of emergency” for COVID-19. Prison officials allowed lawyers to visit clients and allowed relatives to receive information about family members in custody. The suspension of visits continued through May 2020 when the subsequent “state of calamity” entered into force. A presidential decree published in May 2020 provided that visits to inmates were allowed on three occasions over the following two months for separate classes of inmates. Subsequent updates to the “state of calamity” did not mention visits to prisons. During the year there were no additional provisions that allowed families to visit their relatives in prison.

Arbitrary Arrest: During the year there were instances in which security forces reacted violently to public demonstrations against the government and detained protesters. The visible presence of security forces was enough to deter significantly what the government deemed unlawful demonstrations.

On August 21, 17 protesters were detained in Luena, the capital of Moxico Province, during a protest against the high cost of living and lack of adequate schools in the region. They were released the same day.

On August 30, a group of approximately 20 activists were prevented from demonstrating in front of parliament against a bill under discussion regarding the electoral rules for the upcoming electoral processes. Several protesters were detained, including the youth leader of the Democratic Block party, Adilson Manuel.

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 five years in pretrial detention. 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.

The director general of the penitentiary service, Bernardo Gurgel, recognized during a visit to Malanje jails that there were several irregularities. Among them were excessive pretrial detentions; delays in release warrants; and delays in decisions for parole due to administrative difficulties faced by the Malanje court.

A deputy attorney general said the Caboxa jail, in Bengo Province, held 18 inmates beyond the period of pretrial detention. The jail also held several prisoners who had served their sentences and awaited a release warrant.

On April 26, the deputy attorney general in Zaire Province said the Nkiende jail in Mbanza Congo held more than 20 detainees beyond the pretrial detention period.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary. The judicial system was affected by institutional weaknesses, including political influence in the decision-making process. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the Attorney General’s Office worked to improve the independence of prosecutors and judges. The National Institute for Judicial Studies conducted capacity-building programs to foster the independence of the judicial system.

There were long trial delays at the Supreme Court, in part because the court remained the only appellate court in the country. A 2015 law established another level of appellate courts to reduce delays. Three of these courts were inaugurated in Luanda, Benguela, and Lubango, and judges and personnel were recruited but were not operating at year’s end. Criminal courts also had a large backlog of cases that resulted in major delays in hearings. In July a bill was approved to add 10 more judges to the Supreme Court, bringing the total to 31, to help address the backlog of more than 4,300 cases before the criminal, civil, and labor chambers of the court.

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 community 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 Angolan Armed Forces 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 Attorney General’s Office 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 of being charged through the close of all appeals.

In February the procedural penal code approved by the National Assembly in the previous year came into force. It clarifies the roles of each party in the judicial process, introduces rules to hasten judicial processes, and provides new procedural rules for both claimants and defendants.

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 hears cases of minors between the ages of 12 and 16 accused of committing a criminal offense. Minors older than 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

On February 9, the Criminal Investigation Services arrested Jose Mateus Zecamutchima, leader of the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement, after being summoned in the aftermath of the January 30 protest in Cafunfo that led to clashes between members of the movement and security forces. The charges against Zecamutchima included instigating the events that led to the January 30 clash. He was held for seven months before being formally indicted for the crimes of outrage to national symbols and criminal association. Media reports viewed his detention as politically motivated, while the government claimed his separatist speeches led to the gathering and resulting violent clash on January 30.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Damages for human rights abuses may be sought in provincial courts and appealed to the Supreme Court. The new procedural penal code that entered into force in February allows victims of human rights abuses to seek compensation from the state. The rules provide that the state must compensate victims who are illegally detained or arrested, are under excessively long pretrial detention, are not released in due time against a legal provision or a court decision, or are victims of a gross judicial error. Public agents responsible for actions that abuse human rights should in turn compensate the state.

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

The constitution and law prohibit the arbitrary or unlawful interference of privacy, family, home, or correspondence, 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 that the government monitored 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

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government did not always respect this right. State media continued to be the primary source for news and generally reflected a progovernment view. Individuals were increasingly able to use private media and social media platforms to openly criticize government policies and practices. Reporting on corruption was the primary reason for attacks against journalists, which occurred with impunity.

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.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: In May the government ordered three television stations to cease broadcasting all content and accused the stations of failing to register properly. This further solidified government control of the country’s television stations, as several other private media outlets returned to state control in 2020 following a state corruption investigation conclusion that the outlets had been illegally funded with public funds through individuals with ties to former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Journalists and opposition parties said the seizure of the media outlets would limit independent journalism leading up to national elections in 2022. The government argued that the seized companies were in poor economic shape and needed to be restructured before offering them for sale to investors under the government’s privatization program.

Transmission licenses are granted by the minister of telecommunication, technology, and media. Journalists criticized the cost of licenses and said high costs impeded media pluralism and the emergence of new players. The base license to operate a television station was $1.4 million, while a radio license cost $136,000. Journalists also criticized the opacity of the process used by the government to grant transmission licenses.

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, as well as of social problems reflecting poor governance. TPA broadcast plenary sessions of the National Assembly live, including interventions by opposition parties. TPA also invited opposition politicians and civil society members to comment live on stories featured on nightly newscasts, but private stations were prohibited from filming parliament. Opposition parties received less overall coverage on state media than the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party, and it was often difficult to distinguish between communications of the government and those of the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported more incidents of violence or harassment compared with the previous year.

In March an editor of a weekly newspaper was held for questioning and a criminal case was opened against him after he published an article critical of President Lourenco. In April a reporter for Radio Despertar, an opposition-run media outlet, was arrested for covering antieviction protests. He was held for five days, and his equipment was retained by authorities.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Regulatory Entity for Social Communication (ERCA) is a body composed of 11 counselors designated by political parties represented in the parliament, the government, and journalists. ERCA’s responsibility is to safeguard press freedom and lawful media activity and to issue regulations and decisions on those issues. Journalists and opposition political parties criticized ERCA for being controlled by the ruling MPLA and for issuing regulations that favored the government.

The Ethics and Credentialing Commission (ECC) is a body exclusively composed of journalists that is authorized to license and delicense journalists. In July the Ministry of Telecommunications, Technology, and Social Communication opened an office to support ECC operations. As of October any media outlets allowing a journalist to work without the credential faced a fine of approximately 23,100 kwanza ($42 dollars), which was approximately a journalist’s monthly salary. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship for political and financial reasons.

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.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a crime punishable by imprisonment or a fine. Unlike 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 with the right of reply.

In April defamation charges were brought against an editor and founder of a privately owned newspaper in Benguela. During the year criminal defamation charges were also brought against editors of several news outlets that had published articles on government corruption. In July government officials filed charges of defamation against two journalists after they reported on government corruption. An editor of an online news outlet was convicted of criminal defamation after he published articles on land appropriation and government corruption.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly and association, and the government sometimes respected these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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 it 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.

Several civil rights groups challenged the 1991 law on freedom of assembly by holding unannounced protests. The groups said the law restricts the fundamental right to assembly granted by the 2010 constitution and refused to inform the authorities in advance about the time and location of protests and public assemblies.

The government permitted demonstrations, including antigovernment protests, but at times prohibited events based on perceived or claimed security considerations. Police and administrators did not interfere with progovernment gatherings. Politically unaffiliated groups intending to criticize the government or government leaders often encountered the presence of police who prevented them from holding their event or limited their march route. In such cases authorities claimed the timing or venue requested was problematic, that proper authorities had not been notified, or that COVID-19 protocols could not accommodate the request.

Freedom of Association

Extensive delays in the NGO registration process continued to be a problem. NGOs that had not yet received registration were allowed to operate. At times the government arbitrarily restricted the activities of associations it considered subversive by refusing to grant permits for projects and other activities. Authorities generally permitted opposition parties to organize and hold meetings.

A 2012 law and a 2002 presidential decree regulate NGOs. Despite civil society complaints that requirements were vague, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights actively provided information on registration requirements.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

In-country Movement: Document checkpoints in domestic airports and on roads throughout the country were common. Reports by local NGOs suggested that, despite an incremental drop in cases, some police officers continued to extort 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.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

During the year, due to a severe, prolonged drought in the southern provinces, approximately 15,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) congregated around feeding centers in Cunene, Huila, and Namibe Provinces. As of late September the centers and camps were not organized or managed but consisted of organic congregations of persons numbering up to 2,000 in one location.

f. Protection of Refugees

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, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government had not fully implemented the law. The law provides specific procedures for the submission of an asylum application and guidance on the determination of refugee status. UNHCR and several NGOs, however, reported that asylum seekers did not have a mechanism to apply for or resolve their status. A 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. The government had not put into practice a mechanism to adjudicate asylum cases in the committee’s place. The law also authorized the creation of reception centers for refugees and asylum seekers where they were to receive assistance until the government decides on their cases, but the government had not yet established these centers.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: There were reports throughout the year that Lunda Norte provincial authorities exerted pressure on irregular migrants to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The International Organization for Migration recorded more than 8,000 irregular migrants returning from Angola to the DRC in August and September. Departing irregular migrants often did not have access to water or shelter during their journey on foot to the border and were at risk of human rights abuses, including gender-based violence. The government permitted two female refugees within the irregular migrant group to remain in Angola. The government failed to provide adequate protection for asylum seekers and urban refugees in this area.

In 2018 security forces launched Operation Rescue, a nationwide law enforcement campaign to address violent crime, illegal migration, unlicensed commercial and religious activity, and road accidents. The campaign affected both legal and undocumented migrants, refugees, and stateless persons who relied on the informal markets to make a living, as job opportunities were limited and the law prohibits refugees from operating businesses. One NGO said Operation Rescue had not ended and the problems associated with the operation continued.

Under the law authorities should issue refugee cards with a five-year validity. According to UNHCR the government had not issued or renewed refugee cards since 2015, and no refugee possessed an unexpired, government-issued refugee card during the year. The minister of interior told UN officials that the government would begin to fully implement the law when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. Refugees reported a general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge concerning the rights it was intended to safeguard.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees reported restrictions on freedom of movement in Lunda Norte Province. Police arbitrarily arrested or detained refugees and confiscated or destroyed their registration documents during periodic roundups, particularly in Dundo, the provincial capital. Refugees also reported periodic restrictions on freedom of movement from their resettlement site in Lovua, Lunda Norte Province, and cited such restrictions as a factor motivating them to return to the DRC.

Employment: The law does not allow refugees to work and restricted refugees from obtaining business licenses. A regulation restricted refugees from obtaining the business license required to own and operate a business. Refugees often faced difficulty obtaining employment due to their inability to obtain legal documents required to work in the formal sector. Authorities continued to harass asylum seekers and refugees working in the informal market.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with recognized refugee status could at times obtain public services. The government had not implemented key elements of the 2015 asylum law, such as refugee and asylum seekers’ access to basic services and issuance of documents, including new or renewed refugee cards and birth certificates for refugees’ children born in the country. UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees, however, reported that urban refugees were unable to obtain legal documents and at times faced difficulty accessing public services such as health care and education. Corruption by officials compounded these difficulties. Lack of documentation or expired documentation prevented refugees from owning land or vehicles in their name, purchasing cellular SIM cards, obtaining business licenses, and accessing education beyond primary school.

Durable Solutions: In 2020 the government cooperated with UNHCR and supported an organized voluntary repatriation of 2,912 refugees from Lunda Norte to the DRC. As of August 31, according to UNHCR, 6,801 refugees remained at its Lovua, Lunda Norte, resettlement camp. The government through the Migration and Foreigners Service and the Ministry of Social Action, Family, and Women’s Promotion (Ministry of Social Assistance) participated in the screening phase to ensure that those to be repatriated were refugees, processed the related repatriation documentation, facilitated family reunification for the purpose of returning, verified that those returning were on the Voluntary Repatriation (VolRep) manifest, and signed the VolRep manifest at the borders for handover to counterparts on the DRC side. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed further repatriation convoys.

g. Stateless Persons

The government estimated there were more than 12 million unregistered citizens in the country. Children of undocumented foreign parents born in the country may fall into a stateless status if the parents are unable to register them.

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 2017 the government held presidential and legislative elections, which the ruling MPLA won with 61 percent of the vote, and the country inaugurated MPLA party candidate Joao Lourenco as its third president since independence. The MPLA retained its 68 percent supermajority in the National Assembly in the 2017 elections; however, opposition parties increased their representation by winning 32 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 20 percent in the 2012 elections.

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 regarding 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 central government appoints provincial governors. Local government elections, originally planned to take place in 2020, faced a series of delays from legislative processes, procedural debates, and the COVID-19 pandemic. During the year President Lourenco proposed a constitutional amendment providing for local government elections to be implemented across the nation. In September the National Assembly passed the law, but no date was set for the elections. Opposition parties and civil society criticized the government for failing to provide a prospective date for the municipal elections.

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 of Ministers largely determines which legislative proposals are submitted to the National Assembly for approval. 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.

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 Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups, including persons with disabilities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; and indigenous persons, in the political process, and they did participate. Of the 220 deputies in the national assembly, 65, or 30 percent, were women, up from 27 percent for the last three years. Four of 18, or 22 percent, of provincial governors were women, which was double the number from both 2018 and 2019, and seven of 21, or 33 percent, of cabinet ministers were women, down from 38 percent in 2018 and 2019. 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 implemented the law effectively. The government dismissed and prosecuted cabinet ministers, provincial governors, senior military officers, and other officials for corruption and financial crimes. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The Attorney General’s Office continued corruption investigations and brought criminal charges against several officials. Nonetheless, official impunity and the uniform application of anticorruption legislation remained a serious problem.

Corruption: In April authorities sentenced the minister of social communications under former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Manuel Rabelais, to 14 years and six months in prison for embezzlement and money laundering committed in a foreign exchange scheme between 2016 and 2017.

In late May President Lourenco dismissed his minister of state and seven other high-level military officials following the arrest of a military major attempting to leave the country with two suitcases full of money. In June 2020 other provincial government and military officials in Cuando Cubango were also detained as part of the same investigation.

In July Attorney General Helder Pitta Gros announced in a press conference that the government had been able to freeze more than 550 billion kwanza (one billion dollars) that had been stolen and deposited in foreign banks. He noted that the funds would be repatriated following legal proceedings.

Carlos Manuel de Sao Vicente, former head of the insurance company AAA Seguros, remained in custody after a September 2020 arrest for alleged money laundering.

On September 21, the former chairman of the board of directors of the Luanda Collective and Urban Transport Company, Abel Antonio Cosme, was extradited by Portugal to the country. Although he was released from custody on September 29 after paying more than nine million kwanza ($16,500) in bail, his extradition was the first of its type to the country for corruption charges.

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.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country. Some groups investigating government corruption and human rights abuses alleged government interference in their activities, particularly in provinces outside of Luanda. Civil society organizations faced fewer difficulties in contacting detainees than in previous years, and prison authorities permitted civil society work in the prisons, but COVID-19 preventive measures forced limited access by some civil society groups.

The law 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.

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 subjected 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 included representatives from various government ministries. Leading civil society members decided not to participate on the commission because they did not believe the commission 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, with a national jurisdiction, existed to mediate between an aggrieved public, including prisoners, and an offending public office or institution. The office had representative offices open in the provinces of Cabinda, Kwanza-Sul, Cunene, Huambo, and Luanda. It had neither decision-making nor adjudicative powers but helped citizens obtain access to justice, advised government entities on citizen rights, and published reports. These reports are presented annually to the National Assembly. The ombudsman is elected by the National Assembly.

During the year the government began the implementation and training of local human rights committees at the provincial, municipal, and communal levels. These committees were composed of government representatives, civil society members, journalists, religious representatives, and traditional authorities. The committees are tasked with gathering information and reporting monthly on human rights issues within their area.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape and intimate partner rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years’ imprisonment if convicted, depending on aggravating situations. 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 the Ministry of Social Assistance, from January to August there were 639 reports of family-based violence, of which 588 victims were women. Reports decreased significantly from 2020, which reported more than 1,000 cases through May. Prosecutions were reportedly rare. In October the ministry joined an education campaign started by musician Sarissari called “Silencio Mata” (Silence Kills), which aimed to raise the awareness of domestic violence in the country.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were anecdotal reports that some communities abused women and children due to accusations the latter 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.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Persons living in rural areas faced more barriers to access of sexual and reproductive health services and postabortion emergency services than urban dwellers due to a lack of resources and health programs in those areas. According to 2015-16 World Health Organization (WHO) data, 62 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 made their own informed decisions regarding reproductive health care, contraceptive use, and sexual relations. Some cultural views, such as that women have a responsibility to bear children, and religious objections to using contraception limited access to reproductive health services. The WHO reported there were four nursing and midwifery personnel per 10,000 inhabitants in the country (2010-18 data). For survivors of sexual violence, the law on domestic violence provides for legal and medical assistance, access to shelter spaces, and priority care assistance to obtain legal evidence of the crime. Emergency contraception was available as clinical management of rape.

According to a 2017 WHO report, the country’s maternal mortality rate was 241 deaths per 100,000 live births, which was a significant reduction from 431 deaths in 2007 and 827 deaths in 2000. High maternal mortality was due to inadequate access to health facilities before, during, and after giving birth, a lack of skilled obstetric care, and early pregnancy. The WHO data reported a high adolescent birth rate of 163 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19. A UN Population Fund report found that six of 10 teenage girls who abandoned school did so due to pregnancy. According to 2010-19 data, 30 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. UNICEF reported in 2016 that 50 percent of births in the country were attended by skilled health personnel.

According to an official in the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor, and Social Security, lack of running water and sanitary facilities at some schools disproportionately affected teenage girls, causing them to not attend school for several days each month while they are having their period. The cumulative effect of lost class time was detrimental to their success in school, leading struggling students to drop out and enter the work force.

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, and 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 effect 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. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations and industries compared to men, including in jobs deemed hazardous, factory jobs, and those in the mining, agriculture, and energy sectors. The Ministry of Social Assistance led an interministerial information campaign on women’s rights and domestic abuse and hosted national, provincial, and municipal workshops and training sessions.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The penal code revision that took effect in February has several provisions that criminalize discrimination based on skin color, race, and ethnicity. The Human Rights National Plan 2020-2022 contains policies to mitigate racial discrimination. Reports of racial or ethnic violence were rare.

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution does not specifically refer to the rights of indigenous persons, and no specific law protects their rights and ecosystems. One NGO estimated that 14,000 members of the San indigenous group scattered among the southern provinces of Huila, Cunene, Cuando Cubango, and Moxico suffered discrimination and lacked adequate access to basic government services, including medical care, education, and identification cards.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from one’s parents. The government does not register all births immediately. According to the 2014 census, approximately 13.7 million citizens (46 percent of the population) lacked birth registration documents. Since 2019 the government’s birth registration and identity document campaign provided 1.9 million persons with their first identity documents. During the year the government continued programs to improve the rate of birth registration through on-site registries located in maternity hospitals in all 18 provinces with a campaign called “Born with Registration.” The government also trained midwives in rural areas to complete temporary registration documents for subsequent conversion into official birth certificates. The government permitted children to attend school without birth registration, but only through the sixth grade.

Education: Education is tuition-free and compulsory for documented children through the ninth grade. Students in public schools often faced significant additional expenses such as books or irregular fees paid directly to education officials to guarantee a place. When parents were unable to pay the fees, their children were often unable to attend school. The Ministry of Education estimated that one to two million children did not attend school because of a shortage of teachers and schools.

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 due to lack of capacity within institutions to provide appropriate care. The Ministry of Social Assistance offers programs for child abuse victims and other vulnerable children. Nevertheless, nationwide implementation of such programs remained a problem.

In 2020 INAC launched a hotline called “SOS Child” to report violence against children. INAC reported that between June 2020 and June, the hotline received 4,274 reports of sexual violence against children.

According to the local UNICEF office, there were reports that more than 50,000 children suffered from some form of child abuse.

Child, 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 among lower income groups coincided with the onset of puberty. According to UNICEF, 6 percent of men between the ages of 20 and 24 were married or in union before the age of 18, 30 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married or in union by the age of 18, and 7 percent of women between the age of 20 and 24 were married or in union by the age of 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children is illegal. Police did not actively enforce laws against commercial sexual exploitation, and local NGOs expressed concern regarding the sexual exploitation of children. The law prohibits the use of children to produce pornography; however, it does not prohibit the procuring or offering of a child for the production of pornography, or the use, procuring, or offering of a child for pornographic performances.

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.

Displaced Children: Extreme poverty and the economic decline during recent years led to an increase in the number of children living on the street, especially in urban areas of the capital. These children, estimated to number from the hundreds to several thousand, did not have access to health care or education, often resorted to begging or trash picking for survival, and lived in conditions placing them at great risk for exploitation. During the year INAC met with former street children to better understand the problem and to formulate a plan to address the growing issue.

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

Anti-Semitism

There is a Jewish community of approximately 350 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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

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 disability; 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.

The law requires changes to public buildings, transportation, and communications to increase accessibility for persons with disabilities. The law also institutes a quota system to encourage the public and private sectors to employ more persons with disabilities, with the public-sector quota at 4 percent of total employees and the private-sector quota set at 2 percent. Civil society organizations and persons with disabilities, however, reported the government failed to enforce the law, and significant barriers to access remained.

The government official responsible for overseeing programs to promote inclusion for persons with disabilities acknowledged that both the private and public sectors failed to meet the quota system established by law. The Angolan Disabled Persons National Association, an NGO that promotes the rights of persons with disabilities, said in a March interview that discrimination, physical, and psychological barriers impeded persons with disabilities from having access to work, education, and public transportation.

Persons with disabilities included more than 80,000 survivors of land mines and other explosive remnants of war. According to the 2014 census, there were 656,258 persons with disabilities in the country. 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 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.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

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

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, 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. On February 11, changes to the penal code took effect that decriminalize same-sex sexual relations and criminalize acts of violence or discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation. Transgender and intersex persons are not specifically covered in the new legislation, nor does it recognize same-sex marriage, leading to problems in adoption and family planning, accompanying family into health-care facilities, and obtaining appropriate identity documents.

Local NGOs reported that LGBTQI+ persons faced violence, discrimination, and harassment. The government, through its health agencies, instituted a series of initiatives to decrease discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons.

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

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, police, firefighters, members of sovereign bodies, and public prosecutors 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 Attorney General’s Office, prison staff, fire fighters, public-sector employees providing “essential services,” and oil workers. 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. The law does not explicitly prohibit employer interference with union activity.

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 negotiate with their employer for at least 20 days prior to a work stoppage. 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. Collective labor disputes are to be settled through compulsory arbitration by the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor, and Social Security (Ministry of Labor). The law prohibits employer retribution against strikers, but it does not contain effective measures to deter such retribution. The law 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 Labor had a hotline and two service centers in Luanda for workers who believed their rights had been violated. By law employers are required to reinstate workers who have been dismissed for union activities.

During the year there were several strikes in the public and private sector over disputes between employers and workers. There were also allegations of retribution against strikers during the year. On August 9, workers of the National Company of Electricity Distribution (ENDE) went on strike to demand better working conditions and for an increase in salary and benefits. Union delegates reported that ENDE threatened to fire workers if they joined the strike, in particular workers hired within the last two years.

The government generally did not effectively enforce 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 law and labor contracts, which are commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, 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. Labor unions, independent of those run by the government, worked to increase their influence, but the ruling MPLA party dominated the labor movement because of its historical close relationship with labor unions and from the strong financial base of the nation’s largest union, of which the MPLA is a part.

The government was the country’s largest employer, and the Ministry of Labor mandated government worker wages with no negotiation with the unions. In September 2020 President Joao Lourenco created an advisory body, the Economic and Social Council, with 45 members representing large sectors of the country’s society but did not include labor representatives. Public-sector labor unions used strikes and protests to advance labor rights. For example, in May a group of public-sector labor unions began a strike in four provinces to protest salaries that the unions said had remained too low for 10 years. In September the Angola Union of Justice Clerks announced a general strike over staff shortages, salary stagnation, and working conditions. After the government agreed to start negotiations with these groups, the unions called off the strikes.

On July 30, municipal and provincial judges and public prosecutors protested in Luanda and Malanje Provinces against the deterioration of working conditions and benefit cuts, including health insurance. The president of the National Union of Public Prosecutors said that although the law did not allow them to strike, they would use protests and other means to pressure the government to solve their problems.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and sets penalties commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law due in part to an insufficient number of inspectors and to systemic corruption.

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. Forced child labor occurred (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment (age 14), which applies to all sectors. To obtain an employment contract, the law requires youth to submit evidence they are 14 or older. Children may work from age 14 to age 18 with parental permission, or without parental consent if they are married, and the work does not interfere with schooling or harm the physical, mental, and moral development of the minor. Children ages 14 to 16 may work no more than six hours per day or 34 hours per week; children ages 16 to 18 may work up to seven hours per day or 39 hours per week. Children are also prohibited from working between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. and are prohibited from performing shift work. 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 Labor, Ministry of Social Assistance, Ministry of Interior, INAC, and the national police are responsible for enforcement of child labor laws.

In August the Council of Ministers approved a redesigned National Action Plan for the Eradication of Child Labor for 2021-2025 with the goal of combatting and preventing child labor through social assistance, education, victim advocacy, and finance the enforcement and prosecution of child labor.

The government did not effectively monitor the large informal sector, where most child labor occurred. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The government did not consistently enforce the law, and child labor remained a problem, especially in the informal sector. Between January and March, INAC registered more than 3,000 cases of hazardous child labor on farms involving the handling of chemicals, stones, and bricks, as well as working as street vendors and beggars, and reported the cases to law enforcement but acknowledged that the real number was likely much higher. The Ministry of Labor has oversight of formal work sites in all 18 provinces, but it was unknown whether inspectors examined 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.

Child labor occurred in agriculture on family and commercial farms as well as in fishing, brick making, artisanal diamond mining, charcoal production, domestic labor, construction, 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 work as couriers in the illegal cross-border trade with Namibia. Adult criminals sometimes used children for forced criminal activity, since the justice system prohibits minors 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. 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 (see section 6).

The incidence of child labor increased in the southern provinces due to a severe drought. In Cunene Province, children were forced to leave school and work as herders or dig wells and fetch water. The drought and the accompanying economic devastation increased the risk of exploitation of vulnerable persons in the province; one NGO in Cunene said the drought led many boys to seek work in urban areas and led girls to engage in commercial sexual exploitation.

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 https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, ethnic origin, country origin and social condition, religion, political opinion, union membership, disability, or language, and the government in general effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. The International Labor Organization, however, noted the law did not clearly define discrimination. The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination, although it does not specifically address HIV or AIDS status, sexual orientation, or gender identity (see section 6). The law provides for equal pay for equal work, but gender pay disparities in the country existed. The law provides that both employers and workers are treated with respect, but there were no provisions prohibiting harassment in the workplace. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations considered dangerous, in factories, and in industries such as mining, agriculture, and energy.

The law provides working mothers nine weeks of maternity leave and four weeks of prematernity leave before childbirth and one day of leave each month in the next 15 weeks after the birth, while working fathers receive leave on the day of the child’s birth.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, although penalties, when applied, were commensurate with those for other laws related to civil rights. There were no known prosecutions of official or private-sector gender-based discrimination in employment or occupation. 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. In 2020 there were reports that persons with albinism experienced discrimination in employment and access to public services. In the past there were also complaints of discrimination against foreign workers. There were no known prosecutions for discrimination in employment. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: A minimum wage for the formal sector exists and varies by sector. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights raised concerns regarding the wide disparities of minimum wage by sector and the possibility this may undervalue work in female-dominated sectors. The lowest minimum wage was for agricultural work and was set below the UN Development Program’s official line of poverty. The minimum wage for the formal sector may be updated annually or when the government assesses economic conditions warrant. The minimum wage had not been updated since 2019. 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 bonus amounting to 50 percent of monthly salary to employees each year in December and an annual vacation. The law does not cover domestic workers, but a 2016 presidential decree extended some protections and enforcement standards to domestic workers. Workweek standards were not enforced unless employees filed a formal complaint with the Ministry of Labor. The law protects foreign workers with permanent legal status or a temporary work visa.

The government effectively enforced the minimum wage law within the formal labor sector, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar infractions. The Ministry of Labor is charged with implementing and enforcing the law. An insufficient number of adequately trained labor inspectors hampered enforcement efforts. Inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, but some companies received advance warning of impending labor inspections.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards are required for all sectors of the economy. Employees have the right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions without jeopardy to their employment. The government did not always proactively enforce occupational safety and health standards nor investigate private company operations unless complaints were made by NGOs and labor unions. Inspections were reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020 there were 1,151 labor accidents that caused the death or serious injury of workers.

Informal Sector: As much as 80 percent of the workforce was employed in the informal economy. The rate was higher in rural areas than urban areas (93 and 67 percent, respectively). Even in the country’s rapidly growing urban areas, self-employed informal workers provided essential services such as water, food, and transportation. Other common types of informal work included agriculture, commerce and trading, domestic work, security guards, and raising cattle. The government began job skills training programs to reduce informal employment, as well as efforts to reduce barriers to formalization and promote greater awareness of the advantages and protection that come with the formalization.

Government regulation and closure of market stalls during COVID-19 forced many informal workers to set up shop in the streets, apartment building entrances, or their own doorsteps to sell food, handcrafts such as leather sandals, furniture, and imported goods. Informal markets were the main source of food goods for most of the population. Informal money changers operated a parallel financial system to exchange weak local currency for dollars. This practice was not as widespread as years past due to the devaluation of the kwanza, which reduced the gap between the official and unofficial exchange rates. Some informal-sector workers joined unions, such as the National Federation of Unions of Food Industry, Commerce, and Hotels. Most workers in the informal sector were not covered by wage or occupational safety standards or social protections.

Antigua and Barbuda

Executive Summary

Antigua and Barbuda is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. The prime minister is the head of government and Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor general. The ruling Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party won a majority of seats in 2018 parliamentary elections that were deemed free and fair.

Security forces consist of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda, the prison guard service, immigration officers, airport and port security personnel, the Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force, and the Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy. National security, including police and prison guards, falls under the supervision of the attorney general, who is also the minister of legal affairs, public safety, and labor. Immigration falls under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Immigration. The Ministry of Finance is responsible for money-laundering policy. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no credible reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of serious acts of official corruption, and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct, although the laws were not enforced.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses. The government implemented the law criminalizing official corruption despite prolonged disruptions to the criminal justice system during the pandemic.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh due to inadequate sanitary conditions and overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: The country’s sole prison was built in 1735 to hold 150 prisoners but as of October held 246, of whom 11 were women. According to a nongovernmental organization (NGO) representative, overcrowding created serious COVID-19 infection risks for prisoners and staff. The government did not provide information regarding numbers of COVID-19 infections in the prison.

There were no reports of prisoner mistreatment.

Administration: The superintendent of prisons reviews mistreatment reports and forwards them to a prison-visiting committee for further investigation.

Independent Monitoring: The government permits prison visits by independent human rights observers, but no visits occurred during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law permits police to arrest a person without a warrant, based on a suspicion of criminal activity. Police must bring detainees before a court within 48 hours of arrest or detention or file a motion requesting an extension. The law stipulates prisoners must be released if these time limits are not met. There is a functioning bail system, but a person charged with murder cannot obtain bail. The government pays for the cost of a lawyer in capital cases if a defendant is unable to afford one.

Pretrial Detention: The government stated there were 30 criminal cases awaiting trial. There were no in-person court proceedings between March 2020 and July 2021 because of the pandemic.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges, the right to a timely trial, and to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to timely access to an attorney of their choice. The government provides legal assistance at public expense to persons without the means to retain a private attorney, but only in capital cases. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and free assistance of an interpreter if needed. They have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and to present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies through domestic courts for human rights violations. They may apply to the High Court for redress of alleged violations of their constitutional rights. They may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: There were no privately owned print media. There were claims that the government was hostile to independent broadcast media outlets and did not provide them equal access to government officials. Observers claimed that the government and the prime minister in particular owned media outlets that were used exclusively to disseminate government information. Prime Minister Browne stated that although he was the founder of Pointe FM radio, he was no longer a shareholder; however, he did not reveal the ownership. Senior government officials routinely refused to grant interviews to media outlets that were critical of the ruling party and instead used government media exclusively.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. In August police teargassed individuals protesting mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations. Police officials stated the protesters were breaking the law because they had not been issued the necessary permit and refused to disperse.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not Applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government handles asylum requests on an ad hoc basis.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2018 elections, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party won 15 of 17 seats in the House of Representatives and Gaston Browne was subsequently named prime minister. The Caribbean Community Observation Mission and a Commonwealth Observer Group monitored the election. In their initial report, monitors noted the electoral boundaries had seen only minor adjustments since 1984, leading to large disparities in voter populations in different electoral districts. The monitors stated that despite problems with the electoral process, the results “reflected the will of the people.”

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but full implementation of the law was hindered during the pandemic. Media reported several allegations of corruption against officials during the year. Media and private citizens reported government corruption was widespread and endorsed at the highest levels of government

Corruption: The government pursued corruption cases related to former high-ranking political officials. The Citizenship by Investment Program was a critical source of government revenue. Although the government publishes semiannual public reports on some of the program’s activities, its lack of full transparency led to concerns by civil society and opposition political leaders about oversight and corruption.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: An independent ombudsman appointed by Parliament handles public complaints against police, government officials, and government offices. The ombudsman takes complaints, conducts investigations, and then makes recommendations to the relevant authorities.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law establishes sentences ranging from 10 years’ to life imprisonment for conviction of the rape of women. The law also addresses rape of men and establishes sentences of five years’ to life imprisonment if convicted. Spousal rape is illegal under certain limited circumstances, such as after a legal separation, with a punishment of 15 years’ imprisonment if convicted. No spousal rape cases were filed in 2020. Authorities stated three rape cases were prosecuted in 2020, but the charges were withdrawn in all three. The officials stated that historically a significant percentage of rape cases were dismissed either for lack of evidence or because the victim declined to press charges. Government authorities declared that 12 sexual offenses cases in 2020 were discontinued. In nine of them, the complainants no longer wished to proceed with prosecution, in two there was insufficient evidence, and in the final one the accused died. The sexual offenses cases covered unlawful sexual intercourse, rape, and indecent assault.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, continued to be a serious problem. The law prohibits domestic violence, but the law was not enforced. Anecdotal media reports suggested that police failed to fully carry out their obligations on domestic violence.

Authorities stated they had several domestic-violence programs, including training for law enforcement officers, health-care professionals, counselors, social workers, immigration officers, and army officers.

Sexual Harassment: The law covers indecent assault, incest, rape, and indecent exposure but does not prohibit sexual harassment. Authorities stated that during the year 10 men were prosecuted for unlawful sexual intercourse: seven were convicted, one was acquitted, and charges were dropped in two cases. The government also stated there were two prosecutions for indecent assault with two convictions and one case where charges were dropped.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception for survivors of sexual violence through the Ministry of Social Transformation and the Blue Economy.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. Government officials declared that the law requires equal pay for equal work. The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. The labor code stipulates it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual because of his or her gender. The Ministry of Labour reported that it did not receive any complaints of employment discrimination during the year.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law protects all citizens from broad forms of discrimination and the law is enforced. The country does not have a racially or ethnically diverse population. Approximately 91 percent of the population is Black, and approximately 87 percent of the Black population is of African descent. According to the government, systemic racial or ethnic discrimination is not a concern. There were no reports of systemic discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired by birth in the country, and the government registers all children at birth. Children born abroad to citizen parents may be registered by either parent.

Child Abuse: The law on child abuse includes provisions on child-care services and orders of care placing abused children into the care of government authorities. The law stipulates a significant fine or three years in prison for conviction of child abuse. In extreme cases the government removes children from their homes and puts them in foster care or into a government-run or private children’s home.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women. Minors ages 16-17 may marry with parental consent; however, marriage when either partner was younger than 18 was rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child pornography is illegal and subject to large fines and up to 20 years in prison. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits any form of discrimination based on disability and stipulates a moderate fine or two years’ imprisonment for conviction of violations. Authorities stated the law requires that persons with disabilities must be able to access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with all other persons; however, some public areas, including government buildings, were not in compliance with these requirements.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

An NGO representative reported that fear, stigma, and discrimination impaired the willingness of some persons with HIV to obtain treatment. Anecdotal evidence suggested employers dismissed and discriminated against employees with HIV or AIDS.

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

There were no reports of public violence committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Sodomy is criminalized under indecency statutes, with a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment; however, the law was not enforced. Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men or between women is criminalized with a maximum penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment. No law specifically prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of public-sector and private-sector workers to form and join independent unions. The law also provides for the right to bargain collectively and conduct legal strikes, but it imposes several restrictions on the right to strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers but does not specifically require reinstatement of workers illegally fired for union activity.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected for Antiguan workers as well as migrant laborers. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination, nor were there any reports of violations of collective bargaining rights.

Workers who provide essential services (including water, electricity, hospital, fire, prison, air traffic control, meteorology, telecommunications, government printing office, and port authority) must give two weeks’ notice of intent to strike. If either party to a dispute requests court mediation, strikes are prohibited under penalty of imprisonment for any private-sector worker and some government workers. The Industrial Relations Court may issue an injunction against a legal strike when the national interest is threatened or affected. The law prohibits retaliation against strikers.

Penalties for violating labor laws range from a minor fine to two months in prison and were adequate to deter violations. The government enforced the right of association and collective bargaining. Administrative and judicial procedures, however, were often subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government reported that it did not receive any forced labor complaints during the year; however, it opened an investigation into the case of a Chinese national charged with arson as a possible forced labor case.

Media reported that Chinese national Tian Zhao Feng was arrested in June and charged with arson in the burning down of a local supermarket. Although initial media reports said that Feng’s passport was being held at the Chinese embassy, the Ministry of Labour denied this and stated Feng’s passport was in his employer’s possession. The government stated Feng had a valid work permit and was authorized to work in the country. Ministry of Labour officials stated an investigation was underway. Feng was denied bail and as of September was being held in police custody.

The Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy investigates cases of trafficking in persons, including forced labor allegations. The law prescribes penalties of 20 to 30 years’ imprisonment and significant fines.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Laws collectively prohibit the worst forms of child labor, but specific details are not in any single statute. The government enforced child labor laws effectively, and there were no reports of child labor law violations.

The law stipulates a minimum working age of 16, although work prohibitions do not apply to family businesses. In some circumstances children younger than 16 are eligible for employment with restrictions, such as not working during school hours and working a maximum number of hours. Persons younger than 18 may not work past 10 p.m., except in certain sectors, and in some cases must have a medical clearance to obtain employment. No list of types of hazardous work exists for the protection of those younger than 18.

The law requires the Ministry of Labour to conduct periodic inspections of workplaces. There were no reports of illegal child labor; however, there were no child labor inspections. The government said that inspections were reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The law allows for a small financial penalty or three months in prison for violations; these were adequate to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, skin color, sex, age, national origin, citizenship, political beliefs, and disability. Penalties include a fine and up to 12 months in prison. The Ministry of Labour did not receive any discrimination complaints during the year.

The law does not prohibit employment discrimination based on religion, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status, but the government encouraged employers not to discriminate on these grounds.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The government does not have an established poverty income level. Most workers earned substantially more than the minimum wage.

The law provides that workers are not required to work more than a 48-hour, six-day workweek. The law requires that employees be paid for overtime work at one and one-half times the employees’ basic hourly wage after exceeding 40 hours in the workweek. The Ministry of Labour put few limitations on overtime, allowing it in temporary or occasional cases, but did not allow employers to make regular overtime compulsory. Penalties for illegal overtime did not always effectively deter labor violations.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law includes occupational safety and health (OSH) provisions, but some are out of date. The Ministry of Labour reported that workers were allowed to remove themselves from unsafe situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. The ministry has the authority to require special safety measures not otherwise defined in the law for worker safety. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were not always commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as negligence.

Informal Sector: The government estimated that 15 percent of the workforce was in the informal sector and that the informal sector contributed 25-30 percent of economic output. Informal-sector employment is unregulated and unreported. Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Labour and the Industrial Court are responsible for enforcement of labor laws in the formal and informal sectors. The government reported there were eight labor inspectors, which was insufficient to enforce full compliance per International Labor Organization benchmarks. No safety violations were reported. The government reported that it reduced the number of inspections and investigations to ensure the safety of the inspectors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Argentina

Executive Summary

Argentina is a federal constitutional republic. In October 2019 Alberto Fernandez was elected president in elections that local and international observers considered generally free and fair. On November 14, the country held midterm municipal, provincial, and federal elections. Voters elected one-half of the members of the Chamber of Deputies, representing all the provinces and the autonomous city of Buenos Aires, and one-third of the members of the Senate, representing eight provinces.

Federal, provincial, and municipal police forces share responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of internal security. All federal police forces report to the Ministry of Security, while provincial and municipal forces report to a ministry or secretariat within their jurisdiction. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by federal and provincial officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious government corruption; violence motivated by anti-Semitism; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took limited steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights violations and corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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.

On May 29, Gianfranco Fleita Cardozo died after a violent arrest by local and provincial police in Tigre, Buenos Aires Province, for violating curfew. Video of the event shared on social media appeared to show 10 local officers beating Cardozo on the ground. Cardozo died while being transferred to a hospital. As of August, 11 officials faced charges of unlawful harassment and coercion, punishable by up to five years in prison. Lawyers representing Cardozo’s family requested more severe charges, accusing the officers of torture. As of October, the case was pending.

In May authorities arrested nine police officers for the May 2020 disappearance and death of Luis Espinoza in Tucuman Province. Espinoza and his brother were beaten by police officers at an illegal checkpoint and then shot at when they fled. Authorities found Espinoza’s body seven days later in a roadside ditch across the provincial border in Catamarca Province with a bullet wound in the back. Authorities issued charges of unlawful deprivation of liberty and aggravated homicide against 11 officers, 10 of whom were in pretrial detention as of August.

In July prosecutors formally accused 13 police officers of various crimes surrounding the August 2020 killing of Valentino Blas Correas, including abuse of authority, obstruction of justice, and providing false testimony. The two officers involved in the shooting, Javier Catriel Almiron and Lucas Damian Gomez, also faced charges of aggravated homicide.

The Committee against Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission (CPM), an autonomous office established by the provincial government, and a nongovernmental organization (NGO) asserted that investigations into police violence and use of lethal force were limited.

Media reported high levels of violence in Santa Fe Province but noted a slight decline in homicides, with 291 reported through October 31, compared with 321 during the same period in 2020. Press and domestic NGOs, including Insight Crime, attributed the high homicide rate to drug trafficking and organized crime.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of security forces during the year.

As of November 1, there were no developments in the disappearance of Facundo Astudillo Castro, who disappeared in April 2020 while hitchhiking approximately 75 miles from his home to Bahia Blanca, province of Buenos Aires, shortly after police arrested him for violating the COVID-19 quarantine. Authorities recovered Astudillo’s body in a canal four months later, and an autopsy by an internationally respected team of forensic anthropologists could not rule out homicide. Prosecutors asserted that provincial police officers were their primary suspects, but as of November 1, after 20 months of investigation, they had yet to formally charge any officers.

Authorities continued to investigate and prosecute individuals implicated in disappearances, killings, and torture committed during the 1976-83 military dictatorship and the 1974-76 government of Isabel Peron. On February 18, a federal court found eight individuals guilty of crimes against humanity committed at the former Naval Mechanics School in Buenos Aires; three were sentenced to life imprisonment. On June 10, a federal court gave life sentences to six former members of military counterintelligence related to the 1979 “Montonero Counteroffensive,” which resulted in the killing of 12 persons and the disappearance of 70 others.

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

The law prohibits such practices; however, there were reports that government officials employed them. The Prosecutor General’s Office; the Prison Ombudsman’s National Office (PPN), an independent government body that monitors prison conditions; and the CPM reported complaints of torture perpetrated by provincial and federal prison officials, as did local and international NGOs.

As of July the PPN had recorded 116 cases of torture or mistreatment. Although the PPN created a National Registry of Cases of Torture in 2010, its reporting remained largely limited to the city and province of Buenos Aires (home to approximately 46 percent of the population).

In May local authorities sent to trial the case involving the 2020 torture and sexual abuse of 14 female detainees at the third commissary in the municipality of La Matanza, with 14 officers facing charges of sexual abuse and abuse of authority and six others charged with obstruction of justice. As of November 1, the case was pending.

Impunity remained a significant problem in security forces at all levels. Corruption and a slow, politicized judicial system impeded efforts to investigate abuses. The government generally denounced reported abuses and took efforts to train military and police forces at all levels on human rights, including through online training during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, poor medical care, and unsanitary conditions. There were reports of forced transfers and the recurrent use of solitary confinement as a method of punishment, particularly in the province of Buenos Aires.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a problem. According to the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Institutional Violence, the federal penitentiary system was at 93.5 percent capacity, holding an estimated 11,400 prisoners. As of April, however, Buenos Aires provincial penitentiaries held 45,374 inmates in facilities initially designed for 24,000, according to the Center for Legal and Social Studies. Many pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners.

Overcrowding in juvenile facilities often resulted in minors being held in police station facilities, although some NGOs and the national prison ombudsman noted the law prohibits doing so.

Women’s prisons were generally less violent, dangerous, and overcrowded than men’s prisons.

The Federal Penitentiary Service reported 58 inmate deaths in federal prisons in 2020, of which 17 were violent. By contrast the CPM stated that 178 prisoners died in the province of Buenos Aires during 2020, of which 52 were due to health problems. There were also seven homicides and 13 suicides.

According to the Center for Legal and Social Studies and other human rights organizations and research centers, inmates in many facilities also suffered from poor nutrition; inadequate medical and psychological treatment; inadequate sanitation, heating, ventilation, and light; limited family visits; and frequent degrading treatment. The CPM reported 6,664 cases of health neglect during 2020 in provincial detention facilities, including deficient health care, inadequate diet, lack of medication, and lack of medical attention.

Administration: Authorities sometimes conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. According to local NGOs, prisoners occasionally did not submit complaints to authorities due to fear of reprisal.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted monitoring by independent local and international human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police generally apprehended individuals openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. By law police may detain suspects for up to six hours without an arrest warrant if authorities have a well founded belief the suspects have committed or are about to commit a crime, or if police are unable to determine a suspect’s identity. In all cases authorities must immediately notify the state attorney’s office of the arrest. The state attorney may approve detention for up to 72 hours. In exceptional cases a judge may extend detention for another 72 hours. Human rights groups reported that police occasionally arrested persons arbitrarily, detained suspects longer than the law permitted, or did not follow proper notification procedures.

The law provides detainees with the right to a prompt determination of the legality of their detention by a lower criminal court judge who determines whether to proceed with an investigation. In some cases there were delays in this process and in informing detainees of the charges against them.

The law provides for the right to bail except in cases involving flight risk or risk of subornation of justice.

Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to counsel and provided public defenders if they were unable to afford counsel. In some cases such access was delayed due to an overburdened judicial system.

Arbitrary Arrest: Local NGOs reported that police on occasion arrested and detained citizens arbitrarily.

In January international and domestic human rights organizations criticized strict COVID-19 related quarantine measures in Formosa Province. The provincial government closed Formosa’s borders in March 2020 and enforced quarantines of up to one month at heavily guarded centers with poor hygiene and little food. Amnesty International Argentina reported that provincial security forces at all hours rounded up individuals confirmed or suspected of carrying COVID-19 and placed them in sanitary isolation centers, often separating minors from their parents. Provincial authorities held COVID-positive individuals with unconfirmed cases, placing them at high risk of exposure. Amnesty said that in the isolation centers, authorities performed nasal swabs on patients without consent and often failed to share test results. On January 21, provincial authorities arrested two local politicians who attempted to visit a center. Following calls by human rights organizations, national Human Rights Secretary Horacio Pietragalla visited the province on January 27 and 28 and stated he had observed no “systematic violation of human rights,” adding, “The isolated persons have air conditioning, the food is good, and their complaint is they lack information about the duration [of their isolation].” The press and human rights organizations criticized Pietragalla’s comments as misinformed and incorrect.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for investigative detention of up to two years for indicted persons awaiting or undergoing trial; the period may be extended by one year in limited circumstances. The slow pace of the justice system often resulted in lengthy detentions beyond the period stipulated by law. According to official statistics, almost half of the 11,397 individuals detained in federal facilities in June, representing 49 percent of the federal prison population, had yet to face trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but government officials at all levels did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality. According to domestic NGOs, judges in some federal criminal and ordinary courts were subject at times to political manipulation.

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants enjoy the right to be presumed innocent; be informed promptly of the charges; communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); receive free assistance of an interpreter; confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and to appeal. Lengthy delays, procedural logjams, long gaps in the appointment of permanent judges, inadequate administrative support, and inefficiency hampered the judicial system. Judges’ broad discretion on whether and how to pursue investigations contributed to a public perception that many decisions were arbitrary.

A code of federal criminal procedure passed in 2018 replaced the country’s hybrid federal inquisitive system with an accusatory system, but the implementation of the new system was indefinitely delayed. In 2019 Salta and Jujuy Provinces implemented the accusatory system at the federal level, but the bicameral congressional commission in charge of implementing the rollout had yet to begin the transition process in any other provinces. The new code generally requires cases to be brought to trial within one year and resolved within three years. It also implements the use of new investigative techniques and expands victims’ rights. Prosecutors in provinces implementing the new code reported cases that previously took years could now be adjudicated in months. The code transfers investigative responsibilities from magistrates to prosecutors, with assistance from law enforcement investigators.

Many provincial court systems operated under the accusatory system, and a minority had jury trials. Full implementation of trial by jury procedures at the provincial level remained pending in Santa Fe and Catamarca. The provinces of Neuquen, San Juan, Mendoza, Salta, Chaco, Chubut, Entre Rios, Rio Negro, and Buenos Aires provided defendants accused of certain serious crimes the right to a trial by jury. As of November there were no jury trials for federal cases.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens have access to the courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages or the protection of rights provided by the constitution. They may also appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies, to include the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The country endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration, which called on countries to provide for the restitution of property wrongfully seized during the Holocaust, provide access to archives, and advance Holocaust education and commemoration. There were no known claims for movable or immovable property in the country, and it has no restitution laws. The Argentine Commission of Inquiry into the Activities of Nazism, created in 1997, concluded that no looted art was held by the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, although the commission admitted that it had not checked any other state-run museum and that it faced difficulties researching the activities of the country’s art market during the Holocaust. The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

As of October, formal investigations continued regarding possible illegal espionage during the administration of former president Mauricio Macri. Among the suspects were the former heads of Argentine Federal Intelligence Gustavo Arribas and Silvia Majdalani and other officials. Members of the intelligence agency were accused of having illegally monitored the activities and private communications of politicians (from ruling and opposition parties), journalists, labor leaders, and religious figures. On April 20, a bicameral congressional committee published a report on the case, which stated that the former administration committed illegal espionage against 354 individuals and 171 political organizations.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, Argentine Media Corporations Association (ADEPA), and Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA) denounced President Fernandez’s March remarks before congress, in which he argued that there was “a perverse system in which judges, prosecutors, supposed spies, and journalists intermingle in order to illegally pursue detained persons and to mount judicial extortion.” Both organizations asserted that Fernandez’s comments were meant to intimidate and stigmatize the press and to discredit journalistic investigations.

In August a federal judge dismissed charges of illicit association and illegal espionage against journalist Daniel Santoro of the Clarin newspaper, citing lack of evidence. The allegations originated in 2019 following disclosure of Santoro’s connections with Marcelo D’Alessio, whom authorities charged with extortion after he allegedly posed as a lawyer and threatened individuals with negative media coverage. Santoro asserted that D’Alessio was a journalistic source. ADEPA and FOPEA repeatedly denounced the accusations against Santoro.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of physical attacks, threats, and harassment against journalists.

In March a group of persons identified with a labor union attacked the offices of the newspaper Rio Negro in the city of General Roca. The attackers assaulted a photographer and receptionist, threatened staff, and damaged equipment after the newspaper published an article on its investigation into sexual abuse accusations against one of the union members.

In April Neuquen provincial police handcuffed and arrested journalist Agustin Aguilar while he was reporting live on radio regarding a violent incident incited by members from a local union inside the headquarters of his media organization, Grupo Prima.

FOPEA reported eight alleged physical attacks against journalists in 2020, compared with 27 in 2019. Six cases involved physical assaults on journalists covering demonstrations in the city of Buenos Aires and in the provinces of Corrientes, Mendoza, Cordoba, Santa Fe, and Rio Negro.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

At times police used force to disperse demonstrators. On March 5, provincial authorities in the city of Formosa ordered local police to disperse demonstrators protesting restrictions implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Police used sticks, tear gas, and rubber bullets against demonstrators. National government officials, as well as local and international NGOs, expressed concern regarding the harsh measures.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

Beginning in March 2020, the government of Formosa Province restricted the ability of residents and visitors to enter and circulate within the province due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March a federal court in Formosa ordered the governor to allow free movement within the province to any individual with a negative test for the disease. The judges’ ruling noted that the “illegitimate and unreasonable” provincial actions threatened citizens’ human rights and conflicted with national law.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Decisions on asylum petitions can take up to two years to adjudicate.

As of June the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported 5,748 Venezuelan migrants had arrived in the country, while approximately 8,300 had departed. Between January and June, the IOM reported 49,852 Venezuelans received permanent residency status in Argentina and 9,020 received temporary residence. The National Commission for Refugees received 1,509 requests for refugee status in 2020, approximately 47 percent fewer than in 2019, and adjudicated 116.

Access to Basic Services: According to UNHCR’s regional representative, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions on freedom of movement and association, refugees and migrants continued to lose jobs and livelihoods. Many migrants did not have access to national social programs because they did not have the required documentation or did not meet the requisites.

In July the interior minister signed a change in regulations to allow approximately 6,800 Venezuelan minors to regularize their migration status and receive an identification card. With the card, the minors would be eligible for health, education, and work benefits, as well as a two-year residency permit.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Alberto Fernandez was elected president in 2019 in elections generally considered free and fair. On November 14, the country held midterm municipal, provincial, and federal elections. Voters elected one-half of the members of the Chamber of Deputies, representing all of the provinces and the city of Buenos Aires, and one-third of the members of the Senate, representing eight provinces. Local and international observers considered the elections generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law requires an electoral list of candidates for national legislative office to contain equal percentages of male and female candidates. The law also states that in the case of the resignation, temporary absence, or death of an elected official, the replacement must be the same gender. The city of Buenos Aires and the provinces of Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Santiago del Estero, Rio Negro, Catamarca, Santa Cruz, Mendoza, Chaco, Misiones, Formosa, Salta, Chubut, Neuquen, and Santa Fe have gender parity laws pertaining to candidates for provincial and municipal bodies. Enforcement of these laws was weak and limited, however, and results were uneven among the provinces.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Weak institutions and an often ineffective and politicized judicial system undermined systematic attempts to curb corruption.

Corruption: Several corruption-related investigations against sitting and former high-ranking political figures, including Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and former president Mauricio Macri, were underway as of September. In 2019 a federal judge sent to trial the corruption scandal known as “the notebooks case.” Fernandez de Kirchner and 52 other defendants were accused of receiving kickbacks, paying kickbacks, or both on public works contracts between 2008 and 2015 when Fernandez de Kirchner was president. Prosecutors estimated the total value of the bribery scheme at $160 million. Fernandez de Kirchner and her children faced four other financial corruption cases as of November. According to local media, court officials expected pandemic-related delays would continue to delay trials in some of these cases.

In May an appeals court rejected an extraordinary appeal from former planning minister Julio de Vido, upholding a 2018 sentence of five years and eight months for fraud, misuse of funds, and lack of oversight related to a 2012 train accident that killed 52 persons. De Vido also faced charges in the “notebooks” case and others related to his management of public works projects.

Corruption and official complicity occurred in some security forces. The most frequent abuses included extortion of, and protection for, those involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, and the promotion of prostitution. Allegations of corruption in provincial and federal courts were also frequent.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government has a human rights secretariat within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. Its main objective is to coordinate within the ministry and collaborate with other ministries and the judiciary to promote policies, plans, and programs for the protection of human rights. It published leaflets and books on a range of human rights topics.

NGOs argued that the government’s failure to fill the post of national ombudsman, vacant since 2009, undermined the office’s mandate to protect human rights.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Crimes against Humanity investigated and documented human rights violations that occurred under the 1976-83 military dictatorship.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women, including spousal rape, is a crime. The penalties range from six months’ to 20 years’ imprisonment, depending on the ages of the perpetrator and victim, their relationship, the use of violence, and other factors. Most perpetrators received penalties between six and 15 years’ imprisonment. There were anecdotal reports of police or judicial reluctance to act on rape cases; women’s rights advocates alleged the attitudes of police, hospitals, and courts toward survivors of sexual violence sometimes victimized them again, often by forcing them to recount details of their trauma, conflating silence with consent, or admitting as evidence their past sexual history.

The law prohibits domestic violence, including spousal abuse. Survivors may secure protective measures. The laws were generally enforced, and survivors generally had access to protective measures. The law imposes a stricter penalty than murder on those who kill their spouses, partners, or children as a consequence of their gender. According to local NGOs, lack of police and judicial vigilance often led to a lack of protection for victims. The law requires all federal employees to receive training on gender and gender-based violence. The law was enforced, including for cabinet-level officials and the president. In June training on gender and gender-based violence also became a requirement for all persons applying for their first driver’s license.

The National Register of Femicides, maintained by the Supreme Court’s Office of Women, recorded that 287 women died because of domestic or gender-based violence during 2020. As of June 30, the National Ombudsman’s Office reported 137 women had died due to violence. Approximately 18 percent of the victims had previously filed formal complaints.

The ministry operated a 24-hour hotline for victims of gender-based violence and created emergency WhatsApp and email contact channels for victims unable to use the telephone. The Supreme Court’s Office of Domestic Violence provided around-the-clock protection and resources to victims of domestic violence. The office also carried out risk assessments necessary to obtain a restraining order. Public and private institutions offered prevention programs and provided support and treatment for abused women. A national network of shelters included 89 facilities. The law provides for the financial support of children who lost their mothers to gender-based violence; however, many families complained of delays in receiving payment. As of April an estimated 860 children and young adults had received support through the program.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in public spaces and imposes disciplinary or corrective measures. In some jurisdictions, such as the city of Buenos Aires, sexual harassment could lead to the abuser’s dismissal, whereas in others, such as Santa Fe Province, the maximum penalty is five days in prison. The law does not prohibit sexual harassment in employment more broadly.

In December 2020 a new law entered into force that condemns harassment, especially sexual harassment, in work environments, both in the public and private sectors. This law effectively follows the precepts of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 190 on Eliminating Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

With the slogan “End Forced Sterilizations,” several human rights organizations launched a campaign in October 2020 to change a 2006 law they argued had led to the sterilizations of many persons with disabilities without their consent. The law was written to provide all citizens with access to certain surgical contraceptive measures but allows legal representatives to provide consent for any individual declared legally incompetent. The organizations argued that this loophole, along with broad societal acceptance of forced sterilizations of individuals with disabilities, had led to extensive use of the practice.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services, information, and contraception was generally available, although access could be limited for indigenous or rural populations. Local media reported that indigenous pregnant women in Formosa Province were being forcibly taken to hospitals to induce their labor and have cesarean sections performed because of COVID-19 protocols. In April the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a resolution suspending these protocols while an investigation could be conducted. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights lifted the commission’s measures on July 11, noting that at least five of the seven women had given birth and that their representatives had yet to provide sufficient proof of their allegations. Legal representatives supporting the women said they were partly unable to gather testimony and evidence because witnesses were afraid of reprisals from state and national authorities.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception as part of clinical management of rape.

In August the National Directorate of Sexual and Reproductive Health reported that authorities in Salta Province were unable to meet demand for health-care services, noting that 25 percent of the calls they received from Salta on their national hotline represented women and girls who were unable to access abortions in due time and form. In addition, social and cultural barriers adversely affected access. There were reports that provincial health-care providers and facilities, especially in remote and conservative regions, intentionally delayed and obstructed access to abortion. In December 2020 congress legalized abortion up to the 14th week of gestation. After this period the law permits medical professionals to perform abortions only in the case of rape or danger to the life of the mother.

Discrimination: The constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women and men and prohibits discrimination in employment based on gender. The government generally enforced the law, although discrimination remained a persistent and pervasive problem in society.

The Supreme Court’s Office of Women trained judges, secretaries, and clerks to handle court cases related to gender problems and to provide equal access for women to positions in the court system. The office also trained judges, prosecutors, judicial staff, and law enforcement agents to increase awareness of gender-related crimes and develop techniques to address gender-related cases and victims.

Women are not able to work in all the same industries as men; there are restrictions on their employment in the mining, manufacturing, and transportation sectors. There are also restrictions on women working in jobs deemed hazardous or arduous.

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution recognizes the ethnic and cultural identities of indigenous peoples and states that congress shall protect their right to bilingual education, recognize their communities and the communal ownership of their ancestral lands, and allow for their participation in the management of their natural resources.

A 2020 study conducted by researchers from eight universities examined the situation of 27 indigenous groups and found that indigenous persons were more likely to be employed informally than the general public (70 percent, compared with 44 percent). The study noted that indigenous persons in rural areas often could not access social service programs and that their communities lacked basic infrastructure, including clean water.

The lack of trained teachers hampered government efforts to offer bilingual education opportunities to indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples were not fully consulted in the management of their lands or natural resources, particularly lithium, in part because responsibility for implementing the law is delegated to the 23 provinces, the constitutions of only 11 of which recognize indigenous rights.

In August members of several Mapuche communities protested contamination and fracking in the Vaca Muerta region of Neuquen Province, demonstrating in front of the regional offices of the state oil company and blocking roads that provided access to key oil-producing zones. Protesters noted their communities lacked access to clean water while the oil companies used large quantities in their fracking operations.

Projects carried out by the agricultural and extractive industries displaced individuals, limited their access to traditional means of livelihood, reduced the area of lands on which they depended, and caused pollution that in some cases endangered the health and welfare of indigenous communities. Conflict occurred when authorities evicted indigenous peoples from ancestral lands then in private ownership.

Children

Birth Registration: The government provides universal birth registration, and citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Parents have 40 days to register births, and the state has an additional 20 days to do so. The Ministry of Interior and Transportation may issue birth certificates to children younger than age 12 whose births were not previously registered.

Child Abuse: By law sexual abuse of a child is a punishable offense, with sentences of up to 20 years in prison. Physical harm to a child is punishable with up to 15 years in prison. Child abuse was common; the Supreme Court’s Office of Domestic Violence reported that approximately 30 percent of the complaints it received between January and March involved children. The government maintained a 24-hour hotline staffed by professional child psychologists for free consultations and advice.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Children older than age 16 are legally allowed to marry if they have parental permission. Children younger than 16 are required to obtain judicial authorization in addition to parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and the sale, offering, or procuring of children for prostitution. Authorities generally enforced the law; however, sexual exploitation of children, including in prostitution, was a problem. The minimum age of consensual sex is 13, but there are heightened protections for children ages 13 to 16. A statutory rape law provides for penalties ranging from six months to 20 years in prison, depending on the age of the victim and other factors.

In May, after numerous delays since June 2020, a trial began for two nuns and seven former employees of a group of schools for hearing-impaired children, the Antonio Provolo Institutes. A reported 67 students claimed abuses between 1983 and 2002. As of November, the trial continued.

The law prohibits the production and distribution of child pornography, with penalties ranging from six months to four years in prison. Possession of child pornography is a criminal offense.

Prosecutors from the nationwide Point of Contact Network against Child Pornography on the Internet pursued cases of internet child pornography. The city of Buenos Aires Public Ministry’s Judicial Investigative Bureau served as the primary point of contact for receiving and distributing child pornography leads from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to prosecutors and police forces across the country.

In June authorities conducted a series of 71 raids nationwide, arresting 31 individuals for suspected involvement in the distribution of child pornography. The raids formed part of a multinational effort and coincided with arrests in Panama, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, and the United States.

In August federal police with investigative support arrested a man in Junin, Buenos Aires Province, for distributing child pornography.

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

Anti-Semitism

Estimates of the size of the Jewish community varied, but the most recent data available, published by the Berman Jewish Databank, estimated the population at 180,000 in 2019. Sporadic acts of anti-Semitic discrimination and vandalism continued. The Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA) recorded 507 complaints of anti-Semitism in 2020, compared with 918 in 2019, a 45 percent decrease. DAIA attributed the drop, especially in acts of physical violence, to COVID-19 lockdowns and the reduced frequency of encounters between Jewish persons and individuals holding anti-Semitic sentiments. The most commonly reported anti-Semitic incidents were slurs posted on various websites, often in relation to news articles. Other incidents included graffiti and verbal slurs.

In June the Israeli ambassador remarked during a panel at the College of Law at La Plata that Argentina was not fulfilling its trade obligations by restricting shipments of meat to Israel. In response, owner of a chain of butcher shops and former politician Alberto Samid tweeted that “the best that could happen is that the Jews no longer buy meat from us… the world does not want to sell them anything. They are a disaster as clients.”

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced the law, but there were scattered reports of discrimination. Various government agencies offered a variety of services and programs to individuals with disabilities, including community-based rehabilitation programs, sports and recreation facilities, braille translation services, legal services, and a variety of pensions and subsidies. The law also mandates access to buildings by persons with disabilities. The city continued to install new elevators and escalators and to repair existing ones.

While the federal government has protective laws, many provinces had not adopted such laws and had no mechanisms to ensure enforcement. An employment quota law reserves 4 percent of federal government jobs for persons with disabilities.

In August President Fernandez and the National Disability Agency launched the ACCESS Plan to construct more accessible cities and ensure that persons with disabilities could access government services. The initiative also aims to restore government payments for persons with disabilities who were deemed ineligible in prior years, and to expand the eligibility criteria. Under these new criteria, 110,000 newly identified persons with disabilities would qualify for government assistance, according to administration estimates.

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

The National Observatory of Hate Crimes registered 69 official complaints of hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals and six killings in the first half of 2020. The numbers were comparable with the same period in 2019.

National antidiscrimination laws do not specifically include the terms “sexual orientation or gender identity” as protected grounds, only “sex.” There was no reported official discrimination, however, based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, or access to education. There were some cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in access to health care. Officials from the Ministry of Women, as well as media and NGOs, reported cases of discrimination, violence, and police brutality toward LGBTQI+ individuals, especially transgender persons.

In September 2020 President Fernandez decreed that at least 1 percent of the positions in public administration must be held by transvestites, transsexuals, and transgender persons. The Senate implemented a similar decree to regulate its own hiring practices.

In June the Senate passed a law providing access to formal employment for transvestites as well as transgender and transexual individuals. The law provides the same legal protections and privileges for transgender persons in the workplace as for cisgender persons, such as paid vacation and retirement provisions.

On July 21, the government formally recognized nonbinary identities through a presidential decree. The decree allows individuals to list an “X” for gender on national identity documents.

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; the government generally respected these rights. The law prohibits discrimination against unions and protects workers from dismissal, suspension, and changes in labor conditions. It also prohibits military and law enforcement personnel from forming and joining unions. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Complaints of unfair labor practices can be brought before the judiciary. Violations of the law may result in a fine imposed on the employer or the relevant employers’ association, as appropriate.

The law allows unions to register without prior authorization, and registered trade union organizations may engage in certain activities to represent their members, including petitioning the government and employers. The law grants official trade union status to only one union deemed the “most representative,” defined by law as the union that has the highest average proportion of dues-paying members to number of workers represented, per industrial sector within a specific geographical region. Only unions with such official recognition receive trade union immunity from employer reprisals against their officials, are permitted to deduct union dues directly from wages, and may bargain collectively with recourse to conciliation and arbitration. The most representative union bargains on behalf of all workers in each sector, and collective agreements cover both union members and nonmembers in the sector. The law requires the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security (Ministry of Labor) to ratify collective bargaining agreements.

The Argentine Workers’ Central Union and other labor groups not affiliated with the General Confederation of Labor continued to contend that the legal recognition of only one union per sector conflicted with international standards, namely International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, and it prevented these unions from obtaining full legal standing.

Civil servants and workers in essential services may strike only after a compulsory 15-day conciliation process, and they are subject to the condition that unspecified “minimum services” be maintained. Once the conciliation term expires, civil servants and workers in essential services must give five days’ notice to the administrative authority and the public agency against which they intend to strike. If “minimum services” are not previously defined in a collective bargaining agreement, all parties then negotiate which minimum services will continue to be provided and a schedule for their provision. The public agency, in turn, must provide clients two days’ notice of the impending strike.

Employers generally respected the right to bargain collectively and to strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Despite being prohibited by law, forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred. The Ministry of Labor carried out regular inspections across the country. Efforts to hold perpetrators accountable continued. The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Human Trafficking and Exploitation continued to investigate forced labor complaints; in 2020 it reported four convictions for labor trafficking and indictments of 19 individuals.

Employers subjected a significant number of Bolivians, Paraguayans, and Peruvians, as well as Argentines from poorer northern provinces, to forced labor in the garment sector, agriculture, street vending, charcoal and brick production, construction, domestic work, and small businesses (including restaurants and supermarkets). Traffickers exploited victims from China and South Korea. Chinese citizens working in supermarkets were vulnerable to debt bondage. Traffickers compelled trafficking victims to transport drugs across the country’s borders. Men, women, and children were victims of forced labor, although victims’ typical gender and age varied by employment sector (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 16. In rare cases labor authorities may authorize a younger child to work as part of a family unit. Children ages 16 to 18 may work in a limited number of job categories and for limited hours if they have completed compulsory schooling, which normally ends at age 18. Children younger than 18 cannot be hired to perform perilous, arduous, or unhealthy jobs. The law requires employers to provide adequate care for workers’ children during work hours to discourage child labor.

Provincial governments and the municipal government of Buenos Aires are responsible for labor law enforcement. Penalties for employing underage workers were generally sufficient to deter violations.

While the government generally enforced applicable laws, observers noted some inspectors were acquainted or associated with the persons they inspected, and corruption remained an obstacle to compliance, especially in the provinces. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. In August the Ministry of Labor’s National Program to Build Capacity of Provincial Committees for the Eradication of Child Labor continued during the year, with the goal of improving national-provincial coordination. By year’s end the ministry reported that it had provided advanced tools to combat child labor to 20 of the country’s 24 provinces.

Children were engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes because of human trafficking, including forced labor in domestic servitude, agriculture, and production of garments, and illicit activities such as the transport and sale of drugs. In 2018 the government published the final report from its 2016-17 national child labor survey. The survey found 20 percent of children in rural areas performed at least one form of labor, while 8 percent of children in urban areas did so.

Similar patterns emerged with adolescents, which the report defined as children ages 16 and 17. The report found 44 percent of adolescents in rural areas and 30 percent in urban areas engaged in at least one form of labor. Principal activities were helping in a business or office; repair or construction of homes; cutting lawns or pruning trees; caring for children, the elderly, or the infirm; helping in a workshop; making bread, sweets, or other food for sale; gathering paper, boxes, cans, and other recyclable material in the street; handing out flyers or promotional materials for a business; cleaning homes and businesses or washing and ironing clothes for others; and cultivating or harvesting agricultural products.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, religion, nationality, gender, physical characteristics, social or economic status, or political opinion, and the government generally enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights. The most prevalent cases of workplace discrimination were based on disability, gender, and age. Discrimination also occurred based on HIV-positive status and against individuals of indigenous origin. Women are prohibited from working in certain industries; for example, there are restrictions on their employment in the mining, manufacturing, and transportation sectors. There are also restrictions on women working in jobs deemed hazardous or arduous.

Although women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men, they continued to face economic discrimination, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women held a disproportionately high proportion of low-paying, informal jobs and significantly fewer executive positions in the private sector than men, according to several studies. Although equal pay for equal work is constitutionally mandated, women earned approximately 30 percent less than men earned for equal or similar work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage remained below the official poverty income level for a family of four, despite a 35 percent increase announced in August. Most workers in the formal sector earned significantly more than the minimum wage. The minimum wage generally served to mark the minimum pay an informal worker should receive.

Federal law sets standards in workhours and occupational safety and health (OSH). The maximum workday is eight hours, and the maximum workweek is 48 hours. Overtime pay is required for hours worked in excess of these limits. The law prohibits excessive overtime and defines permissible levels of overtime as three hours a day. Labor law mandates between 14 and 35 days of paid vacation, depending on the length of the worker’s service.

The Ministry of Labor, through the National Work Regularization Plan, coordinates law enforcement efforts with the labor authorities at the provincial level in each of the 23 provinces and the city of Buenos Aires. The National Ministry’s labor inspection payroll had 324 staffers in 2020, a number ILO estimated insufficient for the workforce size. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and to impose fines. Inspectors have a referral process to direct labor crimes, including child labor and forced labor, to the courts.

The law sets premium pay for overtime, adding an extra 50 percent of the hourly rate on ordinary days and 100 percent on Saturday afternoons, Sundays, and holidays. Employees cannot be forced to work overtime unless work stoppage would risk or cause injury, the need for overtime is caused by force majeure, or other exceptional reasons affecting the national economy or “unusual and unpredictable situations” affecting businesses occur. The government enforced these regulations through routine labor inspections and by investigating complaints. Violations were more common among workers in the informal sector, as registered workers often negotiated bargaining agreements through their respective unions. Penalties for violations were commensurate with similar crimes such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Labor has responsibility for enforcing legislation related to working conditions. The government sets OSH standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The government effectively enforced OSH laws. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. The law requires employers to insure their employees against accidents at the workplace and when traveling to and from work. The law requires employers either to provide insurance through a labor-risk insurance entity or to provide their own insurance to employees to meet requirements specified by the national insurance regulator. The law limits the worker’s right to file a complaint if the worker does not exhaust compulsory administrative proceedings before specified medical committees.

Laws governing acceptable conditions of work were not enforced universally, particularly for workers in the informal sector (approximately 35 percent of the labor force). The Ministry of Labor continued inspections to ensure companies’ workers were registered and formally employed. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and to initiate sanctions. The ministry conducted inspections in various provinces, but the Labor Inspectorate employed well below the number of inspectors recommended by the ILO, given the size of the workforce. The Superintendence of Labor Risk served as the enforcement agency to monitor compliance with OSH laws and the activities of the labor risk insurance companies.

Workers could not always recuse themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in these circumstances. During the first quarter of the year, the Ministry of Labor reported receipt of 110,307 occupational safety complaints related to COVID-19, especially in the manufacturing sector. As a result, the sector surpassed the traditionally more dangerous manufacturing and mining sectors in the number of complaints received.

Informal Sector: The government estimated the share of informal employment at approximately 45 percent of total employment. Domestic workers remained the most affected by the lack of social protections and enforcement of labor laws. According to some estimates from the ILO, as many as 85 percent of domestic workers were not enrolled in social security. The garment sector had high rates of informal employment, as did small businesses, farms, and construction projects. Analysts reported that the official minimum wage, which is regularly updated to keep pace with inflation, was typically used as the basis for informal-sector wages.

During a government-facilitated drive for registration in the second half of 2020, more than two million workers registered in the government’s National Registry for Workers of the Popular Economy. Registration enables workers to benefit from social programs, family subsidies, retirement contributions, coverage for work accidents, and unemployment insurance. In addition, the government began offering a variety of social protection programs for informal workers aimed at securing food nutrition for their children, subsidies for school termination, medical assistance, and monetary incentives to take occupational training. According to a recent National Registry survey, however, only 25 percent of informal sector worker were receiving these benefits.

The government also dissuaded informal employment through penalties for employers, including by limiting their access to government loans and tax exemptions.

Armenia

Executive Summary

Armenia’s constitution provides for a parliamentary republic with a unicameral legislature, the National Assembly (parliament). The prime minister, elected by parliament, heads the government; the president, also elected by parliament, largely performs a ceremonial role. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party won 54 percent of the vote and an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament in snap elections held on June 20. According to the October 27 final assessment of the international election observation mission under the umbrella of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, voters were provided with a broad range of options, the elections were generally well managed, and contestants were able to campaign freely. The elections, however, were also characterized by intense polarization and marred by increasingly inflammatory rhetoric. The observation mission noted that “high levels of harsh, intolerant, inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric in the period leading up to election day tainted the debate.” Other shortcomings included incidents of pressure to attend campaign events, allegations of vote buying, blurring of the line between the ruling party and state, alleged misuse of administrative resources, inadequate campaign finance provisions, and the narrow standing allowed for submitting electoral complaints.

The national police force is responsible for internal security, while the National Security Service is responsible for national security, intelligence activities, and border control. The Anticorruption Committee, established on October 23, replaced the Special Investigative Service as an independent agency specializing in preliminary investigation of cases involving alleged corruption by public officials. The Investigative Committee is responsible for conducting pretrial investigations into general civilian and military criminal cases and incorporates investigative services. The National Security Service and police chiefs report directly to the prime minister and are appointed by the president upon the prime minister’s recommendation. The cabinet appoints the head of the Investigative Committee upon the prime minister’s recommendation. The government appoints the head of the Anticorruption Committee based on a short-list produced by a special commission in charge of conducting a competitive selection process. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

A ceasefire in November 2020 halted 44 days of intensive fighting involving Armenia, Armenia-supported separatists, and Azerbaijan. Sporadic incidents of violence along the undelimited international border between the two countries and some other areas during the year resulted in casualties and detentions. There were credible reports that ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani forces engaged in unlawful killings, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment during, and in some cases after, the November 2020 fighting. Complaints submitted by Armenia and Azerbaijan to the European Court of Human Rights accusing each other of committing atrocities during the fighting in fall 2020 and summer 2016 awaited the court’s ruling. Since 1995 the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh has been the subject of international mediation by the cochairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group (the United States, France, and Russia).

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture by members of the security forces; harsh prison conditions; serious problems with judicial independence along with arbitrary or selective detentions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in conflict, including torture and other physical abuse; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including the criminalization of insults; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting civil society figures and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took only limited steps to investigate and punish alleged abuses by former and current government officials and law enforcement authorities. A trial into the culpability of former high-ranking government officials surrounding events that led to the deaths of eight civilians and two police officers during postelection protests in 2008 collapsed after the Constitutional Court invalidated the criminal code article underpinning the case. As of year’s end, parliament had not passed legislation establishing a fact-finding commission on human rights abuses. The government took steps to establish new mechanisms to investigate and punish corruption crimes.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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. Credible reports continued of unlawful killings during the fall 2020 intensive fighting between ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijan forces (see section 1.g and the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Azerbaijan).

Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to express concerns over noncombat deaths in the army and the failure of law enforcement bodies to conduct credible investigations into those deaths. According to civil society organizations and victims’ families, the practice of qualifying many noncombat deaths as suicides at the onset of investigations made it less likely that abuses would be uncovered and investigated. According to human rights lawyers, the biggest obstacle to investigation of military deaths was the destruction or nonpreservation of key evidence, both by the military command (in cases of internal investigations) and by the specific investigation body working on a case. According to human rights NGOs, the government’s lack of transparency in reporting on military deaths, whether classified as combat or noncombat, led to public distrust of official information in this sphere.

On August 19, the Ministry of Defense reported that three conscripts had been found dead with gunshot wounds at a military post in southeastern Syunik region near the border with Azerbaijan. Later that day the ministry announced the arrest of a soldier on suspicion of murder. On August 23, the Investigative Committee reported the arrest of the post commander, who was suspected of “inciting the unlawful intentional killing of servicemen and committing violent sexual acts against a serviceman.” According to civil society, the murders were indicative of years of official failure to act on multiple watchdog reports of discipline problems, impunity, and corruption inside the army. According to official information, the investigation was underway and both suspects remained in detention.

According to observers there was a notable increase in soldier suicides following the fall 2020 fighting. According to NGOs the trauma of the 2020 fighting was a leading factor in the suicides. The Prosecutor General’s Office reported a high rate of suicide among the family members of servicemembers and persons who participated in the conflict as volunteers. During the year the government initiated programs to provide free psychological assistance to thousands of conflict participants, servicemembers, and family members. According to NGOs the assistance provided was not always sufficient or effective. One servicemember told media, for example, that when he sought help for post-traumatic stress disorder, the military psychologist advised him to try not to think about the conflict.

According to a July 26 report by the NGO Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor (HCAV), deaths in the military due to health problems continued, although it was unclear what factors had led to the health conditions or if the conditions had been acquired prior to or during military service. In one case HCAV reported that failure to provide prompt and appropriate medical assistance led to the death of a conscript.

On May 11, Prime Minister Pashinyan was briefed by a working group established in August 2020 to examine noncombat deaths, some of which had occurred more than a decade prior. The working group, composed of three independent attorneys picked by the families and three experts from the Ministry of Justice and the prime minister’s office, had completed its examination of records related to the 2007 death of Tigran Ohanjanyan, the first of eight noncombat death cases it was reviewing. According to one of the lawyers, the review revealed major violations by more than 50 current and former officials at various levels of seniority from every law enforcement agency as well as army officers, who had covered up Ohanjanyan’s killing. In contrast to prior reviews of this case, the working group was given full access to case materials. According to the lawyer, the findings were forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s Office to initiate a case into the alleged cover-up as well as a new investigation of the killing. According to the government, the investigation of Tigran Ohanjanyan’s death was reopened on September 25 and was in progress with no suspects facing criminal charges as of year’s end.

Authorities took no steps during the year to set up a fact-finding commission to examine noncombat deaths, among other human rights abuses; the commission had been scheduled to have been established by 2020 (see section 5).

There was no progress in the investigation into the 2018 death of Armen Aghajanyan, who was found hanged in the Nubarashen National Center for Mental Health where he had been transferred from Nubarashen Penitentiary for a psychological assessment. There was progress, however, in the investigation into his alleged torture. His family believed Aghajanyan was killed to prevent his identification of penitentiary guards who beat and tortured him prior to his transfer to the hospital. The investigation into Aghajanyan’s alleged suicide was suspended for the third time on March 3. One of the attackers in Aghajanyan’s torture case, Major Armen Hovhannisyan, was initially charged with torture and falsification of documents, but the trial court requalified his actions as exceeding official authority and released him on the basis of a 2018 amnesty. On March 5, the Court of Cassation accepted the case for review based on applications by the prosecutor’s office and Aghajanyan’s family, following a failed appeal of the trial court’s decision. On October 15, the Court of Cassation ruled that the lower court’s requalification of the torture charges was not grounded and was in violation of European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case law; it sent the case for further review to the Court of Appeals.

On March 26, the Constitutional Court ruled that a criminal code article under which former president Robert Kocharyan and other high-ranking officials were prosecuted for their alleged involvement in sending the military to break up protests after the 2008 presidential election, resulting in the deaths of eight civilians and two police officers, did not comply with two articles of the constitution and was therefore invalid. As a result on April 6, trial court judge Anna Danibekyan dropped the charges of overthrowing the constitutional order against the defendants but stated that Kocharyan and his former chief of staff, Armen Gevorgyan, would continue to stand trial on bribery charges. The judge acquitted two other defendants in this case, retired Ministry of Defense generals Yuri Khachaturov and Seyran Ohanian, who were charged with overthrowing the constitutional order in connection with the postelection unrest. The court denied the prosecutor’s appeal to requalify the case under a different article of the criminal code. Many in the legal community questioned the original decision to indict the officials under the specific article chosen.

Although the trial ran for three years before the Constitutional Court ruling, the trial court never discussed the merits of the case due to the stalling tactics employed by the defense, which presented countless motions and appeals. As a result, in September 2020 family members of the victims of the 2008 postelection violence refused to attend further court hearings, blaming the Prosecutor General’s Office for turning the trial into a farce and not taking effective measures to move the case forward. Following the Constitutional Court decision that the criminal code article under which Kocharyan was charged was unconstitutional, lawyers for the families averred that the prosecution’s failure served the “interests of a specific group,” a reference to Kocharyan and his associates. The investigation into others suspected of the 2008 postelection violence, including those charged with excessive use of force and murder, continued.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. A new criminal code which was adopted on May 5 and scheduled to enter into force in July 2022, would criminalize enforced disappearances, defined as “denial or hiding the fact of or the status or the place of a legally or illegally detained person by an official, another person or a group of persons, with the authorization, assistance, consent or connivance of the state as a result of which the disappeared person found himself outside the protection of law.”

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 5,000 Armenians and Azerbaijanis remained unaccounted for since the 1990s as a result of the conflict. According to police, as of 2019 a total of 867 Armenians were missing since the 1990s due to the conflict. According to the government, as of October 29, 321 persons were considered missing after the fall 2020 fighting.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Nevertheless, there were reports that members of the security forces continued to torture or otherwise abuse individuals in their custody. According to human rights lawyers, while the criminal code defines and criminalizes torture, it does not criminalize other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The first conviction in a torture case since the 2015 adoption of a new definition of torture in the criminal code occurred on December 28. Two policemen were found guilty of committing torture in 2019 and sentenced to seven years in prison.

With the disbanding of the Special Investigative Service (SIS), the investigation of torture cases was redistributed. According to lawyers involved in such cases, the cases were under investigation by the National Security Service (NSS), Investigative Committee, and the newly created Anticorruption Committee. Civil society criticized this redistribution, demanding the creation of a specialized, independent unit to tackle torture cases.

There were credible reports that ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani forces abused detainees held in connection with the conflict in late 2020 (see section 1.g. and the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Azerbaijan).

Human rights activists asserted that lack of accountability for old and new instances of law enforcement abuse continued to contribute to the persistence of the problem. Observers contended that the failure of authorities to prosecute past cases was linked to the absence of change in the composition of the justice system since the 2018 political transition, other than at the top leadership level. Human rights lawyers also noted multiple cases where those responsible for abuse were later promoted, including after the 2018 revolution. According to the government, the majority of criminal cases into police use of disproportionate force against protesters during the largely peaceful protests of 2018 were dropped due to the failure of law enforcement bodies to identify the perpetrators. The trial of former deputy police chief, Levon Yeranosyan, for abuse of authority during the 2018 protests continued.

On May 25, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published a report on its most recent periodic visit to the country in December 2019. The CPT noted that the great majority of the persons interviewed by its delegation who were or had recently been in police custody said they had been treated appropriately.

On June 3, the Helsinki Association for Human Rights reported that on May 30, Vanadzor police abused Samvel Hasanyan and two other suspects upon arrest on suspicion of burglarizing an apartment. The beatings reportedly continued at the Vanadzor police station. Hasanyan’s lawyer from the human rights association, Arayik Papikyan, said numerous officers, some in civilian clothing, participated in the abuse. Papikyan published photographs of Hasanyan with numerous abrasions and bruises on his face, ears, head, arms, and body. The investigators in the case alleged that Hasanyan had sustained the injuries when being taken out of the car and being pushed to lie on the ground. According to Papikyan, the Vanadzor trial court authorized Hasanyan’s pretrial detention based only on police testimony regarding his alleged role in abetting a theft in an apartment. The SIS opened an investigation into the torture allegations on charges of abusing authority but dropped it two months later. According to the government, the preliminary investigation did not find sufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the relevant police officers had used violence against the three individuals. According to Papikyan, Hasanyan refused to testify to the SIS concerning the abuse due to fear of retaliation in connection with the criminal case in which he was a suspect. The lawyer also noted that there was no video recording of the day’s events in Vanadzor’s Taron district police station, a problem he described as chronic.

During the year the trial of three police officers from Yerevan’s Nor Nork District continued on charges of torture for the September 2020 abuse of weight-lifting champion Armen Ghazaryan and another citizen. Ghazaryan asserted that officers had kidnapped him after he tried to intervene when plainclothes police were apprehending a person over a personal dispute. Ghazaryan stated he was taken to a police station, where he was beaten by a group of officers and subjected to degrading and inhuman treatment. After Ghazaryan reported the abuse, employees of the Nor Nork police department reportedly pressured him to recant his testimony, threatening to frame him if he did not. In September 2020 the SIS launched a criminal case and arrested three officers on torture charges and the department chief on charges of abuse of authority for trying to interfere with an internal investigation. While the charges against the department chief were later dropped, citing his repentance, the case against the three officers, who remained in pretrial detention, was sent to court and continued at year’s end.

There were continued reports of abuse in police stations, which, unlike prisons and police detention facilities, were not subject to public monitoring. Criminal justice bodies continued to rely on confessions and information obtained during questioning to secure convictions. According to human rights lawyers, procedural safeguards against mistreatment during police questioning, such as inadmissibility of evidence obtained through force or procedural violations, were insufficient. While human rights lawyers claimed that the installation of video cameras in police stations had not been effective in safeguarding against abuse, pointing to the absence of video evidence in several torture cases that they monitored, officials said that existing safeguards precluded individual police stations from manipulating or deleting centrally collected video data. According to official data, video recording systems were installed in interrogation rooms of 21 police subdivisions, and 70 video monitoring systems were installed at the exits and entrances of 20 regional subdivisions, all of which were connected to the main departmental network.

There was no progress in the investigation of the 2019 death of Edgar Tsatinyan, who died in a hospital after having been transferred from Yerevan’s Nor Nork police department, where he had been in custody. Tsatinyan died of a drug overdose after swallowing three grams of methamphetamine, with which police reportedly intended to frame him after he refused to confess to a murder. In July 2020 the SIS dropped the investigation into Tsatinyan’s death. In December 2020 a Yerevan trial court rejected the appeal by the lawyer representing Tsatinyan’s family to reopen the case. The lawyer, citing numerous procedural violations in the investigation, subsequently submitted an appeal on January 14 to the Court of Appeals that was rejected on April 25.

On July 13, lawyers for the Helsinki Association for Human Rights announced that the SIS had dropped torture charges against the commander of the Yerevan Police Department Escort Battalion, Armen Ghazaryan, for his alleged role in the 2017 police beatings of four members of the armed group Sasna Tsrer while they were in custody on court premises. The defendants suffered cuts and bruises on their faces, heads, abdomens, backs, and legs in the beatings. The lawyers said the SIS dropped the charges due to contradictory data and its inability to give an “external criminal assessment of the actions of the police officers,” which appeared to mean that SIS found no evidence besides that provided by the victims. The Helsinki Association strongly condemned the prosecutor’s office, the SIS, and other law enforcement agencies, demanding they act to end violence and torture by police and the long-standing practice of covering up such cases.

The CPT noted problems regarding voluntary consent to hospitalization by a number of legally competent patients who may not have signed consent forms voluntarily. At the Armash psychiatric health center, the CPT was told that since it “would be a hassle” to apply to a court for authorization for involuntary hospitalization, persons who brought in a family member for treatment were told they had to coerce that person to sign a voluntary consent form to receive treatment. Once a patient signs the form, there is no way to apply to a court to reverse the involuntary hospitalization. The CPT also reported that patients subsequently were not allowed to go outside to exercise or depart the hospital.

There were no reports regarding the scale of military hazing in the army and whether it constituted torture. According to a 2020 report produced by the NGO Peace Dialogue, the lack of legal clarity concerning the functions and powers of military police as well as a lack of civilian oversight mechanisms made it possible for military police to employ torture and other forms of mistreatment against both witnesses and suspects in criminal cases. There were anecdotal reports during the year that military police abused servicemen.

In September 2020 Syunik regional trial court judge Gnel Gasparyan, in an unprecedented decision, ruled in the case of Artur Hakobyan that investigators had failed to carry out a proper investigation into Hakobyan’s torture claims. The judge ruled that investigators should undertake a psychological assessment of the victim that adhered to provisions in the Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, commonly known as the Istanbul Protocol. Eight months after this ruling, investigators commissioned the required psychological assessment, which was underway at year’s end. In 2015 Hakobyan had been released from the army early due to a mental disorder. According to his family and lawyer, Hakobyan was in good mental health before joining the army but experienced deep psychological trauma as a result of torture and abuse. In 2019 the Court of Cassation recognized there had been a violation of Hakobyan’s right to freedom from torture, but up to the September 2020 court decision, the case had been stalled due to continuing appeals and counterappeals.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. To combat torture, during the year the government held targeted training sessions for judges, prosecutors, investigators, military command staff, military police, police, and prison staff.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

While the prison population decreased due to improvements in early release procedures and the release of some prisoners under COVID-19 prevention measures, conditions in some prisons were harsh and marked by poor sanitation, inadequate medical care, and predation by hierarchical criminal structures. New criminal and administrative procedure codes, adopted on May 5 and June 30, respectively, provide for alternatives to imprisonment for certain crimes; both codes were scheduled to enter into force in July 2022. The government announced on October 28 that Kosh and Hrazdan prisons would close on January 1, 2022, allowing the government to reallocate resources. According to Justice Minister Andreasyan, as of October the prison system had the capacity to house 5,346 inmates but held just 2,113.

Physical Conditions: According to the Prison Monitoring Group (PMG), a coalition of local NGOs, prison renovations underway since 2019 had not resulted in major improvements for inmates. Prison monitors, however, no longer considered prison conditions to be life threatening, noting that with the dramatic decrease in inmate numbers the worst cells were no longer in use. Conditions in Nubarashen Prison, one of the country’s 12 penitentiaries, in some cases were harsh, although improvements to pipework reportedly eliminated the sewage stench from the prison. Human rights observers and the PMG also continued to express concern regarding the physical conditions of Armavir Penitentiary, which did not have an air ventilation or cooling system, which allowed recorded cell temperatures as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit in past summers. The heat affected inmates as well as the prison staff. On August 2, the human rights defender’s (ombudsperson’s) office issued a statement on the degrading conditions of defendants’ confinement in court buildings in the Shirak and Aragatsotn regions. The statement identified unsanitary conditions, open and inaccessible toilets, lack of heat and lighting, and lack of furniture in some cells. According to the ombudsperson and other reports, these problems also occurred in other courthouses throughout the country.

On August 19, the ombudsperson stated that conditions in the coronavirus department of the “hospital of convicts” penitentiary were inhuman and degraded human dignity. According to the statement, wards were dilapidated, unsanitary, and damaged by mold and decay.

According to the ombudsperson and the PMG, impunity related to the deaths of inmates and the lack of a systemic approach to their prevention continued to be a problem. Prison deaths totaled 13 in the year. This number exceeded those in 2020 due to illness but remained lower than in prior years. Nine deaths were linked to illness, including four from COVID-19; three committed suicide; and one was murdered. An investigation of the latter was underway at year’s end. The government and NGOs did not attribute any of the 2020 or 2021 prison deaths to physical conditions.

Observers continued to note the need for better psychological services in prisons. According to the PMG, there was a shortage of psychologists on staff and hundreds of inmates in need of care. According to research published by the PMG in April 2020, the large number of patients per psychologist, overwhelming amounts of paperwork, and inappropriate working conditions as well as the ambiguous role of prison psychologists contributed to the failure of psychological services and led to burnout among the few existing specialists. In 2020 the ombudsperson criticized the practice of punishing inmates who self-mutilated instead of providing them with appropriate medical and psychological care. The government implemented programs to improve psychological services and increase staff, which together with improved physical conditions and a reduction in the number of inmates, contributed to a decrease in the number of cases of self-mutilation during the year.

The government reiterated its zero-tolerance policy towards corruption in prisons and expressed its determination to root out the organized hierarchical criminal structure dominating prison life, in which select inmates (called “watchers”) at the top of the informal prison hierarchy controlled the inmate population and prison life. According to the government, from January 1 to October 1, authorities investigated 19 criminal cases connected to the prison criminal subculture, of which four were sent to court with indictments, one was suspended, five were terminated, and nine remained under investigation. As of October 1, courts were examining six prison-related criminal cases against 25 individuals, with no convictions yet in place. According to observers it was not clear whether the government’s efforts had resulted in changes to the hierarchical system or had simply driven the problem underground.

Observers noted some progress fighting systemic corruption and said that prison administrations did not participate in corruption schemes, in part due to high-profile prosecutions of prison administration heads. Some observers reported that prisoners were no longer forced to contribute to a general pool of money supervised by watchers and that prisoners no longer appeared to be forced to participate in gambling. Other observers noted, however, that family members of incarcerated individuals reported having to pay representatives of prison hierarchies located outside of penitentiaries to ensure the safety of individuals in prison.

Experts assessed that corruption was likely to continue as long as the criminal subculture continued to exist. In its May 25 report, the CPT noted that its delegation received no credible allegations of recent physical mistreatment by staff in the six penitentiary establishments visited. From its observations, the CPT concluded, however, that interprisoner violence, intimidation, and extortion remained a problem in most of the prisons visited and was clearly related to the persistent influence of informal prisoner hierarchies.

In August 2020 the SIS reported the arrest of former Nubarashen Penitentiary chief Samvel Mkrtchyan for his role in arranging and covering up the February 2020 attack on inmate Vahagn Abgaryan. Mkrtchyan was released in September 2020 after a trial court refused to satisfy the SIS motion for pretrial detention. Mkrtchyan was charged with fraud and abuse of power for the February 2020 beating of Abgaryan (reportedly a member of the criminal hierarchical system) by other inmates. To hide the circumstances of the attack, which according to earlier official reports was instigated by orders from “criminal authorities” from abroad, Mkrtchyan instructed employees to report that Abgaryan had slipped exiting the bathroom. Other penitentiary employees were also arrested in the case. According to the government, the criminal case against penitentiary staff Hovik Aleksanyan and Zohrab Petrosyan was dropped in September 2020 due to their remorse, and the criminal case against Samvel Mkrtchyan was dropped in November on the grounds of an unspecified “change in the situation.”

In its May 25 report, the CPT noted the reform underway of the prison health-care service and the establishment of a Penitentiary Medicine Center, a public noncommercial organization for providing health care in prisons, but expressed concern that inmates still complained of a lack of access to specialized care. Observers noted that the number of surgeries and other specialized care permitted under the state order was limited. Most prisons lacked accommodations for inmates with disabilities.

According to the PMG and other human rights organizations, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals continued to experience the worst prison conditions. Prison administrators reinforced and condoned abusive treatment and held LGBTQI+ individuals in segregated cells in significantly worse conditions. The PMG noted that homosexual men 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 prison rules” were segregated from other inmates and forced to perform humiliating tasks, such as cleaning toilets, picking up trash for other prisoners, and providing sexual services. Food and cutlery for these inmates were kept separate, and they had a separate laundry machine and a separate solitary confinement cell.

On March 4, the NGO Center for Legal Initiatives issued a report, Issues of LGBT Prisoners of Armenia. The report specified that no state programs, strategies, or reports (including the 2020-22 National Strategy on the Protection of Human Rights and the 2019-23 Penitentiary and Probation Strategy mentioned the human rights of imprisoned LGBTQI+ persons or the need to improve their detention conditions. The report found that discrimination against and segregation of imprisoned LGBTQI+ persons was a direct consequence of the prison criminal subculture but was not recognized as such by government policy papers. Since initiatives to eradicate the criminal subculture did not consider the special vulnerability of LGBTQI+ persons, the report concluded the initiatives could have a further negative effect on LGBTQI+ individuals. According to the PMG, inmates entering the prison system were not screened for vulnerabilities such as sexual orientation, psychological problems, or other characteristics that could make their inclusion in the general prison population dangerous.

Observers reported significant improvements during the year in the early release and release on parole of inmates. Despite the progress, some experts noted that some prisoners were disadvantaged by the point system used to determine eligibility for release, since it failed to take into account factors not related to the inmate (for example, points were granted for employment or participation in an education program, which were not always available or were not available in all prisons). In its May 25 report, the CPT likewise noted that the lack of work opportunities for inmates meant that most of them could not qualify for early release. The CPT stated its concern that, as had been the case during its 2015 visit, none of the prisons visited offered anything remotely resembling a regime of organized constructive out-of-cell activities. In addition, there was no individual risk and needs assessment, no individual sentence planning (setting forth appropriate work, education, or other activities or noting any medical or psychological care that may be needed), and hardly any efforts to prepare prisoners for release.

According to the Ministry of Justice, an improved food program had a positive effect on the overall maintenance of order in prisons as well as a positive impact on the families of inmates, who no longer had to provide food. There were anecdotal reports concerning a deterioration in the quality of the food in the latter part of the year, with a few prisoners reportedly refusing to consume it. A PMG report on the food in late 2020, however, indicated that in private conversations, prisoners assessed the food positively and were generally satisfied with it.

Administration: Authorities did not conduct prompt investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment.

Outside the periods when there were COVID-19 restrictions, no access problems were reported.

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 ICRC to visit prisons and pretrial detention centers. Authorities, however, limited independent monitoring by domestic groups. The Ministry of Justice continued to deny PMG monitors access to those individuals in whose cases the investigation body had put a restriction on communication. The PMG was also unable to monitor the conditions of confinement for those individuals. The PMG asserted the restriction was arbitrary and that the investigation body’s decision should not apply to the PMG. In November 2020 the PMG criticized the Ministry of Justice for the March 2020 adoption of a decree regulating PMG activities that contradicted its prior agreements with authorities. According to a PMG statement, the decree added further restrictions to their activities, such as a requirement to obtain permission from the prison administration before visits during nonworking hours. The decree also significantly raised the experience and qualification requirements for PMG members, all of whom performed their work pro bono. The PMG expressed concern that the new criteria could result in the inability of the group to attract new members, decreasing its ability to monitor prisons.

On August 5, human rights reporter Zhanna Alexanyan reported that the prison administration had obstructed her meeting with Karen Hovhannisyan, a pretrial detainee in Armavir Penitentiary, forcing her to meet her client in a bathroom foyer. Hovhannisyan was arrested in 2018 on charges of murder that he denied. While he entered prison without health problems, when Alexanyan met him, he was in a wheelchair and had numerous health problems that Hohannisyan attributed to beatings and torture by police and prison staff as well as inappropriate medical care. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the special investigative service launched a criminal case on August 20 on charges of torture concerning a 2019 incident when six security staff of Nubarashen prison, where Hovhannisyan was being held at the time, beat him to force him to end a hunger strike. On October 10, the case was forwarded to the NSS for further investigation and was underway at year’s end.

Improvements: Observers noted the reduction of the prison population and the decrease in corruption as improvements during the year. According to observers, the decrease of the prison population improved visitor access. According to the Ministry of Justice, ramps were built in the Central Prison hospital and Armavir and Hrazdan prisons for persons with disabilities, and special accommodations were made in the Central Prison hospital to enable their use of showers and bathrooms. To accommodate inmates with disabilities, toilets with seats were installed in at least one bathroom in each penitentiary, and in Hrazdan Penitentiary special equipment was installed in the bathing room.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. There were several reports of arbitrary or selective arrest during the year. There were reports that ethnic Armenian forces unlawfully executed some Azerbaijani detainees in 2020 (see section 1.g.)

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides that 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. The law requires police to inform detainees of the reasons for their detention or arrest as well as their rights to remain silent, to legal representation, and to make a telephone call. Bail was a legal option.

According to human rights lawyers, there continued to be significant use of pretrial detention, with suspects bearing the burden of proof to demonstrate they did not present a flight risk or would not hamper an investigation. Furthermore, lawyers said that court detention decisions were increasingly unpredictable, with different detention conditions placed on defendants in similar circumstances.

On August 4, the NGO Protection of Rights Without Borders reported that according to official statistics, in 2020 the application of custodial sanctions (i.e., imprisonment) decreased from 2018 and 2019 levels, while the use of noncustodial sanctions and the conditional nonapplication of custodial sanctions and the use of fines as a punishment increased.

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 at times 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. This practice was particularly evident in the regions.

In its May 25 report, the CPT suggested that the practice of “informal talks” (i.e., persons being “invited,” usually by telephone, to come to police, prior to being officially declared a suspect and detained), criticized by the CPT many times in the past, was not fully eliminated, especially outside Yerevan.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were several reports of arbitrary or selective arrest during the year. For example on June 27, police special forces near the Government Building in Yerevan detained a citizen purportedly for chanting “Nikol, go away” in reference to the prime minister.

According to the NGO HCAV, police apprehended 20 to 30 persons from Marts village, many at night, ostensibly while seeking individuals who had attacked police on August 14 immediately after a car crash. The crash followed a police chase of a car of suspects and resulted in two deaths. As reported by HCAV, after the crash police prevented ambulances from providing medical aid. Police reportedly entered homes by force without identifying themselves and apprehended suspects’ relatives who had not been involved in the altercation with police. Authorities did not provide any information to the individuals taken into custody regarding the reason for their apprehension or legal status. Police allegedly struck some of the detainees’ heads and throats, forced them to stand with their arms up, and did not allow them to sit for lengthy periods. One individual from a nearby village was allegedly apprehended and almost “beaten to death” before police realized they had taken the wrong man. HCAV also reported that some individuals were taken into custody several times, creating an atmosphere of fear among village residents, some of whom were afraid to leave their homes, while others were afraid to spend the night indoors.

During the campaign prior to the June parliamentary elections and after reelection, Prime Minister Pashinyan claimed his party would enact a “steel mandate,” strictly prosecuting persons who violated the law. The opposition and some independent human rights observers asserted that such prosecutions largely targeted the prime minister’s opponents. During and following the elections, four opposition-linked mayors in the Syunik region were arrested for various alleged crimes related to embezzlement or bribery. As the mayors had openly opposed Pashinyan, their arrests raised questions concerning the potential selective application of the law and political motivations for the arrests as well as questions concerning the necessity of placing the mayors in pretrial detention (see Section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. Some observers saw investigators’ use of 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, and there were no mechanisms to ensure trials were concluded within a reasonable time.

In January 2020 the ombudsperson’s office released a special report on the lack of mechanisms to ensure court system accountability for compliance with time standards or to obtain redress if a trial has not met the reasonable timeframe requirement. According to the report, 2019 data from the Supreme Judicial Council indicated 155 criminal and 1,628 civil cases in Yerevan alone had continued for more than two years, some for more than 10 years. A total of 1,123 such cases were handled by just seven judges.

On February 13, the NGO Hetq Investigative Journalists examined 10 civil, 10 administrative, and 10 criminal court cases, all of which had been in progress for at least five years. Hetq’s investigation revealed cases that had been in progress for up to 18 years, with no final court verdict. Experts who analyzed the cases found that the primary factors leading to delays were subjective and linked to arbitrary decisions by the judge, such as referral of the case to another judge, training or leave of absence of a judge, court hearings scheduled with large time gaps (i.e., from two to six months) or rescheduled due to technical problems, lengthy expertise examinations, and legal gaps. In 2020 trials also were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fall 2020 fighting. In many cases criminal trials lasted such a long time that proceedings were terminated due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. When defendants agreed to suspend their cases on these grounds, they could not avail themselves of the opportunity to apply for compensation, as they might have done had they been acquitted, while victims did not receive redress. Hetq reviewed one case in which the defendant had spent 11.5 years in pretrial detention while his case went through an appeals and reexamination process.

Although in March 2020 the Supreme Judicial Council ruled that measures such as the use of online communications tools must be adopted to ensure that trials continued during the COVID-19 pandemic, trial delays persisted. According to a 2020 joint monitoring report of the NGOs Helsinki Association for Human Rights and Human Rights Power, a number of courts faced significant delays, apparently due to a lack of technical preparedness; the sessions that were delayed included those devoted to the discussion of urgent matters such as detention measures. The law does not allow for telecommunication measures in criminal cases, and according to observers, delays in such cases were mostly due to the failure of the judges and the prosecutors to appear in court.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law allows suspects to appeal the legality of arrests in court. According to some human rights lawyers, however, even when courts determined arrests violated the law, courts would often satisfy the investigation body’s pretrial detention requests.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary did not generally exhibit independence and impartiality. Popular trust in the impartiality of judges remained low, while civil society organizations highlighted that the justice sector retained many officials who served the previous authorities and issued rulings consistently favorable to them. Corruption of judges remained a concern. During the year NGOs continued to report on judges who had acquired significant amounts of property and assets that were disproportionate to their salaries, and they noted that the absence of vetting of all standing judges based on objective criteria – particularly of those in the Supreme Judicial Council and Constitutional Court – undermined the integrity of the judiciary.

Some human rights lawyers noted that some of the few truly independent judges faced internal pressure from superiors – including the Supreme Judicial Council – on some judicial decisions. Such pressure reportedly included suggestions their reputations or careers would be impacted and through the threat of selective punishment of minor misdemeanors. The lawyers said court decisions on cases involving similar circumstances had become unpredictable and in some high-profile corruption cases decisions, appeared to be politically motivated. They asserted that ongoing judicial reforms primarily offered ad hoc and temporary fixes rather than systemic reform.

In March 2020 parliament adopted changes to the judicial code and several related laws to provide a legal basis for checking and assessing the legality of judges’ property acquisition, their professionalism and respect for human rights, and their impartiality. In April 2020 a group of civil society organizations criticized these judicial integrity mechanisms. According to the group’s statement, the extremely limited scope of the integrity review was fundamentally disappointing, as it would be conducted only for candidates for Constitutional Court judgeships, prosecutors, or investigators, but not for sitting judges, prosecutors, or investigators. The constitution prohibits retroactive application of law and would have to be amended to allow the vetting of sitting judges.

The Commission on the Prevention of Corruption conducts asset declaration analysis of sitting judges and nominees to public positions, such as judges, prosecutors, and investigators. Based on the commission’s review of the property of judges, three disciplinary, three administrative, and one criminal case had been initiated as of September 3.

According to observers, administrative courts had relatively more internal independence but were understaffed and faced a long backlog.

Authorities generally enforced court orders.

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

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 generally informed defendants in detail of the charges against them. The law requires 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 provide them with a public defender upon request. A shortage of defense lawyers sometimes led to denial of this right outside Yerevan.

The law provides that 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. 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. Human rights organizations reported there were insufficient provisions for prosecutorial impartiality and accountability and no objective criteria for the nomination and selection of candidates for general prosecutor.

Defendants, prosecutors, and injured parties have the right to appeal a court verdict and often exercised it. In an example of a trial that even the victim’s family deemed unjust to the accused, criminal proceedings – originally opened in 2013 – against Karen Kungurtsev for the alleged killing of Davit Hovakimyan continued during the year. On October 15, the trial court in Vanadzor acquitted Kungurtsev for a second time, but the prosecution filed another appeal on November 4, further delaying the investigation into who really killed Hovakimyan. A 2018 Court of Cassation order returned the case to trial court and released Kungurtsev on bail. Kungurtsev was originally acquitted in 2015, but in 2017 the criminal court of appeal reversed the acquittal and sentenced 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 an NSS official who used his position to influence police and prosecutors to investigate Kungurtsev. Following the resumption of the trial in 2018, two key witnesses in the case apologized to Kungurtsev and the victim’s father for providing false testimony six years earlier under pressure from law enforcement officers and gave potentially exonerating testimony in support of Kungurtsev.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees.

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 some lawyers, lower courts did not adhere to precedents set by the Court of Cassation, the ECHR, and the Constitutional Court. As a result, lower courts continued to carry out the same legal mistakes.

According to one expert cited in Hetq’s February 13 report, Delayed justice is justice denied, going to court could not be considered effective when, due to the length of the process, a person suffered more damage from going to court, even when they won the case, than they incurred in the first place.

Citizens who exhaust domestic legal remedies may appeal cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the ECHR. The government’s compliance with ECHR decisions was mixed. The government generally complied with ECHR awards of monetary compensation and reopened some cases on which the ECHR had ruled. When ruling on a case to which a prior ECHR decision applied, courts reportedly did not often 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 tap 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, observers claimed that certain judges authorized wiretaps and other surveillance requests from the NSS and police without the compelling evidence required by law. By contrast there were no reports that courts violated legal procedures when responding to such authorization requests from the SIS, the Investigative Committee, or the State Revenue Committee. Human rights lawyers reported cases of wiretapping of privileged attorney/client communication as part of criminal investigations. Such wiretapping is prohibited by law.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

Killings: At year’s end authorities were investigating two unlawful killings during the intensive fall 2020 fighting involving Armenia, Armenia-supported separatists, and Azerbaijan (also see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Azerbaijan).

The sides to the conflict submitted complaints to the ECHR accusing each other of committing atrocities. The cases remained pending with the court.

According to a joint report released in May by the NGOs the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and Truth Hounds, When Embers Burst into Flames – International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law Violations during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, there was prima facie evidence that members of ethnic Armenian armed forces unlawfully executed two wounded and captured Azerbaijani combatants. The evidence consisted of two videos. As IPHR and Truth Hounds were unable to confirm the videos’ authenticity, the report stated, “If these killings are confirmed through further investigations, they would clearly violate the [International Humanitarian Law] prohibition on violence to life and person and would constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. The killings of wounded Azerbaijani soldiers would equally violate … Armenia’s Penal Code and constitute gross violations of the right to life under … the [European Convention on Human Rights].”

On April 24, the Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office initiated a search in Bashlibel, Kalbajar District, Azerbaijan, for the graves of Azerbaijanis allegedly killed by Armenian armed forces in 1993. According to the Azerbaijan Prosecutor General’s Office, the remains of 12 Azerbaijani civilians were found. Three additional bodies were found in June, and another grave with multiple remains was found on August 30.

Since the November 2020 cease-fire, landmine explosions in Azerbaijani territories previously controlled by Armenia resulted in the deaths of seven Azerbaijani military personnel and 29 civilians; another 109 military and 44 civilians were injured, according to the Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office on December 9.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: In When Embers Burst into Flames – International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law Violations during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, the NGOs IPHR and Truth Hounds reported that based on interviews with former Azerbaijani captives and a video depicting the abuse of one of the captives, “at least seven Azerbaijani prisoners of war were subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment at the hands of Armenian/Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces.” The report also stated that three additional cases of mistreatment had been captured on video, although not independently verified by IPHR and Truth Hounds, and required further investigation. In one of the latter cases, the mistreatment may have resulted in the victim’s death, although this was not independently confirmed. According to the report, “Systematic beatings, inhuman conditions of detention, denial of medical care and other basic needs, cruelty and humiliation described by witnesses or captured on video amounts to a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions [by Armenian/Nagorno-Karabakh forces] and the violation of the prohibition against torture and [cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment…under the [European Convention on Human Rights].” The report also noted the alleged conduct would violate the country’s penal code.

According to the same report, eight videos from social media appeared to show “the ill-treatment and despoliation of dead Azerbaijani soldiers by members of Armenian/Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces.” The videos were not independently verified, and the conduct that they purported to show required further investigation. Nevertheless, the report described the videos as constituting “prima facie evidence of multiple cases of despoliation” of the dead by Armenian/Nagorno-Karabakh forces. The report concluded, “All credible allegations of despoliation of the dead require further investigation. If proven to the applicable standard, this conduct would violate the [International Humanitarian Law] prohibition on despoliation and degrading treatment and may also violate … Armenia’s Penal Code.”

According to the government, authorities initiated six criminal cases in December 2020 investigating actions of Armenian servicemen during the fall 2020 conflict on charges of “serious violations of international humanitarian law during armed conflicts.” Of the six cases, four involved alleged murder, torture, and inhuman treatment, one involved alleged murder and torture, and one involved alleged murder. The government combined all six cases into one criminal proceeding on June 22. The investigation was underway at year’s end.

An international photojournalist documented the destruction of dozens of Azerbaijani cemeteries in Fuzuli, Agdam, Zangilan, Kalbajar, and Jebrayil with thousands of photographs. Graves were desecrated and in some instances evidence of grave robbery – such as holes dug above individual graves – was found; other sites showed evidence of destruction and exhumation by heavy construction equipment. Foreign observers visiting the Alley of Martyrs in Agdam photographed holes where bodies were once interred; one broken headstone remained in the cemetery. The vandalism of headstones left few individual graves untouched. Many graves had the carefully hewn faces of the deceased (carved into gravestones) destroyed by hammers or similar objects. Additionally, the corpses from Azerbaijani graves were exhumed and gold teeth removed, leaving skulls and bones strewn across Azerbaijani cemeteries. According to the photojournalist, Armenian graves remained virtually undisturbed.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. While the government generally respected this right, parliament enacted several restrictions during the year, amending the law to dramatically raise the maximum civil penalties for insult and defamation in March, criminalize grave insults and obscene or foul language in July, and significantly restrict accredited journalists covering of parliament in August.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals were generally free to criticize the government without fear of reprisal. On July 29, however, authorities indicted Yezidi human rights activist Sashik Sultanyan under Article 226 of the criminal code, which prohibits “actions aimed at the incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred or humiliation of national dignity” for expressing his view that the government was not doing enough to protect the country’s Yezidi minority from discrimination. If convicted, he faced three to six years in prison. A group of NGOs warned the case would “hinder any public discussion of problems related to discrimination or human rights of minorities…” Human Rights Watch called the prosecution malicious and the criminal indictment spurious. On August 6, the ombudsperson stated his office shared these concerns, noting that even if some of Sultanyan’s criticisms were inaccurate, he should not be held criminally liable.

On July 30, parliament adopted legislation that makes it a crime to voice a “grave insult” or offend a person’s dignity in an “extremely indecent manner” (see details under Libel/Slander Laws, below).

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: On August 18, citing security concerns, the National Assembly’s leadership adopted changes in procedures for accrediting journalists working in parliament, restricting them to certain areas of parliament and no longer allowing them to interview lawmakers coming out of parliament chambers or approaching their offices. Even before the official changes were adopted, parliament’s administrators applied the restrictions to journalists. On August 5, for example, Panorama.am photojournalist Lilian Galstyan was banned from entering the National Assembly and subsequently lost her National Assembly accreditation as a result of her photo-reportage from the security checkpoint of parliament. Local media watchdogs condemned the ban and actions of parliament’s leadership, noting that such initiatives were regressive and unsubstantiated, and they undermined efforts to establish civilized relations between authorities and the media. Galstyan’s accreditation was reinstated on August 17.

On August 11, during a scuffle between parliamentarians of the ruling party and the opposition, Speaker Alen Simonyan ordered the termination of the session’s live-stream broadcast. Security officers forbade accredited journalists and videographers from filming the incident from their allocated location in parliament. Media watchdogs condemned the speaker’s move, asserting he had exceeded his authority and that citizens had the right to be informed of what was happening in parliament.

During a scuffle between parliamentarians during an August 24 parliamentary session, security officers forcibly removed media representatives from the press booth, not allowing them to continue filming. The officers threatened to deprive News.am news website cameraman Hayk Tonoyan of his parliament accreditation if he continued to film and, according to Tonoyan, they deleted the video of the fight. A similar incident occurred on August 25 during another fight in parliament. In a statement released on August 25, media watchdogs condemned what they described as the continuous harassment of media representatives in parliament. The statement described the restrictions as illegal actions against freedom of speech and the right of the public to be informed.

Media outlets were politically polarized. Private individuals or groups, most of whom were reportedly tied to former authorities or parliamentary opposition parties, owned most broadcast media and newspapers, which tended to reflect the political leanings and financial interests of their proprietors. The number of government-linked outlets started to grow during the year with government officials or individuals tied to them reportedly acquiring new media outlets. These outlets similarly tended to reflect the viewpoints of those tied to them.

Broadcast media, particularly public television, remained one of the primary sources of news and information for the majority of the population. According to some media watchdogs, public television continued to present news and political debates from a progovernment standpoint, although it continued to remain accessible to opposition voices. Cases of bias on public television were especially obvious during the pre-election period. Media monitoring conducted by Yerevan Press Club on the eve of the June 20 parliamentary elections indicated that the public broadcaster paid the least attention to the main opposition force (Armenia bloc) in terms of the volume of allocated airtime. The report also underlined that public television made serious inroads in introducing the culture of pre-election debates.

Social media users freely expressed opinions concerning the government and former authorities on various social media platforms. Use of false social media accounts and attempts to manipulate media, however, continued to increase during the pre-election period but went down slightly following the elections. According to media watchdogs, individuals used manipulation technologies systematically, including hybrid websites, controversial bloggers, “troll factories,” anonymous Telegram channels, and fictional Facebook groups and stories, to attack the government. There were some reports of individuals linked with the government using fake accounts as well, although not as systematically. There was a particular spike in misinformation on COVID-19 and vaccination-related topics, which led to stronger fact-checking efforts by local watchdog organizations.

The country’s few independent media outlets, mostly online, were not self-sustainable and survived only through international donations and support, with limited revenues from advertising and subscription fees.

Media company ownership was mostly nontransparent. The country’s Fourth Action Plan of Open-Government Partnership Initiative of the Republic of Armenia (2018-2020) included commitments to improve ownership disclosure. On June 3, parliament adopted a series of laws on beneficial ownership disclosure that came into force on June 28. They require all limited liability companies to disclose their beneficial owners by January 2022, with media outlets having to comply by November 1.

Violence and Harassment: The local NGO Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression reported 18 cases of violence against journalists during the year, of which six were committed by government officials. The committee reported that 20 journalists and operators were injured. In one case a group of approximately 20 protesters harassed and assaulted RFE/RL reporter Artak Ghulyan and videographer Karen Chilingaryan in Yerevan on February 23. The journalists were broadcasting live from a rally demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Pashinyan when a group of protesters started yelling insults and curse words at them, saying that RFE/RL “will soon be closed down,” according to Ghulyan. When Chilingaryan asked protesters not to interfere with their work, the group punched and kicked Ghulyan and Chilingaryan in full view of police; this continued for five to 10 minutes before police intervened and broke up the scuffle. The journalists were bruised but not seriously injured. The attackers damaged their equipment, breaking a camera, according to reports. The Prosecutor General’s Office was investigating the incident.

Cases of officials using force against journalists or attempting to do so increased during the second half of the year. In most cases law enforcement authorities did not open criminal cases, claiming a lack of legal grounds. For example on March 18, Hakob Arshakyan, who was then minister of high-technology industry, was caught on camera punching Irakanum.am reporter Paylak Fahradyan in the face after the latter noticed him in a cafe and asked him what he was doing there during working hours. Arshakyan resigned following the incident but was later elected deputy speaker of parliament. The SIS did not open a criminal investigation of the incident, alleging lack of criminal grounds.

The SIS decided not to prosecute progovernment parliamentarian Hayk Sargsyan for taking the smartphone of Anush Dashtents, a reporter for opposition daily Hraparak, as she tried to interview him. Sargsyan took the smartphone, attempted to delete the video, and later left with it in his possession. The lawmaker defended his actions and accused Dashtents of violating his privacy. Leading local media NGOs demanded that the Office of the Prosecutor General overturn the SIS decision and order criminal proceedings against Sargsyan. “We maintain that the incident constituted an obstruction of legitimate professional activities,” they said in a joint statement. “But even if the investigators did not characterize [Sargsyan’s actions] in that way, illegally taking away a journalist’s property, breaching the secrecy of their personal data, and coercing them not to disseminate information are sufficient grounds for holding Hayk Sargsyan accountable.”

Libel/Slander Laws: In March the National Assembly amended the civil code to dramatically raise the maximum fines for insult and defamation offenses. Freedom House and local media watchdogs criticized the bill, saying it would “stifle media freedom and freedom of expression.” The amendments came into force on October 23 after the Constitutional Court ruled them constitutional on October 5.

On July 30, the outgoing parliament passed legislation making it a crime to utter a “grave insult” or offend a person’s dignity in an “extremely indecent manner.” Under the amendments, which entered into force August 30, penalties include fines up to 500,000 drams ($1,000) for a single offense of grave insult, up to one million drams ($2,000) for spreading a grave insult publicly or gravely insulting a person in connection with public activity, and if repeated, higher fines and up to three months in prison. The law is stricter for officials, who may also be deprived of the right to hold office. The My Step ruling faction held two readings of the draft and adopted it the same day. As of December 12, law enforcement bodies had opened 166 criminal investigations into alleged violations of the new law. On September 23, media reported that police launched the first criminal case under the new law, for writing an insulting comment under Prime Minister Pashinyan’s photograph on Facebook. In another early case, opposition figure Narek Samsonyan was arrested on December 14 for a social media post he made concerning Yerevan City Council member Davit Khazhakyan of Bright Armenia.

Nongovernmental Impact: According to Emergency 2020: Report on Human Rights Violations by the Police, published by HCAV on April 28, several new antidemocratic initiatives and movements that arose together with increased civil society activity after the 2018 revolution had a chilling effect on civil society. While they positioned themselves as civil society institutes, these organizations’ agendas focused on combating the promotion of human rights and democratic values and provoking hatred through violence and physical threats. Law enforcement bodies opened several investigations into the groups and some of their activities but did not prosecute any of their members.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, and the government expressly supported academic freedom.

There were several media reports that school principals were forced to resign during the year, which some media outlets asserted was linked to their political views. According to observers, newly appointed school principals all appeared to have links with or supported the government. On August 3, the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional provisions of a new law on higher education that, according to education experts, would have handed management of universities over to the government.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government generally respected these rights, but there were some restrictions.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

While the government generally respected freedom of assembly during the election campaign, local observers reported inconsistencies throughout the year in authorities’ approach toward peaceful gatherings. For example on August 23, NGOs issued a joint statement condemning police for excessive use of force when they disrupted a peaceful protest against the construction of a high-rise building in a Yerevan neighborhood. According to the statement, on August 20-21, special police units used disproportionate force against citizens, seriously injuring participants, including minors and elderly persons, two of whom were taken to the hospital. According to the statement, police violated the rights of detained citizens when they forcibly took them to a police station in a degrading manner, employing disproportionate measures and illegal procedures. One 19-year-old man was reportedly beaten in the station. Authorities initiated several criminal cases against the demonstrators, but there were no reported actions taken against the officers involved.

Freedom of assembly was restricted during the state of emergency introduced in March 2020 to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. The curbs remained in force until August 2020 when the government lifted most restrictions on assembly, permitting demonstrations, marches, and rallies so long as participants wore masks and observed social distancing requirements. Freedom of assembly also was restricted under martial law, imposed in September 2020 after the outbreak of fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Martial law restrictions included a ban on rallies. The restrictions were officially lifted in December 2020, and martial law ended on March 24.

On April 28, HCAV published a report, Emergency 2020: Report on Human Rights Violations by the Police, that examined police enforcement of the COVID-19 state of emergency and martial law restrictions. According to the report, the response of law enforcement officials to protest rallies organized by citizens was not uniform, predictable, legal, or proportionate. For example, in some cases police did not prevent rallies with many participants but simply urged participants to maintain physical distance, while in other cases – sometimes involving far fewer persons – participants were arbitrarily apprehended, sometimes even before the rally began. While only rallies, strikes, and public events with more than 20 persons were prohibited, police apprehended some individuals conducting single-person protest actions.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide this right, and the government generally respected it. The law limits the legal standing of NGOs to act on behalf of their beneficiaries in court on environmental issues, contradicting 2010 Constitutional Court decision that allowed all NGOs to have legal standing in court.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

As of December 2020, according to the international NGO Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, approximately 2,700 internally displaced persons (IDPs) of the estimated 65,000 households evacuated in connection with the 1988-94 fighting were still living in displacement. Some of the country’s IDPs and refugees lacked adequate housing and had limited economic opportunities. The government did not have specific programs and policies aimed at promoting the safe, voluntary, dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs.

According to the government, the fall 2020 fighting displaced approximately 100,000 individuals from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories, although some reportedly returned to their residences. As of August the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that approximately 37,000 of these displaced individuals remained in the county.

f. Protection of Refugees

Authorities cooperated with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. During the COVID-19 state of emergency from March through September 2020, an electronic asylum system was introduced. In September 2020 the Migration Service returned to normal operation.

Applications to reopen closed asylum cases were treated as repeat applications requiring new elements, a practice that hindered access to asylum. While processing cases of individuals in detention was suspended temporarily in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 state of emergency, the processing of other cases continued. As of August, however, the cases of some applicants in detention remained suspended.

The law accounts for specific needs of asylum seekers who are children, persons with mental disabilities, and trauma survivors and allows detention centers to receive asylum applications. Authorities generally enforced the law, but only to the extent scarce resources allowed. Applicants with specific needs were mainly supported by UNHCR through its partner NGOs. Refugees who were not ethnic Armenians could apply for facilitated naturalization, which requires passing a constitutional knowledge test. Such citizenship, however, was rarely granted.

Shortcomings in asylum procedures included limited state funding for interpreters and deficiencies in training and capacity of eligibility determination officers, with no sustainable quality assurance mechanism and a lack of professional development of staff. Asylum seekers expressed concern regarding their access to legal aid. While the law provides for free legal assistance to asylum seekers through the Office of the Public Defender under the Chamber of Advocates, legal, capacity, and operational constraints reportedly hindered the exercise of this right. Legal aid to persons filing their initial asylum applications was limited to the provision of information and counselling, while legal assistance and representation were available to asylum seekers appealing negative asylum decisions. Legal representation at initial asylum hearings was available in only a limited number of cases and only when it was provided by the UNHCR partner NGO. Due to serious systemic constraints, including insufficient and inexperienced staff at the Public Defender’s Office and a lack of interpreter services, asylum seekers reportedly experienced serious difficulties accessing quality legal assistance when they attempted to appeal negative asylum decisions.

Judges exhibited more conservative approaches towards asylum claims, often referring to national security considerations in the abstract and rejecting appeals without thoroughly assessing asylum claims. As a result, unsubstantiated rejection of asylum claims for lack of credibility became more common. While procedures for determining refugee status improved over the past decade, there were concerns over how judges applied basic asylum concepts and the subjective attitudes of staff in assessing religion-based claims. Although some judges received additional training on asylum matters and practical implementation of decisions during the year, asylum cases continued to be assigned to judges lacking in-depth knowledge of relevant law. Judicial review remained a lengthy process as judges remained overloaded with cases.

In May the National Assembly amended the Law on Refugees and Asylum and the administrative procedure code to accelerate asylum procedures for applicants who crossed the border irregularly, were subject to outstanding requests for their extradition, or were subject to criminal prosecution in Armenia; the amendments entered into force in August. Given the obstacles faced by asylum seekers who attempt to obtain legal aid, some experts were concerned that the accelerated procedures could make it more difficult for some asylum applicants to achieve effective remedies.

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. Many of the countrywide reforms, such as provision of increased social services, higher pensions, and more accessible health care also benefited refugees who became naturalized citizens.

Refugees who are not ethnic Armenians could apply for facilitated naturalization, which requires passing a test focused on knowledge of the constitution. UNHCR had no information of citizenship being granted in such cases.

Refoulement: There were several instances of alleged forced returns of Azerbaijanis who had sought asylum in the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports of nonsystemic 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. Civil society contacts reported discriminatory attitudes and suspicion directed towards foreign migrants seeking employment.

Between January and August, seven foreigners seeking asylum were detained due to foreign extradition requests, and another asylum seeker was detained due to irregular entry and an extradition request. As of July, 11 asylum seekers were in detention, including five from Georgia; others were from Turkey, India, Russia, and Iran.

The law allows detention centers to receive asylum applications. Despite a provision in the law exempting asylum seekers from criminal liability for irregular border crossing, authorities required them to remain in detention pending the outcome of their asylum applications or to serve the remainder of their sentences. The new criminal code adopted by parliament in May reflected the nonpenalization clause of the 1951 Refugee Convention, specifically under the articles on irregular crossing of the state border and use of falsified documents. The criminal code was scheduled to come into force in July 2022.

Access to Basic Services: Many asylum seekers were unable to work or receive an education while their cases worked their way through the legal system, despite legal provisions protecting these rights, due to a lack of job openings, difficulty in accessing opportunities, and language barriers. Language differences created barriers to employment, education, and access to services otherwise provided for by law. The government reception center and integration house (a refugee housing facility where some asylum seekers were accommodated) provided some Armenian and Russian language classes.

Housing allocated to refugees was in limited supply, in poor condition, and remained, along with employment, refugees’ greatest concern. During the COVID-19 pandemic, close quarters in the refugee center (a housing facility where some asylum seekers were accommodated) also gave rise to fears of infection, although no COVID-19 cases were reported in the center during the year. Many displaced families relied on a rental subsidy program supported by UNHCR and diaspora organizations, which experts noted was only a temporary solution. 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. The conditions of public shelters were often substandard, which caused tensions among the refugees, as some of them received rental subsidy assistance and resided in private accommodations.

Overall, observers assessed refugee and asylum-seeker access to the health-care system as adequate but noted that asylum seekers faced difficulties because they did not have access to the e-health ArMed system, largely due to language barriers. This system permitted advance registration for medical examinations and services and provided information regarding vaccination records that were required for individuals’ travel outside of the country. One service provider noted that some institutions, such as polyclinics, banks, and private employers, did not recognize the Convention Travel Document (issued by Armenia to show that the holder is a refugee and has been granted asylum) as an identification document.

Access to education for many refugees was difficult due to language differences. Other barriers included expenses related to transportation, school supplies, and clothes and bullying by other students.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and offered naturalization to refugees residing on its territory. In May the government adopted the Conceptual Framework for the State Management of Migration that envisaged development of the 2021-31 Integration Strategy and its action plan for 2021-26. The framework also offered integration programs to returnees from West European countries who either voluntarily returned or were deported by the host country.

g. Stateless Persons

According to official data, as of June 30, there were 892 stateless persons in country. There was limited information available on the number, geographic locations, and profile of stateless persons, persons at risk of statelessness, and undocumented persons. The citizenship law provides for the provision of nationality to stateless children born on the country’s territory. Amendments to the citizenship law were adopted by parliament on December 8 and were scheduled to come into force on June 25, 2022. The amendments were intended to help close the remaining gaps related to the naturalization of persons displaced from Azerbaijan in the 1990s as well as loss of citizenship issues.

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.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On June 20, the country held snap parliamentary elections in which fundamental rights and freedoms were generally respected and contestants were able to campaign freely. Elections were preceded by a short and heated campaign marked by harsh and inflammatory language. The elections occurred amid heightened tensions and polarization following the fall 2020 intensive fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the controversial November 2020 cease-fire statement. In the June elections, Nikol Pashinyan’s Civic Contract party won approximately 54 percent of the vote and the majority of seats in the National Assembly, falling one seat short of a two-thirds constitutional majority.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election observation mission reported, “Fundamental rights and freedoms were generally respected, and contestants were able to campaign freely.” The October 27 final report noted that amendments to the electoral code made in April and May “had been publicly debated… and were supported by most political parties and civil society groups, and public outreach on the proposed electoral reforms was largely perceived as inclusive. However, the late adoption by parliament and subsequent entering into force of the amendments left limited time for the implementation of regulations and raising voters’ awareness of the new procedures.” ODIHR reported that while its observers assessed the territorial election commissions as generally professional and transparent in their conduct, the commissions did not publish their decisions online, nor did they uniformly post them for public display, contrary to legal requirements. ODIHR also noted that central and territorial election commission members expressed concern that many of the party-nominated precinct election commission members, especially those serving as chairpersons and secretaries, “lacked the sufficient education and experience to effectively perform their tasks.”

The final ODIHR report also noted that “high levels of harsh, intolerant, inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric in the period leading up to election day tainted the debate.” Other shortcomings identified by ODIHR included incidents of pressure by political actors and employers on private-sector and public employees to attend campaign events, a number of allegations of vote buying, blurring of the line between the ruling party and state, allegations of the misuse of administrative resources, continued shortcomings regarding campaign finance, notably the absence of organizational expenses in the legal definition of campaign expenditures, and the narrow legal standing for submitting electoral complaints.

There were allegations of electoral bribes during the campaign, and law enforcement bodies launched 67 criminal cases in this regard. As of October 15, 35 persons were facing criminal charges related to electoral bribes.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law does not restrict the registration or activity of political parties.

In its final report, the ODIHR observation mission stated, “Allegations of misuse of administrative resources also persisted throughout the campaign and were not sufficiently or uniformly addressed.” ODIHR observers received such reports from four of the country’s 10 regions and Yerevan. Other observers noted complaints that “administrative resources” were reportedly employed by both progovernment and opposition forces.

There were incidents of violence involving political figures. For example after the June 20 snap elections, Lori governor Aram Khachatryan publicly urged mayors who had supported the opposition to resign, claiming Civil Contract’s victory amounted to a vote of no confidence in opposition-linked community heads. Mayor of the Lori region’s Odzun village Arsen Titanyan, who had supported the opposition, accused Khachatryan of assaulting him in connection with Khachatryan’s calls for him to resign. Khachatryan denied the claims. A local civil society observer noted that the conflict between the governor and mayor also involved reports of vote buying in Odzun. A criminal case was launched into the alleged assault, but on September 22, media reported that the SIS had dropped the case.

Violence also occurred between members of the National Assembly. For example on August 24, a scuffle between parliamentarians broke out after Speaker Alen Simonyan ordered the removal of opposition parliamentarian Anna Mkrtchyan for calling the prime minister a “capitulator,” in reference to the 2020 cease-fire arrangement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Another fight broke out in parliament on August 25, after Armenia faction head and former defense minister Seyran Ohanyan threw a water bottle at Civil Contract member Hayk Sargsyan. The latter had called former defense ministers who had allowed for exemptions to army service via telephone calls “traitors.” This scuffle was soon followed by a larger brawl, initiated when Civil Contract members of parliament hit several Armenia faction members of parliament. A human rights activist asserted that security officers intentionally delayed responding to the incident.

During the campaign and following the June parliamentary elections, Pashinyan claimed his party would employ a “steel mandate,” strictly prosecuting those who violated the law. The opposition and some independent human rights observers asserted such prosecution largely targeted the prime minister’s opponents. After the parliamentary elections, four opposition-linked former or current mayors in Syunik Province were arrested for various alleged crimes related to abuse of power, fraud, or bribes. As the mayors had openly opposed Pashinyan, their arrests raised questions related to potential selective application of the law and political motivations, as well as questions related to the necessity of pretrial detentions. Former mayors of Meghri and Sisian, Mkhitar Zakaryan and Artur Sargsyan, were elected to parliament but were not released from custody in a move that opposition figures asserted was not in keeping with their parliamentary immunity. They were released after the Constitutional Court ruled on December 7 that any citizen automatically gains immunity after being elected to the National Assembly and cannot be arrested or detained without the National Assembly’s consent. Kajaran mayor Manvel Paramazyan, who also was arrested in the wake of the June parliamentary elections, was released on bail, while the re-elected mayor of Goris, Arush Arushanyan, remained in custody as of year’s end.

Reports of political pressure on local officials continued through year’s end. For example in December, several Civil Contract members of the Yerevan City Council reportedly were pressured to vote in support of a no-confidence measure to oust Yerevan mayor Hayk Marutyan under threat of losing their government jobs or mandates. A former ally of Prime Minister Pashinyan, Marutyan was voted out on December 22.

There were reports of pressure on opposition candidates prior to and after the municipal elections from October to December in a number of localities, including Goris, Jermuk, Meghri, Tatev, Talin, Tegh, Vanadzor, and Vardenis. For example on December 15, former mayor of Vanadzor and opposition candidate for mayor Mamikon Aslanyan was arrested on charges of abuse of power and fraud stemming from a criminal case launched in September. The arrest came immediately after Vanadzor municipal elections, in which Aslanyan’s bloc received a plurality of votes and was in the process of discussions to form a city council government. Many commentators believed that, due to the timing, the arrest was politically motivated and constituted selective application of the law against the ruling party’s political opponent, even if the case had merits. They also questioned the necessity of pretrial detention in this case. For example, prominent human rights defender Artur Sakunts, head of HCAV, characterized the move as part of “a new KGB-like style, when a dossier [of disparaging information] is being developed on an individual and used [against him] only when necessary for political reasons.”

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Under the amendments to the electoral code approved during the year, women and men must each account for at least 30 percent of candidates in the National Assembly elections, an increase from the previous quota of 25 percent. ODIHR election observers reported that in the June 20 elections, all lists fully complied with the gender requirement, with women accounting for 37 percent of the 2,623 candidates for office. The patriarchal nature of society, however, inhibited large-scale participation by women in political and economic life and in decision-making positions in the public sector. Women held one of 15 cabinet positions, 10 percent of the seats in local legislatures, and approximately 37 percent of seats in the National Assembly – an increase from the approximately 23 percent of the seats they held in the previous National Assembly session. Whereas there was one female deputy speaker and one female faction head in the previous session, there were none in the National Assembly elected in June. There was one female governor in the country’s 10 regions.

Parties rarely featured women candidates in their campaigns (although one female head of a political party ran in the elections); women only occasionally campaigned on their own and rarely appeared as speakers in rallies. Female parliamentarians and other female officials often faced gender-related insults. In its report on the June elections, the ODIHR election mission stated, “Women were notably sidelined in campaign events, rarely participating as speakers.” The report noted that only 24 of 153 observed speakers during rallies were women and that 51 of 73 observed campaign events had no female speakers. There was an observable absence of messages targeting women and national minority groups during the campaigns.

The law provides an additional National Assembly seat for each of the country’s four largest ethnic minorities, the Yezidi, Kurdish, Assyrian, and Russian communities. Four members of parliament represented these constituencies and are chosen by the major political parties and not directly elected.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. Following the 2018 “Velvet Revolution,” the government opened investigations that revealed systemic corruption encompassing most areas of public and private life. The government launched numerous criminal cases against alleged corruption by former high-ranking government officials and their relatives, parliamentarians, the former presidents, and in a few instances, members of the judiciary and their relatives, with cases ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. Many of the cases continued, and additional cases were reported regularly. The government also initiated corruption-related cases against several current government officials and members of the judiciary.

In addition to integrity checks of nominees, the Corruption Prevention Commission exercised its powers to review sitting judges’ asset declarations and to communicate to law enforcement information that may indicate a crime. As a result, three disciplinary, three administrative, and one criminal case had been initiated.

Authorities took measures to strengthen the institutional framework to fight corruption, including establishing the Anticorruption Committee, which served as the primary law enforcement body dealing with corruption. The committee began operations in October and initiated several cases, such as charging former chief of police Vladimir Gasparyan with legalizing criminally obtained property worth more than two billion drams ($4.1 million) and other criminal acts.

Corruption: The country had a legacy of systemic corruption in many areas, including construction, mining, public administration, parliament, the judiciary, procurement practices, and provision of state assistance. There were allegations of embezzlement of state funds and involvement of government officials in questionable business activities.

On September 7, the SIS arrested Aghvan Hovsepyan, the former prosecutor general and former head of the Investigative Committee. According to the SIS, Hovsepyan illegally engaged in entrepreneurial activities while holding public office, engaged in laundering of approximately 1.3 billion drams ($2.6 million), received a bribe in the amount of 190 million drams ($2.1 million), and seized property through fraud valued at 800 million drams ($1.6 million). At year’s end an investigation remained underway and Hovsepyan remained in pretrial detention.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Most domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restrictions, freely investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The government’s prosecution of a Yezidi human rights defender, however, was a significant exception (see section 2.a.). While some government officials cooperated with and were responsive to their views, civil society organizations said that meetings with government officials (both online and in person) were few and the government ignored or did not seek NGO expert views in several important areas, such as freedom of speech and of the press. In other areas, such as reforms to foster an impartial, independent judiciary, the government collected civil society reports and recommendations, but it was unclear to what extent the recommendations were considered. The government did not act to protect civil society organizations from disinformation or threats, including threats to harm individual activists.

During the period preceding the June 20 parliamentary elections, politicians made statements threatening to restrict human rights NGO activities. For example former president Robert Kocharyan, who led the list of the Armenia Alliance, which became the largest opposition group in the National Assembly after the elections, stated that “the activities of ‘Soros offices’ [would] either be banned or severely restricted” if the Armenia Alliance controlled government. Individual human rights activists interpreted such statements by candidates as threats against their persons. In a trend that continued to grow through the year, human rights and other civil society organizations as well as individual human rights advocates engaged in election observation continued to be vilified and threatened, including receiving death threats. The government reportedly did not act to protect them from such threats. Some journalists who promoted democratic reforms also received threats.

The investigation into the November 2020 attacks on the offices of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Open Society Foundation-Armenia continued as of year’s end; the investigation into the November 2020 attack on the HCAV office was dropped after it was determined that damages did not cross a minimum legal threshold. Law enforcement authorities declined to combine the HCAV and Open Society Foundation cases, as HCAV had requested, which would have allowed the case to cross the threshold.

NGO members also continued to report increasing threats to their persons. One human rights activist reported that a photograph of her in the crosshairs of a target was posted in the apartment building where she lived. Intimidation also came from online trolls, media outlets, malign news outlets, and nationalist groups, many of which were affiliated with the former government and, some local experts alleged, Russian actors. Especially targeted were those promoting human rights, women’s and children’s rights, and deeper law enforcement and judicial reforms, particularly the Open Society Foundation.

After human rights activist Sashik Sultanyan gave an interview in which he described the challenges facing the Yezidi community in the country, authorities indicted him on July 29 for allegedly “inciting hatred.” International human rights organizations called Sultanyan’s remarks clear examples of legitimate protected speech and termed the prosecution malicious and a threat to democracy, concerns shared by the ombudsperson. They also noted procedural problems in the case, in particular that investigators refused to provide Sultanyan with information concerning the investigation or the grounds for opening it. One individual, interviewed as a witness in the case, reported that an investigator told him, “Western NGOs must be shut down.”

In a trend that began in 2020, increasing numbers of academics and other opinion leaders, including those advocating human rights, became reluctant to express their opinions in public, particularly online, due to hate campaigns. As a result constructive discourse around human rights and other important matters generally decreased. The government did not employ legislation adopted in 2020 that criminalizes public calls for violence to prosecute calls to harm civil society actors.

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. The office operated with independence and served as an effective advocate on individual cases. The office declined, however, to take on some cases related to LGBTQI+ persons.

In 2019 the government approved the Judicial and Legal Reform Strategy for 2019-2023 and action plan for its implementation that envisage the creation of a fact-finding commission to examine human rights problems. Although legislation to establish the commission was drafted, parliament had not yet adopted it. Human rights groups accused the ruling party of lacking the political will to establish the commission.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense, and conviction carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years; general rape statutes apply to the prosecution of spousal rape. Domestic violence was prosecuted under general statutes dealing with violence and carried various sentences depending on the charge (murder, battery, light battery, rape, etc.). Overall, law enforcement bodies did not effectively investigate or prosecute allegations of domestic violence. Although police responded to domestic violence cases, few were successfully prosecuted. Domestic violence against women was widespread. For example on August 11, a 33-year-old Yerevan resident reportedly went to his former wife’s residence and killed her with a knife. According to media reports, he then turned himself in at the Shengavit Police Department and confessed to the crime. He was arrested on suspicion of murder. According to some officials, the absence of a definition of domestic violence in the criminal code hampered their ability to fight it.

In March 2020 the Ministry of Justice launched a two-year campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence and encourage the public to call police to report signs of domestic violence. The campaign included public service announcements, two social experiments (to see if individuals would react to signs of domestic violence and call for help), posters, and a social media campaign that reached more than 4.2 million viewers.

Narrow definitions in the law against family violence prevented abuse survivors who were not married or in common-law relationships with their partners from receiving protection and support under the law. The new criminal code adopted on May 5 and scheduled to enter into force in July 2022 would introduce the concept of violence by an intimate partner but does not define domestic violence. According to the NGO Coalition to Stop Violence against Women, while the law addresses prevention of domestic violence and protection of victims, there are no provisions on the punishment of abusers. During the year the government continued to support two domestic violence survivor support centers, available to women from throughout the country.

According to the Coalition to Stop Violence against Women, the law’s failure to include lack of consent in definitions of sexual violence crimes left many coerced sexual acts unpunished. There were reports that police, especially outside Yerevan, were reluctant to act in cases of sexual and domestic violence and discouraged women from filing complaints. According to the Sexual Assault Crisis Center NGO, the investigation of sexual violence cases did not differ from the investigation of any other criminal case in terms of secrecy, investigator sensitivity, or number of interrogations, and survivors were obliged to testify or otherwise participate in investigations multiple times, including in face-to-face encounters with their abusers. In reports on standard forensic examinations into alleged rape, the expert reportedly addressed whether the subject was a virgin. Most domestic violence cases were considered by law as offenses of low or medium seriousness, and the government did not hire enough female police officers and investigators for fieldwork to address these crimes appropriately.

According to the Coalition to Stop Violence against Women, gaps in legislation and improper enforcement of the law made it difficult for domestic violence survivors to access services. Police continued to offer warnings to abusers without taking any measures of protecting the survivor. Police may grant emergency protective orders, for up to 20 days, when one member of a family has committed violence against another and there a reasonable belief of imminent risk of repeated violence; individuals must apply to a court for longer-term protective orders. Violations of emergency protective orders and court protective orders are not punishable. While the law provides that emergency orders may be given for up to 20 days, in practice there were cases where restrictive orders were issued for as little as one day. Similarly, the law provides that protective orders should be issued within 10 working days, but often courts took one or two months to issue them.

In December 2020, after a three-year trial, the court sentenced Vladik Martirosyan to 19 years in prison for attacking his former wife, Taguhi Mansuryan, and her parents with an axe in 2016. Mansuryan’s mother died as a result of the attack, while Mansuryan and her father were gravely injured. The Coalition to Stop Violence against Women expressed its hope that, following years of light sentencing of domestic violence perpetrators, the sentence could be a turning point in achieving justice for victims.

As a result of the intensive fall 2020 fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, approximately 100,000 persons were displaced into Armenia, an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 of whom were expected to remain in the country permanently, the majority of them women and girls. The fighting exacerbated the country’s deeply rooted gender inequities. Women and girls directly impacted by the fighting, including women and girls displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh and family members of those who were killed, injured, or missing in the fighting, were among the most vulnerable groups and were at imminent risk of further marginalization, exploitation, and gender-based violence.

Activists and NGOs that assisted victims of domestic violence or promoted gender equality were frequent targets of hate speech and criticized for allegedly breaking up “Armenian traditional families” and spreading “Western values.”

Sexual Harassment: Although the law addresses lewd acts and indecent behavior, it does not cover all the elements of sexual harassment. The law considers “sexual harassment” as a form of gender-based discrimination, including acts of a sexual nature having a verbal or physical manifestation or any situation aimed at humiliating dignity, intimidation, hostility, or degradation. It does not include reference to quid pro quo elements, such as demands that an individual agree to a sexual demand to receive a benefit at work or in another context. The labor code does not have any reference to sexual harassment, and there is no specific law prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace or providing criminal penalties or civil remedies for sexual harassment in the workplace.

Observers believed sexual harassment of women in the workplace and the political arena was widespread and was not adequately addressed by the government. There is no confidential and secure system for submitting complaints on sexual harassment in the workplace, a taboo topic that was not covered in government awareness-raising campaigns or the Gender Equality Strategy and Plan of Actions for 2019-2023.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

In its June submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination of Violence against Women (CEDAW), two NGOs, the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, reported a lack of access to appropriate and safe sexual and reproductive health-care services for women from marginalized groups. The state did not ensure accessibility of health services in remote rural areas, including emergency gynecological care, and did not ensure that health workers received adequate and continuing training on sexual and reproductive health practices with special attention to marginalized groups of women, including lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women; women with HIV; and Yezidi women. According to a different WRC report, during the COVID-19 pandemic and the fall 2020 fighting, women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services worsened, especially for those in vulnerable groups and women with disabilities.

Physical barriers, a lack of accessible information and communication, inaccessible training or treatment equipment, and health-care professionals who lacked relevant knowledge limited the access of women with disabilities – especially those in the rural areas – to health services, including sexual and reproductive health-care services. There were no sign language interpreters in medical institutions, and women therefore had to find a corresponding specialist, which was an expensive service. Persons with hearing and visual disabilities and persons with intellectual disabilities had no access to alternative formats for health-care-related information. Cultural barriers continued to impact access to sexual and reproductive health services. There were no government policies preventing individuals’ ability to be informed and access sexual and reproductive health services.

Emergency healthcare was available to manage any complications resulting from abortion. There were no government programs to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: Men and women enjoy equal legal status in all spheres, but discrimination based on gender was a problem in both the public and private sectors. There were reports of discrimination against women with respect to occupation, employment, and pay. The law does not prohibit discrimination in access to credit based on sex.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: Despite legislative changes banning such practices and related public-awareness campaigns, data on newborns continued to indicate a skewed sex ratio at birth. According to the Statistical Committee of Armenia, the boy-to-girl ratio at birth in 2020 was 110 to 100. Women’s rights groups considered gender-biased sex selection practices as part of a broader problem of gender inequality in the country.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

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. The criminal code prohibits unequal treatment of persons based on the above grounds, including ethnic origin, if such treatment causes damage to human rights and the lawful interests of a person, and views the same act committed by officials as an aggravating circumstance.

Government enforcement of the law was uneven. For example, while authorities investigated more than 100 criminal cases related to alleged violence or harassment by Azerbaijanis against Armenians, the government failed to investigate allegations regarding human rights abuses against Yezidis. Instead, the government charged Yezidi activist Sashik Sultanyan with inciting hatred for comments he made raising human rights concerns regarding the treatment of the Yezidi community (see section 5). Individual Yezidis periodically reported facing discrimination, including in cases involving property disputes. There were isolated reports of societal discrimination against persons of color and graffiti using derogatory terms for them.

Following the border closure between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1991, inflammatory rhetoric and hate speech became increasingly prevalent, particularly as an entire generation grew up without interactions with the other side. Reports of anti-Armenian hate speech in Azerbaijan fueled intolerance and hatred of Azerbaijanis within Armenia.

On December 7, the International Court of Justice issued provisional measures against both Armenia and Azerbaijan regarding claims and counterclaims of violating the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The court ruled that Armenia “shall…take all necessary measures to prevent incitement and promotion of racial hatred, including by organizations and private persons in its territory, targeted at persons of Azerbaijani national or ethnic origin.” The court also ruled that both countries “shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the court or make it more difficult to resolve.” Both countries were also directed to “take all necessary measures to prevent the incitement and promotion of racial hatred and discrimination” against the other (also see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Azerbaijan).

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 births were registered in Yezidi and Kurdish communities practicing homebirths.

Education: Although education is free and compulsory through grade 12, in practice it was not universal: participation, completion, and dropout rates of students varied based their socioeconomic status and place of residence. These inequalities were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and an influx of populations displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh into the country. Schools in host communities struggled to handle children displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh, many of whom transferred between multiple schools during the year.

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. Only a few schools throughout the country offered Yezidi, Assyrian, Kurdish, or Greek language classes at the primary and secondary level. These classes were not part of the formal academic curriculum and were not regulated. Yezidi parents continued to complain that the classes did not adhere to any standards and were largely ineffective.

According to a 2019 NGO report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, most Yezidi children grew up speaking their native tongue and had little or no command of Armenian upon entering schools. The absence of preschool educational services in most Yezidi villages created problems for Yezidi children, who struggled in school and fell behind their Armenian-speaking classmates.

As of May 31, UNHCR reported that 34,168 persons recently displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh were living in the country in a refugee-like situation. In July the local Institute of Public Policy presented a report assessing the education and protection needs of displaced children, who made up almost 40 percent of the displaced population. According to the report, the arrival of displaced children presented a variety of problems, including inadequate assessment of children’s educational needs, unclear data on children no longer in school, as well as children who had long-term gaps in their education. According to the report, multiple moves accompanied by school transfers exacerbated the stress and anxiety suffered by displaced children and hindered their inclusion in the education system.

The report noted that the attitude of teachers and local children and their parents, which included both negative and extremely positive stereotypes, differentiated displaced children and hindered their integration into the school environment. Neither host communities nor schools conducted effective, coordinated efforts to help displaced children adapt to their new environment. Children with special educational needs encountered more serious difficulties during the adaptation process. According to the report, as of July the problem of adapting to the new environment was largely left to members of the displaced community themselves without systematic professional support by authorities in the areas of education and psychological counseling.

Child Abuse: The Law on Child’s Rights prohibits abuse, and the criminal code prescribes punishments for such abuse.

The burden of stress caused by the 2020 fighting and the COVID-19 pandemic increased the risk of violence against children, especially emotional abuse and neglect, as well as sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. State-run services had limited capacity and resources for protection and improvement of mental health and psychosocial well-being of children and their caregivers.

According to observers the government prioritized combatting violence against children and took steps to address it, although violence against children continued to be reported and gaps in both legislation and practice remained. In February for example, media outlets reported the case of an 18-month-old toddler who died of injuries as a result of continued beatings by his stepfather, mother, and grandmother.

The government’s National Strategy for Human Rights Protection for 2020-22 and action plan included actions to prevent family-based violence against children, including penalization of family-based violence, establishment of support centers for victims of family-based violence, and an explicit prohibition of corporal punishment. Actions during the year included the training of 125 military officers on human rights, and the training of 149 police officers on issues related to domestic violence and violence against women. The Minister of Labor and Social Affairs ordered social-psychological care for individuals who had been flagged in cases related to violence against elderly persons with disabilities. Awareness-raising activities were conducted on a range of issues, such as promoting awareness of the rights of persons with mental health problems through new posters in all of the country’s psychiatric institutions. A commission was established to identify problems and help further develop the Joint Social Service System, launched in September 2020, to include integrated social services to vulnerable families. In accordance with the action plan, a variety of legal amendments were drafted during the year on issues ranging from ensuring children’s rights to labor rights.

According to observers, psychological and physical violence were widely used to discipline both boys and girls, and there was a lack of state supported positive parenting programs. Indirect data showed that peer-to-peer violence was common in schools, with no mechanisms in place to address it. Gender inequality and stereotyping also contributed to violence against both girls and boys and created barriers to access to justice for victims. Complex regulations on referrals and reporting within the child protection system, together with an unclear division of duties and responsibilities within the system, resulted in ineffective responses to violence against children. Legislation to implement the 2017 law on prevention of family violence had not been adopted by year’s end.

According to observers, two-thirds of the sexual crimes in the country were against minors. In 2020 the Investigative Committee examined 328 crimes against children, almost a quarter of which involved sexual violence. Observers believed the incidence of sexual violence was higher, since the strong stigma around such violence discouraged reporting by victims and their families.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, although an individual may marry at 17 with the consent of the legal guardian or at 16 with the consent of a legal guardian, provided the marriage partner is at least 18. Early marriage of girls was reportedly widespread within Yezidi communities. Reports indicated some girls left school either as a consequence of early marriage or to avoid abduction and forced marriage. The government did not record the number of early marriages. According to the Eurasia Partnership Foundation’s 2020 report Issues Related to the Rights and Opportunities of Yezidi Girls Residing in Armenia, the government did not have procedures for identifying forced marriages or awareness or prevention programs related to early marriage. According to the government, it launched awareness-raising programs.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children and provides for prison sentences of seven to 15 years for conviction of violations. Conviction for child pornography is punishable by imprisonment for up to seven years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. In June 2020 the government established a referral mechanism for child victims of trafficking and exploitation.

According to NGOs, 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 legislation, training, awareness raising, detection, and reporting.

Institutionalized Children: On August 4, the Ombudsperson’s Office reported on problems it observed during a July 27 visit to the Mari Izmirlyan orphanage for children with disabilities. According to the office, the students’ care, as well as their leisure and living conditions, violated the dignity of children. Among other problems, the office reported overcrowded conditions that interfered with children’s eating, sleeping, and leisure and led to tension and arguments between residents. The office also found problems with the children’s education. At the time of the visit, 47 of the institution’s students were officially attending general and special educational institutions, while 38 were receiving home schooling inside the orphanage. Private conversations with the children revealed that some of those enrolled in public schools were afraid of stigma and discrimination and did not attend classes, while home schooling was nominal. There was a lack of nurses and staff to care for the residents.

In his annual 2020 report, the ombudsperson also raised the problem of children with disabilities who remained in orphanages after turning 18 because they had not acquired the skills for independent living. Government programs to address the problem, e.g., provision of apartments to graduates from orphanages, were piecemeal and did not offer systemic solutions.

The government continued to prioritize deinstitutionalization of childcare and increasing family-based care. In April 2020 the government approved the Comprehensive Program on Implementation of the Right of the Child to Live in a Family and of the Right to Harmonious Development with a corresponding action plan to implement the program for 2020-2023. Its implementation was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the 2020 fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Some of population displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh resided in state-run institutions.

The number of children with disabilities in residential and educational institutions remained high, and children with disabilities continued to be less able to access community-based and family-type care options. Nonresidential services for children with disabilities and expansion and accessibility for children and families remained a government priority.

Awareness raising and capacity building for emergency foster care was conducted in Gegharkunik, Syunik, and Vayots Dzor regions. Authorities earmarked funds for approximately 100 children in foster families during the year.

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

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population at between 500 and 1,000 persons. Prior to fall 2020 fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, no anti-Semitic acts had been reported, although some anti-Semitic comments appeared in social media, denigrating government representatives and activists. The government did not condemn such anti-Semitic comments.

The fall 2020 fighting contributed to a rise in anti-Semitism, including the number of anti-Semitic social media posts, according to members of the Jewish community and other observers, who largely attributed the trend to Azerbaijan’s use of Israeli-origin weapons during the fighting. As of September some members of the Jewish community continued to report anti-Semitic comments directed at them, often on public transport.

On February 12, the Hebrew and Armenian sides of Yerevan’s Holocaust and Genocide Memorial were defaced for the third time in five months. In contrast to similar incidents in 2020, government officials quickly criticized the act, restored the monument, and arrested the suspected vandal. According to the prosecutor’s office, the case was dropped on March 31 since the perpetrator was a first-time offender who voluntarily surrendered to police, cooperated with the investigation, and showed remorse.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. On May 5, parliament adopted a law on the rights of persons with disabilities that expands the definition of disability and takes a rights-based approach. According to Human Rights Watch, the law provides for “accessibility, independent living, access to justice, and reasonable accommodation…and bans disability-based discrimination and treats refusal to provide reasonable accommodation as discrimination. The law also allows NGOs to file antidiscrimination lawsuits on behalf of persons with disabilities who, due to their health or other circumstances, cannot represent themselves in person before a court.” Discrimination against persons with disabilities remained a widespread problem, however.

The law and a special government decree require both new buildings and those that are renovated, 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. Hospitals, residential care, and other facilities for persons with more significant disabilities remained substandard.

The members of the Coalition for Inclusive Legal Reforms expressed concern on the slow pace of government efforts to deinstitutionalize persons with disabilities and the government’s focusing its resources on renovating buildings for institutions for children and persons with mental health disabilities instead of working to ensure that older persons and persons with disabilities were able to live independently in their communities.

On July 26, the ombudsperson issued a statement expressing grave concern regarding the involuntary treatment of patients in psychiatric hospitals. According to the statement, in all cases monitored by the Ombudsperson’s Office, there were no legal grounds for initiating involuntary treatment in any of the medical histories of the individuals subjected to treatment. Instead of properly securing informed consent for hospitalization or treatment, the hospital submitted standard applications to the court without proper justification for hospitalization in each case. Of particular concern, over time a group of patients who had initially been treated “voluntarily” under unexplained circumstances had all been designated “extremely dangerous to their surroundings,” although there were no records to substantiate this finding in their files. According to the ombudsperson, judges did not question submissions for involuntary hospitalization and based their rulings on submissions without substantiating facts. Judges appeared to issue nearly identical decisions for different individuals, suggesting the rulings were formulaic.

On August 5, in a separate statement, the ombudsperson condemned court delays in ruling on ending involuntary treatment of patients in psychiatric hospitals, calling the delays artificial. He noted that as a result of delays, persons were deprived of their liberty for days in a hospital as they awaited court action.

Although the law on general education provides for a transition from general education to inclusive education for children with disabilities by 2025, authorities continued to follow practices that were fragmented and discriminatory and did not lead to an extensive and sustainable shift in the education system or social norms. Many NGOs continued to report that mainstream schools were not physically accessible for children with disabilities, lacked accessible learning materials, and made limited effort to provide reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities. Children with hearing and visual disabilities continued to be educated in separate institutions, while public schools lacked Braille textbooks, other necessary technical equipment, and relevant specialists. Higher postgraduate and professional education continued to be inaccessible for students with disabilities.

Persons with all types of disabilities continued to experience 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.

The Coalition for Inclusive Legal Reforms NGO documented cases in which the privacy rights of persons with disabilities were violated. In some such cases, the health information of individuals with disabilities was leaked, which was then used by opponents to publicly ridicule them. Information on the health conditions of public figures was periodically used by various public groups to attempt to demean their dignity and tarnish their business reputations, according to the coalition. The NGO assessed that this atmosphere discouraged the participation of persons with disabilities in public life.

Inaccessible public buildings often served as polling stations during elections, preventing persons with disabilities from voting. According to the OSCE/ODIHR observation mission to the June 20 parliamentary elections, approximately 67 percent of polling stations were not accessible for persons with physical disabilities and in 32 percent, the layout was not suitable for such voters.

According to the constitution persons who have been declared by the court as having no active legal capacity do not have the right to vote or be elected. In December 2020 parliament amended the law on political parties to provide that all persons older than 18 have the right to become members of political parties, lifting the restriction on standing for election.

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. Such discrimination was especially noticeable when HIV-positive persons sought medical care. Women with HIV/AIDS reported discriminatory treatment by health personnel.

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

There were isolated reports that government agents perpetrated violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. On March 13, conscript H. A. applied to the NGO New Generation for assistance, stating his fellow servicemen began harassing him after learning of his sexual orientation. He was subsequently moved to another military unit, where another conflict arose due to his orientation. He alleged that after learning of his sexual orientation, acting chief of regional military police G. L. insulted him, then loaded his pistol and shot twice at the left and right sides of his feet. G. L. then aimed the loaded pistol at H. A.’s forehead, threatening to kill him, and hit H. A. with the handle of the pistol, fracturing his nose and teeth. Later that day, H. A. was moved to the Stepanakert military police department where G. L. and several other officials allegedly beat him with wooden clubs causing bodily injuries. H. A. was left in a cell for several days. He reported the abuse only after he was moved to another military unit. Authorities opened a criminal case which was ongoing by the end of the year.

Human rights organizations reported an overall increase in the number of societal attacks based on sexual orientation and gender identity during the year. In most cases there was no official action to investigate or punish the perpetrators. The NGO Pink Armenia documented 28 cases of human rights violations from January 2020 to August, including 12 incidents of domestic violence. The victims reported the cases to police in only seven cases, three of which were dismissed. LGBTQI+ individuals were reluctant to report cases to law enforcement due to lack of trust that they would be properly examined and investigated and that the offenders would be punished. In July for example, New Generation reported that a college student from the LGBTQI+ community had been beaten by his classmates. The physical abuse was preceded by repeated insults related to his sexual orientation or gender identity. The victim reported the assault to police, but authorities did not open a criminal case.

Cases of violence against transgender women continued during the year. On June 15, New Generation reported that a transgender woman walking with friends in Yerevan was subjected to insults by a group of persons due to their perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. The verbal attacks were followed by a physical assault, with the assailants kicking and dragging the victims. The victims declined to report the assault to police. The NGO Right Side reported that on September 4, at approximately 3:30 a.m. in Yerevan, an unknown person approached transgender woman G. K. and her friend, also a transgender woman, in front of the municipal government office and threatened that if G. K. did not have sex with him, he would beat and stab her. G. K. asked him to leave them alone, but the assailant forced her to go with him. Seeing no alternative, G. K. asked her friend to immediately seek assistance from law enforcement, after which the perpetrator stabbed her on the leg and shoulder. G. K. managed to escape and went to the Arabkir police station to report the assault. According to G. K., police subjected her to ridicule but did nothing to find the perpetrator.

On February 3, a trial court Yerevan issued a verdict in a 2018 case in which an assailant attacked and set fire to the apartment of a transgender sex worker after learning her identity. The court sentenced the assailant under expedited proceedings, despite the victim’s objection, as such proceedings entail lesser sentences, to three and one-half years in prison on charges of inflicting grave bodily injury. The victim believed this punishment did not fit the crime. Subsequently, the court applied a 2018 amnesty provision that released the assailant from serving any time.

According to Pink Armenia, in February the investigation body in the Syunik region closed the case and dropped charges against residents of Shurnukh village who attacked LGBTQI+ activists in 2018, due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. In August 2020 the criminal court of appeals ruled that investigators had not carried out a proper investigation of the attack and had not taken into consideration the psychological suffering of the victims and discriminatory nature of the crime, ordering that the case be reopened.

Law enforcement bodies declined to prosecute a number of cases in which perpetrators called for violence and attempted to “justify” violence against LGBTQI+ persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Antidiscrimination laws do not extend protections to LGBTQI + persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. There are no hate crime laws or other criminal judicial mechanisms to aid in the prosecution of crimes against members of the LGBTQI+ community. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity negatively affected all aspects of life, including prospects for employment, housing, family relations, and access to education and health care. Calls for violence against LGBTQI + individuals escalated after the fighting in fall 2020 and in advance of the June parliamentary elections. Transgender persons were especially vulnerable to physical and psychological abuse and harassment.

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 by fellow soldiers and the command.

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 noncivilian 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 days’ 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 due to union membership. The list of justifiable grounds for firing a worker, enumerated in the labor code, does not include union activity.

On July 1, amendments to the labor code came into effect that revived the state oversight function of the Health and Labor Inspection Body (HLIB) over the full scope of labor legislation. These changes, as well as amendments to HLIB bylaws, allowed the HLIB to act upon labor law violations based on written complaints. The HLIB is required to provide prior notification to employers when conducting an inspection. To implement its new functions, the HLIB added 60 inspectors to its staff list, bringing the total number of labor inspectors to 92, of whom 50 had been hired by the end of the year.

The government did not effectively protect freedom of association and relevant laws were insufficient, although penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other denials of civil rights. Labor organizations remained weak because of employer resistance, high unemployment, and poor economic conditions. Experts reported that the right to strike, although provided in the constitution, was difficult to realize due to mediation and voting requirements.

On August 20, the government issued new regulations requiring workers either to present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate or to submit the results of a PCR test every 14 days starting from October 1, and every week starting from December 1. The regulations apply to all government workers and a long list of private-sector businesses. Pregnant women and those who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons are exempted. Applicable employers were responsible for collection of employees’ vaccination and test records. The Confederation of Trade Unions of Armenia and Republican Union of Employers of Armenia stated that the cost of biweekly COVID-19 tests, approximately 15,000 drams ($30) per month, was a serious burden for workers. It noted the new regulations were not discussed with the Tripartite Commission, as required by the Tripartite Agreement signed in October 2020. According to other observers, the new regulation was in violation of the labor code, which mandates employers pay for any mandatory work-related medical examinations. On December 10, parliament approved legal amendments that would allow employers to dismiss their employees for failure to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or take a coronavirus test once every seven days. On December 23, the Constitutional Court ruled the formulation in the government decisions stating that the employees must pay for testing was unconstitutional but did not reject the requirement for testing. According to the government, the court’s decision did not create an obligation for the state or the employer to pay for an employee’s COVID-19 test, and unvaccinated workers would continue to have to submit weekly test results.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced and compulsory labor, although it does not define forced labor. The HLIB can detect instances of forced labor and issue fines, but law enforcement agencies are responsible for enforcing forced labor laws. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Prosecutions were not proactive and heavily relied on victim self-identification. In December the first labor-trafficking conviction occurred since 2014. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to identify forced labor cases. Penalties for labor-trafficking violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes but were seldom applied.

In December, a 63-year-old woman received a seven-year sentence for labor trafficking (subjecting a minor to forced begging). The sentence was changed to a two-year conditional sentence due to the perpetrator’s serious health problems, her guilty plea, and her cooperation with authorities. Several investigations into additional forced labor cases were underway at year’s end. In one of the most egregious cases, in December 2020 the Investigative Committee reported a case of labor exploitation in Vardenis Neuropsychological Retirement Home. According to the Investigative Committee, a retirement home staffer had exploited a 70-year-old resident with cognitive problems to work as a salesperson in a grocery shop opened by the official at the retirement home. The victim had worked there unpaid five days a week for seven and one-half hours each day without breaks for 16 years. As of the end of the year, the trial continued in Martuni.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. In most cases the minimum age for employment is 16, but children may work from age 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 laws. Despite HLIB outreach in 2020 to educate supermarket chains regarding child labor regulations, on December 25, Hetq media reported on its investigation of large Yerevan supermarket chains Evrika, Yerevan City, Nor Zov, and SAS, which found stores that did not follow labor code requirements for minors, including minors ages 14 to 17 working in excess of 40 hours per week. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes but did not compel compliance. The absence of unannounced inspections impeded the enforcement of child labor laws, although the HLIB conducted announced inspections related to the protection of the labor rights of minors.

Children younger than 14 worked in a variety of areas, including agriculture, construction, and begging. Children living in rural areas were more vulnerable to forced labor in the agricultural sector. In addition, while the government made an effort to reduce institutionalization of children with disabilities, those living in institutions were more vulnerable to being exploited for labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and the labor code prohibit 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 applicable laws, and there were no effective legal mechanisms to implement applicable regulations. 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 statistics on the scale of such discrimination. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for violations of similar laws involving the denial of civil rights.

Women generally did not have the same professional opportunities or wages as men, and employers often relegated them to more menial or lower-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. The International Monetary Fund cited the gender pay gap in the country as being strikingly large. A study by Marjan Petreski and the Statistical Committee of Armenia published by UN Women in 2020 estimated the residual gender pay gap (after adjustments for hours worked and personal and job characteristics) at approximately 10 percent, a number that reflected labor-market discrimination and unobservable factors. The top 1 percent of earners additionally faced a gender pay gap of approximately 19 percent. According to a 2019 Asian Development Bank report, the labor force participation rate was lower for women than men, and women were more likely to work in part-time positions. The report also stated that occupational stereotypes limited women’s choices, and more than 60 percent of women worked in just three sectors: agriculture, education, and health. Women were underrepresented in management positions, and only one in five small or medium-sized enterprises had a female owner.

Many employers reportedly practiced 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 the problem. While there was little awareness of and no comprehensive reporting to indicate the scale of sexual harassment in the workplace, media reports suggested such abuse was common. 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. LGBTQI+ persons, persons with disabilities, and pregnant women also faced employment discrimination. Religious minorities reportedly also faced discrimination in public employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The 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 HLIB was responsible for the enforcement of wage and work hour laws. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance, according to International Labor Organization recommendations. The inspectors could initiate sanctions but could not make unannounced inspections. Authorities did not effectively enforce labor standards in either the formal or informal sectors. Penalties for violations of wage and hour laws were commensurate with those for other similar crimes, but still less costly for employers than abiding by the law in some cases. The newness of labor inspections, together with the lack of independent trade unions, continued to leave workers’ rights largely unprotected. Nonetheless, according to the HLIB, the fact that many of the labor-related complaints were resolved by employers without waiting for the HLIB’s ruling attested to some improvement in the area as well as to the HLIB’s existence serving as deterrent against violations. While administrative courts have a mandate to rule on labor-related cases within three months, few employees applied to the courts to reinstate their rights due to legal costs, the complexity of the application process, and distrust of the judiciary. It was unclear if the overloaded courts were able to meet the legally required three-month window for resolving those labor disputes that were submitted to them.

According to an interview with the head of the HLIB broadcast in July, the majority of complaints conveyed to the agency referred to nonpayment of wages and failure to pay wages within the timeframe required under the law.

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.

On June 22, Hetq’s Mediafactory project published an article on the neglected rights of waiters, based on interviews with 30 current and former waiters. The article revealed recurring labor abuses, including long hours without overtime or proper breaks, a system of financial fines for any perceived or actual violation of rules, absence of signed contracts or unavailability of the copy of the contract, no provisions for vacation or paid vacation, and minimal pay or no pay, with income from tips at times unfairly distributed among waiters in an establishment. On December 25, Hetq published the results of a Mediafactory investigation into large Yerevan supermarket chains, in which reporters took jobs at stores run by the Evrika, Yerevan City, Nor Zovk, and SAS chains. They found numerous labor violations, including a lack of written contracts or the inability of workers to read or have a copy of the contract; a lack of required work breaks; fines on workers for perceived faults such as talking to other workers, being late, not wearing makeup, sitting down, or customers’ discovery of expired products; and failure to pay overtime or holiday pay.

The OSCE/ODIHR observation mission to the June parliamentary elections as well as local monitors noted incidents of pressure by political actors and employers on both private-sector and public employees to attend campaign events. Some of the country’s major employers, such as Gazprom Armenia, Electric Networks of Armenia, and Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine, were implicated, as well as a number of municipal governments and subordinate structures. According to several civil society representatives, some employers threatened to dismiss employees for noncompliance. On June 18, the SIS arrested Armen Charchyan, director of the Izmirlian medical center and a candidate from the opposition Armenia Alliance, on charges of obstructing the exercise of a voter’s free will, after a recording was leaked in which Charchyan pushed his employees to participate in the elections with the alleged implication that they should vote for the Armenia Alliance.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government established occupational and health standards by decree, although safety and health conditions remained substandard in numerous sectors. For example, in the agricultural sector heat and the use of pesticides are unaddressed. In 2020 the government reported 24 workplace accidents that had resulted in injuries and three that resulted in deaths. As of October the HLIB reported six deaths in the mining and manufacturing sectors as well as in the electric industry. The Investigative Committee reported that it had launched 18 criminal cases in the construction, energy, mining, and service industries as of October, of which two were dropped due to the lack of a crime, and seven because the perpetrator could not have known his or her actions were dangerous. Given high unemployment in the country, workers generally did not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety and were unlikely to report violations of their rights.

During the year the HLIB, which has authority over occupational safety and health laws, continued to conduct preplanned inspections for sanitary-epidemiological safety, health care and services, and pharmaceuticals as well as for worker occupational safety and health. The HLIB also conducted inspections in the mining sector, which it assessed as high risk for violations.

The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws, although penalties were commensurate to those for similar crimes.

In June 2020 the Ombudsperson’s Office released a brief on the nature of labor violation complaints it received in 2019. Reported problems included employers failing to pay what they owed to terminated employees, unjustified dismissals from work, violations of disciplinary action procedures vis-a-vis employees, retaining unjustified amounts of money from the workers’ salaries, and transferring workers to other jobs without their consent. The Ombudsperson’s Office also identified widespread and systemic violations, such as an absence of signed contracts, forcing employers to submit resignation letters, and failure to pay for overtime work. The NGO Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor, in a report released in June 2020, noted similar problems based on its monitoring of the labor rights situation in 2019.

Informal Sector: 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. A 2019 World Bank report found that approximately 13 percent of the country’s wage employees did not have a written contract and did not have access to any form of benefits related to paid leave, childcare, or sick leave. Informal-sector workers were covered by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws; however, they were not covered by inspections. The agricultural orientation of the country’s economy tended to drive informal employment.

According to official statistics, the government’s anticorruption efforts and active efforts by tax authorities led to a notable increase in the number of officially registered employees in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted the problem of informal employment. While the government offered benefits to registered workers or those who had lost their work due to pandemic, unregistered or self-employed workers received much lower benefits. The government admitted there was a problem identifying informal employees and the self-employed due to the absence of a universal income declaration system and ultimately decided to provide assistance to families based on indicators such as the presence of underage children or situations where both parents did not have formal employment before the pandemic. Some of those who lost their livelihoods, however, were not captured by any of the additional assistance programs.

Australia

Executive Summary

Australia is a constitutional democracy with a freely elected federal parliamentary government. In a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May 2019, the Liberal Party and National Party coalition was re-elected with a majority of 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives. The House subsequently reconfirmed Scott Morrison as prime minister.

The Australian Federal Police (federal police), an independent agency of the Department of Home Affairs, and state and territorial police forces are responsible for internal security. The federal police enforce national laws, and state and territorial police forces enforce state and territorial laws. The Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force are responsible for migration and border enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government had effective mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who commit human rights abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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.

In December 2020 the government appointed a special investigator to investigate Australian Defense Force personnel allegedly involved in 39 killings in Afghanistan from 2009-13 and recommend prosecutions. In July the government also announced a reform program to address responsibility for past failures and make cultural and systemic changes to prevent future departures from required standards. These actions followed a November 2020 recommendation by the inspector general of the Australian Defence Force that federal police investigate 19 soldiers over their alleged role in the murder of 39 prisoners and civilians and the cruel treatment of two others. The inspector general’s inquiry found credible information that junior special forces soldiers were goaded by more senior enlisted unit members into mistreating or killing prisoners and noncombatants, planting weapons and equipment on battlefield casualties to create justification for questionable engagements, and other possible crimes.

In August 2019, a Western Australia police officer pleaded not guilty to murder in the shooting of a 29-year-old indigenous woman. On October 23, the officer was acquitted of murder. After the death, the town was the first in the area to introduce a program in which police responded to similar calls with an indigenous cultural liaison officer and a mental health professional.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions. There were occasional claims police and prison officials mistreated suspects in custody.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: The most recent data from the Australian Institute of Criminology reported 89 prison deaths in 2018-19. In the year to November, four indigenous prisoners died (one by suicide, three of undetermined causes) in prisons. Although media attention and public debate focused on indigenous deaths in prison, a December 2020 report by the Institute of Criminology stated that overall, indigenous persons in custody did not die at a greater rate than nonindigenous individuals.

Administration: Authorities investigated allegations of inhuman conditions and documented the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner. The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. There were no reports of intimidation by authorities. Some domestic and international human rights groups expressed concerns about conditions at domestic immigration detention centers (see section 2.f.).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police officers may seek an arrest warrant from a magistrate when a suspect cannot be located or fails to appear, but they also may arrest a person without a warrant if there are reasonable grounds to believe the person committed an offense. Police must inform arrested persons immediately of their legal rights and the grounds for their arrest and must bring arrested persons before a magistrate for a bail hearing at the next session of the court. The maximum investigation period police may hold and question a person without charge is 24 hours, unless extended by court order for up to an additional 24 hours or as noted below.

Under limited circumstances in terrorism cases, some federal and state or territorial laws permit police to hold individuals in preventive detention without charge or questioning for up to 14 days. These laws contain procedural safeguards including regarding access to information related to lawyer-client communication.

By law the Office of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor helps ensure that counterterrorism laws strike an appropriate balance between protecting the community and protecting human rights. The federal police, the Australian Crime Commission, and intelligence agencies are subject to parliamentary oversight. The inspector general of intelligence and security is an independent statutory officer who provides oversight of the country’s six national intelligence agencies.

Bail generally is available to persons facing criminal charges unless authorities consider the person a flight risk or the charges carry a penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment or more. Authorities granted attorneys and families prompt access to detainees. Government-provided attorneys are available to provide legal advice to and represent detainees who cannot afford counsel.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law allows courts to detain convicted terrorists beyond the expiration of their sentence by up to an additional three years for preventive purposes where there is no less restrictive measure available to prevent the risk posed by the offender to the community. Various human rights organizations criticized this law as allowing the government to detain prisoners arbitrarily. In the first half of the year, the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor began a review of the compatibility of these “continuing detention orders” with the country’s human rights obligations. In February the constitutional court rejected a challenge to the orders’ constitutionality.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and timely public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. In state district and county courts and in state and territorial supreme courts, a judge and jury try serious offenses. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, the right to an attorney, to be present at their trial, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Government-funded attorneys are available to low-income persons. The defendant’s attorney can question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence, and appeal the court’s decision or the sentence imposed.

The Independent National Security Legislation Monitor opened an inquiry into the effect of national security secrecy provisions on the justice system in March. The inquiry considered the secrecy provisions invoked during the 2019 sentencing of a man known as both “Witness J” and Alan Johns, sentenced in secret for crimes not made public. According to media reports Witness J was a former intelligence official convicted of mishandling classified information. The inquiry considered whether the secrecy provisions of the National Security Information Act are proportionate to the national security threat. In public submissions, human rights groups expressed alarm at “secret trials” and called for reform of the Act, while intelligence agencies maintained the law was necessary.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and individuals or organizations may seek civil judicial remedies for human rights violations. There is also an administrative process at the state and federal levels for seeking redress for alleged wrongs by government departments or agents. Administrative tribunals may review a government decision only if the decision is in a category specified under a law, regulation, or other legislative instrument as subject to a tribunal’s review.

Property Seizure and Restitution

Laws and mechanisms are in place for the resolution of Holocaust-era restitution claims, including by foreign citizens. The country is a signatory of the Terezin Declaration. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were not aware of any recent restitution cases. The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Police have authority to enter premises without a warrant in emergency circumstances.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

Although the constitution does not explicitly provide for freedom of speech or press and other media, the High Court has held that the constitution implies a limited right to freedom of political expression, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for media.

National Security: In May a Senate Inquiry into Press Freedom released a report that tabled 17 recommendations, including on improving the freedom of information laws and amending the criminal code to reverse the onus on journalists to prove their stories are in the public interest. This followed the 2019 federal police raid on the home of a News Corp reporter seeking information about the publication of classified material, and a subsequent raid on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation headquarters over reporting of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan that sparked a national discussion on press freedom. A coalition of media organizations led the debate and calling for more legal protections for journalists and whistleblowers.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but human rights groups reported that recent legal developments – including the Online Safety Act, laws increasing surveillance, and judicial decisions expanding defamation standards threatened freedom of expression online. The internet was widely available to and used by citizens. There was less access to internet in rural and remote areas, however, particularly those with high Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Law enforcement agencies require a warrant to intercept telecommunications, including internet communications. The International Civil Liberties and Technology Coalition, an NGO, however, raised concerns about amendments to telecommunications law that allow the government to access encrypted information from non-Australian companies.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are not codified in federal law, the government generally respected these rights.

In July and August, thousands of protesters attended “Freedom Rally” demonstrations against stay-at-home orders and other public health measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following a July 24 protest in Sydney, New South Wales, police reportedly issued hundreds of fines and charged dozens of protesters for violating public health orders. Some police officers were reportedly injured when protesters then began throwing objects; two men were arrested and charged after allegedly striking a police horse. In August a man was sentenced to eight months jail for his role in organizing antilockdown protests in Sydney.

Victoria police fired pepper-ball rounds during an August 21 protest in Melbourne and arrested more than 200 protesters during what the Victoria police commissioner called one of the most violent protests in 20 years. According to media reports, at least nine officers were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. Public health orders enacted to control the spread of COVID-19, including internal and external border control measures, quarantine requirements, and lockdowns restricted movement.

In-country Movement: Most state and territory governments enacted interstate border control measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, either temporarily prohibiting movement or enforcing a mandatory 14-day quarantine period on arrival. Several jurisdictions at times prevented citizens from returning to their homes after travelling interstate when a COVID outbreak occurred. Most state and territory governments at times imposed strict lockdown measures to control the spread of COVID-19, requiring residents to stay at home unless commuting for a designated purpose, such as to purchase groceries or for essential work. Some governments temporarily restricted residents’ movements to a three-mile radius, imposed nighttime curfews, and required work permits for those undertaking essential work. Penalties for breaching stay-at-home orders included substantial fines. In August a man was jailed for two months for leaving Sydney in contravention of public health measures.

Some human rights groups expressed concerns about several public health measures imposed by subnational governments. On November 2, 2020, in the case of Loielo v Giles, the Supreme Court of Victoria ruled that a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew imposed in Victoria in August-September 2020 was lawful, ruling it proportionate to the public health threat and consistent with the state’s Charter of Human Rights.

Foreign Travel: In June a federal court rejected a legal challenge to the pandemic-related requirement for citizens to obtain an exemption from the Department of Home Affairs to leave the country. Citizens and permanent residents must provide evidence that travel supports a permitted purpose such as business, urgent medical treatment not available in the country, or the national interest. Human rights groups criticized pandemic-related health measures sharply reducing inbound international travel, claiming they effectively deprived citizens of the right to enter the country. In April two citizens brought a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee accusing the government of breaching Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a view echoed by some human rights groups. In May the government implemented a two-week ban on entry by individuals, including citizens, who had recently been in India due to concerns about the COVID-19 situation there. Failure to comply carried a penalty of five years’ imprisonment. Human rights groups and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized these restrictions.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. UNHCR noted, however, that it continued to work with the government to overcome the organization’s concerns, including access to durable solutions. In a 2019 submission to a Senate committee, UNHCR detailed challenges such as prolonged detention of migrants and access to asylum and statelessness determination procedures.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees and other humanitarian entrants for resettlement in the country. The Department of Home Affairs oversees refugee resettlement via the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, which distinguishes between “offshore” and “onshore” individuals. Individuals residing offshore – outside the country – can apply for a humanitarian visa if they are subject to persecution in their home country; meet the “compelling reasons” criterion; and satisfy health, character, and national security requirements. Individuals who arrived in the country legally and later seek protection can apply for a Permanent Protection visa. Persons who seek to enter the country without proper authorization are classified as illegal migrants and subject to detention in the country or, for unauthorized maritime arrivals, in a third country for offshore processing. Individuals who arrived illegally may be permitted to apply for a Temporary Protection visa or a Safe Haven Enterprise visa at the discretion and invitation of the responsible government minister but are precluded from applying for a Permanent Protection visa and it was generally very difficult for them to legalize their status.

UNHCR identifies and refers some applicants who are residing offshore to the government (usually the Department of Home Affairs) to be considered under the offshore component of the humanitarian program. While the Migration Act contains family reunification provisions, such requests from irregular migrants are given lowest priority.

The law allows the home affairs minister to designate and enter into an agreement with a third country as a regional processing country for migrants who attempt to enter the country illegally through maritime arrivals. By law any unauthorized maritime arrival entering the country’s waters is liable for transfer to a designated regional processing country for processing and resettlement.

Memoranda of understanding for refugee processing were signed with Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Centers were established in those countries; however, they were closed in October 2017 and March 2019, respectively. The settlement arrangements provide for third-country resettlement of unauthorized maritime arrivals that Nauru or Papua New Guinea assess as needing international protection. The assessments are conducted by the regional processing country under its domestic laws. On October 6, Australia and Papua New Guinea announced the refugee processing agreement between the two countries will end on December 31, and the remining refugees will be offered a permanent migration pathway if they wish to stay in Papua New Guinea. A memorandum of understanding for the resettlement of Nauru-determined refugees in Cambodia existed from 2014-18.

As of August 25, approximately 107 refugees or asylum seekers remained in Nauru, housed in community-based facilities funded by the Australian Government; another 125 remained in similar facilities in Papua New Guinea. Since 2019 all persons transferred to these countries reside in community-based accommodation pending third-country migration outcomes.

A detention facility on Christmas Island, an Australian territory, was reopened in 2020 to accommodate overflow in the country’s immigration detention network. As of August 29, the facility held approximately 250 persons, mostly individuals whose visas were cancelled for character reasons (i.e., persons who served 12 months or more in jail and were pending removal from the country). There were media reports asylum seekers were moved to the facility as early as 2019.

By law the government must facilitate legal representation to all persons in immigration detention in the country when requested. Some government-funded legal assistance remained available for visa applications for unauthorized maritime arrivals.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Domestic and international organizations reported deteriorating mental health among migrants brought from Nauru and Papua New Guinea for medical treatment and detained in immigration facilities in the country. These organizations alleged some migrants held in these facilities lacked access to communal and outdoor areas and to adequate mental health and other medical services, increasing the risk of suicide and self-harm among those being treated. The government released some individuals from these facilities on short-stay visas or into community detention pending departure from the country. The government reported that it provided necessary services to refugees and denied claims of harsh conditions or lack of medical services. Protests in Brisbane and Melbourne seeking policy changes, including a change to community detention policy, continued during the year.

Approval of transfers of asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea to Australia for medical treatment not available in the regional processing location is handled on a case-by-case basis subject to clinical advice.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and funded refugee resettlement services. The Humanitarian Settlement Services program provided case-specific assistance that included finding accommodation, employment or job training programs, language training, registering for income support and health care, and connecting with community and recreational programs.

Temporary Protection: The law permits two temporary protection options for individuals who arrived in the country without authorization and were not taken to regional processing countries: the Temporary Protection Visa and Safe Haven Enterprise Visa. The government must invite these migrants, who are otherwise barred from making a visa application due to their status as unauthorized arrivals, to apply for either visa. The Temporary Protection Visa is valid for three years, and visa holders can work, study, and reside anywhere in the country with access to support services. Once expired, Temporary Protection Visa holders may apply for another. The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa is valid for five years and is granted on the basis that the visa holder works or studies in nonmetropolitan areas. Safe Haven Enterprise Visa holders may apply for certain permanent or temporary visas after 42 months.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting is mandatory.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May 2019. Voters re-elected the Liberal-National Party Coalition government. The coalition won 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives; the opposition Labor Party won 68 seats and others won six seats.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: All states and territories have anticorruption bodies that investigate alleged government corruption, and every state and territory appoints an ombudsman who investigates and makes recommendations in response to complaints about government decisions. The government also appoints one commonwealth (federal) ombudsman as laws differ between states, and one process or policy cannot always be used across jurisdictions.

The law requires persons and entities who have certain arrangements with, or undertake certain activities on behalf of, foreign principals to register with the government.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Commission, an independent organization established by parliament, investigates complaints of discrimination or breaches of human rights under the federal laws that implement the country’s human rights treaty obligations. The commission reports to parliament through the attorney general. Media and NGOs deemed its reports accurate and reported them widely. Parliament has a Joint Committee on Human Rights, and federal law requires that a statement of compatibility with international human rights obligations accompany each new bill.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for rape. Maximum penalties range from 12 years’ to life imprisonment, depending on the jurisdiction and aggravating factors.

The law prohibits violence against women, including domestic abuse, and the government enforced the law. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for domestic violence. Violence against women remained a problem, particularly in indigenous communities. Indigenous women were 32 times as likely to be hospitalized due to family violence as nonindigenous women, according to a 2018 report.

According to a 2020 statement by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of women who experienced partner violence in the last decade remained relatively stable. Women were more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence, including homicide, across all states and territories. The Institute of Criminology released a paper in February that analyzed the prevalence of domestic violence against women during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The research showed that 4.2 percent of women had experienced physical violence from a cohabiting partner, while 5.8 percent had experienced coercive control. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, pregnant women, women with a long-term restrictive health condition, women from non-English speaking backgrounds, and younger women were more likely to experience physical or sexual violence or coercive control in the three months prior to the survey.

Federal and state government programs provide support for victims, including funding for numerous women’s shelters. Police received training in responding to domestic violence. Federal, state, and territorial governments collaborated on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22, the first effort to coordinate action at all levels of government to reduce violence against women.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Complaints of sexual harassment can lead to criminal proceedings or disciplinary action against the defendant and compensation claims by the plaintiff. The Human Rights Commission receives complaints of sexual harassment as well as sex discrimination. The penalties vary across states and territories.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

State and territorial governments provided comprehensive sex education and sexual health and family planning services. Women had access to contraception and skilled medical care, including attendance by skilled health-care workers during pregnancy and childbirth. Indigenous persons in isolated communities had more difficulty accessing such services, including menstrual health- and hygiene-related products, than the population in general. Cultural factors and language barriers also inhibited use of sexual health and family planning services by indigenous persons, and rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy among the indigenous population were higher than among the general population. Government, at national and state and territory levels, provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, including under laws related to family, religion, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance, as well as employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. The government enforced the law effectively.

Employment discrimination against women occurred, and there was a much-publicized gender pay gap (see section 7.d.).

Indigenous Peoples

Aboriginal persons and Torres Strait Islanders constitute the country’s indigenous population. Despite federal and state government initiatives, indigenous peoples and communities continued to have high incarceration rates, high unemployment rates, relatively low levels of education, and high incidences of domestic and family violence, substance abuse, and limited access to health services in comparison with other groups. The National Indigenous Australians Agency has responsibility for policy and programs related to indigenous peoples and communities. The prime minister reports annually to parliament regarding government progress on eliminating indigenous inequalities.

In August the prime minister announced Australian dollars AU$379 million ($280 million) for reparations to indigenous individuals whom various bodies – including police, churches, and welfare institutions – forcibly removed from their families when they were children in the Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory, or Jervis Bay Territory.

Indigenous groups hold special collective native title rights in limited areas of the country, and federal and state laws enable indigenous groups to claim unused government land. Indigenous ownership of land was predominantly in nonurban areas. Indigenous-owned or -controlled land constituted approximately 20 percent of the country’s area (excluding native title lands) and nearly 50 percent of the land in the Northern Territory. The National Native Title Tribunal resolves conflicts over native land title applications through mediation and acts as an arbitrator in cases where the parties cannot reach agreement about proposed mining or other development of land. Native title rights do not extend to mineral or petroleum resources, and in cases where leaseholder rights and native title rights conflict, leaseholder rights prevail but do not extinguish native title rights.

As part of the intervention to address child sexual abuse in Northern Territory indigenous communities (see section 6, Children), the national government directly administered indigenous communities, including some policing powers, education, healthcare, etc., and has several programs that provide funding for indigenous communities.

According to the Bureau of Statistics, while indigenous peoples make up less than 3 percent of the total population, they constitute 29 percent of all prisoners. The imprisonment rate for indigenous adults in 2019 was 12 times that for others. Nearly half of the imprisoned indigenous persons were serving sentences for violent offenses. Figures from parliament note that indigenous youth were significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. According to a 2020 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, just under half of all the juveniles detained were indigenous, and indigenous youths ages 10-17 were 17 times more likely than non‑indigenous youths to be in detention.

The Human Rights Commission has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

Children

The Law Council of Australia; a conglomeration of legal, medical, and social justice organizations called Raise the Age Alliance; and other civil society groups campaigned for all governmental jurisdictions to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14. The age of responsibility is set independently by federal, state, and territory governments.

Birth Registration: Children are citizens if at least one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of the child’s birth. Children born in the country to parents who are not citizens or permanent residents acquire citizenship on their 10th birthday, if they lived the majority of their life in the country. Failure to register does not result in denial of public services. In general births were registered promptly.

Child Abuse: State and territorial child protection agencies investigate and initiate prosecutions for child neglect or abuse. All states and territories have laws or guidelines that require members of certain designated professions to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The federal government’s role in the prevention of child abuse includes funding for research, carrying out education campaigns, developing action plans against commercial exploitation of children, and funding community-based parenting programs.

The rate of indigenous children removed from their families for legal or safety reasons was nearly 10 times greater than that for the nonindigenous.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. Persons aged 16 to 18 may apply to a judge or magistrate for an order authorizing marriage to a person who has attained 18 years; the marriage of the minor also requires parental or guardian consent. Two persons younger than age 18 may not marry each other; reports of marriages involving a person younger than age 18 were rare. Forced marriage is a criminal offense. In 2019 the government expanded the definition of forced marriage explicitly to capture all marriages involving children younger than age 16. The government reported an increase in the number of forced