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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 like the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda separatists in Cabinda. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Angolan Armed Forces and the national police, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The security forces generally were effective, although sometimes brutal, at maintaining stability. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government security forces; 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; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

The government took significant steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses. It also dismissed and prosecuted cabinet ministers, provincial governors, senior military officers, and other officials for corruption and financial crimes. 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. 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.

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

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

The government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The national police and Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) have internal mechanisms to investigate security force abuses, and the government provided some training to reform the security forces.

Several killings occurred after the government enacted measures to combat COVID-19, referred to by presidential decree as the “state of emergency” in May and “state of calamity” in June, which required police and the armed forces to guarantee compliance with measures including wearing masks, physical distancing, and restrictions on citizens’ movements. Credible reports between May and July documented that security forces killed at least seven persons while enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.

On August 22, a team of police officers and Angolan army soldiers approached a group of young men in Zango 3, in the Viana municipality of the capital of Luanda, for failure to wear masks. One of the young men tried to escape to his home 30 feet away, and a soldier shot him in the back and killed him. According to the Luanda Provincial Command, the Criminal Investigation Service and the Military Judiciary detained the soldier and summoned the team to provide testimony regarding the shooting.

On September 1, pediatric doctor Silvio Dala died while in police custody after his arrest for driving his car without wearing a face mask. According to police, Dala was driving alone when stopped by police and taken to a police station where he fainted and hit his head. Police stated the trauma from the fall caused extensive bleeding and Dala died en route to the hospital. The autopsy concluded that Dala died of natural causes.

Police declared Dala was arrested because he violated the requirement to wear a face mask inside vehicles and because the police wanted to ensure Dala would pay a token fine at the site of his arrest. The Angolan Medical Union, several members of parliament, and numerous social media postings objected to the official police version of Dala’s death. The subsequent public outcry after Dala’s death contributed to the government ending the requirement to wear face masks inside vehicles when the driver is alone.

On November 11, during a protest in Luanda to demand better living conditions and local elections, Inocencio de Matos, age 26, was killed when police attempted to disperse demonstrators. Police took him to the hospital where he was treated by a medical team but subsequently died. Witnesses said that police shot and killed him. According to the autopsy report, he died of “physical aggression with a nonspecified object.”

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but the government did not always enforce these prohibitions.

Periodic reports continued of beatings and other abuses 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 (Ombudsman).

Several reports indicated that police used excessive force to enforce the state of emergency implemented to combat COVID-19. On March 30, a video shared widely on social media showed police beating several men with nightsticks while the men laid prostrate on the ground inside a police station.

On October 24, a peaceful demonstration against the government demanding employment and local elections was violently repressed with several persons injured, 103 persons detained on charges of disobedience, and unsubstantiated reports of two persons killed. According to one human rights lawyer, Salvador Freire, some of the detainees, in particular the organizers of the demonstration, were subjected to harsh and violent treatment while in custody.

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: The director of the Institutional and Press Communication Office of the Ministry of Interior, Waldemar Jose, said the country’s 40 prisons are overcrowded. Prisons have a total capacity for 21,000 inmates but hold more than 26,000 inmates, with half of those inmates held in pretrial detention. Jose said the prison system holds 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.

On June 23, a sub-attorney general said that in Malanje province, many criminal files sit on judges’ desks awaiting a court hearing, while higher court judges delay issuing a release warrant, leading to overcrowding in local prisons.

The director of Luzia jail in Saurimo in Lunda Sul province, said the jail held two inmates in pretrial detention for more than five years. The jail also held many prisoners who had served their sentence and awaited a release warrant.

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 cases of deaths in prisons related to the physical conditions of jails. Prisons did not always provide adequate medical care, sanitation, potable water, or food, and it was customary for families to bring food to prisoners. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stated prison services were insufficient.

One human rights lawyer described the conditions at the Cabinda civil jail, where three of his constituents are in pretrial detention, as terrible. He said prisoners had no potable water for drinking or bathing; prisoners defecated in the same location where they ate; eight inmates shared a single cell, and others were obliged to sleep in the corridors. There was no social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Administration: The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Some offenders, including violent offenders, reported paying fines and bribes to secure their freedom, but it was unclear how prevalent this practice was.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prisons by independent local and international human rights observers and foreign diplomats. Nevertheless, civil society organizations faced difficulties in contacting detainees, and prison authorities undermined civil society work in the prisons 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 (PGR), and members of the National Assembly to assess prisoners’ living conditions. Members of the National Assembly conducted independent visits to prisons. On February 27, parliamentarians visited the Peu-Peu jail in Cunene province.

Improvements: Following the “state of emergency” for COVID-19 that took effect on March 27, the PGR released approximately 1,000 detainees held in pretrial detention who did not present a danger to the community. The PGR said the release was conducted to improve prison conditions that had deteriorated due to the overcrowding of inmates in the prison system.

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 case. Cases of special complexity regarding crimes for which conviction is punishable by eight or more years allow for pretrial detention without charge for up to six months, and up to 14 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. By law the period of pretrial detention counts as time served in fulfillment of a sentence of imprisonment.

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

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 requires detainees be held incommunicado for up to 48 hours until being presented to a public prosecutor, except they may communicate with their lawyer or a family member.

On March 27, 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 25 when the subsequent “state of calamity” entered into force. Presidential Decree 142/20 published on May 25 provided that visits to inmates were allowed on June 29, July 13, and July 27 for separate classes of inmates. Subsequent updates to the “state of calamity” on July 7, August 9, and September 9 did not mention visits to prisons. As of December there were no additional provisions that allowed families to visit their relatives in prison.

The wife of an inmate in the Kakila prison said that since the “state of emergency” began she could no longer visit or contact her husband and that she was only able to leave food at the front gate of the jail to be delivered to her husband. She said prisoners at Kakila jail lacked running water for more than one month.

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

On August 5, in the Dande municipality of Bengo province, police arrested four activists (Domingos Periquito, Domingos Jaime, Gomes Hata, and Manuel Lima) who attempted to organize a protest against the lack of potable water. Domingos Jaime, a rapper known as Jaime MC, was hit by a police vehicle and later taken to the hospital. Police charged the activists for failure to wear face masks, but a judge dismissed the charges. Following the dismissal, Criminal Investigation Services returned the activists to the police who filed new charges for disobedience to authorities. The activists were convicted and given a one month suspended sentence converted to a fine. The activists had no money to pay the fine and remained in police custody until they were able to collect the fine amount.

On October 24, 103 persons were arrested in Luanda during a peaceful demonstration demanding improved employment conditions and local elections. Among those detained were persons from the surrounding area who were forcibly taken into custody without having participated in the demonstration. Of the 103 persons detained, six were released before trial, 26 were acquitted, and 71 were convicted of disobedience and fined.

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.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary. The judicial system was effected by institutional weaknesses including political influence in the decision-making process. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the PGR worked to improve the independence of prosecutors and judges. The National Institute for Judicial Studies conducted capacity-building programs 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. Two of these courts were inaugurated in Benguela and Lubango but were not operating at year’s end. Criminal courts also had a large backlog of cases that resulted in major delays in hearings.

Informal courts remained the principal institutions through which citizens resolved civil conflicts in rural areas, such as disputes over a bartering deal. Each community in which informal courts were located established local rules, creating disparities in how similar cases were resolved from one community to the next. Traditional 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 FAA have internal court systems that generally remained closed to outside scrutiny. Although members of these organizations may be tried under their internal regulations, cases that include violations of criminal or civil laws may also fall under the jurisdiction of provincial courts. Both the PGR and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights have civilian oversight responsibilities over military courts.

Trial Procedures

Although the law provides all citizens the right to a fair trial, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Authorities must inform defendants of the charges levied against them in detail within 48 hours of their detention. Defendants have the right to free language interpretation during all legal proceedings, from the moment of being charged through the close of all appeals.

In July the National Assembly unanimously approved a new procedural penal code to clarify the roles of each party in the judicial process, introduce rules that speed up judicial processes, and provide 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

In Cabinda province authorities detained three activists of the Cabinda Independence Union on June 28 and 29. Authorities detained Mauricio Gimbi, Andre Bonzela, and Joao Mampuela and accused the men of carrying pamphlets with the slogans, “Down to arms, down to the war in Cabinda”; “Cabinda is not Angola”; and “We want to talk”. The men appeared before a government attorney on June 30 who ordered their pretrial detention. Authorities subsequently charged the men with rebellion and criminal association.

The lawyer for the men, Arao Tempo, appealed the pretrial detention. On August 21, the Provincial Court of Cabinda decided to hold Gimbi and Mampuela in pretrial detention and release Bonzela pending the payment of a substantial fine. Tempo said the fine would be an impossible sum to pay due to the poor social and economic conditions of the Cabindan people. The three activists remained in jail. On November 15, human rights lawyer and head of the pro bono organization Associacao Maos Livres, demanded their release.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Damages for human rights abuses may be sought in provincial courts and appealed to the Supreme Court. During the year the National Assembly approved a new procedural penal code that allowed 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 victim of a gross judicial error. Public agents responsible for actions that abuse human rights should in turn compensate the state.

SOS Habitat brought a lawsuit alleging that the government failed to comply with a judicial decision to compensate a victim of an unlawful killing. The NGO sued on behalf of the family of Rufino Antonio, age 14, who was killed by soldiers in August 2016 while protesting against the demolition of a neighborhood in the Zango area of Luanda province. The Luanda Military Court sentenced four soldiers to prison terms ranging between one and 18 years in prison, and ordered each soldier to pay a compensation fee to Rufino’s family of 1,000,000 kwanzas ($1,740). The family has not received the payments from the government or the convicted soldiers.

Property Restitution

The constitution recognizes the right to housing and quality of life, and the law states that persons relocated should receive fair compensation. The constitution recognizes the right to private property and establishes that the state protects the property rights of all citizens, including of local communities, only allowing expropriation for reasons of public use. The constitution also provides that all untitled land belongs to the state, with no exceptions for pastoralists or traditional societies.

In the municipality of Quipungo in Huila province, farmers and herders of the Kakoi-Mangango community said their land was taken by the communal administrator of Cainda without notice and given to farmer Fernando Abilio Lumbamba. The local farmers tried to protest to the municipal authorities but were threatened with arrest by the communal administrator, who said the land in question belonged to the state. One local NGO wrote a letter on behalf of the local farmers to the Huila governor Luis Nunes denouncing the expropriation of the land.

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 maintained surveillance of their activities and membership. These groups also frequently complained of threats and harassment based on their affiliations with groups that were purportedly or explicitly antigovernment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. 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.

Freedom of Speech: 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 Press and Media, Including Online Media: Private television, radio, and print media operated in the country, although coverage continued to be more extensive in Luanda and in provincial capitals, including Benguela, Huambo, and Lubango, than in the rest of the country.

Online media outlets increased their number of viewers. Private media criticized the government openly. In July and August following the results of an ongoing corruption investigation into the owners of two major private media groups, the state seized two major private media groups and transferred them to state control.

Several important private media outlets returned to state control after a state corruption investigation concluded that the outlets had been illegally funded with public funds through individuals with strong ties to former president Eduardo dos Santos. On July 31, the PGR’s National Service on Assets Recovery seized the Media Nova Group that owned TV Zimbo, Radio Mais, and the newspaper O Pais and returned the outlets to state control. On August 28, the Interative, Empreendimentos e Multimedia group that owned TV Palanca and Radio Global was also seized by the state. On September 4, the government announced that TV Palanca would become a specialized sports channel.

Journalists and opposition parties said the seizure of the media outlets was worrying and 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 the companies for sale to investors under the government’s privatization program.

Transmission licenses are granted by the minister of telecommunication, technology, and social communication. 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 is $1.4 million, while a radio license costs $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 coverage of opposition political parties’ perspectives, as well as of social problems reflecting poor governance. TPA broadcasted 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 also 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.

On January 23, police arrested two journalists from the Portuguese news agency Lusa near the National Assembly in Luanda. The journalists were covering a protest that demanded local elections in all municipalities of the country. Police said the protest was illegal and journalists were not allowed to cover the protest. Police detained 10 additional protesters. After their arrest the two Lusa journalists were taken to the fourth precinct police station, transferred to the second precinct police station, and then released after one hour with no further explanation. Lusa delivered a formal protest to the government after the release of the journalists.

On February 19, police assaulted two journalists from TV Palanca who were covering a protest against the inauguration of the new president of the National Electoral Commission at the National Assembly. Journalist Jose Kiabolo said five police officers beat him and his cameraman and destroyed their video camera.

During an October 24 demonstration in Luanda, six journalists were detained while covering the protest. Two journalists from TV Zimbo were released after being forced to delete all footage of the demonstration. Four journalists from Radio Essencial and Valor Economico remained in custody for more than 50 hours without any charges. Two journalists from Agence France-Press claimed they were beaten by police and were ordered to carry a special permit to cover the protest. Later that week, President Joao Lourenco criticized the arrests of the journalists and stated it was not a situation he wished to be repeated.

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

The Ethics and Credentialing Commission (ECC) is a body exclusively comprised of journalists that is authorized to license and delicense journalists. The ECC remained largely inactive due to the lack of funds allocated to ECC operations in the 2020 National Budget. In July the Ministry of Telecommunications, Technology, and Social Communication launched an office to support ECC operations and stated the credentialing of journalists would begin in October.

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.

The newspaper Novo Jornal reported that well-known singer Dog Murras, known as an open critic of the government, was hired by TV Zimbo to host a daily show on societal issues called Angola Speak Out. (Novo Jornal and TV Zimbo were owned by the same parent company.) The report said that TV Zimbo shareholders were warned before Murras’s first show that his presence could bring negative consequences to their business. TV Zimbo broke the contract with Murras and withdrew promotional videos for the show released on April 11.

On August 30, two days after the PGR’s National Service on Assets Recovery seized TV Palanca, the show Angola Urgent, which discussed societal issues, left the airwaves. On September 4, the government announced that TV Palanca would become a specialized sports channel. Following the seizure, several of the seized outlets, including TV Zimbo and Novo Jornal, continued to feature articles critical of the government.

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.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

The law requires written notification to the local administrator and police three days before public assemblies are to be held. The law does not require government permission to hold public assemblies, but 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 number of antigovernment protests increased and the government 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 or that proper authorities had not received notification.

On January 19, a protest against the inauguration of the new president of the National Electoral Commission at the National Assembly resulted in police violence and the detention of more than 30 protesters. The provincial command of the Angolan National Police said the protesters acted violently and organized an illegal protest without the proper legal procedures. Police also detained two journalists from TV Palanca.

At the Luanda October 24 protest (see section 2.a., Violence and Harassment), police also arrested 97 protesters and six journalists. A total of 71 protesters received a suspended one-month prison sentence for rioting and disobedience and 26 protesters were acquitted. All six journalists were released, and President Lourenco rebuked their arrest. The government stated the protest was unauthorized and that when police tried to disperse the protest, some protestors threw stones and erected road blocks.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for the right of association, but the government did not always respect this right. 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 regulated 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

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, in spite of 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

Not Applicable.

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.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports throughout the year that Lunda Norte provincial authorities exerted pressure on irregular migrants and refugees to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The government failed to provide adequate protection for asylum seekers and urban refugees in this area.

In May illegal immigrants at a Luanda migrant detention facility posted video footage to social media platforms complaining about their lengthy detention, the facility’s substandard conditions, and their heightened risk of COVID-19 infection due to the facility’s tight quarters. The footage depicted the accommodations and complained about a shortage of food, water, hygiene supplies, and face masks, which are required by Ministry of Health officials when physical distancing is not feasible.

In response, UN agencies and diplomatic missions engaged Ministry of Interior officials, who denied the detainees’ claims but did not provide access to the facility. Government officials said the detainees used the pandemic as a pretext to secure their release and broadcasted a video presentation countering the complaints with footage of spacious facilities and interviews with detainees and community leaders praising the accommodations. Subsequently, most of the detainees were released on a temporary order and were expected to be required to report to Immigration Services until their situations are resolved.

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 rely on the informal markets to make a living, as job opportunities were limited and the law prohibits refugees from operating businesses. One NGO said the Operation Rescue has not ended and the problems associated with the operation continue.

Under the law authorities issued refugee cards with a five-year validity period. UN agencies advised that the refugee cards expired in July since the government never renewed the cards. The Minister of Interior told UN officials that the government would begin to fully implement the law when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status but the government has not fully implemented the law. The law provides specific procedures for the submission of an asylum application and guidance on the determination of asylum and refugee cases. UNHCR and several NGOs, however, reported that asylum seekers and urban refugees 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 an alternative mechanism to adjudicate asylum and refugee 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 makes a decision on their cases, but the government had not yet established these centers.

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: Formal restrictions on a refugee’s ability to seek employment existed. Regulation 273/13 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. Refugees reported a general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge concerning the rights it was intended to safeguard. 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 has not implemented key elements of the 2015 asylum law, which included 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 in particular were unable to obtain legal documents following passage of the asylum law and at times faced difficulty accessing public services such as health care and education. Corruption by officials compounded these difficulties.

Durable Solutions: In January and February the government cooperated with UNHCR and supported an organized voluntary repatriation of 2,912 refugees from Lunda Norte to the DRC. UNHCR estimated that 6,381 refugees remained at its Lovua, Lunda Norte, resettlement camp.

g. Stateless Persons

There is no study or census related to the number of stateless persons in the country. The government estimated that there are 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 about 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. The constitution does not specify a timeline for implementing municipal-level elections. In 2018 the administration of President Lourenco promised municipal-level elections would take place by 2022. The government declared municipal elections would not take place in 2020 because the government had not completed the electoral laws needed to prepare for the elections. The government also stated that COVID-19 had hindered the preparations needed to implement municipal elections. Opposition parties and civil society criticized the government for failing to provide a prospective date when municipal elections were expected to occur.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ruling MPLA party dominated all political institutions. Political power was concentrated in the presidency and the Council of Ministers, through which the president exercised executive power. The council may enact laws, decrees, and resolutions, assuming most functions normally associated with the legislative branch. The National Assembly consists of 220 deputies elected under a party list proportional representation system. The National Assembly has the authority to draft, debate, and pass legislation, but the executive branch often proposed and drafted legislation for the assembly’s approval. The MPLA retained its 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.

Political parties must be represented in all 18 provinces, but only the MPLA, UNITA, and the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola Electoral Coalition (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.

On August 27, the Constitutional Court denied the request by CASA-CE founder Abel Chivukuvuku to form the Angolan Renaissance Party. Chivukuvuku accused the ruling MPLA party of repression and political interference in the court’s decision.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups 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 is double the number from both 2018 and 2019, and seven of 21, or 33 percent, of cabinet ministers were women, down from 37.5 percent in 2018 and 2019. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men. The country has multiple linguistic groups, many of which were represented in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

On January 27, a new law on prevention and combatting of money laundering, financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was published. A new penal code was also published on November 11 directly regulating modern financial crimes and increasing penalties for corrupt officials, and will go into effect 90 days after the publication.

President Lourenco dismissed cabinet ministers, provincial governors, senior military officers, and other high-level government officials due to alleged corrupt practices. The PGR launched significantly more corruption investigations and brought criminal charges against several officials. Nonetheless, official impunity and the uniform application of anticorruption legislation remained a serious problem.

In August President Lourenco requested that the National Assembly review the new penal code to ensure it adequately penalizes corrupt activities. In a letter sent to the president of the National Assembly, Lourenco wrote that the penal code “may not be aligned with the current vision and pass a wrong message concerning crimes committed in the exercise of public functions.” Lourenco said he was concerned the new penal code could establish lower penalties for economic crimes, influence peddling, and public sector corruption.

Corruption: Government corruption at all levels was widespread, but accountability improved due to increased focus on developing better checks and balances and institutional capacity. In August the criminal chamber of the Supreme Court convicted Valter Filipe, the former governor of the National Bank of Angola, Jose Filomeno dos Santos (“Zenu”), the former chairman of Angola’s Sovereign Wealth Fund and son of former president Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, and two other partners of influence peddling, money laundering, and fraud. The court gave them sentences ranging from five to eight years in prison. Zenu and his codefendants transferred $500 million from the National Bank of Angola to a private bank account in the United Kingdom. All the defendants’ appeals to the plenary of the Supreme Court were denied.

In December 2019 the Luanda Provincial Court preemptively froze all in-country accounts and several assets owned by former first daughter Isabel dos Santos, her husband Sindika Dokolo, and businessman Mario Leite da Silva on suspicion that the assets, amounting to more than $1 billion, originated from state funds obtained unlawfully. Isabel dos Santos considered the seizure order to be “politically motivated” and said she would use “all the instruments of Angolan and international laws” to fight the order. To date she remains in exile and subsequently demonstrated willingness to negotiate with the Angolan government, something that President Lourenco denied would be an option.

The government commenced legal proceedings against Isabel dos Santos and her associates that aim to recover more than $1 billion in allegedly misappropriated state assets. In December 2019 the Luanda provincial court preemptively froze assets belonging to Isabel and her associates at Unitel, the country’s largest mobile-phone company, and in Banco de Fomento Angola (BFA), one of the largest private banks. In May the government filed criminal charges against Isabel dos Santos on suspicion of embezzlement of state funds while she was head of state-owned oil company Sonangol.

In July the PGR, through its National Service on Assets Recovery, seized three private commercial buildings in Luanda built with funds from state-owned oil company Sonangol. The PGR said the buildings belonged to the Riverstone Oaks Corporation, which is controlled by former vice president and president of Sonangol, Manuel Vicente, and the former director of Sonangol Real Estate and Properties, Orlando Veloso.

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

Financial Disclosure: The law on public probity requires senior government officials, magistrates and public prosecutors as well as managers of public companies to declare their assets held domestically and abroad to the attorney general. The president and vice president were the first to submit their declarations in 2018. Asset declarations are only disclosed for criminal, disciplinary, and administrative purposes and require a judicial warrant.

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

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

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

The Law of Associations requires NGOs to specify their mandate and areas of activity. The government used this provision to prevent or discourage established NGOs from engaging in certain activities, especially those that the government deemed politically sensitive.

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, and 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 majority of the members of the National Assembly.

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

Women

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

The law criminalizes domestic violence and penalizes offenders with prison sentences of up to eight years and monetary fines, depending on the severity of their crime. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights maintained a program with the Angolan Bar Association to give free legal assistance to abused women and established counseling centers to help families cope with domestic abuse.

The government reported that cases of domestic violence increased during the period of confinement due to COVID-19. According to a Ministry of Social Action, Family and Promotion of Women (MASFAMU) report between March and May, 567 cases of domestic violence were reported in the second trimester of 2020 versus 444 reported cases in the first trimester. The NGO Gender Observatory started a campaign called “Quarantine without Violence” and urged the National Police to create a hotline for cases of domestic violence. In May MASFAMU launched a partnership with the UN to support a crisis hotline to help victims of gender-based violence.

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: Couples and individuals have the right to freely decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Persons living in rural areas faced more barriers to access of sexual and reproductive health 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 the view that women have a responsibility to have children, and religious objections to using contraception, limited access to reproductive health services. According to the UN Population Fund, the country has favorable laws relating to contraceptive services and access to emergency contraception with no restrictions. The WHO reported there were four nursing and midwifery personnel per 10,000 inhabitants in the country (2010-2018 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. A specific department of the Angolan National Police investigates crimes against women and children.

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. According to 2010-19 data, 30 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. No known instances of female genital mutilation have been reported in the country in recent years. UNICEF reported in 2016 that 50 percent of births in the country were attended by skilled health personnel.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. During the year the Angolan branch of Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD) had a public split with the church’s Brazilian leadership. On June 23, a group of Angolan IURD pastors took control over some of the 230 IURD temples in the country after accusing the Brazilian leadership of racism and harassment, including forced vasectomies of Angolan IURD pastors or mandatory abortions if an IURD pastor’s wife became pregnant. Both groups pressed charges against each other, which led to the closure and seizure of at least seven temples in Angola by the attorney general’s office on charges of money laundering. At year’s end, criminal investigations continued.

Discrimination: Under the constitution and law, women enjoy the same rights and legal status as men. The government, however, did not enforce the law effectively as societal discrimination against women remained a problem, particularly in rural areas. Customary law prevailed over civil law, particularly in rural areas, and at times had a negative 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, Family, and Promotion of Women led an interministerial information campaign on women’s rights and domestic abuse, and hosted national, provincial, and municipal workshops and training sessions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from one’s parents. The government does not register all births immediately. According to the 2014 census, approximately 13.7 million citizens (46 percent of the population) lacked birth registration 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. The government implemented a mass registration process to issue identification (ID) cards with the goal of providing government-issued IDs to all citizens by the end of 2022.

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 in order to guarantee a spot. 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. Due to the “state of emergency” that went into effect on March 27, the government closed schools as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19, and provided some classes as television programs. The government began to reopen schools in October.

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 Affairs, Family and Promotion of Women offers programs for child abuse victims and other vulnerable children. Nevertheless, nationwide implementation of such programs remained a problem.

In June the government launched a hotline called “SOS Child” to report violence against children. In fewer than two weeks, government officials stated the hotline received 19,753 calls relating cases of violence against children.

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: All forms of prostitution, including child prostitution, are illegal. Police did not actively enforce laws against prostitution, and local NGOs expressed concern regarding the commercial sexual exploitation of children, which remained a problem. The law prohibits the use of children for the production of 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.

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

Anti-Semitism

There 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, 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 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 fail to meet the quota system established by law. ANDA, an NGO that promotes the rights of persons with disabilities, said in a March interview that discrimination, physical, and psychological barriers impede 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. The NGO Handicap International estimated that as many as 500,000 persons had disabilities. Because of limited government resources and uneven availability, only 30 percent of such persons were able to take advantage of state-provided services such as physical rehabilitation, schooling, training, or counseling.

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

Indigenous People

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, Kuando Kubango, and Moxico suffered discrimination and lacked adequate access to basic government services, including medical care, education, and identification cards.

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. The new penal code decriminalizes same-sex sexual relations and makes it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Local NGOs reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals faced violence, discrimination, and harassment. The government, through its health agencies, instituted a series of initiatives to decrease discrimination against LGBTI individuals.

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

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except members of the armed forces, 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 PGR, 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. The law prohibits employer retribution against strikers, but it permits the government to force workers back to work for “breaches of worker discipline” or participation in unauthorized strikes. Nonetheless, the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and stipulates that worker complaints should be adjudicated in the labor court. The Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security 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.

In June, three taxi unions agreed to strike and refused to circulate in the municipality of Cacuaco in Luanda province citing lack of designated stopping areas and poor road maintenance. The governor of Luanda, Joana Lina, demanded that the strike be lifted and gave the unions four days to resolve the situation.

The government generally did not effectively enforce applicable labor laws. Labor courts functioned but were overburdened by a backlog of cases and inadequate resources. The law provides for penalties for violations of the 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 continued to dominate the labor movement due to historical connections between the party and labor, and also the superior financial base of the country’s largest labor union (which also constitutes the labor wing of the MPLA). The government is the country’s largest employer, and the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security mandated government worker wages with no negotiation with the unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and sets penalties commensurate with those for other 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 www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits children younger than 14 from working. To obtain an employment contract, the law requires youth to submit evidence they are 14 or older. Children can work from age 14 to age 16 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. The law also allows orphan children who want to work to get official permission in the form of a letter from “an appropriate institution,” but it does not specify the type of institution. The Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security; the Ministry of Social Assistance, Families, and Women’s Promotion; the Ministry of Interior; the Ministry of Labor; INAC; and the national police are the entities responsible for enforcement of child labor laws.

The Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security continued to implement its National Action Plan for the Eradication of Child Labor for 2018-22, which aims to identify the most prevalent areas and types of child labor and to strengthen coordination of child labor investigations, prosecutions, and the imposition of criminal penalties. The government did not effectively monitor the large informal sector, where most child labor occurred.

Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The government did not consistently enforce the law, and child labor, especially in the informal sector, remained a problem. Through March, INAC registered 573 cases of hazardous child labor on farms involving the handling of chemicals, stones, and bricks and reported the cases to law enforcement. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security had oversight of formal work sites in all 18 provinces, but it was unknown whether inspectors checked on the age of workers or conditions of work sites. If the ministry determined a business was using child labor, it transferred the case to the Ministry of Interior to investigate and possibly press charges. It was not known whether the government fined any businesses for using child labor.

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 youths younger than 12 from being tried in court.

Street work by children was common, especially in the provinces of Luanda, Benguela, Huambo, Huila, and Kwanza Sul. Investigators found children working in the streets of Luanda. 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 to work as herders or to 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 prostitution.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, religion, disability, or language, and the government in general effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. The International Labor Organization noted the law did not clearly define discrimination, however. The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination, although it does not specifically address HIV/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 still exist. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations considered dangerous, in factories, and in industries such as mining, agriculture, and energy. Women held ministerial posts.

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. Reports during the year indicated that persons with albinism also experienced discrimination in employment and access to public services. In the past, there have also been 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

A minimum wage for the formal sector exists and varies by sector. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights raised concerns about 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 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 did 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 Public Administration, Labor and Social Security. The law protected foreign workers with permanent legal status or a temporary work visa.

The government effectively enforced the minimum wage law within the formal labor sector, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar infractions. Most workers in the informal sector were not covered by wage or occupational safety standards. An estimated 60 percent of the economy derived from the informal sector, and most wage earners held second jobs or depended on the agricultural or other informal sectors to augment their incomes.

The Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security 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 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 2019 there were 241 major industrial accidents that caused the death or serious injury of workers.

Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

Burkina Faso is a constitutional republic led by an elected president. On November 22, the country held presidential and legislative elections despite challenges due to growing insecurity and increasing numbers of internally displaced persons. President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote, and his party–the People’s Movement for Progress–won 56 seats in the 127-seat National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity. The government had previously declared that elections would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.

The Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Defense are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Internal Security oversees the National Police. The army, air force, and National Gendarmerie, which operate within the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but sometimes assist with missions related to domestic security. On January 21, the government passed legislation formalizing community-based self-defense groups by establishing the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland, a civilian support corps for state counterterrorism efforts with rudimentary oversight from the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, but members of the security forces and community-based defense groups committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government and extremists; forced disappearance by the government and extremist groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by the government; serious abuses in an internal conflict; serious acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government investigated and punished some cases of abuse, but impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem.

The country experienced deadly attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year. Terrorist groups Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and other armed groups, such as the homegrown Ansaroul Islam, perpetrated more than 500 attacks that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths as well as scores of deaths among government security forces. Security incidents included improvised explosive device attacks, targeted killings, kidnapping, attacks on mining sites (especially gold mines), burning of schools, and theft of food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and the internal displacement of more than one million persons.

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

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

There were numerous reports state security forces committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Multiple independent domestic and international human rights groups accused the security forces of committing hundreds of extrajudicial killings of civilians as part of its counterterrorism strategy (see section 1.g.).

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, on April 9, government security forces executed 31 unarmed Fulani men in the town of Djibo in the northern Sahel Region hours after arresting them during a counterterrorism operation. Residents later interviewed regarding the incident attributed the killings to the Groupement des Forces Anti-Terroristes, a mixed counterterrorism force (composed of members of the army and gendarmerie) based nearby. On April 10, the Defense Ministry’s director of military justice announced the opening of an investigation and later recommitted to investigating these and other similar killings on July 3. The president also reiterated this commitment. There were no updates regarding the investigation by year’s end.

On May 11, gendarmes, accompanied by several local members of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (Volontaires pour la defense de la patrie or VDPs), arrested 25 suspected terrorists trading in the market in Pentchangou near Tanwalbougou in Fada N’Gourma Commune (Est Region); 12 of the detainees died later that night, reportedly while in police custody. Local and international human rights advocacy groups claimed that the prisoners, all of whom were ethnic Fulani/Peuhl, were executed and suggested that the security services had profiled members of the Fulani ethnic group. On May 27, the Fada prosecutor declared a preliminary probe could not determine the cause of death of the 12 detainees but stated they were not executed. As of November the case was under investigation by the military tribunal.

In July a security officer was arrested who had headed a June 29 operation in Tanwalbougou (Est Region) that led to the death of seven civilians.

According to a local human rights group, the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights (le Mouvement burkinabe des droits de lhomme et des peuples or MBDHP), on May 4 and 5, VDPs arrested Idrissa Barry, a councilor; Amadou Diande, another councilor; and his son Adama Diande, a community health worker, in the vicinity of Barsalogo, Centre-Nord Region. Their families found them fatally shot and killed.

On March 8, at least 43 Fulani men were killed in the commune of Barga in the Nord Region. While the government blamed the attack on violent extremist organizations, local media and observers reported the attackers were members of government-condoned vigilante groups known as Koglweogo, who reportedly believed the Fulani were harboring terrorists.

Extremists carried out more than 500 attacks that resulted in hundreds of deaths, targeting traditional, religious, and political leaders; humanitarian workers; members of government security forces; VDPs; and civilians. For example, on July 6, extremists killed the mayor of Pensa in Bam Province and later killed six soldiers and three VDPs who deployed in response to the initial attack. On August 7, unidentified armed individuals attacked a cattle market in Namougou village in the Est Region, killing at least 20 persons and wounding many others. On August 8, a truck loaded with animal feed transported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to the city of Djibo was attacked by unidentified armed individuals. On August 11, Souaibou Cisse, Grand Imam of Djibo, was kidnapped by unidentified gunman and was found dead on August 15 in Tibere village, three miles from Djibo. On November 11, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara terrorists ambushed a military convoy in Oudalan Province in the Sahel Region, killing 14 soldiers and injuring others (see section 1.g.).

Ethnic Fulani (Peuhls), who were often recruited by extremist groups, were disproportionately the target of extrajudicial killings by security forces due to their perceived sympathies with Islamic extremist groups.

There were several accounts of criminal groups working in concert with terrorist organizations and drug traffickers killing gendarmes, police, VDPs, and park rangers, especially in the Est Region. Burkinabe security forces also reportedly committed abuses while conducting counterterrorism operations in Mali. In particular, the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) Human Rights and Protection Division documented 50 alleged “arbitrary” executions by the Burkinabe Armed Forces between May 26 and 28. As of year’s end, there was no update to these cases.

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of disappearances of civilians suspected by security forces of committing acts of terrorism. For example, Amnesty International reported on the disappearances of 34 persons attributed to security forces in March and April, and HRW reported on the disappearances of at least 180 persons in the area around the town of Djibo in the Sahel Region between November 2019 and June, which HRW said available evidence suggested had been carried out by security forces.

Extremists were also suspected in numerous disappearances (see section 1.g., Abductions).

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Local rights groups alleged numerous accounts of torture committed by the military, gendarmerie, police, VDPs, and members of the Koglweogo. The majority of allegations of torture involved victims suspected of having links to terrorists or persons of Fulani/Peuhl ethnicity.

A human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported that prison guards at the Ouagadougou’s House of Arrest and Correction (MACO) occasionally used excessive physical force, inflicting injuries on prisoners.

In March the MBDHP accused defense and security forces of inflicting acts of torture against offenders of the government’s COVID-19 curfew.

On July 10, a gendarme and a soldier reportedly raped two girls in Ouagadougou during an arrest for lack of identity documents. On July 24, the two were sentenced to four and three years, respectively, in prison.

On August 14, a gendarme reportedly tortured a 16-year-old minor in the Boucle du Mouhoun who refused his advances. The gendarme placed an order at the restaurant where she worked and asked the girl to deliver it to his home, where he handcuffed her, forced her to wear gris-gris (type of amulet common in parts of West Africa), and put chili pepper into her vagina. On October 20, he was given a five-year prison sentence by the Banfora Court (with possibility of parole after two years) and ordered to pay the victim 500,000 CFA francs ($900) in damages within a period of three months.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one open allegation from 2015 of sexual exploitation and abuse by Burkina Faso peacekeepers deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission, allegedly involving 10 peacekeepers who engaged in transactional sex with an adult. As of September the government was still investigating the allegation and had not provided accountability measures taken.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention facilities were harsh and at times life- threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same locations as convicted prisoners. The High Security Prison (HSP) in Ouagadougou, which mostly houses suspected terrorists, was at double its designed capacity, housing more than 900 inmates. Almost all were in pretrial detention.

Female prisoners had better conditions than those of men, in large part due to less crowding. Some infants and children younger than age five accompanied their inmate mothers. There were no appropriate facilities or installations for prisoners or detainees with disabilities, who relied on other inmates for assistance.

Food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate in the majority of detention facilities across the country. Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria were the most common health problems among prisoners. For example, at the HSP there were three nurses employed to treat more than 900 detainees and prisoners, with no doctor present on site but available on an on-call basis. Detention conditions were better for wealthy or influential citizens or detainees considered nonviolent.

Prisoners received two meals a day, but diets were inadequate, and inmates often relied on supplemental food from relatives. Some prisons lacked adequate ventilation, although some cells had electricity and some inmates had fans. Sanitation was rudimentary.

In April the government released 1,207 prisoners from prisons nationwide in response to COVID-19, an estimated 16 percent reduction of the prison population. Pardons depended on the age and health of prisoners, and only those who had already served at least half of their sentence were eligible. Prisoners convicted of banditry, terrorism, and female genital mutilation (FGM) were excluded from the measure. While this reduction provided relief to sanitary conditions in chronically overpopulated facilities, the facilities continued to operate at more than double their original capacity.

Administration: The government issued a May 20 statement reiterating the local prosecutor’s commitment to a criminal investigation into the May 11 death of 12 detainees who were “suspected terrorists” in Tanwalbougou, Est Region, as well as a government administrative inquiry into the same incident (see section 1.a. and 1.g.).

On August 4, the director of the Ziniare prison, Kalfa Millogo, was arrested for extortion of funds from detainees.

Because of COVID-19, the government suspended visits to all prisons from March 19 until further notice. Parcels and meals coming from outside for inmates, as well as visits by lawyers to their clients, were authorized, subject to compliance with the prevention system against COVID-19 set up in penitentiary establishments by the Ministry of Health in early March.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross was able to visit 2,800 prisoners in eight facilities in Ouagadougou, Fada N’Gourma, and Ouahigouya.

Improvements: As part of the fight against COVID-19, the French government and the Ministry of Justice signed an agreement in late June to strengthen the management of COVID-19 at the MACO and at the HSP.

In October the government completed the construction of a new detention center with a designed capacity for 500 inmates and a new administrative building for prison personnel in the civil prison of Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city of the country. The new detention center has 76 collective cells and 15 individual cells. The cells include showers, toilets, as well as collective visiting rooms and three individual visiting rooms for detainees’ lawyers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. Arbitrary arrests occurred, however, and a lack of access to defense counsel and inadequate staffing of the judiciary prevented many detainees from seeking pretrial release in court.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law police and gendarmes must usually possess a court-issued warrant based on sufficient evidence before apprehending a person suspected of committing a crime, but authorities did not always follow these procedures. Authorities did not consistently inform detainees of charges against them. Detainees have the right to expeditious arraignment, bail, access to legal counsel, and, if indigent, access to a lawyer provided by the government after being charged. In practice, however, attorneys were not appointed until trial began. A judge may order temporary release without bail pending trial. Authorities seldom respected these rights. The law provides detainees access to family members through court-issued authorizations.

The law limits detention without charge for investigative purposes to a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a single 48-hour period. In terrorism investigations the law allows detention for a 10-day period. In cases not related to terrorism, police did not always comply with the law, and the average time of detention without charge (preventive detention) was one week. Once authorities charge a suspect, the law permits judges to impose an unlimited number of consecutive six-month preventive detention periods while the prosecutor investigates charges. Authorities often detained defendants without access to legal counsel for weeks, months, or even years before the defendant appeared before a magistrate. There were instances in which authorities detained suspects incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Local independent rights groups alleged that security forces regularly arrested individuals arbitrarily for suspected involvement in terrorism. An official with the Ministry of Justice reported that hundreds of individuals detained at the HSP remained in detention without being charged. Judiciary leaders decried what they saw as a “broad net” cast by security forces in the field, whom they suspected of rounding up large groups of suspects without sufficient cause.

Pretrial Detention: In many cases authorities held detainees without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged offense; this was especially true in cases involving terrorism. While a pretrial release (release on bail) system existed, the extent of its use was unknown. Authorities estimated 52 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial status, but local independent rights groups estimated it to be as high as 70 percent. Local media regularly reported on cases of persons detained more than one year without trial. During the year the courts began ordering the release of suspected terrorists against whom there was insufficient evidence to move to trial on criminal charges, according to reports from HSP officials in Ouagadougou. On February 6, an HSP official reported that during January, 39 adult male terror suspects held at HSP were ordered to be released by the military and civilian courts. Some who were released unconditionally for a lack of evidence were to remain under court supervision pending further investigation of their cases. More than half of the released suspects were from the community of Djibo in the embattled Sahel Region close to the border with Mali.

The HSP population grew steadily, from 550 in October 2018 to more than 900 in pretrial detention as of August, and the government had not yet successfully prosecuted a single terrorism case through to completion. A lack of counsel specialized in criminal law, particularly defense lawyers willing to represent detainees arrested on terrorism charges, greatly contributed to delays in bringing cases to trial.

In September the government completed construction of a second courthouse in Ouagadougou to focus on terrorism cases. The national counterterrorism court (which has jurisdiction over terrorism cases) at this new courthouse was not operational by year’s end. The Superior Council of Magistrates named the judges to sit in the new tribunal and increased the staff to manage a growing caseload of unresolved terrorism cases.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides persons arrested or detained the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Prisoners who did so, however, reportedly faced difficulties due to either judicial corruption or inadequate staffing of the judiciary.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was corrupt, inefficient, and subject to executive influence, according to NGOs. There were no instances in which the trial outcomes appeared predetermined, however, and authorities respected court orders. Legal codes remained outdated, there were not enough courts, and legal costs were excessive. Citizens’ poor knowledge of their rights further weakened their ability to obtain justice. The reluctance of private defense lawyers to represent terrorist suspects in criminal cases was a problem, due to both lack of funds to pay appointed counsel and the social stigma associated with representing accused terrorists.

Military courts try cases involving military personnel charged with violating the military code of conduct. In certain rare cases, military courts may also try cases involving civilian defendants. Rights provided in military courts are equivalent to those in civil criminal courts. Military courts are headed by a civilian judge, hold public trials, and publish verdicts in the local press.

Trial Procedures

The law presumes defendants are innocent. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Trials are public but may be delayed. Judicial authorities use juries only in serious criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to legal representation, consultation, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to provide evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but a refusal to testify often resulted in harsher decisions. Defendants may challenge and present witnesses, and they have the right of appeal. In civil cases where the defendant is destitute and files an appeal, the state provides a court-appointed lawyer. In criminal cases court-appointed lawyers are mandatory for those who cannot afford one. The government did not always respect these rights, due in part to a continuing shortage of magistrates and court-appointed lawyers.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year, although some arrests and detentions may have been politically motivated.

In January, after diplomatic negotiations, the military prosecutor granted a six-month permission to Djibril Bassole to receive medical care in France. Bassole, former minister of foreign affairs and founder of opposition party New Alliance of the Faso, was sentenced in September 2019 to 10 years’ imprisonment by the Ouagadougou military court for allegedly providing support to the failed 2015 military coup. Bassole signed a declaration of honor in which he pledged “to appear in court as soon as [his] medical treatment is completed.” In addition, the former minister deposited the sum of 30 million CFA francs ($50,000) as a bond. Bassole, who was to return to Burkina Faso on June 29, requested and was granted a temporary extension of his stay in Paris.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but it was often seen as inefficient, corrupt, and subject to executive influence. As a result, citizens sometimes preferred to rely on the Office of the Ombudsman to settle disputes with the government.

The law provides for access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, and both administrative and judicial remedies were available for alleged wrongs. Victims of human rights violations may appeal directly to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, even before going through national courts. For civil and commercial disputes, authorities may refer cases to the ECOWAS Common Court of Justice and Arbitration in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. The courts issued several such orders during the year.

There were problems enforcing court orders in sensitive cases involving national security, wealthy or influential persons, and government officials.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In cases of national security, however, the law permits surveillance, searches, and monitoring of telephones and private correspondence without a warrant. The penal code permits wiretapping in terrorism cases, to be authorized by the president of a tribunal for a limited term. Investigative judges have the authority to authorize audio recording in private places. These investigations techniques were relatively new to the legal framework. The national intelligence service is authorized to use technology for surveillance, national security, and counterterrorism purposes.

In 2018 President Kabore declared a state of emergency in response to growing insecurity from extremist attacks in 14 provinces within seven of the country’s 13 administrative regions. The state of emergency granted additional powers to the security forces to carry out searches of homes and restrict freedom of movement and assembly. The state of emergency was most recently extended in January for an additional 12 months. Authorities in the Sahel and Est Regions also ordered a curfew due to extremist attacks.

According to international and local independent rights groups, the military employed informant systems to generate lists of suspected terrorists based on anecdotal evidence.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The country experienced numerous attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year, such as targeted killings, abductions, attacks on schools and mining sites, and theft of food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and creating significant internal displacement. Security forces also were responsible for killings and other abuses.

Killings: According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, as of November 14, there were more than 2,200 conflict-related fatalities since the beginning of the year, including more than 1,000 civilian deaths perpetrated by both security forces and various armed groups.

HRW issued a report in July documenting 180 civilian deaths, the majority of whom were Fulani men, between November 2019 and June, allegedly at the hands of security forces around Djibo in the Sahel Region.

On June 29, security forces reportedly arrested 12 Fulani men near Tanwalbougou (Est Region). Seven of the 12 were found dead on the outskirts of the village, in the same area where security forces allegedly killed 12 others while in detention the month before (see section 1.a.). The other five were released in a nearby village, after allegedly being tortured to the point of requiring urgent medical care.

In addition to large numbers of attacks against civilians perpetrated by armed groups and security forces alike, there were numerous attacks by extremists against security forces throughout the year (see section 1.a.).

As of August extremists including Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin and the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and Ansaroul Islam had conducted 22 attacks against political leaders and village officials in various locales, unlike in prior years when there were few known incidents of apparent targeted assassinations. In March a former mayor, a deputy mayor, three village chiefs, one prince, and two village development councilors were killed in the Est Region. In May, four village development councilors were killed in the Est Region. On June 13, the deputy mayor of the commune of Solhan, Sahel Region, was killed. In July a mayor and two municipal councilors were killed in the Centre Nord Region.

Armed groups also took advantage of poor road maintenance to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in potholes and ditches in efforts to ambush security forces and VDPs, which also led to the deaths of civilians. On January 4, a provincial government-sponsored bus convoy carrying children back to school after winter holidays triggered an IED believed to have been planted by extremists in Sourou Province. The blast killed 14 passengers, including seven schoolchildren. On July 12, Mathias Tankoano, the president of the Higher Council of Communication (CSC), and his security escort escaped an ambush by unidentified armed individuals employing a remotely controlled IED.

Extremists often targeted religious houses of worship and faith leaders. In December 2019 extremists killed 14 worshipers including the pastor during Sunday mass in their church in Hontoukoura village, (Komondjari Province, Est Region). On February 10, extremists abducted seven persons at the home of a pastor in Sebba, Sahel Region; five bodies, including that of the pastor, were found the following day. On February 18, extremists stormed Pansy village (Yagha Province, in the commune of Boundore) killing 24, including a pastor of the International Missionary Society, and they burned a Protestant church. On August 11, extremists kidnapped the imam of Djibo Grand Mosque in the Nord Region, while he was travelling back from Ouagadougou. He was found dead on August 15 in the outskirts of Djibo.

On January 20, extremists killed 36 civilians in Nagraogo and Alamou villages in Barsalogho Commune, Centre-Nord Region. Returned internally displaced persons (IDPs) were among the victims. On January 25, extremists stormed the village of Silgadji (Tongomayel Commune, Soum Province, Sahel Region) and killed 39 civilians of different religious backgrounds. Press and security services reported that on May 29, extremists attacked a convoy of local shopkeepers returning from the local market in Loroum Province’s Titao town, killing 16 civilians. On May 31, extremists fired upon the crowd at the cattle market in Kompienbiga village, near Pama, killing 25 and injuring others.

On June 26, armed attackers ambushed a convoy of merchants, under escort by VDPs, on the Titao-Solle road in Loroum Province (Nord Region). Despite a prompt reaction from the Solle military detachment, six VDPs and one soldier were killed and several others injured.

On July 13, 20 gunmen attacked the villages of Gabougou and Fondjoma in Matiakoali Commune, in the East. They allegedly killed five persons and abducted two others. Two days later the same gunmen reportedly returned to these villages claiming that they had a list of 30 individuals they would execute. Many in the villages fled.

On July 21, the body of a VDP from Peela village in Tangaye, abducted two days earlier by extremists, was discovered by fellow VDPs. They had to move the body from a distance using a rope because the body had been covered in explosives.

Communal tensions, often exploited by extremists, security forces, and VDPs, sometimes resulted in interethnic clashes.

An investigation by the government remained open with no charges made following the January 2019 attack by members of Koglweogo against Fulani herding communities in Yirgou outside the town of Barsalogho that killed 46 civilians. On February 4, authorities provisionally released the Koglweogo vigilante group leader Boureima Nadbanka and one other Koglweogo member, of 13 who had been arrested in December 2019; the releases followed protests by Nadbanka’s supporters who had blocked roads to pressure the government into releasing him.

Abductions: Extremists kidnapped dozens of civilians throughout the year, including international humanitarian aid and medical workers. In August media sources reported the kidnapping of the deputy mayor of Lanfiera (Centre Ouest Region) by unidentified armed individuals. On August 27, extremists kidnapped two retired civil servants on the Namissiguia-Djibo road at an illegal checkpoint and released them on September 5 in the village of Bourro, 19 miles from Djibo (Sahel Region). On September 18, the chief of Djibasso village, in the Boucle du Mouhoun Region, was kidnapped and remained missing at year’s end.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to HRW, the Collective against Communities’ Impunity and Stigmatization, and the MBDHP, on several occasions security force members tortured and beat civilians they suspected of having ties to terrorist groups, and sometimes destroyed their property (see section 1.c.).

In July witnesses said extremists raped two women in a village in the Nord Region.

Child Soldiers: There were no reports of the government recruiting or using child soldiers. Although it was difficult to obtain precise data on groups that recruited and used children, information from the Ministry of Justice reported the presence of a few children, estimated to be 12-14 years old, held in detention centers on terrorism charges, which indicated that armed nonstate groups may have recruited minors. As of September officials from the Ministry of Justice confirmed that eight minors, arrested with alleged terrorists, were detained at the HSP and the MACO. Several minors arrested and detained as terror suspects were released to NGOs and the Red Cross for return to their families.

Other Conflictrelated Abuse: According to the Ministry of National Education, as of September 15, 2,300 schools had closed due to attacks or insecurity, negatively affecting almost 350,000 students and more than 11,200 teachers (section 6, Children). In a May report, HRW documented the alleged use of 10 schools by government security forces for military purposes in Centre-Nord and Sahel Regions in 2019, including three occupied as bases for six months to a year. In at least eight cases, the schools had reportedly closed due to insecurity prior to the occupation. In July at least 13 schools were burned in the municipality of Tansarga, in the Est Region; reports indicated that up to 20 armed individuals went from village to village ransacking and burning the schools. On September 15, extremists set fire to the elementary school, communal high school, town hall, and prefecture in Tansarga, Est Region.

Local authorities in the Sahel, Nord, and Est Regions reported that extremists had displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians and limited movement in rural areas. According to the independent nonprofit news organization The New Humanitarian, the number of persons in need of emergency food aid tripled to more than 3.2 million during the year, with an estimated 11,000 suffering from “catastrophic” levels of hunger. The government worked with international and local aid organizations to improve food, water, health services, and protection for affected civilians against abuses and violations, but civilians and civilian services remained extremely vulnerable and in many cases were directly targeted by armed groups.

Throughout the year armed groups attacked medical facilities and hijacked ambulances and official vehicles of humanitarian and medical aid workers. According to UN Population Fund, as of July approximately 113 health centers were closed and 156 were idle due to terrorist activity, depriving 1.5 million persons of access to health care. Multiple sources reported that on June 24, unknown attackers seized a World Food Program (WFP) truck in Soum Province (Sahel Region). The attackers stole the truck’s cargo (35 metric tons of vegetable oil for WFP’s nutrition distribution) and abducted the driver and his apprentice for several hours before releasing them and the vehicle the same night.

On August 27, unidentified armed individuals caused a serious water shortage in Titao after they broke into a sector of the city of Titao, in Loroum Province (Nord Region), and destroyed machinery used to pump water to treatment stations of the National Office for Water and Sanitation. The assailants also stole the battery and starter, reportedly for use in making IEDs.

According to a report commissioned by the government, extremist attacks on gold mining sites gave them access to gold as a source of funding, as well as to explosives for the production of IEDs. The report revealed that since 2016, armed extremist groups had reaped 70 billion CFA francs ($126 million) from attacks on mining sites.

Extremist groups also forced women, predominantly in the North and Sahel Regions, to cover their heads, forced men to wear religious garb, prevented children from going to non-Quranic schools, and prohibited civilians from drinking alcohol, smoking, and frequenting bars at the risk of beatings or death.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. In 2019 the National Assembly voted to amend the penal code banning journalists from reporting any security-related news in an effort to preserve national security and prevent the demoralization of the military “by any means.” Attempts to “demoralize” members of the military had previously been a crime.

A 2015 law decriminalized press offenses and replaced prison sentences with substantial monetary fines. Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines. Despite the reform, journalists occasionally faced criminal prosecution for libel and other forms of harassment and intimidation.

Freedom of Speech: The 2019 revision of the penal code criminalizes communicating the position or movements of defense forces, or sites of national interest or of a strategic nature, and the publication of any terrorist crime scene without authorization. The amendment significantly increases penalties for the crime of publicly insulting another person if electronic communications are used to publish the insult; the law had previously prohibited persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office. Local and international associations of journalists called for the rejection of the amendments as an unacceptable attempt to stifle freedom of speech.

On July 29, the CSC issued a decision banning media coverage of political activities during the period from August 3 to October 30, the precampaign period prior to the November 22 presidential and legislative elections. Media coverage of any activity in support of a political party, candidate, or grouping of political parties or independents was banned. This decision drew criticism from media professionals, civil society organizations, and political leaders. They accused the CSC of supporting the president’s majority coalition, since the president and members of the government could continue their official government activities and be covered by the media. Critics noted that on the pretext of reviewing the status of the National Economic and Social Development Program, a presidential program, ministers toured regions using logistical and financial resources of the state. Following the adoption on August 25 of a new electoral law, the precampaign period was changed to October 1-30.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, albeit with some restrictions. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference.

All media are under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Communications, which is responsible for developing and implementing government policy on information and communication. The CSC monitored the content of local radio and television programs, newspapers, and internet websites to enforce compliance with standards of professional ethics and government policy. The CSC may summon journalists and issue warnings for subsequent violations. Hearings may concern alleged libel, disturbing the peace, inciting violence, or violations of state security.

Violence and Harassment: On January 7, unidentified individuals set the car of journalist Ladji Bama on fire, in front of his home in Ouagadougou. On November 10, in the period preceding the November 22 elections, Bama was the victim of another attack by an unidentified individual when a bullet hit the car he and two others were travelling in during their return trip from Dori (Sahel Region), where he had participated in a panel discussing electoral corruption. Bama, who had won awards for reporting on corruption, was one of the journalists who exposed the “fine coal” scandal in 2018 concerning an attempted fraudulent export to Canada of gold and of silver, disguised as coal residue.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on publishing security-related information and insulting the head of state, the law prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing that publishing blatant criticism of the government could result in arrest or closure of their newspaper.

Libel/Slander Laws: On July 24, five activists on social media networks were sentenced to 12 to 36 months in prison for contempt of court, public insults, incitement to hatred towards magistrates, and violence. This judgment came after these activists were accused of having insulted, in Facebook posts, the chief prosecutor for warning government security forces regarding their alleged acts of torture inflicted against offenders of the government’s COVID-19 curfew.

Internet Freedom

The law permits a judge, at the request of a “public minister” (prosecutor), to block internet websites or email addresses being used to spread “false information” to the public. The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet; however, the CSC and the chief prosecutor monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Extremist groups threatened civilians with beatings or death for listening to music.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

On multiple occasions throughout the year, the government denied requests for permits to NGOs and civil society organizations who sought to organize demonstrations and rallies. The government stopped a planned rally by a coalition of civil society organizations and labor unions in March, invoking COVID-19 restrictions. On May 30, police used tear gas to disperse a protest march of nightclub workers advocating for the lifting of a COVID-19-related curfew in Bobo-Dioulasso. On August 8, police broke up an impromptu gathering in Ouagadougou calling for the return of former president Blaise Compaore.

Political parties and labor unions may hold meetings and rallies without government permission, although advance notification and approval are required for public demonstrations that may affect traffic or threaten public order. If a demonstration or rally results in violence, injury, or significant property damage, penalties for the organizers include six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and substantial fines. These penalties may be doubled for conviction of organizing an unauthorized rally or demonstration. Demonstrators may appeal denials or imposed modifications of a proposed march route or schedule before the courts.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: The government required citizens to carry a national identity document, and it authorized officials to request the document at any time. Without a national identity card, citizens could not pass between certain regions of the country and were subject to arrest and fines.

Armed extremists restricted movement of thousands of rural inhabitants throughout the country by planting IEDs on major highways, hijacking vehicles, and setting up checkpoints. In response to dozens of attacks by unknown armed groups presumed to be extremists, local authorities instituted a ban on motorcycle traffic from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the Est and Nord Regions.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Recurrent armed attacks and interethnic clashes throughout the Nord and Est Regions caused a steep increase in the number of IDPs, from approximately 560,000 registered in December 2019 to almost 1.1 million as of December 2020 (see section 1.g.). According to The New Humanitarian, the number of persons in need of emergency food aid tripled to more than 3.2 million during the year, with approximately 11,000 suffering from “catastrophic” levels of hunger. In July and August, the NGO Davycas, with WFP and UNICEF support, conducted a nutritional survey for the Ministry of Health in 11 communes of the country with a high concentration of IDPs. The survey showed that more than 535,500 children younger than age five suffered from global acute malnutrition, including 156,500 who suffered severe malnutrition.

On August 20, the government revised its humanitarian response plan for conflict-affected areas. The new plan, at a cost of 233 billion CFA francs ($424 million) is intended to help 2.9 million persons in identified areas for intervention. The government worked with international and local aid organizations to improve food, water, health services, and protection of affected civilians against abuses. The government promoted local integration of IDPs by offering limited assistance to host families.

Despite interventions from the government and NGOs, access to lodging, water, and food remained critical problems facing IDPs. Media reported that in the Centre-Nord Region, some IDPs used a former pigsty for shelter in the rainy season due to a lack of tents; before the rainy season, they had been sleeping outside. In an interview, the mayor of Fada N’Gourma Commune (Est Region) revealed that women could sometimes spend all day waiting in line at a local water point in vain. On August 27, IDPs in the Nord-Ouest Region demonstrated to denounce deficiencies in food distribution and the exclusion of some IDPs from government aid.

IDPs were highly vulnerable to attacks and human rights abuses. On October 4, unidentified armed individuals ambushed a convoy of IDPs in the Centre Nord Region, killing 25 men and later releasing the women and children. The IDPs had been returning to their homes from the town of Pissila, where they had hoped to find an improved security situation. The survivors received psychological support from a partner in the region of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

NGOs reported that IDP girls were particularly at risk for abuses. In a June report on girls in the Sahel Region, the NGO Plan International noted that early marriage, forced labor, and physical violence had multiplied in the conflict-affected area. Similarly, a May Oxfam report described women and girls exposed to daily rape, sexual harassment, and assault in fields and at water points; many, facing extreme poverty, were also vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups.

Oxfam also described corrupt practices in the registration of IDPs and the misappropriation of aid resources. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the precarious conditions of IDPs, with the WFP reporting a significant increase in household costs linked to the pandemic.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, as well as to returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. UNHCR recorded more than 20,000 refugees as of October 31, the vast majority from Mali.

Recurrent terrorist attacks hampered access by humanitarian workers to deliver lifesaving supplies and assistance to refugees, as well as IDPs.

After almost eight years of relatively undisturbed existence, the Malian refugee camps in Mentao and Goudebou effectively closed down for periods during the year. Goudebou emptied after unidentified armed men attacked the camp on March 2, while refugees in Mentao left after government forces carried out a heavy-handed search operation on May 2 that led to serious injuries.

According to refugee accounts relayed by UNHCR, the March 2 attack occurred when unidentified gunmen entered Goudebou Camp to demand a particular refugee, who was not present. The attackers beat members of the refugee’s family, set fire to the gendarme post, and issued all the camp’s refugees a March 7 ultimatum to leave the camp or face death. As of December the camp stood empty, including the schools, health center, and water infrastructure.

The Mentao Camp effectively closed after government security forces entered the camp on May 2 in search of individuals who had attacked gendarmes, killing one, earlier that day. Alleging the assailants had passed through the camp and could still be there, government forces conducted a thorough search of each shelter. According to contacts, the forces separated men and women and severely beat many of the men. At least 32 refugees were injured, some seriously. Although the government told UNHCR there was no ultimatum forcing them to leave, the refugees fled to the town of Djibo. In a May 5 communique, the government promised to investigate the incident and offered to help find a new site to which the refugees could be relocated. On July 14, the government announced the relocation of the Mentao camp onto the site of the reopened Goudoubo camp, which it said had more space and better security measures.

In early April a dispute in a Sud-Ouest Region gold mine near Diebougou resulted in one death and the flight of more than one thousand Nigerien nationals from the mine site towards the towns of Kokologo and Sabou. They ‎sought their government’s consular assistance to be repatriated while the border was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs, aided by the National Committee for Refugees, is the focal point for coordination of national and international efforts.

Freedom of Movement: According to UNHCR, police arbitrarily arrested Fulani refugees travelling from the Sahel Region to Ouagadougou on multiple occasions, sometimes holding them in detention overnight before releasing them.

Access to Basic Services: According to UNHCR, public institutions such as banks, schools, and hospitals occasionally refused service to refugees on a discriminatory basis.

Durable Solutions: Following the March 2 incident in the Goudebou Camp, many refugees decided the situation was too precarious, and more than 5,000 registered with UNHCR for repatriation assistance. Most of them returned to Mali, although mid-March border closures related to COVID-19 prevented some returns.

Temporary Protection: The government agreed to offer temporary protection to individuals who did not qualify as refugees, but there were no such applicants during the year.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, more than 700,000 habitual residents were legally or de facto stateless, mostly due to a lack of documentation. The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion worked with UNHCR to deploy mobile courts to remote villages to issue birth certificates and national identity documents to residents who qualified for citizenship.

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: President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote in the November 22 national elections. His party, the People’s Movement for Progress, won 56 of the 127 seats in the National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. The Congress for Democracy and Progress, the party of longtime former president Blaise Compaore who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2014, became the largest opposition party with 20 seats. Some leading opposition candidates alleged irregularities and fraud but acknowledged the results and urged a “spirit of political dialogue.” National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity. The government had earlier declared that voting would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.

In the period preceding the November presidential and legislative elections, the National Assembly adopted a bill on August 29 to modify the electoral law. This new electoral law stipulates that in the event of force majeure or exceptional circumstances duly noted by the Constitutional Council, resulting in the impossibility of organizing the elections in a part of the territory, the elections shall be validated on the basis of results from those polling stations open on election day. This modification, which was approved with the support of the ruling coalition as well as key segments of the parliamentary opposition, was nonetheless criticized by part of the political class and civil society organizations, since it allows for the exclusion of a large number of voters living in insecure areas of the country.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties generally operated freely. In a September 3 press release, the minister of territorial administration, decentralization, and social cohesion, in application of the electoral code, made public the list of political parties authorized to participate in the November 22 presidential and legislative elections. According to the communique, 143 political parties and three political formations were legally constituted, and the minister urged other political parties to comply with the regulatory provisions by September 11 if they wished to take part in the elections.

The 2015 electoral code approved by the National Transitional Council stipulated the exclusion of certain members of the former political majority. The code stated that persons who “supported a constitutional change that led to a popular uprising” were ineligible to be candidates in future elections. In 2018 the National Assembly passed a new electoral law that allows all political candidates to run for election and opened the vote to members of the Burkinabe diaspora in possession of a national identity card or passport. At least two candidates who were formerly excluded under this law applied to be presidential candidates in the November elections and were approved by the electoral commission.

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. Parties and government officials stated women were less engaged in politics due to cultural and traditional factors. Although the gender quota law requires political parties to name women to fill at least 30 percent of the positions on their candidate lists in legislative and municipal elections, no political party met this requirement in the November 22 elections, nor during the 2016 and the May 2017 make-up municipal elections. In March a new law establishing “zebra lists” mandated that electoral lists alternate names of men and women in order to better achieve a 30 percent quota. The law includes positive incentives for political parties respecting the quota but no penalties for those who do not abide by the law. In September the Ministry of Territorial Administration, with the financial support of the UN Development Program, organized a public awareness campaign tour for the law on the gender quota in five regions to improve the participation of women in the November elections.

Monique Yeli Kam, of the Burkina Rebirth Movement, was the only female candidate among 14 certified as eligible for the November 22 presidential election. Following the 2020 legislative elections and the formation of a new government, women held 19 of 127 seats in the National Assembly after the elections (compared to 14 women in the previous National Assembly). Of 18,602 city councilors, 2,359 were women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Throughout the year the press reported cases of misappropriation, fraud, or other offenses. The NGO National Network for Anti-Corruption cited the customs, police, and General Directorate of Land and Maritime Transport as the most corrupt entities in the government.

Corruption: Authorities opened an investigation of former minister of defense Jean-Claude Bouda for using government funds to build personal wealth. He was arrested in May 26 and provisionally released on October 22.

On June 14, Judge Narcisse Sawadogo was arrested on corruption allegations, as part of a broader judicial process involving Ouagadougou’s mayor Armand Beouinde. Charging documents stated the magistrate asked for financial compensation to help Beouinde avoid justice. Beouinde was accused of using taxpayer money to buy vehicles worth 4.6 billion CFA francs ($7.9 million) through a company in which he and his family had interests. Sawadogo was released on December 28 after the court ruled the offense of attempted fraud was not constituted.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires government officials–including the president, lawmakers, ministers, ambassadors, members of the military leadership, judges, and anyone charged with managing state funds–to declare their assets and any gifts or donations received while in office. On August 4, the Higher Authority of State Monitoring and the Fight against Corruption launched an electronic platform of declaration of interest and inheritance. The initiative, funded by the World Bank, was made available to government officials as well as members of certain institutions to declare their assets. The Constitutional Council is mandated to monitor and verify compliance with such laws and may order investigations if noncompliance is suspected. Disclosures are not made public, however, and there were no reports of criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance. On the eve of the 2020 presidential and legislative elections, National Assembly members elected in 2015 who had not complied with this law faced no sanctions.

In 2016 the Higher Authority for State Control and the Fight against Corruption extended the requirement to declare assets to include government officials’ spouses and minor children. Infractions are punishable by a maximum prison term of 20 years and substantial fines. The law also punishes persons who do not reasonably explain an increase in lifestyle expenditures beyond the 5 percent threshold set by regulation in connection with lawful income. Convicted offenders risk imprisonment for two to five years and a substantial fine. A 2016 law limits the value of a gift a government official may receive to 35,000 CFA francs ($60).

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and somewhat responsive to their views. In July the minister of defense responded to human rights groups’ allegations on behalf of the government, committing to investigate the numerous allegations; at year’s end there were no significant updates on such investigations.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: During the year the government approved the establishment of an office in Ouagadogou by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; as of year’s end, the office was not yet operational.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2019 President Kabore established the Ministry of Human Rights and Civic Promotion, separating responsibilities from the Ministry of Justice, which had overseen human rights. During the year the Ministry of Human Rights organized several training sessions for security forces on the laws of armed conflict, provided assistance to victims of extremist and gender-based violence, and organized antistigmatization and social cohesion campaigns. The government also assigned gendarmes as provost marshals to accompany deployed troops during military operations to verify detainees were afforded proper treatment and promptly taken before a military magistrate.

The Office of the Ombudsman addresses citizen complaints regarding government entities and other bodies entrusted with a public service mission. The ombudsman, whom the president appoints for a nonrenewable five-year term and who may not be removed during the term, was generally viewed as effective and impartial.

The government-funded National Commission on Human Rights provides a permanent framework for dialogue on human rights concerns. Its members include 15 representatives of human rights NGOs, unions, professional associations, and the government. Although inadequately funded, the commission produced a well documented report, released in June, on intercommunal violence and made recommendations to the government on responding to IDP population needs.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Gender-based violence was prevalent, including rape and domestic violence. According to the penal code, rape is punishable by a prison sentence of 11 to 20 years and a substantial monetary fine when committed against an adult or minor age 13 years or older. The penalty is 11 to 30 years in prison and even higher monetary fines when the victim is younger than 13. Rape was widely underreported in part due to societal taboos and the drawn-out judicial process owing to the overburdened justice system. Media, however, reported on the prevalence of rape cases and subsequent convictions.

In May, Oxfam reported more than one million women and girls in the country faced increased sexual violence, as well as hunger and water shortages, as a result of the conflict and further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic (see sections 1.g. and 2.e.).

On August 12, a man was arrested for having raped and impregnated his 14-year-old daughter who was then repudiated by the family for acts of incest. She was transferred to a shelter for young girls in distress in Ouagadougou.

The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs indicated in a July 8 communique that three girls ages three, five, and eight were raped in the Boucle du Mouhoun Region, and the three-year-old victim died. The communique also revealed that a 17-year-old IDP was seriously injured with a machete by her boyfriend. An investigation was underway into these attacks.

On March 30, a 16-year-old girl was reportedly raped on her hospital bed in the Tanghin-Dassouri Department by the son of a male patient housed in the same room as the victim.

Survivors of domestic violence seldom pursued legal action due to shame, fear, or reluctance to take their spouses to court. For the few cases that went to court, the Ministry of Justice could provide no statistics on prosecutions, convictions, or punishment. A government-run shelter for survivors of gender-based violence housed women and girls regardless of nationality. In Ouagadougou the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs assisted victims of domestic violence at four centers. The ministry sometimes provided counseling and housing for abused women.

The ministry has a legal affairs section to educate women on their rights, and several NGOs cooperated to protect women’s rights. To raise awareness of gender discrimination and reduce gender inequalities, the ministry organized numerous workshops and several awareness campaigns mainly in the Nord, Sahel, Est, and Centre-Ouest Regions.

The law makes conviction of “abduction to impose marriage or union without consent” punishable by six months to five years in prison. Conviction of sexual abuse or torture or conviction of sexual slavery is punishable by two to five years in prison. Conviction of these crimes may also carry substantial monetary fines.

The law requires police to provide for protection of domestic violence survivors and their minor children and mandates the establishment of chambers in the High Court with exclusive jurisdiction over cases of violence against women and girls. The law requires all police and gendarmerie units to designate officers to assist women affected or threatened by gender-based violence and to respond to emergencies; however, some units had not complied by year’s end. It also mandates the creation of care and protection centers in each commune for gender-based violence survivors and a government support fund for their care. The centers receive survivors on an emergency basis, offer them security, provide support services (including medical and psychosocial support), and, when possible, refer them to court.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The practice of FGM/C is prohibited by law, and those found guilty are liable to a prison sentence of one to 10 years with a substantial monetary fine. If a victim of FGM/C dies following the excision, the sentence increases to a term of 11 to 20 years’ imprisonment and an even higher monetary fine. Accomplices are also punishable with penalties. While comprehensive statistics were not available, as of December 2019 the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs had registered 185 FGM/C cases in the Sud-Ouest Region. Some arrests were reported.

Media reported some FGM/C cases. For example, in January, nine girls ages one to five were excised in the village of Tiomboni in Hounde, but no arrests were reported.

The government continued to fund and operate a toll-free number to receive anonymous reports of the practice. The government continued to fund the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for the Fight against the Practice of Excision, which reported that as of August, 3,090 villages had agreed to cease practicing excision. The council strengthened the skills of regional coordinators of women’s associations in the fight against excision through training. The government also provided training to 2,500 health workers to strengthen their skills in caring for FGM/C-related medical complications. On July 14, President Kabore spoke with representatives of youth from the 13 regions of the country engaged in the fight against FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In the Center-East Region, primarily in rural areas, self-proclaimed traditional healers performed rituals in which participants denounced others as “witches” whom they held responsible for their misfortune. Those accused, often elderly women, and less frequently men, were sometimes tied up, humiliated, beaten, brutalized, banned from their villages, or killed. Widows were disproportionately accused of witchcraft by male relatives, who then claimed their land and other inheritance. The law, which was seldom enforced, makes the conviction of physical or moral abuse of women or girls accused of witchcraft punishable by one to five years in prison, a substantial monetary fine, or both.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides for sentences of three months to one year in prison and a substantial monetary fine or conviction of sexual harassment; the maximum penalty applies if the perpetrator is a relative or in a position of authority, or if the victim is “vulnerable.” The government was ineffective in enforcing the law. Owing to social taboos, victims rarely reported sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: The law entitles couples and individuals to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but individuals often lacked the information and means to exercise these rights.

Government and private health centers were open to all women and offered reproductive health services, skilled medical assistance during childbirth (essential obstetric and postpartum care), and diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Family planning services were free in all public health facilities. Remote villages, however, often lacked these facilities or did not have adequate transportation infrastructure to permit easy access.

According to the UNFPA, 58 percent of women aged 15-49 had their reproductive needs satisfied with modern methods. According to the UNFPA also, in 2018 the adolescent birth rate was 132 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19.

Geographical distance, illiteracy, insufficient capacity of providers, lack of medical supplies, and religious and social beliefs regarding the negative effects of contraceptive methods were the main barriers to access to contraception. Women’s limited decision-making power and men’s lack of support for and understanding of family planning were also barriers to access to contraception.

The government worked with international and local aid organizations to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for Internally Displaced Persons.

The volatile security situation impacted women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health needs, since 12 percent of the health centers in the Nord, Sahel, and Est regions closed due to insecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic reduced access to family planning services, as well as overall sexual and reproductive health.

In 2016 according to the National Institute of Statistics and Demography, the maternal mortality rate was 320 deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the UNFPA, between 2014-2019, 80 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel. Among the leading causes of maternal deaths were hemorrhage (30 percent) and infection (23 percent).

The government’s official midwifery curriculum included components on the prevention of FGM/C and care for women and girls affected by it.

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

Discrimination: Although the law generally provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men–including under family, labor, property, and inheritance laws–discrimination frequently occurred. Labor laws provide that all workers–men and women alike–should receive equal pay for equal working conditions, qualifications, and performance. Women nevertheless generally received lower pay for equal work, had less education, and owned less property. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment under certain working conditions and in the same occupations and industries as men.

Although the law provides equal property and inheritance rights for women and men, land tenure practices emphasized family and communal land requirements more than individual ownership rights. As a result, authorities often denied women the right to own property, particularly real estate. Many citizens, particularly in rural areas, held to traditional beliefs that did not recognize inheritance rights for women and regarded a woman as property that could be inherited upon her husband’s death.

The government conducted media campaigns to change attitudes toward women. It sponsored a number of community outreach efforts and awareness campaigns to promote women’s rights.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives either from birth within the country’s territory or through a parent. Parents generally did not register births immediately, particularly in the rural areas; lack of registration sometimes resulted in denial of public services, including access to school. To address the problem, the government periodically organized registration drives and issued belated birth certificates.

Education: The law provides for compulsory schooling of children until age 16. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Targeted attacks on schools and insecurity forced thousands of schools to close (see section 1.g.). Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Other factors affecting school enrollment included distance to the nearest school, lack of transportation, shortages of teachers and instructional materials, and lack of school feeding programs. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, a cultural preference to educate boys, the early marriage of girls, and sexual harassment of girls.

Many children attended Quranic schools. Educators forced some children sent to Quranic schools by their parents to engage in begging (see section 7.c.).

Child Abuse: The penal code provides for a prison sentence of one to three years with a substantial monetary fine for those found guilty of inhuman treatment or mistreatment of children. In 2019 the government launched a National Child Protection Strategy to create a strengthened institutional, community, and family environment to ensure effective protection for children by 2023.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits forced marriage and provides for prison sentences ranging from six months to two years for offenders, and a three-year prison sentence if the victim is younger than age 13.

According to the family code, “marriage can only be contracted between a man older than age 20 and a woman older than 17, unless age exemption is granted for serious cause by the civil court.” Nonetheless, data from UNICEF indicated that 10 per cent of women were married before age 15 and 52 per cent of women before 18. While early marriage occurred throughout the country, the NGO Plan International reported that some of the highest rates of early marriage were 83 percent in the Sud-Ouest Region, 83 percent in the Centre-Nord Region and 72 percent in the Centre-Est Region. In August the Lobbying and Advocacy Action Group (GALOP), an association mainly composed of the wives of senior officials and chaired by the first lady, initiated a training session to counter the practice of child marriage, which was carried by media in Ouagadougou. GALOP set up a network of journalists and communicators to produce and disseminate press articles to raise awareness of the effects of early marriage. During the year the government organized travelling campaigns targeting specific communes for education against the practice.

According to media reports, however, the traditional practice persisted of kidnapping, raping, and impregnating a girl and then forcing her family to consent to her marriage to her violator. NGOs reported that minors, especially girls, were kidnapped on their way to school or to market and forced into early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides penalties for conviction of “child prostitution” or child pornography of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both. The minimum age of consensual sex is 15. The law criminalizes the sale of children, child commercial sexual exploitation, and child pornography. Children from poor families were particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. The government did not report any convictions for violations of the law during the year. The penal code prescribes penalties of 11 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine for sex trafficking involving a victim 15 years or younger. It also prescribes five to 10 years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines for sex trafficking involving a victim older than age 15.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law provides for a sentence of 10 years’ to life imprisonment for infanticide. Newspapers reported several cases of abandonment of newborn babies.

Displaced Children: Recurrent armed attacks displaced hundreds of thousands of children. According to CONASUR, the national emergency relief council, women and children accounted for 60 percent of the IDPs (see section 2.e.).

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish community. 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 in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. There is legislation to provide persons with disabilities less costly or free health care and access to education and employment. The law also includes building codes to provide for access to government buildings. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination and reported difficulty finding employment, including in government service.

The government had limited programs to aid persons with disabilities, but NGOs and the National Committee for the Reintegration of Persons with Disabilities conducted awareness campaigns and implemented integration programs.

On October 27, President Kabore presided over a national forum on developing more socioeconomic inclusion for persons with disabilities. The government continued to arrange for candidates with vision disabilities to take the public administration recruitment exams by providing the tests in braille. Additionally, authorities opened specific counters at enrollment sites to allow persons with disabilities to register more easily for public service admission tests. According to the Ministry of Education, children with disabilities attended school at lower rates than others, although the government provided for limited special education programs in Ouagadougou.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Long-standing conflicts between Fulani (Peuhl) herders and sedentary farmers of other ethnic groups sometimes resulted in violence. Incidents were commonly triggered by herders allowing their cattle to graze on farmlands or by farmers attempting to cultivate land set aside by local authorities for grazing. Government efforts at dialogue and mediation contributed to a decrease in such incidents.

On April 13, in the western part of the country, media reported that a land dispute along ethnic lines between Karaboro and Mosse communities in the Cascade Region’s Sideradougou Commune resulted in the death of four men.

Allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture, and violations of due process and basic human rights by security forces and VDPs, particularly against the Fulani community, continued to mount. While senior officials, including President Kabore, appeared politically committed to reinforcing respect for human rights and holding abusers accountable, the government lacked capacity to address a growing case load of such allegations.

Many observers, including HRW, noted an ethnic dynamic underscoring the violence in the country. Armed groups often recruited from the Fulani community, while the vast majority of men allegedly killed by security forces were Fulani because of their perceived support of extremist groups.

On January 21, the government passed a law establishing the VDP in an effort to institutionalize civilian support for state counterterrorism efforts. There were reports the VDPs did not incorporate Fulani into their ranks, nor did Fulani seek to be included among the VDPs. This dynamic underscored the precarious situation for the Fulani, who lacked security in their community but were excluded from the state’s security effort, thereby fueling a perception of or actual experience of marginalization among the Fulani. The government conducted media campaigns in an effort to change attitudes toward the Fulani community. It sponsored a number of media outreach efforts and awareness campaigns against the stigmatization of ethnic groups. In what observers understood to be a reference to the Fulani, President Kabore spoke against the “stigmatization of entire communities following armed terrorist acts in certain localities of our country” in his speech during the December 28 inauguration ceremony for his second and final term of office.

Indigenous People

Indigenous persons and their institutions sometimes participated in decisions affecting their land. Exploitation of natural resources near indigenous land endangered the welfare and livelihoods of indigenous communities. A Chinese construction project announced in 2019 to build a hospital in a protected forest in Bobo-Dioulasso sparked a controversial debate and was strongly rejected by the local population. Indigenous communities criticized the government’s decision to permit construction on approximately 38 acres of the forest and suggested that the hospital be built on another site. Following the controversy, the government suspended the project and commissioned an environmental impact study of the site. On August 13, the government announced that in line with the study’s recommendation, the hospital would be built on another site located a few miles from the original one.

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

The country has no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation, prosecution, or sentencing of bias-motivated crimes against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. NGOs reported police occasionally arrested gay men and transgender individuals and humiliated them in detention before releasing them.

Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was a problem, and it was exacerbated by religious and traditional beliefs. Medical facilities often refused to provide care to members of the transgender community, and LGBTI individuals were occasionally victims of verbal and physical abuse, according to LGBTI support groups. There were no reports the government responded to societal violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons.

LGBTI organizations had no legal status in the country but existed unofficially with no reported harassment. There were no reports of government or societal violence against such organizations.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS continued to be a problem and prohibited some individuals from receiving medical services due to fear of harassment. Families sometimes shunned persons who tested positive and sometimes evicted HIV-positive wives from their homes, although families did not evict their HIV-positive husbands. Some property owners refused to rent lodgings to persons with HIV/AIDS. The government distributed free antiretroviral medication to some HIV-positive persons who qualified according to national guidelines.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers to form and join independent unions, except for public employees and essential workers, such as magistrates, police, military, and other security personnel, who may not join unions. The law provides unions the right to conduct their activities without interference.

The law provides for the right to strike, although it significantly limits that right. For strikes that call on workers to stay home and that do not entail participation in a rally, the union is required to provide eight to 15 days’ advance notice to the employer. If unions call for a march, they must provide three days’ advance notice to the city mayor. Authorities hold march organizers accountable for any property damage or destruction that occurs during a demonstration. The law strictly prohibits all strikes that include occupying the workplace, including nonviolent strikes. The law also gives the government extensive requisitioning powers, authorizing it to requisition private- and public-sector workers to secure minimum service in essential services. The government defined essential services inconsistently with international standards, including services such as mining and quarrying, university centers, and slaughterhouses.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows a labor inspector to reinstate immediately workers fired because of their union activities. Relevant legal protections cover all workers, including migrants, workers in the informal sector, and domestic workers. International organizations reported that contract workers and agency workers faced antiunion discrimination from employers. The law provides for freedom of association and collective bargaining. The government effectively enforced the law. The law lists sanctions for violations, including warnings, penalties, suspension, or dissolution. Penalties consist of imprisonment and fines and vary depending on the gravity of the violation. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Amendments to the law award a legal existence to labor unions of NGOs, create a commission of mediation, and require that associations abide by the law concerning funding terrorism and money laundering. The law also states that no one may serve as the head of a political party and the head of an association at the same time.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally respected the right of unions to conduct activities without interference. Unions have the right to bargain directly with employers and industry associations for wages and other benefits. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. There were no reports of strikebreaking during the year. Government resources to enforce labor laws were not sufficient to protect workers’ rights.

There were no reports of government restrictions on collective bargaining during the year. There was extensive collective bargaining in the formal wage sector, which was where many worker rights violations occurred.

Protesting the government’s decision to tax civil servant benefits and allowances (known as the IUTS or Impot Unique sur les Traitements et Salaires), several thousand civil servants marched peacefully on March 7 in Ouagadougou, Bobo Dioulasso, Koudougou, and other key urban centers and went on strike March 16-20. All further union actions were suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions. After COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, the unions rallied on July 4 and went on strike July 8-9. The unions demanded the annulment of the IUTS tax, a reversal of suspensions and cuts in wages, and follow-through on past promises to increase wages.

On September 17, the minister of national education brought Bassolma Bazie to a disciplinary council for refusing to comply with his official working time. In addition to being a teacher, Bassolma Bazie was the general secretary of the General Confederation of Labor of Burkina Faso. He was also the spokesperson for the coalition of trade unions against the application of the IUTS. The unions and the workers he represented saw this disciplinary action as official harassment against the labor activist to undermine trade union freedoms.

On May 27, the Council of Ministers fired three civil servants from the Ministry of the Economy, Finance, and Development for serious acts of indiscipline during the strike by the coalition of unions against the application of the IUTS from March 16-20. These civil servants reportedly assaulted one of their colleagues for not following the call to strike. The Ministry’s Trade Union Coordination body announced a strike from September 9-11 to demand the reinstatement of the three agents. After the administrative court suspended their termination process on September 8, it suspended the strike and declared it was open to dialogue with the government for a final resolution of the reinstatement issue and other concerns contained in the platform of demands from the coalition of unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law considers forced or compulsory any labor or service provided by an individual under the threat of any type of sanction and not freely offered. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government did not have a significant, effective program in place to address or eliminate forced labor. The government continued to conduct antitrafficking advocacy campaigns and operated a toll-free number for individuals to report cases of violence and trafficking. Penalties for forced labor were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

Forced child labor occurred in the agricultural (particularly cotton), domestic labor, and animal husbandry sectors, as well as at gold panning sites and stone quarries. Educators forced some children sent to Quranic schools by their parents to engage in begging (see section 6, Children). Women from other West African countries were fraudulently recruited for employment and subsequently subjected to forced prostitution, forced labor in restaurants, or domestic servitude in private homes.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children, child pornography, mining, and jobs that harm the health of a child. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 and prohibits children younger than age 18 from working at night, except in times of emergency. The minimum age for employment is consistent with the age for completing educational requirements, which is 16. In the domestic labor and agricultural sectors, the law permits children who are 13 and older to perform limited activities for up to four and one-half hours per day. The law did not define the kinds of work appropriate for children younger than 16. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

The government undertook activities to implement the National Action Plan to combat the worst forms of child labor and to reduce significantly exploitative child labor. The plan coordinated the efforts of several ministries and NGOs to disseminate information in local languages, increase access to services such as rehabilitation for victims, revise the penal code to address the worst forms of child labor, and improve data collection and analysis. The government organized workshops and conferences to inform children, parents, and employers of the dangers of exploitative child labor.

The government did not consistently enforce the law, in part due to the insecurity imposed by violent extremist groups. The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security, which oversees labor standards, lacked transportation and access and other resources to enforce worker safety and the minimum age law. No data were available on number of prosecutions and convictions during the year.

Child labor took place in the agricultural sector or in family-owned small businesses in villages and cities. There were no reports of children younger than age 15 employed by either government-owned or large private companies. Children also worked in the mining, trade, construction, and domestic labor sectors. Some children, particularly those working as cattle herders and street hawkers, did not attend school. Many children younger than 15 worked long hours. A study by the International Labor Organization reported that children working in artisanal mining sometimes worked six or seven days a week and up to 14 hours per day. Street beggars often worked 12 to 18 hours daily. Such children suffered from occupational illnesses, and employers sometimes physically or sexually abused them. Child domestic servants worked up to 18 hours per day. Employers often exploited and abused them. Criminals transported Burkinabe children to Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Niger for forced labor or sex trafficking.

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 with respect to employment and occupation. The government did not effectively enforce the laws and regulations. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous or “morally inappropriate” and in industries such as construction. Women were forbidden from doing work that was determined to have a health risk for their health or reproductive capacity.

Discrimination occurred based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, social origin, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. The government took few actions during the year to prevent or eliminate employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law mandates a minimum monthly wage in the formal sector, which does not apply to subsistence agriculture or other informal occupations. The minimum wage was less than the poverty income level.

The law mandates a standard workweek of 40 hours for nondomestic workers and a 60-hour workweek for household employees. The law provides for overtime pay, and there are regulations pertaining to rest periods, limits on hours worked, and prohibitions on excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. There are explicit restrictions regarding occupational health and safety in the labor law. Employers must take measures to provide for safety, to protect the physical and mental health of all their workers, and to verify that the workplace, machinery, materials, substances, and work processes under their control do not present health or safety risks to the workers.

The law requires every company with 30 or more employees to have a work safety committee. If an employee working for a company with fewer than 30 employees decides to remove himself due to safety concerns, a court rules on whether the employee’s decision was justified.

The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and hours of work standards. Ministry inspectors and labor tribunals are responsible for overseeing occupational health and safety standards in the small industrial and commercial sectors, but these standards do not apply in subsistence agriculture and other informal sectors.

These standards were not effectively enforced. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for comparable offenses. There were no reports of effective enforcement of inspection findings during the year.

Employers often paid less than the minimum wage. Employees usually supplemented their income through reliance on extended family, subsistence agriculture, or trading in the informal sector. Employers subjected workers in the informal sector, who made up approximately 50 percent of the economy, to violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards.

Burundi

Executive Summary

The Republic of Burundi is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected government. The 2018 constitution, promulgated in June 2019, provides for an executive branch that reports to the president, a bicameral parliament, and an independent judiciary. In May voters elected President Evariste Ndayishimiye, members of the National Assembly (lower house), and commune councils in elections organized during the COVID-19 outbreak. The government allowed a main opposition party to participate and campaign. The elections resulted in a peaceful transfer of power but were deeply flawed with widespread reports of human rights abuses perpetrated mainly against the main opposition party members. Numerous irregularities undermined the credibility of the process in which international observers did not participate.

The National Police of Burundi, which is under the Ministry of Public Security’s authority, is responsible for law enforcement and maintaining order. The armed forces, which are under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. The National Intelligence Service, which reports directly to the president, has arrest and detention authority. The Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy party, has no official arrest authority, but some members were involved in or responsible for numerous human rights abuses. They routinely assumed the role of state security agents and as such detained and turned over individuals to members of the official security services, in some cases after committing human rights abuses. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over the security forces. There were reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings on behalf of the government; forced disappearances on behalf of the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment on behalf of the government; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests of journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, including elections that were deeply flawed with irregularities that undermined the results; serious and significant acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence targeting minority groups and persons with albinism; and existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

The reluctance of police and public prosecutors to investigate and prosecute cases of government corruption and human rights abuse and of judges to hear them in a timely manner, resulted in widespread impunity for government and ruling party officials and for their supporters and proxies.

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents, including police, the National Intelligence Service (SNR), military personnel, and elements of the Imbonerakure, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often against perceived supporters of the political opposition or those who exercised their lawful rights. The banned nongovernmental organization (NGO) Ligue Iteka continued operating from outside the country and documented 205 killings by the end of September, as compared with 281 the previous year. Many were allegedly committed by agents of the security services or members of the Imbonerakure. The assessments of Ligue Iteka and other human rights groups differed on the number of killings for which agents of the state or ruling party were likely responsible. Responsibility for arbitrary killings and exact statistics were difficult to determine due to the government’s restrictions on human rights monitors and civil society organizations (CSOs) and refusal to allow international bodies authorization to enter the country. Investigations and prosecutions of government officials and members of the ruling party who allegedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings were rare. Responsibility for investigating such killings lies with the Burundi National Police, which is under the Ministry of Interior and Public Security, while the Ministry of Justice is responsible for prosecution.

In its September report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (COI), whose members were denied access to the country by the government, but who conducted face-to-face or remote interviews with more than 300 victims, witnesses, and other sources living both in the country and in exile, reported that summary executions and arbitrary killings continued. Despite the fact that bodies bearing signs of violence continued to be found in public places, authorities made no attempt to establish the victims’ identities or the circumstances of their death, making it more difficult for the COI and NGOs to document. In addition, the COI reported numerous cases of disappearances, and it was difficult to determine how many of these were cases of forced disappearance or were killings. Some victims were found dead a few days after their disappearance with injuries indicating they had been executed. The COI report concluded that “human rights violations were mainly committed by members of the Imbonerakure and local administrative officials acting alone or jointly with police or the National Intelligence Service.” The COI also reported that, “Acting in place of the authorities, Imbonerakure have killed persons accused of ordinary crimes, including theft and witchcraft, thus arrogating to themselves the right to dispense justice.” Victims were generally perceived as opponents of the government or the ruling party or, first and foremost, members of the new political opposition party, the National Congress for Freedom (CNL), registered in February. Some media outlets reported that Burundian nationals who returned to the country after having sought refuge abroad were also targeted, as were young men following travel abroad, who were accused of belonging to or supporting armed opposition groups. As in past years, the COI report stated that there was reason to believe that abuses committed by Burundian authorities constituted crimes against humanity.

According to the COI report, during the electoral period numerous members of the main opposition party CNL were killed in reprisal for legitimate political activities. Violent clashes between the Imbonerakure and members of the CNL resulted in injuries and deaths on both sides but with primary responsibility attributed to the Imbonerakure, often with tacit support of police and local authorities.

According to a report by the NGO Ligue Iteka, Bosco Ngabirano, a CNL member, was killed on March 29 in Ryansoro commune, Gitega Province, by a group of Imbonerakure. The report indicated Seconde Ndayisenga, the administrator of the commune, ordered the killing. Ngabirano was killed by machete and his tongue was cut out. He was buried on April 1 at the request of the commune administrator and Gitega governor without the presence of his family members who requested an investigation into his killing before burial. As of November, authorities had not initiated an investigation.

On September 17, the rebel group Red Tabara claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Bujumbura Rural, Rumonge, Kayanza, and Bururi Provinces that reportedly killed 28 members of the security forces (police and army) and 15 Imbonerakure, according to the movement’s spokesperson. The spokesperson stated that six members of the movement were killed during the attacks. Local administrations attributed the attack to “unidentified armed groups aiming to disrupt security of the country.”

As of September 21, at least 29 grenade attacks had taken place throughout the country, resulting in at least 17 fatalities and 69 injuries. Although the number of attacks was slightly lower than the previous year, the number of fatalities and injuries increased. The identification of the perpetrators and motives behind the attacks was often unclear. While the apparent motives were presumably political for some of the attacks that specifically targeted members of political parties, police, and other security service members, others were likely motivated by personal or business vendettas.

Following the elections, President Ndayishimiye made efforts to curb the violence and engage the country’s youth in positive economic efforts, including by creating an initiative to lower youth unemployment and establishing a bank that provides loans to young entrepreneurs.

On December 28, the first prosecution and sentencing took place against a high-level member of the Imbonerakure. The former vice president of the Gitega chapter of the Imbonerakure, Aime Irambona, was sentenced to four years in prison for premeditated murder in the slaying of a workman who stole items from his home. Five other plaintiffs were also prosecuted in the case and received sentences that ranged from 18 months to life in prison. Aime Irambona is a close relative of President Ndayishimiye and was prosecuted by the newly elected government, despite his membership in the ruling party’s youth wing that typically has impunity for its actions, including intimidation through violence.

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports that individuals were victims of politically motivated disappearances after they were detained by elements of the security forces or in kidnappings where the identities of the perpetrators were not evident. The COI report noted that some victims associated with the opposition or without political affiliation disappeared after refusing to join the ruling political party or the Imbonerakure. A victim’s last sighting was often at the time of abduction by the Imbonerakure or SNR. The NGOs Ligue Iteka and SOS Torture Burundi regularly reported disappearances, which were sometimes later determined to be killings when bodies were discovered. As of mid-September, Ligue Iteka documented 30 disappearances, down from 35 the previous year. It linked six disappearances to the Imbonerakure, two to police, 16 to the SNR, one to the military, and five to unidentified actors. Lack of access to reliable reporting, caused in part by restraints on civil society, limited the ability of human rights organizations and researchers to gather complete data. Disappearances of persons returning from exile were also reported. There were no reports of efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts.

On April 3, military officers under the orders of Major Gilbert Manirakiza, the officer in charge of military intelligence at Mabanda camp, kidnapped Come Niyongabo, a former member of the FAB (the former Burundian army). Niyongabo’s family was unable to locate him, and the military denied detaining him.

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

The constitution and law prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there were numerous reports government officials employed these practices. NGOs reported cases of torture committed by security services or members of the Imbonerakure. As of September, Ligue Iteka reported 103 such cases, down from 201 the previous year, attributing 70 to members of the Imbonerakure, eight to police, five to members of local government, and 20 to the SNR. According to Human Rights Watch, some Burundian refugees in other countries testified they fled the country after they or their family members suffered violence, including rape, torture, and illegal detention by members of the Imbonerakure. The press reported throughout the year that Imbonerakure members arrested, threatened, beat, tortured, or inflicted a combination of the foregoing on members of the CNL party.

The COI report concluded that acts of torture continued to be committed, including sexual and gender-based violence affecting mostly women and girls but also men. Such violence aimed at intimidating, controlling, repressing, or punishing women and men for their supposed or actual political opinions, their refusal to join the ruling party, or their links with an armed movement. According to the COI, assailants beat, kicked, or struck victims with sticks or batons while wounding others with sharp objects.

The COI report linked acts of torture to members of the Imbonerakure, often acting alone but sometimes in concert with or with approval from police or local administrative officials. Imbonerakure were regularly deployed to supplement or replace security forces, particularly in rural areas, at the request of or with the consent of senior officials of the SNR, police, the Office of the President, and local authorities.

On March 1, in Gisuru commune, in Ruyigi Province, a group of Imbonerakure beat Pascal Bizumuremyi, a member of parliament from the CNL party and also a police officer. The group was working to prevent CNL members from opening party offices in the region. The group of Imbonerakure was arrested but released without charges several days later.

There were few reports of investigations or prosecutions for serious abuses of human rights. The extent of impunity was a significant problem in the security forces and their proxies, particularly the Imbonerakure. Factors contributing to impunity included the ruling party’s reliance on the Imbonerakure to repress political opposition. There are no significant mechanisms to investigate human rights abuses. The COI report stated, “Imbonerakure enjoy considerable latitude in carrying out their activities, conferred on them by the Burundian authorities who have the means to control them, as well as almost total impunity.”

The UN Secretary-General’s Strategic Assessment Mission for UN Engagement in Burundi noted, “In July and August 2020, the Government took notable steps to fight impunity. It arrested and prosecuted members of the ruling CNDD-FDD party youth league Imbonerakure, senior police officers and local administrative officers for extortion and other criminal offenses, thus increasing the cautious optimism from civil society and political actors that the new administration will bring about change. However, the prevailing view conveyed by several stakeholders is that more steps need to be taken for Burundi to promote accountability and meet its international human rights obligations.”

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were seven open allegations submitted in previous years of sexual exploitation and abuse by Burundian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including two from 2019, one from 2018, two from 2017, one from 2016, and one from 2015. As of September, the government had not announced whether it had taken any measures to establish accountability in the seven cases that were still open. Four of the cases involved an alleged exploitative relationship with an adult, alleged transactional sex with an adult, the alleged rape of a child, and the alleged solicitation of transactional sex by two peacekeepers with two adults. The other three open cases each involved multiple charges: One of the cases involved the alleged rape of an adult, alleged transactional sex with an adult, and two allegations of rape by two peacekeepers of an adult. A second case involved the alleged rape of two adults, the alleged sexual exploitation with two adults, alleged sexual activity with a child, and alleged transactional sex with an adult. The third case involved two allegations of sexual activity with a child.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons were overcrowded, and conditions remained harsh and sometimes life -threatening. Conditions in detention centers managed by the SNR and in local “lock-ups” managed by police generally were worse than in prisons, and there were allegations that police and members of the SNR committed acts of torture, beating, and mistreatment of detainees. The COI and several other credible organizations also continued to report that the SNR, police, senior government officials, and other security organizations maintained clandestine detention facilities to which no independent monitors were granted access.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a severe problem. The Office of Penitentiary Affairs reported that, as of August, there were 12,109 inmates, including 5,168 pretrial detainees, in 13 prisons, the majority of which were built before 1965, with the capacity to accommodate 4,194 inmates. Of the 12,109 inmates, 646 were women and 144 were juveniles. Authorities held 144 juveniles, of whom 129 were convicted and 15 were pretrial detainees, in two juvenile rehabilitation facilities. They were allowed to participate in recreational activities and received psychosocial support and preparation for eventual return to their families and communities. In addition, there were 87 infants and small children living with their incarcerated mothers. The most crowded prisons were Muramvya (30 miles from Bujumbura), where the inmate population was at 771 percent of capacity, and Mpimba (in Bujumbura) which was at 552 percent of capacity. No information was available on the number of persons held in secret detention centers managed by the SNR or in communal jails operated by police. There was a prison for women in Ngozi. Authorities commonly held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. There were reports of physical abuse by government officials, lack of adequate medical treatment, and prolonged solitary confinement.

Prisons did not have adequate sanitation systems (toilets and bathing facilities), drinking water, ventilation, and lighting. Prisons and detention centers did not have accommodations for persons with disabilities.

According to government officials and international human rights observers, many prisoners suffered from intestinal illnesses and malaria. Many died from disease. There were media reports of prisoners presenting COVID-19 symptoms including some who died, particularly in Bujumbura’s Mpimba Central and Ngozi prisons. There was no official information regarding cases of COVID-19 in prisons. Authorities took some measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including suspension of visits in all prisons after April 1, although family members were still permitted to bring prisoners necessities such as food. The International Committee of the Red Cross provided assistance to prison authorities for constructing quarantine sections in prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each inmate received on a daily basis approximately 12 ounces of cassava, 12 ounces of beans, and, on some days, oil and salt. Authorities expected family and friends to provide funds for all other expenses. Each prison was required to employ at least one qualified nurse and received at least one weekly visit by a doctor, but prisoners did not always receive prompt access to medical care; inmates with serious medical conditions were sent to local hospitals. The banned NGO Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT-Burundi) reported a shortage of medicines in prison clinics. It also reported that prisoners, particularly those held on politically motivated charges, had difficulty obtaining permission to seek treatment in hospitals outside prison, and those who did were discharged before they were fully recovered.

Administration: Prison authorities allowed prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but authorities rarely investigated the complaints. There were credible reports of mistreatment of prisoners, but no record that any abusers were held to account or punished.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by some independent nongovernmental observers.

The government permitted visits requested by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the African Union (AU), and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (CNIDH). Monitors visited known official prisons, communal jails, and known SNR detention centers regularly. Monitoring groups had complete and unhindered access to prisoners held in known detention facilities, but were not able to access clandestine SNR detention sites.

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 and detention, but the government did not observe these prohibitions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Arrests require warrants issued by a presiding magistrate, although police may arrest a person without a warrant by notifying a police supervisor in advance. Police have seven days to finish an investigation and present evidence before a magistrate but may request a seven-day extension for additional investigation. Police rarely respected these provisions.

A magistrate must either order the release of suspects or confirm the charges for continued detention, initially for 14 days, and then for an additional seven days if required to prepare a case for trial. Magistrates routinely failed to convene preliminary hearings, often citing heavy case backlogs or improper documentation by police. Authorities acknowledged that the legal system struggled to process cases in a timely fashion and that lengthy pretrial detentions were common.

Lack of transportation for suspects, police, and magistrates was a frequently cited reason for the failure to convene preliminary hearings. This was a problem in the eight provinces without prisons, where lack of transport prevented the transfer of suspects from the site of detention to the provincial court with jurisdiction over the case.

Judges may release suspects on bail but rarely did so. They did, however, often release suspects on their own recognizance. Suspects may hire lawyers at their own expense in criminal cases, but the law does not require legal representation, and the government did not provide attorneys for those unable to afford one. Detainees who were unable to pay for a lawyer were rarely able to access legal counsel. The SNR denied lawyers access to detainees held at its headquarters in Bujumbura. Prisons have solitary confinement facilities, and detainees were sometimes held in solitary confinement for long periods.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law provides for a token monetary fine and imprisonment for 15 days to one year for any member of the security forces found guilty of involvement in an arbitrary arrest. There were no reports this law was applied. Human rights groups reported numerous arbitrary arrests and detentions, including some involving the Imbonerakure. The COI report described a pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions, but it did not provide statistics. As of September, Ligue Iteka documented 916 arbitrary arrests, an increase from 598 in the previous year, including 154 by the Imbonerakure, 589 by police, 39 by the military, 81 by local administration officials, and 53 by the SNR. Authorities especially targeted members of the CNL party and their supporters, making a total of 409 arrests. Authorities also arrested members of other opposition parties in connection with legitimate political activities. Authorities often accused them, along with CNL members, of organizing or taking part in “illegal meetings” or seeking to “disrupt the election.” Authorities arrested some opposition members, after they fought with members of the Imbonerakure who were attempting to disrupt their opposition election rallies. Sometimes authorities arrested the relatives of CNL or opposition party members who could not be located.

According to the COI report, most arrests were arbitrary because they were conducted illegally, on vague grounds, or in breach of established judicial procedure, such as when carried out by the Imbonerakure or local administrative authorities who were not authorized to make arrests, other than while a crime is being committed.

On May 4, in Giheta commune, Gitega Province, the manager of Kibimba hospital, Samson Gahungu, was arrested by Alexis Manirakiza, the local administrator of the commune. Gahungu was accused of tearing up a picture of the then National Council for Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) presidential candidate, Evariste Ndayishimiye, posted at the entrance of the hospital.

On July 10, Terence Mushano, vice president of the CSO AC-Genocide Cirimoso, was arrested with journalists from the Iwacu Press group before interviewing them concerning the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the massacre of students at the University of Burundi. They were arrested for planning an interview within the airport premises without prior authorization. The Iwacu journalists were released several hours later but Mushano was transferred to a holding facility of the judicial police, where he was accused of “undermining public security.” He was temporarily released on personal recognizance on July 15, pending trial at a later date.

In May 2019 the duly elected leader of the Adventist Church in Burundi, Pastor Lameck Barishinga, and church administrator Pastor Lambert Ntiguma were arrested at Bujumbura International Airport while trying to fly to Nairobi, Kenya, to attend an executive committee meeting of the East-Central Africa Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They both remained in prison without charges.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem. By law authorities may not hold a person longer than 14 days without charge. As of August, however, 43 percent of inmates in prisons and detention centers were pretrial detainees, according to the director of prison administration. Authorities held some suspects without formal charges. According to the Office of Penitentiary Affairs, the average time in pretrial detention was approximately one year, but some persons remained in pretrial detention for nearly five years. In some cases, the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Inefficiency and corruption among police, prosecutors, and judicial officials contributed to the problem. For example, authorities deprived many persons of their legal right to be released on their own recognizance because public prosecutors failed to open case files or the files were lost. Others remained incarcerated without proper arrest warrants, either because police failed to complete the initial investigation and transfer the case to the appropriate magistrate or because the magistrate failed to convene the required hearing to rule on the charges.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release if found to have been unlawfully detained. Nevertheless, there was no record that any person was able to do so successfully.

Trial Procedures

By law defendants are presumed innocent. Panels of judges conduct all trials publicly. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges and free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, if necessary, although these rights were not always respected. Defendants have the right to a fair trial without undue delay and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, although this did not always occur. Defendants have a right to counsel but not at the government’s expense, even in cases involving serious criminal charges. Few defendants had legal representation because few could afford the services of a lawyer. Some local and international NGOs provided legal assistance to some defendants. Defendants have a right to defend themselves, including by questioning prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, calling their own witnesses, and examining evidence against them. Defendants also may present evidence on their own behalf and did so in most cases. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law extends the above rights to all citizens.

All defendants except those in military courts have the right to appeal their cases to the Supreme Court. The inefficiency of the court system extended the appeals process for long periods, in many cases for more than a year.

Procedures for civilian and military courts are similar, but military courts typically reached decisions more quickly. The government does not provide military defendants with attorneys to assist in their defense, although NGOs provided some defendants with attorneys in cases involving serious charges. Military trials generally were open to the public but may be closed for reasons such as national security or when publicity might harm the victim or a third party; for example, in cases involving rape or child abuse. Defendants in military courts are entitled to only one appeal.

While many of the above rights were often violated, no rights were systematically denied to persons from specific groups.

On August 9, the Kayanza High Court sentenced Augustin Manirishura, Christophe Ndayishimiye, and Chadia Mbaririmana to 30 years in prison for an alleged attempt to assassinate the president. They were arrested after a group of persons threw stones at President Ndayishimiye’s motorcade. During the trial the three accused did not have access to lawyers because the trial was held within three days of the incident and the defendants were not able to afford attorneys. The prosecutor initially charged them with “breach of public safety and not alerting the concerned services that the head of state was in danger” and requested a prison sentence of seven years. At the ruling, the judge announced the court reclassified the charge as an attack and plot against the head of state without giving further explanation. Media outlets reported the sentence was politically motivated.

In August, Dieudonne Nsengiyumva, a former representative of the Imbonerakure in Nyabihanga commune in Mwaro Province, and Boris Bukeyeneza, a current Imbonerakure member in the same commune, were sentenced by Mwaro District Court to 15 years in prison for the murder of Richard Havyarimana, a member of the CNL opposition party.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

No verifiable statistic was available on the number of political prisoners or detainees; estimates by human rights groups ranged from a few hundred to as many as 4,000. Many of the examples cited in section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest or Detention, qualified also as political prisoners or detainees. The government denied incarcerating persons for political reasons, citing instead acts against state security, participation in a rebellion, or inciting insurrection. Human rights groups stated that these charges were often a pretext for repressing members of political opposition parties and human rights defenders. Throughout the year there were regular arrests and detentions of members of opposition political parties, mainly from the CNL but also other parties, such as Union for Peace and Democracy-Zigamibanga. Others, mainly young men, were arrested or detained under suspicion of having cooperated with armed rebel groups. In many cases alleged political prisoners remained in pretrial detention; in other cases they were released without explanation or, more frequently, after paying a monetary fine.

On October 2, authorities arrested former independent member of parliament Fabien Banciryanino as he was giving a press conference at his home in Bujumbura. Banciryanino was charged with threatening state security, slander, and rebellion. In February, Banciryanino cited numerous human rights abuses when he voted against a bill to give then president Nkurunziza the title of “supreme guide of patriotism.” Banciryanino remained in detention.

In 2017 Germain Rukuki, a former employee of the banned NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture-Burundi, was arrested by SNR officials and subsequently transferred to Ngozi Prison. Rukuki was accused of acts against state security and rebellion. International and local human rights organizations criticized the nature of his detention and the charges against him as politically motivated. In 2018 Rukuki was convicted and sentenced to 32 years’ imprisonment. Rukuki appealed the conviction, and in July 2019 his conviction was upheld by the Bujumbura Court of Appeals. On June 30, the Supreme Court overturned the judgment of the Court of Appeals, stating that “the sentence was a violation of civil and political rights.” The Supreme Court ordered Rukuki’s trial to be reheard by a newly set up Court of Appeals, but no trial date was fixed as of November.

Amnesty: On January 30, four Iwacu journalists were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for “a failed attempt of complicity in undermining the internal security of the state.” Human Rights Watch described the arrest as an “attempt to intimidate and threaten other journalists from doing their work.” On December 24, President Ndayishimiye pardoned the journalists; they were released the same day.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There were credible reports that the government attempted to use international law enforcement tools for politically motivated reprisals against specific individuals located outside of the country. Human Rights Watch reported that authorities collaborated with Tanzanian officials to arrest, torture, forcibly repatriate, and detain without charges refugees and asylum seekers residing in Tanzania for allegedly “attempting to destabilize the country.”

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses and may appeal decisions to an international or regional court. In 2016, five CSOs closed by the government challenged the decision in the East African Court of Justice. As of September the cases remained in process.

Property Restitution

In the wake of violence, repression, fear, hunger, insecurity, abuse, and severe economic hardship following the 2015 political crisis and harvest failures in early 2017, more than 420,000 citizens fled to neighboring states, primarily Tanzania. There were reports that, since 2015, government officials and private citizens seized land that was owned or legally occupied by fleeing refugees, which complicated the reintegration of some of those who returned during the year. Some returnees also found that their houses were destroyed, either due to natural conditions or to intentional property destruction. In general, however, government officials prevented others from occupying lands belonging to refugees.

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

The constitution and law provide for the right to privacy and require search warrants, but authorities did not always respect these rights. A 2018 law provides for warrantless searches when security services suspect acts of terrorism, fraud, trafficking in persons, illegal possession of weapons, trafficking in or consumption of drugs, or “infractions of a sexual nature.” The law requires that security services provide advance notice of warrantless searches to prosecutorial officials but does not require approval. Human rights groups raised concerns that the breadth of exceptions to the warrant requirement and the lack of protections provided in the law created risks of abuse. They also noted that by law warrants may be issued by a prosecutorial official without reference to a judicial authority, limiting judicial oversight of the decisions of police and prosecutors.

Police, SNR agents, and Imbonerakure members–sometimes acting as mixed security committees–set up roadblocks and conducted general vehicle inspections and searches. Members of the security forces also sought bribes in many instances, either during searches or in lieu of a search. They conducted search-and-seizure operations throughout the year, with an increase in reported searches in the weeks leading up to elections. During these searches, security agents seized weapons and household items they claimed could be used to supply an insurgency.

Some media outlets reported their websites and social media platforms were blocked or not accessible to the general public.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press but ban “defamatory” speech regarding the president and other senior officials, material deemed to endanger national security, and racial or ethnic hate speech. Additional restrictions imposed in 2015 continued and were applied to press outlets, including those critical of the government or the human rights situation in the country. Social media networks, primarily Twitter and WhatsApp, served as news outlets, often replacing traditional news outlets.

Freedom of Speech: The law protects public servants and the president against “words, gestures, threats, or writing of any kind” that is “abusive or defamatory” or would “impair the dignity of or respect for their office.” The law also prohibits racially or ethnically motivated hate speech. The penalty for conviction of insulting the head of state is six months to five years in prison and a token monetary fine. Some journalists, lawyers, NGO personnel, and leaders of political parties and civil society stated the government used the law to intimidate and harass them.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government owned and operated daily newspapers and a radio and television station. The CNDD-FDD operated a government-aligned radio station. Independent media existed but were restricted. Radio Isanganiro was the country’s largest independent radio station. Iwacu, an independent newspaper that was generally critical of the government and its policies, continued to publish articles in French and English, although it faced harassment from the government.

In November 2019 the Conseil National de la Communication (CNC) suspended Nawe.bi’s online Nawe Television Station and blocked the comments page of Nawe.bi’s website for operating without a CNC license. On August 12, the CNC withdrew Nawe.bi’s operating license because it continued to operate its television station. On the same day, CNC also suspended Itara Burundi’s operating license, citing the absence of a media director and lack of a physical address in the country.

In 2017 the CNC announced a decision to withdraw the licenses of Radio Bonesha, Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), and Radio/Television Renaissance for breaches of their agreements with the CNC or for not abiding by content regulations. Radio Bonesha continued to operate a website, and RPA continued to broadcast into the country from Rwanda. The CNC continued to prohibit any journalist from providing information to the BBC since its license was revoked in 2019 and to the Voice of America since the decision to suspend it indefinitely in April 2019.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists and outspoken critics reported harassment and intimidation by security services and government officials to prevent them from doing their work independently or covering sensitive topics. Some journalists were required to obtain permission from local authorities prior to travel. Forces allied to the CNDD-FDD repressed media perceived as sympathetic to the opposition, including print and radio journalists, through harassment, intimidation, and violence. The majority of independent journalists fled the country during and after the political crisis and crackdown in 2015, and some remained in exile as of November. The government detained or summoned for questioning several local journalists investigating subjects such as human rights abuses, corruption, or refugees fleeing the country.

In 2018 the government passed a law to regulate accreditation of journalists by increasing the prerequisites to include minimum requirements for education and prior experience and threatening criminal penalties for journalists found working without credentials. Reporters indicated there were lengthy delays in the accreditation process that prevented them from being able to work. Those who were able to continue working complained that government agents harassed and threatened media that criticized the government and the CNDD-FDD. Journalists had difficulty corroborating stories, since local sources were intimidated.

On March 28, Edouard Nkurunziza, a journalist for Iwacu received a death threat from Anglebert Ngendabanka, a member, after Nkurunziza quoted Ngendabanka’s statements regarding political intolerance in Cankuzo Province. Nkurunziza went into hiding until August when Ngendabanka finished his term. Iwacu formally protested Nkurunziza’s treatment to the speaker of the National Assembly and requested Ngendabanka be held accountable for the death threat. The National Assembly speaker did not take any action.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government censored media content through restrictive press laws established by the CNC, an organization that is nominally independent but subject to political control. According to Freedom House, observers regarded the CNC as a tool of the executive branch, as it regularly issued politicized rulings and sanctions against journalists and outlets. In 2016 the CNC passed two decrees regarding media activity, one for domestic journalists and one for foreign outlets operating in the country. The first compels all journalists to register annually with the CNC. The second limits the access granted to international journalists and establishes content restrictions on the products disseminated by these outlets. The CNC continued to monitor the press closely. In October 2019 the CNC issued a media code of conduct for all media outlets and journalists during elections. The code obliged media to work in synergy with the CNC and prohibited the reporting of results other than those officially announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). The code also prevented journalists from using opinion polls as a source of information. Some independent media commented that the CNC drafted the code without consultation with professionals and completely restricted freedom of the press. Broadly interpreted laws against libel, hate speech, endangering state security, and treason also fostered self-censorship, including by journalists working for the national broadcaster. Those who did not self-censor faced “reassignment” to jobs where they did not have access to the public or were fired.

The CNC regulates both print and broadcast media, controls the accreditation of journalists, and enforces compliance with media laws. The president appoints all 15 CNC members, who were mainly government representatives and journalists from the state broadcaster.

Several media outlets stated they received explicit threats that they would be closed if they published or broadcast stories critical of the government.

National Security: A 2013 law requires journalists to reveal sources in some circumstances and prohibits the publication of articles deemed to undermine national security. National security provisions were used to deter criticism of government policies or officials (see section 1.e, Political Prisoners and Detainees, Amnesty, the case of Iwacu journalists).

Nongovernmental Impact: Many members of the governing party’s Imbonerakure youth wing collaborated with government security forces to inhibit freedom of expression. In some cases they were official members of mixed security councils, which comprise police, local administration officials, and civilians.

Imbonerakure prevented Jean Marie Vianney Ngendakumana, a journalist with Isanganiro Radio, and his driver, Said Rukundaneza, from continuing their press coverage in Kiyenzi zone, Kanyosha commune, in Bujumbura on April 9. Ngendakumana was investigating an incident in the area involving a member of the CNL who was attacked at his home. The Imbonerakure deflated the tires of the journalist’s vehicle and prevented them from moving. Ngendakumana and the driver were detained by the group of Imbonerakure until residents in the neighborhood intervened, which resulted in the pair going free.

Internet Freedom

The government sometimes restricted or disrupted access to the internet or censored online content. Some citizens relied heavily on the social media platforms WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook on both internet and mobile telephone networks to get information concerning current events. There were no verifiable reports the government monitored email or internet chat rooms. Several journalists stated they were generally freer in their reporting online than on radio and other media more closely controlled by the government, particularly when posting in French or English rather than in local languages. Several radio stations that were closed in 2015 continued to broadcast radio segments and issue articles online.

Some media websites were occasionally unavailable to internet users in the country. Publications affected included the newspaper Iwacu and the online publication Ikiriho prior to its suspension in 2018 by the Ministry of Justice. There was no official comment on the outages; both the reason and mechanism remained unclear. In most cases the outages lasted a few days before access was restored. Websites, including Facebook, WhatsApp, You Tube, and Twitter, were inaccessible to users on May 20, election day. Netblocks.org, an organization monitoring internet shutdowns, determined that access to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp had been restricted by the government. Access was restored in the evening of the same day. Government officials did not comment on the internet disruption.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were allegations, including by Freedom House, that hiring practices, student leadership elections, and grading at the University of Burundi were subject to political interference in favor of CNDD-FDD members.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government severely restricted this right (see section 1.d.). The law requires political parties and large groups to notify the government in advance of a public meeting and at least four days prior to a proposed demonstration and allows the government to prohibit meetings or demonstrations for reasons of “public order.” When notified, authorities in most cases denied permission for opposition members to meet or demonstrate and dispersed meetings already underway. In contrast, supporters of the CNDD-FDD and government officials were regularly able to meet and organize demonstrations on short notice; these demonstrations were frequently large and included participation by senior officials.

Despite a law prohibiting political rallies prior to the official campaign period, the CNDD-FDD was able to hold large events without consequences whereas opposition events were shut down and participants faced arrest. During the official campaign period, numerous rallies were organized across the country by all competing political parties. Opposition parties were allowed to engage in campaign events, rallies, and other activities, but there were frequent reports by journalists and members of opposition parties that they were detained, harassed, arrested, or physically beaten for having held “illegal meetings” or “seeking to disrupt elections”–often involving events with no more than a handful of individuals. Victims of these actions were primarily members of the CNL party, although occasionally other parties were also victims. The COI report indicated that during the presidential election campaign, members of Imbonerakure, often with the support of local administration, prevented CNL rallies by occupying the venues CNL had reserved in advance.

The COI report indicated that during the presidential election campaign, members of Imbonerakure, often with the support of local administration, prevented CNL rallies by occupying the venues CNL had reserved in advance.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association within the confines of the law, but the government severely restricted this right.

In 2017 the government enacted a law constricting the liberties of international NGOs. The law includes requirements that international NGOs deposit a portion of their budgets at the Bank of the Republic of Burundi and that they develop and implement plans to attain ethnic and gender balances in the recruitment of local personnel. The law contains several clauses that give the government considerable control over NGOs’ recruitment and programming.

On February 13, the minister of interior ordered international NGOs to submit detailed personal information on their employees, including their ethnicity, raising international NGO concerns the government would use the data to target political opponents and exercise control over the organizations. On March 20, the government announced that those that did not respect ethnic balances prescribed by law would be shut down and that compliance inspections would be undertaken. Human Rights Watch and other organizations commented that the requirement was an attempt to exert control over NGO operations. In September the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released three decrees concerning the government’s relationship to international NGOs that furthered concerns that authorities were moving toward requiring them to observe ethnic quotas in recruiting staff.

In 2017 the government also enacted laws governing domestic CSOs. The law requires CSOs to register with the Ministry of the Interior (or with provincial governments if they operate in a single province), a complex process that includes approval of an organization’s activities from the Ministry of the Interior and other ministries, depending on the CSO’s area(s) of expertise. Registration must be renewed every two years, and there is no recourse when authorities deny registration. The law provides for the suspension or permanent closure of organizations for “disturbing public order or harming state security.”

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

Following his election, President Ndayishimiye called on refugees to return home, stating their countries needed them and declaring the initiative as a presidential priority. On August 13, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reached a tripartite agreement to facilitate the repatriation of Burundian refugees from Rwanda. The first group of refugees from Mahama Camp was repatriated on August 27, and two more convoys followed within a month. Following the successful return of the three convoys from Rwanda, UNHCR reported vastly increased interest in returning to Burundi on the part of refugees. As of September, more than 98,736 refugees had returned since 2017, primarily from Tanzania and Rwanda. President Ndayishimiye welcomed the August 27 convoy of more than 400 refugees from Rwanda and requested Burundian local officials to support the reintegration of the returnees. The three convoys brought the total number of returnees from Rwanda to more than 1,500 since President Ndayishimiye took office.

In August 2019 the governments of Tanzania and Burundi signed an agreement whereby they agreed to the return of approximately 180,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania, “whether voluntarily or not,” starting in October 2019. Initial returnees were determined to be voluntary; however, later media reports indicated that some refugees, who had initially volunteered to return, changed their minds but authorities disregarded their change of mind and forced them to leave. International organizations and human rights groups claimed that Tanzanian authorities were making conditions for refugees so difficult that in many cases their returns could not legitimately be considered voluntary. Nonetheless, there were no reports or UNHCR determination that the agreement between the country and Tanzania had been used to repatriate refugees forcibly. In December 2019 the two governments agreed to a three-week pause in returns. Repatriation of Burundian refugees from Tanzania resumed on February 6. From January to September, nearly 19,000 Burundian refugees returned from Tanzania, Rwanda, and the DRC.

In-country Movement: According to several news sources, the government enforced the use of household logbooks, cahier or livret de menage, that listed the residents and domestic workers of each household in some neighborhoods of the capital. In numerous instances, police arrested persons during neighborhood searches for not being registered in household booklets. Persons who attempted to cross the border to flee violence and reach refugee camps were sometimes stopped and turned back by police, the SNR, or Imbonerakure members.

Local governments established checkpoints on roads throughout the country on a widespread basis, officially for the collection of transit taxes on drivers and passengers; the checkpoints were often staffed by police or members of the Imbonerakure. Checkpoints were also established for security purposes. There were frequent allegations that those staffing the checkpoints sought bribes before allowing vehicles to proceed. In some instances, members of the Imbonerakure were accused of using the checkpoints to deny free movement to individuals for political reasons, such as failing to demonstrate proof of voter registration or of contributions for the funding of elections or for refusal to join the ruling party or on suspicion of attempting to depart the country in order to seek refugee status. Media reported local administrative officials and Imbonerakure members increased control over population movement during the electoral period. On January 15, the permanent secretary of the National Security Council mentioned the need to revitalize joint security committees, of which the Imbonerakure were often members, and to “control population flows and movements of travelers and to keep track every day of the foreigners staying in every household and at every hotel.”

Foreign Travel: Authorities required exit visas for foreigners who held nonofficial passports and who did not hold multiple-entry visas; these visas cost 48,000 Burundian francs ($25) per month to maintain. Most foreigners held multiple-entry visas and were not subject to this requirement.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated there were 136,610 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country as of September.  According to the IOM, 83 percent were displaced due to natural disasters while 17 percent were displaced for political or social reasons.  Some IDPs reported feeling threatened because of their perceived political sympathies.  Some IDPs returned to their homes, but the majority remained in IDP sites or relocated to urban centers.  The government generally permitted IDPs at identified sites to be included in programs provided by UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations, such as shelter and legal assistance programs.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with the local UNHCR office and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR estimated 73,614 refugees were in the country as of September, with a further 5,390 in the process of seeking asylum. Of the refugees and asylum seekers, more than 98 percent were Congolese, including arrivals during the year. Due to measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including border closures, the number of refugees entering the country was reduced. Continuing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as border closures prevented refugees from returning. Efforts begun in 2015 to resettle Congolese refugees in third countries continued.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees residing in camps administered by the government and by UNHCR and its partners had access to basic services. The large percentage of refugees residing in urban areas also had access to services, such as education, health care, and other assistance offered by humanitarian organizations. Due to their inability to work, most refugees lacked sufficient resources to meet their basic needs, even with support from the international community.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, an estimated 1,131 persons at risk of statelessness lived in the country. All were from Oman, were awaiting proof of citizenship from the government of Oman, and had lived in Burundi for decades. Most of those who remained at risk of statelessness had refused an offer of Burundian citizenship from the government if they could not get Omani citizenship. Stateless persons faced limited freedom of movement because they were ineligible for driver’s licenses and passports.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government did not respect that right.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held legislative, communal, and presidential elections on May 20 without international observers. The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) declared on June 6 that CNDD-FDD candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye won the election with 68 percent of the vote. President Ndayishimiye was sworn in on June 18, two months early, following the sudden death of former president Nkurunziza, in a peaceful transfer of power. The government also held Senate elections in July and village council elections in August. The CNDD-FDD won absolute majorities in the National Assembly and Senate.

Elections were deeply flawed with irregularities that undermined the credibility of the process, including blocking independent international observers. The government opened the political space slightly, allowing participation of an opposition party and permitting it to carry out large campaign rallies across the country. According to the COI report, opposition parties cited irregularities during the vote tabulation process, including the expulsion of accredited party-affiliated monitors from voting stations. The Consortium for the Monitoring of Human Rights Violations during the Electoral Period in Burundi doubted the credibility of the election results due to the failure of CENI to report the exact number of polling stations, failure to post voter rolls, last-minute distribution of voter registration cards, journalists’ limited access to polling stations, the prohibition against the use of mobile phones in polling stations, and the blockage of most social media sites. The international community and independent domestic organizations widely condemned the process as flawed. Several progovernment CSOs observed and validated the elections. The CNL rejected the results of the election and filed an appeal, which the Constitutional Court dismissed on June 4.

The COI report noted the presidential election day was largely peaceful, but it documented intimidation, threats, arrests, and bureaucratic hurdles during the campaigning and voting periods. The COI report stated that in “the context of the 2020 electoral process, which began in 2019, human rights violations took on a political dimension. They affected the right to security and freedom but also the right to life and to be free from torture or ill-treatment, as well as civil liberties.” Voter turnout was high despite threats to security and human rights.

There were reports of incidents of violence during the election period, namely clashes between members of the ruling party and opposition party, which resulted in injuries and deaths in some cases. In its September report, the COI stated that opposition political parties and their members–mainly the CNL–suffered serious human rights abuses in the run-up to elections. There were reports of targeted killings, kidnappings, gender-based violence, torture, and arbitrary arrests. Authorities recognized some incidents of violence, particularly when clashes occurred between CNDD-FDD and CNL members. Authorities nevertheless assigned responsibility for clashes almost exclusively to CNL members; the government arrested a small number of CNDD-FDD militants involved in violent acts, but it was unclear whether they were prosecuted. The CNDD-FDD benefited from widespread impunity. Hate-filled and threatening speeches, particularly against the political opposition, were widely circulated on social media. The National Observatory for the Prevention and Eradication of Genocide and other local organizations denounced such hate speeches. Media remained under strict control, and journalists were unable to carry out their duties freely. Journalists were intimidated, threatened, and prevented from covering the electoral process. In its May report on human rights during the electoral period, the National Commission of Human Rights (CNIDH) declared that incidents of human rights abuses were too insignificant to affect the credibility of results, as announced.

The CENI imposed restrictive conditions, such as limiting movement of international observers and rejecting African Union (AU) and United Nations observers. The government initially accredited observers from the East African Community (EAC), but shortly before their arrival, announced that the EAC observers would be placed in a 15-day quarantine for COVID-19 that would end after election day. The EAC observers cancelled their participation. Some diplomatic missions sent teams outside of Bujumbura to observe voting. Diplomatic missions in Burundi, the office of the UN resident coordinator, and the executive secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region issued statements taking note of the results and encouraging everyone involved to preserve a peaceful climate and resolve electoral disputes through existing legal procedures. The Catholic Bishops Council, which deployed 2,716 observers, reported irregularities that “might undermine the declared result” during a peaceful electoral process.

Elections were organized during the outbreak of COVID-19, and authorities did not take adequate measures to protect the population. The government cancelled voting in embassies outside the country, citing the pandemic. During the run-up to presidential elections, authorities downplayed risks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Human Rights Watch, the COI, and other organizations reported authorities risked putting persons in grave danger by preventing the free flow of fact-based information on the pandemic, such as by prohibiting doctors from sharing information on the number of patients with COVID-19 symptoms. Authorities encouraged persons to participate in massive electoral rallies and threatened to sanction those who took early protective measures.

In 2017 the government began a campaign to generate citizen contributions to a fund for elections with the stated intention of domestically financing future elections. In July 2019 the president announced that fundraising goals were reached but that “voluntary” contributions were still welcome. Nevertheless, there were reports that the Imbonerakure and local officials continued to force some of the population to make contributions in cash or in kind, including to support the CNDD-FDD party, to organize political rallies, or to give gifts to the party’s candidates.

Political Parties and Political Participation: According to the law, to qualify for public campaign funding and compete in the parliamentary and presidential elections, parties needed to be “nationally based,” i.e., ethnically and regionally diverse, and prove in writing they were organized and had membership in all provinces. The Ministry of the Interior recognized 36 political parties. In February 2019 the Ministry of the Interior registered the previously unapproved National Forces of Liberation-Rwasa under the new name, the CNL. The Union for National Progress (UPRONA), led by Evariste Ngayimpenda, remained unrecognized, except for a small faction that broke off and pledged its allegiance to the ruling party. The Movement for Solidarity and Democracy remained suspended, and the Supreme Court’s decision on a motion to ban it permanently was still pending at year’s end.

Ministry of the Interior interference in opposition party leadership and management contributed significantly to the weak and fractured nature of opposition parties. The government stated that the law allows only legally constituted political parties, coalitions of political parties, and independent candidates to run for office and that unrecognized leaders of parties and political actors not associated with a party could play no role in the political process. The CNL was the only opposition party with a network of supporters and campaign workers capable of operating at the national level, and they participated at a historically robust pace not seen since the 1993 elections. Within the official campaign timeframe, the CNL was generally able to conduct campaign-related activities, such as holding meetings and rallies, despite some attempts to thwart campaign activities. Parties not recognized by the government were largely unable to conduct political activities and even recognized parties, such as the CNL, were frequently restricted from conducting political activities. There were reports that local officials imposed arbitrary restrictions on the CNL while trying to open or inaugurate offices. Dozens of the CNL party offices were vandalized or destroyed.

The constitution includes restrictions on independent candidates, including a measure that prevented individuals from running as independents if they had claimed membership in a political party within the previous year or if they had occupied a leadership position in a political party within the previous two years. The constitution also provides that independent candidates for the National Assembly must receive at least 40 percent of the vote in their district in order to be elected, a standard that did not apply to candidates representing political parties. The constitution’s ban on coalitions for independents further constrained the options of unrecognized parties and disenfranchised them so that only six presidential candidates were able to run for office.

Individuals often needed membership in, or perceived loyalty to, the ruling political party to obtain or retain employment in the civil service and the benefits that accrued from such positions, such as transportation allowances; free housing, electricity, and water; exemption from personal income taxes; and interest-free loans. During the year there were reports the Imbonerakure, government officials, or other ruling party supporters employed harassment, arbitrary arrest, and violence, including torture and killings, against individuals for being members of an opposition party or for refusing to join the CNDD-FDD. The COI reported that during the electoral process, some persons were prevented from participating in rallies organized by the CNL, in particular due to a lack of transport, while others were forced to participate in those organized by the CNDD-FDD party. The reports, along with the pressure placed on citizens to register as voters or to provide contributions for elections, led some civil society groups and media outlets to suggest that the space for citizens to support an opposition party or be apolitical was diminishing.

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

The constitution reserves 30 percent of positions in the National Assembly, Senate, and Council of Ministers for women, and government institutions hired persons after the elections to meet gender and ethnic quota requirements. This was implemented under the electoral code by adding seats to meet the gender and ethnic requirements and by closed-list voting, whereby voters choose a political party and the party provides the order in which candidates are selected, taking ethnicity and gender into account. In the new government, 39 percent of seats in the National Assembly and 41 percent of seats in the Senate were filled by women and five of 15 ministers were women. Women were not well represented in political parties and held very few leadership positions. Some observers believed that tradition and cultural factors kept women from participating in politics on an equal basis with men. The COI reported that in the context of the electoral process, female candidates and prominent members of opposition parties suffered arbitrary arrest and detention, intimidation, and threats, particularly when the electoral lists were published and the identities of the victims and their party affiliations were widely known. The general climate of intolerance towards the political opposition aggravated violence against women in the opposition.

The constitution provides for representation in all elected and appointed government positions for the two largest ethnic groups. The Hutu majority is entitled to no more than 60 percent of government positions and the Tutsi minority to no less than 40 percent. The law designates three seats in each chamber of parliament for the Twa ethnic group, which makes up approximately 1 percent of the population. President Ndayishimiye appointed the first minister from the Twa community in the country’s history, Imelde Sabushimike, as the minister of national solidarity, social affairs, human rights, and gender.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, yet corruption remained a very serious problem. The government did not fully implement the law, and some high-level government officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The constitution provides for the creation of a High Court of Justice to review accusations of serious crimes against high-ranking government officials. The anticorruption law also applies to all other citizens, but no high-ranking person has stood trial for corruption.

Corruption: The public widely viewed police to be corrupt, and petty corruption involving police was commonplace. There were also allegations of corruption in the government, including incidents related to the lack of transparency of budget revenue involving gasoline importation; the trading in influence and abuse of office or power; the mismanagement of public tenders and contracts, including in the health and mining sector; misappropriation of public funds; customs fraud; and the appropriation of the country’s limited foreign currency reserves to finance imports. The Burundian Revenue Office has an internal antifraud unit, but observers accused its officials of fraud.

The state inspector general and the Anticorruption Brigade were responsible for investigating government corruption but were widely perceived as ineffective. The Ministry of Interior and Public Security was charged to lead anticorruption efforts as part of President Ndayishimiye’s new anticorruption campaign. The ministry started a “zero tolerance toward corruption” campaign and put suggestion boxes in all commune offices and government ministries to allow the population to report corrupt activities. The minister of interior also set up a toll-free telephone number to allow citizens to report corruption and malpractice. Local media reported an increase in arrests related to corruption after the new government implemented these anticorruption measures. On July 19, police arrested local administrative officials and Imbonerakure members, accusing them of extorting workers who had returned during the year to the country from seasonal work in Tanzania. On July 24, more than 30 persons, including 20 police officers, were arrested on charges of corruption and extortion.

In December the Observatory for Fighting against Corruption and Funds Embezzlement, an NGO watchdog group, reported that more than 183 million Burundian francs (approximately $93,000) were diverted from an account in the Central Bank holding funds to support victims of torrential rains. The intended beneficiaries had not received any funds.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires financial disclosure by elected officials and senior appointed officials once every seven years but does not require the disclosures to be made public. The Supreme Court receives the financial disclosures. By law the president, prime minister, vice president, and cabinet ministers are obligated to disclose assets upon taking office, but the nonpublic nature of the disclosure meant compliance with this provision could not be confirmed.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups struggled to operate in the face of governmental restrictions, harassment, and repression. The law requires CSOs to register with the Ministry of the Interior, a complex process, which includes approval of an organization’s activities. Registration must be renewed every two years, and there was no recourse for organizations denied registration or renewal (see also section 2.a, Freedom of Association). By law an organization may be suspended permanently for “disturbing public order or harming state security.”

Human rights defenders who remained in the country were subjected to threats, intimidation, and arrest. The cases of Germain Rukuki and Nestor Nibitanga, who were convicted in 2018 and remained in prison at year’s end, were emblematic of the judicial threats faced by human rights monitors from both recognized and unrecognized organizations. On June 30, the Supreme Court rescinded Germain Rukuki’s 32-year prison sentence, ordering his appeals trial to be reheard. According to the Supreme Court, “the appeals judge convicted an accused who never appeared in a public hearing and without hearing his defense.” No date was set for the new appeals process, and Rukuki remained in prison. Numerous civil society organizations, especially those that focus on human rights, remained banned or suspended. Ligue Iteka, officially banned since 2017, and other organizations without official recognition continued to monitor the human rights situation. Members of both recognized and unrecognized organizations reported being subjected to harassment and intimidation and took measures to protect the identities of their employees and sources.

Numerous civil society organizations, especially those that focus on human rights, remained banned or suspended. Ligue Iteka, officially banned since 2017, and other organizations without official recognition continued to monitor the human rights situation. Members of both recognized and unrecognized organizations reported being subjected to harassment and intimidation and took measures to protect the identities of their employees and sources.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Following a September 14-19 visit of the strategic assessment mission for United Nations engagement in Burundi that included interviews with civil society members, the government, ruling party and main opposition party members, and nonprofit organizations, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Bintou Keita submitted a report to the UN Security Council assessing political and socioeconomic issues relevant to the UN’s relationship with the government, including human rights. In November the government requested closure of the UN special envoy’s office. On December 4, the Security Council decided to end its specific focus and mandatory reporting on the country, noting the improved security situation.

The UN Human Rights Council created the three-member COI in 2016 to investigate human rights abuses since 2015; its mandate was renewed annually since then. The government continued to refuse to allow commission members to enter the country or to respond substantively to any requests for information. In September, despite not having access to the country, the commission delivered its annual report, finding there was reason to believe that grave abuses of human rights and crimes against humanity continued to be committed in the country, including extrajudicial killings, systematic torture, sexual violence, and political oppression. The COI report found these abuses were primarily attributable to state officials at the highest level and to senior officials and members of the SNR, police, the Burundian National Defense Forces, and Imbonerakure. In fulfilling a new dimension of its mandate to report on “the economic underpinnings of the State,” the COI found that widespread economic malpractices, such as corruption and influence peddling, negatively affected human rights. Following release of the COI report in September, the Human Rights Council once again extended the COI’s mandate. Government officials dismissed the COI report, and the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva stated the COI was “a tool used by the enemies of Burundi.”

In 2016 the AU deployed 40 human rights monitors and eight military monitors. The 40 monitors stayed in the country until September 2018, when the number was reduced due to a gap in financing. According to the AU, the monitors were limited in what they could do because the government had yet to agree on a memorandum of understanding for the monitors. The monitors did not make their reports public. As of September the 10 civilian and three military AU monitors were the only external monitors in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Parties to the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement of 2000 committed to the establishment of an international criminal tribunal, which had yet to be implemented, and a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was adopted into law in 2014. Between 2016 when it became operational and October, the TRC gathered testimony and conducted outreach activities under its mandate to investigate and establish the truth regarding serious human rights and international humanitarian law abuses committed in the country. The TRC is also mandated to establish the responsibilities of state institutions, individuals, and private groups.

Based on testimonies collected between 2016 and 2018, the commission provisionally identified 4,000 mass graves of varying size throughout the country dating from the time of its mandate as well as numerous allegations of killings, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and violations of due process rights. In its report presented on January 14, the TRC identified 142,505 citizens killed or missing from the time of independence in 1962 until the end of the civil war in 2008. On January 27, the commission launched the first phase of exhumation of remains in mass grass graves with a focus on graves linked to the 1972 conflict. Some CSOs and opposition political figures raised concerns that the TRC was deliberately targeting 1972 to favor the Hutu ethnic group. CSOs also raised concerns that in view of continued human rights abuses, political tensions, a climate of fear and intimidation, fears of retribution for testimony, and restrictions on freedom of expression, conditions were not conducive for an impartial or effective transitional justice process. CSOs cited concerns that the participation of ruling party members in deposition-gathering teams could reduce the willingness of some citizens to testify or share fully their stories. Some of the TRC commissioners were perceived by some CSOs as representing the interests of the ruling party and therefore not impartial. A lack of qualified experts adversely affected the TRC’s ability to operate.

Ombudsman Edouard Nduwimana’s mandate included monitoring prison conditions and promoting interreligious dialogue. Prior to the elections, he encouraged opposition leaders in exile to return to Burundi, and some responded. He also focused on social cohesion during the electoral period in partnership with CSOs.

The CNIDH, a quasigovernmental body charged with investigating human rights abuses, exercised its power to summon senior officials, demand information, and order corrective action. In 2016 the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) provisionally downgraded CNIDH’s accreditation due to concerns regarding its independence. In 2018 GANHRI confirmed its decision, suspending CNIDH’s right to participate fully in global meetings with counterparts. The CNIDH also monitored the government’s progress on human rights investigations. In April 2019 a new group of commissioners was appointed to a four-year term and took steps to implement measures to help the CNIDH restore its accreditation. In February the CNIDH began releasing its findings to the public, which it had previously failed to do due to lack of capacity to produce reports and failure to obtain approval in the National Assembly. Some of the reports were posted on its website, including CNIDH’s 2019 annual report.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape against men and women, including spousal rape, with penalties of up to 30 years’ imprisonment for conviction. The law prohibits domestic abuse of a spouse, with punishment if convicted ranging from fines to three to five years’ imprisonment. The government did not enforce the law uniformly, and rape and other domestic and sexual violence were serious problems.

In 2016 the government adopted a law that provides for the creation of a special gender-based crimes court, makes gender-based violence crimes unpardonable, and provides stricter punishment for police officers and judges who conceal violent crimes against women and girls. As of October the special court had not been created, and no police officers or judges had been prosecuted under the law.

The Unit for the Protection of Minors and Morals in the National Police is responsible for investigating cases of sexual violence and rape as well as those involving the trafficking of girls and women. The government-operated Humura Center in Gitega provided a full range of services, including legal, medical, and psychosocial services, to survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

The September COI report stated that sexual and gender-based violence affected mostly women and girls but also men. In particular, members of the Imbonerakure and police committed violence to intimidate, control, repress, and punish women and men for their supposed or actual political opinions, refusal to join the ruling party, or alleged links to an armed movement. The National Intelligence Service also committed sexual and gender-based violence during arrests and detention. Credible observers stated many women were reluctant to report rape, in part due to fear of reprisal or social stigma.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including the use of threats of physical violence or psychological pressure to obtain sexual favors. Punishment for conviction of sexual harassment may range from a fine to a prison sentence of one month to two years. The sentence for sexual harassment doubles if the victim is younger than 18. The government did not actively enforce the law. There were reports of sexual harassment but no data available on its frequency or extent and no evidence of arrests made under anti-sexual-harassment laws.

Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and they had access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Abortion is illegal; however, it is permitted if the life of the mother is in jeopardy. Husbands often made the final decisions about family planning.

The government provided free prenatal and postpartum services. There were no restrictions on access to contraceptives; the contraceptive prevalence rate was 29 percent. Health clinics and NGOs freely disseminated information on family planning under the guidance of the Ministry of Public Health. Faith-based clinics promoted the use of natural family planning methods.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

The 2016-2017 Demographic and Health Survey estimated the maternal mortality rate at 334 per 100,000 live births in 2016-2017. The main factors influencing maternal mortality were inadequate medical care and low use of family planning services. World Health Statistics indicated the adolescent birth rate was 58 per 1,000 in 2016.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for equal status for women and men, including under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Women faced legal, economic, and societal discrimination, including with regard to inheritance and marital property laws.

By law women must receive the same pay as men for the same work, but they did not (see section 7.d.). Some employers suspended the salaries of women on maternity leave, and others refused medical coverage to married female employees. The government provided only limited resources to enforce labor laws in general and did not enforce antidiscrimination laws effectively.

In 2018 the minister of education released a guidance letter stating that female primary and secondary school students who became pregnant or were married during their studies would not be allowed to reintegrate into the formal education system but could pursue vocational training. This provision also applied to male students believed to have had sexual intercourse leading to pregnancy but did not affect married male students. Prior to this guidance, schools required female students who became pregnant to seek the permission of the Ministry of Education to re-enter school and then transfer to a different school, leading to high dropout rates; male students were not subject to this requirement. Soon afterward, the minister revoked the guidance and announced the establishment of a committee to facilitate the reintegration of students, including pregnant students, who “face any challenges during the academic year.” Reports persisted that school authorities still prevented pregnant girls from attending school, especially in remote areas.

In 2017 President Nkurunziza signed into law regulations requiring unmarried couples to legalize their relationships through church or state registrations. The Ministry of the Interior subsequently announced that couples who did not marry before the end of 2017 could face token fines, based on the provisions of the law against unmarried cohabitation, and declared that children born out of wedlock would not be eligible for waivers on primary school fees and other social services. The campaign was subsequently extended into 2018, and there were no reports of the threatened consequences being implemented. Government officials continued campaigns during the year to implement the president’s decree, but as of October the movement had lost momentum and there were no reports that the law was enforced.

Children

Birth Registration: The constitution states that citizenship derives from the parents. The government registers, without charge, the births of all children if registered within a few days of birth. An unregistered child may not have access to some public services.

Education: Education is tuition-free, compulsory, and universal through the primary level, but students are responsible for paying for books and uniforms. Secondary students must pay token tuition fees per quarter; secondary school is not compulsory. Throughout the country provincial officials charged parents informal fees for schooling at all levels.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits violence against or abuse of children, with punishment for conviction ranging from fines to three to five years’ imprisonment, but child abuse was a widespread problem. The penalty for conviction of rape of a minor is 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for girls and 21 for boys. Forced marriages are illegal, although they reportedly occurred in southern, more heavily Muslim, areas. The Ministry of the Interior discouraged imams from officiating at illegal marriages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The penalty for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children is 10 to 15 years in prison and a substantial monetary fine. The penalties for conviction of child pornography are fines and three to five years in prison. There were no prosecutions during the year.

Women and girls were smuggled to other countries in Africa and the Middle East, sometimes using falsified documents, putting them at high risk of exploitation.

Displaced Children: Thousands of children lived on the streets throughout the country, some of them HIV/AIDS orphans. The government provided street children with minimal educational support and relied on NGOs for basic services, such as medical care and economic support. Independent observers reported that children living on the streets faced brutality and theft by police. Arbitrary arrests and detentions of persons, including children, living on the streets continued.

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

Anti-Semitism

No estimate was available on the size of the Jewish population. 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 prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but the government did not promote or protect their rights. Although persons with disabilities are eligible for free health care through social programs targeting vulnerable groups, authorities did not widely publicize or provide benefits. Employers often required job applicants to present a health certificate from the Ministry of Public Health stating they did not have a contagious disease and were fit to work, a practice that sometimes resulted in discrimination against persons with disabilities.

No legislation mandates access to buildings, information, or government services for persons with disabilities. The government supported a center for physical therapy in Gitega and a center for social and professional inclusion in Ngozi for persons with physical disabilities.

Indigenous People

The Twa, the original inhabitants of the country, numbered an estimated 80,000, or approximately 1 percent of the population. They generally remained economically, politically, and socially marginalized. By law, local administrations must provide free schoolbooks and health care for all Twa children. Local administrations largely fulfilled these requirements (see also section 3, Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups).

In September 2019, the representative of UNIPROBA, an NGO focusing on protecting the rights of the Twa ethnic group, stated that Twa were committed to participate actively in civil society but faced challenges including access to identity and voter cards.

There were sporadic reports of vigilante killings of Twa after they were accused, justly or unjustly, of crimes by other citizens throughout the year.

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

The law penalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations by adults with up to two years in prison if convicted. There were no reports of prosecutions for same-sex sexual acts during the year.

The w does not prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was common.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Criminals sometimes killed persons with albinism, particularly children, in order to use their body parts for ritual purposes. Most perpetrators were citizens of other countries who came to kill and then departed the country with the body parts, impeding government efforts to arrest them. According to the Albino Women’s Hope Association chairperson, society did not accept persons with albinism, and they were often unemployed and isolated. Women with albinism often were “chased out by their families because they are considered as evil beings.” The government took steps to improve integration of albinos into society and sensitize communities to promote antidiscrimination efforts. On October 16, the first lady organized a training session about albinism, highlighting their vulnerability and urging the population to avoid discrimination against albinos.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions with restrictions. A union must have at least 50 members. The minister of labor has the authority to designate the most representative trade union in each sector. Most civil servants may unionize, but their unions must register with the Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security (Labor Ministry) that has the authority to deny registration. Police, the armed forces, magistrates, and foreigners working in the public sector may not form or join unions. Workers younger than 18 must have the consent of their parents or guardians to join a union.

The law provides workers with a conditional right to strike after meeting strict conditions; it bans solidarity strikes. The parties must exhaust all other means of resolution (dialogue, conciliation, and arbitration) prior to a strike. Intending strikers must represent a majority of workers and give six days’ notice to the employer and the Labor Ministry, and negotiations mediated by a mutually agreed-upon party or by the government must continue during the action. The ministry must determine whether the sides have met strike conditions, giving it, in effect, the power to prevent strikes. The law permits requisition of essential employees in the event of strike action. The law prohibits retribution against workers participating in a legal strike.

The law recognizes the right to collective bargaining, but it excludes measures regarding public sector wages that are set according to fixed scales following consultation with unions. If negotiations result in deadlock, the labor minister may impose arbitration and approve or revise any agreement. There are no laws that compel an employer to engage in collective bargaining. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but allows termination of workers engaged in an illegal strike and does not specifically provide for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources for inspection and remediation were inadequate, and penalties were not commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

The government placed excessive restrictions on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and sometimes interfered in union activities.

Most unions were public employee unions, and virtually no private sector workers were unionized. Since most salaried workers were civil servants, government entities were involved in almost every phase of labor negotiation. The principal trade union confederations represented labor interests in collective bargaining negotiations in cooperation with individual labor unions.

Most laborers worked in the unregulated informal economy and were not protected. According to the Confederation of Burundian Labor Unions, virtually no informal sector workers had written employment contracts.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The penalty for conviction of forced labor trafficking was commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes but there have been no convictions in more than five years. The criminal prohibitions were specific to human trafficking and may not apply to all forms of forced labor. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources for inspections and remediation were inadequate. Workplace inspectors had authority to impose fines at their own discretion, but there were no reports of prosecutions or convictions.

Children and young adults were coerced into forced labor on plantations or small farms in the south, small-scale menial labor in gold mines, carrying river stones for construction in Bujumbura, work aboard fishing vessels, or engaging in informal commerce in the streets of larger cities (see section 7.c.). Forced labor also occurred in domestic service and charcoal production.

Citizens were required to participate in community work each Saturday morning from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Although enforcement of this requirement was rare, there were sporadic reports that communal administrators fined residents who failed to participate, and members of the Imbonerakure or police sometimes harassed or intimidated individuals who did not participate.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The prohibition on hazardous employment did not cover all forms of hazardous agricultural work, and the criminal prohibition on the use of children in armed conflict did not apply to children older than 15. The law does not prohibit the use of children in the production and trafficking of narcotics.

The law states that enterprises may not employ children younger than 16, with exceptions permitted by the Labor Ministry, but this law generally does not apply to children working outside of formal employment relationships. Exceptions include light work or apprenticeships that do not damage children’s health, interfere with their normal development, or prejudice their schooling. The minister of labor permitted children age 12 and older to be employed in “light labor,” such as selling newspapers, herding cattle, or preparing food. The legal minimum age for most types of “nondangerous” labor varies between 16 and 18. The law prohibits children from working at night and limits them to 40 hours’ work per week. Although the law does not apply to the informal sector, the Ministry of Labor stated that informal employment falls under its purview.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for the enforcement of laws on child labor and had many instruments for this purpose, including criminal sanctions, fines, and court orders. The ministry, however, did not effectively enforce the law, primarily due in part to the insufficient number of inspectors. As a result, the ministry enforced the law only when a complaint was filed. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. During the year authorities did not report any cases of child labor in the formal sector, nor did they conduct surveys on child labor in the informal sector.

In rural areas children younger than 16 were often responsible for contributing to their families’ and their own subsistence and were regularly employed in heavy manual labor during the day, including during the school year, especially in agriculture. Children working in agriculture could be forced to carry heavy loads and use machines and tools that could be dangerous. They also herded cattle and goats, which exposed them to harsh weather conditions and forced them to work with large or dangerous animals. Many children worked in the informal sector, such as in family businesses, selling in the streets, and working in small local brickworks. There were instances of children being employed as beggars, including forced begging by children with disabilities. The September COI report also cited forced recruitment into the Imbonerakure or, in the case of younger children, into the CNDD-FDD “Little Eagles.”

In urban areas, child domestic workers were prevalent, accounting for more than 40 percent of the 13- to 15-year-old children in the country, according to a government survey from 2013-14. Reports indicated that an increased number of children from the Twa ethnic group were being transported from rural areas to Bujumbura with promises of work and subsequently were exploited. Child domestic workers were often isolated from the public. Some were only housed and fed instead of being paid for their work. Some employers, who did not pay the salaries of children they employed as domestic servants, accused them of stealing, and children were sometimes imprisoned on false charges. Child domestic workers could be forced to work long hours, some employers exploited them sexually, and girls were disproportionately impacted.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against any group but rather provides for equal rights. The constitution recognizes workers’ right to equal pay for equal work but women faced discrimination with regard to pay and access to equal employment and authorities did not prosecute any violations of this equal rights requirement. Women were excluded from some jobs, and a government decree prohibits women from performing in traditional drumming groups.

Much of the country’s economic activity took place in the informal sector, where protection was generally not provided. Some persons claimed membership in the ruling party was a prerequisite for formal employment in the public and private sectors. Members of the Twa ethnic minority, who in many cases lacked official documentation, were often excluded from opportunities in the formal economy. Persons with albinism experienced discrimination in employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The official minimum wages, unchanged since 1988, were below the official line of poverty. Prevailing minimum wages more reflective of labor market forces were below the international poverty line. According to the World Bank, 73 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.

The law limits working hours to eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, but there are many exceptions, including for workers engaged in national security, guarding residential areas, and road transport. Private security companies received guidance from the Labor Ministry allowing workweeks of 72 hours for security guards, not including training. There is no legislation on mandatory overtime but premium pay is required for any overtime work performed. Foreign or migrant workers are subject to the same conditions and laws as citizens.

The labor code establishes appropriate occupational safety and health standards for the workplace, but they often were not followed. Many buildings under construction in Bujumbura, for example, had workforces without proper protective equipment, such as closed-toe shoes, and scaffolding built of wooden poles of irregular length and width.

The Labor Inspectorate in the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the laws on minimum wages and working hours as well as safety standards and worker health regulations. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations of imminent danger without jeopardy to their employment.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. The labor inspectors’ mandate is limited to the formal sector, except where international agreements extend that mandate to all employment, but more than 90 percent of the working population worked in the informal economy and thus lacked access to legal protections. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. The government did not hire sufficient inspectors to enforce compliance or allocate sufficient resources to address enforcement needs, such as that necessary for training and transportation for inspectors.

Violations of safety standards were reportedly commonplace but there were no official investigations, no cases of employers reported for violating safety standards, and no complaint reports filed with the Labor Inspectorate during the year. The government did not report data on deaths in the workplace but media reported workplace deaths. In one such case, media reported three employees died and one was wounded in a fire at well known soap manufacturing company SAVONOR in August. Police and the company management did not provide further details about the case.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The president retains power over the legislative and judicial branches of government. The ruling political party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, has remained in power since its creation in 1985. The country held legislative elections on February 9, which were marked by irregularities. The ruling party won 152 of 180 National Assembly seats. Paul Biya has served as president since 1982. He was last reelected in 2018 in an election marked with irregularities.

The national police and the national gendarmerie are responsible for internal security. The former reports to the General Delegation of National Security and the latter to the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the Gendarmerie. The army is primarily responsible for external security and shares some domestic security responsibilities; it reports to the minister delegate at the presidency in charge of defense. The Rapid Intervention Battalion reports directly to the president. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over security forces. Members of security forces committed numerous abuses.

In July jailed separatist leader Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe announced he talked with the government regarding the prospects for peace in the Anglophone regions. The government, however, denied Ayuk Tabe’s announcement, and other separatists opposed the talks. Cameroon Renaissance Movement president Maurice Kamto urged Cameroonians to stage nationwide peaceful protests on September 22 to demand a resolution to the crisis in the Anglophone regions and for electoral reform before the December 6 regional elections. Hundreds of protesters were arrested, including journalists, and Kamto was placed under unofficial house arrest.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by security forces, armed Anglophone separatists, Boko Haram, and ISIS-West Africa; forced disappearances by security forces; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government, Cameroonian peacekeepers deployed to UN missions, and nonstate armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigations and accountability for violence against women; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and the existence or use of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

Although the government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, it did not do so systematically and rarely made the proceedings public. Some offenders continued to act with impunity.

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of their official duties. Most of the killings were associated with the armed conflict in the two Anglophone regions (see also section 1.g., Abuses in Internal Conflict). Additionally, many included unarmed civilians not in conflict-afflicted areas, and others resulted from the use of excessive force on citizens by government agents, including members of defense and security forces.

The Ministry of Defense, through the Secretariat of State in charge of the National Gendarmerie (SED), is responsible for investigating whether security force killings, including police killings, are justifiable. Prosecutions related to these matters are conducted through the Military Tribunal. In some high-profile cases, preliminary investigations are entrusted to a mixed commission of inquiry, including civilian members with relevant professional backgrounds.

On July 23, the Douala-based private television channel Equinoxe TV reported that a taxi driver died in a health center after he was allegedly tortured at the 6th district police station in New Bell, a neighborhood in Douala. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Mandela Center, on July 20, Mitterrand Tchouateum Nja parked his vehicle incorrectly and was subsequently punished for refusing to pay a bribe. Police commissioner Mvoundi Evina and members of the 21st Armored Reconnaissance Battalion of Terminus Saint Michel, including Chief Warrant Officer Lawrence Nkimantap, brutally assaulted Tchouateum. After the assault, police detained Tchouateum at the 6th district police district. He was transferred to Nkoloulou district medical center on July 22 after his condition rapidly deteriorated. Tchouteum remained chained to his hospital bed until a few hours before his death, which came soon after his release from police custody. As of December 8, the Mandela Center had filed a complaint with the Military Tribunal in Douala, and the Military Tribunal had referred the case to the High Court. No criminal charges had been filed against the perpetrators of the attack as of December 15.

According to the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa (CHRDA), on August 13, Cameroonian soldiers raided the village of Mautu in the Southwest Region and killed seven unarmed civilians. The victims, including an elderly man and a pregnant woman known as ‘Mami Blessing,’ were reportedly shot at close range in their homes. Before these killings, the military raided a church on the outskirts of Mautu and shot the church’s pastor. The soldiers executed two boys alongside the pastor and shot another as he tried to escape. The soldiers allegedly invaded the church because the worshipers sympathized with separatist ideology. The CHRDA reported that they were unaware of any ongoing investigation into the incident.

On August 11, multiple media outlets reported the beheading of 32-year-old Comfort Tumassang by suspected Anglophone separatists. The incident took place in Muyuka, Southwest Region. A video circulating on social media that day showed a woman seated on the ground with her hands tied behind her. She begged for mercy before she was beheaded; her body was left in the street. Human Rights Watch also reviewed a second video, filmed before the killing, showing separatists interrogating and threatening Tumassang, whom they accused of collaborating with the military. The three main Anglophone separatist groups–the Ambazonia Governing Council, the “interim government” led by Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, and its splinter faction led by Samuel Ikome Sako–condemned the killing and denied responsibility for the crime.

On November 24, suspected Islamist terrorists attacked the village of Gabas, located within Mayo Tsanaga in the Far North Region, killing three civilians. On November 25, a member of the Gabas vigilance committee, Jean Baptiste Yagai, told the media that terrorists attacked at about 7:00 p.m., hours before the normal time that residents leave the village to hide in the surrounding hills every evening to avoid Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacks. The assault on Gabas was the latest in a series of attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in the Far North Region, especially within Mayo Tsanaga and Mayo Sava. In November at least six civilians were killed in attacks in Mayo Sava, while five civilians were killed and at least four others abducted in Mayo Moskota.

While the government repeatedly promised to investigate abuses committed by security forces, it did not do so transparently or systematically. Unlike in the previous year, however, some information was made available concerning the outcome of investigations into abuses committed by security forces as well as the status of some ongoing trials. President Biya ordered an investigation into the February 14 killing by security forces of an estimated 23 civilians in the village of Ngarbuh, Northwest Region. On April 22, the president released a summary of the investigation’s findings, identifying a sergeant, a gendarme, and a soldier as responsible for the killing of 13 civilians during the incident. President Biya reportedly ordered disciplinary action against the battalion commander, who oversaw the operation, and the arrest of the other three suspects. Their trial was expected to begin on December 17 at the Yaounde Military Tribunal. A total of 17 members of a vigilante group and a former separatist fighter were also charged but remained at large.

On September 21, the Yaounde Military Tribunal issued a sentence in the case against seven soldiers accused of the extrajudicial killing of two women and two children, believed to have taken place in 2015 in the village of Zelevet, Far North Region. The lead officer, Captain Etienne Fabassou, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and breach of regulations for his role and received a sentence of 10 years in prison. Sergeant Cyriaque Bityala, Corporal Barnabas Donssou Gorvo, and Soldier First Class Jean Baptiste Tchanga Chiengang were found guilty of murder and breach of regulations and were also sentenced to 10 years in prison. Of the remaining three soldiers, Soldier First Class Ghislain Landry Ntieche Fewou was found guilty of breach of regulations and sentenced to two years in prison. The two remaining soldiers were found not guilty. Both the prosecution and all those convicted filed appeals. In the case of the prosecution, the sentences were less than those the prosecution had requested.

b. Disappearance

As in the previous year, government security forces were believed to be responsible for enforced disappearances of suspected Anglophone separatists or their supporters. Multiple credible organizations documented the case of Samuel Abue Adjiekha (aka “Wazizi”), a news anchor for Buea-based independent radio station Chillen Muzik and Television Pidgin. Wazizi was detained on August 2, 2019, and pronounced dead on June 5. Wazizi was accused of having connections with armed Anglophone separatists. He was transferred to a military-run facility in Buea on August 7, 2019, and never appeared in court, despite several scheduled hearings. In a June 5 press release, the Defense Ministry asserted Wazizi died of severe sepsis on August 17, 2019 (see also section 1.c.). On June 5, the French ambassador to Cameroon told the press at the end of an audience with President Biya that the president had promised to order an investigation into Wazizi’s death. As of mid-December, there were no developments reported on the investigation.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports that security force members tortured or otherwise abused citizens, including separatist fighters and political opponents. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which security forces severely mistreated political opponents and others in which armed separatists mistreated civilians and members of defense forces. Public officials, or persons acting at their behest, reportedly carried out acts that resulted in severe physical, mental, and emotional trauma.

On July 2, the Cameroon Journalists Trade Union denounced the hijacking of Wazizi’s body as a move to conceal signs of torture on the journalist during his detention.

On July 7, according to CHRDA, 39-year-old Ben Uze was tortured and maimed by the military in Wum, Northwest Region. He reportedly sold 10 liters of palm wine and pineapples to soldiers, who took the items but refused to pay. An eyewitness reportedly told CHRDA that the victim reported the matter to the army commander, who accused him of associating with separatists. As a result, when Uze refused to pay the soldiers he encountered, they severely beat him, causing severe damage to his eye and groin area. Uze reportedly died of his injuries in a hospital.

In a September 24 preliminary report, Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) lawyers claimed police violently suppressed the party’s peaceful demonstrations throughout the country, beating protesters and arresting journalists. They stated that police elements, who used water cannons, batons, and tear gas, injured demonstrators in cities throughout the country, including Douala, Bafoussam, and Kribi. The lawyers reported cases of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment at Yaounde central police station No. 1, listing Therese Assomo Ondoua, Nde Diffo Jaurel, and Wilfred Siewe as some of those tortured during their arrests. Anecdotal evidence and accounts by some protesters who were released corroborated the lawyers’ preliminary report.

Human Rights Watch reported that on May 30, separatists kidnapped and tortured a humanitarian worker in Bali, Northwest Region, accusing him of collaborating with security forces. They released him the following day, and he spent several days in a Bamenda hospital for treatment of the injuries sustained during his detention. The victim told Human Rights Watch that he was blindfolded and taken to a separatist camp on a motorbike. He was later taken to a second location, tied to a tree with a rope, and beaten and kicked before he was released.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, five allegations were submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Cameroonian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. There were also 29 other open allegations dating from previous years of sexual exploitation and abuse by Cameroonian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including 16 from 2019, four from 2018, four from 2017, two from 2016, and three from 2015. As of September, the Cameroonian government had not yet provided the accountability measures taken for all 34 open cases. Of the open cases, nine allegedly involved rape of a child, 16 allegedly involved transactional sex with one or more adults, five allegedly involved an exploitative relationship with an adult, one allegedly involved rape of an adult, and one allegedly involved sexual assault of an adult. There were also two cases that involved multiple instances within each case. One of those case allegedly involved four instances of rape of a child and two instances of exploitative relationships with an adult. The other case allegedly involved rape by two peacekeepers of two children and an exploitative relationship with an adult.

Credible organizations including the CHRDA reported that Reverend Thomas Nganyu Tangem died chained to his hospital bed in Yaounde in July. He was a member of the Mbengwi Monastery in the Northwest Region and was arrested at Mile 16 in Buea in 2018 and transferred to Yaounde where he was allegedly tortured while in detention for two years without charge. Equinoxe Television reported that on several occasions, prison authorities dismissed concerns expressed by other prisoners regarding his health. On July 25, prison authorities took him to Yaounde Central Hospital, where he was shackled to his hospital bed. He died a few days later on August 5. Tangem was never officially charged with a crime.

Anecdotal reports suggested there were cases of rape and sexual abuse by persons associated with the government in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions. NGOs also indicated armed separatists were involved in rape and sexual abuse cases in the two regions.

There was at least one report of medical abuse by government forces. Djilieu Pommier alleged that after being arrested during MRC demonstrations on September 22 in Bafang (West Region), army Lieutenant Mvoundi Evina on September 22 injected him with an unknown substance. As a result of the injection, Djilieu lost the use of his legs and was effectively paralyzed pending an official medical diagnosis.

On May 6, the High Court of Mbam and Inoubou in the Center Region sentenced the head of local police to a three-year suspended prison sentence for mistreatment of 16-year-old Ibrahim Bello in 2017 that resulted in his losing both legs and his left hand; a colleague received a four-year prison sentence. The court ordered them jointly to pay 50 million Central African francs (CFA) ($86,800) in damages. Following the ruling, the NGO Mandela Center filed an appeal requesting damages be increased to CFA one billion ($1.74 million) due to the gravity of the injuries. The convicts and the General Delegation of National Security also filed separate appeals, requesting that damages be reduced. In mid-December, the court of appeals of the Center Region in Yaounde opened appeal hearings; there was no ruling as of year’s end.

While some investigations and prosecutions were conducted and a few sanctions meted out, especially in high-profile cases, security force impunity remained a concern. Such impunity involved most defense and security force branches from the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) to police. Few of the reports of trials involved those in command. The General Delegation of National Security and the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the National Gendarmerie investigated some abuses. The government meted out some sanctions to convicted low-level offenders, and other investigations were ongoing as of year’s end. Factors contributing to impunity included the government’s lack of transparency on the steps taken to address allegations of human rights violations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages and poor-quality food, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a significant problem in most prisons, especially in major urban centers. Prison overcrowding was exacerbated by sustained increases in the number of arrests related to the conflict in the Anglophone regions and the September 22 protests by the opposition MRC. Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons. Authorities often held pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners in the same cells. In many prisons, toilets were only common pits. In some cases, female detainees benefitted from better living conditions, including improved toilet facilities and less crowded living quarters. Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children. Authorities reported that the sick were held separately from the general prison population, but this was often not the case.

According to prison administration officials, the country had 79 operational prisons, with an intended capacity of 17,915. As of October 31, the overall prison population was 22,430, including 580 women and 577 minors. The Ministry of Exterior Relations’ Minister Delegate to the Commonwealth Felix Mbayu provided the figures on November 19, within the framework of the 67th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Access to food, water, sanitation, heating and ventilation, lighting, and medical care was inadequate. Consequently, malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other treatable conditions, including infections, were rampant. Hundreds of cases of COVID-19 were recorded among inmates released from five prisons across Cameroon’s Central Region in April, according to Reuters, which cited unpublished government data. According to the article, the Yaounde Central Prison was the worst hit. More than 31 inmates died there in April, compared with a prepandemic average of one or two a month. A senior prison official reportedly told Reuters that no inmates were tested for COVID-19.

Physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were problems. Some credible organizations reported that physical abuse by persons associated with the government was less prevalent in prisons than in gendarmerie and police detention cells, where some officers often used harsh interrogation techniques. Conversely, violence among inmates was reported in virtually all prisons. In an August 18 letter to the Minister of Justice Shufai Blaise Sevidzem Berinyuy representing detained Anglophones separatists at the Kondengui Principal Prison, informed the minister that Reverend Kisob Bertin was attacked on August 16 in his bed by fellow inmates. He stated that witnesses said the attack had the blessing of the prison administrators, who told some inmates they would not face sanctions if they attacked “Ambazonians” and seized their property.

Administration: Authorities allegedly did not address all credible allegations of mistreatment. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, independent authorities did not investigate the most credible allegations of mistreatment. Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel; without authorization, they had to bribe prison staff to communicate with inmates. Overall prison visits were limited in compliance with COVID-19-related restrictions. Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to observe their religious practices without interference.

Independent Monitoring: Independent monitoring of prisons was constrained by COVID-19-related restrictions. The NGO Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme, however, stated it visited a few prisons up to April and a few others as of August, including in Bafia, Bafoussam, and Nanga Eboko. The Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese in Bamenda also stated it conducted regular visits to the Bamenda Central Prison and provided legal assistance to inmates facing crimes related to the ongoing Anglophone conflict at the Military Tribunal. The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) reported it did not conduct any prison visits as of late August because of a lack of funding.

Improvements: The new Douala-Ngoma Central Prison located approximately 12 miles from Douala, was completed. The facility is expected to help address prison overcrowding and improve the living environment of inmates at the Douala-New Bell central prison. The new prison needed equipment and some other finishing touches before receiving inmates. On April 15, President Biya signed a decree to decongest prisons as part of government measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, approximately 1,800 inmates were freed by May 8. As of July, the total number of inmates who benefitted from the decree was estimated at close to 3,000.

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 in court of an arrest or detention. The law states that except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest must disclose their identity and inform the person arrested of the reason. Any person illegally detained by police, the state counsel, or the examining magistrate may receive compensation. The government did not always respect these provisions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a judge or prosecutor before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement. The law provides that suspects be brought promptly before a judge or prosecutor, although this often did not occur, and citizens were detained without judicial authorization. Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once. This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought. Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods. The law also permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days by administrative authorities, such as governors and civilian government officials serving in territorial command. The law also provides that individuals arrested on suspicion of terrorism and certain other crimes may be detained for investigation for periods of 15 days, renewable without limitation with authorization of the prosecutor. The law allows access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but such cases occurred, especially in connection with the Anglophone crisis. The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal, and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police, gendarmes, the BIR, and other government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado. “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless they paid a bribe, continued, although on a limited scale.

On May 11, six volunteers from “Survival Cameroon,” a fundraising initiative launched by opposition leader Maurice Kamto to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, were arrested while handing out free personal protective equipment in Yaounde. They were placed in custody at the Yaounde II police district without judicial authorization. The volunteers were released on bail after several days of detention. Two other volunteers were arrested on May 14 while filming the transfer of their comrades from the police station to the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor released them on bail on May 26. Christian Penda Ekoka, president of the management committee of the initiative, stated that three other volunteers who were peacefully distributing free masks and hand sanitizer in Sangmelima, South Region on May 23 were arrested and placed in custody at the city’s central police station. They were released on bail after several days of detention. The individuals were accused of unauthorized demonstrations. If found guilty, they could face four years in prison.

According to Cameroon People’s Party (CPP) president Edith Kah Walla, on September 19, members of security forces abducted at least five members of the NGO consortium Stand Up for Cameroon. The arrest occurred after the members left a “Friday in Black” meeting held at the CPP headquarters in Douala. The abductees, including Moussa Bello, Etienne Ntsama, Mira Angoung, and Tehle Membou, were reportedly subjected to brutality and interrogated without legal counsel.

On September 19, 21, and 22, security forces arrested approximately 593 citizens in connection with peaceful protests called for by the MRC opposition party. While some were released, the Military Tribunal charged many with revolution, insurrection, and rebellion and placed them in pretrial detention. MRC women’s wing president Awasum Mispa was arrested on November 21 when she led a group of women to visit MRC president Maurice Kamto. On November 23, an investigating magistrate at the Yaounde Military Tribunal charged her with complicity in revolution and rebellion and placed her in pretrial detention for a period of six months renewable. On November 27, the same investigating magistrate dropped the charges and released her. Kamto’s de facto house arrest was lifted on December 8, two days after the election of regional councilors. The Yaounde Court of First Instance had not opened any substantive hearings in the proceedings initiated by his lawyers.

Pretrial Detention: The code of criminal procedure provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years to appear in court. The 2014 antiterrorism law provides that a suspect may be held indefinitely in investigative detention with the authorization of the prosecutor. Of the 22,430 detainees as of October 31, a total of 14,973 were pretrial detainees.

Amadou Vamoulke, a former general manager of state-owned Cameroon Radio Television, who was arrested and detained in 2016 on embezzlement charges, continued to await trial at the Kondengui Central Prison. After at least 30 hearings as of July 15, the Special Criminal Court failed to produce strong evidence to support the charges against him.

See also section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, case of Thomas Tangem.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but this is not always the case in practice. In some instances, the outcomes of trials appeared influenced by the government, especially in politically sensitive cases. Authorities did not always respect and enforce court orders.

Despite the judiciary’s partial independence from the executive and legislative branches, the president appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them at will.

Military courts may exercise jurisdiction over civilians in a broad number of offenses including civil unrest.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and the defendant is presumed innocent. Authorities did not always respect the law. Criminal defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice, but in many cases the government did not respect this right, restricting access to lawyers, particularly in cases of individuals suspected of complicity with Boko Haram, Anglophone separatists, or political opponents. When defendants cannot pay for their own legal defense, the court may appoint trial counsel at public expense, but the process was often burdensome and lengthy and the quality of legal assistance was poor. Authorities generally allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but authorities often violated this right. Hearsay and anonymous testimony were sometimes permitted, especially in terrorism cases. Defendants are entitled to an interpreter at no charge, but often the quality of interpretation was described as poor. Defendants may appeal convictions. In some cases, authorities did not give the victim a chance to confront the offender and present witnesses or evidence to support his or her case.

Courts often limited procedural rights in politically sensitive cases. On July 16, the Court of Appeals in Yaounde heard a case involving 10 Anglophone separatist leaders, including Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, whom the Yaounde Military Tribunal sentenced to life imprisonment in August 2019. On July 17, prison officials denied the Anglophone leaders access to their defense lawyers, according to several lawyers, including Emmanuel Simh. In a July 17 statement, Dabney Yerima, the jailed vice president of the Ambazonian “interim government,” confirmed and then denounced the denial of access to legal representation. Although they were present at the court, Sisiku and his companions reportedly refused to be judged in French, demanding that their trial be conducted in English. The case was adjourned until August 20, and then until September 17 when a final decision was to be delivered. They reportedly did not receive a legal opinion from the court official on this case. On August 20, the case was postponed until September, after the magistrate in charge was transferred to the Supreme Court. On September 18, the Court of Appeals eventually confirmed the initial life sentence for separatist leader Ayuk Tabe and others.

There were cases where the courts demonstrated some neutrality. On June 16, the Administrative Court in Yaounde ruled that the minister of territorial administration had acted illegally when he independently declared that the leader of the CPP, Edith Kah Walla, had been replaced by the proregime party founder Samuel Fon before the October 2018 Presidential election.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of newly identified political detainees as of September, most of whom were associated with the September 22 protests called for by the MRC opposition party. While there were no official statistics available, the number of detainees was estimated to be close to 600. Prominent among the detainees were MRC Treasurer Alain Fogue and Maurice Kamto’s spokesperson, Olivier Bibou Nissack. Political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in SED facilities and at the Kondengui Principal Prison and the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. Some were allegedly held at Directorate General for External Research facilities. The government did not readily permit access to such individuals.

The 10 Anglophone separatist leaders, including Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, whom the Yaounde Military Tribunal sentenced to life imprisonment on August 20, 2019, remained in detention, as the Court of Appeals in September confirmed the sentence. MRC Vice President Mamadou Mota and a few other MRC members, in addition to the 10 leaders sentenced to life, remained in detention as of December, despite a reduction of their sentences upon appeal. Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, who was convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in detention. In 2016 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention described Marafa’s detention as “a violation of international laws.” The government did not respond to repeated requests for members of the diplomatic community to meet with Marafa.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There were credible reports that for political reasons the government attempted to exert bilateral pressure on other countries aimed at having them take adverse legal action against specific individuals, including Anglophone separatists and other political opponents.

On August 18, Serge Sihonou, the secretary of MRC’s operation in Gabon, was allegedly detained by the counterinterference service of the B2 Brigade in Libreville, where he was harassed and physically abused. He was accused of continuing to run an MRC operation that he created in the town of Oyam, despite a ban on the party in Gabon. On August 21, MRC leader Maurice Kamto sent a letter to the Gabonese ambassador to Cameroon denouncing the treatment and demanding the release of Sihonou. In his letter, Kamto accused the Cameroonian ambassador to Gabon of instigating the harassment of MRC members in Gabon since 2018.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options involved lengthy delays. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies, but the decisions of regional human rights bodies are not binding.

There were reports that the government delegate to the Douala City Council had failed to comply with civil court decisions pertaining to labor matters of city council employees. The Douala City mayor, who replaced the government delegate, however, found a compromise solution after more than 30 months of litigation between Douala City Council workers and the government.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, these rights were subject to restriction in the interests of the state, and there were credible reports police and gendarmes abused their positions by harassing citizens and conducting searches without warrants.

The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant only if pursuing a person suspected of or seen committing a crime. Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision and entered private homes without a warrant whenever they wished. According to media reports, security forces on June 27 conducted raids in the mostly Anglophone neighborhoods of Obili and Melen in Yaounde, following the detonation of two improvised explosive devices in the city. They entered private homes by force and arrested anyone deemed suspicious or who did not possess a national identification card. Many of those detained told media they had been harassed, humiliated, and abused in the process. A video on social media showed more than 100 men and women sitting on the ground surrounded by security officers within a large courtyard in Obili. At the end of the operation, the security officers took away dozens of persons without identification.

An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer, may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this practice occurred. Following a late March decision by Jean Claude Tsila, the senior divisional officer for Mfoundi, approximately 50 prostitutes were placed in police custody after coming in contact with travelers in quarantine due to COVID-19 in some hotels in Yaounde.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Killings: There were credible reports that members of government forces and separatist fighters deliberately killed innocent citizens. On April 22, according to credible organizations, members of government security forces executed six unarmed men in Muambong, Southwest Region. The victims included four former separatist fighters who had accepted an amnesty offer in 2019. Most of the executions were reportedly carried out in front of the victims’ relatives.

On March 12, according to credible accounts, Anglophone separatists killed at least five civilians held hostage, including the deputy mayor of Babessi council, Chefor Oscar, and the newly elected mayor of the Mbengwi council, Ndangsa Kenedy Akam, who was kidnapped 15 days earlier. The killings took place after the Cameroonian army raided their camp, freed five hostages, and killed seven separatist fighters. According to reports, the hostages were subjected to both physical and sexual violence. On May 10, Anglophone separatists ambushed and killed the newly elected mayor of Mamfe, 35-year-old Priestley Ashu Ojong. Shortly after news of Ashu Ojong’s death, Lucas Ayaba Cho, leader of the Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF), praised ADF fighters for eliminating a high value target.

Boko Haram and ISIS-WA intensified deadly attacks on civilians and members of security forces in the Far North Region. LOeil du Sahel reported that on June 25 in Goudoumboul, Boko Haram insurgents killed 18-year-old Almada Ali. On June 26, in Cheripouri, assailants believed to be Boko Haram fighters ambushed and killed 12-year-old Ousmane and his older brother while they were asleep in their home.

On October 24, according to Amnesty International, unidentified gunmen in civilian clothes on motorbikes attacked a school in Kumba in the Southwest Region, firing into a classroom. The attackers killed eight schoolchildren and injured another 12 children. On October 28, Minister of Communications Rene Emmanuel Sadi announced security forces had killed one of the gunmen allegedly responsible for the attack. The government declared a national day of mourning and a delegation of government ministers traveled to Kumba to meet with the victims’ family members. The government also sent a medical team to provide medical and psychosocial support. On the day of the attack, Communications Minister Sadi announced an investigation into the killing, but the government did not follow through with an independent investigation into the attack.

On December 6, unidentified gunmen shot at Encho Elias Ambi, a municipal councilor for Widikum in the Northwest Region, after he cast his vote for the election of regional councilors. He was not harmed during the incident.

Abductions: Armed separatists kidnapped dozens of persons, burned property, and threatened voters in the period before the February 9 legislative and municipal elections. Armed separatists allegedly kidnapped several traditional leaders in retaliation for the traditional leaders’ participation in the December 6 regional elections. They held noncombatants as hostages, including public officials, political leaders, teachers, schoolchildren, and traditional leaders. There were credible allegations that separatists physically abused abduction victims, including committing rape, using stress positions, administering beatings, and flogging with machetes. In some cases the abductors freed the victims after either negotiations or receiving ransom payments.

On July 13, armed individuals abducted at least 60 men, women, and children in the village of Mmouck Leteh in the Southwest Region. On July 15, a local administrator told the BBC that gunmen entered the village late at night, moved through the community kidnapping persons–many of whom were at a local snack bar–and led them away at gunpoint to an unknown destination. According to the BBC, a significant number of the victims were children between the ages of 12 and 16. Later that day, the BBC reported that at least 12 of the abductees had escaped captivity and had returned to the community, and that separatist leader General Ayeke had demanded a ransom totaling $2,500 for the remaining victims. Several hours later, multiple local media outlets announced the release of the remaining abductees, reportedly after negotiations with separatists.

On July 7, five civilians were kidnapped in Muyuka, Southwest Region, presumably by Anglophone separatists. A week later, the victims were still missing. On May 30, according to Human Rights Watch, separatists abducted and mistreated a humanitarian worker, whom they accused of being a spy. The worker was released the next day. In Bambui on May 30, separatists abducted seven staff members of a religious nonprofit organization; they were released after two days.

On April 24, armed men abducted three government officials in Boyo, Northwest Region.

On January 21, suspected separatists abducted 24 schoolchildren in Kumba in the Southwest Region. Security forces rescued the hostages in an operation later the same day, killing two of the abductors in the process.

On January 5, armed separatists kidnapped Choh Issa Bouba, the opposition party Social Democratic Front’s mayor of Babessi, Northwest Region, along with some councilors of his municipality.

On December 12, Anglophone separatists allegedly kidnapped traditional leader Nelson Sheteh in the Northwest Region. On December 13, suspected Anglophone separatists in the Southwest Region abducted three traditional rulers, including Chief Emmanuel Ikome Ngalle. Ngalle died in separatist custody and the other two traditional leaders, Simon Kombe, traditional ruler of Bolifamba, and Emmanuel Efande Ewule, traditional ruler of Lower Bokova, were released on December 14. Many Cameroonians believed that the timing of the abductions and social media statements by separatist leaders suggested the abductions were in retaliation against leaders who participated in the December 6 regional elections.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to anecdotal reports, members of government forces physically abused civilians and prisoners in their custody. Reports suggested that on January 5, a detainee died in Ndu, Northwest Region after being abused by soldiers (See also section 1.a).

In a March 13 report available online, journalist Moki Edwin Kindzeka reported that Anglophone separatists killed four hostages, including a local official, after troops attacked their camp in a western part of the country. The military reportedly freed five others. According to Kindzeka, a young woman recovering at a military base in Bafoussam told a reporter that she had also been raped by her abductors.

Child Soldiers: The government did not generally recruit or use child soldiers, but there were allegations that some members of defense and security forces in at least one instance allegedly used a child for intelligence gathering in the Southwest Region in November 2019. Some community neighborhood watch groups, known as vigilance committees, may have used and recruited children as young as 12 in operations against Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. In July, Human Rights Watch reported that from mid-March to late April, soldiers in Mozogo, Far North Region, forced civilians to perform local night guard duty to protect against attacks by Boko Haram. According to the report, the 42nd Motorized Infantry Battalion in Mozogo worked with local authorities to compile lists of approximately 90 men and at least one boy who were required to join night guard duty.

Boko Haram continued to use child soldiers, including girls, in its attacks on civilian and military targets. There were also some reports that Anglophone separatists in the Southwest and Northwest Regions used children as fighters.

According to UNICEF, from January to December 2019, there were nine incidents involved minors used as forced suicide bombers in the Far North Region (Mayo Sava, Mayo Tsanaga, and Logone-and-Chari divisions). UNICEF’s analysis found individuals manipulated into serving as suicide bombers or forced suicide bombers included children whose parents had been killed in violence, abducted orphaned children, and women whose husbands had been killed.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: As in the previous year, there were reports of repeated attacks on health workers and institutions and the use of firearms around health facilities by members of security forces and Anglophone separatists.

Human Rights Watch reported in July that security forces and armed separatists attacked hospitals and medical staff on multiple occasions. The organization indicated that on June 10, following clashes between separatists and soldiers, including members of the BIR, a grenade was fired into the courtyard of the district hospital in Bali, Northwest Region. One patient died, four others were injured, and four vehicles were destroyed. Human Rights Watch further reported that on June 30 soldiers forcibly entered St. Elizabeth Catholic Hospital in Shisong, Northwest Region, looking for wounded separatists. They fired three gunshots and broke down doors, causing panic among patients, nurses, and other workers who fled.

On July 6, separatists in the Southwest Region killed a Doctors without Borders community health worker known as Felix, after accusing him of collaborating with the military. In addition, in response to the announcement of the Presidential Plan for the Reconstruction and Development of the Northwest and Southwest Regions on July 5, separatists launched attacks on July 6 in villages across the Anglophone regions, destroying public buildings in Lebialem and Manyu in the Southwest Region as well as in Bui, Donga and Mantung, and Ngoketunjia in the Northwest Region.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right, explicitly or implicitly. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the freedom of speech, assembly, and association.

Freedom of Speech: Government officials penalized individuals or organizations that criticized or expressed views at odds with government policy. Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately frequently faced reprisals. On several occasions, the government invoked laws requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse.

On July 24, the senior divisional officer for Upper Plateaux in the West Region, Yampen Ousmanou, sent a warning letter to Jean Rameau Sokoudjou, the traditional ruler of Bamendjou in the West Region, accusing him of rebellion after he organized a meeting in his palace on July 18 without prior approval. The meeting reportedly brought together citizens of diverse political sides and civil society groups to exchange ideas about the country’s future.

Freedom of Press and Media, including Online Media: Private media were active and expressed a wide spectrum of adherence to journalistic ethics. The landscape included constraints on editorial independence, in part due to fear of reprisal from state and nonstate actors, including separatists connected to the armed conflict in the two Anglophone regions. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions, including financial repercussions, for criticizing or contradicting the government.

Violence and Harassment: Police, gendarmes, and other government agents arrested, detained, physically attacked, and intimidated journalists. Journalists were arrested in connection with their reporting on the Anglophone crisis. The state’s failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on journalists created de facto restrictions.

On May 15, according to reports by multiple organizations, including the National Association of English-speaking Journalists, security forces arrested freelance journalist Kingsley Fomunyoy Njoka. He was taken from his home in Douala and detained incommunicado for 24 days. According to Njoka’s legal team, the security forces accused him of criticizing the government’s handling of the Anglophone crisis on social media. On June 12, the Yaounde Military Tribunal indicted the journalist on multiple counts, including secession and collusion with an armed group, and placed him in pretrial detention at the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. On July 13, Njoka filed a defamation complaint against Colonel Cyrille Serge Atonfack, the Ministry of Defense’s communication officer. The suit followed a July 5 interview on Equinoxe Television, during which Atonfack said that Njoka admitted he participated in the killing of former separatist fighters who surrendered at disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) centers in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. He characterized Njoka as the coordinator of the Bui Warriors, an armed separatist group based in Bui, Northwest Region. On June 30, Reporters without Borders noted the allegations against Njoka had not yet been substantiated. They stated that persons close to the journalist characterized his criticism of the government’s handling of the Anglophone crisis as factual and stated the security forces probably monitored him because he regularly discussed the conflict with colleagues.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Under a 1990 law, the Ministry of Communication requires editors to submit two signed copies of their newspapers within two hours after publication. Journalists and media outlets reported practicing self-censorship, especially if the National Communication Council had suspended them previously.

Following the February 14 killing of civilians by security forces in Ngarbuh, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji attacked media for publishing the Human Rights Watch report that accused the Cameroonian army of killing civilians. Atanga Nji particularly targeted Equinoxe Television, STV, Radio Balafon, and Le Jour, asking them to stop relaying false information designed to undermine Cameroonian security forces (see also section 1.a.).

Libel/Slander Laws: Press freedom is constrained by libel and slander laws. Libel, slander, defamation, and blasphemy are treated as criminal offenses. The law authorizes the government to initiate a criminal suit when the president or other senior government officials are the alleged victims. These laws place the burden of proof on the defendant, and crimes are punishable by prison terms and heavy fines. While the government may initiate criminal suits when the president or other senior government official are alleged victims, ordinary citizens may also file libel or slander suits, but the law is often applied selectively and privileges senior government officials and well connected individuals. Some persons successfully filed defamation suits and prosecuted perpetrators. In other cases, courts were reluctant to open hearings. For example, Paul Chouta was detained for alleged defamation of a person who was close to the government, whereas courts failed to acknowledge Alice Nkom’s and Maximilienne Ngo Mbe’s defamation suit against someone associated with the government and did not open hearings on the case.

National Security: Authorities often cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to threaten critics of the government.

Nongovernmental Impact: There were reports that separatist groups in the Southwest and Northwest Regions sought to inhibit freedom of expression, including for the press. In a January article available online, journalist Moki Edwin Kindzeka reported that journalists in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions said separatists were attacking them because of critical reporting and their refusal to broadcast rebel propaganda. He said separatist intimidation was reportedly intensifying as the country prepared for local and parliamentary elections, which the separatists had vowed to stop. Mbuotna Zacks Anabi, the manager and presenter of the community radio station Stone FM in the town of Ndop in the Northwest Region, said the station stopped broadcasting after armed men stormed it on January 27 and set the building on fire.

Internet Freedom

Anecdotal reports indicated that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government occasionally disrupted access to the internet.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Although there were no legal restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, some school authorities reportedly sanctioned academic personnel for teaching politically sensitive topics, and administrative officials often deterred teachers from criticizing the government.

On May 6, Horace Ngomo Manga, the vice chancellor of the University of Buea, terminated the contract of Felix Nkongho Agbor Balla, an instructor in the Department of English Law. The decision was reportedly taken by the university’s disciplinary panel after Higher Education Minister Jacques Fame Ndongo urged the vice chancellor to address Agbor Balla’s alleged ethics violations. Ngomo Manga cited an examination question during the first semester of the 2019-20 academic year that read, “The Anglophone crisis since 2016 was caused by the lawyers’ and teachers’ strike–assess the validity of this statement.”

On October 24, unidentified armed men killed seven children and wounded at least 13 others during an attack on Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, a school in the town of Kumba, Southwest Region. In a press release also released on October 24, Minister of Communication Rene Emmanuel Sadi attributed the attack to separatists. He said 10 heavily armed men on three motorbikes entered the school and opened fire on students inside classrooms. Reports indicated attackers also used machetes. He reported that five girls and one boy died during the attack and described the conditions of several of the wounded as critical, noting that they were taken to hospitals in Kumba and in other nearby towns.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited and restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government often restricted this right. The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, and processions to notify officials in advance but does not require prior government approval for public assemblies, nor does it authorize the government to suppress public assemblies that it did not approve in advance. Nevertheless, officials routinely asserted the law implicitly authorizes the government to grant or deny permission for public assemblies. The government often refused to grant permits for gatherings and used force to suppress assemblies for which it had not issued permits. Authorities typically cited security concerns as the basis for deciding to block assemblies. Progovernment groups, however, were generally authorized to organize public demonstrations.

On August 13, the divisional officer of Yaounde II, Mamadi Mahamat, banned the civil marriage ceremony of MRC leader Maurice Kamto’s spokesperson, Olivier Bibou Nissack, which was scheduled to take place at Massao Hotel in Yaounde. Mamadi stated that the organizers of the marriage did not seek authorization for the public event. He also called into question the credentials of Civil Status Secretary Valentin Lewoua, who was to help officiate the marriage. He further stated the chief officiating officer, traditional leader and Maurice Kamto associate Biloa Effa, had been removed by the minister of territorial administration in December 2019.

On August 15, the divisional officer of Nkongsamba in the Littoral Region banned a meeting of the MRC scheduled to take place at the party’s headquarters. Following the ban, some MRC members met at the residence of a colleague, Fabrice Tchoumen, for a private discussion. On August 19, the chief commissioner in Nkongsamba, Joseph Hamadjam, summoned Tchoumen for questioning on August 24, saying that he organized a meeting at his residence without authorization. As of September, the MRC had not reported any ongoing legal proceedings following the questioning.

In September authorities took a series of administrative decisions banning public demonstrations after the MRC called for peaceful protests on September 22 over the government’s decision to organize regional elections before resolving the crisis in the two Anglophone regions and advancing electoral reforms. On September 11, the governors of the Littoral and Center Regions banned public meetings and demonstrations indefinitely. Three days later, Territorial Administration Minister Atanga Nji, in a letter to the two governors and the governor of the West Region, urged them to arrest anyone organizing or leading demonstrations. On September 15, Minister of Communication Rene Emmanuel Sadi warned political parties that protests could be considered “insurrection” and that illegal demonstrations across the country would be punished under the antiterror law. The communications minister also threatened to ban the MRC.

On September 19, the headquarters of the opposition CPP in Yaounde was surrounded by more than 30 police officers and gendarmes. The Yaounde district officer stated that the CPP was holding a public meeting without approval, but CPP president Edith Kahbang Walla said in a statement published the same day that they were holding a regularly scheduled meeting for their members.

According to MRC leaders, an estimated 593 party members were detained throughout the country after they attempted to hold peaceful marches on September 22. Several persons in the Yaounde protest sustained minor injuries. They were reportedly arrested due to concerns they were participating in an insurrection. Videos of the protest showed security officers dispersing crowds with water cannons and tear gas and police firing rubber bullets at protestors. The MRC reported that security forces seriously wounded one individual at the residence of its leader, Maurice Kamto, during the night of September 21.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, but the law also limits this right. On the recommendation of the prefect, the Ministry of Territorial Administration may suspend the activities of an association for three months on grounds that the association is disrupting public order. The minister may also dissolve an association if it is deemed a threat to state security. National associations may acquire legal status by declaring themselves in writing to the ministry, but the ministry must explicitly register foreign associations, and the president must accredit religious groups upon the recommendation of the Minister of Territorial Administration. The law imposes heavy fines for individuals who form and operate any such association without ministry approval. The law prohibits organizations that advocate a goal contrary to the constitution, laws, and morality, as well as those that aim to challenge the security, territorial integrity, national unity, national integration, or republican form of the state.

Conditions for recognition of political parties, NGOs, and associations were complicated, involved long delays, and were unevenly enforced. This resulted in associations operating in legal uncertainty with their activities tolerated but not formally approved.

During the year the government did not officially ban any organizations, but it restricted the MRC’s activities, and virtually prohibited all events planned by the party. In a September 7 press briefing following the announcement of regional elections, Minister Atanga Nji suggested that the MRC could be officially banned. The Ministry of Territorial Administration regularly used threats of suspension against political parties, NGOs, and media outlets. c. Freedom of Religion

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, at times the government restricted these rights. Growing concerns over the entry of armed groups into Cameroon from the Central African Republic, the conflict with Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in the Far North Region, and the armed conflict in the two Anglophone regions appeared to have prompted the government to adopt a more restrictive approach to refugee movements. The government made it more difficult for refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons to move freely in the country.

In-country Movement: Using minor infractions as a pretext, police and gendarmes often extorted bribes and harassed travelers at roadblocks and checkpoints in cities and on most highways. Police frequently stopped travelers to check identification documents, including national identity cards, passports, residence permits, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as security and immigration control measures. Just as in the previous year, humanitarian organizations cited difficulty in accessing certain areas and in some instances were harassed and denied passage by government authorities. Unaccompanied women were frequently harassed when traveling alone. Authorities restricted movements of persons and goods, including motorbikes, especially in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, citing security concerns. Armed Anglophone separatists also restricted the movements of persons and goods in the two Anglophone regions, sometimes in a deliberate attempt to harass and intimidate the local population. Separatist warlords “taxed” cocoa trucks passing through rural areas of the Southwest region. They often used weekly lockdowns referred to as ghost towns to enforce restrictions on movement, in which the armed separatists demanded all businesses close and residents stay home.

On March 13, Northwest Region Governor Adolphe Lele Lafrique signed an order prohibiting the circulation of motorbikes. The order was enforceable daily in the divisions of Bui, Mezam, Momo, Menchum, Ngohketunjia, and Boyo from 6:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. For the same reasons, on September 4, the mayor of Bamenda, Paul Tembeng Achobong, announced a ban on commercial and private motorbikes within most of the city, scheduled to begin on September 7, with the goal of limiting separatist activity in the city. In a press release later that day, Northwest Region Governor Lafrique endorsed the ban and accused separatists of perpetrating attacks on motorbikes. Hours later, the leader of the Southern Cameroons Civil Society Consortium separatist group, John Mbah Akuroh, stated in a video on social media that the prohibition would impoverish thousands of commercial motorbike riders and their families and urged car owners in Bamenda to ground their vehicles until the government lifted the ban.

Foreign Travel: Citizens have the right to leave the country without arbitrary restrictions. The movement of some political opponents and debtors, however, were monitored, and their travel documents were often confiscated to confine them to the country. To obtain exit permits, citizens need a valid passport and visa for their country of destination. With the development of human trafficking operations and networks, children and young women were often subjected to more stringent controls at border locations, including airports.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government at times cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations regarding treatment of IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The country operated an open door policy. This policy, however, was not translated into a progressive legal framework allowing refugees their rights as stated in various legal instruments.

Refoulement: Unlike in 2019, there were no reported cases of forced returns.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system of providing protection to refugees, but the implementation of this system was weak. UNHCR continued to provide documentation and assistance to the refugee population, although local authorities did not always recognize the documents as official, which prevented refugees from travelling and engaging in business activities. UNHCR and the government continued to conduct biometric verification and registration of refugees in the Far North Region, including those not living in refugee camps.

Freedom of Movement: The government often cited security concerns and suspected criminal activity to restrict the movement of refugees and asylum seekers.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees had limited access to health care, education, and employment opportunities. Their rural host communities faced similar problems, but the situation was somewhat worse for refugees. Access to these services varied according to the location of the refugees, with those in camps receiving support through humanitarian assistance, while refugees living in host communities faced difficulty receiving services.

Durable Solutions: In October 2019 the United Nations and the governments of Cameroon and the Central African Republic (CAR) initiated the voluntary repatriation of some 4,000 CAR refugees from Cameroon. Some 500 refugees reportedly signed up in the first phase of the program. By the end of December 2019, UNHCR had repatriated more than 3,500 CAR refugees out of those who expressed the desire to return. The repatriation followed a June 2019 tripartite agreement between Cameroon, CAR, and UNHCR to provide for a safe and dignified repatriation of 285,000 CAR refugees to their home country. Repatriation of CAR refugees stopped in the first part of the year due to funding shortfalls and COVID-19 restrictions.

Temporary Protection: The government continued to provide temporary and unofficial protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, extending this protection to hundreds of individuals, including third-country nationals who had fled violence in the CAR. Due to their unofficial status and inability to access services or support, many of these individuals were subject to harassment and other abuses.

g. Stateless Persons

Not applicable.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Elections, however, were often marked by irregularities.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On February 9, the country held simultaneous legislative and municipal elections. An estimated 32 political parties participated in the legislative election and 43 participated in the municipal election. Security concerns constrained voter participation in the two Anglophone regions. The courts annulled the legislative elections in 11 constituencies of the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions because voter turnout was below 10 percent; elections were rerun in 11 constituencies of the two Anglophone regions on March 22. The ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) won 152 of the 180 National Assembly seats and won control of 316 of 360 local councils. Opposing political parties lost significantly when compared with previous elections. Irregularities, including lack of equal access to media and campaign spaces, restrictions on the ability of opposition candidates to register for the election, ballot stuffing, lack of ballot secrecy, voter intimidation, inconsistent use of identification cards, and lack of expertise among local polling officials prompted the Constitutional Council and Regional Administrative Courts to annul some legislative elections.

As of September the Supreme Court, which has final jurisdiction over challenges to the municipal election, had not issued a final ruling. Overall, eight opposition political parties gained access to the National Assembly, and nine won control of local councils. Estimates of voter turnout showed an unprecedented low rate of participation of 43 percent for the legislative and municipal elections. The results could partially be attributed to the call for a boycott of the elections by the MRC and other opposition parties. On December 6, the first-ever election of regional councilors was held, 24 years after they were provided for in the 1996 Constitution. Due to the gains achieved in the municipal councils that made up the electoral college in February elections, the ruling CPDM won in nine of the 10 regions. The government cited the regional elections as a sign of progress on decentralization, although some opposition and civil society groups criticized the elections as not signifying meaningful decentralization of power.

In October 2018, Paul Biya was re-elected president in an election marked by irregularities and against the backdrop of protracted sociopolitical unrest in the two Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions.

Political Parties and Political Participation: As of December, the country had 307 registered political parties. The CPDM remained dominant at every level of government due to restrictions on opposition political parties, gerrymandering, unbalanced media coverage, the use of government resources for CPDM campaigning, interference with the right of opposition parties to register as candidates and to organize during electoral campaigns, and the influence of traditional rulers, who were largely coopted by the CPDM. Traditional rulers, who receive salaries from the government, openly declared their support for President Biya prior to the presidential election, and some reportedly compelled residents of their constituencies to prove they did not vote for an opposition candidate by presenting unused ballots. Traditional rulers who refused to associate with the government were either removed or threatened with destitution. Membership in the ruling political party conferred significant advantages, including in the allocation of key jobs in state-owned entities and the civil service.

Human rights organizations and opposition political actors considered the drawing of voter districts and distribution of parliamentary or municipal councilors’ seats unfair. They complained that smaller districts considered CPDM strongholds were allocated a disproportionate number of seats compared with more populous districts where the opposition was expected to poll strongly. Managers of state-owned companies and other high-level government officials used corporate resources to campaign for candidates sponsored by the ruling party.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process and they did participate, although women remained underrepresented at all levels of government. In parliament, women occupied 87 of 280 seats–61 in the National Assembly and 26 in the Senate. Women held 11 of 66 cabinet positions. Similar disparities existed in other senior-level offices, including territorial command and security and defense positions.

The law stipulates that a person can vote at 20 years of age.

The minority Baka, a nomadic Pygmy people, were not represented in the Senate, National Assembly, or higher offices of government.

On June 16, the Administrative Court for the Center Region in Yaounde reinstated Edith Kah Walla as the leader of the CPP. In 2018, Minister of Territorial Administration Atanga Nji issued a decision naming Samuel Fon as head of the party, replacing Edith Kah Walla who was elected in 2011 as party leader. The June 16 Administrative Court decision nullified Atanga Nji’s decision.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The law identifies different offenses as corruption, including influence peddling, involvement in a prohibited employment, and nondeclaration of conflict of interest. Reporting corruption was encouraged through exempting whistleblowers from criminal proceedings. Corruption in official examinations is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both. In addition to the laws, the National Anticorruption Agency (CONAC), the Special Criminal Court, the National Financial Investigation Agency, the Ministry in Charge of Supreme State Audit, and the Audit Bench of the Supreme Court also contributed to fighting corruption in the country. CONAC, the most prominent of the anticorruption agencies, was constrained by the absence of a law empowering it to combat corruption. There were reports that senior officials sentenced to prison were not always required to forfeit ill-gotten gains.

In a prelude to World Anticorruption Day, CONAC on July 10 released a report, 2010-2020, A decade of fighting corruption in Cameroon: Achievements, that listed the most corrupt sectors in the country, including public procurement, finance, justice, and the security forces. CONAC further stated that with assistance from the Special Criminal Tribunal and the Supreme Court, it was able to help recover CFA 1.7 billion ($2.9 million) of government funds.

Corruption: There were consistent allegations of mismanagement of resources with respect to the funds raised to counter COVID-19. Social Democratic Front member of parliament Jean Michel Nintcheu raised the issue several times, challenging the health minister to prove the contrary. He expressed concerns that the money contributed by the public through a national solidarity fund was subject to corruption. He cited overbilling and conflicts of interests within the Ministry of Health.

In a June 12 release, Human Rights Watch urged the government to publish immediately information on the revenues, disbursements, and management of its Health Solidarity Fund, adding that health-care facilities had made mandatory contributions to the emergency fund for more than 25 years. Medical staff told Human Rights Watch that they believed the government had never disbursed any money from the fund, including in response to COVID-19, even though health-care facilities continued to contribute 10 percent of their revenues. Human Rights Watch announced that on May 11, it wrote to the health minister, inquiring about the rules governing the fund and its activities but had not yet received a response.

In September, after 18 months of investigation, the investigating judge at the Special Criminal Court accused former defense minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo of embezzling CFA 236 billion ($4.1 million) as part of the purchase of military equipment for the army. Mebe Ngo and his wife have been awaiting trial at the Kondengui Central Prison since their arrest.

The government continued Operation Sparrow Hawk that was launched in 2006 to fight embezzlement of public funds. As in the previous year, the Special Criminal Court opened new corruption cases and issued verdicts on some pending cases. The National Gendarmerie maintained a toll-free telephone line to allow citizens to report acts of corruption in the Gendarmerie.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires senior government officials, including members of the cabinet, to declare their assets prior to and after leaving office, but the government did not implement the law.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases. Government officials, however, impeded many local human rights NGOs by harassing their members, limiting access to prisoners, refusing to share information, and threatening violence against NGO personnel. Human rights defenders and activists received anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and email. The government took no action to investigate or prevent such occurrences. The government criticized reports from international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Crisis Group, accusing them of publishing baseless accusations.

When Human Rights Watch released its February 25 report, Civilians Massacred in Separatist Area, Minister of Communication Rene Emmanuel Sadi accused it and other organizations of being tirelessly determined to undermine the image of the country and the stability of its institutions. Minister Sadi stated the government was in possession of irrefutable evidence establishing links between the author of the Human Rights Watch report and terrorists.

As in the previous year, there were several reports of intimidation, threats, and attacks aimed at human rights activists. On January 26, the Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network’s head office was the victim of arson, which destroyed the organization’s archives and part of the executive director’s office.

During the Droit de Reponse (“Right to Respond”) program on Equinoxe Television on August 30, Jacqueline Nkoyock, a member of the CPDM central committee, alleged that Phillipe Nanga, the coordinator of NGO Un Monde Avenir, embezzled CFA 280 million ($486,000) provided for a capacity-building project on youth political participation. Nkoyock made the accusation after Nanga remarked that addressing the issue of citizen participation was a prerequisite for free and fair regional elections.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In June 2019 the government passed a law establishing the Cameroon Human Rights Commission (CHRC), as a replacement for the existing NCHRF. Like the NCHRF, the CHRC is a nominally independent but government-funded institution. The law establishing the CHRC extended its mandate to protect human rights. The CHRC was not operational during the year because the president had not yet designated its members.

The NCHRF continued to operate in place of the CHRC. While the NCHRF coordinated actions with NGOs and participated in some inquiry commissions, it remained poorly funded and ceased some of its traditional activities, including conducting prison and detention sites visits. NGOs, civil society groups, and the general population considered the NCHRF dedicated and effective but inadequately resourced and with insufficient ability to hold human rights abusers to account effectively. Several observers questioned the decision to establish a new institution and expressed concerns regarding its ability to confront the government that funds it. After MRC leader Maurice Kamto called for peaceful protests on September 22, interim NCHRF president James Mouangue Kobila issued a statement on behalf of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms on September 16, condemning the proposed protests. After commission member Christophe Bobiokono published a post on Facebook distancing himself from the statement published on behalf of the NCHRF had Kobila as the sole signatory. On September 29, interim NCHRF President James Mouangue Kobila sent a letter to the webmaster of the NCHRF, ordered that Bobiokono be immediately excluded from all NCHRF WhatsApp platforms.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides penalties of between five and 10 years of imprisonment for convicted rapists. Police and courts rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since victims often did not report them. The law does not address spousal rape (see also section 1.g.).

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law protects the bodily integrity of persons and prohibits genital mutilation. Perpetrators are subject to a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years or imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice for commercial purposes or the practice causes death. FGM/C remained a problem, but its prevalence was low. As in the previous year, children were reportedly subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions and among the Choa and Ejagham ethnic groups.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of their deceased husband’s relatives to secure continued use of property left by the husband, including the marital home. To better protect women, including widows, the government included provisions in the law outlawing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the other spouse. The practice of widow rites, by which widows forgo certain activities such as bathing or freedom of movement, was also prevalent in some parts of the country, including in some rural communities of the West Region.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Offenders can be subject to imprisonment for periods of six months to one year and a monetary fine. If the victim is a minor, the penalty can be one to three years in prison. If the offender is the victim’s teacher, the penalty can increase to three to five years in prison. Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread and there were no reports that anyone was fined or imprisoned for sexual harassment, in part due to sexual harassment victims’ reluctance to file official complaints for fear of reprisal and or stigmatization.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number and timing of their children. The Ministry of Public Health offered counseling services to women during prenatal visits, promoting the concept of responsible parenthood and encouraging couples to use contraception to space the timing of their children. Many women, however, lacked the means to manage their reproductive health, and societal pressures continued to reinforce taboos on discussing reproductive health within certain communities. Women’s dependence on receiving their husbands’ consent continued to be a barrier in contraceptive decisions. The government provides support to survivors of gender-based violence or sexual violence through: (1) the development of policies to protect survivors of gender-based violence; (2) legal support to survivors via the judiciary network; (3) general clinical care offered in health facilities; and (4) collection of data through the District Health Information System and provision of situational analysis. Many of the prevention and basic support programs for survivors of gender-based and sexual violence are implemented by community-based organizations.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) indicated that, as of October, 48 percent of married or in-union women ages 15 to 49 made their own informed decisions regarding their reproductive health care.

On December 15, the National Committee to Combat Maternal, Neonatal, and Infant/Child Mortality indicated the ratio of maternal deaths dropped by more than 40 percent between 2011 and 2018, from 782 to 406 deaths per 100,000 live births. The high mortality rate was attributed to inadequate access to medical care; lack of trained medical personnel; and the high cost of prenatal care, hospital delivery, and postpartum care. Prenatal care, skilled attendants during childbirth, emergency obstetrics, neonatal, and postpartum care remained inadequate, particularly in rural areas. The 2018 Cameroon Demographic and Health Survey indicated that, in the five years before the survey, almost 90 percent of women ages 15 to 49 who had a live birth received antenatal care from a skilled provider, and 70 percent of births were assisted by a skilled provider, most commonly a nurse, midwife, or auxiliary midwife.

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

Discrimination: The constitution provides women and men the same legal status and rights. The government, however, often did not enforce the law. In practice, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. Although local government officials claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of denying women the right to own land, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions. The government did not implement any official discriminatory policy against women in such areas as divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing business or property, education, the judicial process, or housing. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in some occupations and industries (see section 7.d.). Within the private sector, fewer women occupied positions of responsibility.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through their parents, but not through birth in the country’s territory; the responsibility to register a child’s birth falls upon parents. Birth registration was not provided on a discriminatory basis, but many births went unregistered because children were not always born in health facilities. Also, many parents faced challenges in reaching local government offices. While failure to register births did not have immediate consequences for children, in the long run children without birth certificates found it difficult to register for official examinations or secure identification documents.

On February 18, the National Civil Status Bureau and the Ministry of Health signed a memorandum of understanding, as part of a universal birth registration project, implemented by the civil status bureau with donor financial support. The partnership is expected to allow the various actors to improve birth declarations and registrations.

Education: The law provides for tuition-free compulsory primary education up to the age of 12. The law punishes any parent with sufficient means who refuses to send his or her child to school with a fine. The punishment is imprisonment from one to two years for repeat offenders. Children were generally expected to complete primary education at 12. Secondary school students must pay tuition and other fees in addition to buying uniforms and books. This rendered secondary education unaffordable for many children.

A 2019 UN Women report highlighted gender disparity in education, particularly in secondary education. According to the report, the literacy rate in 2019 was lower for women and girls (86 percent) than for men and boys (97 percent).

During the year separatist attacks on schools in the Southwest and Northwest Regions continued to disrupt the normal operation of schools (see section 1.g.). During the year research by Human Rights Watch showed that school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated previously existing inequalities and that children who were already most at risk of being excluded from a quality education had been most affected.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits various forms of child abuse, including but not limited to assault, indecency, kidnapping, forced labor, rape, sexual harassment, and situations where one parent refuses to disclose the identity of the other parent to the child. Penalties for offenses range from a token fine for forced labor to imprisonment for life in the case of assault leading to death or serious harm. Despite these legal provisions, child abuse remained a problem. Children continued to suffer corporal punishment, both within families and at school. Boko Haram continued to abduct children for use as child soldiers or as suicide bombers (see section 1.g.).

On June 29, the daily newspaper La Nouvelle Expression published an article by Herve Villard Njiete, who reported that a man named Mahop forced his own daughter to become his sexual partner from the age of nine to 15. Mahop was arrested after his neighbors reported him to police. According to the newspaper, the young girl, who lived in the PK 11 neighborhood in Douala V, tested positive for HIV.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Despite the law, according to UNICEF’s 2018 child marriage data, 31 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18 and, of these, 10 percent were married before they turned 15. Childhood marriages were more prevalent in the northern part of the country. The law punishes anyone who compels an individual into marriage with imprisonment of from five to 10 years and fines.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation and the sale, offering, or procuring for prostitution of children, and practices related to child pornography. A conviction requires proof of a threat, fraud, deception, force, or other forms of coercion. Penalties include imprisonment of between 10 and 20 years and a substantial fine. The law does not set a minimum age for consensual sex. According to anecdotal reports, children younger than 18 were exploited in commercial sex, especially by restaurant and bar promoters, although no statistics were available. Anecdotal reports suggested the ongoing crisis in the two Anglophone regions had contributed to a dramatic increase in the prostitution of underage girls and number of early pregnancies, especially in areas with IDPs.

Displaced Children: Many displaced children continued to live on the streets of urban centers, although the number was in decline as a result of stringent security measures and a law that criminalizes vagrancy. According to estimates by the International Organization for Migration, there were approximately 2,570 unaccompanied children in the Far North Region as of April 2019, including IDPs, returnees, out-of-camp refugees, and other migrants (see also sections 2.e. and 2.f.). These children faced many challenges, including limited access to school, health, and protection. Thousands of children were harmed by the humanitarian crisis in the Northwest and Southwest. These children faced significant abuses of their rights by armed forces and nonstate armed actors alike. The government had not established structures to ensure that internally displaced children were protected from recruitment by nonstate armed groups and terrorist organizations.

In April the Ministry of Social Affairs started an operation to remove thousands of homeless children from the streets. Henri Nyambi Dikosso, the director of national solidarity at the ministry, led a group of social workers and hospital staff who removed up to 160 children from the street by April 1. The spread of COVID-19 forced authorities to begin the project earlier than planned.

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 population was very small, and there were no known 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 protects the rights of all persons, including persons with disabilities. A 2010 law provides additional protection to persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The protections under the law cover access to education and vocational training, employment, health services, information and cultural activities, communications, buildings, sports and leisure, transportation, housing, and other state services. Some infrastructure projects were made accessible to persons with mobility issues. Public education is free for persons with disabilities and children born of parents with disabilities. Initial vocational training, medical treatment, and employment must be provided “when possible,” and public assistance “when needed.” The government did not enforce these provisions effectively.

There were no reports of police or other government officials inciting, perpetrating, or condoning violence against persons with disabilities during the year.

The majority of children with disabilities attended school with peers without disabilities. The government introduced inclusive education in many schools and reviewed the curriculum of teacher training colleges to include training in inclusive education skills. Other children with disabilities continued to attend separate schools, such as the Bulu Blind Center in Buea and the Yaounde Special School for Hearing-impaired Children. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that all factors affecting children’s education during the COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected children with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities did not receive adequate protection in conflict zones.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The population consists of more than 275 ethnic groups. Members of President Biya’s Beti/Bulu ethnic group from the South Region continued to hold many key positions and were disproportionately represented in the government, state-owned businesses, and security forces.

Indigenous People

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Baka, including Bakola and Bagyeli, resided primarily in (and were the earliest known inhabitants of) the forested areas of the South and East Regions. The government did not effectively protect the civil or political rights of either group. Logging companies continued to destroy indigenous peoples’ naturally forested land without compensation. Other ethnic groups often treated the Baka as inferior and sometimes subjected them to unfair and exploitative labor practices. The government continued long-standing efforts to provide birth certificates and national identity cards to Baka. Most Baka did not have these documents, and efforts to reach them were impeded by the difficulty in reaching homes deep in the forest.

There were credible reports from NGOs that the Mbororo, nomadic pastoralists living mostly in the North, East, Adamawa, and Northwest Regions, continued to be subject to harassment, sometimes with the complicity of administrative or judicial authorities. In a letter dated August 17, a group of eight persons writing on behalf of the Fulani-Mbororo community and associated with the CPDM, denounced what they described as the demeaning stigmatization of the Fulani-Mbororo as an indigenous and minority people in the country. They stated that the Fulani-Mbororo are not indigenous in the same way as the Baka and are not a minority.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence lasting between six months and five years and a token fine.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights organizations such as the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, Humanity First Cameroon, Alternatives Cameroon, the National Observatory of the Rights of LGBTI Persons and Their Defenders, and others, continued to report arbitrary arrests of LGBTI persons. Data collected through the UNITY platform, a group of 34 local organizations dedicated to the LGBTI population, indicated an increase in arbitrary arrests of LGBTI individuals in the first half of the year. Many of the arrests occurred in Bafoussam on May 17 when police arrested–and later released–53 LGBTI individuals celebrating the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia at a time when COVID-19-related restrictions prohibited large gatherings. LGBTI individuals also continued to face significant stigma, violence, and discrimination from their families, communities, and the government.

The constitution provides for equal rights for all citizens, but the law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality, and access to government services such as health care. Security forces sometimes harassed persons on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including individuals found with condoms and lubricants. Fear of exposure affected individuals’ willingness to access HIV/AIDS services, and a number of HIV-positive men who had sex with men reported also partnering with women, in part to conceal their sexual orientation. Anecdotal reports suggested some discrimination occurred in places of employment with respect to sexual orientation.

In an online article, a human rights activist with the pseudonym John Enama reported that on July 28 the Court of First Instance of Bafang in the West Region imposed fines on four men who were arrested due to what was described as their LGBTI conduct on June 9 in Kekem. The four men pleaded guilty but their lawyer highlighted extenuating circumstances, alleging that their confessions were given under threats and torture. The court accepted the guilty pleas; one man was sentenced to a month in prison and a token fine; the other three were fined. Because the families of the defendants were unwilling to pay the fines, two local NGOs paid them, and they were released.

LGBTI organizations could not officially register as such and so sought registration either as general human rights organizations or as health-focused organizations. Many LGBTI organizations found that operating health programs, particularly HIV programs, shielded them from potential harassment or shutdown rather than promoting advocacy for LGBTI persons as their primary mission.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV often suffered social discrimination and were isolated from their families and society, in part also due to a lack of education on the disease. As in the previous year, while no specific cases of discrimination in employment were made public, anecdotal reports indicated some discrimination occurred with respect to HIV status, especially in the private sector.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Several cases of vigilante action and arson attacks were reported involving arbitrary killings and destruction of both public and private property. In March an organization known as Friends of the Press Network, based in Kumba in the Southwest Region, reported that Southern Cameroon Defense Forces fighters summarily executed Cecilia Bemo, Itoe Ajasco, and Ferdinand Bajaraka Okon, whom they suspected of witchcraft. The killings happened in Ediki Mbonge in the Southwest Region. The victims were reportedly tortured by their executioners, who forced them to confess and summarily shot them.

Promotion of Acts of Discrimination

During the year there was a pattern of discrimination and repeated threats between members of the Bamileke and Beti/Ekan tribes. The animosity started when Maurice Kamto, a Bamileke, challenged the results of the 2018 presidential election and gained momentum when Kamto boycotted the municipal and legislative elections in February. Various government and political figures issued messages via social and traditional media that inflamed intergroup tensions, despite legal provisions against hate speech.

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 strikes, albeit with significant restrictions. The right does not apply to defined groups of workers, including defense and national security personnel, prison administration civil servants, and judicial and legal personnel. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Statutory limitations and other practices substantially restricted these rights. The law does not permit the creation of a union that includes both public and private sector workers or the creation of a union that includes different, even if closely related, sectors. The law requires that unions register with the government, have a minimum of 20 members, and formalize the union by submitting a constitution and bylaws. Founding members must also have clean police records. Those who form a union and carry out union activities without registration can be fined under the law. More than 100 trade unions and 12 trade union confederations were in operation, including one public sector confederation. Trade unions or associations of public servants may not join a foreign occupational or labor organization without prior authorization from the minister of territorial administration, who is responsible for “supervising public freedoms.”

The constitution and law provide for collective bargaining between workers and management as well as between labor federations and business associations in each sector of the economy. The law does not apply to the agricultural or informal sectors, which included most of the workforce.

Legal strikes or lockouts may be called only after conciliation and arbitration procedures have been exhausted. Workers who ignore procedures to conduct a strike may be dismissed or fined. Free industrial zones are subject to some labor laws, but there are several exceptions. The employers have the right to determine salaries according to productivity, the free negotiation of work contracts, and the automatic issuance of work permits for foreign workers. Some laws intended to target terrorists can impose harsh legal penalties on legitimate trade union activity.

The government and employers do not effectively enforce the applicable laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Penalties for violations were rarely enforced and were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. Administrative judicial procedures were infrequent and subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Collective agreements are binding until three months after a party has given notice to terminate. As in the previous year, there were no reported allegations that the minister of labor and social security negotiated collective agreements with trade unionists who had nothing to do with the sectors concerned and did not involve trade union confederations that prepared the draft agreements.

Many employers continued to use subcontractors to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights. Major companies, including parastatal companies, reportedly engaged in the practice according to workers from Energy of Cameroon, the water company Camerounaise des Eaux, cement manufacturer Cimencam, Guinness, Aluminum Smelter, COTCO, Ecobank, and many others. Subcontracting reportedly involved all categories of personnel, from the lowest to senior levels. As a result, workers with equal expertise and experience did not always enjoy similar protections when working for the same business, and subcontracted personnel typically lacked a legal basis to file complaints.

Workers’ representatives said many workers were granted technical leave because of COVID-19, which took a heavy toll on most businesses.

Several strikes were announced. Some were called off after successful negotiations and some were carried out peacefully, while others faced some degree of repression.

In May the union of information and communications technology workers, Syntic, issued a notice to strike from May 22 to June 7 at Nexttel, the Cameroonian subsidiary of the Vietnamese company Viettel. According to Syntic, the strike was due to successive violations of the labor code and unilateral salary deductions. A March 25 decision from the minister of labor suspended the unilateral decision of Nexttel’s management to revise the conditions of employee remuneration. The company’s top management decided to punish the 31 dissenting workers by firing them. Syntic asked Nexttel to launch a tripartite dialogue, but Nexttel’s management had not yet answered the notice.

On May 7, 10 workers’ representatives to the Douala City Council were reinstated after spending 36 months without pay. The former government delegate to the city council, Fritz Ntone, suspended the 10 in 2017 after they organized a strike seeking improved working conditions, including health insurance. In 2017 the Littoral Court of Appeal’s Labor Arbitration Council issued a decision requesting the delegate to reinstate the workers’ representatives, but the delegate instead opposed the court decision and referred the issue back to the labor inspector. The case was once again referred to the region’s court of appeals. After multiple postponements, in October 2019 the court confirmed the initial decision to reinstate the workers’ representatives and pay their salaries and outstanding arrears, but the delegate did not comply. The May 7 reinstatement of the workers’ representatives was the result of several rounds of negotiations with the council executive, under the leadership of the new Douala mayor, Roger Mbassa Ndine. The negotiations resulted in the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the workers’ representatives and the council executive. Some of the former workers’ representatives believed the memorandum was not carried out in good faith in accordance with the court decision because the mayor refused to fulfill all commitments under the memorandum.

International labor and trade union organizations report a pattern of firing labor representatives.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced and compulsory labor. The law prohibits slavery, exploitation, and debt bondage and voids any agreement in which violence was used to obtain consent. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The law also extends culpability for all crimes to accomplices and corporate entities. Although the statutory penalties are severe, the government did not enforce the law effectively, in part due to a lack of capacity to investigate trafficking and limited labor inspection and remediation resources. In addition, due to the length and expense of criminal trials and the lack of protection available to victims participating in investigations, many victims of forced or compulsory labor resorted to accepting out-of-court settlements (see also section 1.g., Child Soldiers).

Anecdotal reports of hereditary servitude imposed on former slaves in some chiefdoms in the North Region continued. Many members of the Kirdi–a predominately Christian and animist ethnic group enslaved by the Muslim Fulani in the 1800s–continued to work for traditional Fulani rulers for compensation in room and board and generally low and unregulated wages, while their children were free to pursue schooling and work of their choosing. Kirdi were also required to pay local chiefdom taxes to the Fulani, as were all other subjects. The combination of low wages and high taxes (although legal) effectively constituted forced labor. While technically free to leave, many Kirdi remained in the hierarchical and authoritarian system because of a lack of viable alternative options.

Anecdotal reports suggested that in the South and East Regions, some Baka, including children, continued to be subjected to unfair labor practices by Bantu farmers, who hired the Baka at exploitative wages to work on their farms during the harvest seasons.

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 and sets 14 as the minimum age of employment. The law prohibits children from working at night or longer than eight hours per day. It also outlines tasks children younger than 18 cannot legally perform, including moving heavy objects, undertaking dangerous and unhealthy tasks, working in confined areas, and prostitution. Employers are required to provide skills training to children between the ages of 14 and 18. Because compulsory education ends at the age of 12, children who were not in school and not yet 14 were particularly vulnerable to child labor. Laws relating to hazardous work for children younger than 18 are not comprehensive, since they do not include prohibitions on work underwater or at dangerous heights. Children engaged in hazardous agricultural work, including cocoa production. The law provides penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment for those who violate child labor laws. These penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes, such as kidnapping.

Children younger than the minimum age of employment tended to be involved in agriculture, fishing and livestock, the service industry, sex work, and artisanal gold mining. There were reports of underage children associated with nonstate armed groups in the Far North, Southwest, and Northwest Regions. In agriculture, children were exposed to hazardous conditions, including climbing trees, handling heavy loads, using machetes, and handling agricultural chemicals. Children in artisanal gold mines and gravel quarries spent long hours filling and transporting wheelbarrows of sand or gravel, breaking stones without eye protection, and digging and washing the soil or mud, sometimes in stagnant water, to extract minerals. These activities left children vulnerable to physical injuries, waterborne diseases, and exposure to mercury. Children worked as street vendors; in fishing, where they were exposed to hazardous conditions; and largely alongside families and rather than for formal employers. Children were subjected to forced begging as talibes in Koranic schools.

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 contains no specific provisions against or penalties for discrimination, but the constitution in its preamble provides that all persons shall have equal rights and obligations and that every person shall have the right and the obligation to work.

Discrimination in employment and occupation allegedly occurred with respect to ethnicity, HIV status, disability, gender, and sexual orientation, especially in the private sector. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous or “morally inappropriate” and in industries including mining, construction, factories, and energy. Members of ethnic groups often gave preferential treatment to other members of their group in business. Persons with disabilities reportedly found it difficult to secure and access employment. There were no reliable reports of discrimination against internal migrant or foreign migrant workers, although anecdotal reports suggested such workers were vulnerable to unfair working conditions. The government took no action to eliminate or prevent discrimination and kept no records of incidents of discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage in all sectors was greater than the World Bank’s poverty line. Premium pay for overtime ranged from 120 to 150 percent of the hourly rate, depending on the amount of overtime and whether it was weekend or late-night overtime. Despite the minimum wage law, employers often negotiated lower wages with workers, in part due to the extremely high rate of underemployment in the country. Salaries lower than the minimum wage remained prevalent in the public works sector, where many positions required unskilled labor, as well as in domestic work, where female refugees were particularly vulnerable to unfair labor practices.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours in public and private nonagricultural firms and a total of 2,400 hours per year, with a maximum limit of 48 hours per week in agricultural and related activities. There are exceptions for guards and firefighters (56 hours per week), service-sector staff (45 hours per week), and household and restaurant staff (54 hours per week). The law mandates at least 24 consecutive hours of rest weekly.

The government sets health and safety standards in the workplace. The minister in charge of labor matters establishes the list of occupational diseases in consultation with the National Commission on Industrial Hygiene and Safety. The regulations were not enforced in the informal sector. The labor code also mandates that every enterprise and establishment of any kind provide medical and health services for its employees. This stipulation was not enforced.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcement of the minimum wage and workhour standards, but did not enforce the law. Penalties for violations of the law were not commensurate with those for comparable crimes, such as negligence. Ministry inspectors and occupational health physicians are responsible for monitoring health and safety standards, but the ministry lacked the resources for a comprehensive inspection program. The government more than doubled the total number of labor inspectors, but the number was still insufficient. Moreover, the government did not provide inspectors adequate access to vehicles or computers.

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic is a presidential republic. Professor Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected in the second round of presidential elections in 2016 for a five-year term. In February 2019 the government and 14 armed groups signed the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation. President Touadera appointed Firmin Ngrebada as prime minister. The first round of presidential and legislative elections were held on December 27. Violence by armed groups reportedly prevented 26 out of 68 subprefectures from voting, and interrupted the vote in an additional six subprefectures. Observers noted minor irregularities in voting locations. Election results were still pending at year’s end.

Police and gendarmes have responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order. The Central African Armed Forces report to the Ministry of Defense. Police and the gendarmerie report to the Ministry of Interior and Public Security. Civilian authorities’ control over the security forces continued to improve but remained weak. Members of the security forces committed some abuses. State authority beyond the capital improved with the increased deployment of prefects and troops in provincial capitals. Armed groups, however, still controlled significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing bodies in those areas, taxing local populations and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; torture by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest by security forces; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers and other conflict-related abuses by armed groups; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct between adults; and forced child labor.

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

Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups continued. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during these internal conflicts. Ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property. The government stated it was investigating several high-profile cases of intercommunal violence during the year and considering charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes against perpetrators.

Note: This report refers to the “ex-Seleka” for all abuses attributed to the armed factions associated with Seleka, including the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic, the Union for Peace, which occurred after the Seleka was dissolved in 2013. Although the 3R armed group is not a member of the ex-Seleka, they also committed serious human rights abuses during the year.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year (see section 1.g.). In a report published by the Human Rights Council in August, the UN’s independent expert stated that state security forces allegedly committed human rights abuses against civilians, including rape, use of minors at checkpoints, theft of cattle from the Peuhls, torture, and killing. Consistent with the code of military justice enacted in March 2017, military tribunals, martial courts, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. The last session of the military court, however, dated back to 2013, and existing practice is for military offenses to be tried at the criminal court, which holds only two session a year.

In August a member of the armed forces stationed in Baoro, west of the country near the town of Bouar, killed a driver and his girlfriend out of jealousy.

In December media reports indicated a group that included Russian private military contractors, invited to the country by the government to assist with election security, and the country’s military elements used excessive force against civilians at a road checkpoint in Grimari, resulting in the death of at least four civilians, including a local employee of an international humanitarian nongovernmental organization (NGO).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were reports that forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups were responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Those abducted included police and civilians (see section 1.g.).

There were multiple reports of disappearances committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for the purposes of recruitment and extortion (see section 1.g.).

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

Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were reports from NGOs that Central African Armed Forces (FACA) soldiers, gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture (see section 1.g.).

In June an NGO reported that a female employee of a local bank was arrested and tortured by a police unit known as the Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB).

Impunity remained persistent throughout the country. Contributing factors included poorly trained officials, inadequate staffing, and insufficient resources. Additionally, claims of corruption among top government officials, delayed receipt of salaries for law enforcement and judiciary employees, and threats from local armed groups if officials arrested or investigated members persisted. The mechanisms to investigate abuses included the gendarmerie and the court prosecutors. Military tribunals, martial courts, appeal courts, and the court of cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. The last session of the military court dated back to 2013. Consequently, military offenses, such as torture, are tried at the criminal court, which holds only two sessions a year.

The government worked with the EU to provide training on human rights for FACA and gendarme units.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to an independent expert with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and international NGOs, conditions in prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman.

The UN Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) detained and transferred to government custody several medium- and high-level armed group members.

Physical Conditions: The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and Bimbo Women’s Prison. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded both men’s and women’s prisons.

On April 25, President Touadera signed a decree granting pardon to 227 prisoners to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic. The pardon was directed at convicted minors, pregnant or breastfeeding women, prisoners ages 60 and older, and those with a chronic, serious, or contagious disease. Prisoners charged or convicted of murder, war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, attacks against the internal security of the State, burning of a residential house, and rape of minors younger than age 14 were excluded from the pardon.

On June 24, local press reported that Moussa Fadoul, former mayor of the fifth district of Bangui, died at Camp de Roux military prison due to medical neglect. Fadoul was apprehended in April 2019 by the police service from the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) during an attempted theft of a humanitarian vehicle. Following the death of Fadoul, the remaining prisoners protested, demanding better living conditions, medical care, and adequate legal provisions. In a press conference held on September 30, Central African judicial authorities noted that of the 38 prison centers in the country, 13 had been rehabilitated by the partners of the Central African Republic, mainly MINUSCA.

Nine prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bimbo, Bossangoa, Bambari, and Mbaiki. In March detention facilities rehabilitated by MINUSCA in Bangassou and Paoua reopened. In other locations, including Bossembele and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody. Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities, such as food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Conditions were life threatening and substantially below international standards. The national budget did not include adequate funds for food for prison inmates.

Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender. Smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, Mbaiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa segregated male prisoners from female prisoners, but conditions were substantially below international standards. Female prisoners were placed in facilities without ventilation or electricity. All detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.

There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders. The accusations against detainees ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes. Police and gendarmes held individuals beyond the statutory limits for detention before imposing formal charges.

Prisons were consistently underfunded with insufficient operating resources for the care of prisoners. Additionally, prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors’ unofficial fees. The Central African Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) reported that a prison officer at Ngaragba prison refused to release a prisoner despite the judge’s release order.

Administration: Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by UNHCR independent experts and international donors. The government also permitted monitoring by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert on human rights in the CAR.

Improvements: On May 28, the UN Development Program completed renovation on the prison in Camp de Roux. According to MINUSCA, the prison structure met international standards.

On June 23, 149 civilian prison officers from the first phase of initial training at the National School of Administration and Magistracy started their practical training. This training is part of a national strategy for the demilitarization of prisons, one of the priorities of the Ministry of Justice, jointly supported by MINUSCA, the UN Development Program, and UN Women.

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 sometimes observed these requirements. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention. Problems included a lack of affordable legal representation and slow, if any, response from the judiciary system.

MINUSCA’s uniformed force of 12,870 military personnel, police officers, and military observers was tasked to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA’s 2,080 police officers were authorized to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law, however, stipulates that authorities must inform detainees of their charges and present them before a magistrate within 72 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 144 hours. The only exceptions are suspects involving national security. Authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and insufficient number of judges.

Authorities sometimes followed legal procedures in cases managed by gendarmes or local police. Many detainees could not afford a lawyer. Although the law provides that a lawyer be provided for those unable to pay in felony cases where a sentence of 10 years or more could be imposed, lawyers are not provided for nonfelony cases. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 5,000 CFA francs ($8.80) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. After lawyers protested for higher wages, their remuneration was increased for the 2019-20 criminal sessions to 50,000 CFA francs ($90) per case.

For individuals detained by ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka and placed in illegal detention centers, legal procedures were not followed and access to lawyers was not provided.

Prosecution of persons subject to sanctions by the UN Sanctions Committee did not occur during the year.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem, however, and ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals.

On June 2, ex-Seleka Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC) forces detained and tortured three men in Bria accused of malfeasance. One of the detainees was subsequently released that day after the local civic leaders intervened.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem; after he visited the prison of Ngaragba in Bangui in September, the magistrate stated that 500 of 700 detainees were in pretrial detention. Although recordkeeping of arrests and detentions was poor, the slow investigation and processing of a case was the primary cause of pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained, understaffed, and had few resources, resulting in poorly processed cases with little physical evidence. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. Judges resisted holding sessions due to security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of affordable legal services and an unresponsive justice system.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was a lack of independence of the judiciary from political actors. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. In 2017 the president issued a decree that appointed eight members to the Constitutional Court, four of whom, including the president of the court, were women. A total of 18 of 27 first instance and appellate courts were operating during the year, including 16 outside of Bangui. The courts in Bangui and some other major cities, notably Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, Mbaiki, Boda, and Bimbo, resumed operation, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was inadequate. Many judges were unwilling to leave Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office space and housing.

Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, shortages of trained personnel, salary arrears, and lack of resources. Authorities, particularly those of high rank, did not always respect court orders.

In 2018 the National Assembly adopted the rules of procedure and evidence for the Special Criminal Court (SCC), and later that year the SCC officially began investigations and publicly launched a prosecutorial strategy. In 2019 the SCC moved into permanent offices. The SCC was established by law in 2015 in the domestic judicial system and operates with both domestic and international participation and support. In August, five national magistrates were sworn in after taking an oath, but the SCC was confronted with serious difficulties in recruiting international judges, delaying the opening of effective trials. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

MINUSCA assisted in setting up the SCC victim and witness protection unit, as provided for by the SCC founding law and the SCC rules of proceedings and evidence. Some victims and witnesses were already under the unit’s protection during ongoing SCC proceedings. Additional unit protection staff were added and more were under recruitment; protection equipment was being delivered and more was in procurement; court procurement; court personnel and other individuals in contact with victims and witnesses were receiving training on protection and other subjects.

In May the SCC accepted the cases of nine members of the armed group UPC arrested for crimes committed in the towns of Obo, Zemio, and Bambouti, located in the southeastern CAR. As of September the SCC received 122 complaints and opened preliminary investigation on one case. Seven cases were being analyzed, and three were ready for preliminary investigations but postponed because of the COVID-19 crisis. Ten cases were transmitted to examining judges, and seven others were referred to ordinary courts.

Operations of the courts of appeals for criminal courts in two of the country’s three judicial districts–the Western District based in Bouar and the Central District based in Bambari–held criminal sessions during the year.

In February parliament passed a bill establishing the Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRRC) to support the 2019 Accord for Peace and Reconciliation. The law includes a wide range of responsibilities for the TJRRC, including establishing truth, determining nonjudicial responsibility for violations, creating a reparations fund, and promoting reconciliation. The TJRRC is further intended to cooperate with the SCC and create a final report with recommendations.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The penal code presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and consult a public defender. Criminal trials use juries. The law obliges the government to provide counsel for indigent defendants; this process delayed trial proceedings due to the state’s limited resources. Defendants have the right to question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and file appeals. The government sometimes complied with these requirements. Defendants 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, to receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities, however, seldom respected these rights.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in order to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. In 2015 the civil courts resumed operations with regular sessions. There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no assurance of their safety and a credible judicial process.

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

The law prohibits searches of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

There were serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law by armed groups. The ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed group fighters operated freely across much of the country. Reports of abuses included unlawful killings, torture, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.

UN agencies and NGOs stated that humanitarian actors had not perpetrated any sexual violence during the year.

Killings: In December 2019 clashes between criminal self-defense groups and armed merchants in Bangui’s PK5 district resulted in the deaths of 50 individuals and 72 injured. The minster of public security and MINUSCA stated they opened an investigation on the case. In January judicial authorities investigated with the assistance of MINUSCA and arrested 20 suspects.

Between March and April, a series of intercommunal clashes occurred between the Runga and Goula factions of the ex-Seleka groups in N’dele, Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. Approximately 50 individuals were reported killed, including civilians and a UN employee. The fighting forced 1,200 civilians to flee their homes. In April, after visiting the town of N’dele where violent clashes took place between the Goula and Rounga tribes, Eric Tambo, the general prosecutor of the High Court of Bangui, stated the court would investigate the case and prosecute the perpetrators for the charge of crime against humanity and war crimes.

The 3R, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and Anti-balaka groups participated in ethnic killings related to cattle theft (see section 6).

On August 24, armed men from the Party of the Rally of the Central African nation attacked and killed 11 civilians, wounded 20, and set fires to homes in the village of Bornou, near the town of Bria, in reprisal of the killing of one of their men. Approximately 400 persons fled their homes, including children, women, and the elderly.

In January, two Anti-balaka leaders, Crepin Wakanam and Kevin Bere-Bere, and 29 combatants were tried before the Criminal Court of Bangui for their responsibility in the 2017 massacre of numerous civilians and the killing of 10 peacekeepers in southeastern region. According to the United Nations, 72 persons were killed, 76 injured, and 4,400 displaced during the attack. They were tried for “crimes against humanity, war crimes, looting and murder.” During the year 20 cases were tried, resulting in more than 40 convictions. The sentences varied from five years to life in prison.

Abductions: The NGO Invisible Children reported that on April 6, an LRA group, composed of men, women, and children, camped near the community of Bougoua, in the prefecture of M’Bomou, and looted food and other items from the community, forcing 15 boys to porter the stolen goods. The boys were released later that day.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Members of armed groups, including the ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka, reportedly continued to mistreat, assault, and rape civilians with impunity.

Child Soldiers: Armed militias associated with Anti-balaka, ex-Seleka, the LRA, and other armed groups forcibly recruited and used child soldiers; however, there were no verified cases of the government supporting units recruiting or using child soldiers during the year. Armed groups recruited children and used them as combatants, messengers, informants, and cooks. Girls were often used as sex slaves. The United Nations also documented the presence of children operating checkpoints and barricades.

The MPC, FPRC, and UPC are all signatories to the United Nation’s action plan combatting the use of child soldiers; however, they continued to use child soldiers. The FPRC and UPC issued orders barring the recruitment of children; however, NGOs reported the continued presence of children among these groups.

The country is a party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibit the involvement of children in armed conflicts. In addition, on June 15, President Touadera signed the decree enacting the Child Protection Law. The law prohibits and criminalizes the recruitment and the use of children into armed groups and their exploitation for sexual purposes; perpetrators may be sentenced from 10 years of imprisonment to hard labor. In addition the law provides a child who has served in an armed force or group may not be subject to criminal prosecution on this ground. The child must be considered a victim and not an alleged perpetrator, and the law favors social reintegration mechanisms for children.

During the year the government, UNICEF, and various NGOs worked with the armed groups to combat the exploitation of child soldiers. UNICEF stated that from January to August, 1,125 children left armed groups and registered for reintegration programs. The United Nations estimated the number of children who remained active in armed groups at approximately 5,000. On September 4, President Touadera signed a decree appointing a focal point for children affairs in the Unit in Charge of Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation Program. The focal point is tasked with the mission to promote children rights and facilitate their social reintegration.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: On April 22, MPC leader Alkhatim Mahamat stole construction materials sent by a National Assembly member to the town of Kabo for construction of a school.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation by armed groups.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka, and Anti-balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country. The High Commission for Communication is the regulatory body in charge of controlling the content of information broadcast or published in media. Opposition political candidates alleged that the state-owned media favored the existing administration during the presidential election campaign.

In August police briefly detained a journalist from the Association of Journalists for Human Rights radio station while she was investigating irregularities in the issuing of the national identification card. Also in August Henri Grothe, a blogger who resided in France and regularly criticized CAR authorities on social media, was briefly arrested and his passport confiscated upon his arrival at Bangui M’poko international airport. Grothe was released without any charge.

The government monopolized domestic television and national radio station broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government positions.

Nongovernmental Impact: In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government denied a number of requests to protest that were submitted by civil society groups, citing insecurity in Bangui. In September the government denied the permit request made by the Civil Society Working Group (GTSC) to organize a ville morte (ghost city). The GTSC was demanding the arrest of Ali Darassa, UPC commander in chief, and the resignation of Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada. To deter individuals from participating in the demonstration, the government deployed interior security forces and the presidential guards in the streets. Some GTSC representatives were briefly arrested. On October 13, the youth movement known as “4500,” which intended to demonstrate in front of the office of the judicial police regarding an increase in the cost of a national identification card, was prevented by police from holding its sit-in in Bangui. Three members of the movement were arrested by police and released shortly thereafter.

Freedom of Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of September there were an estimated 659,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. Between August 2019 and August 2020, the number of IDPs increased by 8 percent, from 590,000 to 641,000. An estimated 67 percent of IDPs lived with host families, while 33 percent lived on IDP sites.

Humanitarian actors provided assistance to IDPs and returnees and promoted the safe voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs. The government allowed humanitarian organizations to provide services.

Even after reaching safe locations, IDPs frequently risked assault by criminals, often assumed to be associated with armed groups that IDPs encountered if they ventured outside of camps to search for food. Women and girls were particularly at risk of sexual violence on the sites and when venturing outside, such as to go to markets or for agricultural activities. In many affected areas, humanitarian assistance was limited to strictly life-saving interventions, due to limited access and insecurity. The presence of armed groups continued to delay or block planned humanitarian deliveries.

Humanitarian organizations remained concerned regarding evidence that members of armed groups continued to hide in IDP sites and attempted to carry out recruitment activities, putting at risk IDPs and humanitarian staff. Recent survey data indicated an estimated one-third of IDPs residing in IDP sites were concerned regarding their security. Of registered deaths in IDP households surveyed in the three months prior to the mid-year survey, 25 percent were linked to armed conflict.

Security concerns, related to criminality as well as armed group clashes resulting in violence, prevented aid organizations from operating in certain areas. For example, 17,000 IDPs in N’dele were without assistance after aid agencies temporarily suspended operations in May when security incidents in the wake of fighting between armed groups and attacks on civilians made it untenable to continue. Also in N’dele, an estimated 9,700 IDPs sought refuge at an IDP site near MINUSCA to escape fighting between armed groups in early March. By mid-March, however, the site had been emptied as a result of pressure from armed elements.

On February 6, armed individuals broke into the residences of International Committee of the Red Cross employees in Kaga-Bandoro. The attackers assaulted guards and stole material goods. On March 23, in N’dele, attackers broke into the premises of the international NGO War Child and stole computers and office equipment.

During the year two humanitarian workers were killed and 21 injured. There were 304 reported incidents affecting humanitarian workers, premises, and assets between January and September, a 39 percent increase compared with the same period in 2019.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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: Presidential and legislative elections were held on December 27. Armed groups interfered with voter registration and the distribution of election materials. On election day, threats and violence by armed groups reportedly stopped the vote in 26 of 68 subprefectures and interrupted the vote in six other subprefectures. At year’s end it was unclear what percentage of voters were unable to vote due to insecurity. Most of the violence committed around the elections was committed by armed groups. There were no reports government security actors attempted to interfere with the election or prevent individuals from voting. If needed, a second round of presidential and legislative elections may be held in February 2021 and local elections are scheduled to be held later in 2021. The government did not attempt to restrict eligible voters from registering, but armed groups interfered with registration.

International and NGO observers reported high voter turnout in Bangui; however, some media reported the threats of violence suppressed the turnout in insecure areas. NGO observers reported minor irregularities in places where the vote occurred, most commonly citing a lack of indelible ink and legislative ballots at certain sites and cases where voters who did not have a voter identification card were allowed to vote with a certificate from the National Elections Authority. A local NGO group, National Observatory of Elections, stated the irregularities did not undermine the credibility of the elections. The African Union observation mission reported the vote in Bangui conformed to CAR’s electoral code and international standards. Election results were expected to be announced in early January 2021.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. Five of the 39 cabinet members were women, as was the senior presidential advisor for national reconciliation. There were 11 women among the 140 members of parliament. Some observers believed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited the ability of women to participate in political life on the same basis as men. In July 2019 the national assembly rejected the provision on gender parity provided in the draft electoral code and decided instead that political parties’ candidate lists must be composed of at least 35 percent women.

Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons prevented them from effectively advocating for their interests in the political sphere.

In March 2019, 14 members of parliament, including three women, were elected to the Executive Bureau for one-year terms. The election of only three women did not comply with the law on parity, which requires there be a minimum of 35 percent representation by women in state and private institutions for a period of 10 years. The 2016 gender equality law also prohibits gender discrimination and provides for an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance; however, the National Observatory had not been established by year’s end.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not effectively implement the law, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. In 2017 President Touadera issued a decree appointing members of the High Authority for Good Governance, an independent body mandated by the constitution. It is charged with protecting the rights of minorities and those with disabilities and ensuring the equitable distribution of natural resource revenues. In December 2019 President Touadera launched the National Good Governance Strategy.

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

Corruption: No corruption cases were brought to trial. There were widespread rumors and anecdotal stories of pervasive corruption and bribery. In February an audio recording circulated on social media alleging fraud during the vote of state budget by the national assembly. The fraud was allegedly orchestrated by the first vice president of the national assembly. The CAR government took no legal actions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women

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

Domestic abuse, rape, and sexual slavery of women and girls by armed groups threatened their security, and sexual violence was increasingly used as a deliberate tool of warfare. Attackers enjoyed broad impunity. In 2019 MINUSCA verified 322 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence, affecting 187 women, 124 girls, three men, two boys, and six women of unknown age. These incidents included 174 rapes or attempted rapes and 15 cases of forced marriage.

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

As of July the Mixed Unit for the Repression of Violence against Women and the Protection of Children (UMIRR) received 501 complaints from victims of various profiles, including 227 victims of sexual violence (rape, assault, forced marriage) and 232 cases of other form of violence. According to UMIRR, there were 266 reported cases of women who were victims of societal abuse in the country.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls, which is punishable by two to five years’ imprisonment and a moderate to substantial fine.

Nearly one-quarter of girls and women had been subjected to FGM/C, with variations according to ethnicity and region. Approximately one-half of girls were mutilated between ages 10 and 14. Both the prevalence of FGM/C and support for the practice has substantially declined in recent years.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government does not effectively enforce the law, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime.

Reproductive Rights: After recurrent military-political crises, the CAR continued to be characterized by widespread insecurity and impoverishment. The state was largely absent outside of Bangui. This situation created barriers to providing adequate assistance, including health and reproductive care, to vulnerable populations. Many displaced families were in makeshift sites, in the bush, or in fields far from existing basic social services. Of the 814 hospitals and dispensaries in the country, only 55.3 percent were functional in 2015. Anecdotal evidence suggests NGOs were nearly entirely responsible for the provision of healthcare services outside of Bangui.

Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children. Nevertheless, most couples lacked access to contraception, prenatal care, skilled attendance during childbirth, and essential obstetric care and postpartum care.

The government has committed to implementing the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development Program of Action held in Cairo. Law number 06.005 of June 20, 2006, authorized abortion for pregnancy resulting from rape. The law prohibits certain acts that endanger sexual and reproductive health, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Article 29 of the law criminalizes all forms of sexual violence and exploitation in all its forms that target women.

Citizens, in particular women and girls, were affected by high rates of conflict-related sexual violence. The country experienced multiple armed conflicts in the last 20 years, and customs and traditions in the country influenced the existence and exacerbation of gender-based violence, in particular sexual violence. Survivors of sexual violence were discriminated against, and the government was unable to provide adequate care, including health and social services to survivors. Sexual violence committed by armed actors increases the risk of spreading of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

According to UNICEF’s 2018-2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) Findings Report, 82.2 percent of women did not use any form of contraceptive. For girls aged 15 to 19 years, 88.7 percent do not use contraception (MICS IV 2018-2019). The World Health Organization reported 22 percent of women said their need for family planning was satisfied with modern methods. The prevalence of HIV among people aged 15 to 49 years was 4.9 percent (MICS 2010; contacts at the Institute Pasteur in Bangui reported the infection rate in the capital was approximately 18 percent. Data from the MICS IV survey (2018-2019) indicated that the infant mortality rate was 100 deaths per 1,000 live births, and 53 percent of deliveries were assisted.

The maternal mortality rate was 829 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. The major factor involved in the high maternal death rate was the lack of access to adequate healthcare. Only 18.9 percent of women reported receiving prenatal care for their last pregnancy (MICS IV 2018-2019). Fertility was very high (6.4 per MICS IV 2018-2019), and 42.8 percent of women reported having a child before age 18 (MICS IV 2018-2019). The lack of sexual and reproductive education led to early fertility among girls, which was more prevalent in rural than in urban areas (MICS 2010). These factors partly contributed to high maternal and neonatal mortality. Only 53.4 percent of births in 2006 were attended by qualified health personnel (83 percent in urban areas, 35 percent in rural areas).

Women were victims of many forms of gender-based violence, including FGM/C, sexual violence, and early marriage. This gender-based violence is exacerbated by conflicts. According to the MICS 2006 survey, nearly 45 percent of women suffered physical violence from their husbands or relatives; 51.6 percent suffered verbal abuse, 32.2 percent were raped. According to MICS 2010, 24 percent of women aged 15-49 had undergone some form of FGM/C. Although UNICEF did not yet publish the 2020 MICS, contacts reported FGM/C remained a widespread issue in the country and rates may be higher now than in 2010. No information was available on the FGM/C’s implication on maternal morbidity. The MICS 2010 indicated that the induced abortion rate was 6.9 percent among women aged 15 to 45.

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

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

Children

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

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six to 15. Tuition is free, but students have to pay for items such as books and supplies and for transportation. Few Ba’aka, the earliest known inhabitants of the forests in the south, attended primary school. There was no significant government assistance for efforts to increase Ba’aka enrollment.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children younger than 15. UMIRR is in charge of investigating abuses against women and children. As of July children’s rights abuses were reported in 42 households. According to UMIRR, 214 girls and seven boys were reported victims of societal abuse.

With the support of UNICEF, Bethanie, a local NGO, provided legal, psychological, and socioeconomic assistance to 900 vulnerable children, including 200 children victims of sexual violence, 100 children accused of witchcraft, 250 children with HIV, and 350 children victims of other forms of violence in the prefecture of Ombella M’poko and Bangui.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. A 2017 UNICEF report indicated that 68 percent of girls married before age 18 and 29 percent of girls married before age 15, and that 27 percent of boys married before age 18. The practice of early marriage was more common in Muslim communities. There were reports during the year of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka members. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: On June 15, the government enacted the Child Protection Act. The legislation has a series of measures that address the exploitation of minors. The family code prescribes penalties for the commercial exploitation of children, including imprisonment and financial penalties. The minimum age of sexual consent is 18, but it was rarely observed.

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

Displaced Children: Armed conflict resulted in forced displacement, with the number of persons fleeing in search of protection fluctuating based on local conditions. The country’s instability had a disproportionate effect on children, who accounted for 64 percent of IDPs, 48 percent of whom were children younger than five, according to a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

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

The government did not enact programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. The M