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Cyprus

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, with a maximum sentence of life in prison. The law also criminalizes domestic violence, with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The government generally enforced the law effectively, although many cases continued to go unreported.

The law establishes clear mechanisms for reporting and prosecuting family violence. A court can issue a same day restraining order against suspected or convicted domestic violence offenders. The number of reported cases of domestic violence increased in recent years. In the first nine months of the year, 519 cases of domestic violence were reported to police. By October police investigated 181 of the cases and filed 111 cases in court. The Association for the Prevention and Handling of Violence in the Family (SPAVO) stated increased reporting reflected greater awareness of and access to services, rather than an increasing number of incidents. SPAVO said domestic violence victims often faced significant family and social pressure not to report abuse and to withdraw complaints filed with police. In May the Supreme Court reversed a trial court decision to suspend the 18-month prison sentence of a 39-year-old domestic violence perpetrator and ordered him to serve the imposed sentence. The perpetrator had abused his wife in the presence of her mother and the couple’s infant child. The trial court imposed a suspended sentence after the victim withdrew her complaint.

Survivors of domestic violence had two shelters, each funded primarily by the government. A third shelter was expected to open by the end of year.

Police conducted detailed educational programs for officers on the proper handling of domestic violence, including training focused on child abuse. NGOs reported, however, that some police officers continued to dismiss claims of domestic abuse by foreign women and children.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and provides a penalty of up to six months in prison, a 12,000 euro ($13,200) fine, or both. A code of conduct outlines the prevention and handling of sexual harassment and harassment in the public service. NGOs and foreign domestic worker associations reported that authorities did not adequately investigate sexual harassment complaints submitted by foreign domestic workers.

Sexual harassment reportedly remained a widespread, but often unreported, problem. NGOs said permissive social attitudes, fear of reprisals, and lack of family support for victims discouraged victims from reporting instances of sexual harassment. The Department of Labor reported receiving 13 sexual harassment complaints, including four from foreign domestic workers but stated that most complaints lacked supporting evidence. The ombudsman continued to receive complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. In July the major labor unions Confederation of Cypriot Workers and Pancyprian Labor Federation agreed with the Employers and Industrialists Federation on a code of conduct covering how to treat cases of harassment and sexual harassment at the workplace. During the first nine months of the year, the ombudsman organized 25 training sessions attended by approximately 700 civil servants on sexual harassment at the workplace and on the code of conduct.

In April a university student reported to police that her 48-year-old employer at a Nicosia kiosk tried repeatedly to touch, hug, and kiss her without her consent. Following an investigation, including the examination of video footage, police brought charges against the employer who was released on bail and restraining orders pending trial.

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

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. The government generally enforced the law, but women experienced discrimination in employment and pay in the private sector. Although reporting by Eurostat showed pay parity between the genders in the public sector, NGOs reported vertical and occupational segregation remained a challenge.

Cyprus – the Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The “law” criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and provides for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Authorities and police did not enforce the “law” effectively. No “laws” specifically address domestic violence. The “law” prohibits domestic violence under various assault and violence or battery clauses, with a maximum sentence of four years’ imprisonment.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a major problem. The Nicosia Turkish Municipality operated a shelter for victims of domestic violence, and there were local NGOs that supported rape and domestic violence victims. Turkish Cypriot authorities also reported establishing gender focal points at relevant “ministries” to respond to complaints of violence against women.

In April police arrested a man on suspicion of killing his 47-year-old wife in Alaykoy (Yerolakkos). The victim’s daughter and sister told press outlets the suspect had physically abused and threatened to kill the victim on many occasions. They said the victim complained to police many times and alleged that police did not take her complaints seriously. In May the suspect was sent to prison pending trial, which continued at year’s end.

In November 2018 Nicosia district police in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriots established a specialized unit to respond to violence against women. The unit responds to complaints of domestic violence, including calls to a dedicated hotline. Turkish Cypriot police said they investigated 498 reports of violence against women from January to June.

Sexual Harassment: The “criminal code” prohibits sexual harassment and considers it a misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months’ imprisonment, an unspecified fine, or both. According to NGOs, sexual harassment went largely unreported. A group of international students reported widespread sexual harassment of female international students and that police routinely dismissed complaints of sexual harassment from international students.

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

Discrimination: The “law” provides the same “legal” status and rights for women and men, but authorities did not enforce the “law” effectively. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as employment, credit, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. For example, female teachers were reportedly instructed to schedule their pregnancies in order to deliver during summer break.

Israel, West Bank, and Gaza

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a felony punishable by 16 years’ imprisonment. Rape under aggravated circumstances or rape committed against a relative is punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment. The Central Bureau of Statistics reported approximately 15,000 women were victims of sex offenses in 2018, including indecent acts, attempted rape, and rape. The number of requests to the Association for Rape Crisis Centers for assistance related to rape in 2018 was 8 percent higher than in 2017. Authorities opened 1,534 investigations of suspected rape in 2018, compared with 1,443 in 2017. Authorities closed 91 percent of rape cases in 2018 without filing an indictment, mainly due to lack of evidence.

During the year, 13 women and girls were killed, most by family members or male partners.

On January 1, the Knesset approved a law extending the statute of limitation on severe sexual offenses from 10 to 15 years, with a sentence of seven years’ imprisonment. The Knesset also approved an amendment to the penal code on murder charges and sentencing, which came into effect on July 10. According to the amendment, men who kill their partners after abusing them are to be charged with “murder under aggravated circumstances,” with a sentence of life imprisonment. Women who kill an abusive partner are to be charged with “murder under circumstances of reduced liability,” with a maximum punishment of 15 years’ imprisonment.

According to media reports, in June and July the parole board decided to grant early release to two women convicted of killing their abusive husbands. They served 17 and 18 years, respectively, of their 25-year sentences.

The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services operated 14 shelters for survivors of domestic abuse, including two for the Arab community, two mixed Jewish-Arab shelters, two for the ultra-Orthodox community, and eight for non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. The ministry also operated a hotline for reporting abuse. The government stated that police officers receive training to interact with persons of different cultures and backgrounds, with an emphasis on special minority communities, although women from certain Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, and Druze communities faced significant social pressure not to report rape or domestic abuse.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal. Penalties for sexual harassment depend on the severity of the act and whether the harassment involved blackmail. The law provides that victims may follow the progress on their cases through a computerized system and information call center. In 2018 prosecutors filed 168 indictments for sexual harassment, up from 129 in 2017. According to 2018 data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, 95 percent of sexual harassment victims older than age 20 did not report the incident to police. Throughout the year victims of sex offenses expressed discontent with law enforcement’s response to such cases through a #WhyIDidn’tComplain campaign. In March 2018 Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut established a committee to examine the judicial system’s treatment of victims of sex offenses. In a December report, while acknowledging progress in treating victims of sex offense, the committee found victims faced difficulties at every step of the legal process. The report recommended establishing a commission for the promotion of rights for victims of offenses, including sex offenses, appointing social workers to accompany victims throughout the process, establishing centers providing services to victims, piloting teams specializing in sex offenses in law enforcement institutions, and developing restorative justice proceedings in the context of sex offenses.

On September 23, a district court convicted former Jerusalem police chief Niso Shaham  for sexually harassing officers under his command, overturning a 2018 magistrate court ruling. Sentencing was pending at year’s end.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law requires every government ministry and every municipality to have an advisor working to advance women’s rights. The government subsidizes day-care and after-school programs to encourage labor participation by mothers and offers professional training to single parents. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender in employment and wages and provides for class action antidiscrimination suits, a wage gap between men and women persisted. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2018 the average salary of men was 12,500 shekels ($3,600) and 8,540 shekels for women ($2,480). A part of the gap reportedly resulted from a differential between hours men and women worked each week on average.

In the criminal and civil courts, women and men enjoyed the same rights, but in some matters separate religious courts–responsible for adjudication of family law, including marriage and divorce–limited the rights of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze women. Although women served as judges in nonreligious courts, they remained barred from serving as judges in rabbinical courts.

The law allows a Jewish woman or man to initiate divorce proceedings, and both the husband and wife must give consent to make the divorce final. Sometimes a husband makes divorce contingent on his wife conceding to demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody. Jewish women in this situation could not remarry and any children born to them from another man would be deemed illegitimate by the Rabbinate without a writ of divorce. In rare cases Jewish women refused to grant men divorces, but this has a lesser effect on a husband under Jewish law. Rabbinical courts sometimes sanctioned a husband who refused to give his wife a divorce, while also declining to grant the divorce without his consent.

A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the sharia courts without her husband’s consent under certain conditions. A marriage contract may provide for other circumstances in which she may obtain a divorce without his consent. Through ecclesiastical courts, Christians may seek official separations or divorces, depending on their denomination. Druze divorces are performed by an oral declaration of the husband alone and then registered through the Druze religious courts, placing a disproportionate burden on the woman to leave the home with her children immediately. A civil family court or a religious court settles child custody, alimony, and property matters after the divorce, which gives preference to the father unless it can be demonstrated that a child especially “needs” the mother.

In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, private organizations posted “modesty signs” demanding women obscure themselves from public view to avoid distracting devout men. The local municipality of Beit Shemesh refused to remove the signs, resulting in a fine of 10,000 shekels ($2,900) per day if the signs remained posted. Following the municipality’s refusal to remove the signs, the Supreme Court ruled in November 2018 that authorities must comply with the order by December 31, 2018, or it would be subject to fines. The Supreme Court later extended the deadline until August 30. According to the government, the municipality did not fully implement the ruling by the end of the year, and some signs that were taken down had been replaced by new ones.

Women’s rights organizations cited a growing trend of gender segregation and discrimination against women meant to accommodate soldiers of the national religious stream. Despite greater inclusion of women in the IDF in recent years, including in combat roles and senior leadership positions, on April 14, the IDF stopped allowing women to serve in combat positions in the Armored Corps, citing economic and logistical reasons. Women’s rights organizations criticized the decision, claiming it was not made for legitimate reasons and hindered gender equality in the IDF. On September 10, a 19-year-old woman petitioned the Supreme Court demanding the option to serve in a combat role in the Armored Corps. The case was pending at year’s end.

Women’s rights organizations also expressed concern about gender segregation in some public events that took place during the year. On August 14, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an NGO petition objecting to a gender-segregated event held by the Afula municipality. The event went forward prior to the Supreme Court ruling as a lower court had initially ruled in favor of the municipality. On August 18, the Office of the Attorney General issued a directive stipulating certain circumstances in which gender-segregated events could be held, pending further examination of the issue. The guidelines deviated from a previous directive that permitted segregation only in events of a religious nature.

Kosovo

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and domestic violence against all persons, including rape of a relative or spouse. By law, rape is punishable by two to 15 years in prison. EULEX noted courts often applied penalties lighter than the legal minimum in rape cases and that law enforcement rarely took steps to protect victims and witnesses. Furthermore, these sentences were often further decreased by the appellate court. The Prosecution Victim Assistance Office reported an increased number of homicides in domestic violence cases. Sexual violence, including rape, occurring either within or outside the family or domestic unit, is rarely reported by victims, frequently due to social stigma or lack of trust in authorities.

The law recognizes gender-based violence as a form of discrimination. In 2018 the Kosovo Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRD) stated the country still lacks a definition of gender-based violence within its criminal and civil proceedings.

A section of the Office of the Chief State Prosecutor helped to provide access to justice for victims of all crimes, with a special focus on victims of domestic violence, trafficking in persons, child abuse, and rape. In addition each prosecutor’s office has a prosecutor who specializes in handling domestic violence cases. These prosecutors can apply risk-assessment tools to avoid future risk of abuse to the victim and are enabled to recommend harsher sentences for repeat offenders and violators of protective orders.

The Victim Assistance Office reported 946 cases of domestic violence in the country during the year. Per legally stipulated procedures, the KP investigates and then transfers cases of domestic violence charges to prosecutors. The rate of prosecution was low, however, and sentences were usually lowered by the country’s second-level court. Advocates and court observers asserted prosecutors and judges favored family unification over victim protection, with protective orders sometimes allowing the perpetrator to remain in the family home while a case was pending. Sentences ranged from judicial reprimands to six months’ to five years’ imprisonment. The criminalization of domestic violence in April was accompanied by increases in arrests, prosecutions, and convictions for the crime.

In November 2018 the Gjakova Basic Court found Pjeter Ndrecaj guilty of murder and sentenced him to 24 years in prison for shooting and killing his former wife and nine-year-old daughter in August 2018. The former wife had sought help by coming to the police station in Gjakova five hours prior to the killing, but police failed to locate Ndrecaj before the murders took place. In March the Court of Appeal extended the sentence to life imprisonment, deciding there were additional aggravating circumstances not considered by the Basic Court that would fulfill the requirements for imposing a life sentence. In June, however, the Supreme Court returned the case for retrial, stating the first verdict contained essential violations of the provisions of the criminal procedure code related to the guilty plea procedure that were not reviewed by the second instance court. In his statement Ndrecaj had pled guilty to murdering his wife deliberately but claimed he shot his daughter by accident.

In September the Basic Court in Prizren ruled in favor of monetary compensation for the family of a victim of domestic violence who was killed. In 2011 the Kosovo Prosecution ignored the victim’s request for an emergency restraining order against her husband three weeks before he killed her. The decision to compensate her family for prosecutorial inaction marked the first time a court in the country has ordered compensation in such a case.

The government licensed and supported seven NGOs to assist children and female victims of domestic violence. Ten shelters for victims of domestic violence housed victims of trafficking and other crimes. Both NGOs and shelters reported concerns the government consistently underfunds and delays payment to ensure their functioning. NGOs reported government funding is inadequate, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MLSW) confirmed it sometimes faces difficulties in funding shelters.

In 2018 the government created an independent commission to verify the status of wartime sexual assault survivors and compensate them. As of June the commission had granted this status and its accompanying pension to 395 of 1,058 applicants. It rejected 152 applications due to incomplete documentation; 52 of these rejected applicants filed a request for a second review. The remaining applications were pending review. The SPRK designated one prosecutor for cases of wartime sexual violence. The KP established a unit for war crime cases, including cases of wartime sexual violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment in civil proceedings. While the criminal code includes the offense of sexual harassment, it does not contain a specific standard or definition. April amendments to the criminal code stipulate prison sentences as an enhanced penalty for sexual harassment against vulnerable victims and in cases where the criminal procedure is initiated upon the victim’s request. In cases where a crime is committed with the use of a weapon, the sentence may vary from one to five years of prison. NGOs reported internal procedures and regulations for reporting sexual harassment hampered implementation of these laws.

According to women’s rights organizations, harassment was common at workplaces in both the public and private sectors and in public institutions of higher education.

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

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. The law requires equal pay for equivalent work. The law stipulates the partners in marriage and civil unions have equal rights to own and inherit property, but men usually inherited family property and other assets. In rare instances Kosovo-Albanian widows, particularly in rural areas, risked losing custody of their children due to a custom requiring children and property to pass to the deceased father’s family while the widow returned to her birth family.

Relatively few women occupied upper-level management positions in business, police, or government. NGOs reported women were often subject to discriminatory hiring practices.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The boy-to-girl ratio at birth was 109 boys to 100 girls. According to UNICEF the government did not take steps to address the imbalance.

Timor-Leste

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including marital rape, is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The law broadly covers all forms of domestic violence. Penalties for “mistreatment of a spouse” include two to six years’ imprisonment; however, prosecutors frequently used a different article in domestic violence cases (“simple offenses against physical integrity”), which carries a sentence of up to three years in prison.

Failures to investigate or prosecute cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse were common. The PNTL’s vulnerable persons units generally handled cases of domestic violence and sexual crimes, but they did not have enough staff to provide a significant presence in all areas of the country.

Nevertheless, the formal justice system addressed an increasing number of reported domestic and sexual abuse cases. According to the Office of the Prosecutor General, domestic violence offenses were the second-most commonly charged crimes in the criminal justice system, after simple assault. Prosecutors, however, routinely charged cases involving aggravated injury and use of deadly weapons as low-level simple assaults. Judicial observers also noted judges were lenient in sentencing in domestic violence cases. Several NGOs criticized the failure to issue protection orders and overreliance on suspended sentences, even in cases involving significant bodily harm. In July the Suai district court convicted a domestic violence defendant of a simple offense against physical integrity based on the charge that the man used a piece of firewood to hit a woman in the back four times and kicked her twice in the stomach. The public defender requested a lenient penalty, arguing the man had reconciled with the woman and had not hit her again. The court sentenced him to five months in prison, suspended for one year, so that unless police were notified within a year that he again assaulted the woman, he would serve no prison time. Lacking information about such sentences, communities see only the return home of such offenders.

Police, prosecutors, and judges routinely ignored many parts of the law that protect victims. NGOs noted that fines paid to the court in domestic violence cases often came from shared family resources, hurting the victim economically.

Gender-based violence remained a serious concern. In 2016 an Asia Foundation study found that 59 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 had experienced sexual or physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner and that 14 percent of girls and women had been raped by someone other than a partner. In this context, local NGOs viewed the law requiring that domestic violence cases be reported to the police and handled in the formal judicial system as having a positive effect by encouraging victims of domestic violence to report their cases to police. In a July sexual abuse case, the Suai district court found that a man had sexual intercourse five times with a 13-year-old minor and imposed a prison sentence of 15 years.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion is charged with assisting victims of domestic violence. Due to staff shortages, the ministry had difficulty responding to all cases. To deal with this problem, the ministry worked closely with local NGOs and service providers to offer assistance. Local NGOs operated shelters; however, demand for these services exceeded capacity. Local and international civil society partnered with government to deliver public education and training to police and the military about combatting gender-based violence.

Sexual Harassment: The labor code prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, but workplace and public harassment reportedly was widespread. Relevant authorities processed no such cases during the year (see section 7.d.).

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

Discrimination: The constitution states, “Women and men shall have the same rights and duties in all areas of family life and political, economic, social, cultural life,” but it does not specifically address discrimination. Some customary practices discriminate against women, including traditional inheritance systems that tend to exclude women from land ownership.

Some communities continued to practice the payment of a bride price as part of marriage agreements (barlake); this practice has been linked to domestic violence and to the inability to leave an abusive relationship. Some communities also continued the practice of forcing a widow either to marry one of her husband’s family members or, if she and her husband did not have children together, to leave her husband’s home.

The secretary of state for equality and inclusion is responsible for the promotion of gender equality. Rede Feto (Women’s Network), a national women’s advocacy network, held its fifth national congress in October. Delegates to the congress, with representation from all of the country’s municipalities, created a 2020-23 action plan and delivered it to government officials for consideration in the 2020 budget process. Participants identified priority areas for government intervention to address inequality: patriarchal traditions, education, health, the economy, women’s participation in the labor force, human trafficking, decentralization, and social inclusion.

West Bank and Gaza

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal under PA law, but the legal definition does not address spousal rape. Punishment for rape is five to 15 years in prison. While the PA repealed a law that relieved a rapist of criminal responsibility if he married his victim, neither the PA nor de facto Hamas authorities enforced laws pertaining to rape effectively in the West Bank and Gaza. In previous years there were reports police treated rape as a social and not a criminal matter, and authorities released some accused rapists after they apologized to their victims.

According to the PA’s Central Bureau of Statistics, one in five Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza reported at least one incident of physical abuse from their husbands. Women in Gaza were twice as likely to be a victim of spousal abuse as women in the West Bank. PA law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, but assault and battery are crimes. PA and de facto Hamas authorities did not enforce the law effectively in domestic violence cases in the West Bank and Gaza. NGOs reported Palestinian women were frequently unwilling to report cases of violence or abuse to the PA or de facto Hamas authorities due to fear of retribution or little expectation of assistance. HRW in previous years reported that PA authorities prosecuted few domestic violence cases successfully.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law precludes “family honor” as protection for perpetrators in “honor killing” crimes. In 2018 the PA amended the law to prohibit the practice of judges giving lighter sentences for crimes against women and children versus crimes against men. NGOs claimed the amended law was not sufficiently enforced. According to SHAMS, there were 20 honor killings in the West Bank and Gaza through October. On September 21, the PA attorney general charged three male family members with murder in the death of Israa Ghrayeb in an alleged honor killing, according to media reports. The case continued at year’s end.

Sexual Harassment: No PA law specifically relates to sexual harassment, which was a significant and widespread problem in the West Bank and Gaza. Some women claimed that when they reported harassment, authorities held them responsible for provoking men’s harassing behavior.

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

Discrimination: Inheritance for Muslims in the West Bank and Gaza falls under Palestinian Basic Law, which is based on sharia. Under Palestinian Basic Law, women have a right to inheritance but, in practice, generally received less than men. According to rights groups, in some cases women have been attacked by male family members for asserting their right to an inheritance. While recognized Christian communities have separate civil court systems, there is no separate civil law for Christians, so those communities also utilize Palestinian Basic Law. Men may marry more than one wife. Women may add conditions to marriage contracts to protect their interests in the event of divorce and child custody disputes but rarely did so. Local officials sometimes advised such women to leave their communities to avoid harassment.

Hamas enforced a conservative interpretation of Islam in Gaza that discriminated against women. Authorities generally prohibited public mixing of the sexes. In Gaza premarital sex was considered a crime punishable by imprisonment.

According to press and NGO reports, in some instances teachers in Hamas-run schools in Gaza sent girls home for not wearing conservative attire, although enforcement was not systematic. Reports of gender-based employment discrimination in Gaza against women are common, and factories often do not hire pregnant or newly married women in order to avoid the need to approve maternity leave.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future